damonpackwood

Alan Wake Lost in Limbo; Part 3: Wake and Limbo

In Film, video games on September 17, 2010 at 3:07 am

Again, King says “there’s little fun to be had in explanation.” But, if you read his article carefully you’ll find he isn’t talking exclusively about the explanation of a Nightmare. He was talking about the way you communicate – Nightmare. “Horror is the scene in The Strangers where Liv Tyler tries to hide beneath the bed… and discovers she can’t fit there,” he says. But what make that scary scene work is that the movie doesn’t reveal she won’t/can’t fit under the bed until she has just seconds to hide. Knowing she can’t fit before she tries is more like comedy. What King is alluding to is the language of film, the way a film communicates to the audience through editing, camera angles, acting, mise en scene, etc. Communication is exactly what Limbo gets right and what Alan Wake gets wrong.

ALAN WAKE, BIG EXPLANATIONS!

Wake’s problem is that it is always communicating to the player. It is constantly telling them what to do, where to go, when something is going to happen and yes, sometimes why. Remedy uses a day/light gameplay design. Use light to kill the “dark” enemies. Stay in the light to avoid being killed. It looks and plays great but it completely ruins surprise, a key element of horror. When it’s dark the player knows something bad is going to happen. There are daylight scenes in the game but nothing happens in those. Also, there are auditory and visual cues when an enemy is about to attack so you always know its coming. There is even a system where the player finds manuscript pages lying on the floor. Each manuscript tells the player what is going to happen, or something that recently happen with the extra depth that a book could capture. The problem is it violates the quote they use in the beginning of the game and, at worst, it ruins a future scare or it tips you off to the answer to a puzzle. In her analysis on Alan Wake, Leigh Alexander blames its problems on good game design.

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.

Her comments on Wake mirror Kings problem with big budget horror flicks. Accessibility and horror which is suppose to frustrate, trick, and scare don’t mix. It works great for the action/adventure genre but in a game like Alan Wake it amounts to an apology from the developers for making you play a game that is suppose to frighten you, something they signed up for when they bought it.

LIMBO, CARESSING ‘EM WITH A KNIFE

Limbo on the other hand, tosses this design decision out the window. In the opening to Limbo a boy wakes up in a forest. That’s it. The game doesn’t provide you with anything else. At least nothing concrete. It doesn’t tell you where you are or why (although a description of Limbo says the boy is looking for his sister, and one would guess they’re both in Limbo). It doesn’t even tell you how to play. In a brilliant design decision, the player is forced to play around with the controller and figure out for her/himself which button does what. This creates an odd feeling of disorientation, like the boy must feel. It feels analogous to when a person wakes up in the morning and they have to remind them-self how to move.

What happens next are a series of puzzles and a powerful visual narrative that presents possible answers but still more questions. The first puzzle: A boat in water. The game tells you nothing. What do you do? I guess I get in the boat. The next puzzle: a ledge the boy is too short to reach. What do you do? It may take a bit but the answer is to drag the boat over to the ledge for leverage. That is Limbo. It never tells you how the game is played. The player has to figure it out.

Another thing the developers leave up to the player to figure out is the meaning behind what and whom the boy encounters. This is presented in an eerie black and white visual style similar to an old Fritz Lang movie. Andrew Kauz describes one such encounter in a Destructoid piece:

[E]arly on in the game you see a pair of children much like yourself who are scampering around in front of you. Since they are the first people you encounter, the player is naturally curious. Soon, it becomes evident that those children are attempting to interfere with your progress. You see one operating a lever to complicate the path before you just as they escape, never to been seen again.

Limbo presents a clear visual narrative which raises a number of questions most of which are never answered. But, the questions slowly open up a world of mystery that compels the player to run forward in fear and curiosity. The game keeps you in the dark narratively, visually and gameplay wise. The effect this creates, particularly in the early part of the game, is in line with King’s theory of horror. Show the horror, make sure it’s designed to be effective but don’t explain it. It is also in line with Sussman’s dream like description of Japanese horror.

