Special Alan Wake Hands-on and Q&A with the guys from Remedy

24th April 2010 - Thanks to Microsoft and Remedy, roughly 15 community members from sites like ours, OXCGN and capsulecomputers were invited to a special dinner on Tuesday night. In the heart of Sydney’s Red Light district the selected few went hands on with a variety of dinner meats, open bar and generally good company, but also the latest debug of the long awaited Alan Wake. The much touted ‘psychological thriller’ is hoping to set a new bench mark for Merchandise and Franchising as it crosses genres of both written and viewed, created as a ‘TV show’ but also a book.


Chapters of Alan Wake are presented as episodes; as in TV episodes- which start with a ‘previously on Alan Wake’ monologue. This sets the tone for an otherwise interactive cinematic affair which has elements of survival horror but also larger broader strokes of old fashioned point and click mysteries as opposed to the more sinister Action games like Silent Hill. Curiously throughout my time talking to Remedy big wigs Matias Myllyrine and Peter Papadopoulos, they likened their product to the TV show LOST. Personally it seemed more like GTA IV but different for a key few reasons.


(Left : Remedy Community Manager Peter Papadopoulos and Right : Managing Director : Matias Myllyrinne)

Having published under Rockstar before, not to mention selling the IP Max Payne outright to them, there are definite signs that the cinematic adventure has influenced the development. The HUD which consists of health around a compass map and simple weapon icons is almost identical in a time of regenerating invisible ‘health’. The models and details are strikingly similar in quality and there is just something about the way Alan moves that makes me wonder if the patented Euphoria engine didn’t play some part. The game has some heavily reactive physics in it and the shooting mechanic is also reminiscent of said GTA. The kicker is that the opening cinematic and introduction of titles and names might as well have been made by the same guys who first introduced us to Nikko Bellic.


All said and done, Alan Wake doesn’t have a cover mechanic, neither has GTA ever been set in the pacific North West…yet. Instead the left bumper acts as dodge, useless normally but nice for a context sensitive escape at a flailing melee enemy in the environments of ridiculously detailed with trees and wooded shrubs amongst the rivers and creeks of Bright Falls. This dodge/duck move also highlights a few other things. Alan has low health. Sam Fisher-one shot kill- low and there is still the ever present trapping of slow motion action at the right time. Usually when the last enemy of a mob is eliminated you will see a slow-mo death or for a quick evade. As Alan Wake moves through the locals of Bright Falls, looking for his dead wife and otherwise bringing to life his own self published story; day becomes night, and the ‘the darkenss’ takes over.


(A pic of the Remedy guys with the various community members. Thanks to CapsuleComputers for the pics!)

The story is well established which is enough to take it further through both DLC and into a second game, but as deep as it’s self styled psychological horror pre-text. Alan Wake is in a car crash and recovers in Bright Falls where he is looking for his ‘dead wife’ who may or may not have gone missing. He is a self published author and general celebrity to the locals who love his mystery novels. Catch is as the story unfolds and Alan keeps finding pages of his own manifesto around the place, it all starts to take a turn for the real as what is written on the page will unfold in the next area for the player around Alan. The interpretation is literal and trees, machines rocks, water and general crazy wood people come to life. Alan has naught but a flashlight and some different forms of illumination (flares guns, road flares, flame and some guns) at his disposal. The exploration with Remedy of both the passive adventure side and otherwise more action fighting context to the game led to some interesting Questions:


AAG: (As we are playing) You keep referring to ‘Alan Wake 1’ and season one. Does this mean there is a second game coming out?


Remedy: We are currently already making the DLC and it is well under way to be delivered as soon as the game launches. Alan Wake is not episodic per say but presented with episodes like a TV series, like in LOST.


AAG: So Alan Wake 2 then…? Is that separate to the DLC and does that mean the story continues over?


Remedy: We are very excited as this is a new Franchise. We hope people love it and the DLC will showcase other chapters of the story we couldn’t flesh out here. Season one is definitely a self contained story but has themes and ideas that will carry over into the next game.


AAG: So you are already making a Sequel! Alan Wake 2?


Remedy: We expect Alan Wake to perform well and be very successful as a Franchise and with the book already coming out we want to continue the story and explore the locations in Alan Wake 2. The technology and engine is built from scratch for us which results in a higher turn around of content.


[Note that at the time there was a definite distinction between season 1 and Alan Wake 1. It is inferred that a second game is definitely coming out within 18 months of Alan Wake launching, 2 years tops. Given the difference between GTA IV and Red Dead Redemption, the tech looks solid and could easily translate into a few more games. Further to use the analogy again we expect the episodes DLC to be similar to the GTA episodes. Note: Alan Wake is a MS exclusive.]


(Another pic of everyone!)

In regards to the engine:


AAG: I couldn’t help noticing it reminds me of GTA IV. You guys worked on Max Payne right? Which was published under Rockstar, is this the same tech?


Remedy: Alan Wake is our own IP (obviously) and we built the engine from the ground up over the last 6 years specifically for this game. Some things have changed but we are very proud of what we have achieved.


AAG: Oh for sure. So have you seen Max Payne 3… …?


Remedy: We sold Max Payne directly to Rockstar outright. They have developed it and taken it in their own direction.


AAG: They made him old. Max Payne is old and crusty now! It’s probably good they differed to spend time on their Western Game and put Max away for a while, Red Dead is looking good.


Remedy: It looks sweet. Max Payne 3 is…interesting, it’s interesting what they have done.


[Given the long delays with the game some aspects of Alan Wake look super sharp and polished while others probably are the same assets they were toying with over 6 years ago. Draw distance and lighting though is spot on. At this point we left Remedy to go and chat up the always available Ashley Jenkins before playing more of the demos]


After that, everyone split to walk through the scenes of Kings Cross nightlife.


The lasting impression is that Alan Wake is everything Remedy wanted it to be. After some more action oriented changes it really pushes the ‘thrilling’ aspect of being alone without sidelining it in Horror and Gore. It is creepy but at an entry point that action fans can enjoy. It is heavily scripted but with enough cinematic and flare that it stacks up to today’s best. The highlight of the whole demo is as follows:


“Alan Wake will almost always carry a torch in the left hand, mapped to left trigger. The dang thing has a life of its own and actually doesn’t point where Alan is looking. This adds to a disorientating free floating camera that never quite sits still. Literally I was tilting myself with the game as my body followed his- but my eyes wanted to follow the torch. The torch is rather ‘sticky’ but not in a bad way and shooting the torch releases high energy beams of light to smash foes. The environment comes to life as Alan is in a cabin and a Bulldozer literally picks up the shed in real time tilting the world on its end as you have to try and run out at an angle  while everything in the cabin suddenly comes crushing down.”


There did appear to be some glitches especially with large environmental pieces moving/ collision detection with the rest of the (static) environment (read: not so scary!) and some enemy spawning in trapped locations (again not so scary when they can’t attack you)


Alan Wake launches in May 2010.


{Edit: It’s been a big week for Remedy touring with Microsoft and it was a real pleasure both to meet them and have a chance to look at their game. Remedy performed a nice little stunt for everyone on Monday, ‘kidnapping’ a few contestants and setting them up in an old “haunted” Sydney Jail with copies of the game, just in the name of science. You can read a bit about it HERE. Surprisingly one of my best friends was actually on site to set up the heart rate monitors and so we have some coverage of the event over the next week or so. Enjoy Alan Wake, it’s looking good!}


Apart from the few questions I managed to ask the guys from Remedy, our friends at Capsule Computers managed to grab a video interview with them. Check their video interview out HERE!


Ian Crane was our attendee at the dinner and writer of this article.