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14th May 2019
Article: A Breakdown of Quantum Break's Alan Wake Chalkboard [Celebrating Alan Wake's Ninth Anniversary]

Ever since Quantum Break was released three years ago, I've been meaning to dive deeper into some of the Easter Eggs placed around Riverport. So, for Alan Wake's ninth anniversary, it felt like the perfect time to take a closer at one of my personal favourites and try to decode the secrets written on the chalkboard inside Riverport university.

The chalkboard features a mix of references from the Alan Wake series, the side-blog The House of Dreams, and other media which influenced those stories. For long-time fans of the series, hopefully, it's a nice little refresher on the series, but for newer community members, I'll try to break down some of the weirder connections.

Up first...

The Alan Wake Series / Themes

Zane's Poem. Starting at the bottom left of the board, there's a poem that is packed with references to the original Alan Wake title; "...deeper darker ocean green where the waves are both wilder and more serene". In Alan Wake's tutorial, those words are first heard spoken Zane soon after Alan escapes the cabin. On the chalkboard, two of the words are underlined, a reference to its Quantum Break ties. Ahead of the game's launch, Remedy's Creative Director, Sam Lake mentioned on Twitter the comparisons between  "both wilder" mimicking "Beth Wilder" and "more serene" mimicking "Paul Serene", both individuals at the centre of the major events at Ground Zero in 1999.

Screenshot of the Alan Wake chalkboard from Quantum Break.

The Clicker.
 In the top left side of the board,  there's a sketch of the Clicker, an instrument of power and "a symbol of safety" in the Alan Wake universe as it can change day into night and ward away the Dark Presence. As a child, Alan was given it following nightmares; a "child's fear of the dark". In the game, the Clicker is given to Alan in Bright Falls inside a shoebox described on the chalkboard as being "the loophole... the safe, only place that can't be altered". This has been a reoccurring element of the Alan Wake series from Thomas Zane's books at Bird Leg Cabin, to the Clicker in the Well Lit Room, to the collection of poems on The House of Dream's.

The Alan Wake Series / Characters

Mr Scratch. There are also several references to Mr Scratch (including "Old Scratch", "The Devil" and "Old Norse, Scratte - Demon."), his name is sometimes crossed out, a mirror to Zane's censored introduction. The various mentions to the doppelgänger indicates his continued importance following the events of the original game, with several sections referring to the Alan Wake 2 demo (revealed by Polygon in April 2015). In the demo, there's some fogginess over Alice's safety; whether Scratch had already murdered her or intends to, with contradicting impressions revealed in the in-demo documentary. There's also references to what Scratch had done following the events of the first game, passing himself off as the writer; "when the writer is trapped in the Dark Place (i.e. Mad) who wears his face? His Dark Side".

Jagger. Barbara Jagger is also mentioned on the board, but in a more reduced role. Given that the character was a vessel for the Dark Presence, and the perceived death of that vessel at the end of the first game, it's less likely that she is going to be a reoccurring character in future instalments. However, a breakdown of her name and its origins can be seen on the right-hand side of the chalkboard; "Witch's Cauldron, Barbara Jagger - Baba Yaga - Bird Leg Cabin. Slavic Folklore". In folklore, Baba Yaga is a supernatural woman who has a terrifying physical appearance and shifty intentions, making it unclear whether she is hindering or helping people. She lives deep in the forest, living in a hut resting on chicken legs. While the final version of Bird Leg Cabin has some similarities to the lore that inspired it, early concept artwork of the cabin originally saw the building roaming around Bright Falls at night.

Concept artwork of Bird Leg Cabin.

There are also a mentions to "the brutal hateful editor/critic who defiles the artist's words", which matches her role exactly, as she manipulated Alan to write a world into existence; ("Wild Superstition - it's really happening. A creator (who made our world" Let their be light") where the Dark Presence would gain power. Even though Jagger was eventually destroyed in the original game's final moments, in the centre of the chalkboard someone has written "Dark Place. Dark Presence. - Dark Matter. Dark Energy. - 95% of our universe", a slight nod to Wake's final words in the original title, "it's not a lake, it's an ocean", implying that the writer will face a greater challenge in the potential sequel.

