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Analysis: Why  Alan Wake  Is Too Well-Made To Work
Analysis: Why Alan Wake Is Too Well-Made To Work Exclusive
May 24, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander

May 24, 2010 | By Leigh Alexander
More: Console/PC, Exclusive

[Could Remedy actually have harmed Alan Wake's fear factor by... developing it too correctly? Gamasutra's Leigh Alexander looks at why it's not that scary, and where design best practices fail the horror genre.]

What truly scares us? Uncertainty, desperation, feeling lost in the darkness, a sense of lurking threat, or a sudden moment of immediate danger. And these are elements that can't feel deliberate or engineered -- they should be organic, personal and spontaneous.

It's because of all of this that Remedy's Alan Wake isn't all that scary. Sure, it has its moments -- the fluid, shadowy enemy bodies are completely creeptastic, and when one suddenly hits Alan with a projectile, making his vision go red, it can be arresting.

Alan Wake is a game whose overall sum is actually harmed by how well-made are its parts. It sounds counterintuitive, but bear with me.

Game design is continually evolving to better couple depth with accessibility, to better communicate with players, and to avoid frustrating them. One primary way of achieving these ends is to use clear communication -- auditory, environmental, verbal and user interface cues, for example.

Alan Wake employs these tactics brilliantly. The work's over-arching light-and-dark language and the eerily luminous paint cues that lure the player smartly in the right direction are effective and immediately comprehensible.

In fact, perhaps they're too comprehensible. Thanks to the creative execution of the concept that "when you're in the light you're safe, and when you're in the dark, you're not" -- plus the subtle, cinematic application of environmental sound and atmospheric music -- players always know when they're liable to be attacked and when they're not. Element of surprise, gone.

And those gilded paint signatures hidden elegantly in the dark, visible only when they reflect light? Brilliant as player guides... that often lead to hidden caches of extra supplies. This means that when resources are low, the player can have at least some confidence that they'll soon uncover more. Cross off the element of threat, too.

Aside from the goal of making games accessible and deep at the same time, game designers are continually challenged to find creative ways not just to communicate clearly with players, but to do so without without being literal. This means teaching through evolving gameplay rather than forcing a tutorial, for example, or providing information with environmental cues rather than on-screen text.

But in the "thriller" genre in particular (what we'd call "survival horror" in the heyday of Silent Hill and Resident Evil), if the environment is communication-friendly, the fear factor is gone. Fear and tension is derived from one's inability to understand the environment around them. A player that never gets lost, tricked or frustrated won't be scared.

Alan Wake's story doesn't help it much either. Its tone and conventions should be fairly familiar to anyone who's ever read the back of a Dean Koontz paperback in the grocery store line. Those paperbacks, of course, have sold jillions, so it makes sense that a game developer wanting to build a broad-audience product would take cues from it. Nonetheless, familiarity's not frightening either, and neither is predictability -- plus, the faint gloss of pulp breaks investment.

Alan Wake does show just how many lessons have been learned since the clumsier, more frustrating survival horror days. But while no one wants to go back to bad combat, punishing difficulty and hours wasted on unclear objectives, those games were somehow much more frightening.

Remedy did everything right here, but the result is illustrative: games haven't gotten horror quite down yet, and maybe it's because the "best" way to make a broadly-appealing video game doesn't necessarily apply to the genre.

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Jacob Pederson
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One thing I've really liked so far (I'm only through the first couple chapters) is the willingness to include large sections with no combat at all. Tension is really created in these sections, not the combat or flashy montage bits. Despite the excellent design keeping me never lost and never frustrated, I experienced three straight sections in a row where the last available bullet finished off the last available enemy. That's survival horror design excellence.

Additionally, the mini-tv episodes really help to create a sense of terror for me, as you are watching one in a spooky cabin, and suddenly somebody runs across the window. It wasn't till after searching the surrounding woods for a bit, that I realized that I'm doing exactly what the main characters in horror movies do, complete with the audience wishing they wouldn't ;) Never did find the guy who ran past the window ;)

Dana Laratta
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I'm not sure I agree with you here Leigh. I'll need to finish the game to be sure of my impressions, but I'm finding a lot of appeal in a title that is more about weaving fear from a sense of dread and foreboding than others that I have played. And there aren't very many I haven't in this genre.

The building of the environmental effects, the sound and the moving fog and shadows that intensify when enemies are near, does act as a "tell" that you are in danger, true. Yet the moment when the Taken appear is often varied enough to catch you off guard, sometimes highlighted by a brief pullback in camera from Alan to show there are enemies suddenly behind you, very close. The foreshadowing from the manuscript passages ("and then, I heard the chainsaw") have also been effective for me.

