Alan Wake: The interview

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Following a recent PR event where members of the press were driven into the woods in the middle of the night, ambushed by knife wielding maniacs driven by dark forces and chased until a flare drove off our pursuers, we got chance to speak to Oskari Hakkinen, Head of Franchise Development at Remedy Entertainment, about Alan Wake.

First of all, how did you find the Punchdrunk experience? Did their take on the game’s ‘dark presence’ and the feel of pursuit capture the feeling of Alan Wake at all?

I’ve heard there were three or four different experiences here tonight and the experience I had in going outside was a fantastic experience of what AW’s about; coming through the woods with flashlights or the psychological moments with the actors.

They really got the pacing right by calming us down before building up the actual event with music, the soundscape and then the lighting outside and so on.

It did capture a piece of what AW is about but the game is so much more, a much longer entity. We’ve really paced out the action from start to finish making the whole experience a rollercoaster of emotions; tonight’s performance was more like a small snippet of what you might expect from the game itself.

We’ve heard that AW will feature an adaptive difficulty which will change to meet the player’s ability, what’s the thinking behind that?

It’s a dynamic difficulty system where parameters are set by the game’s engine itself, everything’s under the hood. If you’re playing exceptionally well, if you’re getting headshots or utilising the light sources within the world particularly it can determine the difficulty on the fly.

We realised it’s not a fun experience to die, if you can’t get past a scene it isn’t fun to keep having to replay the same scene over and over. People do get stuck, some gamers will suss out certain scenes right away while they might have trouble elsewhere. When you get to those occasions the dynamic difficulty will adjust to suit or if you’re doing well it will really pump it [the difficulty] up.

Bright Falls has been described as a town reminiscent of Twin Peaks, where else have you drawn your inspiration from during the creative process?

The range of inspirations are huge, we haven’t limited ourselves to any one thing specifically. There’s certainly an echo of Twin Peaks and the setting is a big part of the game, we also reference the works of Stephen King a lot, simply because Alan Wake himself is a writer whose writing is now coming true.

But it goes so much deeper than that, from locations, to characters, to story elements and even from technical perspectives. We’ve looked into to, for example, how Alfred Hitchcock utilised the cameras into certain movies as well. We wanted to capture those ‘thriller-esque’ moments where it’s the hunter and the hunted.

You might have an enemy attacking you from behind [for example]. As the player you don’t know the enemy is there, so we use a classic thriller technique by panning the camera back. The camera might be in a flock of birds as they’re attacking you, you’re still in control of the player but the perspective gives you the chance to react; your heart really beats in those moments.

So we’ve heard that AW will be based around episodes, how will that work within the game?

We looked into so many types of popular culture, movies and TV shows. For example we’ve referenced Lost a lot, not from the plot perspective but as a guide to the format of a tightly paced thriller.

AW will be broken down into episodes much like a TV series, each episode will start with a ‘previously on’ and give you a short recap of what you’ve played already for example. We think we’re on to a concept which really works in videogames, it allows us to control the pacing – each episode has its own story arc and within that arc we can hit difference peaks and even leave it on a cliff-hanger.

We can give an emotional experience within each episode, whereas in a videogame which doesn’t have that structure it has to have that ‘start to end’ storyline which once it peaks you can only really go down from there.

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