February 20, 2012

Q&A – Remedy Talks Alan Wake’s American Nightmare

Remedy Alan Wakes American Nightmare Interview
Embracing the best of the horror genre, 2010’s Alan Wake left a fair amount of questions lingering after its conclusion, with two subsequent DLC chapters furthering the narrative while still leaving plenty of room for interpretation regarding the fate of the writer in his battle against a malevolent darkness. While the upcoming Xbox LIVE Arcade release, American Nightmare, picks up the threads with Alan and his dark half Mr. Scratch, the events that unfold serve as a spin-off tale rather than a direct continuation of the original release.

In a move that certainly caught me by surprise, American Nightmare builds an arcade mode around the combat mechanics of light and evasion from the 2010 title, offering a survival challenge that hopes to find longevity after players have chewed through the standalone pulp horror story.

With the game releasing this week, I managed to gather a few of my endless questions regarding digital content and American Nightmare’s direction, which Remedy CEO Matias Myllyrinne was good enough to answer.

Remedy Alan Wakes American Nightmare Interview
Gamesugar: I recently attended a game and finance event, where the investment focus for digital titles definitely leaned heavily on iOS, and there was a vibe that the XBLA and PSN market was too risky and difficult, both because of competition and marketing challenges. With American Nightmare hitting Xbox LIVE Arcade, you must believe that the potential reward of succeeding on that market still outweighs the risk, and I was hoping I could get you to share your thoughts on that?

Matias Myllyrinne: Right…The whole landscape of games as an art form and business is changing and that is awesome – it keeps us all learning and looking for new novel ways to entertain as wide an audience as possible.

So yeah, digital distribution on the whole is changing the games industry in many ways – most of them for the better. I think whenever the creative and the audience come closer together it is a good thing, be it on the iPhone, XBLA or other such channel. It used to be that you would spend a lot of time convincing a publisher to take your game and then they would spend a lot of time getting Wal-Mart et al. to take the game on the shelf. Now, two guys in a garage anywhere can create something cool – get it onto worldwide distribution, entertain millions and have a way of getting paid for their efforts. The audience is king… the audience judges what they like and that kind of feels like a nice level playing field… it is not so much about what a retailer has chosen to give shelf space for or what game has the largest budget.

Whatever the market, traditional retail, XBLA or iPhone – we at Remedy want to delight the players with unique yet accessible entertainment. I think the iOS market is great – we’ve had an awesome time with Death Rally there and we continue to learn more and more – basically it runs more like a service than a product. Constant updates and such help you to keep the game fresh and exciting…

The content and dynamics are a little different on XBLA – I think it is natural to expect a different experience on the 360 than on the iPhone. I don’t think that XBLA is more risky than the iOS market – I think good games made for the medium does well in both. The key success factors are different and the dynamics change a little but ultimately it comes down to making something so compelling that people will want to put down their hard earned money and spend their valuable time with the experiences you have crafted.

Remedy Alan Wakes American Nightmare Interview
GS: You’ve had experience with episodic content with the original Alan Wake release, which resulted in two additional episodes, but now American Nightmare seems poised to offer something that could continue with future offerings if warranted, but isn’t necessarily committed to that goal from the outset.

How did your own experience with episodic content influence the goals for American Nightmare?

MM: American Nightmare was built to be a standalone experience and a perfect entry point for gamers. We felt it was crucial to have a game that works on its own. This allows us to reach the widest possible audience. On the other hand we wanted to give the fans of Alan Wake a satisfactory experience and to move the fiction ahead as well… so for example there is a lot of optional content that adds more color to the wider story and moves things ahead.

GS: Digital multiplayer releases is an idea I’m a fan of, particularly given the number of times over the last few years that we’ve seen multiplayer focused games add a story mode in the hopes of justifying a retail disc release. Still, Alan Wake’s original retail release was entirely story driven, so this one really surprised me when the announcement came. I’ve read that the move was very much inspired by what fans were asking for, but curious about whether this was the direction from day one, or the end result of a long process about where to take the series next?

MM: We have a wider overall fiction mapped out and Sam has this compelling story to tell. When we had the arcade mode done it was a full XBLA game in its own right, but we wanted to add a story mode… we are Remedy after all. So, I guess you could say this time round we did things opposite to how we have done them in the past. We went action first when usually we start with story.

Anyway, we ended up selecting elements in the fiction that fit well with XBLA and the things we felt would be cool to pursue and fit the medium…

Remedy Alan Wakes American Nightmare Interview
GS: Was co-operative multiplayer ever on the table? I’m sure there must be some people that would have been eager to play as Barry Wheeler.

MM: We wanted to focus on improving the core gameplay loop and building wild weapons to combat even wilder enemies… Also, we ended up boosting the rendering, AI and such and the art team improved the environmental visuals with a much richer color palette…

Co-op could be cool, but we felt that we did not have anything new to add to that field now – I mean it would have been pointless to spend all this time and effort to replicate what others have already done well. We try to do things that are in some way unique and surprising… or at least have a new kind of twist to the formula.

GS: Alan Wake generated plenty of open-ended ideas through the narrative of the original release, and certainly reveled in the horror genre to that end. But a retail release offered plenty of room to play and explore ideas too. Has it been a challenge creating a fresh story experience accessible to both fans and newcomers alike?

MM: It is hard. Striking the balance is difficult and building a structure that works for new comers and die hard fans is not trivial.

Remedy Alan Wakes American Nightmare Interview
GS: The semiotic word play of the original release and follow-up episodes that allowed Alan to literally brings words to life is a subject I like to obsess over quite a bit. Is that something Remedy is still experimenting with?

MM: In a way we played with the same theme – just moving from individual words to entire paragraphs. So, this time round fiction can become real. So if Wake matches the details in a scene to the details on a manuscript page reality can be rewritten… it is a new kind of story puzzle we’re introducing but also a weapon for Wake against Mr. Scratch.

*Alan Wake’s American Nightmare releases exclusively for Xbox LIVE Arcade on February 22nd.

1 Comment »

  1. I loved the original Alan Wake (and the episodes), but I’m feeling a little cautious on this still. 

    In one interview, they described American Nightmare as “2/3rds action and 1/3rd story, as opposed to the opposite in the original.” Given that the action was sometimes so-so and the story was the real hook for me, that statement was a bit of a bummer.

    Comment by Gregory Gay — February 20, 2012 @ 2:22 pm

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