We sit down with Remedy Entertainment and talk about Alan Wake’s American Nightmare.
We would like to thank Remedy for taking the time to talk with us about the game. Enjoy the interview.
1. What is the day to day life at your studio like?
No two days are alike. There is a lot of freedom that all our crews have – so each one can tailor their day in many ways. I mean we do set overall targets and what we want to go for and then we often attack those targets in cross discipline scrum teams – meaning that for example programmers artists and animators may be working together on an idea or solution.
What I like about working at Remedy is that everyone is really professional and passionate about what they do… it is not about doing things right, the crew is bright and talented, I think it is more about “are we doing the right things”… which means we talk increasingly about focus and priorities. We work hard and we have fun doing it – pranks, game nights, sports and beers are as much a part of the culture as are the goal oriented work we do.
As we get older it is also important to have a good balance in life – we don’t want to run a game factory. It is important for folks to have time to spend with their kids and loved ones. When these things are in balance I think you can also see it in the quality of the work, creativity and innovation. Of course it is the right thing to do but also it is good for our games. As it turns out, happy people make better entertainment.
2. What’s your job title and what is the best/worst part about your job?
I’m very very lucky and I probably have one of the best jobs in the industry – I get to work with an awesome bunch of technical and creative talent from around the world. I learn every day from them.
I also have the privilege of working with some of the smartest and most talented companies as well, developing technology; software and hardware… You know, it has been great to work with the likes of Rockstar and Microsoft Studios – every time we learn more and develop as an organization and as professionals. Things are changing so fast in games these days that it is a constant learning experience and a lot of fun.
My job is to enable the team to do the best game possible – most of the time that means getting them the resources needed to bring their vision to life – time, money, people and finding the right partners to work with on each endeavor. I try to think of my job as building a team that builds a game as well as building a company that is larger than the sum of its parts - you know those great organizations that go on with that special something…
Of course I am gamer, but I try not to get involved into detail – we have sharp people and no shortage of ideas. Adding more things to the mix is often counterproductive. I find our guys coming to me when they have reached some kind of junction point – you know they have two options… and want to decide if they want to go left or right. They often have the answer but it is more about helping them ask the right questions than trying to provide a right answer…
I might have a pet feature or part of the game I love, but I try to show restraint and not push my own views – it is important that the game represents the teams ambition and creative vision as a whole.
The job changes also as a function of where we are in the development cycle, in the early stages of development, when we start a project we need to lock down the vision and decide the focus, so early on I am involved more. Once the pillars of the game and intellectual property are nailed – you have to trust your people and give them room, to protect them from the distractions and just make sure they have everything they need. At the end when you are heading out to the gamers it gets intense again, cause you need to weigh out things and need to make hard choices, even there our folks know the right paths forward, it is just supporting them more than anything.
3. Any weird or wacky people that you work with?
Yes. All of them are lovely in their own way but as with any super power there is often a fatal weakness. I’m not going to name names but, Ozz should be kept away from Karaoke after he has had more than three beers – he will sing songs with new “adult” lyrics in his British accent. Not everyone may approve in the audience…
We have diverse team with various interest and hobbies. What brings us all together is the will to create awesome games and to delight people with deep stories and compelling action.
So for example…Markus has a horrible taste in country music and a great taste in whiskey, Mikki has a Rainman-like encyclopedic knowledge of popular culture, Saku is the founder of the Finnish Star Trek fan club, we have a guy on the national taekwondo team, an amateur stuntman, hunters, DJ’s, an astronomer, three guys with backgrounds in architecture, wine buffs, a bunch of people who grow their own chilies (if they offer a taste proceed with caution), half a dozen amateur guitarists and ten of us ran the Helsinki half marathon last year – many will do so again. Sadly, it looks like Ozz has become too complacent and weak to run this year:)
4. How did the idea for AWAN come about?
More intense action – that was very much the focus.