Alice. Alice Wake herself is mentioned quite frequently in the breakdown, with statements that feeds the contradicting views from the AW2 demo that she is both alive and dead. On the board she is also described as "the muse, but stronger than Alan. Fickle muse leaves him -> Crisis. She can survive without him. He cannot survive without her", and then "he banishes her in anger  -> regrets it". It's subjective about which moment the regret comes from, whether it's as he's walking away from Bird Leg Cabin as the lights go out, later when he's trapped within the Dark Place, or a hint at things to come.

Zane. Naturally with his importance to Bright Falls, Thomas Zane appears in the analysis with the researcher's overlapping views on the story's perspective, "writes about Wake. Alan Wake - writer -> writes about Zane. Who made who real? Eternal closed loop? -> Ouroboros."* Since the launch of the games, fans have been debating about whether either Alan or Zane were real or if one was the creation of the other in their work. Interestingly, as Zane could be seen to be predicting the events in Quantum Break in his poem "beyond the lake he calls home lies a deeper, darker ocean green where the waves are both wilder and more serene, to its ports I've been", it could be seen as evidence that either A) Alan could have kindled certain events in Riverport, B) that Zane was not just "created" for specific events in Bright Falls or that C) if one was the other one's fictional character, Zane could be the real deal.

*A nice little unrelated fact: Poets of the Fall's War (used in Alan Wake), Late Goodbye (used in Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne) and Can You Hear Me (used in the 2011 version of Death Rally) all appeared on the 2011 collection, Alchemy Vol 1, with the latter made exclusively for the album. The cover featured an image of an ouroboros.

Thomas Zane from the Alan Wake DLC pack, The Signal.

The researcher doesn't just look at whether specific characters are their own person, similarly, the chalkboard also features the comment "the dark place, mental space - "The Dark Place" pointing to the sketch of a man's head as well as "deep waters of the writer's subconscious mind". In the DLC packs, we explored the shifting terrain of Alan's mind and mental state as he fell deeper into despair, trapped in The Dark Place. In the final scene of The Writer, Alan retraces his steps back to Bird Leg Cabin and finds himself an out-of-body entity staring at his physical self loosing control. Another interpretation of the Dark Place is that it's less of a physical location and more of a state of mind, comparative to isolation or depression.

Hartman. Another character discussed on the chalkboard is Dr Emil Hartman, who runs the Cauldron Lake Lodge, an institution for artists but operated with.... less than honest intentions. During his forced stay at the lodge, Hartman tried to persuade Alan that his wife had died in an accident, and that he had become destructive following the news. While potentially a convincing argument given the sedatives Alan was given, the writer remains aware of the lies being told him almost immediately. "By turning his back to Dr Hartman's diagnosis, he accepts the reality of the Supernatural (ascend to become the hero) OR turns his back to the reality and embraces the madness (descend)" During his first night at the clinic, a storm rolls in on the horizon, cutting the power and letting loose the Dark Presence in the lodge's halls as the patients riot against management. While there's an argument that can be made that the Darkness finds Alan, it's his awareness of the actual events and of the threat that leads him to go against instructions to stay in his room and to escape. 

This House of Dreams

The A.W.E. Following the release of Alan Wake's American Nightmare, Sam Lake created a new blog under the name "Samantha". Set in the town of Ordinary (a location initially referenced in the reversed section of Balance Slays The Demon; "it will happen again, a town, called Ordinary"), Samantha has moved into the house of her dreams. After a few restless nights, she discovers a shoebox in her attic filled with poems. While originally believed to be a fan project, posted on the Remedy Forums by user TheAvenger72, the project was later confirmed to be a little more official. In Sam's Reddit AMA, he stated "some things are us just doing things because we love what we do. This House of Dreams was that to me. It was continuing the story of Wake's world, and just having fun with a small side project. I had the time of my life writing it and it was a wonderful change of pace from the big projects. The excitement and attention it got came as a total surprise to me. "

Screenshot from Quantum Break showing the AWE at Ground Zero.