Is the surprise appearance of an enemy so critical to the fear factor? It happened more often in Silent Hill: Homecoming. Yet I would call that title less scary than this one, so far. I also have experienced sudden moments of fear and dread in, as Jacob mentioned, moments that had nothing to do with the gameplay mechanics of fighting the Taken. These moments as attempted in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories fell pretty flat for me. I think Remedy has struck a nice balance.

As to the plot, I will need to finish to comment. I simply hope you are wrong on that one too. For my money, I understand why they are using the term "thriller," yet this game is scaring me more than any I have played in a while.

Kylie Prymus
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Real tension requires the player to feel that they are at risk of losing something. This is why horror/terror games are so much more effective than movies - in a film the viewer is never really at any risk. In a game the risk is, well, "losing" the game. Granted we have saves and whatnot, but early horror games like Resident Evil created tension by making saving and ammo sparse, so you really felt scared that if something killed you, you'd have to do a lot of backtracking.

But nowadays that's considered frustrating - we're in an era where ease is the norm and therefore tension is much harder to create in a game. Even if the system is graceful and the player always knows how to handle situations that come up, even unexpected situations, they'll still experience fear if there is something at risk. Perhaps intentionally obscure or choppy control schemes add to the tension by making the player feel helpless, but at the end of the day they won't do much to add to the player's feeling of terror if there is nothing for them to lose in failing.

I haven't played AW so I don't know if there's anything at risk regardless of how "communication-friendly" the environment is. But somehow I doubt it. If you played the game through once with the decision to quit if you died, would that ramp up the tension a bit?

Andrew Heywood
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I agree completely with this idea, although I haven't yet played Alan Wake. Silent Hill: Shattered Memories on the Wii suffers from _exactly_ the same problem, despite also being a very worthwhile experience. It's either "Take it easy, have a look around, don't worry!" or "OH NOES EVERYTHING'S DARK RUN AWAY!". And it simply does not work in terms of creating an edge-of-the-seat, 'survival horror' experience.

Bart Stewart
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I wonder if there aren't really two subjects blended together here. There's the question of accessibility versus depth, but there's also the question of how much accessibility is too much.

To the first question, Leigh's overall observation that accessibility versus depth is hard to get right is a good one. There's a real art to designing games to be deep enough that players are continuously interested in "what happens next?" while being accessible enough not to frustrate the majority of likely players. If anything, I'd enjoy seeing this question explored using more games than just the console-exclusive Alan Wake.

I agree that it's a proper goal to seek designs that achieve both accessibility and depth. But what I think I'm actually seeing these days is developers giving up on depth to achieve accessibility. Creating systems that players can enjoy exploring doesn't seem to get anything like the same amount of interest and attention as obsessively polishing game mechanics. Every new game seems more obviously focused on leveraging the game's "hook," whether that's rewinding time, shooting off enemy limbs, or using light to make enemies vulnerable.

Still, let's grant that developers are getting better at accessibility, making it easier and easier for players not to miss anything even if that means imposing highly game-y effects like glowing runes or a magic "see character outlines through walls" ability. If so, then where's a similar trend toward improved depth in games?

Hasn't accessibility vs. depth been decided lopsidedly in favor of accessibility over the past decade? Was that inevitable? Is it optimal?

To the second question of whether games can be too accessible, most developers would, I suspect, nod sagely and agree that "polish" is a Good Thing. This kind of accessibility is desirable; making all the mechanics of a game simple and consistent helps to reduce frustration and can give that game's play experience a distinctive feel.

But at what point does polish become slickness, which is perhaps what Leigh is suggesting happened to Alan Wake?

How simple and consistent can you make a game's mechanics before they become bland?

Nick Breckon
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Like Andrew, I haven't played Wake, but I agree with this theory in principle. The scariest game I played as a kid was Ocean's Jurassic Park for the SNES -- not exactly the pinnacle of friendly design.

The original Silent Hill is the king of this. I had no goddamn idea what was going on in that game. All it gave me was a vague idea of what to do, and a freaky sound that played whenever I was moving in the direction of creepy polygonal mutants. I still remember my first encounter with a ghost in the elementary school. Nothing up to that point had hinted at or prepared me for that ghost, so I assumed touching it would teleport me into the second level of hell. Those things chased my ass in circles around that goddamn school. I was terrified of them.

Years later, during a second playthrough, I found out they were entirely harmless.

eric fukui
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From the bits and pieces I gathered over its extended development, I never thought that Alan Wake was supposed to be a survival horror game at all, and to be honest, people calling it that made me cautious about buying it. Spooky, atmospheric action adventure type stuff I am all for, but I've never been able to handle those jumpy edge of your seat type game designs. They just quickly become exhausting for me, and I have to put them down.

