It was with that baggage that we sat down with Alan Wake writer Mikko Rautalahti and franchise development head Oskari Häkkinen to discuss The Signal, the next DLC The Writer, a potential PC version, what went right and what went wrong, Alan Wake being a dick, and, of course, review scores. You have been warned.
Eurogamer: What did you set out to achieve with The Signal?
Mikko Rautalahti: We wanted it to be an exciting piece of adventuring and action in the Alan Wake world... Alan Wake is a specific thing. What we wanted to do with the DLC is let our hair down a little bit and get a bit more exciting.
Eurogamer: Are you happy with the reception?
Mikko Rautalahti: I haven't read all the reviews yet - I haven't had the time. But what I have read has been pretty positive. In general, you people struggle when it comes to reviewing DLC because you never know whether you're judging it as a standalone thing or a part of the whole thing.
But in general people have been having a good time with it. The fan reception has been good. So yeah, perfectly happy.
Oskari Häkkinen: We've been pleasantly surprised. It's unusual to see a DLC only a 10 Metacritic lower than the actual game, or less than 10 in fact - it's at 75 right now.
That's good, to be only a few points down from the main game on the Metacritic. That means people enjoyed the main game, and the continuation with the DLC has fed some of their hunger for the fiction.
Eurogamer: How important is Metacritic to you? Does it bother you when you get lower than expected review scores?
Oskari Häkkinen: On the big scale, we look to our core fan base and how they've enjoyed it, and then what they're talking about, whether it be story, game mechanics, environments, location, the general fiction of the characters.
But Metacritic is something that's standardised in the industry. Of course we look at it. It's one of the only real metrics that you can compare with on a general scale.
Mikko Rautalahti: I would love to be able to say that I don't look at the Metacritic score at all, but of course I do. It's nothing more than a great way to bring a total bunch of links to a bunch of reviews. Obviously, I'm interested in that.
At the same time, it doesn't track whether the stuff we did resonated with people. It's just a score. It's not representative, necessarily.
As a writer, I'm interested in whether people like the story. A lot of people love the story, and that may or may not be reflected in the score they give the game.
Eurogamer: When will the next DLC, The Writer, be released?
Oskari Häkkinen: At the moment we can't communicate more than it's coming out in the fall.
Eurogamer: Can you tell us anything about the gameplay?
Mikko Rautalahti: It's going to pick up where the first one leaves off. It's a two-parter.
If you play through The Signal you can probably get a lot of ideas about what we're doing with the second one. But the second one is not going to be similar in terms of the level design. It's going to be a little different.
In terms of level design, Alan Wake is... I don't know if it's realistic because you've got shadow guys throwing axes at you, but it is treading this line of believability.
In The Signal we could let go of that because we aren't in the real world anymore. There's a lot we can do with that. You'll find that we'll be doing a lot more of that with The Writer.
You will be seeing a lot more weird stuff. And we've learned quite a bit from making The Signal, and we'll be applying that to The Writer quite a bit.
Eurogamer: Will The Writer be the final Alan Wake DLC?
Oskari Häkkinen: I can't confirm whether this is going to be the last one or not.
There are some things in the pipeline that we're looking at, and we're balancing out how we will move on with this.
Eurogamer: What word would you use to describe the experience you had creating with the original game?
Mikko Rautalahti: I could describe it as a rollercoaster, both in terms of personal experience and actually getting the game out.
I like rollercoasters. They're fast and they're exciting. You get your ups and your downs. But it was certainly worth the price of admission for me, and I think it was worth the price of admission for the people who bought the game.
Eurogamer: What was the game's most successful feature?
Mikko Rautalahti: Being the writer, we set out to tell a story and we did a pretty good job with it. It's a mature story - not necessarily in terms of the boobies and blood you might see. We set out to do a story that doesn't treat the gamer as an idiot, but rather as a mature adult. We succeeded with that pretty well.
Oskari Häkkinen: The combat was something unique that hasn't been seen before. Also the environment; we captured this idyllic small town well.
Mikko and Sam Lake [lead writer] spent a lot of time thinking about the characters. Chewing it out and making characters that felt realistic and authentic to the environment, from the way they were dressed to the way they were talking, the dialogue, everything - that contributed to whole package.
Eurogamer: What aspects of the game were you least satisfied with?
Oskari Häkkinen: There's always room for improvement. We were polishing right up until the very end.
90 per cent of the team, if you would give them more time they would take another year or another two years polishing until the end.
Mikko Rautalahti: Which in our case might be overkill.
Oskari Häkkinen: There's nothing that's a thorn in our side, that we're like, 'Damn, we didn't put that in,' or 'We should have put this in.'
Mikko Rautalahti: I thought of a bunch of new jokes when I was playing through again, but that was when I knew I couldn't put in any more. I'm not sure that counts.
Eurogamer: Maybe you can put them into something for the future.
Oskari Häkkinen: Hopefully not. I've heard the jokes.
Mikko Rautalahti: They're good jokes! I might have put a couple of them in The Signal, with Barry and Wake.
Eurogamer: Will a PC version of Alan Wake ever be released? Is it impossible now?
Oskari Häkkinen: I could never say it's impossible, but it's certainly not on the cards at the moment.
Oskari Häkkinen: The size of our team and how long it would take us to develop the PC version. It's not a simple process. It's not something you can do in a month or two months. It takes time to do it right.
We want the Remedy brand to be a seal of quality. Doing a half-assed PC version wouldn't be an option for us. Rather, if we do it, we'll do it properly.
It takes development time. It takes resources. At this time it's not on the cards.
Eurogamer: Has Microsoft been in touch about doing a sequel?
Oskari Häkkinen: For both our publisher Microsoft and for Remedy, we're still in a launch phase. The game just came out. We are still monitoring the main game.
