Digest: Alan Wake and Square Classics

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Alan Wake headed for TV – again

imageJoining other planned video game adaptations, it seems “Alan Wake” may finally make it to television. Maybe. Citing “interest from a number of studios,” the project is still a proposal, but Peter Calloway, whose current credits include Cloak and Dagger and Legion, has signed on as showrunner and writer for the pitch phase to begin next month.
Remedy released Alan Wake on consoles in 2010 and then on PC two years later. There has been talk of a potential TV adaptation for years, but those rumors faded. After the new push was announced this week, it seemed to surprise some who felt the idea’s time had passed. Yet, for a narrative-driven thriller game divided into episodes that already feel like a show, this may be its best chance at going into production.

Hulu just finished airing the first season of its original series Castle Rock, which is based on characters and ideas from author Stephen King, a major influence on Alan Wake. “Castle Rock” itself wasn’t a straight adaptation of any particular King work, so its heavy roster of references, characters, and influences from King’s work drew both criticism and praise.

Sam Lake, the writer of Alan Wake, has confessed to drawing heavily from King’s work. In the game, Alan Wake is a writer with writer’s block, visiting a remote town with his wife, Alice. Then strange, dark things begin happening. The set-up is reminiscent of a handful of King’s works, most notably The Dark Half, and Gerald’s Game. Lake was also influenced by television shows like Lost, Twin Peaks, and The Twilight Zone. Twin Peaks got a limited series continuation in 2017 suggestinmg an appetite for a good story told with a heavy dose of the weird and mysterious just might be back.

While Alan Wake has its fans among gamers, there’s also room for a new audience almost a decade later. The game concluded with the potential for a sequel that Remedy never got to make, so the source material could stretch beyond the core mystery we’ve already seen. Calloway’s work on two current, successful Marvel adaptations give the project a credibility boost, especially given both of those shows contain a mix of mystery and weirder elements. Additionally, streaming services’ or networks known for risk, like FX and Hulu, where Legion and Cloak and Dagger air, search for new original content to produce, might be a comfortable fit. If neither of those bite, the time might never be more right to bring Alan Wake and his adventures in Bright Falls to the screen.

Square Remasters

Square-Enix has announced not one but two of the most unlikely remasters to ever come out of their storied RPG factory. In 2019 the publisher will release Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered, which will hit both PS4 and Nintendo Switch. Both games embodied Square at their most experimental in the ’00s. They also both demonstrate the great potential and possible pitfalls in remastering old games.

imageOn the one hand, there’s Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles Remastered, a game whose very existence represents an encouraging, growing willingness on Square-Enix Japan’s part to resurrect games that didn’t get a fair shake the first time. Released exclusively on Nintendo GameCube in 2004, Crystal Chronicles was a beautiful and engrossing action RPG that modernized the more whimsical fantasy world aesthetics of ’80s Final Fantasy and married it to very forward-thinking co-operative play design. It also found novel ways to recreate the sort of cooperation and camaraderie PC players were enjoying at the beginning of the century in games like Diablo 2, albeit while all sitting on the couch together.

The problem was that a full 4-player session of Crystal Chronicles required upwards of $800 in cumbersome hardware. Starting with the GameCube, each player in a session also had to use a Game Boy Advance and a unique, proprietary cable to connect the handheld to the console. That limited its commercial appeal at the time, but it also means there’s not a substantial nostalgia-fueled audience today to justify a swanky, online-enabled reimagining of the game. This remaster and the impending re-release of The World Ends With You, a cult hit from Nintendo DS that also relied on unusual hardware gimmicks, show that Square isn’t necessarily interested in just pursuing a nostalgia market.

The Last Remnant fits that same mold. A 2008 Xbox 360 and PC role-playing game by the creator of Square’s obtuse, experimental SaGa RPGs, technical problems and a supremely odd battle system limited its appeal. On PC at least, Square continued to address its shortcomings in steady updates to the point that Remnant not only became playable but beloved by the small number of people who played it. The new remaster should open it up to a whole new audience.

But there’s a whiff of unsavory consumer practices at work here. Unlike Crystal Chronicles which hasn’t been available to purchase in over ten years, The Last Remnant definitive version was available right up until this month. Square-Enix announced on August 24th that the game would be pulled from sale on September 4th. One week after the delisting, Square announced The Last Remnant Remastered. The original sold for $9.99 on Steam. The new release will be $19.99 when it comes out next year. Making the original version inaccessible to new players right at the moment the property is brought back into the light so the company can double the price is the height of consumer unfriendliness. Square-Enix has re-opened one of its richest, most fascinating creative periods, but if it’s going to continue the excavation, it’s going to have to strike a balance in how it asks new and old fans alike to buy in.

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