“It’s not a lake, it’s an ocean”.
As the first episode of Alan Wake’s weirdly wonderful eponymous game drew to a close, I was in smitten. The setting was intoxicating – a heady mix of Twin Peaks, Stephen King and that special Remedy magic – the style was right up my alley. Nick Cave’s “Up Jumped The Devil” played over the episodes credits before the second episode began (completely with a “Previously on Alan Wake” catch-up). Episodic gameplay is all the rage these days of course, but back in 2010 it was truly novel. More novel, the entirety of Alan Wake’s adventure was on the disc; its episodic stylings were just that – style, an attempt to evoke those cliff-hanger endings of TV shows and pulp horror novels that developers Remedy obviously loved.
So, why write about Alan Wake now? Remedy have since moved on to the upcoming Quantum Break and there hasn’t been movement on the franchise since 2012’s digital-only Alan Wake’s American Nightmare (an off-beat action orientated time-loop, inspired by cult TV shows like The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone). Well, rumour has it that a HD remake is in the works for Xbox One has a pre-order incentive for Quantum Break (if true, I am ALL over THAT!), but there’s more to it than that. For me, Alan Wake is a unique franchise and one Microsoft is very lucky to own. It’s a franchise that, first and foremost, deserves to have its, as of yet, incomplete story completed. It’s a franchise that, as American Nightmare proved, is flexible enough to suit different genres. Finally, it’s a franchise that can straddle media just like Halo – it’s ready made for TV, graphic novels, books and god knows what else. All it needs is a bit of faith from the big M.
“One thing is certain, this scene takes place in another time and another place… far, far away… from Night Springs”.
So why is it a franchise that doesn’t appear to be a major player for Microsoft? Remedy certainly have a lot of love for it; creative chief and all-round legend Sam Lake has confirmed his ambition to return to Wake on a number of occasions. On the surface, it’s commercially successful with the main instalment shifting over 3.5 million lifetime units. But that doesn’t tell the whole story – that 3.5 million includes Xbox 360 AND PC sales, with a big chunk of those being given away as free in an Xbox 360 Xmas console bundle back in 2011 and a PC charity humble bundle. Those sales also came over a 4 year period – not ideal and not an amazing set of figures for a console exclusive. (NB since this article was originally written, Remedy have confirmed Alan Wake has sold over 5 million copies on all formats since release).
So why the struggle? Wake was a critical darling (TIME magazine voted it as its number one game for 2010) and had all the correct ingredients for success – a strong hype campaign, terrific, innovative gameplay and an easily marketable protagonist. One thing Microsoft probably didn’t see coming was the level of piracy; Wake is said to be the most illegally downloaded Xbox 360 game with a staggering (and estimated) 1.1 million illegal downloads. Another major issue was Wake’s episodic nature. In 2015, your average gamer is savvy enough to understand what episodic is and we’re comfortable with DLC and digital vs physical. Not so much 5 years ago. In 2010, no-one was really sure what episodic meant – especially in Wake’s case where the entire game would be available on disc, but split into bite sized chunks. It’s tough to sell a game to customer who isn’t sure just what it is they are buying.
Nowadays, that isn’t a problem. Episodic gaming is only getting bigger and Alan Wake was practically built for it. American Nightmare was a toe in the water; a digital experiment to see if that type of distribution was viable – as well as trying a more action-orientated approach and changing the style of the narrative to a more ‘Outer Limits’ Americana as opposed to the original’s surreal thrills. It was a resounding success in all quarters.
“It was a beautiful place. I told myself I could rest here, sleep here and forget about my work”.
If the rumours are true, Microsoft still have Alan Wake on their collective mind. I’m not a huge fan of the steady stream of HD remakes released at full-price plaguing this new generation, but Wake as a free pre-order incentive could be a stroke of genius – not only for Quantum Break’s commercial chances but as a kick-start for Alan Wake’s fortunes. It’s also a tantalising glimpse into Microsoft’s future plans – a Conker: Live and Reloaded remake to entice you into buying Rare’s next game or how about a HD makeover for Crimson Skies to ensure your hard-earned is given over for Crackdown 3? But I digress.
Attaching Wake to a game as tantalising as Quantum Break would ensure an increase in mindshare for the property – and a cult following already exists. Type “Alan Wake” into your favourite search engine and the top result is “Alan Wake 2”. The demand is, quietly, there. And there’s endless possibilities. Wake is about a world created by the imagination and words of a writer, a world where one man’s creativity can unleash anything. Therefore, Alan Wake 2, Alan Wake the TV show (hopefully of a higher quality than the games in-world tongue-in-cheek horror TV show Night Springs!), Alan Wake the novel could be about anything, anywhere, anytime. Microsoft and Remedy just need to get creative to unlock the potential this universe clearly has and give it the future it richly deserves.
If the Alan Wake HD remake see’s the light of day, I implore you to (legally) download it. If you’re still gaming on Xbox 360 and have never played the series, download them now through the marketplace – they’re chip as chips. Same on PC. Give Wake a chance and I’m confident you’ll fall in love like I did. As old Alan might say, let’s send Microsoft a signal. They’re sitting on an ocean of potential and we want more. Alan Wake was ahead of its time in many ways, and that time might just be now.
- Dave Green @davidpgreen83
This article originally appeared over at http://www.XboxMad.net – check them out if Xbox is your thing.