Sleep Talking: Alan Wake Interview

By Adam Smith on February 16th, 2012 at 2:26 pm.

Writers are invariably the real heroes

Earlier this week I spoke with Oskari Häkkinen, head of franchise development at Remedy, about the PC release of Alan Wake. We talked about the importance of PC gaming to the Remedy team, drawing inspiration from popular culture and whether Alan’s further adventures will be following close behind.

RPS: Hello! It’s been a long time coming, but now that Alan Wake is arriving on PC, it’s good to see all the details on customisation options and control support. How important was it to get the basics right after all this time?

Häkkinen: For Remedy as a team, it was extremely important. Looking back at our heritage from Death Rally, Max Payne 1, Max Payne 2, PC gaming is, of course, an important part of that. For Alan Wake, I think, we haven’t been too shy about saying it’s something that we’ve always wanted to do. Alan Wake was originally announced as a PC and 360 title. And then somewhere along the road, the stars became unaligned and it became a 360 exclusive.

It’s something we’ve always wanted to do, we’ve always wanted to put the PC version out there and as soon as we got the blessing from Microsoft to start developing that, we put a lot of time and effort into doing justice to the PC version.

RPS: Does coming back to PC feel like coming home?

Häkkinen: That’s something that we came up with at the office. Thinking, how do we talk about this to other people, and we had discussions about talking from our heart about how we feel. Cutting the PC version was like cutting off one of your children. We’re really proud of how Alan Wake has done but it just feels more complete now that we’ve done the PC version.

RPS: You say Microsoft’s ‘blessing’ and now that the blessing is in place, will we see more Remedy and Alan Wake on PC in the future?

Häkkinen: That’s a good question. Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is now coming out, also next week, on the 22nd.

RPS: That’s XBLA only though.

Häkkinen: So far it’s exclusive but based on everything I just said about how much PC gaming means to us, you can be guaranteed that we would put as much effort into bringing…well, you can read between the lines.

RPS: Is there any difficulty with the time that’s passed, that you feel the mystery of the game may have evaporated somewhat? That people maybe have a better idea of what Alan Wake is and that lessens the thrill?

Häkkinen: This is a story-driven experience, but it’s just like movies you haven’t seen in a way. There are movies out there that are two years, three years old, stuff that I haven’t seen, and people will say to me, “you need to see this!”. I still pop the DVD in there and watch it.

This is entertainment, it’s interactive entertainment. Someone can tell you how it is, but experiencing it for yourself is very different. It can be difficult, if we worry about the spread of information too much we get a stomach ulcer.

RPS: I guess with the spread of information being so rapid, those concerns are as true two or three hours after release as two or three years.

Häkkinen: People do playthroughs and putting them onto Youtube and so forth. Those kind of things are out there already. Those people who want to sit down and watch a playthrough for twelve or thirteen hours, OK, that’s how they want to experience the game.

Alan Wake has become a cult classic. People have universally enjoyed the story and it’s been critically acclaimed for that. As a cult classic, PC gamers now get a chance to experience that for themselves.

RPS: In terms of control, you’re still supporting joypad but you’re putting in full mouse and keyboard support. Has that led to any tweaks in difficulty, in terms of aiming, or anything along those lines? Or is it an exact transposition?

Häkkinen: It’s just as important how it feels and plays as how it looks. As PC gamers at heart, we put a hell of a lot of effort into getting it right, into getting the mouse and keyboard configurations right, and into actually allowing them to be reconfigured to a user’s preferences. But, yeah, there are a lot of tweaks, in terms of getting the camera right. There’s a lot of emphasis on that. It’s not simple but we’ve done a good job. I don’t know if you’ve played it yourself with mouse and keyboard?

RPS: No, only the original version.

Häkkinen: It’s had a good reception in all the testing we’ve done and now that we’ve put a few builds out there and asked people to test them, we’ve had a good response on the controls.

RPS: The engine still looks impressive on 360, but do you feel that the PC can push the tech you have far enough to look new today? Was there restraint involved in the 360 visuals?

