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22nd February 2019
Retrospective: Alan Wake's American Nightmare
[How Remedy Developed a Game in Eight Months and Marketed it in 74 Days]

On Wednesday 22nd February 2012, Alan Wake's American Nightmare, developed by Remedy Entertainment Oy and published by Microsoft Studios, was launched exclusively on XBOX Live Arcade.

While Remedy was fairly open about the development of American Nightmare through their community events and interactions, a lot of the studio's activities and plans during the years following Alan Wake's launch were hidden from public view. Unknown to fans at the time, the team were working on American Nightmare knowing that Alan Wake 2 wouldn't be developed for a few years to come. At the time, AWAN was described as a project that came about after experimentation with a horde mode that developed into a stand-alone title. Following the announcement of Quantum Break, Remedy expanded further on American Nightmare's origins with the developers focusing on a smaller digital title to bridge the gap between AAA projects, and to have the chance to work again on the Alan Wake series before it went into hiatus.

Official promotional artwork for Alan Wake's American Nightmare.


Prototyping Alan Wake 2
While Alan Wake gained a passionate cult following over the years, its launch was somewhat turbulent. In addition to being released on the same day as Rockstar's Red Dead Redemption in North America, the game was also impacted by the exclusivity deal with Microsoft and was often targeted for piracy. Despite issues out of the developer's control, Alan Wake was received very favorably. At the time of writing, the original holds an impressive 83% Metacritic score, 9/10 on Steam, and 96% approval rating on Google, although many of the positive reviews were added after February 2012 when the game came to PC with publisher Nordic Games (now THQ Nordic).

Back in 2010, while work on the series was continuing in the form of two DLC packs; The Signal and The Writer (released 27th July and October 12th 2010 respectively), initial prototype work had begun on an Alan Wake sequel. "For Alan Wake, from the get-go, we assumed there was going to be a sequel and we mapped things further out when it came to character, story, details and focus changes," Remedy's Creative Designer, Sam Lake stated in an interview with Polygon in April 2015. " We knew we would have to iterate and refine, but there was always a rough road map there."


To win over potential publishers, Remedy created a thirteen-minute demo described as a "mood piece". The setup for the piece focused on a documentary maker searching for the truth behind the urban legend, Alan Wake. The demo introduced, among other things, the blending of cinematics and live action in the same shot, the introduction of Mr. Scratch as the possible antagonist, greater interaction between the Taken and the environment, new gameplay styles, new puzzle mechanics, and new enemies with specialized attacks. Despite interest, Microsoft was looking for something new; a new IP that would be theirs, and something exclusive for their upcoming console. The discussion quickly turned to an idea which later evolved into Remedy's 2016 title, Quantum Break, and the studios had a deal.

With the new game project agreed upon, the decision to develop something new with Microsoft created a slight issue with the studio; it would take another six months to hammer out the details for Quantum Break's IP. Knowing that it might be a while before they could work on another Alan Wake, the developers began work on a stand-alone digital title later announced as Alan Wake's American Nightmare.


Creating The Concept / The Story 
Alan Wake's American Nightmare is an arcade title split into two experiences; a story mode and a horde mode called "Fight Till Dawn". The latter gave life to the project having originally started as an in-office experiment and competition. While the former was the thing which gave the idea and game its shape.

By the end of Alan Wake, the headcount at Remedy was around 50 developers, but the studio was also heading into their first iteration of the multi-project studio model with one team focusing on AAA experiences and another targeting mobile gaming; the change was the start of major employee growth for the studio, and to date over 220 employees are working at the company. For eight months, the AAA team worked on AWAN as details about Quantum Break were being discussed with Microsoft.

Concept artwork for the motel and oil derrick.

From the start, American Nightmare was locked down to be a standalone title, a spin-off rather than a sequel. "Anyone can jump on board and play it, even if they have never played Alan Wake." Lake describes in the second developer diary. "Then again for the fans of Alan Wake, there is a huge amount of optional content that takes Alan Wake's story forward." The optional storytelling came mainly in the form of manuscript pages which explored how Wake's friends and family were coping following his disappearance and the impact the events had on the writer himself. While Remedy was cautious not to get too deep in sequel territory, they did revisit a character whose intentions was left open in the original title; Mr. Scratch.

For the new game, the team moved away from the lush forests of Bright Falls in the Pacific Northwest and to the deserts of Night Springs, Arizona. They replaced the familiar guiding voice of Alan Wake (Matthew Porretta) for Night Springs' narrator (Lloyd Floyd) to lead the story. Blues and blacks were changed to reds and golds for the aesthetic, as the game also underwent a tone change; while still recognizably Alan Wake, the team was influenced by B-movie classics, Quentin Tarantino,  urban legends and 1960s Americana. For the spin-off, the game would be set in an episode of Night Springs, an in-game television show introduced in the original.

