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Examining Alan Wake From the Inside Out

| 7 Feb 2011 16:00
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There's a chronicle of Remedy's frustration and compromise in Alan Wake, if you know where to look.

Alan Wake took a long time to make, and when it finally did come out, it was very different from the game Remedy had announced back in 2005. While the game had a more defined structure than its original, open-world, incarnation, it didn't feel like all the changes had necessarily been for the better. In Issue 291 of The Escapist, Rob Zacny looks at what went wrong with Alan Wake, using the clues that developer Remedy left in the game itself.

Alan Wake finally embraces its identity as a metaphor in "Truth," its fourth chapter. Wake finds himself at the Cauldron Lake Lodge, an asylum for "creative personalities" run by Dr. Emil Hartman. This is where Alan Wake finally gives voice to Remedy's frustrations with the creative process in a commercial, collaborative medium.

At the asylum, Wake meets a game developer, a pair of musicians, and a painter. They are all being treated for work-related problems, a process in which they are encouraged to create. Hartman himself remarks that what his patients need is a producer, and he nominates himself to give them guidance and direction, turning their talents to the ends he envisions.

The madhouse is a bleak picture of game development. Throughout the lodge, Hartman has mounted hunting trophies on walls, symbols of Hartman's habit of killing what is wild and using it to furnish his studio. The encounter ends with Hartman begging Wake to stay with him and continue working, just before the Dark Presence takes him. Hartman pleads, "With your talent and my-" and then is cut off, the sentence going unfinished because Hartman can say nothing to finish it. Wake and the other artists have talent, and all Hartman can do is trap them and turn them into servants.

Alan Wake is a testament to the challenge and difficulty of its own creation, and Zacny says that the game's makes a point of putting the act of creating commercial art in its proper context. You can read more about it in Zacny's article, "To Die at the Hands of Your Own Creation.."

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