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The dev team’s first AMA: Best questions and answers

Read on for insight into how Alan Wake 2 was made.

  • News
March 5, 2024
Vida Starčević, Senior Community Manager

The Alan Wake subreddit, a fan-run community, recently passed over 50k members, and is approaching the 60k mark as we type this. To help mark this occasion, we organized an AMA (ask me anything) session with three of our developers, in which community members could ask them anything they were curious about when it comes to the development of Alan Wake 2.

Participants in the AMA were Nathalie Jankie (Mission Designer), Marko Muikku (Gameplay Lead), and John Crossland (Lead Character Artist).

Thank you to everyone who came to the AMA, and thank you to Nathalie, Marko, and John for letting us have a peek inside their Mind Place. 

If you want more, you can check out our behind the scenes YouTube series, our GDC talks, and our love letter video, which contains footage of Alan Wake 2 throughout development. And make sure to follow us on social media to stay up to date with all things Alan Wake 2 and Remedy Entertainment. 

We’ve picked our favorite answers below, so read on for insight into how Alan Wake 2 was made! Please note that some of the questions and answers have been edited for the sake of brevity and grammar.

1) From user NeedtheMeadofPoetry: Thank you all for helping create such an amazing game! Got questions for all three of you! Nathalie: What is your favorite mission? Marko: What is your favorite gameplay mechanic? John: Who is your favorite character to work on? 

NATHALIE JANKIE: The Cauldron Lake missions hold a special place in my heart (notably Return 2: The Heart), having mostly worked in that hub throughout my time on the project. I did also really enjoy Return 5: Old Gods for its characters, mission pacing, and story reveals. Though I have to say Initiation 4: We Sing takes the cake. It’s such a triumph of bold, creative decision-making, and a testament to what Remedy as a studio stands for. It’s incredible that resources were allocated to developing a musical level that so many people worldwide can connect to. I know of many colleagues who similarly haven’t worked on it that spent hours watching streamers playing it, and cheering the players and developers involved in making it on. 

MARKO MUIKKU: The Plot Board. Giving players access to Alan’s most powerful ability: developing and rewriting stories that will alter the very reality. 

JOHN CROSSLAND: Definitely Saga! I enjoyed designing her outfit and modelling her entire character. 


2) From user alaincastro and user Angle_Dez: What was the most fun and what was the most challenging part of making this game for each of you? What was one challenge you thought was totally worth the effort of working through and paid off for you personally? 

NATHALIE JANKIE: This project came with many exciting challenges! There is so much depth to Alan Wake’s narrative and themes, and desperately wanting to do those justice when working on the mission design (for example, Overlaps and dream logic). When pitching any kind of mission design, feelings or intentions can be difficult to put into words, and what one person understands to be “tense” or “hopeful” could mean something else to another. Working on a shared terminology when designing a mission and the player’s journey was a challenge, but one we got better and better at. Playable sections and reference material can help establish this terminology. 

Another one is horror design, which can be tricky to plan for. There is a high-level, theoretical part to it, where we try to manage the player’s intended tension levels throughout the various mission beats. However, it’s different having those playable in a rough state and deciding whether they actually worked out, especially when so much of selling horror is through audio and lighting which usually come in slightly later in the development process. Having enough time to iterate and adjust is crucial here, so you can finetune these beats until it feels right. 

MARKO MUIKKU: To have the team change their mindset from action to survival horror gameplay. Cinematic fast-paced action is deeply rooted in the Remedy DNA and to bring and adapt this know-how into survival horror was a huge undertaking. The previous title I shipped was an action RPG, so it took some time for me to re-orientate myself towards the core game pillars of Alan Wake 2 but being a survival horror game enthusiast definitely helped with the transition. The feeling of seeing it all click into place is simply fantastic – a feeling that never gets old and something not to be taken for granted. 

I do need to highlight the unsung hero of the player experience: the character controller. Our approach to have more realistic and claustrophobic combat spaces created the need to rethink how the player character would control in our game – to have a character controller that enables smooth navigation in cramped, complex, and dynamic environments. A significant effort was put to ensure fluent player movement at all times, and this was definitely not an easy task to convey to the team and get to the finishing line. In the end it was worth the effort and in grand scheme of things the solutions the team created may benefit the future Remedy games as well. Here you can get a glimpse of the character controller in action. 

However, as mundane as this may sound, the most challenging part to me as a gameplay lead was not the creative process itself, but to manage the constant context switching and finding time to do implementation level work. On the other hand, I got to experience this game’s production through a completely different lens and to have the possibility to work with hundreds of people from various crafts is always fun and ensures there was never a dull moment. 

JOHN CROSSLAND: The most challenging thing is trying to fit as much quality across all the characters as possible. Likely you always have to make some quality choices especially for NPCs but I try my hardest to make the quality as even across all assets as possible. One of the biggest challenges during production was handling how manage the production remotely with actors during the pandemic. We had to develop new tech and production strategies to navigate around the remote setup. Seeing the game come together has been an awesome experience, as well as seeing the fans really dig into the meta. 


3) From user marting0r: How hard was it to transition from the usual Remedy “third person action shooter” gameplay to the survival horror one? And did you enjoy working on a new genre, or you would prefer sticking to more action-oriented gameplay? 

MARKO MUIKKU: One of our gameplay animation pillars regarding feel was physicality. Physicality comes with a premise which suits the game we were making. Player actions are more deliberate, take more time to perform and at all times reflect the avatar you are controlling. Finding the sweet spot between grounded and believable movement/actions and the responsiveness was one of the toughest challenges for us. In addition to that, introducing new camera aesthetics to further create the sense of uneasiness and vulnerability is the polar opposite of how you approach designing third person action game cameras. These are a tough sell to people who have spent most of their career working in action games.