To your point on the predictability of Wake's pulp novel trappings, if it's anything like what Max Payne did for Noir film, I think that's a great thing. The gritty, flawed, slightly schizophrenic detective is surely a well worn angle, but their presentation of it was so spot on (especially for the time!) that I didn't care in the least. The feeling of interacting with such an iconic historical film archetype was such a joy that it didn't matter if it was corny or predictable to me. I'm hoping Alan Wake does the same for trashy thriller novels.

So does this make me part of the demographic that Remedy is trying to broadly appeal to? Maybe. Or maybe I just don't really like survival horror.

Daryoush Nekooi
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I have to say that even though I haven't played Alan wake, I can understand what your communicating.

My main problem with this article is the final paragraph, " haven't gotten horror quite down yet...". Personally I think "Dead Space" of this generation was almost perfect in every way. Its claustrophobic environments, the story line and of coarse the enemies all came together in a way that I think most horror films "can't get right". I'm not a big fan of horror in general, but if you look at the shear number of horror films made, then I think its only right that a good one every now and again appears. I think as the games industry try more games like Alan wake (without the ridiculous timescale) the more "Dead Space" and "Resident Evil" (the first one for ps1) we will see!

I think we need to give more credit where it is due and stop comparing games to an entertainment market that has so much more experience than ours! Yes we are the fastest accelerating entertainment medium...but at the same time we are still learning and trying to progress. Personally I can't see 10 years of development in Alan Wake (from what I've seen), but let's not crumble a games genre because of it!

Jonathan Jou
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A few questions:

1. What difficulty did you play the game through on? I was almost sure of imminent death the instant I saw more than 4 shadows in the distance, especially if one of them had a pickaxe. On normal difficulty, several portions of the game generated so many enemies that I was reduced to running and throwing my flashlight back in hopes of stunning them. I consider that frightening.

2. Did you kill everyone, every time? I wound up using up all 42 revolver shots even without missing on a few occasions and being left with little option but to run for it. There are a few moments which can't exist if you can kill them off, so I suspect the hardest difficulty, Nightmare mode, packs more tension than either of the two difficulties available at the outset. I'm not sure if this was scripted or real, but when I was trying to start a generator for one of the "safe zones" on my last try a Taken shot out of nowhere from behind me and I thought I was good as dead until the light came on, just in time. That memory remains vivid, the way the camera slowed down right before he was about to take a swing at me, and the little rotor onscreen showing that I may or may not have actually started the light... I'd say it was a pretty tense moment, and I can see how *any* of the lights you have to start could play out that way: run out of ammo, run out of flares and flashbangs, run for your life, try to start the engine or face doom... "The light is Safe" is only as true as the amount of confidence you have that you won't get cut down before you can see any.

I suspect that the game gets more emotionally engaging as the chance of failure increases, so if you felt like the game never really challenged you, perhaps you should try it on a mode where one chainsaw, three axemen, and two of the speedy fellows can not only show up all at once, but also run down any ammo supply you have ready. I haven't even tried Nightmare mode yet, but I bet I'll be afraid for my life the moment I step out of the light.

Aaron Truehitt
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I think DeadSpace nailed it the most. In Deadspace, I was afraid of what lurked around each corner. Alan Wake, so far (4th Episode), has not been scary at all. There were a few jumps, however that was from cheap scares (such as a loud shriek on surround sound). Personally, I think the game healed you to much. Also, I've felt that my accomplishments were taken away to much. About 4 times it felt like, weapons were taken away from me repeatedly. That ticked me off, so I said to myself, that I'm not going to waste time trying to find secrets for ammo. There wasn't any point especially if I didn't know if the next scene would take away what I worked for or not.

Ismael Escandon
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I had a similar problem with Alan Wake as I did for Silent Hill : Homecoming and how could I forget Dead Space. ( Or any of the RE's)

The issue that I have with both of these games is the main character - It might be odd but, some of these horror games that have a strong main character make me feel like a bad ass when I'm playing thus I never get the feeling of desperation or horror.( Even though I played these games on hardest settings)

I may be different that I don't fear whats around the corner nor the unknown I embrace it.

But I have played games that have game me a scare or goosebumps at least some of them which have almost close to no combat at all. ( Eternal Darkness / some of the Silent Hill series mainly the first couple of ones/ Clock Tower/Fatal Frame).

Maybe I was just to good for the AI in these games. ( Not saying I never died but dying or being close to death in the game never got me scared or thinking ( CRAP I DON'T WANT TO DIE AHHH) I just thought to myself how can I over come this next play through) I think I would've been scared if I had died and the game ended completely and I'd have to start over from the start. ( Now that I thought about it I never even felt frustrated with the game. The whole time I was thinking ( You mutha fucka's funna die yeah :D!!!!) <--- Literally my face as I killed these shadow dudes.