Häkkinen: It looks absolutely phenomenal. When you’re developing on the 360, you’re developing within hardware parameters, so when we open them up, we already see very beautiful visuals. Then we’ve gone back into the game and changed up a lot of the textures, upgraded them, because of course with the graphical configurations, some things start to look a little fuzzy.

It’s a bit like playing with eyeglasses on, the PC version, you think that it used to look fine but actually you had blurry vision the whole time. The engine still does a really good job and with all the settings maxed up, it looks fantastic. We’ve got stereoscopic 3D as well. It’s a niche thing but it looks cool on that.

RPS: Not every game would benefit particularly from a graphical boost. Do you think that the importance of light, and therefore lighting, makes a visual overhaul more important for Alan?

Häkkinen: Well, it’s even more realistic now. I’ve not had the pleasure of playing through the PC version from start to finish, but I have been testing it quite a fair bit. With the lighting playing such an important part in the story, in the combat mechanics, getting that crystallised fidelity in the lighting and the darkness, the Pacific Northwest looks gorgeous.

RPS: The DLC is included, isn’t it?

Häkkinen: Every version that we’re releasing has the DLC bundled.

RPS: So it’s the full story. So far.

Häkkinen: Yeah.

RPS: And there’s a digital release which includes the DLC too, but you’re also bringing back the boxed collector’s edition? Did you always want to make sure there was a PC retail version, with all the fancy extras?

Häkkinen: The 16th is the Steam version, with two versions, a standard with the game and DLC and a collector’s edition with the game, DLC, Alan Wake files, original score and the developer commentary that can be switched on in-game.

And then we’re doing a retail version with Nordic games which is coming out March 2nd. There are two versions again, the basic version, or better-than-basic version, with the game, DLC, cinematic score, sticker pack, double-sided poster, some postcards and a limited collector’s edition, with the Alan Wake files book, developer diaries and commentary.

RPS: How long has the PC version been in development?

Häkkinen: I’d say about four, five months? It’s about five months of development.

RPS: And that was happening alongside American Nightmare?

Häkkinen: Actually, we used a company, another gaming company in Finland for the port. We’re a relatively small team of about 60 people, so we’re kind of stretched to the max. But the producer is from our side and or management were taking care, working with Nitro Games.

RPS: A non-Alan question if I may. Have you had a chance to look at Max Payne 3?

Häkkinen: We have actually! We’ve been consulting Rockstar. I don’t want to make that sound more elaborate than it is. Don’t take anything away from them, they are the guys who’ve done all the heavy lifting, but they came to us and asked us to look at the game and provide feedback. We’ve been honoured to tell them how we feel about Max. It looks phenomenal and it’s a really great continuation to the franchise.

RPS: How does it feel when you create a franchise – and I guess I can call Alan Wake a franchise – but when you have something that you’ve created, how does it feel once it’s out in the world and people have their own interpretations and now even their own commercial take on the characters?

Häkkinen: Do you mean with Max Payne or Alan Wake?

RPS: In general.

Häkkinen: We are very close to the characters and with Max Payne, we had no idea that we were creating something that would become so big. It was just a case of coming up with an idea that we thought was cool and running with that. We didn’t have a clue how it would be perceived and didn’t see anything that was coming. Going out to E3 and having people tapping you on the shoulder and saying: “You guys don’t realise what you’ve done, you’ve done something great for videogaming.”

The guys who made Max Payne were just like, “wow, people like us!” And it’s still very much like that. We make a game, make it as good as we can. All we want to do is develop a creative entity and we hope that people enjoy it.

We do look at every piece of reception out there, everything that people are saying about it and then we react to it. So with American Nightmare, believe it or not we read our emails, and people have asked for more action and more escalation among enemy types. That’s what we’re bringing to them with American Nightmare.

RPS: One of the things that surprised me with Alan Wake was that I’d heard there were Twin Peaks’ connections and all sorts of different reference points, but when I sat down to play it, it very much has its own character. Alan is an unusual protagonist, so it doesn’t feel like homage of one thing but perhaps many things?

Häkkinen: We haven’t been trying to hide all the inspirations, we’re very open about it. That’s our thing. We look to popular culture in the form of movies, TV series, books and graphic novels. We take lots of those things and we tip our hat to them, but we create our own thing from them. We borrow from it but we don’t copy from it. We take inspiration and we’re open about that.

