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Waking Up: Remedy's Hakkinen on Alan Wake

With the PC version of his first outing finally launching, Remedy sees a rosy future for Alan Wake. Johnny Cullen talks to the studio's head of franchise development Oskari Häkkinen on what's coming and more.

Alan Wake has had a very topsy turvery life so far, both in-game and outside of it. Following the events of the first game and its final DLC episode The Writer, he's now trapped in an episode of Night Springs in a grindhouse setting as his worst enemy Mr Scratch continues his plot to try and kill Alan's wife Alice in the grindhouse-inspired American Nightmare, out next week on Xbox Live Arcade.

But outside his next chapter, there's time to revisit his first adventure. Nearly two years after it first launched on Xbox 360, the first Alan Wake comes to PC with a Steam release today and other outlets soon after, despite being initially confirmed for a PC release from outset back in 2005.

And Remedy's already said it's not done with Wake as a whole. The question is where can it take him beyond American Nightmare? I spoke to Remedy's head of franchise development Oskari Häkkinen on the phone on Tuesday night to talk about those and more.

I'm just going to talk about Wake PC. How excited are you to get that out to the fan base? It's obviously been a long wait for the PC crowd. The 360 version is almost two years old. Why did you wait this long?

We are ecstatic, and really, really delighted to get it out there. The reason for that is partly because it's a promise to the PC gamers. Alan Wake was announced as a PC and Xbox 360 game, and then somewhere along the line the stars became unaligned unfortunately for the PC version.

But now it really feels like it's coming home. We've really been working extremely, extremely hard to get a fantastic PC version that does justice to the PC, with all kinds of awesome graphical configurations and increasing the fidelity.

Even going as far as improving some of the textures and stuff like that, including stereoscopic 3D features, and multi-screen and stuff like that. We've really worked damn hard. It's been about five months work we've put into it. It's not just a simple port.

PC gaming is in the heritage of Remedy, back from Death Rally and Max Payne 1 and 2, so this was very, very important to us, and we are super, super excited to finally get it out there.

Does the inclusion of the extra content and DLC help placate those that were waiting for the PC version from the start?

You know, the PC version is something that we always wanted to do from the gets go. The very instant that Microsoft gave us the blessing to be able to do it, we started work on it instantly. We put it out as quickly as possible.

Some people are saying, "what's with all these staggered releases? It's coming out of Steam first, then it's coming out on some additional channels later, than its coming out at retail? It doesn't sound very organised." My answer has been that, no, it doesn't sound very organised. These are just little boys trying to get it out people as quickly as possible. We didn't want people to wait a minute longer.

As soon as the Steam date was locked in its going to come out there, as soon as we have an Origin date it's going to come out there. The retail version is coming out on March 2, about two weeks later, and of course there are some production things that need to be done, such as creating some of the extra items that have been included. But one thing we wanted to do was to give PC gamers a PC version that they can be proud of.

All of the versions that we are putting out, wherever it''s going, we already decided that the DLC will be included; people wont have pay for those separately. For the limited collector's edition on Steam, we have got a ton of cool contents going in there. We've got the Alan Wake Files, we've got the soundtrack, we've got the cinematic score, we've got the got the developer commentary in-game, we got the development diaries, and a bunch of other stuff.

We've gone and done a very special deal with Nordic Games, who are going to bring the retail version out, and we've worked with them closely to bring out a cool package.

There's two packages coming out for retail. There's the standard package, which is actually better than standard because it's got the game, the two pieces of DLC, it's got the cinematic score, it's got a sticker set, it's got a double sided poster, it's got five postcards. And then we have the limited collector's edition, which has everything the standard edition has, plus the developer diaries, the developer commentary and then the Alan Wake Files book. It's a really cool package.

Why did you decide to self-publish it? Was Microsoft offered first refusal on it?

This is just something that we have always wanted to do, and we've been pursuing, with a hope that we we would get the rights back. Remedy owns the intellectual property of Alan Wake and we just decided, once we got the blessing, to self-publish. Simple as that.

I want to go on now to American Nightmare. What pushed you to go digital this time around with American Nightmare instead of doing a full blown Wake 2?

Good question. The inception of Alan Wake's American Nightmare started after Alan Wake. After Alan Wake and the DLC, we were looking at what people liked about Alan Wake and also the stuff that people disliked about Alan Wake. the game was nominated for three BAFTAS and was TIME Magazine's Game of the Year and won various story awards, so it did something right.

But some things that people were saying they would have liked a little more escalation in the enemies, and escalation in the weapons. For Alan Wake we didn't feel that we could do that; it was very much grounded in reality. We didn't want to give Wake, an every-man, an Uzi 9mm or a semi-automatic weapon. We also didn't want to put really big monsters in there because again it was grounded in reality; the Taken were in fact the locals who were taken over by the dark presence.

We had self control, but we do read our Facebook, we do read emails and stuff that people were writing and there was a lot of speech that they would have liked a lot more escalation in those aspects. Whether they would have liked it if we actually put those aspects in there is another question. So we said to the team, 'Why don't we just whitebox out some arcade levels and stick in some crazy stuff? Turn up all the knobs and just do what you like.' And they did.

Soon enough, we have an arcade action level with all these crazy enemies and crazy weapons, and we're at their office and we're just loving it. We're just like, 'This is cool, this is so much fun. This would be a perfect fit for Xbox Live Arcade.' But storytelling is in our DNA. It would never go without a story. So Sam Lake [Remedy's lead writer] said, 'Now I need to go away and think about this for a moment, and I'll come back if we have an angle for this to fit in the franchise.' Now he already had at that moment something in mind, which was Night Springs.

