When I asked you – the Eurogamer readers – whether you had any questions for Remedy Entertainment’s Sam Lake, I wasn’t expecting quite the outpouring I got. I thought maybe there’d be a couple of dozen questions, perhaps more, but you submitted well over 100. It’s a lot more than I imagined would come in, so thank you. It’s a really encouraging precedent for doing similar things in the future.
I asked Sam Lake your questions at the end of last week ahead of his visit to EGX. Sorry it’s taken a few days to turn around but I haven’t had much time. I can tell you Sam Lake was quite taken by some of your questions, though, and by your shows of support for Remedy. And he certainly had fun with a few of them.
I couldn’t ask all of your questions – I think it’s impossible to ask that many in half-an-hour. Even my shortlist proved to have far too many questions to fit in. But I asked as many as I could.
Incidentally – and I mention this because I know some of you will probably look for the answer immediately – we did talk about there being no physical release for Alan Wake 2. However, the answer he gave politely closed the door on any further discussion, and didn’t add much more than has already been said.
That said, I hope you enjoy the conversation. And remember: Alan Wake 2 releases 27th October on PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox X/S.
Eurogamer: So, Sam, I’ve got a huge pile of questions from our readers, and some of are a bit silly and some, more serious. But there’s a lot to get through so prepare yourself.
[Sam Lake visibly prepares himself]
Here we go. Kix asks, “Are you awake?”
Sam Lake: [Laughs] I am! But it is a challenge because of the travelling and time difference. And the irony is I’m here in New York and flying back home tonight. Now, I’m adjusted. Now, I feel like I know that it’s actually morning – just in time to go back home and adjust all over again.
I suppose it helps you tap into what it must feel like to be Alan Wake!
Sam Lake: Yes very much so! And working on a long project like this, it’s intense. It’s a lot of work. It’s long nights and too little sleep. So all that is perfectly in line with what a nightmare it is to be trapped in the Dark Place.
Alpha Aquilae asks: “Hi! I’m a big fan of your work! Alan Wake is my favourite game, with its story, music, atmosphere and characters. For a long time, Alan Wake 2 was a dream for fans and I’m sure for the team at Remedy too. I just want to thank you and the team from the bottom of my heart for never giving up on bringing back our favourite writer and creating what looks to be a stunning experience. This dream becomes a reality that we can all play in just two weeks from now.
“Since you boarded that plane two years ago to announce Alan Wake 2 at The Game Awards, how has this experience been for you?”
Sam Lake: This has been quite a project in many ways.
First of all, thank you for those kind words. It took us so long to get this started, even. And then working on it… Making games is very challenging and complicated, and there is a lot of work and some desperation along the way.
But at the same time, I have been so happy. I have been so happy through this whole project to be working on this, feeling so happy with the vision and the concept we have, and seeing it coming through and turning into a real game in front of my eyes. The big theme of Alan Wake 2 is duality – light, darkness. And working on it has been just the same; both sides represented.
Find yourself in this LAKE of fans with Sam Lake 👀
Sam Lake joined us in the EGX Theatre to talk about the upcoming release of Alan Wake II! pic.twitter.com/YNQ5arRcB2
— EGX (@EGX) October 13, 2023
You say it took a long time to get going – when did the project actually start?
Sam Lake: Well – and it’s dangerous to ask me any time-related questions because some of it is all a blur – we were in the end part of Control, which came out in [and he thinks quite hard about this] 2019, and things were moving at that point.
All the different pieces clicked into place – us getting the publishing rights of the original game back, so we wanted to make a remaster of it. And part of that whole plan was a remaster and the sequel, and of course Control being in the same universe as Alan Wake. So yeah, four-plus years we’ve been working on this.
So it was at that point you decided to do a big crossover event in AWE to announce Alan Wake 2 (question inspired by TÎØ the Templar)?
Sam Lake: Yeah, I mean we had those pieces coming together. The plan was: we’ll do Control and we’ll hide details of Alan Wake in it – [but] we say nothing.
What, across the whole Control game?
Sam Lake: Yeah. We hid the details of it being in the same universe as Alan Wake. We didn’t want to announce it, we wanted players to find it. And partly that was because we felt like Control had huge potential and we didn’t want anyone to look at it like some sort of a sequel or spin-off to Alan Wake, which it wasn’t in any way.
But then, when it was discovered, we announced our idea of Remedy Connected Universe. And the final DLC of Control is of course a big crossover event between Alan Wake and Control. And the final cinematic there, where there is an alarm on the computer saying that there is an altered world event happening at Cauldron Lake, and there was something wrong with the computer and the date was messed up so it was a couple of years in the future. That, to us, was leading to Alan Wake 2.
Also, when we worked on the remaster – because we already were working on the sequel [by then] – when we were up-res-ing all the textures anyway, there were a lot of posters and signs and things like that in Alan Wake. And some of these we replaced with things that were teasing towards Alan Wake 2 locations and details, and some QR code things pointing to the sequel were hidden in as well.