The contrast between Alan Wake and Limbo are curious. Limbo is a low budget downloadable title whereas Wake is a big budget retail game. It goes without saying that Play Dead can take creative liberties with their game that perhaps Remedy can’t. It makes one wonder if the download space is a better place to make the type of horror games made famous with Silent Hill, Siren and Fatal Frame. Perhaps the retail version of horror games are now action/adventure titles with a supernatural horror spin to them. Indeed, this does sound familiar. As Lovgren notes, “American horror movies have increasingly come to resemble action movies.” And, that’s how I felt about Alan Wake. I though it was a good third person shooter.

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  1. Great ending! I liked the third part the best.

  2. […] out Alan Wake Lost in Limbo; Part 3: Wake and Limbo here] Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Death-spanks the Comedy […]

  3. “Perhaps the retail version of horror games are now action/adventure titles with a supernatural horror spin to them.” Just felt like throwing this out there but Alan Wake isnt a horror game its an action/thriller game so this entire three page argument was a complete waste of time on your part.

    • Good point, Someone. I’m not sure you mean to but you’re agreeing w/ my entire argument. Many modern day horror director would argue that their movie is an action/thriller. That is Stephen Kings point as well. Alan Wake is an action/thriller pretending to be a horror game. Why pretend, I say? Take out all of the stuff that is designed to scare me and leave me action and thrills. As it is it doesn’t scare me as much as “Silent Hill”, thrill me as much as “Uncharted” or excite me as well as “Gears of War” (a great example of a game that plays with conventions of the horror and thriller genre’s but overly states that it is an action game). The problem w/ Alan Wake is that is can’t make up its mind what it wants to be.

      • The same could be said for Stephen King’s writing. If you guys are going to insist that Remedy obey King’s rules to the letter, I suggest removing this particular rule (“Make it easy for us to categorize your work”) Lol

  4. ““Horror is the scene in The Strangers where Liv Tyler tries to hide beneath the bed… and discovers she can’t fit there,” he says. But what make that scary scene work is that the movie doesn’t reveal she won’t/can’t fit under the bed until she has just seconds to hide. Knowing she can’t fit before she tries is more like comedy. What King is alluding to is the language of film, the way a film communicates to the audience through editing, camera angles, acting, mise en scene, etc. Communication is exactly what Limbo gets right and what Alan Wake gets wrong.”

    You’re suggesting there should be more opportunities for Alan to try things that won’t work, while faced with the Taken and such? I think the occasional rush toward a generator to switch on some lights before they land a fatal blow is an example of that. But even without it, there’s plenty of opportunity for the player to make the wrong move and die as a result. Just because it isn’t a simple matter of finding the right spot in a room to push the A button at doesn’t mean a thing. So, no, Alan Wake does not “get communication wrong” – or at very least you’ve yet to elaborate effectively on why you think otherwise.

    “Wake’s problem is that it is always communicating to the player. It is constantly telling them what to do, where to go, when something is going to happen and yes, sometimes why.”

    I’ll concede only that they probably should’ve done away with the compass. Not only is it unrealistic, but it does make knowing where to go a bit too easy. All other sorts of communication are fine because they help you stay in sync with the protagonist’s feelings and thoughts as well as support a very intriguing storyline.

    “It looks and plays great but it completely ruins surprise, a key element of horror. When it’s dark the player knows something bad is going to happen. There are daylight scenes in the game but nothing happens in those. Also, there are auditory and visual cues when an enemy is about to attack so you always know its coming.”

    All to build suspense. I thought they did this very well, actually. It isn’t a game relying on jump-scares to “earn” a good rating; it’s more about the atmosphere. If you’re trying to tell us that surprise is the only way to do horror, you are sadly mistaken.

    “There is even a system where the player finds manuscript pages lying on the floor. Each manuscript tells the player what is going to happen, or something that recently happen with the extra depth that a book could capture. The problem is it violates the quote they use in the beginning of the game”

    Nonsense. Things can be explained throughout the story. King himself does this quite often in his writing. But the real heart of the story remains a mystery even today, just as it should. At least for now. And at any rate, the manuscripts are explained later in the game. Who’s leaving them, why, and even why they seem to be randomly placed more often than predictably foretelling or explanatory.

    ” and, at worst, it ruins a future scare”

    Not once did it ruin a scare for me. The manuscripts may tell you what’s going to happen, but they sure don’t tell you when.

    “or it tips you off to the answer to a puzzle.”

    Can’t even take a guess at what you’re talking about now…

    “In her analysis on Alan Wake, Leigh Alexander blames its problems on good game design:

    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.”

