Alan Wake Q&A - Sam Lake

Creator and writer Sam Lake talks about Alan Wake's long road to release, the influence of <i>Twin Peaks</i> and <i>Lost</i>, DLC plans, and more.

Alan Wake

Originally announced back in 2005, Alan Wake has certainly been a long time coming. After a huge unveiling at the Electronic Entertainment Expo of that year, developer Remedy went quiet for a number of years, before reemerging at this year's expo with another fantastic demo. Finally, it looks to be ready to emerge from the shadows next year with a confirmed second quarter 2010 release date, albeit only on the Xbox 360 and not the PC, as was originally hoped.

Alan Wake is Remedy's follow-up to Max Payne and follows writer Alan Wake as he retreats to the sleepy town of Bright Falls. The game is predominantly an action thriller but with a psychological twist, where reality and fiction blend into one nightmarish scenario for Wake. The developer is currently putting the finishing touches on the game, but we managed to coax Sam Lake, the creator and writer, into telling us exactly what to expect from this highly anticipated game.

GameSpot UK: It's been six years since Alan Wake was announced, but with a Q2 2010 release, the end is now in sight. Are you nervous that such a long development period will result in high expectations from audiences?

Sam Lake: Nervous and very excited at the same time. To be honest, relieved as well. Six years is a long time to work on a project; a lot can happen in one’s life in six years. Like any large project, ours has seen its ups and downs, and a huge amount of hard work has gone into it.

These past few months, it’s been truly fantastic to see different areas come together and the final polished game finally taking shape before our eyes. I’m sure that we are our own worst and harshest critics when it comes to the details in the game. I’m very excited about the fact that soon the players will be able to experience Alan Wake but, naturally, a bit nervous as well. We’ve worked hard to make it a fun experience, and I definitely hope the players will find it that too.

GSUK: Alan Wake has been referred to as an "intense psychological thriller," but having seen the trailers, we're also detecting straight horror. What’s the balance in the game?

SL: More often than not in games, horror means blood and gore and monsters. Alan Wake is not about that. We set out to build an intense experience with a strong atmosphere and mood; lot of scares, yes, but scares that have a meaning and are tied to the story and the mystery at hand. And we felt that calling it a thriller would convey this very well.

We have action gameplay that involves people being attacked and disappearing in the woods at night and murderous, shadowy figures that come at you wielding axes. And, sure, if this was a movie, you would probably call some of these elements straight horror, but we still feel that as an overall definition, thriller is a good way to describe what the game is about.

Alan Wake: blinded by the light.

GSUK: What have you learned from your experience with Max Payne and how has it influenced your approach to Alan Wake?

SL: Max Payne was all about stylised, cinematic action. Alan Wake has other sides to it, but cinematic action is very prominent in Wake as well. Max Payne also had a very strong main character. That’s very important to us. Alan Wake is all about Alan Wake, the writer. The story and the plot revolve around him, his background, his personality, his problems, and the situation he finds himself in. In a way, the whole world is a reflection of the character and his nightmares.

I think you can link the similarities. We found a winning concept in Max Payne that somewhat defined what a Remedy game is all about. As a company, we have evolved a lot and are really pushing the envelope with Alan Wake from a storytelling and technical perspective but, of course, keeping in mind our heritage and what got us here.

GSUK: Combat trailers seem to show the use of slow-motion bullet-time elements. Can you explain how they work in the game?

SL: These cinematic moments are there to give emphasis to particularly close calls or important successes in the combat. They are triggered by the game when conditions are right; "moments of brilliance" if you like.

GSUK: Just how character focused is Alan Wake and what twists and turns can we expect as the story unfolds?

SL: This is a psychological thriller, and as such, it’s very tightly focused around the main character and his state of mind. Questions about what happened to Wake’s wife, Alice; what the hell is going on; is Wake’s lost thriller novel really coming true; is Wake mad; what’s Bright Falls all about…will all be asked and answered…some of them many times and with different answers along the way.

Wake uses a combination of his torch and a gun to fend off enemies.

GSUK: Much has been said about the environments in Alan Wake and the way they can influence the characters and enemies in the game. Can you tell us more about these environmental dynamics?

SL: Light is the key factor here: light and darkness. Light and daytime represent the sane world and safety; darkness and nighttime are about horror and nightmares. The enemies wait in the dark and come at you in the dark. Light is a combat tool and a safe haven, even to the point where Wake regains his health much faster standing in a safe haven of light than in darkness.

GSUK: The use of light is a key feature of combat in Alan Wake, specifically the range of flares and flashlights Alan has at his disposal. Can you tell us more about the varieties of flashlight and what they can be used for?

SL: The enemies Wake faces are protected by the dark presence that possesses them. Only light can burn the dark presence away and make the enemies vulnerable to normal damage. Wake also seems to be able to will his light sources to burn brighter and to drain the dark presence away faster. This is a limited resource that takes either time or batteries to recharge.

There are a few different flashlights in the game. Stronger flashlights burn the dark presence away faster. The most extreme case would be a stationary searchlight--our version of a gun turret--that is powerful enough to destroy many enemies outright.

GSUK: The last time we saw Alan, he was actually running away from the light, as opposed to harnessing it. Are there likely to be more of these "reversal" events or is this a one-off incident?

SL: Light and darkness are themes that we explore from various directions in the game. Wake’s wife, Alice, suffers from the fear of the dark, and what Wake experiences in the game bears a resemblance to the way she describes how it feels to her. And while light represents sanity and safety, there are also more dreamlike and, at least, apparently supernatural sides to it as well.

GSUK: Alan Wake has a definite Twin Peaks vibe about it. Is it fair to say that this has been a source of inspiration for you? What other films/books/TV series have influenced you?

SL: Twin Peaks is a classic, and it’s fair to say that the town of Bright Falls has an echo of Twin Peaks in it. Of the more modern TV series, Lost made a big impression on us. Stephen King has used a writer as the main character in his horror books more than a few times, as have a few other good authors, such as Bret Easton Ellis and Paul Auster.

GSUK: What are your plans for postrelease content?

SL: We have talked about it, and with our episode-based structure, it would be very logical. But nothing has been decided on the matter, and right now, we are fully focused on polishing the game and shipping it. After that, let’s see.

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