Drawing more parallels to the vibes of mystery-soaked, suspense-filled supernatural TV dramas, and putting a psychologically-disturbed protagonist front-and-center rather than your atypical videogame archetype, Alan Wake was an alarmingly risky proposition for its developer and backer to see through. But with the supernatural thriller recently reported to have surpassed the 2 million mark in units sold – a statistic no doubt helped along by the title’s recent release on PC – and rumours of a sequel in the pipeline, it’s a bet that seems to have paid off big for the team that cut its teeth on the bullet-time thrills and film noir vibes of the Max Payne series.
Parallels between the two series are inescapable – not least the way in which both share the trait of having a lead tormented by the loss of their loved one – but with Max Payne 3 development having since made its way to Rockstar’s Vancouver base, the Finnish Remedy Entertainment is firmly behind unlikely hero Wake for some time to come. First up is Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, an Xbox Live Arcade exclusive spin-off of the main series that is described as a ‘pulp action thriller’ and represents a chance for the studio to put down its pens (at least until Alan Wake 2 comes calling), lock and load for a departure that turns the Alan Wake experience on its head. With that in mind, we chatted to Remedy CEO Matias Myllyrinne about spin-offs, the XBLA treatment and deranged psychopathic evil doubles…
New Rising Media: First things first then, Alan Wake was a fairly risky proposition to say the least; an Xbox 360-exclusive, brand-new IP, with a firm focus on moody atmospherics and a well-paced episodic storyline. An XBLA spin-off would suggest the game was a success, but how well did you feel the game was received?
Matias Myllyrinne: I think there are two sides to this- first and foremost it had a deep impact with the fans. It touched many people and they are very engaged with the fiction and story. This is the most rewarding part creatively. Equally, it was one of Time magazine’s game of the year, was nominated for BAFTA and AIAS awards, while many in the media felt it was a landmark game. So, I think in terms of making something meaningful, that delighted and surprised people we succeeded.
The second side is commercial; Alan Wake was the number two game in its launch window. For a new IP on one platform … I think that it is a good result. Of course, now that we are able to bring it to PC, that will tilt the scales even further. We love Wake and we think we are in a good spot to continue. Hopefully, with something surprising and cool when the time comes.
NRM: Having enjoyed the success of developing a full-priced Alan Wake opener, what were the reasons behind the switch to XBLA for Alan Wake's American Nightmare and why did you go the spin-off route?
MM: The inception was different this time round. The beginning was more organic than on many Remedy games as it started with those early prototypes. It started with us trying out more new wild weapons and wilder enemies in these white boxed game-test levels. Out of the responses we got from Alan Wake was that the story was awesome and the fiction very immersive – but the gameplay could have had more variety. We wanted to address this and before we knew it we had a fully fledged arcade mode with our test maps. You know, we were keeping score against each other at the office and it all grew from there. Of course, Sam has the entire fiction mapped out and he wanted to bring some elements of it into the mix – story is our thing after all, it is very much a part of the Remedy DNA.
NRM: For me, Alan Wake was such a praiseworthy project for you since it evoked an atmosphere that so few games this generation have matched. It felt refreshing to have a game fronted by a vulnerable, mentally-scarred, yet capable protagonist and a mystery-soaked story to match. How, then, has the studio managed to maintain the suspense and horror of the IP while delivering this 'pulp action thriller'. Or has that been downplayed here?
MM: The focus is a little different in American Nightmare. If Alan Wake was 1/3 action and 2/3 story – here the scales are tilted the other way- it just seems like the right fit with the XBLA medium. It needs to be instant pick up and play fun. The vibe and tone of the story is also a little different – all distinctively Wake, but with a different note. You know if there ever was a Night Springs episode starring Wake – this would be it…
NRM: The light-versus-dark mechanic was heavily played up in the series' opener and worked in adding a layer of nail-biting tension to combat. Is that something that makes it into American Nightmare? And how have you managed to balance it with the fast-paced nature of the game?
We’ve pushed that a lot further. I think it is something best played – not explained – it works even better than before. The weapons are of course more over the top – and these would not be in the right tone for Alan Wake, but work in the context of American Nightmare.
NRM: What can players expect from American Nightmare in terms of game modes. What can you tell us about the 'Fight Till Dawn' mode?
MM: It is an intense 10 minute feast of survival and tactics, but above all else adrenaline and thrills. If you survive till dawn you win and compete against other players on leaderboards for high scores once you master surviving... It is a simple yet addictive mode with loads of depth in tactics and second to second combat.
NRM: Similarly, what are you bringing to the universe of Alan Wake with American Nightmare's plot? Mr Scratch appears to be one of the most terrifying and deranged characters we've seen in some time...
MM: There is something really disturbing about him, not least of all as he is likable in his own way. In a nutshell - Mr. Scratch is Wake’s evil double. He is an urban legend come true. In Wake’s world fiction can become real and Mr. Scratch is this serial killer legend, who has now come true. Repeat his name too many times and you evoke him… He is a great character and we love him.
NRM: Being that American Nightmare plays out as an episode of Bright Falls, much of your promotional campaign has revolved around live-action footage to visualise the sadistic nature of Mr Scratch. Is this something we can expect to see within the game itself, and if so, what does it bring to the experience?
MM: Ilkka Villi and Matthew Poretta were instrumental in bringing Alan Wake to life as a character – we have these great actors and it just felt like we wanted to have them come to life even more. Of course, the Night Springs episodes in Alan Wake were live action as well so it made sense to use this context and format. I think we wanted to show how disturbing the character is and what the stakes are… and wanted to be a bit off the beaten path and to open up Mr. Scratch more as a character. The live action was a fun way of doing just that.
NRM: Alan Wake was presented in the first game really as a fish out of water; a man mentally fragile and, with the disappearance of his wife, a psychological state slipping into madness. How has this been portrayed in American Nightmare?
MM: Wake evolves on his journey, the essence of his character is the same, but like all of us the trials he goes through and what he experiences will shape him.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is out now on Xbox Live Arcade for 1,200 Microsoft Points.
We sincerely thank both Matias and the rest of Remedy Entertainment for lending us the time to answer our questions.