Alan Wake stars an uncanny protagonist, a writer who appears to be trapped in one of his stories that he doesn’t recall writing. The story is told in a series of “episodes”, sort of like a TV show. Actually, a lot like a TV show as Matias Myllyrinne, Managing Director at Remedy, and Oskari Häkkinen, Head of Franchise Development explain in this interview.
How come Alan Wake has been in development for so long?
Matias Myllyrinne, Managing Director: We have been crafting something we can be proud of and lives up to its full potential. When the game is out there, and people put their hard earned money on the table, they need to know they are getting a Remedy experience and our brand is a seal of quality. If you see Remedy on a package you know you’re getting movie-like entertainment, a strong storyline, something compelling and unique.
We’re a fairly small company to be privileged to be working with Microsoft on something so ambitious. I think we’re really driven by our own quality standards in terms of what we want to achieve with storytelling and gameplay. We won’t put something OK out there to meet an arbitrary deadline.
With four years of development I imagine the game has evolved quite a bit. Can you talk about how the game has changed?
Really the core and essence of Alan Wake is what it’s always been, a psychological action thriller with a unique use of light. We’ve prototyped loads of ideas and played around with different mechanics just to be able to give something that’s simple and feels intuitive. Sometimes the most self-evident things are the ones that take a long time to get right.
For example, our light based combat — having that feel, what we want the player to feel empowered and strong and we want it to be an event when you destroy a dark presence, just getting that right took a lot of iteration.
In terms of the game design we had a full, kind of, sandbox experience before and we really weren’t happy with the way that worked with the storyline and the drama. Maybe Oskari you can elaborate on that.
Oskari Häkkinen, Head of Franchise Development: As Matias mentioned we did a lot of prototyping, seeing what works/doesn’t work, and the game is built on open world technology. However, quite early on in development we can to the decision to deliver the best possible roller coaster ride through the game. To give that really strong storytelling experience we needed to go for a more linear experience.
Now, because we have the open world technology, we don’t want the player to feel like he’s being pulled with a string. At times the gaming area can be relatively wide and large. There will be lots of exploration opportunities, as well, and opportunities to find some hidden stuff we put in there.
Just to pick up on how it evolved, since you saw it last time our technology has evolved as well, our tools have evolved. It looks very current.
You were talking about how Alan Wake has a linear story. So when you’re playing there won’t be branching story paths?
OH: We’re storytellers and we want to tell the best possible story. It’s our story that you’re going to play.
Speaking of the story, when the game started it said "previously on Alan Wake" then "tonight on Alan Wake". The game has a TV feel to it so are chapters going to be different "episodes" of the game?
MM: The TV series format gives us a huge toolset of storytelling mechanisms that are familiar to our audience. We can foreshadow things or accentuate things that we’ve shown in the past, a relevant story point. Maybe, you approach a situation that you thought was one thing, but in this episode you find it has different kinds of impacts or the underlying motivators are actually different for the other characters.
In classic TV series style that also allows us to place cliffhangers in there. So if you like watching DVD box sets, Lost is a good example for myself, I always find myself going maybe just one more episode, maybe just one more episode.
OH: I find myself a few times where I turned off the TV, turned off the DVD player, I’m lying in bed it’s 4AM and I have to go to work in the morning at 8 o’clock, throwing off the covers and putting the next DVD in and watching the next episode. We hope for a similar kind of experience with Alan Wake, as well, where people can’t put it down.
Are these episodes going to be told in a linear order or are they going to be out of sequence? Are you going to jump time points between episodes?
MM: I’m going to be careful here because I don’t want to give the game away. Let’s just say we have loads of opportunities to play with the storytelling mechanisms, but I don’t want to get into that because there is a risk I might reveal some of the mystery. Just for the audience’s sake can I take a pass on the question?
Stay tuned for part two where Remedy discusses the theme of light and designing Alan Wake — the character.