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Some sort of thought dump on Alan Wake's gameplay

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  • Some sort of thought dump on Alan Wake's gameplay

    So after playing Alan Wake for god knows how many years and reading through various prerelease articles and Illuminated a bunch more times, I can't help but wonder how a more open setting would've helped Alan Wake.

    And I don't necessarily mean an open world, but just more open-ended gameplay and level design. The problem I have with the final game is that the levels are very corridor-like, even in open air. There are usually steep cliffs both, both upward and downward guiding Wake through a very linear level. And every time there's something unusual, like a rock or bigger tree of some kind, you can bet that there's some dude waiting to stick his rural American pitchfork up your city boy writer butt.

    All that is fine, but Alan Wake is more than 10 hours long, and nearly all of the playable levels have you going through samey dark forests with bad guys popping out from similarly shaped rocks every 10 or so seconds. Doesn't help that every time that happens, the game wrestles the camera from you to show the enemies sitting behind the rocks going "Moooooom! Alan's cheating in hide-n-seek by using a third person camera!" I think Ben Croshaw of Zero Punctuation fame put it quite well in his Quantum Break review, a game which suffers from similar issues but in quite the same extent: "...it feels like every time a gameplay section starts, you can almost hear the game heaving a reluctant sigh." The story is really good (and you need to finish it someday, Remedy, or I will be very, very sad), but it really seems like the story took the spotlight when crafting the game, based on the decision to move into linear level design to focus on the story pacing.

    Now imagine this instead of the final game's corridor shooter design: You are given a spot where you need to get. It's in the middle of a forest, so you have to make the journey by foot. While reaching the spot, the sun slowly sets and fog rises. Eventually the last remaining rays of sunlight vanish behind the horizon, leaving you alone in the forest amidst all the horrors that lurk in the darkness. Vegetation rustles around you and you can hear terrifying grunts and breathing all around you.

    This kind of player-centric design is what makes all the great horror games, well, great. If you want the player to be scared, you need to give the player the full control of his actions and make the enemies' actions unpredictable. The Alan Wake engine would be great for this. The darkness is truly dark, the fog limits visibility nicely and it's allaround great for building a genuinely scary atmosphere. In the finished product, the player is given an avatar, who is scared, but the player itself is given a very repetitive level which quickly turns into a boring slog of walk a bit, stop for a bit, shine the light, bang-bang continue.

    Perhaps my opinion is slightly shaped by the games I played younger, which tended to give the player the liberty to control the story pacing. When it comes to pacing of an interactive story, I don't feel like any other game has nailed the balance of player interactivity and story quite as well as Max Payne 1 did. Anyways, thank you for reading through this dump of my thoughts.
    The "Alan Wake development history" fanatic strikes again!

  • #2
    Well. I was hoping for more discussions on the forums. I feel like you went above and beyond for that, CatoNator!

    I actually read your post shortly after it was published but only just got the opportunity to properly sit down and respond to it now. Something which I was thinking a lot over the past few days has been about how different Alan Wake would be if it was released in 2016 or 2017. By this point, the same amount of time has past between Alan Wake's launch and now as the time between Max Payne 2's launch and Alan Wake's, or Death Rally and Max Payne 2. There are constantly improvements in the industry and nothing is ever still. Even a game like The Last of Us which is absolutely amazing and still a fairly new game, when you play it, you notice some things which they would changed if it was released a little later, such as some of the lighting. Also the differences between Alan Wake and Quantum Break.... O_O Those character models!

    I think you're replaying Alan Wake with a similar mindset of looking how the game could be improved if it were released now. Which is definitely no bad thing! A lot of developers do that. Looking back to the 2010 games I've played, it was Alan Wake, Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light, Bioshock 2, Heavy Rain... they were all of a similar nature in a way, where it was a story with a linear pathway with specific triggers for enemy encounters. There's also Red Dead Redemption which does have more of an open world element (which is something that you brought up too!) and for me the experience was amazing and there was a real sense of adventure, but the story wasn't always on my mind when I was playing. Rockstar has a very different feel to their games; where you're kind of thrown into a situation and a world, and you can take it at your own pace. I like games like Red Dead where you can ride on horseback while the sun is setting, and I like driving on the left and freaking everyone out by being amazingly British in LA Noire. But I also like the more structured approach that something like Max Payne or Alan Wake or Quantum Break has.