Sneaky! Scroome asks, “Hey Sam. I’d like to ask specifically about Alan in the game. Is he the same person from the first game, or are we introduced to a man significantly changed by his experiences – one whom we are familiar yet not familiar with?”
Sam Lake: A great question. And in a game that is a psychological horror game, and where we are dealing with lots of echoes and twisted mirrors and doubles, even, it’s a good question to keep in mind as you are playing Alan Wake 2.
But yeah, it was wonderful to come back to the character, and obviously circumstances affected [him] a lot. We are progressing in our universe in real-time so we are coming back to the sequel and thirteen years have passed. And he has been trapped in the Nightmare Dimension of the Dark Place for thirteen years, in this kind of crazy madness and nightmare, so it has affected him, for sure.
And it was wonderful to come back and continue work on the character together with our wonderful actors, Ilkka Villi, who is the physical actor, and Matthew Porretta, who is the voice. And all of us are thirteen years older [he chuckles] and so it felt that there was genuine deepening of the character in some ways, and part of this story is peeling away those layers. But we come to him and, well, he is in a very dark place in his life!
MrTomFTW asks, “Hi Sam, In Max Payne you played Max himself, or the physical representation of him at least. And I’m just wondering what emotion you were trying to represent with that face? You know the one I mean…”
Sam Lake: Ha ha – yeah! [He laughs loudly]
The backstory goes that back then, we had a lot less graphical fidelity than we do these days. And really, how the model was done was there’s a static 3D model of the face and nothing changes on the actual model. And then we took photos of different expressions from me, and we just switched the texture depending on the situation. And if I recall correctly, there is a kind of neutral Max face, then there was one where he is wounded, and then there is one that we used when you are firing the gun. And that’s the now, I guess, famous squint [and then he does a very good impression of it!]
Sam Lake: And to me, the mental process was like: okay you’re a tough guy, you are in a dark night and you are trying to see. And then with the gun there is this big muzzle flash, so you need to be squinting hard, you know, and it’s a tense situation. The thing is, this is not the character-model’s face all the time. It’s just when you are firing the gun. But what was really impressive back then was the 3D particle effects of the muzzle flash, so what ended up happening is that we wanted to show that in all the screenshots. So all the screenshots for Max Payne are when he’s firing the gun and you see the gorgeous muzzle flash. But that’s also when the script triggers [he does the squinting face again] his firing expression, and that’s what everybody saw endlessly! So that’s kind of etched in everybody’s mind.
Jack Bielecki asks, “Will Max Payne use your likeness in the remakes of Max Payne and The fall of Max Payne?”
Sam Lake: It’s too early to go into that. It’s too early to talk about that in any way, really. I’ve been fully, fully focused on Alan Wake 2, and all of these discussions are in the future.
But it would have to be you, right? The internet would go crazy if it’s someone else.
Sam Lake: The internet is crazy to begin with! [He laughs]
Faseli asks, “Do you have a Max Payne shirt and overcoat?”
Sam Lake: Well, the wardrobe of Max Payne did come from my closet. We really were, in so many ways, amateurs starting out back then, and didn’t really understand any better. I was very much hands on, figuring out the characters and the casting and the wardrobe side of it for all the photoshoots. And it was as simple as I went to my closet [he chuckles] and picked clothes that I felt an undercover agent who had infiltrated the Mafia [would wear]… ‘Okay, I have this Hawaiian shirt…’
Do you still have his clothes?
Sam Lake: No. I mean, Remedy has them. They are safe and sound! [He laughs] But they are in the Remedy archives – all of them.
Have you ever dressed up as Max since (inspired by televizor’s question)?
Sam Lake: I did pick them up and put them on when Max Payne turned 20. Just for fun, as a celebration, I put them on and we did a small video. And I got James McCaffrey to say a couple of metaphor-laden, hard-boiled lines about birthdays.
So a lot of people have been asking about a physical release for Alan Wake 2. What’s going on there – will there ever be one? What’s the issue?
Sam Lake: We’ve covered pretty clearly, I feel, the situation online. As it stands now, it’s digital only – a decision made between Remedy management and our publisher Epic Games Publishing. No firm plan beyond that. And we will for sure keep everyone posted if that situation changes in some way.
Okay. Another issue seems to be the game running at 30 frames per second. The Real George Roper asks, bluntly, “Why was Alan Wake 2 built as a 30fps experience?”
Sam Lake: Well, I would instruct everybody to go online and Thomas Puha – our communications director – has been opening up the more technical details and reasonings behind it.
We wanted to focus on making it look gorgeous and making the atmosphere feel really, really good. And we felt the tempo of a survival-horror game, which is lower than your high octane action game… Thinking about the benefits there, we felt that this would be a good way to go. For more detail on different modes and technical details – I’m not the most technical-savvy guy – I would advise you… The information is out there, for sure.
Did it have anything to do with having to pull back in order to support Xbox Series S?