    Critics have a habit of saying Alan Wake is frustrating too, so I really can’t take this “analysis” seriously. But most of what’s mentioned in that excerpt are indicative of the fact that Remedy was going for a TV series sort of feel while making Alan Wake. This is made most evident in the way they end and begin each episode (not to mention the fact that they CALL them “episodes” to begin with), but also the independent camera angle that lets you see behind Wake as he’s running forward, the cinematics, and the narration, most notable of which would be his narrating the manuscripts (Typically, when a show/movie wants you to see the words of a document, they have the author’s voice narrating it aloud). There’s a lot of criticism of this game that can be squashed by applying just the tiniest bit of thought…

    Lastly, you forgot to weigh in the fact that Alan Wake was marketed as a “Psychological Thriller”. It makes a big difference. Instead of trying to make you jump out of your seat, AW prefers to keep you on the edge of it. For me, at least, it succeeded. Can’t wait for the sequel!

    • You sound very knowledgeable about Alan Wake which is awesome, but that’s only half of the essay. What about Limbo? What about Stephen King’s essay? Mainstream horror vs. indie horror?? What about the design of classic survival horror games (e.g., Resident Evil, Fatal Frame, or Siren) compared to modern day trends in design; how those games compare with classic horror movies vs. today’s big budget remakes?

      My argument is quite simple: Remedy chose a quote from an article called “Horror Movies: Why Big Studio Releases Are Rare to Scare.” Hell, the byline is: “Stephen King: Why Hollywood can’t do horror…

      Wait a minute… You inadvertently bring up an important question. Why is Remedy using a quote from an article about horror and applying it to a “marketed as” psychological thriller (It’s categorized as survival horror on its wiki page)? I know [hand raised]! It has an identity issue, something very common for a game that’s supposed to appeal to a mass market. Again, King talks about this in this essay.

      But, I’m digressing a bit. Back to my argument: Stephen King postulates that big budget horror movies are incapable of real horror because their motivations are incongruent with the themes that make horror what it is. For example, the purpose of collectibles (read: manuscript pages) is to encourage the user to explore the level, which in turn prolongs their time in the game. That is a design choice that is diametrically opposed to horror, which is to limit freedom, take away information, increase tension and make people feel uncomfortable. Even Remedy believed, in hindsight, that the manuscript pages were a bad idea.

      King is by no means THE authority on horror (Edgar Allen Poe is my dude), but Remedy stuck their chin out when they used his quote to open the game. My intention was to call them on it. I read that article and I know King. Alan Wake is highly influenced by the author’s professional work although, if you read the article, he is clearly criticizing its brand of horror. Therefore, Remedy is misinterpreting and possibly misappropriating his idea. Limbo, on the other hand, is an excellent reflection of what King believes is good horror. I’d rather spend more time talking about this bloody little indie gem. Despite a lackluster third act, I think it’s a better game.

      I’m convinced that Alan Wake falls into a similar category as Resident Evil 5 (OK, maybe not that bad. Apologies, Remedy. That was below the belt). But, I’d love to read a counter argument. Write one. ‘Thinking’ something through is only part of the process. Make an argument, provide some research and articulate it. I’ll totally repost it.

      • “…but that’s only half of the essay. What about Limbo? What about Stephen King’s essay? Mainstream horror vs. indie horror?? What about the design of classic survival horror games (e.g., Resident Evil, Fatal Frame, or Siren) compared to modern day trends in design; how those games compare with classic horror movies vs. today’s big budget remakes? My argument is quite simple: Remedy chose a quote from an article called ‘Horror Movies: Why Big Studio Releases Are Rare to Scare.’ Hell, the byline is: ‘Stephen King: Why Hollywood can’t do horror…'”

        My argument’s simple as well. I’m saying there’s no call for Alan Wake to compare in any way to Limbo, Stephen King, or classic survival horror games. Remedy did their own thing. Came up with new ideas people loved and new ideas people hated, and mixed it with elements of other creations people could relate to. It’s not really that uncommon in games, is it? To use what you know “works” and then gamble by adding things you personally just want to be there?

