E3 Impressions of Alan Wake

In a small theater in the ATI booth at this year’s E3, Remedy Games gave the world a first look at the game that was quite possibly the best looking title, bar none, at this year’s fair.

Alan Wake is the name of the game as well as its protagonist. Set in a small Washington town, Alan Wake is the story of a successful horror writer driven to the edge of madness following his fiancé’s disappearance. Unable to sleep and tortured by the loss of his muse, Alan checks into a clinic in upstate Washington. There he meets a woman that is a dead ringer for his missing fiancé.

As Alan begins his descent back into insomnia and madness the small town of Bright Falls begins to change as well, becoming darker and more ominous, almost a reflection of Alan’s nightmares. Dark forms begin to stalk the writer, their intent unknown.

To bring the world of Alan Wake to life, Remedy has developed a cutting edge “world simulator” engine to model the sleepy town of Bright Falls and the surrounding countryside. Lead Designer Petri Jarvilehto and head writer Sam Lake (the man behind the story—and face—of Max Payne) demonstrated the engine that will make the incredibly life-like world possible.

Because darkness plays such an important part in the story that the Remedy team wants to tell, a believable world was a necessity. The graphics engine can fully model the entire town and surrounding environs in real time, with seamless movement through the game world. During the course of the first look, Alan got in a car and drove through the streets of Bright Falls, then took to the roads and drove up into the surrounding hills. Everything happened in real-time with no load screens to break the viewer’s suspension of disbelief.

Other facets of the environment are faithfully modeled as well—the movement of the sun and clouds across the sky, the blowing of the wind and the resulting sway of the trees and grass as a result, the changing waves and chop of the nearby lake as the wind blows across it, and even the mellow, amber shift of late afternoon sunlight.

Words cannot fully describe the “holy cow!” reaction that resulted as viewers watched the developers move the sun in the sky, causing shadows from backlit pine trees to cast individual, moving shadows across the face of the town. Everything from the smallest nearby objects to distant mountain ranges was affected by the constantly shifting light, an effect that left the audience momentarily speechless. Lead Designer Jarvilehto informed us that the current build did all that we saw using “the latest generation of ATI video card.”

As a Remedy title, all of this glitz and flash, as impressive as it is, will play a supporting role to the game’s story. Head writer Sam Lake commented that Alan Wake’s story, unlike the action movie feel of Max Payne and Max Payne 2, will model the arc of a television series with a fully developed plot and characters. Anyone familiar with the Max Payne series will know that such a claim from a developer as accomplished as Remedy is no idle boast.

No release date has yet been announced for Alan Wake, and though Jarvilehto did say that the title was being developed for the PC and for the next generation of consoles announced at this year’s E3, no specific devices were named.

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