Alan Wake was such a frustrating game.
Not in how it played, but rather in how it sold.
Its Twin Peaks-inspired setting, silly dialogue, and compelling, episodic narrative made it a hit with critics. But although it was no commercial failure – over 3m copies were eventually sold – it was hardly a runaway success.
In a world of rising development costs, is 3m enough to warrant a sequel? There's no easy answer. The game's developer Remedy eventually decided to put out a cheaper, download-only semi-sequel, which did ok. But in triple-A development, ‘ok' just isn't enough.
Sam Lake, the creative director at Remedy, hasn't given up on Wake. Far from it, he dreams of returning to that spooky world, let's see if we can make that happen,” he tells us. But for now, Remedy is trying something new, and infinitely more ambitious.
"We've set out to do a big new IP
for a wide audience. We want to
make this cool for as many
people as possible."
Sam Lake, Remedy
Quantum Break doesn't look like Alan Wake. Far from the rural creepiness of Wake, this is an urban, sci-fi action blockbuster, with a time-travel plot and a cast of A-list actors such as Shawn Ashmore (X-Men) and Dominic Monaghan (Lord of the Rings).
But according to Lake, both franchises have similar DNA.
In some ways it's completely different,” he says. [Quantum Break] has a techno-thriller plot vibe, and obviously we watched all of the possible time travel stories multiple times. But with [game location] Bright Falls in Alan Wake, our thinking was that even though it was set in present day, it is leaning backwards – it had a timeless feel of it, in the sense that this small town has been this way for a long time. In Quantum Break, we have consciously decided that this is present day, but let's lean forward. It is modern. We have done a lot of research on the art side. We watched a lot of footage from CERN and NASA and done our spin on that to try and make the game's tech feel believable.”
On the game's disc, which launches on Xbox One next April, gamers will also be treated to four 22-minute TV episodes featuring the game's all-star cast. The TV show was teased at Gamescom and it looked promising. Each episode will air after a chapter in the game has been completed, and what happens in the show depends on players' choices.
This story is told from multiple perspectives. In the game you play as the hero Jack while the TV show shows you what is going on inside the enemy camp,” explains Lake.
The idea to produce a TV show fitted nicely with Xbox One's initial ‘entertainment' policy, which included the creation of Xbox Entertainment Studios.
But Xbox has since closed that division. Yet this didn't hurt Quantum Break, insists Lake.
Xbox Entertainment Studios was consulting on the show, but it was never being made by them,” he says. We have an outside production company called Lifeboat working on the show, and that's been the case from the start.”
Lake describes Quantum Break as Remedy's most ambitious game, and that is apparent, and not just in its cast or its TV-elements, but also in the tech that powers the game. The facial capture technology is impressive, and also crucial if Remedy wants to successfully marry real-life TV footage with virtual recreations.
Like Alan Wake, this is another game where 3m units probably won't cut it. Lake views Quantum Break as a franchise, just like he did Alan Wake, and there are already ideas for a sequel.
But if Remedy wants to achieve that, it needs to not only deliver another great game – but also deliver one that can appeal to a wider audience than Alan Wake.
This was something that we talked about a lot, and it was important that we learn from Alan Wake,” concludes Lake.
We've set out to do a big new IP for as wide an audience as possible. That was our own mandate, that is our goal. We'll see if we succeed. We want to make this cool for as many people as possible.”