Alan Wake Interview: Oskari Hakkinen
Alan Wake is the latest “Psychological Action Thriller” coming from Remedy Games (home of the original Max Payne titles) – having spent a turbulent five years in development, amid rumours of the game’s existence, it’s now finally set for a May 21st release. We caught up with Oskari Hakkinen, Remedy‘s Head of Franchise Development, to see what he had to say about it.
Q: What other games, books or movies were you main inspiration during Alan Wake’s development process?
A: We don’t look at other video games as a source of inspiration, but we definitely looked into other pop culture, like movies, books, graphic novels, TV series. Lost is certainly an inspiration to us – not from a plot perspective, but in a tightly-paced thriller-in-a-TV-series format. We tip our hats to some of the greats: there’s a bit of Hitchcock there certainly, there’s an echo of Twin Peaks in Bright Falls and Stephen King as a writer who’s work is coming true. In the game you’ll see a Hedge Maze, from The Shining. There’s a lot of those, and there’s a lot of moments where you’ll say ‘okay, I’ve seen this somewhere else’.
Q: Twin Peaks is a TV Series that famously didn’t help itself by revealing the identity of the killer very early on, how do you plan to avoid the same pitfall with other chapters of the Alan Wake story once this game has been released?
A: You should definitely think of this game as Season One of a TV Series, if you like – and this Season will have a satisfactory and conclusive ending, but we’ve always thought of Alan Wake as being part of a larger story. It’s been a long development process, and it just makes sense for us to make a larger story out of this. It’s pretty much mapped out of how it’s going to go, but how those exact things fall into place after this game? We’re not sure, but we’ll leave some doors ajar to leave you thinking “what happened to this character” or “where’s it going to go from here”. We’ve announced we’re going to do some DLC, but that’s not going to start until a couple of weeks from now after all the localisations [from Microsoft] and so forth, but you should think of the DLC as ‘Specials’ in TV Show terminology – Christmas Specials, Easter Specials etc.
Q: What’s changed in the five years since you’ve been working on the game?
A: The basic concept that we started out to do has remained pretty much the same from a character and story perspective, one of the major changes is that at one point we were hoping to do an open world. However quite early on in the development stage we realised that a Remedy game is a character-centric, story-driven experience – and the game is a thriller – so having an open world where we couldn’t control the pacing as much made it difficult for us to deliver those thriller elements. Having said that, the game is built on open world technology because that’s what we set out to do, so you’re not walking down a tube. This is a huge world, and because of the type of terrain in the Pacific North West we can make a lot of natural boundaries there: cliff edges or mountains, so in a way we can direct the player without him feeling like he’s being pulled by a string, and he can make his own decisions and choose whether to walk or drive a car, but ultimately with a thriller you want to control the pacing. There’s a lot of exploration content in there as well – everybody’s going to get the skeleton of the story, but there’s over 100 manuscript pages, there’s TVs with a lot of back story and Radios with a lot of content as well. But this isn’t a sandbox game, this is a tightly-paced, story-driven experience.
Q: So are you looking to make Alan Wake seem like a product that’s unique to your studio?
A: Absolutely. Some of the things that make a Remedy game is cinematic, movie-like action – we’re renowned from the Max Payne days for having that – but first of all a story-driven experience and a strong lead character, and that’s definitely some of the things that we’ve taken from Max Payne but we’ve evolved it into a thriller. We didn’t want to put bullet time into this [Alan Wake] because it wouldn’t make sense, however we did evolve and utilise some of the themes we learnt with camera work and how to utilise those in a thriller. We pull the camera away so it gives that moment of hunter and hunted, but it gives you a little bit more time to react and it gets your pulse racing. Another one is when you have a perfect shot with a flare gun, we release the camera and it follows the flare – and it’s a moment of brilliance, if you like. I don’t want to coin that word but it accentuates the moment and it feels really rewarding to the player. It doesn’t happen all the time because even if you do three amazing flare gun shots after each other it won’t feel rewarding.
Q: What about people who try to power through Alan Wake – do you think they will be missing out?
A: Yeah, I think that will be a shame. However like I said, everyone will get the skeleton of the story but for lack of a better term, everyone has different consumption methods and people are going there for different experiences. Some people are going for just the action, they want to kill the taken, they want to use the light mechanic and they want to enjoy it, they want to enjoy the flare gun because they haven’t seen that in games before. Sure, they’re going to miss a lot of the story and that is optional to them. I think a lot of people will play it the way it’s meant to be played, and because we’ve made the exploration content feel very compelling people will be excited to open the manuscript pages, and more so the TVs and the Radios. But we’ve got to understand that people play in different ways – we can’t force them to play in a certain way.