Sam Lake: No, not as a starting point. This decision was clearly made from an overall fidelity perspective – what we can do. I do think that Thomas also posted a video talking about Series S details and what it means.
DyspraxicEnby asks, “Hi Sam! You drink a lot of coffee, so which do you think is the best type or blend of coffee to drink?” [And I kid you not, Sam Lake takes a sip of coffee as I ask this question.]
Sam Lake: I’m very basic and I’m very old school. I drink espresso and I drink coffee Americano. Black, and dark roast whenever I can.
So Julian Buckholm Taknaes – a neighbour from Norway – asks a similar question about how Finland’s “immense” coffee intake influenced the world and logic of Alan Wake 2?
Sam Lake: I can tell you that there is some coffee-drinking happening in Alan Wake 2 for sure – especially our FBI agents. They go together for some reason, FBI agents and coffee, and law enforcement, so it plays a role.
Everybody remembers, maybe in a slightly negative way, the hundred collectible coffee thermoses hidden all around the forest in Alan Wake 1, and people being slightly frustrated that there was no understandable benefit of collecting them, other than completing all the details of the game. Well, we had this in mind going into the sequel, and we really, really wanted the coffee thermos to serve an important role, and so now it is your save item. We have these save locations and you will find Oh Dear Diner coffee thermoses there, and you can interact and that saves the game for you.
And for sure we have some characters that – there is a coffee brand in the small town being advertised. And of course, Washington’s best coffee-themed amusement park, Coffee World, is a location in the game as well.
There was an interesting discussion about game preservation with regards to remakes, between Ozyous and The_Ewan. The gist of it was to get your thoughts on preservation and on whether remakes override original games or work with them.
Sam Lake: Great question; interesting question. I don’t think it overrides it. The original exists as much as it does, regardless. I do think that the great part about remasters and remakes is that they will find a new audience. The very old game might be hard to find or even get it to run – at least for your more mainstream gamer audience it might be a struggle. So these stories and these experiences can find new audiences. I don’t think it does anything that would make the original version disappear.
Personally, I’m happy, and I’ve been kind of surprised through these years – and it’s been like twenty-eight years now at Remedy. I always somehow assumed back then that games are rather short-lived, because technology is going forward so fast and we are creating something that ultimately is bound to disappear. But I feel that I was wrong. And looking at the fans of Max Payne or fans of Alan Wake, there are more people talking about these games and more people loving them as years go by. And that, to me, is something that I’ve grown to realise and I’m very happy about.
That’s a lovely thought. Ali Baloch asks, “Where is the world’s greatest literary agent, Barry Wheeler? Is he OK?”
Sam Lake: Well [he smiles], we have quite a few of the original cast of characters play a role in this; not all of them. And then we have plenty of new characters. The character gallery of Alan Wake 2 is larger than in any previous Remedy game. We will get a couple of glimpses of what’s going on with Barry as well. And I don’t want to open it up beyond that.
Likewise, UmbraSight asks, “Will dog Neil be in Alan Wake 2?”
Sam Lake: No. But there is a dog in this story as well.
You mentioned duality earlier and swapping between the two playable characters, and Heurou asks, “Is there a developer Recommended order to play through the game, for when you think people should switch between Alan Wake and Saga Anderson?”
Sam Lake: Absolutely not, and that’s been a big part of figuring this out and designing this. We are controlling the beginning of the game and the very end of the game, and you do start the game as Saga Anderson. The FBI agent comes into this small town community to investigate these ritualistic murders. But then, as you proceed a couple of missions in, we will open it up so that Alan Wake’s side of the story opens up. Past that point, you are free to choose and pace it as it feels good to you, playing through a few missions as Saga and then following behind as Alan Wake. Or do it the other way around, or keep on switching between them.
The very idea of this kind of interactive narrative structure has been that you will get a slightly different experience when it comes to foreshadowing certain things, or having callbacks to certain things, and just the emotion of the whole ride. Hopefully, some players will be motivated to do it one way and then maybe replay it the other way to see how it changes, what they think, and how they feel about the story.
To quickly revisit the Remedy Connected Universe you mentioned earlier, Nathan-DTS asks, “Is there an end goal to the story now, and do you know where the RCU is headed?” Is there an endpoint in sight or is it alive and in flux?
Sam Lake: It is alive. Certainly, we’ve had plenty of discussions and there are thoughts on where we are headed, but really, we are just taking our very first steps into the Connected Universe. It wasn’t out in the open in Control. The crossover event was just the DLC, so a small package, and Alan Wake 2 now is the first bigger game where we are building openly on the Remedy Connected Universe idea. So it’s the first big step, [but there are] plenty of steps ahead and waiting for us.
Okay, and one final question that made me laugh. Paul Mcintyre asks, “What’s your favourite lake?”
Sam Lake: [Laughs loudly] Good question! There are plenty of lakes in Finland…
The lake where I spent all my childhood summers at, the summer cabin, that is very much my favourite lake.
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