Alan Wake Developer Sheds a Little Light on Quantum Break

The Xbox One sci-fi action game is the latest and most ambitious attempt yet by Remedy Entertainment's Sam Lake to fuse video games and other storytelling media.

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What is Quantum Break? After a mysterious demo here at E3 2013, I have more questions than ever about how the game actually plays. Like Remedy's previous game Alan Wake, Quantum Break takes its structural cues from episodic television. However, Quantum Break goes way beyond the Alan Wake touches like TV-style interludes that remind you of what happened previously. In Quantum Break, a significant amount of the story is presented in a live-action "television show" that's a built-in component of the game, and choices you make in the game influence both how the game plays out and how the show's story is presented.

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The demo was framed as a high-level look at the world of Quantum Break and offered scant few details about how the ideas discussed would actually manifest themselves in the finished game. Instead, Sam Lake spoke conceptually about how your point of view shifts between the two main playable characters, a man and a woman who have the ability to manipulate time after being present at a science experiment that went horribly wrong. Choices you make periodically during the game influence how these shifts in perspective occur.

The most significant such choices occur at what Lake referred to as "junction moments." When these occur, you actually step into the role of the game's villain, whose time-manipulation powers outstrip those of the heroes. The villain alone has the ability to observe branches in time, and it's this ability that lets you explore diverging narrative threads. Lake stressed that Quantum Break is not a "choose your own adventure," but a single story told many ways. The choices you make, Lake said, will affect both how the game plays out and what he referred to as your "director's cut" of the show.

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In talking about the game, Lake's choice of words reflected his attempt to blur the line between game and TV show; he alternated between referring to it as a game and referring to it as a "season," with indications that if the game represents the first season of Quantum Break, he has already begun thinking about what might come next. He also indicated that Quantum Break is heavily dependent on what has come before. With Max Payne, Lake used a graphic novel approach to storytelling.

With Alan Wake, he moved on to television, and with Quantum Break, he's pushing the TV show concept much farther than he did before. Lake talked about how his games have always been set in the real, modern-day world (although there's often an element of the otherworldly at play, be it the supernatural horror of Alan Wake or the sci-fi of Quantum Break) and how, since we have media like TV and movies constantly bombarding us in the modern world, it only makes sense for their influence to shape games set in that world.

It's far too soon to tell how Quantum Break's attempts to fuse live-action television and third-person shooter action will pan out, and with regard to the game's release, Lake said only that it was not going to be an Xbox One launch title. But whether or not it lives up to Sam Lake's ambitious aspirations, one thing about it already seems pretty clear: it won't be ordinary.

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