        “Wait a minute… You inadvertently bring up an important question. Why is Remedy using a quote from an article about horror and applying it to a ‘marketed as’ psychological thriller (It’s categorized as survival horror on its wiki page)? I know [hand raised]! It has an identity issue, something very common for a game that’s supposed to appeal to a mass market. Again, King talks about this in this essay.”

        Which wiki page are you referring to? The following calls it an action-thriller:

        http://alanwake.wikia.com/wiki/Alan_Wake

        Now, Wikipedia does categorize it as survival horror, but bear in mind that these pages are written by just any ol’ body who feels like contributing.

        Assuming King knows what the term “thriller” means, I can’t imagine he’d agree that Alan Wake simply has an identity issue. Thriller is a genre which can include elements of horror but typically will not go quite as far to try and plain and simply SCARE the viewer/player.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thriller_(genre)

        For me, the term fits. I mean, there’s very little gore, not many jump-scares, and you’re not really put to the task of surviving compared to some of the earlier games you’ve mentioned. I would even go so far as to volunteer that TOO MUCH AMMO is one of the few true flaws in the gameplay aspect of AW.

        The quote in the beginning of the game is a very up front warning that the game will not explain a whole lot to you. I think it was to assure you that this is not an awful thing (after all, Stephen King condones and practices it left and right), not to suggest the game itself is horror or even imply any significance in the phrase “horror story”. But it could be that the phrase is referring to the story Alan writes in the game itself (the manuscript, which he later points out was supposed to be a different genre but began “turning into a horror story”).

        All that being said, I won’t deny that the line becomes quite blurred as you progress in the game. But this also, was the point and brilliance of it all. What did Alan write into existence and what was just there? Is he crazy while he’s seeing it all unfold, or was he just crazy when he wrote it? But in my view, this is not a horror story; it’s a psychological thriller about a man thrown INTO one.

        “Stephen King postulates that big budget horror movies are incapable of real horror because their motivations are incongruent with the themes that make horror what it is. For example, the purpose of collectibles (read: manuscript pages) is to encourage the user to explore the level, which in turn prolongs their time in the game. That is a design choice that is diametrically opposed to horror, which is to limit freedom, take away information, increase tension and make people feel uncomfortable. Even Remedy believed, in hindsight, that the manuscript pages were a bad idea.”

        Can you direct me to where and when they said this? I honestly don’t see how the collectibles (ESPECIALLY the manuscripts) decrease tension or make people feel anything closer to safe and secure. The only collectibles that might’ve done that for me were the hidden chests (because they provided more ammunition which, again, wasn’t needed in the first place).

        When I first played, I actually didn’t care about the collectibles. I was too busy trying to get the hell out of there! So maybe- just maybe- you kinda have to be somewhat comfortable already for the collectibles to have the effect you’re describing.

        “Alan Wake is highly influenced by the author’s professional work although, if you read the article, he is clearly criticizing its brand of horror. Therefore, Remedy is misinterpreting and possibly misappropriating his idea.”

        Or, you’re just reading too much into it. When it comes to Stephen King’s opinion of Alan Wake, we can only guess as you said yourself that he was talking about films. Who knows? Maybe he doesn’t consider video games to be by any means comparable? No, I really think they just wanted to give you a heads up that they were not going to wrap the entire story up in just one game.

      • Now, you lost me at your argument. You’d be negligent not to make comparisons. For starters, Alan Wake IS Stephen King. Google Richard Bachman. I can assure you that Remedy has. The haunted horror writer is a reoccurring theme in his novels. Even a casual fan of his movies can see that he writes stories about haunted writers which is for deeply personal and well documented reasons. You would be remiss as a writer or critic not to mention this. It would be like saying the cover system in modern day video games in NOT influenced by the success of Gears of War. Anyone who follows games can see where Cliff Blezenski got the idea from. Sure, Kill Switch did it first but Epic made is sexy. Creative work doesn’t come out of a vacuum. Which brings me to classic survival horror games. Game mechanics also don’t come out of a vacuum. So, what games most closely resemble Alan Wake? Silent Hill. Resident Evil. Certainly, Resident Evil 4. I don’t think you’re going to find many articles about Wake that don’t reference these particular games, namely because they’re in third person (as opposed to first person titles like Condemned), the use of the camera is the same or similar (modern day games move the camera behind the shoulder to increase tension), they use similar scare tactics (the use of sound, ala Silent Hill, jump out of your seat moments, ala Resident Evil). Needless to say, Remedy did NOT do their own thing. They did their version of someone else’s thing: namely, Stephen King, Shinji Mikami, Akira Yamaoka and Keiichiro Toyama (to name a few) if we want to get technical. And, that is not said — in any way — to discredit them, but those are clearly their influences on this game. So, let’s do the math. The story is influenced by a horror novelist, it uses quotes from an article about horror and the design and game mechanics are borrowed from classic survival horror games. And, you think it’s a psychological thriller, something King is a master of but doesn’t discuss in that article. Y’know, the one they used to introduce their game. You’re proving my point.

