• Traveling to America's Pacific Northwest, taking close to 60,000 photo references and camping out in the woods at night to record ambient noises that would otherwise be down right frightening is the kind of R&D that Remedy Entertainment committed to when developing Alan Wake. CGSociety has a chat with Remedy's managing director Matias Myllyrinne on the development and direction of Alan Wake.

    Even before anyone even knew what it was about, Alan Wake started getting insane amounts of praise beginning with the ovation that the first ever trailer received at the 2009 E3. Finnish game developers Remedy Entertainment, the creators of Max Payne, have diverted from developing the familiar city dwelling environments of Max Payne to a project with much more organic environments in Alan Wake.


    FEEL
    First step was to determine a clear direction for the game in order to establish the 'feel' of the whole project. "When you build a thriller like this what you need to do is to get a baseline of reality," says Matias.

    "It needs to feel authentic, it needs to feel real and we wanted to really condense the essence of the Pacific Northwest. We did a lot of location scouting around Washington and Oregon; we even ventured up into the Canadian side of the border. We tried to distill down what we saw and really get a body for it."

    Remedy Entertainment managing director
    Matias Myllyrinne.


    Remedy visited American towns that are famous for being filming locations such as Astoria, Oregon where movies like 'The Ring' and 'The Goonies' were shot.

    While visiting these towns they instantly found them to be gold mines for concept as the cities themselves were filled with many locales that could potentially be recreated for Alan Wake such as ghost towns and saw mills as well as ideas for vegetation habits where much more brush appeared to grow closer to the shore than the much drier inland areas.


    Location reference and ingame Warehouse creation. © Microsoft Games. Image by Remedy Entertainment.
    These locales were picked for concept because they have a way of playing with people's minds. "Alan Wake, at it's heart, is a psychological action thriller. It's a combination of an action game with something very cerebral," says Matias.

    "We kind of played with the 'intrigue of the mind' idea and kind of go into the subjective where the player asks 'is this really happening or are you imagining it?' I think we really have both sides of that coin in the game"



    © Microsoft Games. Image by Remedy Entertainment.


    These locales were picked for concept because they have a way of playing with people's minds. "Alan Wake, at it's heart, is a psychological action thriller. It's a combination of an action game with something very cerebral," says Matias.
    Location reference and ingame Warehouse creation. © Microsoft Games. Image by Remedy Entertainment.
    "We kind of played with the 'intrigue of the mind' idea and kind of go into the subjective where the player asks 'is this really happening or are you imagining it?' I think we really have both sides of that coin in the game."


    Location reference and ingame range tower creation. © Microsoft Games. Image by Remedy Entertainment.


    © Microsoft Games. Image by Remedy Entertainment.
    DESIGN AND DEVELOPMENT
    Alan Wake is far from 'realistic'. Although much can be found in terms of life-like visuals, the game is rife with paranormal aspects.

    "On top of the baseline of reality, then we go into the supernatural elements," says Matias. "Wake's enemies have been taken over by the dark presence so they are protected by shadows so you use your light to destroy the shadows"

    When dealing with the living shadows of Alan Wake, any old canned smoke effect just wouldn't cut it.

    Remedy decided to seriously emphasize the shadow effects in Alan Wake by coming up with unconventional concepts on how they wanted it to look. "We wanted to have a specific and distinctive look and feel for that," says Matias. "We wanted the effect to look and feel like ink dissipating into water.

    What we did is we had this huge tank of water and poured dark blue and black ink into it and we filmed that for reference on how we wanted the shadows to look. If you watch the film 'Insomnia' for example, it has a distinctive blue tint to it in certain scenes.

    © Microsoft Games. Image by Remedy Entertainment.






     Go to page 2
  •  
    LIGHTING

    Lighting is probably the most important aspect of development in Alan Wake due to the fact that light is a weapon. Depending on how much light is in a scene at any given time should make the player either feel safe or vulnerable.