So like you said, for Alan Wake we have: Twin Peaks, Stephen King, Lost, Hitchcock, various other things, House of Leaves, different books, Paul Auster. But when you play it, it doesn’t feel like any one of those, they’re just inspirations.

At the end of the day we hope that we borrow from that pool of entertainment and then contribute back into it and then hopefully people can become inspired by what we do.

RPS: It’s how entertainment usually works, taking and giving back. Becoming part of the culture that it borrowed from.

Häkkinen: Sure. For us, it goes back to people asking us how we feel about bullet time being used in many games these days and we say: “imitation is the best form of flattery”.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

Alan Wake is out later today on Steam and the retail version releases March 2nd.

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37 Comments »

  1. beema says:

    Kind of a sad state of affairs when a developer who is clearly passionate about PC games and who wants to make a game for PC is simply not allowed to do so and is forced by a publisher to make it a console exclusive. That said it’s kind of ironic that they are using a 3rd party to port the game…

    • Muffalopadus says:

      I was suprised and a little dismayed to hear that a 3rd party company was doing the port. I’ve had a couple bad experiences with bad ports (haven’t we all?) and reading that was a major turn-off.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been DYING to play this game since I heard about it. Steam wont let me buy it yet, though. =(

    • Khemm says:

      You know, I kind of can’t shake the feeling they tried to do the same thing Epic did – that is, bow to MS, jump on the exclusivity bandwagon, enjoy a great success and show PC gamers that had been supporting their company for years they’re not needed anymore, that they’ve found greener pastures.
      Unlike Epic, they rather failed, and now come back with tail between their legs.

      Of course, I can be COMPLETELY wrong and they found themselves in a difficult situation (MS funded AW, after all), but still… I’m somewhat bitter and keep wondering if Remedy would bother to bring AW to PC if it actually sold lots of copies on 360, like Gears.
      Or maybe they’re just awesome people and I’m being unfair to them. I don’t know what to think about this.

    • jezcentral says:

      @Khemm: like AW, GOW came out on PC, months after it’s Xbox-exclusive launch.

    • Khemm says:

      @jez
      Yes, except the vastly superior sequels unfortunately didn’t. Neither did Shadow Complex.

    • whydidyoumakemeregister says:

      Obviously Microsoft didn’t force them to do anything, since they’re making yet another 360 exclusive and aren’t bashful to say that this is a port done by a third party.

    • nyarlathotep-88 says:

      I am a little worried about the 3rd party developer, but I think it will come out okay. Didn’t care for the 360 version, but maybe I will give it a shot after a month or so of user reviews. I hope it goes well for them.

    • DocSeuss says:

      Khemm, when it was canceled for PC, Remedy expressed some frustration with the state of affairs, and even said something about keeping the PC version, which they had been developing simultaneously, stored on their servers until the moment that they could release the PC version.

      The reason Nitro is porting it is because Remedy’s only got 60 people, and they have their hands full with American Nightmare, which they’ve been working on longer than the Alan Wake port. Obviously, Microsoft is still helping pay the bills, and as a business with only 60 people, Remedy really can’t do anything but focus on that for now.

      It really does have everything to do with Microsoft being evil. It’s not a case of “we don’t need the PC gamers,” and judging by how much passion Remedy’s had for the port (they even explained why they couldn’t use mod tools, and it wasn’t bullshit or obfuscation–it was straight up “Perforce and 3DS max are integrated into the engine and we can’t get that stuff away for free), it’s clear they care about the PC version.

      No tails tucked between legs here; it’s just “FINALLY! WE GET TO DO IT!”

      It’s obvious that American Nightmare will come to PC–he pretty much flat-out said it with the “read between the lines” bit. He can’t, obviously, because Microsoft is footing the bills, but he obviously wants to.

      I’ll double dip. Remedy deserves it.