        Now, if you want to argue that Limbo shouldn’t be compared to Alan Wake you might have something. That would be an interesting argument to read. But, you haven’t played Limbo. So. Yeah. You’re effectively killing your entire argument. Side note: check out David Cronenberg’s view of Stanley Kubrick and the Shining, a horror movie classic that he thinks is bad horror. I think its a similar argument and it certainly shows how wide people stretch the genre. Side note 2: why didn’t Remedy reference an article or interview by King about psychological thrillers? They do exist. No, don’t answer that.

  5. “Now, you lost me at your argument. You’d be negligent not to make comparisons. For starters, Alan Wake IS Stephen King. Google Richard Bachman. I can assure you that Remedy has.”

    Who would need to Google that? And what does it have to do with Alan Wake again? Neither Alan (the character) nor Remedy changed their names? The only thing one MIGHT be able to tie with the game is the idea of skill versus luck. I have heard people theorize that Alan was a hack writer who just got lucky with one series and then couldn’t get lucky again starting another. If that’s what you’re referring to, great, but it wasn’t a conscious decision on Alan’s part, and Alan wasn’t a writer of either thrillers or horrors anyway. He didn’t go off the radar on purpose, and if he ever did, it would be to get the heck away from his fans, not for any sort of personal growth or enlightenment.

    “The haunted horror writer is a reoccurring theme in his novels. Even a casual fan of his movies can see that he writes stories about haunted writers which is for deeply personal and well documented reasons. You would be remiss as a writer or critic not to mention this.”

    That goes without saying; no one’s trying to argue that they borrowed from Stephen King (and other authors) to make this game. What I meant when I said they shouldn’t be compared is that similar elements do not imply similar standards for judgement, particularly when comparing novels and movies to video games. Plus, it should be noted that it isn’t a matter of Alan’s creations coming alive on him or coming back to haunt him (despite the opening nightmare sequence), but rather him being used by the dark presence to create something IT wants. I don’t recall seeing this anywhere but here.

    “Needless to say, Remedy did NOT do their own thing. They did their version of someone else’s thing: namely, Stephen King, Shinji Mikami, Akira Yamaoka and Keiichiro Toyama (to name a few) if we want to get technical.”

    That’s quite a leap. The meat of the game, in terms of both gameplay and story (not to mention atmosphere), is very original indeed. Yes, they were unquestionably influenced by previous games (not unlike every other game out there), but you know what game it reminds ME of? Max Payne. From ripping off “bullet time” to the monotone protagonist to the generous use of narration, I’d definitely agree they should pay royalties to whoever started THAT project (joke).

    “So, let’s do the math. The story is influenced by a horror novelist,”

    Who also writes thrillers. He’s dubbed as the king of both thrillers and horror by one author, and it’s not hard to find works of his called thrillers by performing a simple Google search (Lookin’ forward to seeing “Cell”!). And the game was also heavily influenced by Hitchcock, a director/producer of psychological thriller films. At any rate, I already told you my theory on why they chose to quote Stephen King of all people: He’s well-established and known to do exactly what the quote was defending (because there’s always someone saying “Why isn’t this game/movie telling me what’s going on!?”), and there’s a chance their use of the quote was telling us about the horror story Alan is later forced into writing (explaining why he has to abide by certain rules while creating the manuscript, why even the ending doesn’t quite answer every question, etc.) Remedy probably didn’t want their of such ambiguity questioned, so they used a quote by someone so highly regarded to justify it and get that out of the way.

    “As well as thriller novelists it uses quotes from an article about horror and the design and game mechanics are borrowed from classic survival horror games. And, you think it’s a psychological thriller, something King is a master of but doesn’t discuss in that article. Y’know, the one they used to introduce their game. You’re proving my point.”

