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Gaming Interview

Oskari Häkkinen ('Alan Wake')

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Oskari Häkkinen ('Alan Wake')
Having been barely seen or heard since releasing the second Max Payne title, Remedy Entertainment has been working hard on Alan Wake for well over five years. An action-adventure game slotted into a TV thriller, it follows a writer whose wife goes missing on a visit to a sleepy Pacific Northwestern town, followed by the awakening of a strange dark force that slowly possesses its inhabitants. We chat to franchise development head Oskari Häkkinen about how the game has evolved over the years, research, its interesting structure and what to expect from downloadable content. You can read our preview of Alan Wake here.

The game has been in development for a good number of years. How does the Alan Wake of 2005 compare to the Alan Wake of today?
"The concept has stayed the same. I know a lot of people know that we started off with an open-world game. Quite early on we realised that an open-world isn't working for a thriller, and you need to control the pacing and tap into the emotions of the player. But we'll still utilise the open-world – I want to be clear, it's not a sandbox, you can't run around freely - but what we have done because it's built on open-world technology, we can make the path the player goes on very wide and very long. So the player can make their own decisions, so if they see a light in the forest and they know that's the place they need to go, you can choose to go by foot or by car. There's a lot of exploration content. The player can see out into the world. This is all part of having that layer of authenticity in a thriller."

The title opens referencing Stephen King. What were your inspirations for the game?
"We have a lot of popular culture inspirations. We don't take inspirations from video games, rather we look at popular culture, like movies, TV series, books, graphic novels and so forth. There's definitely a bit of Stephen King there. We're also a big fan of Lost, not necessarily from a plot perspective, but what Lost does really well is a thriller in a TV series format. We tip our hats to some of the greats – you saw the birds attacking, so Hitchcock, and some from The Shining with the axe in the door, we have a hedge maze in the game. What we've noticed is that it resonates really well with people, and when they're playing it and they recognise something that they've read or seen on TV, it resonates with them very well and they start to understand how this may play through. It taps into an emotion that's better played than explained."

What kind of research did you undertake for the town of Bright Falls?
"We did a huge amount of research, which was part of the long development research as well, so we went to the Pacific Northwest on various locations. We travelled over 3,000 miles in the Pacific Northwest – Oregon, Seattle, Crater Lake area, taking over 60,000 research photos and had even people camping out in the forest to record ambient sounds, owls and winds. We've gone to extremes with detail. For instance, the constellations in the sky are accurate to those in the Pacific Northwest, which is how accurate we've gone."

What was the decision behind the episodic structure?
"Well, an episodic format works well with a thriller. A game is a pretty long entity, and if you think of a game structured as a movie, and you think of a movie arc that goes over ten or so hours, eventually you'll get to the peak of your arc. We found that a TV series-style format works really well for us, so we can arc and come down many times, so we have episodes where we'll start with a daytime scene. It's very serene, and you will learn about the supporting cast and their purposes, their motives, and at night-time it's more thriller and action-oriented. We'll end off a cliff-hanger and the next scene will start very serene again. We can keep having that build-up and for a thriller that works really well."

It also sounds ideal for downloadable content. What are your plans?
"This game is going to have a satisfactory and conclusive ending. Imagine this is season one of a TV series. So, just like in Lost or 24, whatever it might be, when you watch season one you feel satisfied, but there are some doors left open for the bigger story, but they always reach their goals and always reach a conclusion in the season. That allows us to open the doors, if this is successful, then to season two. We are going to do DLC, but it'll be a bridge from season one to season two. Consider it to be a special, like a Christmas or Easter special, so we'll do a couple of DLCs which will bridge these two stories to continue season one to season two."

Finally, the PC version was confirmed to be scrapped a few years ago. What happened?
"We're a small studio, about 50 people. Concentrating on one platform is just a lot easier for us where we're smaller than other studios, and its just been focused, focusing on one platform and getting that done. We have no plans for PC right now."

Alan Wake will be released on May 21 for Xbox 360.

> Click here to read our preview of Alan Wake

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