:D Thanks for the awesome read.

Kevin Patterson
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What really defines "Scary"? What is scary to you might not be scary to me.

Alan Wake isn't really "Scary" to me, but its filled with Tension and has a truly creepy atmosphere.

It's obvious to me that Remedy tried very hard to make the atmosphere in this game palpable.

The only other series that made me feel the same way was the Silent hill games.

The first time I played it, it was on a projector, with a great sound system, in a darkened basement.

That environment is really how a game like this should be played. The creepy factor was substantially higher.

My girlfriend is not a gamer, and has watched me play all types and genres of games.

What I have found interesting is she has stated that Alan Wake is the best game she has ever seen.

I tend to love the epic story line games, and she has seen many of them.

She hardly makes a comment about the games I play, or shows much interest in watching me play, but Alan Wake continues to impress her. So much so that she wants to be in the room while I'm playing the game. I feel that says much about Remedy's efforts to mimic a TV show's feel.

Stephen Chin
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Having played through the game on Hard (ignoring Normal all together), I'm going to say that I agree... with everyone. As with Leigh, AW is not the scariest game I've ever played. However, it's also a game that doesn't attempt to use scary moments. To me, Alan Wake is not about the slasher horror style of thriller but the Stephen King psychological style of horror. In the former, it's big grotesque monsters. In the latter, it's about playing with what could happen and challenging the player to question (at least at first).

As well, Alan Wake also 'got better' for me once I realized one very important thing. Alan isn't superhuman. At all. Unlike every other protagonist in a thriller, there is no implied or explicit sign that Alan isn't anything other than a guy with a gun. He has no combat training, no body armor, nothing. He's not suppose to take down every single monster - he's as often just suppose to run. I think Remedy was trying to give the player a sense of weakness in this way. From the limited amount of shots you can carry to the length of time your flashlight lasts and so forth.

Now to be fair, I still wasn't scared by the game and, to quote one review, there really aren't any grand set pieces as in other AAA titles of the moment. I think that's intentional though; The Shining doesn't really have any big set pieces either on the standards of any current horror movie. However, it does have -memorable- moments and its the journey of both viewer and character figuring out what the details are that create a sense of unease.

I think too that, like with BioShock, a lot of the 'smarts' of the game comes from the easily missed side bits (radio, tv, manuscripts hidden). Those question the game itself and what's going on and offer alternative explanations beyond the opinion of Alan or the antagonists.

Basically, I don't think Alan's trying for the "HOLY CRAP! A SIX-ARMED MAN WITH AN EYE FOR A CHEST JUST JUMPED OUT AT ME!" horror or even trying to obfuscate things by making it difficult to figure out where you need to go. Rather, it attempts to make you ask "What am I going to find next?" and "Do I want to risk going off the regular path to get something?" As Jonathon suggests, it's trying to rely less on set pieces and more on player created moments.

Stephen Chin
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It may be worth while to look at the TV Tropes entry for the game after having played through it. Some of the spoilers there highlight certain things that can be easily missed while playing.

Rashidbek Sadriddinov
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I totally agree with Kylie Prymus that real tension requires the player to feel that they are at risk of losing game. In 1998, me and my brother were playing Resident Evil 2 on the PSX without memory card (we just didn't have it:)). Everyday, playing the game from midnight till the morning and when we had reached new "undiscovered", "silent" places we were starting trembling and passing to each other controller to continue the game because we were really scared... Losing the game cost us another unsleeping tough night.

Tony Dormanesh
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I agree with what many people say here, the risk of dieing/losing.

Some of the "scariest" video game moments for me are when I'm running away from something I know is deadly and might catch me before I get where I need to go.

I think you can be completely scared by something even if you know exactly what it is and where you need to go. I haven't played much AW yet, but I can imagine scenarios where you can see the light off in the distance, know you have to get there, but scary stuff is gonna happen along the way.

L4D isn't "survival horror", but does some scary stuff the best.. and sometimes on accident (accidentally by design). And this is the game that you replay the same levels over and over, so most likely everyone playing knows the map and knows the dangers. The "Ninja tank" is one of the best.. he will quietly spawn instead of the normal yelling and pounding he does. The survivors will be trucking along, turn a corner and there's a tank 5 feet in front of them. He doesn't jump out or scream or anything.. But everyone playing screams and panics. It's genuine, it is a surprise and it's awesome.

John Giordano
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When watching horror movies, one usually hears "No! No! Don't go in there! Run away!" The funnest part of a scary movie is realizing you have no control over the main characters.