    • DickSocrates says:

      The most ironic thing is MS hobbling the PC in order to promote Xbox, as the only reason a substantial amount of their customers still even bloody bother with Windows is because of gaming. MS are stupid enough to let Apple into the PC gaming sphere just to shift a tiny percentage of extra consoles. What kind of morons pay for exclusivity to take a game off another vitally important platform that they own and rely on as a business?! The only thing stopping Apple dominating is their inability to design software that isn’t atrocious (iTunes) and their demonic lust for control.

    • paterah says:

      @Khemm A “supporter” is a strong word in this case. Don’t pretend there was a connection between the pc gamers and Epic for the game. They made a good game and people bought it, it ends there. I’m saying this because I’ve seen this far too many times like a company is obligated to someone if they made a successful game before. They are not.

  2. DrScuttles says:

    “…on Steam, I talk to you
    On Steam, you’re mine
    All of the time
    We’re together
    On Steam, on Steam”

    Perhaps a creepy ode to a gaming client, but imagine Dean Stockwell miming it and we’re all good.

  3. tobias says:

    He mentions House of Leaves- that book is an incredible mind fuck…

  4. Urthman says:

    Weird seeing so many stories on RPS about a game that’s been out for a while and that we already know is pretty mediocre.

    • UncleLou says:

      Do we know that? My impressions from the 360 gamers on forums was that people were either pretty damn disappointed because they expected something different, or they loved it for the atmosphere. That might average out as “mediocre”, but the word probably doesn’t do it justice either way.

    • lumenadducere says:

      I certainly enjoyed it, and am considering buying the PC version as well. It was certainly worth playing, it’s just that too many people went into it expecting something that it wasn’t. But if you actually look at it and try to judge it based on its own merits, it’s a good time. Just, y’know, expect some dangling plot threads. It’s one of those “we won’t answer everything because that would ruin the mystery” type of games, which I normally hate but for some reason found palatable with Alan Wake. I think the general premise and atmosphere contributed to that, but as with all things YMMV.

  5. Skystrider says:

    I for one am still interested and will buy as soon as it becomes available on Steam. I may even get the physical collectors edition too, if it turns out to be good enough to buy twice. We’ll see.

  6. Skystrider says:

    Oooh. It’s available now. Only 21 Euro for the collectors edition. Not a bad price. At all. *purchased!*

  7. povu says:

    They should consult Rockstar some more, this time on the subject of Red Dead Redemption. Nudge nudge, wink wink.

  8. celozzip says:

    never buy steam games out of a sale. it’ll probably be half price at easter.

  9. SkittleDiddler says:

    Can anyone confirm that the in-game advertisements will stay intact for the PC version? Alan Wake looks mildly interesting, but if those glaring ads are in, I’m out.

    • Zyrocz says:

      I played through the game on the 360. I only saw 1 ad and it felt more like a joke. Doubt you’ll be bothered by them if they’re there.

    • SkittleDiddler says:

      Meh, Zyrocz, one real-life product placement is too much for me. That kind of crap just ruins the immersion, in addition to it being a moral thing for me. I’ll pass.

    • Kaira- says:

      I actually missed the ad on first playthrough and almost on second. It’s in a place where you’d least expect to see it.

    • Vandelay says:

      Never understood this. Like most things, it can be done well or badly. When done well, such as billboards in an open city game, then I can’t really see what the problem is. If anything, it heightens immersion. If it is done badly, like a character turning to the player and saying “say, this McDonald’s tastes really good. Much better than that shit Burger King shovels,” then it is obviously a problem, but it rarely is that extreme.

      The only time I can think of in-game advertisements being a problem is the infamous Airwaves advertising in Chaos Theory, but that was so bad it was quite funny.

      I just see it as a bit more money going towards producing the game.

    • runtheplacered says:

      @ SkittleDiddler,

      Skipping this game because of your listed reason is absolutely ridiculous. Bringing up “morality” as if it has anything to do with this made me laugh though.

  10. PC-GAMER-4LIFE says:

    Its on Steam now for only £22.99 including the collectors edition DLC for free! Not selling very well though yet not even in the top 20!!

  11. Echo Black says:

    This interview was actually pleasant to read. Unlike the first couple of them, where the guy would just spew unrelated, inane PR at every question.