    "We built the whole lighting engine from the ground up and a big part of why we wanted to do that is to get the lighting right because light and darkness are key gameplay elements," says Matias.
    "One of the things that we found very early on was that we just couldn't find an 'off the shelf' solution to do that. So having to get into building the system from the ground up enables you to fulfill your creative vision for a lot of the things like the long view distances to being able to show intricate detail on the small scale of the world but also having those large environments which are key for a thriller in the Pacific Northwest. Our rendering guys have done a ton of work on the lighting. Actually, they kept on improving on it until the very end. It was never really quite 'done'. Even towards the very end they wanted to do this a little more or that a little more."


    © Microsoft Games. Image by Remedy Entertainment.


    © Microsoft Games. Image by Remedy Entertainment.
    An unconventional game requires unconventional tools. Development tools had to cater to the demand of this particular game so almost all of the tools used to develop Alan Wake were developed in-house at Remedy. "Some of our geometry is based on our old Max Payne tools, MaxED. Also, for some of the normal mapping we used ZBrush. Also, we built our own world editor to build a lot of the procedural tools. For example, the worlds are huge so if you have a map that is eight by eight kilometers of environments that is 64 square kilometers. So what we wanted to do is to build these tools to be quite smart so once you elevate the ground higher, there will not be many trees at the higher points. Or if we place a road in the middle the world, the system automatically knows not to put trees or grass or anything on the road and will automatically generate gravel on the sides of the road."

    With the sheer scale created in Alan Wake, one would thing that this is an open-world, sandbox title. That was almost the case during development but the Remedy team felt that a different approach would be more developmentally friendly, especially when dealing with the frame rate.

    "We started off building a sandbox game and that wasn't working out for us so we went into a linear direction but the tools were very much built to create an open world environment. I mean everything in the game screams 'open world'. The level of detail of in-game objects then became really important so we used dynamic visibility optimizations from Umbra to keep the frame-rates up."

    © Microsoft Games. Image by Remedy Entertainment.


    © Microsoft Games. Image by Remedy Entertainment.
    Development of Alan Wake proves, yet again, to be totally unconventional as the character design process completely excluded the creation of concept art in favor of a more 'true to life' approach.

    "For Wake as a central character, we wanted what our Art Director calls a 'tired but determined' look. For me he seems like he's slightly on edge and hung over. For the characters we took a lot of concept photographs as opposed to doing concept art for the characters.

    We took photographs of the real actor with very dramatic lighting and distinctive shadows on his face and kind of played with the 'light and dark' element there. For a lot of the enemies and the locals that have been taken over by the dark presence, we wanted to have them grounded in reality, once again, but something would be slightly off; there would be a distortion to them that goes into their audio effects and voice-overs as well." Matias Myllyrinne's intention is that the enemies would not be something you would find in a game like Dead Space. Enemies in Alan Wake are, in fact, humanoid and by no means are they zombies either. "We didn't want to do big monsters like crab monsters or anything like that. We wanted to have a distinctive feel and vibe to those characters.

    We wanted them to remain just 'locals who have been taken over' so you might have, for example, a lumberjack in the woods or a fisherman by the shore; these are people that you can really encounter in a small town but they will be slightly tilted and twisted"


    © Microsoft Games. Image by Remedy Entertainment.

    Animation is, of course, a combination of both motion capture and hand-keyed animation. "For animation we have our own mo-cap studio in our building so we do a lot of quick iteration there," says Matias. Ambient animations, such as when the characters are having conversations, were motion captured while fighting animations required the deft touch of an animator.

    "Some of the things you have to just go back to key-frame. Some things are just better done when exaggerated by hand-keyed animation especially for the enemies; we wanted exaggerated movements to bring out the drama whereas for the cast such as Wake, his wife and so fourth, you want them to be more realistic."

    © Microsoft Games. Image by Remedy Entertainment.

    For help with motion capture, Remedy looked to Perspective Studios in New York. "We worked with Perspective in New York for some of the larger stunts and cinematics."

    Remedy also received help from many other studios such as CaptiveMotion who helped with the facial animations and Soundelux DMG who helped with the sound effects just to name a few.



    RELATED LINKS:
    Alan Wake
    Remedy Entertainment
    Perspective Studio
    CaptiveMotion

    Discuss this article on CGTalk





    Previous pageMore Articles

blog comments powered by Disqus