Interviews// Alan Wake: Remedy's Oskari Häkkinen

Posted 18 Feb 2010 16:43 by
Games: Alan Wake
Alan Wake is a good example of how to maintain a project after so many years in development. Remedy has been working relentlessly for over half a decade on the game, and representatives from both Microsoft and the studio seem to be relieved that work is very nearly complete on one of the Xbox 360's biggest titles of the year.

No-one was more excited about Alan Wake than Remedy's head of franchise development, Oskari Häkkinen. Explaining the size of the studio and the time it has taken to finish the game, it becomes clear that Remedy sees itself as a close-knit family of developers, taking great pride in ensuring there aren't too many cooks in the development kitchen.

When Häkkinen speaks of how Remedy intentionally keeps its employee numbers down, it sounds like a rather unorthodox manner of going about business. As you tackle bigger projects, you should expand to take on the workload, right? But this alternative approach mirrors that of its interactive thriller – a single-player game that shuns most conventions expected of it to provide an experience that feels more movie-like than game-like.

Read more about the design approach for Alan Wake, the TV series philosophy that the game is heavily based upon and why outsourcing for third party engines and development tools is not such a great idea, below.

SPOnG: A couple of years ago, you guys showcased Alan Wake on the PC and it looked pretty amazing with the use of multi-threading and taking advantage of multiple cores. But recently you announced that the PC version has been canned. Why?

Oskari Häkkinen: Well, we're a relatively small studio with about 50 people, so it just made sense for us to concentrate on one platform at a time, and see how it goes. Nothing to announce today regarding that, but right now, we're just focused on the Xbox 360.

Our reasons for stopping the PC version is purely because of the size of our studio, rather than something like piracy. You have to know what your capabilities are – 50 people is rather small for a development studio like this. And our size is largely the reason why it's taken so long to finish. It's a labour of love for us – we were actually in a fortunate position after the last Max Payne game to take our time with this project and not be forced to expand.

Because we're a small group, we're also able to focus on this concept and bring it to life easier than if we were a larger studio.

SPOnG: The game's been in development for about six years now, and as you said you've spent a lot of that time polishing it off and ensuring it's perfect. It just reminded me of the relation between a game's development time and its resulting quality; Too Human being an example. Was there a danger that the longer spent on this game, the more outdated it would become on launch?

Oskari Häkkinen: That's a good question. Yes, it has been a long development process but again I'll say that we're only 50 people. We've built all of the technology we've used in-house from the ground up, and it's our own engine.

When we set out to do this project, we prototyped a concept of what we wanted Alan Wake to be like. And from that we realised that there was nothing out there in terms of third party tools that could do those things we wanted. So we went with in-house coders and engineers to create the tools we needed, and over time, it has evolved with the industry standards so it looks fresh and new. It stands on its own two feet against any other game out there.

There was no real threat of having outdated tech because of this approach to development. If we had outsourced the technology, we would have had to make the game much quicker in order to make the tech we were using look modern and up-to-date. That was a risk we didn't want to take here.

SPOnG: What would you say were the biggest challenges in making this game, and what would you say was your proudest moment during the game's development?

Oskari Häkkinen: The story has come together beautifully, and that's all Sam Lake, our lead writer. He's the brain behind the Max Payne games as well, and there's a lot of things that happen in his head that other people in the studio don't necessarily get, until they read his work and it all starts to come together. It's then we realise just how amazing a writer he is.

And a lot of things have been coming in hot just lately, like the cinematics. Because we're a small studio we outsource some of the bigger tasks. The facial mocap we get done in Phoenix; the rest of the motion capture and voice acting we do in New York; we also outsource to Imagination Studios in Sweden too.

We've just had the live orchestra in Halle, Germany work with our in-house composer for the soundtrack... it's just a huge undertaking, and working with all those external elements is one of the challenging things about getting this game right.

Working on Alan Wake feels much more like movie development, with so many pieces coming together from different sources. And it's amazing to see all of this combine in the latter stages of development. So it's hard to pinpoint one particular aspect.

But perhaps the biggest hurdle for the game's development was getting the realism right. There's a huge detail to authenticity in our game – we were in the Pacific Northwest and took over 60,000 research photos and drove over 3,000 miles.

We had people camping out in the woods recording ambient sounds in the night. We had to get it right from a realism aspect – we knew from the beginning that we couldn't add that layer of the supernatural before the world felt real and believable.
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Games: Alan Wake

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ohms 19 Feb 2010 11:29
Excuses for ditching the PC version of a game always sound pathetic.

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