Quantum Break, the next game from developer Remedy, is right around the corner with an April 5 release date. Ahead of the studio's next big story-driven third-person shooter, we're looking back at the game that put the Finnish studio on the map – Max Payne. We spoke with its writer and reluctant Max Payne model, Sam Lake, all about how the game came together. This feature originally appeared in the February 2016 issue of Game Informer magazine.

Max Payne was not the first game to come out of Finnish developer Remedy Entertainment, but it became the developer’s first major success and set a standard and aesthetic style for the studio moving forward. Max’s overwrought noir dialogue, dark tone, story focus, and third-person shooting with an unconventional hook have been translated into staples of Remedy games, even up to its upcoming Xbox One game, Quantum Break, which we featured on our cover in December 2015.

Following the release of the studio’s first game, Death Rally in 1996, Remedy threw around ideas for a follow-up covering everything from The Legend of Zelda-inspired fantasy to making an early prototype that used an overhead perspective starring a hard-boiled cop. The latter moved forward into production. “There was a concept called Dark Justice, which was a kind of near-future, drug gang-war concept,” says writer Sam Lake. “I wanted a film-noir, hard-boiled feeling to it – wanted to bring kind of a private eye type main character into it and [Dark Justice] became, step by step, Max Payne.”

The game changed tremendously over the course of its development, shifting from the top-down perspective to third-person, abandoning the near-future and gang-war components, but embracing the tough-minded lead detective and the drug-focused story to eventually become Max Payne. Remedy was working with 3D Realms at the time, and received permission to expand and change the game from its original pitch.  “They were pushing us to be more ambitious with this,” Lake says. “Tomb Raider was coming out with a third-person camera, and that kind of felt like, ‘We can do this. Let’s go in this direction.’ That’s how it started.”

Entering Right Behind The Matrix
The obvious assumed inspiration for Max Payne’s bullet-time shooting mechanic is The Matrix, which released two years prior to the game in 1999, but the relationship between the film and the game are coincidental. Max Payne’s bullet-time mechanics were well in development when The Matrix released, but Remedy saw the film’s release as positive as opposed to getting beaten to the punch. “Matrix, in many ways was, I feel, a big stroke of luck for us in the sense that Hong Kong action theater, from the western perspective, was still a relatively little known, kind of a niche thing,” says Max Payne writer Sam Lake.  “Matrix really brought that kind of stylization and coolness in action. It was huge, and it came nicely before us, setting up a perfect launch platform for Max Payne to come out.”

Bullet time, the game’s most notable hook and the aspect separating it from competing third-person shooters, came along during this iterative process. “We were all watching a lot of Hong Kong action movies, like John Woo stuff, and we were saying, ‘We should do something like that – all of those cool slow-mo, bullet time things. We need to find a way to bring some of that coolness into the gameplay,’” Lake says. Some early versions took bullet-time out of the hands of the player, assigning it to specific story-moments and rooms before it became a crucial aspect of the players’ interaction with the gun combat.

For details on the game's unique approach to storytelling, and the now-infamous Max Payne grimace, head to page two.