In his Complex interview, former-CEO, Matias Myllyrinne expanded on the narrative's team challenge to put together a story and script which would target both old and new fans, "I think the biggest challenge, from a storytelling point of view, was balancing, making sure that anybody could get in and understand, to make sure the story stands on its own two feet and makes sense. But for the fans of Alan Wake, it needs to take the story further and expand it, because that’s what they loved and they expect that. I think we’ve pulled it off, mainly because of Sam’s and Mikko’s [Rautalahti] clever writing."

Live action cinematic. Mr. Scratch and Alan Wake, played by Ilkka Villi.

During the development of American Nightmare, the Alan Wake 2 prototype was used as a reference with many of the new assets, models and experiments carried across to the new project. While the story wasn't a major focus in the prototype, elements of it were brought out and expanded upon. One of those story elements was having Mr. Scratch as the antagonist. In our interview with actor Ilkka Villi back in February 2012, he described his experiences bringing both Wake and Scratch to life. "Alan has been with me as a character for many years now, so he has a very special meaning for me. But let’s face it, the guy can be a bit uptight and serious. Mr. Scratch on the other hand... That dude knows how to let loose and have some fun. Okay, people do get killed in the process, but for Mr. Scratch, that’s the way the cookie crumbles. I must say I had a lot of fun playing Mr. Scratch. We were aiming for something that would be funny and disturbing at the same time. I hope we succeeded."

Another aspect adopted from the prototype was the ability to rewrite reality by matching the situation to what was written in the manuscript pages. While it was different from the prototype's demonstration, it did pave the way for additional puzzle solving in the game and present something to possibly built upon in later installments. In the final stages of the game, the rewriting reality gameplay demonstrated additional potential when players were asked to match the manuscript page exactly by interacting carefully and correctly with items placed in the area.


Creating The Concept / Fight Till Dawn
Before work on the game had even begun, its horde mode existed purely as an isolated side project. It was from this that the first part of American Nightmare was constructed.

Speaking to Complex, Remedy's former Head of Franchise, Oskari "Ozz" Hakkinen, commented on the feedback for Alan Wake and its impact in American Nightmare's development. "One of the things that came up with Alan Wake was that people wanted to see a bit more escalation in the threat, in the enemies, and perhaps in the types of weapons as well. Core combat mechanic was great, but they wanted to see more escalation. So we started looking at it like, 'Well, what could we do?' Alan Wake is a franchise that’s very close to our hearts, so we just took it all the way to the extreme, and kind of made these white, boxed, arcade action maps, where we threw in lots of crazy weapons and lots of crazy enemies." At the Remedy offices, developers began competing for the best score, writing up their scores on a make-shift whiteboard leaderboard. It was from this inter-office competitiveness that Ozz reveals the interest to release on XBOX Live Arcade came from.

Concept artwork for the Grenadier. Artwork by Jens Claessens.

One of the most notable additions that the game brought to the series was further enemy variety. While Alan Wake had quick-moving enemies which could dart around the trees at a dizzying speed or Old Gods of Asgard-representing hard-hitters, the team wanted to expand and bring in some more supernatural baddies for their latest adventure. The goal for new enemy types led to the creation of  Birdman, Grenadier, Splitter, and the Giant.

Initially trialed by Remedy in the Alan Wake 2 prototype, the "Birdman" is an enemy who could manifest as human or as a murder of crows. According to an interview by The Escapist, the design for Birdman was created as a "homage to Angry Birds" by Rovio. New enemy types also included the Grenadier, a rather shy enemy who stayed away from the action but provided backup in the form of darkness-filled grenades. Splitters would be tough but a ray of light would split apart his body turning him into two quicker but weaker Taken. The Giant is the toughest and largest of the Taken seen so far in the series; armed with a concrete saw, his attacks are one hit kills. An enemy type which was considered but which didn't make it into the game was a werewolf-like Taken, a concept later revealed in later released artwork.

The result of the experimentation led to a fully-fledged horde mode called "Fight Til Dawn" featuring five maps; Cemetery, Ghost Town, Oil Fields, Caves and the Trailer Park with the nightmare mode of each unlocked after the player collects a certain star rating in the maps. In this arcade mode, Alan must battle against the forces of Darkness in a series of waves, each more challenging than the previous and survive until sunrise (10 minutes).


The Reveal & Marketing
The timeline between the reveal and the release was exceptionally short; while Alan Wake was first shown to the public five years before its release, and Quantum Break was announced three years before it launched, American Nightmare was officially announced just three months before it was available. In just 74 days, Remedy had to announce, market and release a brand new title in a mad dash to get the word out internationally.