  12. Teronfel says:

    Just bought it!!!:D

  13. Hardtarget says:

    it’s 33% off right now on GMG and it’s steamworks, probably gonna pick it up for $20USD

  14. Klarden says:

    It’s funny to read a question about how video playthroughs are so common today. i remember, when i reviewed the game on the blog i was with my friend and i didn’t actually like it much. I mean, Alan Wake is a cool concept, and looks cool and it has “up jumped the devil”, which is amazing, but the gameplay was rather frustraiting and as a whole the game just became boring. And i had a guy in the comments who desided to show me that my opinion is invalid because of REASONS, and as an argument he told that he “watched the entire playthrough of the game on YouTube and thought it was a good game”. because, yeah. I reviewed a game by watching and not playing it too.
    Still plan to buy it on Steam, though. Give it another try, since the price is good (for Ukraine, that is). And still wish Sweary65 would bring Deadly Premonition on Steam, because i would totally krush kill and destroy for that.

  15. DocSeuss says:

    The third picture–the one of the lumber mill–is of something that isn’t actually in the game.

    It, alongside the UFO, the plane crash, and a few other bits, got cut several years ago, but even back then, they’d already determined it would be a linear game.

    All I can remember from it is that you’d be guided (by phone?) through it by Sara Breaker while it was ON FIRE.

  16. phenom_x8 says:

    My heart are still hurts everytime remedy being interviewed about this game and they say that they always love pc but thats not what they’ve done all this time. And I’m very dissapointed when he says that our version was done by 3rd party company, where’s all this love goes than?

  17. Vandelay says:

    Picked this up and been played through the first “episode”, not really knowing anything about the game, besides the odd gameplay trailer shown before the Xbox release. I have a feeling that it is the kind of game that a lot on here will probably loath, as it is linear and very story driven. However, if linear does not mean the same as bad to you, then I can certainly recommend giving it a go, from what I have seen so far.

    It does allow you to stray from the path slightly, with a few hidden collectibles scattered around (I like the method it uses to guide you towards these stashes,) which makes the level design a little more interesting than your usual corridor shooter. There is also a return of the ‘Max Payne’ style TV shows about the place for you to find, with the one I have found so far being a ‘Twilight Zone’ parody.

    Speaking of TV shows, the influence of ‘Twin Peaks’ is very apparent, with even some areas that seem to have been modelled on the sets (the diner, for example.) The use of Roy Orbison’s ‘In Dreams’ is also surely a nod to Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’, so clearly they are fans at Remedy. That definitely wins them over to me.

    Gameplay-wise, it is a slight twist on the usual Third Person combat, but not much of one. Enemies also seem to be able to take quite a beating, which I’m not sure how much I like. If it means that I need to think about ammo use, it could be interesting, but that hasn’t been an issue so far. Instead, battles just seemed to go on for an unnecessary amount of time. Having said that, the boss battle that closed out the first episode was slightly more interesting then the regular goons and also demonstrated some slightly more interesting AI than the usual, as it dashed around between stacks of logs. More of that sort of thing would be good. It also took me nearly two hours to play through this first section, so levels are nice and large. Not sure how many episodes make up the game, but even if it is only 6 or so, all similar lengths, then it should be a fairly length game, particular compared to ‘Max Payne’

    In terms of the porting, it seems to have been a good job. There are plenty of graphics options to fiddle with (including FOV,) and all prompts are coming up with keyboard and mouse controls. It also seems to alt-tab very well, which is always nice. Camera controls do feel a little odd. Not really sure what it is exactly, but I think it has to do with the over the should style it uses. Having said that, it quickly became unnoticeable, so it wasn’t really a big issue.

    So, impressed so far. I don’t think it will likely be the greatest thing I have ever played, but I am definitely intrigued by the plot and the gameplay is good enough not to make me stop. I would like to see a little more variety to it and complaints that it does get repetitive is a little worrying, but I think it should keep me entertained for the run time.

  18. matrices says:

    I rented this on the 360 a while back and didn’t come away too impressed. The combat is simplistic and repetitive. The writing just feels off somehow, like the game writer was trying too hard to come off as a best-selling novelist. I didn’t really “get” the story either. Maybe that’s my own fault but I wanted more exposition and investment in key characters before being thrown into the combat.

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