The original Alan Wake is held up as an example in this generation of a game with a tremendous amount of pre-release hype but disappointing sales. You could probably call it a cult classic, all the same. With the original being a high-budget packaged game, it is something of a surprise that Xbox Live Arcade is seeing the series continued in the form of the digitally-distributed Alan Wake’s American Nightmare.
On the other hand, given the amount of effort that the developer, Remedy Entertainment — based in Espoo, Finland — put into developing the original game, its universe, lead character, and story, it’s not so surprising that the team would want to further explore that world.
In this interview, Remedy’s managing director Matias Myllyrinne discusses the creative process that lead to American Nightmare, why the studio decided to tackle the Xbox Live Arcade space, how the game differs in tone and intent from the original, and how he hopes to capture more fans this time around thanks to that shift.
When demoing this game, you’ve said it “challenges conventions of what makes an Xbox Live Arcade title.” Can you qualify that for me?
Matias Myllyrinne: Yeah, absolutely. So personally, and obviously as a team, we love a lot of the titles that we can play on XBLA, like Limbo and Super Meat Boy, and those games are something that we enjoy tremendously.
On the other hand, we felt that in terms of story-driven arcade adventure, there really isn’t something like that just in terms the scope and the vibe that we have in American Nightmare, and hopefully that pushes the envelope slightly forward.
It’s something that we tried to do with a lot of our games. So even thinking back to Max Payne, we wanted to push the shooter action genre with something new. We brought in slow motion.
Earlier in 2011, we worked with a smaller studio to bring Death Rally back — our first game — to iPhone and iPad, and I think there wasn’t exactly anything like that on that platform either.
With the original Alan Wake, I hope we tried to push some of the storytelling and bring in an episodic TV series structure. And I know others have also given that a go, but we felt that bringing our story pacing and the thrill ride … I think it’s our thing.
And with American Nightmare now on XBLA, it’s a combination of the arcade action that folks expect from XBLA — it’s instant pick up and play fun — but it also brings in this exaggerated pulp action-adventure with a twisted story that folks expect from us. And I don’t think there’s anything quite like it on XBLA, which can either be a great thing or [laughs] … maybe there’s a good reason why it doesn’t exist. Obviously the audience will be the judge of that, but we’re pretty stoked about it.
Primarily, you mean, it’s a bigger game?
MM: In many ways it’s a bigger game than a lot of the games out there. And bigger isn’t always necessarily better, but I think it’s something that we would’ve wanted to play… If you want an action-adventure game you don’t necessarily want to have a 10 hour experience; you can also have something more condensed, and enjoy that. So I think we wanted to bring that. We wanted to bring something that gets you straight into the essence of the experience much more quickly, so that’s what we wanted to do.
There are games like Section 8 and Hydrophobia. So there have been some things that have been done, like that, but maybe not with a big property.
With your third-person narrator that you have now, I feel like there’s a different kind of connection that you have with the hero. How do you feel about the way that the player connects with this person when the narration structure changes?
MM: The narration structure obviously has an impact on how the player perceives the situation, how he perceives the character. So, obviously, in the original Alan Wake we had the TV series “Night Springs,” which had a kind of Twilight Zone feel to it. According to our backstory Wake had written these episodes earlier in his career.
And this is an episode of Night Springs written by Alan Wake, starring Alan Wake, so kind of a fiction-within-fiction model. And with the Night Springs narrator, it doesn’t directly identify with the player’s motives or his aspirations; he can actually be just as an outside commentator on the situation.
But you also have a bigger, different perspective on the situation; you might interpret differently — the player might. I think it gives us some more leeway to explain the situation, because we’re dealing now with almost like an objective narrator instead of a subjective narrator. But I think it works for the context.
I noticed you’re also using it to highlight objectives. “This is why he’s here in this area.”
MM: Yeah, and, “This is why he needs to accomplish this,” as opposed to, “Why am I here and what do I need to do?”
Do you feel like the player will have as much connection to Alan Wake as a result? When he’s being talked about, it’s like he’s now a third-person protagonist instead of a first-person one.
MM: Yes, yes. And I think there is a different accentuation there; I’m hoping that people will associate with Wake and his character. But also because there is a more pulpy vibe to the whole experience, this kind of narration and this kind of storytelling is very much in the vein of the supernatural and sci-fi pulp fiction movie classics. So we feel that’s the tone to go for, and obviously with the TV series framing of the entire story, it makes sense.