"Alan Wake," was not the smash hit that its publisher, Microsoft, or its developer, Remedy, was hoping for. Releasing on the same day as "Red Dead Redemption" is sure to put a bit of a crimp in your sales expectations. Despite not becoming a massive mainstream hit, "Alan Wake" has become one of the most memorable game releases of the last few years for those who have played it, and those fans were rewarded with two solid post-release downloadable chapters, titled "The Signal" and "The Writer." I spoke with Oskari Hakkinen, the Head of Franchise Development at Remedy, about their work on those downloadable episodes and whether we've seen the last of the brooding, blazer-wearing author.
Hakkinen started by confirming that, at present, there are no plans for additional DLC packs for "Alan Wake." "The final DLC, 'The Writer,' wraps up the new story arc that we started with 'The Signal,'" he explained. "It paves the way for the future...that was always the intention."
When asked about the twisted, other-worldly nature of the two DLC packs, Hakkinen was proud of the work that the team did, diverging from the constraints of the main game.
"The DLCs really gave us the opportunity to push the boundaries…go somewhere more surreal and treacherous, where nightmares are reality. It gave us the opportunity to be a bit more explorative of the things we could do. You see some of the most imaginative level design that's come from Remedy. It was really interesting to let the guys go."
Although the DLC packs were extremely innovative, they were a little light on story, which is an element that is so intrinsic to the franchise. When I asked about why there were very few story revelations in the "The Signal" or "The Writer," Hakkinen seemed to struggle with the answer. "It's hard to talk about it," he said, "because when you have thoughts already planned out of how you want to deliver it, and you want to hit on certain notes...I feel like it's done the right way, but only the future can tell if it was or not. It's hard to go into it any more than that, but there is definitely a plan."
It's that "plan" that Hakkinen refers to that "Alan Wake" fans would be most curious to learn about. The franchise was always planned for a longer run than just a single game and a few DLC packs, but would so-so sales derail that future? According to Hakkinen, it's all about the fact that Remedy hasn't "painted itself into a corner." He continued, saying that "it's very difficult to talk about when you can't really disclose what is going forward."
That's something right there. Gears are being turned, progress is being made. Hakkinen is very well-trained about not giving away any details, but the fact that something is "going forward" is a hopeful sign that "Alan Wake" is far from DOA and that it may escape the fate of those critically acclaimed TV shows that get the axe after the first season.
Hakkinen said that a lot of the reason the franchise still has legs is because of the fan support they've received.
"What we're seeing is that this seems to be a game that once people play it, they feel the urge to tell people around them that they need to try this game, play the story out. We're finding a lot of love from the people who have played it and that is continuing our sales quite nicely...Perhaps we got off to a slow start, maybe due to a very competitive launch window, if you like. We all know that it was. But it seems to be a title that has legs and is still living. We're still happy where we are."
Sure to increase the following for the game is Microsoft's holiday Xbox 360 bundle, which packs a copy of "Alan Wake" and "Forza 3" in with one of the new Xbox 360s for $300.
Before ending the interview, I made a final attempt to wriggle a little sneak peek at the future of "Alan Wake" from Hakkinen. Here's what he had to say:
"We'd all love to let everything out, but when nothing is sure. Until things are written in stone or locked down, we don't want to say out to everybody that this is what is or might...speculation is not worth the paper it's written on. Remedy certainly wants to see more Alan Wake. We really feel like we've got something good here."
In other words, nothing is for sure, but those words do seem to offer hope for fans of the franchise wondering what will become of the writer and the strange town of Bright Falls. Hope to see you at Deer Fest 2011!