I’ve been a fan of survival horror games since the original Alone in the Dark, and I’ve always wanted to work on a horror game, so it did not take too much convincing for me to say yes to this opportunity. It was all about switching the design mindset from action to a more methodical survival horror game loop, but the motivation and desire to work on this genre was there right from the beginning. I believe you need to enjoy playing the games you are making to stay motivated as a designer, and I gravitate towards projects that resonate with me both as a player and as a professional. 


4) From user NikoZBK: Was the team inspired by any other games while working on Alan Wake 2 (like Silent Hill)? 

NATHALIE JANKIE: I’ve been inspired by Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Visage, and Alien: Isolation. 

MARKO MUIKKU: Silent Hill was definitely one of our inspirations when crafting the eerie atmosphere of the Dark Place and the slow-burning experience of Alan. Resident Evil was one of the principal influences when creating more action inclined journey of Saga. 

JOHN CROSSLAND: Yes! I love SH, I listened to a lot of Akira Yamaoka whilst working on many of the characters, I’m also a fan of Takayoshi Sato. He’s a big inspiration. 


5) From user kween_hangry: What was it like picking Saga’s overall look, specifically her hairstyle? Saga is just such a well-done character model, her hair style, and the physics of it are some of my faves in gaming. Her, Jesse, Alan— these past few games your hair physics and texturing have been so on point. 

JOHN CROSSLAND: For her hair we spent a lot of time working on different styles that would fit her character and feel grounded for the impression on screen but also for her role. I also worked with hair stylists to style Melanie Liburd’s hair. We used a hair double to test out styles to see how the hair reacts and how the hair flows and moves.  

We wanted to create a style that had some secondary movement on screen, so as you play as Saga the hair would have some movement, creating some interesting gameplay visuals. When creating the in-game hair, we spent a lot of time iterating on the hair strands themself to get them as close to Melanie’s hair as possible, and then the styling process to manipulate those strands into the hair style you see. 


6) From user SonnySunshiny: Hi John, what was the thought process on making Alan the hottest man I’ve ever seen in my life? Did you want me to question things about myself? 

JOHN CROSSLAND: Ilkka Villi is the most handsome man in Finland, with such a strong foundation he made my job easy 😃 And to be honest, he’s got amazing hair. And he can grow a fantastic, luscious beard. That combination of beard and hair? Winner, winner, chicken dinner. I will also be at GDC doing a deep dive into the character outfit creation process 😉 


7) From user DetailDevilsGame: When designing the Dark Presence chase sequences, what design language did you all think was important to help push the player in the correct direction? 

NATHALIE JANKIE: The Dark Presence chase sequences usually build on level knowledge that we’ve given players earlier in a mission. For example, in Initiation 2 the chase was designed in such a way that the player would end up in front of a Break Room, knowing they’d be safe there. This gives the player a clear goal and plan of escape. Furthermore, at the start of a chase, we try to clearly frame where the player should run to, and which areas are unavailable. You could use multiple avenues for this, from a collapsed roof and environmental destruction in Initiation 5 and Return 8, to a blocked path in Initiation 2. The use of destruction was a wonderful tool. It helped sell the power of the Dark Presence thematically, while allowing designers a creative avenue to herd the player. 

One thing that was crucial in these sequences was giving the player the feeling that they could only barely outrun the Dark Presence. 

There were also important audio components to this. During the chase sequences, we wanted to maintain forward momentum and not have the player turn around to check if the Dark Presence was still following. So having this insistent, dreadful sound bombarding the player’s senses was crucial to selling the experience. 

As for the layout, most chase locations could be set up in quite a linear way. Initiation 2 was framed around the corridor-like subway car, Initiation 5 benefited greatly from the hotel layout, which was made up of multiple corridors, and Return 8 was set in the Wellness Center, a place that players knew from Return 5 and which was adjusted through environmental changes to become more linear. Speaking of linearity, the initial design for the Dark Presence chases actually started out less linear. However, user testing showed that players had trouble navigating these, so in every iteration they were made to be more focused and scripted. It turns out that having more available routes wasn’t more interesting or engaging, they instead led to more confusion. 

I’ve been fortunate to work on a few iterations on the Dark Presence chase in Return 8 but not the others, so my thanks to fellow mission designers Dimitri Giacoletto and Admir Burnić for sharing some of their experiences with me! 


8) From user Steven_G_Rogers: It was great seeing Sam Lake as a prominent character in the game. Are any other members of the dev team in the game?  

NATHALIE JANKIE: We have quite a few people in the game! Some of us are immortalized in Suomi Hall with very Nordic names, others are Coffee World employees, and some are featured in various narrative items! 

We cast people to do the handwriting for specific characters internally, and my handwriting was selected to represent Rose. I adore Rose, so being able to convey her personality through handwritten notes was an absolute joy. Her positivity was infectious, especially when having a rough day. Some of these handwritten notes were put up around the office by her writer Clay Murphy, as we could all use her friendly support after all. <3 

JOHN CROSSLAND: Yeah, my mum is in the game \o/ also other dev members were scanned and put in game. I try my hardest to get as many in as possible within the range of scope. 


9) From user TheWaffleAssassin: What was the funniest bug you encountered during production? 

NATHALIE JANKIE: We had a bug where dead bodies would spin around in place. It took you out of the mood, especially during horror design. 

MARKO MUIKKU: The wolf, being our first ever quadruped character with an AI, did have some growing pains. My favorite one was a situation where the wolf frantically paced back and forth at the trailer park, occasionally barging through doors entering the trailers – just ignoring the player.