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Alan Wake II’s inspirations include Hereditary, Midsommar, and The Lighthouse

Alan Wake was heavily inspired by Twin Peaks, and Sam Lake talks about the sequel's inspirations in our interview
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“It’s always a tricky balancing act to understand where the player is mentally at this point in the experience, and where the character is, and finding a balance is to the player’s benefit if those are a close match,” Remedy Entertainment’s creative director Sam Lake explains to me after a behind-closed-doors demonstration of the team’s latest game, Alan Wake II, at Summer Game Fest.

As I explained in my Alan Wake II preview, a central part of the new game is FBI agent Saga Anderson, who shares the role of protagonist with the titular Mr. Wake. The original game’s agent Nightingale has fallen into the darkness, and Anderson’s investigation takes her closer to the supernatural than she’s ever been before.

“So she has never seen anything like this before – maybe weird stuff, but nothing to this extent,” Lake tells me. “There have been a couple of big shocks for her before the [demo takes place], so she has a moment to be freaked out, but then to adjust, and that’s what we are seeing here.”

Saga will be able to profile suspects in her Mind Palace.

Saga will be able to profile suspects in her Mind Palace.

As you’d expect from Remedy’s writing team, Saga is a fully-developed character and literally wears her history on her sleeve – or on her torso, in this case. “It’s a very traditional Nordic sweater,” Lake outlines. “Obviously her name is Saga Anderson, and we discover very early on that part of her background is that she has a multicultural heritage.”

“I think it’s okay to say that her mom knit that for her,” principle narrative designer Molly Maloney chimes in. Even though players can jump between Alan and Saga while playing, the team has taken care to ensure that the story makes sense no matter how you decide to approach the game.

“It’s been a really exciting challenge, building this non-linear content – Control was a very non-linear game – we wanted Alan Wake II to be very focused and story-driven, but we also wanted to let players have some freedom and agency over how they receive that story,” Maloney says. “We have core arcs we want Saga to experience, we have core arcs we want Alan to experience, and then we have overarching arcs – so many arcs – that are critical to the whole experience.”

Alan Wake 2 cinematic shot.

Alan has been missing for 13 years.

When it comes to refining that experience, the message was clear: “iterate, iterate, iterate.”

“Stand up the content, play through it a bunch, see how it feels, try it again, and again, and again, and by the end you end up getting a really cool story,” Maloney continues. Despite the player flexibility, the end goal was always to have a story that feels coherent and poignant no matter how you decide to play. “I think a misunderstanding about being able to play in any order is that there’s a right way, a golden path, and there are other paths – other meaning ‘bad’.

“There’s no wrong way to play this – it is designed to be played in many ways. There have been some long days, but I’m really excited about how it’s shaping up.”

You'll be exploring the forests around Watery in Alan Wake II.

You'll be exploring the forests around Watery in Alan Wake II.

Alan Wake is partially so well-known thanks to its Twin Peaks inspirations, much like the divisive Deadly Premonition. The original run of Twin Peaks is more than 30 years old at this point, so we had to ask what inspirations the sequel draws from. “Lucky for us, there was one more season of Twin Peaks…” Lake jokes, provoking a laugh from Maloney. He’s referring to the more recent third season which aired in 2017.

“This being a horror game now, we’ve been focusing on newer experiences. A lot of modern horror films, stylized arthouse horror – like Hereditary, Midsommar, or The Lighthouse even,” Lake explains. “We are leaning more into psychological horror stories, diving deep into the psyche of our characters and building the atmosphere of the world around them.”

Alan Wake II is set to launch on October 17 across PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and the Epic Games Store for PC, but even when it releases, there will still be two DLC expansions to get excited for, titled Night Springs and Lake House, and Lake couldn’t help but tease what was to come: “Night Springs, obviously, was the anthology TV show that appeared in Alan Wake, and we know that early in his career Alan was writing for that show. So… one way or another, we’ll get plenty more of that in the DLC.”