Two years ago one of the 360's most hotly anticipated exclusives began to drift into myth territory.
Gears of Wars came and went; Halos came and went; Project Gothams came and went; and Alan Wake stayed... silent. Until, ultimately, many believed the psychological horror was just vapourware and empty promises. However, over in Finland, Remedy's ambitious project was just starting to come together - and it was changing all the time.
In Remedy's eyes, the only myth concerned with Alan Wake was talk about delays and inordinate development times. As writer Mikko Rautalahti explains, Remedy Entertainment isn't a studio equipped to churn out titles year after year.
"It sounds like a really long development time when you look at the years but that's not really a great way to measure the amount of work involved. It really comes down to man hours. We're a very small development studio by modern standards. There are studios that put out a game every two years, but they typically have at least two or three times as many people on staff as we do."
Remedy isn't just any old small outfit, it's one which creates its own tech. "When we revealed Alan Wake in 2005," begins art director Saku Lehtinen, "it was clearly in the pre-production phase and the technology was very much in the works.
We continued refining everything around 2006-2008, and during this time we also explored and changed many fundamentals of the game. After taking out the time spent on pre-production and tools development, the actual game's production time was not that exceptional in terms of overall time: a bit over two years."
Although Remedy stresses the project didn't overrun its planned production window there's one factor which undoubtedly contributed to a chunk of that time: the abandoned sandbox roots. For years we all believed Alan Wake was a cross between Silent Hill and Grand Theft Auto, but in reality the open world was dropped long ago.
"It really came down to the storytelling," says Rautalahti, dispelling any thoughts of technology troubles. "We make story-driven action games here at Remedy. And yeah, at one point, it was also supposed to be an open world game, with the free roaming, sandbox, and whatever other buzzwords you would care to throw in. That was certainly the trend at the time, and we began experimenting with it.
"Unfortunately, it just didn't work for us. From a narrative point of view, it's a very, very challenging game type, especially for a thriller. If you look at what we do in Alan Wake with the environment, the atmosphere and the music, try to imagine that in an open world setting - let's say you're going to that meeting with the bad guy at Lovers' Peak. The soundtrack fires up, the fog starts to roll across the hills, there's something rustling in the undergrowth.
But then the player decides that what he really wants to do right now is some logging missions. So what do we do? Do we stop building the atmosphere and reset the environment? I mean, we can do that. It's not difficult from a technical standpoint, but the atmosphere just isn't gonna survive that. We learned that the hard way."
Even though you never have the opportunity to explore it freely, the open world still exists in the background. "We still have a continuous area of about 10x10 kilometres that is outlined to various levels of detail and follows the original philosophy of a condensed Pacific Northwest experience," confesses Lehtinen.
A sandbox future is definitely within Remedy's grasp, but whether or not it happens depends on the plot. "If it ever puts the story integrity into jeopardy, I do not see us doing the open world quite the way that people are accustomed to. However, creating smaller sandbox-styled sections in our own way to designated areas that stay within the boundaries of the story is not off the table."