In 2005, the Finnish game studio Remedy Entertainment was stuck. Its members had been riding high on two mega-smash Max Payne games in a row, but they’d decided to drastically change course with their next series, Alan Wake.
The resulting pitch was ambitious: an open-world, free-roaming adventure with a complicated day/night cycle. But after putting together a flashy demo and landing a publisher in Microsoft, the folks at Remedy had to be honest with themselves: their next game wasn’t looking good. Lead writer Sam Lake puts it frankly: “For a long while, we didn’t have anything.”
A metaphor “for the whole team’s struggle”
In our latest War Stories video feature, embedded above, Lake describes how Alan Wake was born from the studio’s desire to distance itself from the rigid structure of its Max Payne games while still making room for the studio’s “cinematic” flair. The team eventually pulled it off—we said as much in 2010—but while some of the big ideas from the original pitch survived, many did not.
As it turns out, Alan Wake began life as a “survival” game in which players needed to make the most of the world’s daytime hours. While the sun was out, you’d be expected to gather resources and create defenses—for example, hit up a gas station, then return to a safe haven and dump that gas into your generator, which is connected to your array of protective nighttime lights. Once the world turned to night, zombie-like “shadow” monsters would come out to attack.
Eerily, this concept sounds a lot like the first version of Fortnite, which has since been handily surpassed by its massively popular battle royale mode. Similarly, Remedy concluded that its own day/night survival concept wasn’t going to cut it, and after getting stuck in the development process, Lake joined a small, “lead” group of the development team in a “sauna” process.
“We stepped into a room, closed the door, and the mandate was, ‘Let’s figure out everything,'” Lake says. “We stayed in that room with all the heat and pressure on us. The room started to look like a mad scientist’s lab—we were taping papers all over the walls.”
That two-month ordeal saw the studio reimagine the entire gameplay loop, which was then bolted onto the existing open-world geometry of forests and small-town buildings. Through that, Alan Wake‘s plot was touched up to serve as a metaphor “for the whole team’s struggle, to find what this game needs to be,” Lake says.
The full video above goes into great detail on the entire process, complete with video footage from Alan Wake‘s 2005 E3 teaser and other pre-release and debug footage. As a bonus, Lake confirms to Ars Technica that the studio’s latest game, Control (our choice for 2019’s Game of the Year), will be getting an Alan Wake-minded update in the form of its second paid DLC pack, titled “AWE.” Control already includes references to the events of Remedy’s 2010 game, and Lake says that the new DLC pack (which is not yet dated) will “give you a wider glimpse into what the [Federal Bureau of Control] has been investigating regarding Alan Wake.”
(If watching this leaves you in the mood to play the original Alan Wake, GoG has the title temporarily on sale for $1.49 (down from $14.99) as of publication time!)