We're working hard on the DLC. We just put out the first DLC, The Signal, and The Writer is coming up. We're working full steam ahead here. We're a team of around about 50 people. We've still got plenty to do.
Being in this launch phase at the moment, we haven't had a chance to get out to Redmond, Microsoft Game Studios, and discuss anything further of how we move on. But I don't see any reason why we wouldn't continue with Microsoft with a full-blown sequel for Alan Wake.
We definitely want to do it. We have great ideas for it. I can see Mikko here twiddling his thumbs with his ideas for Alan Wake 2.
There's certainly a want, and that want is I believe from both sides. Right now I can't confirm anything.
Eurogamer: Would Alan Wake 2 have to be an Xbox exclusive or could you go multiplatform?
Oskari Häkkinen: With Microsoft Game Studios it's Xbox exclusive, or it's Xbox and PC version.
Please don't put that Alan Wake 2 is going to come out on PC, because that might not be true. Either is a possibility.
Eurogamer: So, despite owning the IP and being an independent developer, a potential sequel would be a Microsoft exclusive?
Oskari Häkkinen: Microsoft put a lot of beef behind the title for it to be an exclusive for the 360. They feel it's an important title for their portfolio. It fits into their portfolio among other games like Gears of War, Halo and Forza.
They think of their first-party games as a package and a portfolio for the 360. My understanding is we have a great fit in that portfolio as well.
Eurogamer: So you don't think sales matter?
Oskari Häkkinen: Certainly sales matter.
Eurogamer: How do you feel about Alan Wake's sales?
Oskari Häkkinen: It's been received well. We came out in a relatively congested window. But for the most part we did very well. We were top of the UK charts for a while. We were top of the US charts for a while. Japanese, European charts... and we've stayed up there.
I've just heard a week ago that we re-entered the UK charts as well, which is interesting. It seems like a title people who have enjoyed the fiction, have played it through, they talk to their fellow gamers and say, 'Listen, have you played Alan Wake? Go check it out.'
I don't think this is the type of game that has a peak and then just fades away. Rather, I believe it has the type of fiction and story and gameplay that has a long tail, that can sell for a much longer period.
Eurogamer: Alan Wake comes across as a bit of a jerk. Was that deliberate?
Mikko Rautalahti: Yes, you're right. Alan Wake is certainly a bit of a dick, every once in a while. Not necessarily even every once and a while.
Clearly he's a conflicted guy. He has a lot of problems. A lot of those problems are the type most people aren't going to encounter in real life because most people don't end up in those situations at all.
But he has marital problems. He probably drinks a little too much. He had troubles with his work. Those are the kind of things that make people hard to live with every once in a while.
Oskari Häkkinen: He hasn't written anything for the last two years. The paparazzi are on his case. His fans are on his case.
Mikko Rautalahti: These things make him a lot more interesting than other game characters. This is a guy who has troubles you can identify with as opposed to the kind of problems a space marine has. That's something that makes him interesting. And we certainly want Alan Wake to be an interesting guy.
I would absolutely agree that he's not necessarily a nice guy all the time. On the other hand, you know where you stand with him. He's a good friend to his friends. Not necessarily an easy friend.
We all know people we appreciate and we like to hang around with, but they make it hard to be their friend. Alan Wake is definitely that kind of a guy. And yes, that is definitely intentional.
We wanted to create somebody that feels like a real guy.
Oskari Häkkinen: When you're having problems in your regular life, whether it be stress from work or stress from your marriage, or you've just had a child, or whatever it might be, you turn into a bit of a dick.
When you go through rough patches you turn into a bit of a dick and a bit of an asshole.
More on Alan Wake
Alan's Fact of the Day.
Review: Alan Wake
The big sleep.
Remedy vs. the pixel counters.
Atmospheric XBLA shooter arrives next week.
Mikko Rautalahti: I've seen some people go, 'Look, hey, he's not a nice guy!' And I thought, 'Yeah.' Some people reacted as if we did it by accident. Like, 'Ha ha, those guys screwed up! They made him an asshole! They didn't notice!' Well, yeah, I think we noticed.
A lot of people work on the assumption that in order to be interested in a character you have to be able to like them. More, you have to be able to approve of everything they do on a personal level.
Alan Wake has a very short temper. He goes around punching people he doesn't like in a moment that may not be the most sensible. That's what makes him cool. That's what makes him interesting.
If you look at Han Solo for example - and I'm not saying Alan Wake is like Han Solo necessarily - but he goes head first into a lot of situations that aren't necessarily very smart. But it's interesting to see how he gets out of them.
Eurogamer: If you do get the opportunity to do a sequel, will you change Alan Wake's personality?
Mikko Rautalahti: I'm sure he'll be changed by some of the events he's gone through. But I have absolutely no interest in writing Alan Wake as Mr Nice Guy. Where's the interest in that? As much as I love Nathan Drake, why would I want to make another Nathan?
Alan Wake's problems stem from his writers block. As we know, he overcame that. He managed to write an ending to his story. That's probably going to make a difference in how he views the world.
Eurogamer: So he may chill out?
Mikko Rautalahti: It's probably going to make him a little different. But Alan Wake is going to be Alan Wake. Alan Wake has to be Alan Wake. Alan Wake doesn't necessarily have to be the guy who's always annoyed about not being able to write, if he turns out to be a guy who can write after all. That's going to have some sort of an impact, definitely.
On the other hand, if you've played through The Signal, you know he's trapped in this weird place, and that's also probably going to have an impact. We're going to deal with that, too.
Alan Wake is out now for the Xbox 360. The Signal is available to download from Xbox Live Marketplace. The Writer is due out this autumn.