Alan Wake, Max Payne, iOS And Next-Gen: Remedy Interview
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is the second game featuring the prose-spouting hero, and picks up the author’s adventures on XBLA – we sat down with Aki Järvilehto and Oskari Häkkinen – EVP and Head of Franchise Development respectively at Finland-based developer Remedy Entertainment – to discuss the game, self-publishing, iOS, being independent, Max Payne, game tech and next-gen.
You recently announced Alan Wake’s American Nightmare, and the original Alan Wake is finally headed to PC – how has the franchise evolved between the two?
Oskari Häkkinen: It was fantastic to show Alan Wake’s American Nightmare at the VGAs, the reception seemed really, really good. The thing about [the original] Alan Wake was we got universal appraisal for the story, the character, for the cinematic effects in the game – and even the action and the core gameplay as well. But believe it or not, we do read our social channels, and emails as well. We listen to the fans – Alan Wake definitely had this cult status about it. One of the things that people said about it was there could have been a better escalation in some of the enemies and weapons and so forth.
After Alan Wake we started to ask ‘well how far can we take the action, how far can we take the enemies?’ We had this sort of white-boxed arcade levels set out, where the team just decided to go a little bit wild and stick in some crazy stuff. Pretty soon these white-box levels became a ton of fun. People were coming into the office in the mornings – we didn’t really have a scoreboard, we just had whiteboards. And they were looking at the whiteboards to see who was leading the scores, and then challenging the rest of the devs here. We were like ‘this could actually be a really cool thing for XBLA’, but at the same time story is part of our DNA. We’re a story-telling studio.
So Sam Lake, our creative director says ‘well we should add a story mode to it.’ So if Alan Wake was two thirds story and one third action, Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is two thirds action, and one third story. There’s a different tone and feel to it – there are wilder new enemies and weapons.
What can you tell us about changes to the narrative?
OH: It’s set in Night Springs – and if you played Alan Wake, you’ll know Night Springs is this Twilight Zone-ish, campy TV show within the game. The back-story goes that early on in Alan Wake’s career, he’d written several episodes of this show. In the story mode you’re playing an episode of Night Springs and it’s written by Alan Wake. American Nightmare is standalone, so anyone can jump aboard, anyone can pick it up and play, even if they never played the first game. But of course our fans are very important to us so we did add a ton of optional story content that takes Alan Wake’s fiction forward.
We’ve seen suggestions that American Nightmare is effectively Alan Wake 2, while others have described it as a spin-off – how does Remedy think of it?
OH: It’s definitely a stand-alone spin-off experience. Anyone can pick up and play. We did want the fans to be able to connect the dots to the first game and they can do that through the optional story content – they can further talk to NPCs. When you chat to them for the first time you get the basic story of American Nightmare, but the more you speak to them it connects more of the dots to the first game. Same with the manuscript pages, the TV shows and the radio shows in the game. All of that stuff is there to give you a vibe but when you dig in deeper it connects to the first game.
In terms of AAA… that’s really for gamers to decide. But we think we’re pushing the envelope and challenging the basic conventions on XBLA, going a little bit further in terms of what’s available right now. But at the same time when you’re doing something like this it has to be made for the medium. That’s why there’s more of a focus on action, pick-up-and-play and the arcade action mode in there as well.
Would you describe the latter as straight a score-attack mode?
What led to Remedy self-publishing Alan Wake for the PC?
OH: We got the permission to put it on PC and bring it over, we’ve got support from Microsoft to do that. To start with we’re just really happy to get it out to PC gamers out there. Regarding self-publishing , the fact of the matter is I think it’s just more possible now. It’s very easy to do, which is ultimately why we are self-publishing.
You had some success with the iOS version of Death Rally – are you itching to do more projects like that?
