IncGamers: Alan Wake’s: American Nightmare is being released exclusively as a digital download, is that now the new frontier for console games?
Aki Järvilehto: Well, I would just like to clarify that we don’t believe that boxed retail games are going anywhere. Retail is going to be here for a long time, but digital distribution is growing and making new things possible.
So, we’re certainly not abandoning our old ways of major blockbusters like we’ve done in the past with Max Payne and Alan Wake. It’s just that on top of that digital distribution is allowing us to do new things like Death Rally (iOS) and bringing Alan Wake to PC users through Steam and, obviously, American Nightmare.
It’s great to have more channels available.
IG: How does creating a digital Alan Wake game compare to a disc-based edition when it comes to production?
AJ: It’s a lot faster paced. Instead of spending years building something in secret we’re able to create a game much more quickly and get it out there in players’ hands. Faster cycles benefit everyone in the industry, especially the gamers.
It’s a scary thought to have developers working in isolation without direct contact with the gamers, but if you’ve got a faster turnaround it enables you to take onboard feedback and create the games people want to play. We’ve taken a lot of the feedback we received from the original Alan Wake and incorporated that into American Nightmare – a faster pace and more action orientated.
IG: One of the things many people love about Alan Wake is the storyline, how do you balance high action with an engrossing narrative?
AJ: We do have a hardcore, cinematic and twisted storyline that people would expect from a Remedy game. But we wanted to add more variation to that; different things that people have been asking for in an Alan Wake game.
IG: Has the Xbox Live file size limitation affected any of the technology you’ve used to build American Nightmare? For example, lighting was very important in the original…
AJ: Actually, the original game had a very tight code. The file size of the full game was quite large but most of that was made up of videos. So, no, the file size limit certainly didn’t cause us to hit any technical limitations and didn’t stop us doing anything we wanted to do.
IG: Alan Wake was exclusive to the Xbox 360 upon release and American Nightmare is exclusive to XBLA, what is it about Microsoft that makes you to want team up with them?
AJ: We’ve got a very good relationship with Microsoft, in general they’re great to work with. So far things have turned out great for us by working with them. The fact that they supported us in releasing the original Alan Wake via Steam is great and by working with them we’ve learned about XBLA and how it works.
IG: Have you thought about going completely independent and releasing something of the scale of American Nightmare by yourself, digitally?
AJ: Death Rally was a game we released independently and has done very well. So, yes, we could do that. But Microsoft does bring a lot to the table because of their scale and scope as a publisher. I don’t think that’s really an either/or question, having big friends is a great benefit but digital channels do allow us to go at it alone.
Still, as I said, we want our games to be available to as many people as possible and there is a trend towards increasing the number of supported platforms – I think it would be unwise to go against that.
IG: And where do in-game updates fit into this? One of the key features of digital titles is that they’re easier to tweak and change…
AJ: One of the key trends we’ve noticed in general, and specifically with Death Rally on iOS, is that some games are becoming more of a service than a product; more about constant updates and creating new content as a function of time.
I think that’s a trend that will only continue to move forward. How fast the other platforms are going to move in that direction remains to be seen, but I would expect in the next five or 10 years we’re going to move ever closer to the point where games are more like services and it’s more about the experience and getting involved long-term with the game… rather than shipping constant sequels.
IG: Is there a danger that by going ever further into the ‘games as service’ direction, the creative underpinning of many games will be lost in favour of hunting for ways to make individual games profitable over the long term?
AJ: Actually, I almost think that it’s the exact opposite. If you look at what’s happening in the industry now, there are so many creative games out there. Shadow Cities, for example, is a location based game that is constantly billed as a ‘service’ that is constantly updated and everything is changing all the time.
There is a lot of creative energy going into that, in that sense that people are looking for ways to take advantage of the fact that games can be updated almost daily.
Will all games turn into revenue sucking vacuums? No is the answer, but some games will try to do that and they will fail. Then there will be games that generally try to provide new things for the player all the time.
IG: If you’ve not played Alan Wake before, will American Nightmare make sense?
AJ: Yes, it’s a standalone, spin-off experience. We wanted to create a game that anybody could play, whether they’ve played the original or not. If you don’t know anything about Alan Wake that’s fine, the premise is understandable and you won’t feel lost.
However, the universe is being expanded from the first game and fans of that game will pick up on a lot more and feel the world has been fleshed out.
IG: If you’re considering this a spin-off, does that mean there is a ‘proper’ Alan Wake 2 in the works?
AJ: [Laughs] We’ve only recently announced American Nightmare and we’re releasing Alan Wake through Steam, so for now we’re concentrating on those. That’s all I can say.
IG: With regards to the original Alan Wake, how did you react to critic response?
AJ: We were really impressed; we won a BAFTA and got Game of the Year from Time which is amazing. We were genuinely thrilled, seeing people loving the product is the biggest reward you can get after releasing something you’ve worked on for years.
IG: You guys are a development studio based in Finland and yet your games have been set in the US. Could you set them somewhere else, in Finland perhaps, and still attract a big audience?
AJ: Certainly it’s possible, I don’t see why not. We decided to go with New York in Max Payne because the setting fit the style of the game, other cities would have worked but a cop story in New York is such a strong premise.
Also, having Alan Wake set in the US West Coast town of Bright Falls also evolved naturally. It felt right to have Wake go about his story there. Once the concept of Alan Wake was worked out it became obvious that we had to set it in a place like that.
IG: Were you worried that trying to sell the idea of playing as a writer would be a tough task? It’s not the typical action/horror game character…
AJ: We weren’t really worried, no. There are so many games out there that feel similar that we really went out of our way to make Alan Wake feel like something new and unique. We really wanted to make something memorable, and I think we succeeded in that partly because of the character we created. There are not many games that ask you to use light to defeat your enemies, either.
Our heroes at Remedy have also been anti-heroes; Max Payne, for example, the whole point about him was that he wasn’t one of the strongest guys but one of the weaker ones. The appeal there was a man trying to avenge the murder of his family.
With Alan Wake it’s more about the writer himself (than you being a superhero) that we wanted to focus on. And I think we did that well.
IG: And what about when something you’ve created is taken on by someone else? Max Payne 3, for example, is coming this year and from a developer other than yourselves.
AJ: We have worked with Rockstar in a very small way on Max Payne 3, but it really was very minor. When we first saw the first Max Payne 3 trailers we all thought it looked really good. Honestly, we’re just very happy to see Max Payne back. It’s a great feeling.