This goes directly against a horror video game where you DO have control of the main character. If you say those same words while playing a game, it is considered bad gameplay. The audience in the cinema feels dread and horror, while the audience in front of the X-box feels cheated and frustrated.

Dana Laratta
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Some replies:

Alan does not strike me as a "Superman" character, so efficient and confident the player loses all fear in controlling him. The patches on that tweed jacket are enough to dissuade me of that notion! The frantic nature of the animation of his dodge move (so much more random and fluid than the one in SH:Homecoming), combined with the "close call" time dilation also help.

Dino Crisis had its moments, but the lead characters were supposed bad-asses in that. They mucked it all up in a sequel where you down multiple dinos with impunity. I barely got anywhere with the awfulness of #3. Be forewarned.

I can see Leigh's point. Silent Hill 2 still reigns supreme in "Scary Videogameland" because it broke its own rules. Areas that suddenly went off the outer edge of the map. Sudden, unexpected encounters with pyramid head on a rooftop or in a dark tunnel. These are good elements to make terror-fear.

Alan Wake is just doing it differently. I recently beat Chapter 2, the meeting at Lover's Peak, and (mild spoiler), despite myself, surrounded in the atmosphere, I walked past the trash cans and jumped like hell when the old "sudden cat jump" trick was played on me. I was as surprised as anyone it worked. It's a testament to the atmosphere, and to the quality of fear at play in the game that is the result of suspense, more than sudden terror.

The Fatal Frame series did this well too. Yet it went for terror in the end, the sudden jump, and its fearful atmosphere was ever-present--almost oppressive. I appreciate the pacing in Alan Wake, so far. I still have a way to go.

Anyone's thoughts on Heavy Rain's handling of fear? It was there, particularly if you played the Taxidermist DLC.

Tim Haywood
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A subject which is close to my dark soul, if the horrible things are going to be put onto a character then the player must need to care about the character, if the horrible things are aimed for at the player themselves then we have a more compelling experience. My take is to aim as much unnerving tension at the player, so audio is vital to the experience, you can put all sorts of disturbing work into the underscore of the soundtrack and aim it directly at upsetting the player, as they go about the game. Shadow Man did exactly that, in that though the ambient music was themed to the areas of the game it was also themed to upset the player as much possible (when required).

In Shadow Man, the main character was an Undead Voodoo demigod who was almost immortal, and very powerful. He could be defeated but never actually die. So the fear factor wasn't going to come from aiming nasty things at the main character. So everything was aimed at provoking imagination within the player. Showing the after events of extreme violence, rather than showing the violence or taking part in it, this allowed the player to make up their own minds what had been going on.

The ambient score played on this by adding the echoes of what may have happened in the past. We also used tape recordings of torture victims in certain areas, again to enforce the feeling that something bad had happened, but not always showing exactly what.

As the writer of the article says, the "game designers" did too much hand holding, a common problem in modern video games, because publishers feel the need to lead the player by the hand, they feel this need because they are not gamers and do not yet fully understand gamers. I'm not talking about the DEVS here, as they do know how to make games, but so often executive producers who DO NOT play games come along and have a go, and are totally rubbish at is so they want it to be easier because their experience in gaming is weak.

This doesn't happen in all cases, but it happens a lot (I see it in a lot of the games I have made). Again with Shadow Man, we didn't do this, we made the game (flawed as it was), the way we wanted it to play, and if we had made linear routes, and led by the hand game play, all the work aimed at upsetting the player would of been lost.

If you want to experience what I mean, get the PC version from some bargain bucket, stick it on max resolution and give it a go - but remember the GFX are now 12 years old and have dated somewhat - but the story and atmosphere - and the fear factor are still there to be learned from and understood.

Benjamin Marchand
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Just finished this wonderful game.

I never sensed any kind of "horror" artistic direction. No blood, no gore, no sudden jack-in-the-box-effect popping at you.

This game is not intended to be horror, it's clearly intended to be a psychological thriller.

There was no fear factor at all as well, and that was not intended too, which is easy to understand after a few scenes.

It's all about the ambience ... And it's brilliant.

Do not take this game like any other game, where you want to put it in a little genre box and say "oh, this one is horror-psycho-dramatical TPS !".

If you try to understand Remedy's work (Max Payne, for instance), it's easy to see how they wanted to turn that game into what they know how to do best : a giant mind trip.

And I can't see where it fails at it.

5 stars of 5, brilliant game in every point.

Mark Raymond
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Resi 1-3 and Dino Crisis were very much survival-horror games, and they were also tense, frustrating, unforgiving experiences, as well. While traversing the environments in any of those games, you always felt at risk, in danger – because you had a limited number of saves and save points, because the controls were awkward, because ammo was in limited supply, because your avatar could die from a few hits, etc.

