Discerning Xbox 360 owners will have fond memories of Remedy's third-person thriller Alan Wake, with its lush Pacific Northwest setting and fascinatingly freaky storyline.
Now, the Finnish developer is readying a new, standalone episode set in the Alan Wake universe, called American Nightmare, which will be available via XBLA from 22 February.
It's a very different beast than the original, with proceedings moved to Arizona and a greater emphasis on action.
We managed to get a little hands-on time, and collared Remedy's head of franchise development Ozz Hakkinen, to talk us through Alan Wake's American Nightmare in great detail.
So, Ozz, how did American Nightmare initially come into being?
After Alan Wake, we were seeing that people universally liked Alan Wake for the story and the character, they liked the cinematic feel, they liked the fact that we were trying to do a thriller, not a horror game, and a number of other things. It was nominated for three BAFTAs and got OXM's Story of the Year. But, believe it or not, we do actually read what our fans are saying, and some of the things they would have liked included more action and more escalation in the enemies and weapons. So, after Alan Wake, we whiteboxed-out some arcade-style levels."
It sounds as though Remedy found the chance to take a more action-oriented approach exhilarating, after keeping itself in check on the original game?
We were trying to keep Alan Wake as an everyman, a writer, not a commando -- we felt it would have been jarring and would have taken you out of the experience if we had added all these crazy weapons and enemies. And the game was better for it.
But when you turned your attention to American Nightmare...
We had these crazy whitebox levels, and we said to the team: "Turn up the knobs; do whatever you want." So, soon we had this kind of arcade level, and people were playing at the office and having a ton of fun. We didn't have any leader-boards or anything coded into it - we just had a whiteboard, with people coming into the office and putting up their high scores and scratching off other people's. Until somebody said it would be a perfect fit for Xbox Live Arcade, as it is -- let's do a few more arcade levels, and put it on XBLA.
Alan Wake's American Nightmare, in its final form, is much better fleshed out than what is described above. How did that come to pass?
Sam Lake, our creative director, and the writer of Max Payne and Alan Wake, and a few others, said: "We're a story-telling studio; this doesn't really fit into that, and it doesn't necessarily fit into the Alan Wake franchise, either." And Sam went: "Let me go away to my cave and think about this for a while."
He came back with a synopsis and a story idea for Alan Wake's American Nightmare, which is framed around Night Springs. Night Springs is a campy, Twilight Zone-esque TV show from the original game, if you remember. With it being a Twilight Zone-esque show, everything was wilder and crazier.
So, the back-story for Alan Wake's American Nightmare goes that earlier in his career, Wake had written several episodes of Night Springs. In American Nightmare, you're playing an episode of Night Springs, and it's written by Alan Wake himself. In Wake's world, fiction can come true - in the original Alan Wake, he was being dictated to by fiction he couldn't remember writing, and was forced to write; now, he's using fiction to his advantage, to defeat Mr Scratch.
Tell us more about Mr Scratch...
Mr Scratch came about after the events of the first game. After the dust had settled in Bright Falls, the locals began talking about this rock-star writer who came to Bright Falls and brutally murdered his wife. Now, we know that didn't happen, but as the urban legend is told over and over again, Mr Scratch is born. He's Wake's evil double, who wears the face of Alan Wake, but is doing the things that the urban legend has foretold. So he's after Wake's wife Alice, and Wake's out to stop him again.