Sam Lake Alan Wake Hero

Sam Lake Interview: How Alan Wake 2 Connects Remedy’s Universe

In the run-up to Alan Wake 2’s release, I got a chance to visit Remedy Entertainment in Finland, play the game and talk to some of the key people behind its creation. To celebrate, we’re posting a major new feature each day, covering new protagonist Saga Anderson, returning hero Alan Wake, and speaking to legendary Creative Director Sam Lake about the game’s creation, 13 years in the making.

Alan Wake 2 launches today, and to celebrate I sat down with Sam Lake to talk about how it represents the past and future of Remedy, the studio’s focus on standing out, and much more.

In the first Max Payne game, a drug-spiked Max suddenly has a realization that he’s inside a video game: “Funny as hell,” he quips, “it was the most horrible thing I could think of.” It’s a moment that’s stuck with me – developer Remedy playing with the limits of the medium, making fun of them, even breaking out of them, if only for a few seconds.

That spirit still lives with the studio. Remedy games have been many things over the years – noir shooters, time travelling multimedia experiments, and now a universe-establishing survival horror – but the connective tissue between them seems to be a need to take risks, push further, be weirder than other major developers. Sam Lake, the legendary Creative Director at Remedy, takes that something like a mantra.

“David Bowie said in one of his interviews that when you feel your feet are not quite touching the bottom – that you are slightly too deep in the water – that’s the right place to be to do something exciting and creative,” he tells me. He continues with a self-effacing laugh: “I can tell you that, for this whole project, I’ve felt like I’m treading water and can’t feel the bottom.”

It’s no surprise. Alan Wake 2 isn’t just an enormous project – Remedy’s biggest ever game – it’s also likely its most ambitious. It might have been simpler to just make a straight sequel to the beloved 2010 original, but Remedy doesn’t seem to do simple. The new game brings in a whole new gameplay genre, a second protagonist with her own story, live-action elements, two separate dimensions to play in, even custom music based on poetry Lake has written. There’s been a huge amount to juggle.

“I think that in the AAA space we are still small, and if you compare to how everything seems to be growing – budgets growing, resource needs growing – I do feel that we need to take risks, and we need to be bold, and we need to stand out in a way that makes us different and unique.”

“I do feel that we need to take risks, and we need to be bold, and we need to stand out in a way that makes us different and unique.”

Alan Wake 2 certainly stands out. Quite apart from finally answering questions fans have been asking for 13 years, it’s also a kind of nexus for many of the ideas Remedy has been playing with since Max Payne. Lake has been at the heart of most of those games, and I get the sense that part of the ambition here is not just coming from a restless creative spirit, but a need to finish ideas he had decades earlier.

Alan Wake itself is a key part of that – this is a sequel that has been started and stopped multiple times, and the catharsis of finally realizing that vision has clearly been important. “Having tried for so long to make this happen,” Lake enthuses, “I feel that there was this extra amount of pent-up creative energy. ‘When it happens, I want to do all of this and go further than ever before.’” You can see that in how the game introduces explorable hubs – a nod to how the original began life as a fully open world game – and in its distinctly M-rated material, which pushes further than the Teen rating the first game stuck to could allow for.

And of course, linking directly to Control has given the team license to push some of that game’s ideas. “We could not have made this game, tonally or structurally, without Control,” Lake tells me. “That gave us confidence, that we can trust our instinct and go for something that really excites us, and there will be an audience who will embrace that and love that.” Alan Wake 2 builds on that confidence by taking on some of Control‘s structural elements (there’s a particular, hard-to-explain way that environmental objects fly in Remedy’s Northlight engine that immediately makes that connection for me), but also some of its flourishes – we see the return of live-action scenes being layered over in-game footage, not to mention that game’s Federal Bureau of Control looming over the story.

But there are deeper, older ideas at work here – elements that don’t technically fit as part of the new Remedy Connected Universe, but clearly show Lake and his team reckoning with ideas they had long ago. That’s never clearer than the fact that Lake himself appears in the game as Alex Casey – a character summoned from Alan Wake’s writing who bears a distinct similarity to one Max Payne. Who, of course, was depicted in the original game by… Sam Lake.

“As a metaphor, you can imagine that, you know, Alan Wake is Remedy.”

“As a metaphor, you can imagine that, you know, Alan Wake is Remedy,” laughs Lake. “He has had his success [by writing Alex Casey novels], but he is now turning his back on his success – and moving on from our success is going from Max Payne [to Alan Wake]. From that perspective it just felt like, on this metaphorical level, a delicious idea.

“OK, as Remedy we made our success on Max Payne, and Alan Wake has made his success in writing hardball crime fiction, and he has this detective character… If we are going to give this character a face, it just felt like on the meta layer of this – and there is so much meta, more than ever before – it just felt like, well, I think we need to do it this way, that I will be the character.”

Like that original Max Payne scene, this is Remedy breaking out of the bounds of traditional video game storytelling – it’s another risk, another unexpected choice. But it’s also a deeply enjoyable Easter Egg for fans of the studio. Another of those comes in the form of Quantum Break’s Shawn Ashmore, who reappears here as Tim Breaker (sounds quite similar to ‘Time Breaker’, doesn’t it?). Again, Quantum Break isn’t formally a part of Remedy’s Connected Universe, but his appearance is another nod to the studio’s past – and another part of Lake’s interest in building on older ideas.

