The lights are on
During Microsoft's X10 event, I was lucky enough to get a few words in with two of the minds from Remedy Entertainment working on Alan Wake. Oskari Häkkinen, head of franchise development, and Same Lake, lead writer, discussed how the game compares to the survival horror genre, future DLC plans, and the importance of light in the game.
GI: How does Alan Wake fall in line with the established survival horror genre?Lake: We definitely feel that this is more of a thriller than a horror title. Very often when you’re talking about video games and horror, everyone thinks about blood and gore and big monsters coming at you. And that’s definitely not what Alan Wake is about. It’s kinda stylized – building atmosphere and mood, and at the same time it is an action game. But like with our previous games we are combining different elements together to make what the game is about. So we have from books, and movies, and TV series we have the psychological thriller, and then at the same time this is a cinematic action game. So combining these elements is what makes Alan Wake into Alan Wake.GI: The first 10 achievements were revealed for the game. One of them requires you to use your flashlight to get through a certain segment of the game. Is there any way you can make it through the game using only the flashlight?Lake: Light is very important, it is the key gameplay element. You definitely can’t survive in Alan Wake without a light source. That’s what you need. You can almost think of light-based gameplay as an additional layer on top of the conventional action. So we have a wide variety of light-based tools in the game, different kind of flashlights, handheld flares, a flare gun…Häkkinen: You man a turret, the headlights of a car…Lake: We have more conventional weapons there as well. So the basic situation is that Alan Wake’s - this mysterious thriller manuscript that Wake cannot remember writing but seems to have been written by him is coming true and it talks about the dark presence that has woken up in the town of Bright Falls. In darkness, the dark presence can pretty much take over everything; people and animals and inanimate objects and vehicles as well…Häkkinen: You can never know what your next enemy could be.Lake: You need light. It depends on the strength of the light source and how strong that particular enemy is. How strong the dark presence is in this enemy. It’s a combination of these things. A flock of birds, for example, that is attacking you, you only need a normal flashlight and you can burn them away and they disappear. But for a stronger enemy you can only burn the dark presence away but the enemy keeps on coming at you and you need that conventional weapon to - although, if you have a very strong light source such as a flashbang grenade or a flare gun or a searchlight you can destroy these enemies with light only. It depends on…Häkkinen: It’s a variation of things.GI: The game is set up in an episodic TV format, could we look at this game as season one? Are you planning on expanding the story as DLC? Lake: From the very beginning we have created Alan Wake to be something bigger than just one game. That was goal all along, so yeah. The first game is the first season and it takes you deep into Alan Wake’s world. We feel that different TV series do this thing differently but we felt that the season needs to have a satisfying ending. Alan Wake needs to reach a certain conclusion and the player needs to be able to reach his goals but at the same time we want to open doors beyond this first game into a larger story. Yeah, this is the first season and we are going to be doing downloadable content afterwards. Right now we are still concentrating on final tweaks and final, small polish issues. Once get this shipped then we are looking into downloadable content.GI: Does that mean the expansion of the story will only be DLC, or could that also mean that we could potentially never see Alan Wake 2 in the future?Lake: It’s too early to really say, let’s see. Naturally, since it’s structured in an episodic format, there would be a possibility of going in that direction. But it’s definitely too early to say. Right now obviously downloadable content will in some form continue the storyline. It’s a story-driven game, the story will always be present.GI: There were talks going around about perhaps cutting out the ending of the game from previews for media outlets to prevent spoiling the story. Can you clarify on that?Lake: I’m not really the kind of person who makes these kinds of decisions or anything. But it is true that this being a thriller, there is a huge amount of story elements that could be considered spoilers and would ruin, in some form, the story to the player. That would be a shame, we definitely don’t want that to happen.GI: Obviously Alan Wake carries over a lot of gameplay aspects from Max Payne, but are there any other games you’ve looked to as inspiration?Lake: It is true that we looked for sources of inspiration in pop culture in general, but not so much other video games. The idea is that we want to combine elements that have not been used in video games before. Looking for those things that are familiar to many people and that resonate with them, but they have not been able to experience them in a game form. That’s a very big thing for us at Remedy. Naturally, we play a lot and are gamers at heart ourselves. Häkkinen: More of the inspirations are drawn from TV, movies, books, and graphic novels.Lake: But as said, this is definitely a Remedy game. So people who have played our earlier games will recognize certain elements. We have kind of taken certain aspects of what we have done previously and taken them a couple of steps forward.GI: The game is segmented into light and dark portions. Could you give me a rough estimate of the ratio of how much time you spend in the dark versus how much time you spend in the light?Lake: Darkness is your enemy and your tools are related to light. That really is the core essence of what the action is about. This is an action title, so there is definitely more night time in the game than daytime, but we do feel that it’s very important to always have those daytime sequences in each episode so that it keeps you grounded to reality and it keeps reminding you of the stakes you are fighting for. If it was just action from the beginning to the end, you would get numb to it and the scary bits would feel scary for long. But now that you have these daytime sequences in between – we do things like take you back a couple of years to happier times in Alan Wake’s life in New York and things like that.