    For me, all three series focused on the theme of fate. Max and his struggle to escape the past, always getting dragged towards it. Alan and his predestined path written for him in Departure. Jack trying to fight against the linearity of time but being trapped by a closed loop. So having an in-depth story in which the protagonists have a specific journey to tread complements the theme for me.

    But talking about future titles, from the sounds of it with the multiplayer article at Polygon and Thomas Puha's interview with VentureBeat, Remedy will be exploring different ways of telling a story and new types of gameplay. Not much has been announced regards to future projects, but it does feel from those interviews like the developers are moving with the new trends in the industry.
    The Sudden Stop - Remedy Fansite

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    • #3
      Alan Wake definitely feels a product of the late 2000's linear COD-like scripted shooter craze. I just think that Alan Wake's combat didn't work with the trendy design of the time, which hurt its gameplay a lot in the long run.

      The improvements made in Quantum Break and the promises for the future definitely seem better though, and if Alan Wake 2 ever happens,I'd imagine it'll be much better than what the original was.
      The "Alan Wake development history" fanatic strikes again!

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      • #4
        I very much agree with Cato's critic on Alan Wake, but like every Remedy game in the past, the games were always 'Story first!'.
        You mentioned it already, but yeah, the very reason why AW is no Open World game is that RMD could tell a better story with a more corridor-styled gameplay/world. But you can see the remnants of AW once being an open World game in many different levels.

        Originally posted by CatoNator View Post
        Now imagine this instead of the final game's corridor shooter design: You are given a spot where you need to get. It's in the middle of a forest, so you have to make the journey by foot. While reaching the spot, the sun slowly sets and fog rises. Eventually the last remaining rays of sunlight vanish behind the horizon, leaving you alone in the forest amidst all the horrors that lurk in the darkness. Vegetation rustles around you and you can hear terrifying grunts and breathing all around you.
        Remember the level where Alan had to get to the Sawmill to meet Moth? That's exactly what you just described, and I bet that in an earlier version of this level, the player was supposed to do exactly what you described. In an open world environment of course.
        When playing the PC-Version, I think there is a command to enable a free-look camera. If you use that on the Bright Falls level for example, you'll really see that AW once was to be an open-world game.

        Many Critics blamed the game for being very repetitive, and it really is. I have no problem with that, because the main gameplay was very well executed if you ask me, it was kinda fun. Same goes for Quantum Break, I don't think it's any better than AW on the gameplay side to be honest.
        But es Jaden already said, the #1 reason we all play and love AW is the Story and it's well written characters. I think that RMD is on a whole different quality-level, when being compared to games like The Last of Us. I think Naughty Dog's games aren't anything as good as Alan Wake, but that's just my personal opinion.


        As for the Horror-Aspect, I think that is something very personal. I thought that AW was spooky at best. But, on the other side, AW was never marketed as an Horror-game, that was meant to scare the player (in any way). Sam Lake began every Interview with the words: "Alan Wake is a Psychological Action-Thriller (...)". It's even on the box. So I think that some players expected a real Horror-Game, but got something else and were disappointed. Alan Wake has a lot of potential to be a real horror game tho, but you mentioned that too. Really, Alan Wake has a whole lot of Potential to be a much better game, on so many aspects. If you ask me, 'Alan Wake's American Nightmare' should be called 'Alan Wake's wasted potential', because there are sooo many things, AWAN could have done better. But since reading Jaden's Article on it and (now) knowing it was only developed within 1 year, i guess AWAN is ok as it is.

        Maybe, one day, when Microsoft finally comes to senses and gives RMD all those millions of MS-$$$, maybe we might just see a real nice Open World-longer-than-10-hrs Alan Wake sequel.


        I've put the Imagination in its Place.

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