Conducted By Adam Ames
TPG is excited to present an interview with Oskari Häkkinen from Remedy Entertainment. Oskari talks about the PC version of Alan Wake, their release on GOG.com, future PC releases from Remedy, the lack of a PC demo and much more.
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Alan Wake.
My name is Oskari Häkkinen and I am the Head of Franchise Development at Remedy. I’m the franchise guy, so the person much involved in transmedia additions to the game – Art books, strategy guides, Novels, the Bright Falls webisodes and so forth. Marketing and PR falls for the most part in my half of the court too.
How did Remedy get started in developing PC games?
Remedy was founded in 1995 in the basement of one of our founders’ parent’s places. They were a group of young talented guys that were active in the demo scene and driven by games and technology. They set out to tackle their own project. Death Rally was released some months later to critical acclaim but left the team with a desire for an even more ambitious project. Max Payne followed a few years later.
Where did the idea for Alan Wake come from?
After Max Payne, there was a strong drive for the team to try something new. We prototyped and researched many different ideas and Alan Wake felt like the best fit for the team and type of games Remedy creates – Character centric, story driven cinematic games. At Remedy we usually start with the story and the atmosphere as well as a potential for a really unique gameplay angle. The concept of light and darkness which permeates our gameplay soon became a part of that. Of course, it takes a lot of work to go from concept to a finished product but that was at least was a starting focal point for Wake.
What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Alan Wake?
Creating the first thriller in video games is probably our biggest success. Scaring players is usually pretty easy – throw in an unexpected event, crank up the volume, big sound effects and the majority of people will jump. But unless you do that really well, it’s a bit cheap. With Wake we didn’t set out to do that. We spent a lot of time building the atmosphere and tension through foreshadowing.
One of the biggest failures which we quickly put right was trying to tell a thriller story in an open world sandbox structure. To build a Psychological Action Thriller and to push the envelope in storytelling we needed to be in control of the environment, audio cues and through those the players emotions, therefore opted for a more linear structure.
In its current form, how close is Alan Wake to your initial vision on the PC?
Alan Wake was certainly a long process but in fact many of the core concepts in Alan Wake have stayed the same. We spent a lot of time prototyping and researching which helped us establish a clear vision. Sure, we have iterated designs and improved gameplay elements, many things balloon and evolve, new ideas come in which added to the list of cool things we just had to implement, but for the most part we produced the game we envisioned at the start. As mentioned, the biggest change is certainly the sandbox structure.
Some devs admitted their games were too hard upon release because they became experts as they developed the game. Talk about setting the difficulty levels for Alan Wake and if you faced a similar challenge.
This was something we actually tackled from the start with our engine and tech. We implemented a system we call BETS – “bringing enemies to the scene”. It monitors how well the player is performing in the game and adjusts the difficulty on the fly. If a player dies we ease up on them, it’s no fun to keep dying at the same spot over and over again. We also had difficulty settings to choose from which presented different parameters to the BETS system.
In terms of technical PC options/features, were there any that did not make the cut?
Not really no, we worked hard on making a PC version that we would all wanted to play and that the PC gamers deserved. We’re quite proud of it and have received really warm feedback. We are doing the same treatment for Alan Wake’s American Nightmare.
With the success of the Alan Wake PC version, can we expect simultaneous console/PC releases in the future?
We are PC gamers at heart. Our first title was on PC and I certainly at least hope for simultaneous launches in the future. I think when the decision is in our hands I know which way we would go, but having said that, the decisions aren’t always in our hands.
What was the reasoning behind the decision to release Alan Wake without a PC demo?
Just resources really. We wanted to spend much of our time improving the PC version. There are so many nice quality settings we can turn up on the PC and we wanted to take time with optimizing those. Also improving textures and adding new features like NVISION 3D and multiscreen.
How important is it to get instant feedback about Alan Wake from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?
Ah, we live by these. We’ve always tried to stay old school and communicate directly with the fans through our forums and social channels. For Death Rally and other digital titles its super important to get that feedback because we can see what people like and dislike, react and change it. With a retail release it’s a little more complicated than that of course.
How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Alan Wake professionally?
They do that stuff for a living – we take the acclaims and criticisms all to heart. If someone disliked the experience, they probably had good reason, so we’ll look into that but we’ll of course weigh up the good and the bad. Not everybody is going to like everything and we know we can’t accommodate all, it’s just the way it is, and should be.
Tell us about your decision to release Alan Wake on GOG DRM-free. Also, speak on the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy as a whole.
We just released our DRM free version on GOG.com and it’s nice to see that also doing really well. Piracy is something we can’t stop, we don’t like it of course, but hey, if someone pirates our game it’s at the very least a tip of the hat to us that they are interested in our creation…and maybe one day they’ll put their hard-earned cash down on something we make. This is the work we do, we love it and have to remain optimistic.
GOG.com is a wonderful channel and has a really dedicated fan base of PC gamers that prefer their DRM free games. We get it, some people have more than one machine and want to be able to use their license on various machines. We’re totally cool with offering DRM free especially when it’s there for the right reasons. We truly believe in the GOG fans and the results we are seeing already speak for themselves.
How do you feel about individuals outside of Remedy posting videos of Alan Wake?
That’s cool. There are some really awesome fan made trailers out there. We’ve been blown away by some of them.
How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically if mods were created for Alan Wake?
Anyone that knows Remedy from the Max Payne days will know how positively we feel about that. We have been talking about opening more tools for Alan Wake also, we’ll see where that goes.
What advice would you give up-and-coming PC developers who are trying to break into the business?
Be original and true to your vision. It’s not an easy business but it’s seriously rewarding to get a game out and have others enjoy your creation. – End
We would like to thank Oskari for his great answers. We also applaud Remedy for making Alan Wake available via GOG and hope other AAA studios will learn from their success.