The VGA stage. Photo from the Alan Wake Facebook page.

Initially teased on IGN with the full title and a first-look screenshot a month earlier, the full announcement was made during Spike's VGA (Video Game Awards) on 10th December 2011 with an exclusive trailer showcasing a mix of live action and gameplay elements. Within minutes of being revealed, the term "Alan Wake" picked up international interest and began trending on Twitter.

A press release followed the announcement, uploaded on 19th December it revealed that the game was due to be released in the middle of the first quarter of 2012. And at the start of 2012, Remedy descended to CES in Las Vegas to talk about their latest title. Due to the quick turnaround from the reveal to release, CES was the only real event that the game was shown at, but one-to-one meetings with international media outlets provided additional coverage of the game. In the lead up to the launch, Remedy also recorded a three-part mini-documentary series for YouTube featuring Sam Lake (Creative Director), Ozz Hakkinen (Head of Franchise), and Matias Myllyrinne (CEO), with guest star Ilkka Villi in the role of Mr. Scratch. The videos were scripted with a direct-to-audience style which dived deeper into what fans could expect to find in Wake's latest adventure.

Ozz interviewed by MajorNelson. Photo from the Alan Wake Facebook page.

Alan Wake fans were happy to see that, once again, Finnish rock band, Poets of the Fall, returned to collaborate with Remedy. Their previous work with the developers includes incredible tracks such as Late Goodbye for Max Payne 2, and Children of the Elder God with The Poet and the Muse for Alan Wake, all beloved songs in the community. For American Nightmare, the group recorded another two; Balance Slays the Demon and The Happy Song, the latter of which was frequently used in the game's marketing most notably in The Pyscho Trailer.

The marketing and launch of American Nightmare was also aided by another release just over a week earlier on the 16th February 2012, which saw the original Alan Wake title released for PC by publisher Nordic Games. Additional coverage for the game was provided by Microsoft who included AWAN in their month-long event dedicated to arcade titles, XBOX Live Arcade House Party, which also included Warp (Trapdoor), Nexuiz (IllFonic), and I Am Alive (Ubisoft & Darkworks).


Reception and The Future of Digital
When Alan Wake's American Nightmare launched on 22nd February 2012, reviews were favorable. While it wasn't a sequel, and a noticeably smaller spin-off project, the game rocked up a healthy 80/100 across a number of publications including XXLGaming, EGM, Digital Trends, XBL, Official XBOX Magazine, and GamesRadar. Critics praised the title for its horde mode, creepy antagonist, storytelling through manuscript pages, and the new approach to action, but were also eager to get their hands on a sequel.

The title cost 1200 MSP (Microsoft Points was a soft currency used in the sale of XBOX360 titles, it was discontinued in August 2013), the equivalent of £10.20.

Official screenshot showcasing American Nightmare.

The game's initial digital-only release was a subject of interest in the press and was brought up repeatedly in interviews. While digital content is more common now, even just seven years ago the topic of making a digital-only title created concern. Speaking to Digital Spy, Aki J√§rvilehto (former EVP at Remedy) mentioned that "the digital platforms were maybe not so much of an option until the last few years, but they certainly are now.” Similarly, Mikko Rautalahti (former Narrative Lead at Remedy) had also spoken to True Achievements about how the industry was changing, "I really can’t discuss our future projects, so I won't even get into that, but speaking about this in general terms, yes, absolutely, I think the future’s digital. I wouldn't want to put a time frame on that as such, and I do realize that there are still technological issues that may affect this, but year by year, we're seeing more and more quality games that are being made primarily for the digital market. It’s just the way the technology is evolving."

Official screenshot showcasing AWAN's Fight Till Dawn mode.

Just two years after the launch of American Nightmare, Microsoft started to target digital distribution with the reveal of the XBOX One console notably without a disc drive, a decision later changed but looks to be reintroduced in the near future. With the growth of Netflix in recent years, the growing importance of Steam as a platform for exposure, and ebooks becoming more commonplace, even just in the past five years, digital content has expanded how we play games and interact with the world. And between the launches of Alan Wake and American Nightmare, Remedy was already shaping up to tackle the digital market. They had split their company into two groups, one group focusing on the next AAA title, the other on mobile gaming. While it looks like they won't be jumping to digital completely, the PC version of Remedy's latest title, Control, is to be released solely through the digital marketplace, Steam.

While American Nightmare was released digitally on XBOX Live Arcade, it did eventually get a physical edition for the PC release in June 2012. By the time that the arcade title was released, Quantum Break was already in pre-production with Alan Wake 2 put on an indefinite hiatus.

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