    Only in your own mind. The quote has been discussed already, and for every facet of survival horror they added to this game they held off on the inclusion of other elements that would’ve made it unquestionably at attempt at true horror. Again, this is what the genre of Thriller IS, and I’ve given a source for that description as well as specified what qualifies Alan Wake as a thriller and not a horror. It all justifies the label on the case (and explains why it doesn’t hold up under scrutiny as a horror game) quite nicely.

    “Now, if you want to argue that Limbo shouldn’t be compared to Alan Wake you might have something. That would be an interesting argument to read. But, you haven’t played Limbo. So. Yeah. You’re effectively killing your entire argument.”

    I’ve actually believed that art shouldn’t be compared to other art all along, but if you insist on doing so at least keep comparisons within the same genre! And if you don’t know what category to throw something in, maybe that’s a sign it shouldn’t be compared to ANYTHING until you do.

    “Side note: check out David Cronenberg’s view of Stanley Kubrick and the Shining, a horror movie classic that he thinks is bad horror. I think its a similar argument and it certainly shows how wide people stretch the genre.”

    I’ve no interest in doing this. See above.

    “Side note 2: why didn’t Remedy reference an article or interview by King about psychological thrillers? They do exist. No, don’t answer that.”

    Well if you didn’t want me to answer, you shouldn’t have asked! I think the answer is pretty obvious: they wanted a world renowned author’s condoning of this specific part of the game (ambiguity), and there probably wasn’t a better quote for serving this purpose by this author or any other on the subject of psychological thrillers. And if you think otherwise, enlighten me.

    And in case you forgot:

    “It’s categorized as survival horror on its wiki page”

    What page is this?

    And:

    “Even Remedy believed, in hindsight, that the manuscript pages were a bad idea.”

    Where did you hear/read this? I’m just curious. I bought the Limited Edition set which contains in-game commentary and interviews, etc. on the game and I’ve never heard that.

    • Dios mio.

      Now I know what Roger Ebert meant when he said, “OK, kids, play on my lawn.”

      OK. I wrote a two thousand-word analysis on two games, Alan Wake and Limbo. My point was to explain that Limbo is a better and more applicable game than Alan Wake when you look at it through the lens of Stephen King’s theory of horror as stated in the article that Remedy borrowed the quote from. You have never played Limbo before. So, the argument should end riiiiight… here. Your opinion — however valid — is only half informed.

      But, I’m going to go out on a limb and say you would disagree anyway. That’s OK. You still have a weak argument. Forgive me for quoting you. I hate doing that.

      “There’s no call for Alan Wake to compare in any way to Limbo, Stephen King, or classic survival horror games. Remedy did their own thing.”

      This is a weak argument. A) You’ve never played Limbo. B) Comparisons to Stephen King are unavoidable and C) I’ve already shown the obvious connection to classic survival horror. To prove otherwise is to write a paper about how both Alan Wake and a third person shooter made in 2001 (Max Payne) was absolutely not influenced by two franchises worth of games made between 1996 and 2000. Good luck with that. D) Read A and B again.

      But, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you would argue it anyway.

      OK, let’s begin with genre. Is it horror or thriller? You know what I think, but I get why you’re confused. Wake is described as a survival horror to some and a thriller to others. Truth is, the two genres have always overlapped. Is Misery horror or thriller? Is The Strangers horror or thriller? One could make the case for either category because they fall into both categories.

      But, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you’ll argue against this point right about here. So, here’s a lesson in genre for you.

      The Wikipedia page describes horror film as such:

      “A film genre seeking to elicit a negative emotional reaction from viewers by playing on the audience’s primal fears. Horror films often feature scenes that startle the viewer; the macabre and the supernatural are frequent themes. Thus they may overlap with the fantasy, supernatural, and thriller genres.”

      *Side note: horror as a genre has never required the use of blood and gore. That is a more recent trend but classic horror almost never utilized it. Horror – and I’m simplifying it for the sake of brevity — is about making people feel uncomfortable on a very deep level. You see that Kings point and my point is aligned with the description above.