Now, Night Springs was the in-game TV show, the fictional TV show that was inspired by Twilight Zone. He came back and he said that yes, we're going to do a story mode as well as the arcade action mode, this is going to be packaged as a series or as an episode of Night Springs and because it's inspired by The Twilight Zone, everything is more crazy, everything is more pulpy, and it sets this up very nicely for the crazy stuff that's happening in American Nightmare.

I want to touch upon an interesting point that you promoted the original Alan Wake with. You, Matias [Myllyrinne, Remedy boss] and Sam compared the first game to a full season of a TV show, while you said the DLC was more of TV specials you'd get around Christmas. How do you see American Nightmare in comparison? Is this the movie?

That's an interesting way and I definitely think that Alan Wake, the game without the DLC, is the full season, season one. And the full DLCs are again, if we talk about TV series comparisons, like specials. This is a standalone, spin-off experience. Now, this is for anyone to jump on board, even if they've never played Alan Wake before, they've not experienced anything about Alan Wake, they can give this a go and they'll understand the basic story.

Of course, we already have a ton of fans that have played Alan Wake and they want the fiction to go further and the universe to go a little bit further, so there's lots of optional story content that takes that forward and connects the dots to the first game.

I haven't thought of an anaolgy or a name of what it might be, but it's an entry point for anyone that even if they hadn't played the game, but for the fans there's a lot of content in there to enjoy and expands the fiction.

What inspired you to go down the grindhouse/snuff film idea?

Because it stems from what Night Springs is. It was already there in the first game. The Night Springs shows were very B-movie. And it started from there that the inspiration for Alan Wake's American Nightmare was the movie. Classic Americana, Route 66, drive-in theatre, mountaintop observatory and a cryptic message from the stars.

We take inspiration from popular culture, we always do, we're always very honest about that we do take inspiration from pop culture and we start to create these visual images of what we want. We wanted this to be easily approachable as well. These kind of B-movie, Quentin Tartintino, From Dust Till Dawn classics are genially more actiony.

We felt that was more easily approachable than Twin Peaks or Stephen King. But I hope people who do find this who've never played Alan Wake before and enjoy it then will play the first game and find the cult classic that is Alan Wake.

Is there a worry the grindhouse setting might turn off fans who were into the Twin Peaks/King-inspired story from the first game or who are just not into grindhouse movies at all?

No, you're absolutely right. There's always a risk there that people who enjoy Alan Wake and enjoy Stephen King, Twin Peaks and the Lost and thriller feel will be wanting exactly more of the same. We can't make everybody happy, certainly not.

I think a lot of people really enjoyed Night Springs from the first game, and we're seeing a lot of positive comments around that Night Springs was cool. Now you're playing an episode of Night Springs and it's written by Alan Wake himself, so there's automatically the connection there from the first game.

Mr Scratch in American Nightmare.
He's a bit of a psycho, innit?

Everyone understands that Night Springs had a B-movie feel to it. But Alan Wake's American Nightmare is made for the medium. It's coming out on Xbox Live Arcade, and Xbox Live Arcade titles are generally much more easily approachable. And we've made this easily more approachable. There's more kind of pick up and play experiences, and that's what American Nightmare is. It's very pick up and play and just get into it.

There's that standalone pulp-action adventure story mode and the arcade action mode for 1200 MS points, which is about £10. So we've added a ridiculous, great-value-for-money money proposition and hopefully get people interested into the Alan Wake franchise.

As well as the story, you're also introducing a multiplayer mode for the first time with Fight Till Dawn. When the day comes you decide to bring out a future Wake, is this going to be a one off for American Nightmare or do you see multiplayer going forward with the series?

I'll be completely honest that we don't have any direct plans yet to do more. But I think internally we're very excited to get American Nightmare out there and see what the reception is going to be.

Let the players vote with their wallets. If they like it, they're going to go out and get it and they're ultimately going to tell us if they liked it or not. And if they do like it and they do want more, there's certainly a possibility that we can do more things around Night Springs.

But I'll be honest with you Johnny, there's no direct plans for it. But Alan Wake in general, the intellectual property, is ours, and it's not the last you're seeing of Alan Wake. But at the same time, I've got nothing to announce.

Staying with the future, American Nightmare is for XBLA right now, but what about a PC version? Is that something we'll see down the line?

I did mention that PC gaming is definitely part of our heritage and something that's very close to our hearts. We're really, really proud to get Alan Wake finally on PC and we've put a lot of work into it as I mentioned. Alan Wake's American Nightmare was announced exclusively for Xbox 360. We can only see what the future holds.

When you do decide to go forward with the future of the series, it seems the Finnish games industry is heading more towards digital [as noted here]. But in regards to connecting it to the future of Wake, do you see more installments going towards digital, like a episodic structure or do you still realistically see a big retail release?

Whenever that might be, I think, it really depends. When Alan Wake came out, there was a lot of talk that could there be a possibility of releasing it digitally and episodically. At the time, it didn't just feel that gamers would have been ready for that. It would have been us trying to pioneer that episodic delivery. And it seemed like a big risk and also something that were just so unsure about. Do gamers even want to receive a game episodically and are they ready to play games episodically?

For the future, I think it's all about where the gamers at and what the gamers want. If that's what they want, our kind of storytelling model fits that very, very well. So there's definitely an option. However, if thats not going to happen or if that's not what they want, we're definitely not wiping off retail just yet.

Oskari Häkkinen is head of franchise development at Remedy. Alan Wake PC launches on Steam today, with a retail release on March 2. A launch date on Origin is to be announced. Alan Wake's American Nightmare launches on Xbox Live Arcade for 1200 MS points on Wednesday.

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Johnny Cullen


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