While a small side project, the chalkboard in Quantum Break makes a very specific reference to Sam's blog with a note reading "This House of Dreams. Clues?" Beside it is the initialism, A.W.E. with various interpretations of the meaning "Alan Wake Experience" and "Altered World Events". While the "AWE" is referenced in Quantum Break and Control, it began life in This House of Dreams:

"In the dream, I heard the doorbell ring and went to open the door. There was a man there. He said he was a federal agent. He showed me his badge and all, just like the FBI agents do in the movies. Here comes the scary part: there was something wrong with his face; it was leaking inky smoke so that I couldn’t see what he looked like. When I woke up I realized that this image totally came from the ink-covered faces in the photos, of course (see the previous post). The man asked me about the shoebox. He said that it contains top-secret information and that I need to give it to him. I got scared that he’ll put me in jail and went to get the shoebox, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. I searched the whole house but it was nowhere. Then I went to the bathroom to look for it, and saw myself in the mirror: my face was covered with inky smoke as well! And that’s when I woke up. When I think back about the dream, it didn’t say 'FBI' on his badge; it said 'AWE'." - Shoebox Dream, [2012/03/14]

A year prior to Quantum Break's launch, Remedy officially registered the trademark for "A.W.E." and "A.W.E - Altered World Events" with the EUIPO (European Union Intellectual Property Office), on 26th May 2015,  later confirmed in mid-August that same year. While it's referenced in Quantum Break, a Microsoft IP, Remedy holds the A.W.E. trademark, allowing it to return in the second Control DLC pack.

Hero's Journey. Another reference to an outside influence is the Hero's Journey. Initially theorised in 1871 by Edward Burnett Tylor, he recognised that most myths and stories can be broken down into a specific structure. This was later popularised by Joseph Campbell who published in his 1949 work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, leading him to often be credited with the structure.  While the chalkboard is the first "official" mention of the work stating, "Hero's Journey. 1) Departure [The 1st Manuscript"] 2) Initiation ? 3) Return [The 2nd manuscript]", Tylor's and Campbell's work made an earlier appearance in This House of Dreams with the same note is repeated on one of the found poems.

Photograph from This House of Dreams.

Other Media

In addition to the "A.W.E", prior to Quantum Break's launch, Remedy also filed another trademark for "Alan Wake's Return", the result was an Easter Egg located near the entrance to the university's physics building. Inside the tent, there's a TV which shows a short video clip for Alan Wake's Return with the phrase "to reach the surface you must first dive deeper", later repeated at the base of the chalkboard. Fans since have been curious about the Easter Egg, with some theorising that it's a parting gift to the series, similar to The Sudden Stop pages in Alan Wake. Whereas others believe that it shows Remedy's continued in continuing the series and a way of kindling interest.

Finally, we have one of my favourite mentions; close to "Alan Wake's Return" is a reference to the William Blake poem, Auguries of Innocence. Originally published in 1863, the poem is one which is frequently referenced in shows and books including Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Star Trek: Generations (1994). It was also later referenced in Quantum Break's early promotions including its reveal trailer, teasing the tagline "time is the fire in which we burn". Similarly, early advertisement for Alan Wake also featured an earlier line of the same poem, "some are born to endless night" which appears on the chalkboard. While it was later dropped for promotional material for the main game, the Alan Wake Novelisation by Rick Burroughs featured it on the cover, a nice link back to earlier work.


Formerly "Vanguard"

The Crossfire Series

The Control Series

The Quantum Break Series

The Alan Wake Series

The Max Payne Series



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