      But, this is where you might question the credibility of Wikipedia. So, I’ll encourage you to check out their source, AMC Filmsite (written and edited by the very legit Tim Dirks). You should read the entire four parts but just stop at the part where it mentions “Jekyll/Hyde” dualities (good against evil), demons, zombies, evil spirits,” blah, blah, blah. This will be important later. If you’re still convinced that the Internet is filled with falsified information or that I just pulled this out of my ass, read Film History: An Introduction by Kristen Thomas and David Bordwell (Hell, read anything by these two). It’s required reading for almost every college level Introduction to Film class in the world.

      But, I’m going to go out on a limb and say you are still going to insist that Alan Wake is a thriller, and that the influence of Stephen King are not that significant per your argument.

      OK, let’s untie this knot.

      Alan Wake plays with very old story tropes. For example, is Alan crazy? Is he suffering from split personalities? If you want to talk about classic influences, this has echoes of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Written in 1886, Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel is categorically listed under horror, thriller and drama.

      The duality trope has been used for well over a century. Hell, I’ll give you another more recent and more relevant example, a movie called Secret Window starring Johnny Depp. Based on a book by Stephen King called “Secret Window, Secret Garden” it is categorized as a thriller. Per its description, “it is similar to King’s earlier novel The Dark Half (sound familiar?). Both are about authors who are thinly veiled analogues of King himself—Thad Beaumont in The Dark Half and Mort Rainey in Secret Window, Secret Garden.” The book is categorized as a “horror, thriller novella.”

      Other tropes that Alan Wake plays with are the evil force, the ghost, the demon, the haunted man, etc. I’m going to assume that you ignored the quote I told you to remember above and you’re just itching to retort. So, I’ll point you to the obvious Wikipedia page that defines ghost movies as, again, belonging to the horror genre. Then refer to the two other sources I recommended since, as you said, anyone can write in Wikipedia. Both sources will support that these tropes fit under the umbrella of the horror genre.

      But, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that you will still argue that Alan Wake is not horror. And, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary maybe you’re right.

      But, here’s where Remedy over played their hand. They quoted an article about horror. Thus, they are placing their game – intentionally or otherwise — into the horror category. You can’t argue against that. And yet, this is exactly the place where you might so I’ll offer one other piece of evidence (as if one needs to at this point). Even Remedy’s Wikipedia page categorizes it as psychological horror. Hey, you got the ‘psychological’ part right.

      Remedy makes third person action games. With Wake they decided to play in someone else’s sandbox and they got it wrong. It’s a well-polished game but their style wasn’t applicable to this genre. Columnist Leigh Alexander (one of the industry’s best journalists and a bit of an expert in survival horror) penned a great observation about their third title, “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.”

      The point behind Alexander’s quote and Kings scathing essay is that horror is better of coming from a small team with a small budget. Because, people don’t expect much from the little guy (or girl) tinkering away in the corner until it turns out that they’ve made a fucking bomb. Remedy, for the record, is not a small team. They’re a sizable game company that has an exclusive deal with Microsoft, a software company worth billions. Go to their website. Click on ‘News.’ See those pictures of their dinner? The appetizers. The band. The caviar spread. C’mon.

      Limbo — which you haven’t played so discussion paused — on the other hand is a chilling game. It places a child in a dark, unforgiving environment and tells the player absolutely nothing. No directions. No plot ideas. No narration. It isn’t afraid to maim the protagonist, a child, in terrible ways. It plays on fears of isolation, child protection, insects, sharp objects, even bullying by other boys. Limbo began production with a team of two for their company, Playdead (need I say more?). This is applicable to King’s essay on horror, an essay Remedy made the mistake of borrowing from.

      But, after all of this detailed, loquacious, and well-researched evidence to support my original two-thousand word argument, I suspect that this still won’t convince you. To that end, I have but one final thing to say: you have an opinion on Alan Wake that could be interesting, but you hide it behind trying to disprove what I think. Find why you like the game, take your time and write it.

      • “OK. I wrote a two thousand-word analysis on two games, Alan Wake and Limbo. My point was to explain that Limbo is a better and more applicable game than Alan Wake when you look at it through the lens of Stephen King’s theory of horror as stated in the article that Remedy borrowed the quote from.”

        You may have said Limbo did a better job of it, but you also passed judgement on Alan Wake for simply not meeting the challenge at all. Obviously, that is what I took issue with. Not your comparisons to Limbo, but the idea of holding Alan Wake to that standard in the first place.