I'm only really reiterating what Kylie Prymus is saying, and I think she's right. If there is no sense of loss when losing, then what's there to be afraid of? I'm all for accessibility in games, but in this particular genre you really do need to think differently in terms of penalties and informing the player about the rules of the game world. Any good horror-film director knows that what is left unseen and unexplained, the unknown, is far more dangerous than what is made manifest.

Could this be an argument for re-introducing frustrating, unfair, unpredictable elements in games?

Also, I suppose it is worth saying that I've played Alan Wake through and was bored on several occassions, and it was not scary in the slightest. I'm going to have to disagree with Jacob Pederson on the wide, open, non-combat sections of the game, as I thought they were the worst. It's an extremely reptitive game lacking in ideas, and I don't say this with any malice in my heart. I loved (like, really loved) Max Payne 1 and 2, but this just left me flat.

Bart Stewart
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" Any good horror-film director knows that what is left unseen and unexplained, the unknown, is far more dangerous than what is made manifest."

Just as another perspective, one of the most fascinating interviews of Alfred Hitchcock I ever saw was the one in which he talked about his approach to scaring people.

To paraphrase him: "Having a sudden dramatic event is not scary. If a bomb goes off without warning, it's just a cheap scare because you haven't built up any suspense. My approach is to show the audience the bomb -- look, there it is, under the hero's chair. Show the clock ticking... and the longer you keep it ticking, the greater the tension that builds for the audience, and the more powerful the effect when you resolve that tension."

Perhaps which of these approaches you take depends on the kind of scare you're trying to create.

Ismael Escandon
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@Dana - What I'm talking about is the combat... I think that game designers should take inconsideration a real person who has no combat training the reason I felt a like a bad ass in Homecoming is because I knew Alex was in the Army and because of this I felt like I could just break in half all the monsters that pop out and I did I never once died in that game even on the hardest settings it was just to easy - actually I lie I did die once vs Asphyxia she was one boss I couldn't figure out from the start and the other reason was because I had ran out of bullets which I only use on boss fights.

In Alan Wake - He doesn't strike me as super human either but his combat is strong and thus I feel like I can take on any challenge and succeed and that was the case.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I wish some games would make you feel more human in that aspect and not give you these awesome strong main characters we are very fragile and I think we should be represented as such in Survival Horror games.

I guess I'm asking for a super hard survival horror game where monsters are completely ELITE and your a puny human that has enough skills to get by and survive make it so hard that people hate the game thats the kind of game I want - a game that if you lose your done its over start all over buddy/ also to not make it as boring give it a random spawn of dudes so every play through is different and no I'm not talking about L4D because their is a coloration between spawns and any good L4D player knows "Oh here comes the tank soon" ----1 min later " Tank Music" I guess I'm asking for too much :D I've played almost every "Horror/surival Horror" game that I can think off. I have yet to find one that I can truly say man : ------ Game was so hard and scary I want to replay it but man I'm just to scared to do that.

Mark Raymond
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That's a good point, Bart, and another effective way of going about things. I've really got to see more of Hitchcock's work.

Stephen Chin
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To borrow a thought from Bart from another thread, should we even be making the assumption that Alan Wake is a survival horror game to begin with?

It has scary elements but I think for the most part, we all agree it's not an overly scary-a-minute-thrill ride. Certainly on that level, it fails. However, how does the game stand if we ignore that? If we treat it on the basis of what it does rather than what it does not do. Comparing the sort of gameplay (based on actual gameplay experience) of RE versus Alan Wake and they play significantly differently. To me, it would be like comparing Unreal Tournament and Swat 4. They share conventions but they're kind of two different flavors.

@Ismael It's a valid request. However, the nature of video games may may make that more difficult. By extension of progression, succeeding, and acting upon the world, a video game protagonist can not generally be 'weak' and failure prone. Outside of gameplay mechanics are evasion and avoidance are the dominant strategy and you simply -can't- beat opponents (Mirror's Edge with an inability to go toe to toe with others), it's extremely difficult to make a character feel helpless without being contrived (the battle you have to win only to see a cutscene that shows you losing anyway for instance). Especially a a player progresses and has overcome all these obstacles, we know based on them (and our own ability) that they are capable. And on a meta level, we know that there is a way to succeed by nature of this being a modern video game.

Luis Guimaraes
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I still didn't play Alan Wake and will buy it for sure next week...

But all this talk made me so inspired (and deeply confident) to continue work on my stand-by SH prototype.

