Alan Wake And The Challenge Of Making An Average Joe Protagonist

By Spencer . August 12, 2009 . 4:00pm


Alan Wake isn’t a stereotypical action hero. He’s a writer, an everyday kind of guy, who happens to be trapped in what feels like one of his novels. The decision to make an average Joe the lead of an action game goes against the gradient of trigger happy marines and comic book style superheroes typically seen in big budget video games.


“It’s the very reason characters portrayed in computer games don’t exactly have the emotional depth that’s possible in our medium,” said Matias Myllyrinne, Managing Director. “We have an every man, as you say, almost like a young Harrison Ford, and it’s easy to relate to that person. That person can evolve, his relationships with the other characters and supporting cast can take the story further.”


During the demo I saw another character act as comic relief by cracking jokes when Alan turned the lights off. Light plays an important role in the game since the “dark presence”, a force that possesses men and machines, can only be defeated after absorbing light. Alan carries a flashlight and flares, in addition to a gun he obtains from a wounded police officer. Perhaps, the predicament Alan finds himself in allows him to take a leading role. If Alan were on say, a space ship filled with zombie dinosaurs he may be a snack instead of a star.


“We think the characters are very interesting. You can take characters to different situations, different locations, and you can learn more about them and they can develop. Where as if it’s more of a cardboard cutout character — ‘I’m evil because I’m evil!’ then it doesn’t really resonate, at least what we think, a mature audience wants”


“I like my space marines as much as the next guy, but really games can tell a wider and more compelling stories as well,” Myllyrinne continues. “It doesn’t always need to be a ninja or a highly trained ex-seal who finds himself armed to the teeth with a rocket launcher.”


There are plenty of ninjas and ex-seals in video games. Do you think the medium needs more everyday heroes like Harry Mason from Silent Hill or the geeky teenager from Lester the Unlikely?

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  • Daszeuzo

    Not as badly as it needs intelligent-sounding PR and non-fluff reflections on storytelling in games.

    BTW, might want to say who Mr. Myllyrinne.actually is at Remedy, y’know? Especially since this is apparently the first Siliconera piece on Alan Wake.

  • I think the medium needs more people like Travis Touchdown or Leon Kennedy (personable and likeable) and Seta Souji (who is what you want him to be).

    • Kris

      I agree, lots more Travis Touchdowns.
      I’d also like to see more Nathan Drakes than Marcus Fenixes. I like having a character who is more relatable than your average space marine JRPG prettyboy (although they both have their place).

  • Aoshi00

    I like what I saw from the trailers and demo play, especially the dark setting of this and Heavy Rain. I guess that game throws you into the shoes of regular joes too (a woman, FBI agent, and two more chars).

    I really don’t mind macho, the so called JRPG pretty boy, or regular guys as main characters since I’m not that jaded, but it reminds me of the movie “Children of Men”, where Clive Owen plays an unlikely hero who started out demure and always got involved in crazy action. But this kind of hero works best in survival horror games right, since they’re not specialized in combat and it ramps us the scary factor since they’re so weak w/ the flash light and handguns.

    • What are your thoughts on “emo” characters? ;)

      • Aoshi00

        Hm.. it’s really not in my dictionary, I like most game characters just fine.. of course most would fit into a certain mold depending on the story’s context. Even the macho type like Marcus Fenix who everybody complains about, he’s an interesting lead in Gears, John DiMaggio is such a great VA (would be great if they flesh out more about his relationship w/ his father in the 3rd game, heard the novels aren’t too great..)

        • Haha, I was kidding. I remember that huge thread from that one Siliconera Speaks Up… :P

          • Aoshi00

            I know man, and I’m the emo panda, lol (btw, I tried the DS game, it’s pretty fun and cute). and yeah, sry for starting the whole thing.

            I hope Alan Wake would turn out to have an intriguing story, for now it seems like conventional survival horror stuff.. Heavy Rain is probably more unique being more like an adventure instead of shooting or running from monsters in the dark.

            edit: btw, I also just picked up FSR at your recommendation, lol, just started it though. no way to turn off the gibberish? It’s quite unsettling…

          • OH MY GOD, YOU BOUGHT IT!

            And yea, sorry…there’s no way to turn off the nonsense-speak. It took me a while to get used to it, too, because it sounds a little repetitive…

  • EvilAkito

    Lester the Unlikely… I use to play that game all the time. So nostalgic.

  • thaKingRocka

    silent hill remains one of my favorite games of all time. if they had made him a tough guy, it simply wouldn’t have worked in any sense. i’m currently playing through penumbra: overture, and just like SH, that fear of being killed by just about any enemy really adds to the atmosphere. in penumbra, when hiding, if you stare at the enemy, your heart rate increases and fear causes you to give your position away. the character isn’t tough, and i, by extension, feel weaker and more frightened because of it. when ninja gaiden II’s regular foes kill me, i feel like there’s something wrong because ryu should be able to slice and dice everyone and everything, but in horror and adventure games, it feels right to go with the everyman.

    i have been looking forward to alan wake since i first saw videos in 2006 (i think it was ’06). i’m really excited for it. i don’t like the idea of the other guy providing comic relief. i prefer to be alone. speaking of alone, i hope it doesn’t disappoint like alone in the dark did. of course, i haven’t tried the latest AitD myself, but the reaction was so overwhelmingly underwhelming, i just decided to pass on it.

  • I just want a natural character. They can be Crazy Joe or Suburban Commando, just as long as they fit where ever they are and are entertaining, I’d liked to see that.
    Personally, my favorites; Cornet (Rhapsody), Firebrand/Red Arremer (Demon’s Crest), King of All Cosmos – characters where they coined the phrase “it’s their world, we’re just living in it”.

  • I think the “Average Joe” protagonist is always a great thing as long as it’s not forced and works well. What I don’t think is a great thing is pretending almost no other game but yours has one in it. Though, maybe I just read into their comments too much because I’m still very excited to play this game. =)

    In my opinion a character does not make a game better because of what he is, yet makes a game better if he fits in well and makes for interesting development. Shepard was not “average” by any means in Mass Effect but the game had great storytelling. Most us (read: Siliconera viewers) are going to love an “Average Joe” which is great but we all know if every game had them we would be talking about how the stealthy ninja with years of training under his belt would be a nice change to go against “the gradient” because companies would run the everyday hero into the ground with cliche, boring, stagnant stories or hollow characters.

    I’m also a huge Silent Hill fan but wouldn’t some of you agree that they are deep down a bit more than an everyday hero? Especially being that most of the leads are painted to be pretty messed up and not heroes at all. That’s part of the charm, too. ^_^

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