        “Comparisons to Stephen King are unavoidable”

        Depends on what you mean. Again, no one’s going to deny they borrowed from King and other authors (and a director or two) so there are some glaring similarities, even though I still say that what makes the game in terms of both gameplay and storyline was quite original. But comparing them in terms of quality? Not so unavoidable. Novels (after and especially before being turned to films) and video games are apples and oranges, in my view. And it’s likely the goals of one will not be the goals of another. I’d be really surprised if Stephen King himself didn’t agree with that much. But at any rate, we shouldn’t be asking an author what game developers intended to accomplish with their game; we should ask the developers (as if they haven’t already told us, with the words “Psychological Thriller” printed on the case).

        No one denied Alan Wake was influenced by earlier survival horror games either, although few specific ideas were borrowed. “Sound to indicate enemies” is not a trademark of Silent Hill!

        All you’re doing with your research is showing that “horror” and “thriller” are interchangeable descriptions that can be applied to the same work. I said that myself when I first referenced what a THRILLER is. It’s no surprise that, now that you have chosen to focus only on the definitions of what makes HORROR, you disregard what categorizes it as the former and focus on similarities you think justify calling it the latter. But this is why its marketing is so important. Remedy told the world in that label that they were not making a game to be compared to works of horror (or, if you’d prefer, “other works of horror”). It was not their intention for this game to be thrown into the pile of survival horror games, and that’s actually quite evident even as you’re playing it. There are spooky parts and a few minor jump-scares, but nothing even resembling an attempt to truly frighten you. You think Remedy didn’t know what was out there? If they wanted to make survival horror, they would’ve included some of that stuff too, don’t you think?

        “But, here’s where Remedy over played their hand. They quoted an article about horror. Thus, they are placing their game – intentionally or otherwise — into the horror category. You can’t argue against that. And yet, this is exactly the place where you might”

        How do you know me so well already? 😉 Yes, I’ll argue that. Before even selling you their product, they tell you on the case it’s not a horror game… Done.

        “so I’ll offer one other piece of evidence (as if one needs to at this point). Even Remedy’s Wikipedia page categorizes it as psychological horror. Hey, you got the ‘psychological’ part right.”

        WHICH page? You still haven’t given me a link. But I did find and post one of their wikia pages calling the game an “action thriller”. What gives here? Unless you’re going by what “someone” wrote on a page at Wikipedia, I don’t get it.

        “Remedy makes third person action games. With Wake they decided to play in someone else’s sandbox and they got it wrong.”

        The first part only weakens your argument. What would possess a company who specializes in one genre to try and go THAT far from it? So far, their history and their own choice of labeling for the game in question are contradicting your every word…

        “But, after all of this detailed, loquacious, and well-researched evidence to support my original two-thousand word argument, I suspect that this still won’t convince you. To that end, I have but one final thing to say: you have an opinion on Alan Wake that could be interesting, but you hide it behind trying to disprove what I think. Find why you like the game, take your time and write it.”

        I wasn’t aware that was the point of your article, but okay.

        I like this game for all the things that make it NOT survival horror. Addictive gameplay with a simple format, no reliance on gore or drama to hold your interest (the story was enough, at least for me), questions surrounding even the combat, an atmosphere that keeps you on the edge of your seat rather than constantly jumping out of it, stuff like that. I also like the originality of the story. You’re left with some truly mind-bending questions. Who wrote whom into existence, and when? Is the lake a portal to another dimension or an “ocean” on its side that’s so deep it reaches to the center of the earth? Say! That could explain the “volcanic” eruption, the evil that makes this lake its home, the intoxicating properties of the water, the DARKNESS of the water, etc. Who’s Mr. Scratch? Is he someone Zane (or even Alan) wrote into existence to take Alan’s place? Is he the dark presence’s new shell? Why is Zane so calm and fleeting? Is he alive or dead? Is ALAN alive or dead? Why do the last names of characters who haven’t lived in Bright Falls for a long time sound so… made up, whereas everyone else’s names sound genuine? You see? It just goes on forever. An amazing game. And one I truly cannot place in the same category as any other game I’ve played. They labeled it uniquely because they knew they had something unique (yes, despite all the things they borrowed).

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