Aki Järvilehto: Death Rally really has done tremendously well, and we’re very excited about that as our first iOS game. Financially it’s performed really well; when we launched it, we were amazed because we recouped our original investment in just the first three days of sales. Pretty unusual. It received a lot of beautiful reviews, and was named as one of 35 selected games Apple highlighted as their big name games, but the most exciting thing is of course that there’s close to three million buyers out there playing Death Rally – that’s pretty important. We recently put out an update to the game called Death Rally: Road Wars which brings the global multiplayer mode into the game. It’s so much faster to update than anything we’ve worked with before that we’re really enjoying it.
How important is it for Indie studios of your size to spread themselves across different platforms and delivery methods such as console, digital, social and mobile?
AJ: Certainly our passion lies with major productions as we’ve done before. But right now, part of that is we’re doing a lot more than we’ve done before. The trend is that the world is going digital right now, and the platforms and people’s expectations are changing; they want different sorts of things nowadays. The attention span is a lot [shorter] on these new platforms. It’s exciting to be able to do different kinds of experiences for different kinds of gamers out there.
Remedy’s creative director Sam Lake recently discussed Alan Wake and the variety of platforms out there. Are you in a position to bring the Alan Wake IP to mobile in future – should you so wish?
OH: On Death Rally we were working with [indies] Mountain Sheep and Cornfox as well. It was great to be working with these partners and friends. There is a cool infrastructure of developers in Finland, and it’s great to be partnering with guys like these. Are we going to do more of that in the future? Sure, I think we are. We’ve done a lot that’s played out really well and has been a success. We’ve had a good experience and learnt a lot on the way, and I think more stuff like that is coming in the future. At the same time, we’ve got nothing to announce on that side, but there are things to watch out for.
So there are no complications with the Alan Wake rights that might stop you bringing him to other platforms?
OH: Not at all. Is the IP Remedy’s? That’s correct – the IP does belong to Remedy, it is ours and as you can see with Alan Wake coming to PC, there’s no complication there. At the same time we’ve had a fantastic partnership with Microsoft and look forward to working with them on American Nightmare as well.
Max Payne is set for an imminent return – is it bittersweet to see another developer work on an IP that originated with Remedy?
OH: We’ve been blessed with being able to actually see the game and give some feedback. We’ve been meeting with Rockstar and looking at Max 3 – it looks absolutely phenomenal – the nice thing is we’ve been giving our feeling on the game but at the end of the day we don’t have to do any of the heavy lifting, which is nice. Rockstar don’t make bad games, so you already know it’s going to be good. Just like we hope the Remedy brand is a seal of quality, you know that Rockstar’s brand is a seal of quality. It’s been nice to be part of the process, but we don’t want to take any of the limelight. From what we’ve seen it’s going to be absolutely fantastic.
Any regrets over the franchise?
OH: Oh, absolutely not, no.
Has Max Payne 3 sparked any desire in Remedy to return to that style of pure action game?
OH: That’s a good question. Cinematic action games – that’s what we’re about. With Max Payne we dealt with the theme of time and with Alan Wake we dealt with the theme of light. One thing that Remedy tries to do is bring new elements that haven’t been seen before. But we’ve always done character-driven games that are story-centric with a cinematic action feel to them. So everything that we would do has those basic principles.
We saw a report a few months back in which Remedy claimed to have an ‘L.A. Noire-beating’ facial animation system. What can you tell us about it?
OH: Well, I can’t say too much. Of course we’re looking at improving our technology all the time. We’ve done a hell of a lot of work on that. The Alan Wake engine was built from the ground up at Remedy and we have very deep roots in technology. We are working very hard to improve numerous things on the engine side.
Everyone’s speculating over next-gen right now – is Remedy’s new tech set to be future-proof?
OH: We’re a relatively small team compared to other teams around the world. One of the reasons Alan Wake did take a fair amount of time is that we built all of the technology and procedural tools from the ground up and we spent a great deal of time on that. We’re working with the Alan Wake technology and taking that forward.
Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is set to arrive on XBLA during the first few months of 2012.