Quantum Break came with the unique proposition of being both action game and live-action TV series within a single package, and it’s no surprise to see Alan Wake 2 attempting to recapture that idea in a new form – by creating entire scenes in live-action, on meticulously remade sets that mirror the game itself.

“I’m proud of Quantum Break, I do feel that we achieved something unique, [but] I always felt that we could have gone a lot further in bringing [the game and show] together,” says Lake. “But back then, through production realities, and scheduling and everything, that was the best we could achieve at that point. So I definitely felt after it that I want to keep on working with live-action as an element.”

Remedy made its first steps with Control, scaling back live-action sequences to be more like a flavor to the experience than the whole meal. But Alan Wake 2 pushes far further – you’ll see live-action used throughout the game, but never more so than in The Dark Place, the shifting nightmare reality you play within during Alan’s sections of the game.

“Because it’s such a dreamlike experience to begin with, and we are kind of flipping through layers of this dream reality, it felt to me like we can totally use live-action on the critical path,” Lake explains. “If we have these dreamlike transitions, and the character kind of makes that journey as well – he is confused in these scenes – we can go with that… It felt that now there is a motivation for how is this really part of this world, which The Dark Place allowed us to create, and I’m really happy with the results.”

“We are very much looking for opportunities to have new IPs, in the future, join in and be a part of [the Remedy Connected Universe].”

Lake’s happiness shines through constantly as we speak. There’s a sense that Alan Wake 2 isn’t just a great moment for the series, but for the studio; a chance to finally connect the dots on creative ideas that have been lying dormant for years. But with the way Remedy works, it’s also a blueprint for the future.

The benefit of creating a single world to tell stories within means that launch day isn’t the end for Alan Wake 2. The studio is working on two DLC expansions, followed by a Control multiplayer game, and a full Control sequel. Lake also says, “we are very much looking for opportunities to have new IPs, in the future, join in and be a part of [the Remedy Connected Universe].”

There’s clearly much more to come but, after all his Bowie-inspired creative treading water, Lake needs a break before considering those next steps:

“Next year, I’m going to take some time off for several months. Rest, recharge, and hopefully power through backlogs of games and books and everything. Also to, maybe, recharge my creative energy. I’m looking forward to finding new ideas, finding things that inspire me.”

But as with so many of Remedy’s influences on Alan Wake 2, there’s a key factor: “Time is where the new ideas usually start to generate.” Patience is clearly Remedy’s virtue – I hope Lake takes all the time he needs.

Xbox Live

Alan Wake 2 Deluxe Edition

Epic Games

Pre-Order Content includes: – Ornate Revolver Skin for Alan – Survival Resources Pack for Saga* – Oh Deer Diner Sweater Unlock exclusive content with the Alan Wake 2 Deluxe Edition. – Digital base game – Expansion Pass – Night Springs Expansion (additional story content)** – Lake House Expansion (additional story content)** – Nordic Shotgun Skin for Saga – Crimson Windbreaker for Saga – Celebrity Suit for Alan – Parliament Shotgun Skin for Alan – Lantern Charm for Saga*** A string of ritualistic murders threatens Bright Falls, a small-town community surrounded by Pacific Northwest wilderness. Saga Anderson, an accomplished FBI agent with a reputation for solving impossible cases arrives to investigate the murders. Anderson’s case spirals into a nightmare when she discovers pages of a horror story that starts to come true around her. Alan Wake, a lost writer trapped in a nightmare beyond our world, writes a dark story in an attempt to shape the reality around him and escape his prison. With a dark horror hunting him, Wake is trying to retain his sanity and beat the devil at his own game. Anderson and Wake are two heroes on two desperate journeys in two separate realities, connected at heart in ways neither of them can understand: reflecting each other, echoing each other, and affecting the worlds around them. Fueled by the horror story, supernatural darkness invades Bright Falls, corrupting the locals and threatening the loved ones of both Anderson and Wake. Light is their weapon—and their safe haven — against the darkness they face. Trapped in a sinister horror story where there are only victims and monsters, can they break out to be the heroes they need to be? Solve a Deadly Mystery What begins as a small-town murder investigation rapidly spirals into a nightmare journey. Uncover the source of the supernatural darkness in this psychological horror story filled with intense suspense and unexpected twists. Play As Two Characters Experience both Alan Wake’s and Saga Anderson’s stories and see events unfold from different perspectives. Switch between Anderson’s life-or-death race to solve the case and Wake’s desperate attempts to rewrite his reality to escape the depths of the Dark Place. Explore Two Worlds Experience two beautiful yet terrifying worlds, each with its own rich cast of characters and deadly threats. Discover majestic landscapes of Cauldron Lake in the Pacific Northwest and the idyllic towns of Bright Falls and Watery. Contrasting sharply, attempt to escape the nightmarish cityscape of the Dark Place. Survive With Light With limited resources, take on powerful supernatural enemies in desperate close-combat situations. It takes more than just a gun to survive: light is the ultimate weapon in the fight against the darkness and will be your refuge when enemies threaten to overwhelm you. *Contains rocket flare, first aid kit, painkillers and a coffee mug charm. Coffee mug charm saves Saga from dying from a killing blow. The charm breaks permanently when used. Survival resources pack items are unlocked during the 2nd mission. **Additional story content available post-launch, more to be unveiled later. ***Gives Saga an additional battery for the flashlight.