Jonathon Myers
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No offense meant here, but why do Leigh and so many others think this game is supposed to be horror and immediately compare it to those games? The THEME is horror/fear and that theme is developed throughout the story with uncertainties and questions about Alan, his world and his mind. The genre is thriller. The combination of sub-genres is psychological thriller and action thriller. This is why they put Psychological Action Thriller on the box. If you miss that then you miss, well, pretty much EVERYTHING about the experience of the game. Most of what Leigh mentions as harmful (failures to be scary) are actually artfully well-conceived techniques used for a different purpose and to give a different experience altogether. There is a huge difference between being thrust into a full-fledged experience of terror/fear, which other games primarily attempt, and providing the experience of understanding/confronting/thinking of fear and what it means to come to grips with the dark side of the human psyche. Jason Rohrer's Passage doesn't try to make you experience "death," it makes you feel a subjective sense of loss (or something similar) as you contemplate death and your passage through a limited life into the uncertain grave. And of course some people play Passage and say "I don't get it. I couldn't do anything significant. I just kept walking."

Do people really want to throw away the wonderful experience of Alan Wake's thematic development (and the gameplay that makes it possible) in exchange for less human meaning while being frivolously chased by super-scary monsters? I really hope not.

I played through the entire game during the first week of release. I didn't find it all that scary, but definitely creepy via atmosphere/mood. I held my breath at moments when overwhelmed or startled or close to Alan dying in a fight. My girlfriend, who sat next to me for every minute of the 10 hours of game, was scared out of her mind about half the time. She's a theatre artist who is usually bored with watching me play games. She LOVED watching me play Alan Wake. But here's the thing: she HATES horror movies and does not like being scared. So why did she keep watching? She needed to know what was going to happen next. She cared about what would happen next. It kept her on the edge of the seat.

In the end, who cares if it scares some people or all people or no people. That's not the point...

Remedy did something very very right with this game.

Dana Laratta
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@Ismael I hear what you're saying. I don't think I've really seen the "totally human, fallible protagonist" used in survival horror since the original Silent Hill, in w way that affected the mechanics. Harry Mason wobbled when he aimed, bullets missed all the time. I think it's just something that ended up irritating players I think, especially with limited ammo. From what you've asked for, you should try Demon's Souls. Not survival horror in design, but it seems to me your request is pushing you more to the survival end than the horror end.

@Andre Hey I can dig that #2 had a different vision than Dino Crisis 1. I just didn't like it as much because, as the original Dino Crisis poster, the first one hit me with some real fear moments, while the sequel never did. Yeah and #3 I haven't got anywhere with. It's got Unintelligle Camera Angle Change Syndrome, so I don't even know what content is contained therein--I gave up in frustration pretty early on. I presume cyborg dinosaurs didn't bring back the old DC1 magic.

Dana Laratta
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Okay I finished the game yesterday. I will have to admit that the fear factor definitely faded in the final three chapters, and it was essentially suspense about the resolution of the narrative that provided thrills as the game concluded. I will still have to disagree that the refinement of the gameplay experience is responsible for deflation of the fear factor. Instead I will fault two factors:

Repitition: The threats you see in the first two chapters will essentially be the threats you will see throughout the game. No additional variations of darkness-possessed malevolent entities will make a debut. This is a bit baffling since, although I can understand that there are only so many varieties of burly woodsman and workers to use, the game does utilize possessed animals in the form of the birds. Why stop there? Condemned 2, for all its faults, managed to rustle up an interesting scare in the form of a feral bear before settling into its "audio madness" plot degradation. For all the hoopla about deerfest, I never saw a single deer--or bear, or squirrel, or any other woodland creature, for that matter. Mixing some of those in would have provided some variety from the "flood of taken" crescendo encounters that got both old and predictable.

Contextual Music: Game music has come a long way, and seemlessly blending a swell in suspenseful music for suspenseful moments in gameplay has done a lot to make games reach new heights in capturing the same synergy between sound and action that movies often convey. And yet having the suspenseful music fade away when you've dispatched the last in a string of taken becomes a crutch for the player--a sign you can relax and stride forward confidently without fear. Sure, there are times when a Taken leaps from around a corner suddenly and you are surprised into action. But the cue to relax, that aforementioned crutch, is never kicked out from under you. If the final chapters had included moments when the suspenseful music cue never faded, and the presence of nearby Taken could be left unheralded, higher plateaus of tension could have been achieved. I have seen other "scary" games fall prey to thsi effects. It's something that needs to be reexamined in development.

Overall, a great game, very much a love letter to the traditional Stephen King narrative. Worth pointing out that the main gameplay mechanic, light is a weapon, is not new, but refined from its first appearance in Obscure. Looking for collectibles is a little at odds with "run towards the light." This and the environments, and especially the driving level near the end, betray some of the open-world nature of the original design. I wish I could have played that a bit, but the narrative structure plays much better to the final, linear layout of the game's navigation. Someone revive Dead Rush to satisfay my open-world survival horror curiosity, okay?

