The making of Alan Wake

The untold evolution of Remedy's big budget thriller

The best chapter left on the cutting room floor originally lived just before the trailer park. “We had a tour of the gameworld - a seaplane ride where we went to another location on the coast to do some investigating. The seaplane had a very chatty pilot who talked about local events and locations, constantly interrupting Barry as he was trying to talk about the stuff he’d uncovered. Once they landed, there was supposed to be a sudden storm, and the whole thing culminated with this desperate run to the lighthouse.” Sadly it felt like too much of a detour from the main story and so suffered the same fate as the dream sequence.

Above: Want a realistic trailer park? Location scout the real thing

As Special Edition owners who have played through Alan Wake with the commentary switched on will know, more scenes came close to the snip. Both the trailer park and New York apartment were candidates for the scrapheap. “As far as the New York scenes go, that wasn’t really a question of whether they got axed, it was more a question of whether they got made at all. A lot of time and effort went into creating the New York apartment. There was a lot of justified concern about putting work into what’s essentially a couple of very short scenes,” reveals Rautalahti. “The trailer park was far closer to being cut,” adds Lehitnen, “as it was pretty difficult to script reliably and we kept getting poor feedback from play test results for quite some time.”

Remedy’s concerns proved to ultimately be all for nothing. Both the apartment and trailer park areas functioned as welcome breaks from the intense forest exploration. The negative feedback forced Remedy to look at the playtesting method itself. Playtesters were being asked to trial individual sequences at a time, so Rautalahti deduced it wasn’t surprising to discover the more sedate areas were getting less enthusiastic responses.

“If the only thing you play about episode two is the Sheriff’s station sequence, you’re probably going to think that it’s not very exciting; it’s just people talking. But when you see it in the intended context, as a build-up for the things that happen in Elderwood after that, it’s a whole different thing. Suddenly, it becomes an episode with a nice degree of variety. It was a great example of how much context and pacing matter.”

Above: It took painstaking work to capture the feel of the Pacific Northwest

One of Rautalahti’s most surprising revelations is how the team originally prioritized daylight sections over night. In those days the Taken weren’t just confined to the shadows. “At one point the light worked only as a multiplier. The light didn’t really do anything to the Taken by itself, but you could do more with a little gun in the light than with a hunting rifle in the dark.” But the enemy types didn’t work during the day. “Our enemy concept was very much the I Know What You Did Last Summer-styled man: a dark avenger, whose eyes and thoughts are obscured.”

Remedy experimented with armed Taken but the guns didn’t sit well with the team. “We did not want distant shootouts where the player would try to snipe the enemies from (afar). Enemies had to be able to get on your skin.” The possessed items, however, had a very different origins story: they were birthed from a simple physics issue. One buggy, jittery object was enough to sell the idea of poltergeists to the team, and so Alan’s second major foe was born.

If Remedy were to have a second chance at Alan Wake’s development, Rautalahti is totally clear as to what he’d do differently. “Well, I would never, ever mention the words ‘open world’ in public, for one thing. We have had to work very hard to try to dispel that image during the past year – that’s just a very difficult thing to do. “And there’s always going to be stuff that you didn’t have the time or the resources to work on. The manuscript pages are a great collectible, because they really are an integral part of our story. I wish we could’ve done something comparable with the thermoses.”

The thermoses are an interesting collectible. They were always designed to be basic collectibles, but during the early days they could have filled another role. “Rather than thermoses per se, coffee was actually suggested to be one candidate for a source of player health, if we ever needed one,” admits Lehtinen.

Any regrets will hopefully be rectified in the sequel. And as Remedy has made clear before, Alan Wake 2 is definitely on their minds. “There will be more Alan Wake, if we have anything to say about it,” muses Rautalahto. “It’s a bigger story than just one game, and we want to make it very weird and scary and wonderful. I’d like to say that if our offices were wiped off the face of the Earth and all you ever got was that first game it would work just fine as a standalone product. I know some people don’t see it that way, and I don’t necessarily blame them for that, but it’s not intended as a huge cliffhanger, it’s an ending to that story. Obviously, we also set things up for what’s to come, but it’s definitely an ending. It’s not a situation where the bomb is about to explode and you don’t know if they’re gonna make it, or something. We have a very definite story arc and the weird and horrible things that happen to him, and what he needs to do in the end to put things right. Then he needs to do something else. We’ll get to that when the time comes.”

Aug 15, 2010

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Matt's editor of Official PlayStation Magazine, his favourite games include Skyrim, Final Fantasy VII, Braid, Shadow Of The Colossus and Puggsy, and when he's not grinding away in Destiny you'll often find him talking about WWE or NFL (go Seahawks!).
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