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To Die at the Hands of Your Own Creation

Rob Zacny | 14 Jun 2011 08:46
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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.


At times Alan Wake comes dangerously close to being an embittered parody of itself, a bit of angry metafiction from a studio that has always been a bit too in love with self-referential cuteness. But Alan Wake ultimately transforms from the story of a failed project to one of inspiration and recovery.

Wake is guided by Thomas Zane, another writer who once battled the Dark Presence. He is the one who teaches Wake how to fight the Taken, and he shows Wake what must be done to save his story. When we finally see Zane, he is wearing an old-fashioned diving bell with pure white light shining out the portholes. It is impossible to look at him and avoid thinking of BioShock, which in 2007 turned the antique metal diving suit into a gaming icon.

It's not hard to see why the saga of Irrational and BioShock would be a source of reassurance and inspiration to Remedy as they struggled with their own project. Irrational has survived a lot of creative risks and disappointments, and is unusual among development studios in that it is led by someone who is foremost a writer. Sam Lake seems to play a similar role within Remedy. More importantly, BioShock's example showed critics and audiences that that gaming's thrills didn't have to be cheap, and that it wasn't pretentious for a game to play a role in our intellectual lives.

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