I enjoyed it quite a bit. Like Stephen King's later works, fear ended up not being the point of the story. Looking forward to the DLC to fill in some questions left after the ending.

Douglas Scheinberg
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Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter is technically an RPG, not survival horror, but it's mechanics are surprisingly effective at creating the same kind of tension. Your character is slowly turning into a dragon, and how far the transformation has progressed is represented by a "D-Meter" that starts at 0%. When it hits 100%, the transformation is complete, and you die. As you play the game, you will watch it go up, bringing you ever closer to your doom. Basically everything you do in the game will cause the meter to rise. Even walking around causes the meter to slowly creep upward. During battle, your character can use dragon-based powers to totally destroy even the strongest enemies, but using them makes your D-Meter rise like crazy. And you will be tempted to use them, because the enemies are a serious threat and standard RPG grinding is not an option.

The scariest thing about the D-Meter, though, is very simple. It never goes down. There are no items that lower it. There are no in-game events that lower it. Once it goes up, it stays up, and if you let it get too high, well, there's only one thing to do, and that's hit the "Give Up" button and start over.

(Fortunately, the game is really nice about the whole "start over" thing. It's a lot more like New Game Plus than Game Over. You can keep your stuff, you can go back to the last checkpoint instead of the very beginning, and you even get extra cutscenes the second time around! The game also gives you a rough idea of how close you are to your ultimate goal, which helps make an informed decision on how to ration your dragon power.)

Andrew Horner
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This article seems to come so close to the truth of the matter then veers away at the last second. The biggest problem I identified with Alan Wake was this: why is there any "combat" in the first place? For a game that apparently wants to borrow so heavily from the works of Stephen King, it sure doesn't seem like it bothered paying attention to any of the horror novels he has written. The most deeply chilling evils in his novels are those you cannot fight; there are ancient faceless horrors that torment your sanity in an attempt to break you, sure, but more importantly, every character has their internal demons to struggle with.

What I'm getting at is: I can't recall a single Stephen King novel where the protagonist's survival could be attributed to his ability to shoot monsters with a gun. Most characters that stick around to fire off rounds into the darkness end up dead, for that matter. The combat in Alan Wake isn't "bad", but it doesn't do any favors to the style of atmosphere that the game seemed to be interested in creating when I started playing. There's nothing even a little bit frightening about running into people who are possessed by a dark force, when you know that you can dispatch them by shining a light at them and then firing a revolver three times.

The game even seems to realize this abut itself; later in the game it opts to swarm you with enemies rather than perhaps challenge you with a fight involving something other than "shine+shoot". And fine, whatever, the developers were really keen on the light/dark themes in the game, so it makes sense that they want to keep their combat around. Sure, the combat can be fun (and I enjoyed Alan Wake on the whole) but that's hardly the point I'm trying to make.

What I am trying to say (via a fairly rambly, indirect path) is that the focus of the game's mechanics on combat effectively neuters any chance it might have had at being a truly mature, thought-provoking thriller, and turns it into something much more like Resident Evil 4, an action game with horror elements. The problem with this, of course, is that RE4 is much stronger as a member of that genre. Sure, Alan Wake carves out its own niche in the market with its cinematic moments and sleek episodic style, but everybody I've talked with seemed let down that the niche it establishes for itself isn't the one it seemed to be aiming for with a Stephen King quote as its opening line.

My other primary gripe really is a design flaw (rather than a mere clash of interests), and it's something Dana pointed out above: there are a ton of collectibles scattered throughout the game, and fetching them really destroys any sense of urgency that the game's atmosphere might have wanted to generate. Personally, I'm not all that interested in finding a hundred coffee thermoses and over a hundred manuscript pages, especially if it means I have to scour every corner of this forest that I was supposed to be terrified of. The developers really dropped the ball when they shoe-horned these overarching fetch-quests into the game. I had much more fun playing when I stopped bothering to hunt items down.

Ismael Escandon
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@Dana Demon Souls I bought that game on release I played it for about 2 months and then got tired of it the Issue was that the game itself never really represented a challenge to me.

Again the problem resided in the fact that I feel "Bad ass" in some of these games that I end up just beating the hell out of them, I will admitt on the first level the knight that's all the way in the back he has armor a spear and a shield he frustrated me to no end. lol When I first started the game I wanted to beat him but he was obviously to powerfull for a new character like mine there was even warnings saying new players should wait till later - I kept trying to figure out how to kill the bastard till I did. After that the only thing that gave me trouble was the King in that area.

I need a new game that I haven't played to make me feel weak to make me feel in despair to make me scream. I hope its out there :)

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