I've only played a bit of Remedy's newest downloadable Alan Wake game — though Evan Narcisse liked it a lot, and I like what I've played, too.
But then, I have something of a soft spot for Alan, for some reason. The original game sticks with me more than I thought it would; it's the sort of game that I think of more fondly while I'm not playing it than while I am. That's in part because while I'm not playing it, the repetitive combat and endless wandering through the woods don't seem as interminable and the game's best aspects don't feel as spaced out.
While the game itself does have some highs — that heavy metal concert blowout among them — the narrative setup is also something I really dig. I like the setting, which still feels fresh as a place to put a video game. And while Alan himself can be a bit of a drip, I like that he's a novelist, and dig how the game experiments (usually unsuccessfully) with that by using the scattered manuscript pages to flesh out characters and provide foreshadowing.
But how close is the game to accurately portraying the life of a writer? Alan Wake isn't some internet writer like certain people I could name; no, he's a tweed jacket-wearing, typewriter-using capital-W Writer in the mould of Stephen King. Or actually, as I've always maintained, Dean Koontz.
Game designer and writer Matthew Burns, who in addition to being a fantastic writer is always good for a laugh, looked into this very question on his blog "Magical Wasteland" back in 2010, and the post has always stuck with me. First, Burns wrote the tongue-in-cheek "An excerpt from the novel 'Departure' by Alan Wake." Key bit: "I was relieved. As the twisted forms evaporated into slivers of light, I realised that my kill count with the flashbang had reached 50. A sense of achievement washed over me.").
After that, he decided to see do a further investigation (tongue still firmly planted in cheek) of what Alan Wake gets wrong and right, about being a writer.
Butns turned to who else but Tom "actual writer" Bissell for an interview on the subject. Is Alan Wake an accurate portrayal of the modern American novelist?
"I read that this fiction writer protagonist could sprint for only about 3m or so," Bissell says, "and I thought, 'Yes! They've done their research!'"
Personally, I'm not sure I ever bought Alan Wake as a realistic writer. I grew tired of his plodding writing style, though I do like the theory that his manuscript pages are something of a joke, a commentary on how bad writers become famous every day. Burns brings up this question and Bissell mentions Dan Brown, who despite his huge success you may have heard is a fairly terrible writer.
I did like how Wake's writing improved noticeably between the first game and American Nightmare. Apparently, he's been working on his craft between games. And given the fact that he can finally run for more than a few seconds without running out of breath, I guess he's been hitting the gym, too.
What Alan Wake Gets Wrong, And Right, About Being A Writer [Magical Wasteland]