We listed to the fans and as we got feedback that the story for Alan Wake was awesome and the core gameplay was unique and fun. However, gamers wanted more variety and escalations in combat. So we started from some fun gameplay prototypes. We had these little white boxed levels where we had different wilder enemies and wilder weapons and it all grew from there.
We had these white boards on the wall by the coffee machine with the team members keeping score… in many ways it was a great XBLA game right there! Of course we added a story mode – we are Remedy after all and that is in our DNA.
We felt that the story needs to match this escalation in action… so the tone needed to be different to fit the different medium – American Nightmare is more balls to the wall action with Quentin Tarantino and Dusk till Dawn vibe while Alan Wake was more Lost and Stephen King
5. Could you describe AWAN for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet?
On one hand it is an exaggerated pulp action adventure, on the other it is an over the top arcade action mode. It is a new breed of XBLA game.
6. How large was the team that created AWAN and how long did it take to develop?
The beginning was more organic than on many Remedy games as it started with those early prototypes. But I guess we had about 30-40 people on it for about nine months or so and of course outsourcing partners, actors, etc.
7. When you first set out to make the AWAN did you envision it to turn out the way it did?
Not really – we kind of went with our gut – just wanted to have fun creating action gameplay and a story in a pulp tone with these supernatural elements and urban legends… tongue in cheek in many ways. We knew it was going to be a fun experience and the gameplay had hooks – but it felt more like we did not want to determine the final experience too rigidly.
8. Looking back on AWAN now that it is close to being released, what are the things that you are most proud of?
It is too early to judge, I think we can only properly evaluate our work once it has settled for months if not years. But, I am proud of us trying to challenge some of the conventions in XBLA and hopefully in our own small way helping to take games in the digital space a few notches further.
9. Was there anything you were hoping to get into AWAN that did not make it? Any chance you will try and get it in as DLC?
We always leave material on the cutting floor – it is just a natural process and essential for creating a good game. You are done, when there is nothing left to remove – you have the right and required ingredients. A focused and pure design is always better than a cluttered and poorly executed entity – this applies to pretty much any form of entertainment and design.
10. Can you give us some tips or strategies for AWAN?
In Fight till Dawn – try these… use the hand flare by dropping it and then using the light as a cover when shooting with the crossbow. The cross bow is lethal and powerful but you really want to ensure you have time to reload. The second tactic is to not take down the enemy who throws grenades first. Let him keep lobbing them – get close to a bunch of other taken and use the damage the grenades do to take out these guys… so collateral damage on their part. Also, if you want a high score, get close to your enemies ASAP, take risks by dodging and get the multiplier up, this is required if you want to dominate your friends on the leaderboards.
11. Now that AWAN is close to being released, what’s next for Remedy?
We’re really happy about the future. We continue to work on our big games trying to take those forward and we will continue to look at the digital side to push the envelope further there as well. It is too early to go into more details but it is a cool new brave world out there and we are loving it.
12. Can you tell us anything that the future might hold for Alan?
Nope, We love Wake and want to share his journey with the world.
14. Did you all come from game developer/designer backgrounds at Remedy?
No… we have a very rich background in various different fields. Writing, architecture, animation, IT, economics, engineering, audio design, marketing, arts, school art teacher… I think it shows that we have a well rounded background and experts from various fields. What is important that we come together to create a common vision and share a passion.
15. 2011 was a big year for gaming what games do you play when not working on your own?
Oh boy, I have quite a few in my “must play” stack of shame for this year. It was a great year in games, but did not have enough time to play… Regardless, I’ve played way too much Battlefield 3 multiplayer, loved the mood and setting of LA Noire, the new Forza was brilliant too… Also, increasingly I’ve been playing in smaller chunks… on the iPad “Where’s my Water?” has been addictive fun with the kids also “The Creeps” and “Cut the Rope” and also turn based strategy – “strategery” …But Ozz will always kick my ass in that so I’m losing enthusiasm for the game:)
And… the highlight of the year, having the opportunity to play Max Payne 3 while it has been in development has been a brilliant opportunity and a pleasure. I cannot say more but watch out for this one!