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Earlier in the week, Blend Games got a chance to chat with Remedy Entertainment managing director Matias Myllyrinne, writer Sam Lake, and head of franchise development Oskari Hakkinen about the company's upcoming action thriller Alan Wake. The game's lengthy development, the possibility of a film, and the fate of the PC version were just some of the topics of discussion. The interview took place after we got to watch 10-15 minutes of Wake. Stay tuned to hear more about that.
You guys have been developing this since 2005, you said? What's the biggest thing that's changed from then? Is it just sort of the polishing of it or have any of the broad strokes changed?
Sam Lake: The high level of the concept has remained the same through the whole time we've been doing this. We knew that we wanted to do a thriller. We wanted a strong everyman character who needs to grow into the role of a hero. We knew that we wanted a small town setting and strong themes of light and darkness as phases for the gameplay. But other than that, early on in the project, we were in kind of a fortunate position where we could take our time and prototype different gameplay elements and see what kind of a mix would feel the best for Alan Wake. And that took its time to find the right balance. Naturally we have done our own tech, the engine and the tools, and all of that takes time. We are a relatively small team even if we have grown a lot during the project. We started out with 30 guys and these days we are around 45. But yeah, the high level mission has been the same and now we feel we have that right combination of elements that makes Alan Wake. Apart from some minor polishing issues, it's done.
Oskari Hakkinen: We're in a good place now.
Matias Myllyrinne: We wanted to build a lot of that essence of the Pacific Northwest. The town is very much a character of its own. For us to just build that environment, all the modeling, the source material, having people - the small things - having people record owls in the middle of the night over there and the sound of the wind and getting the audio right. Getting that to feel authentic and then on top of that building a layer of supernatural in a stylistic fashion as opposed to blood and gore [takes time].
SL: Yeah, from the very beginning it was very important for us to create a thriller as opposed to a horror game. Very often when talking about video games, that means blood and gore and monsters coming at you. We wanted to do something more stylized to really concentrate on the atmosphere and make sure that we have a deep storyline that gives a reason for all those scares.
You're responding to a void in gaming, maybe?
SL: Well, yeah. We like to look for sources of inspiration in pop culture in general, not so much in other video games but TV series, movies, books, and graphic novels. We look for things that we have enjoyed and that has inspired us and then make our own combination and our own version of those into a game, using elements that have not been seen in games before.
Would you then turn around and bring Alan Wake to a film or something like that?
SL: Certainly. When thinking about Alan Wake in general, our intention from the beginning has been to build something bigger than just one game. Definitely we have planned the story to be a larger story. The player is plunged deep into Alan Wake's world but at the same time, we are opening doors to an even larger story beyond this.
Beyond this one character?
SL: Well it very much revolves around Alan Wake himself but beyond this story, if you will. And certainly we are looking into other opportunities. We think that Alan Wake would work very well outside video games as well.
I had that impression because it seemed like with Max Payne that you very upfront about making it into a film.
You were talking about being inspired by films and movies. So what would you point to as being the main inspirations for the game?
SL: For a small town, there is definitely an echo of Twin Peaks in Bright Falls. For more modern TV series, we are big fans of Lost. They use a lot of pop culture in general as well. We think they are a very good example of building a very good thriller pacing in the form of a TV series. We are using TV series in general as our model for the pacing. As you saw, Alan Wake is episodic by nature so we do things like a short "Previously On..." segment to remind you of the relevant story bits that are related to the episode you're going to play. More often than not, we end the episode in a cliffhanger. For us it's a story-telling element and an important element of building a good thriller pacing. For most of our episodes, we have a day-time sequence where you get to explore and meet the characters and find more of the story and then, to balance that out, there's a night-time sequence in a dark forest, for example, a nightmarish action sequence. The whole game has been kind of structured like that. So TV series in general are an inspiration.
We have a writer who has problems in his life and his writings are coming true so Stephen King is definitely a source of inspiration. He has a few books with a writer as a main character with problems that relate to his writing. There are other books that for me especially have been important. Paul Auster's The Book Of Illusions was something I read early on when thinking about Alan Wake in general. There's also Bret Easton Ellis' Lunar Park, where he makes himself the main character, a very flawed writer character who is losing his grip on reality. An excellent thriller by Mark Z. Danielewski called House of Leaves was a source of inspiration for this as well.
You're hinting at these exploration elements. Is that just a daytime thing?
SL: Well it's present in the night-time sequences as well. This is a linear story and a linear game in the sense that the story is the motivation that takes you through the game. For the players that are more interested in the action elements, they can grab the flashlight and gun and they get the skeleton of a thriller in a way. But for those who are interested in finding more and digging deep into it, there is a lot of exploration. A lot of the story is optional: finding more manuscript pages, listening to the radio, checking out the televisions in the game - all the televisions contain story-related things. There is a lot of that.
Last month, you said that a pre-release demo would be pretty unlikely. Is that still true?
MM: Yeah, I mean I think we're fully focused on building this, polishing it, and putting every bit of effort into it to make it be all the game it can be. Even though it doesn't sound like a lot of work, spending any time and effort on a demo would be time away from the game itself.
Right, because you're a small team.
MM: That's one thing as well. Equally, it's "This is our baby" - and hopefully "masterpiece" [laughs] - and really we're just all in on just building this as opposed to distracting ourselves with anything else. It's been our passion to do this and to get it right so even if it's the small things, the day or two that you can do to fix and build, we will spend it all on this. And hopefully for those people who go out to buy it, the Remedy brand on the box means something and will remain a seal of quality.
The same sort of rationale would then be applied to the PC version as well? You wanted to focus your attention on getting the 360 version right? What would be required for the PC version to happen?
MM: That's an interesting question. Our roots are very much in the PC development but focusing on one platform has allowed us to make the best possible game so in that respect we're very happy focusing on one platform. Right now, getting this out the door and done -
OH: And then thinking about the moves after that...
MM: Yeah. But I wouldn't - we don't have any plans for a PC version now. At least for me [gesturing at couch and television] this feels like a very good environment to play the game where you have the big screen and couch for something so cinematic and large. But that's just my personal preference.
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