A good game over screen doesn’t just serve as a notice that you need to start over. In the survival horror genre, a well-crafted, properly terrifying game over screen should serve as a deterrent, ensuring you stay alive the next time to avoid seeing the bloody words ‘Game Over’ appear on your screen. And sometimes, like in Alan Wake 2, they could be so terrifying you never want to die again.
If you’ve played the game, you know exactly what I’m talking about, and IGN got a chance to speak with Alan Wake 2 creative director Sam Lake to discuss how Remedy created this terrifying game over screen.
Alan Wake 2 is finally here to pick up the writer’s story 13 years later. Unlike the first game which was more of a supernatural action-thriller, Remedy has gone full survival horror for the sequel, with an emphasis on ‘horror’.
Remedy’s horror game is effectively split into two sections where you play as either FBI profiler Saga Anderson or the unfortunate mystery novelist Alan Wake. It’s in the Wake sections specifically that Remedy’s spooky game over screen appears. If Alan Wake is to die, the screen will flash horrifying images of Wake, played in live-action by the Finnish actor Ilka Villi, lying bloody on the ground, his head looking like it’s been caved in.
Lake says the process of creating the game over screen for Alan Wake was built on top of their experience with working on live-action set pieces for Control and Quantum Break. But the creative process was still largely trial-and-error. “It felt like we needed to show the horror in between when you die, we need to make it disturbing,” Lake says. “We had already kind of discovered that this is how we do horror flashes and that’s suitable for it, but then we wanted to create just really striking violent imagery for it.”
The entire sequence was shot on a film set says Lake, with Alan Wake’s leading man, Ilka Villi, “lying on the ground… we had our makeup artists come in and kind of create a disturbing, violent vision of him all bloody and kind of having suffered a violent death.”
The team at Remedy learned a lot of new tricks since they released the first Alan Wake game. With games like Quantum Break and Control under their belts, the studio has become one of the most cinematically inclined game studios currently working in the industry, mixing live-action footage in with their games to create a visually distinct experience that blurs the lines between mediums. And it’s this eye for the movies that led to such a memorable, and bloody game over screen. However, in this case, mixing the live action footage with the game actually made the horror less intense.
Lake reveals, “What we also then discovered fast, that if we want to do this more as an aggressive flash like thing, then the idea of blending it on top of the game footage actually loses its meaning, it isn’t giving us anything… for more horrifying moments — we started calling them horror flashes — and ended up just doing them kind of full screen and stylizing them quite strongly as black and white and just aggressive in many ways.”
Ultimately, Lake and the team leaned on their leading actor Villi and trusted him to capture the terror of dying in Alan Wake 2, no matter how bloody things got. “This ended up being a relatively long shot, we just kept adding to the blood on him and on the ground around him,” Lake reveals. At times they were saying, “‘Yes, we can go one step further and we can go one step further and we can go one step further,’ and then we have this whole library of this material.”
Lake says that the nightmare that Alan Wake has been trapped in for 13 years is violent and dark, and that this was the most important aspect Remedy wanted to convey to players. That Wake has died in the nightmare, many times, and that it’s been a living hell for the character. “He keeps on dying, but essentially then he wakes up and it’s almost like in this constant state of waking from nightmare into another nightmare, and it’s just endless torture. It felt to me as an important aspect where when you die, actually die in the game, we should somehow bring the horror into that moment.”
For Alan Wake 2 and Lake, the game over screen isn’t just meant to be a notice for the player that they failed a specific challenge. It’s part of the overall story of Alan Wake, and his imprisonment in the Dark Place. It’s also, of course, a nice scare to keep the tension high — something that’s essential in a survival horror game.
“I am happy and I feel that we have achieved what we were after,” Lake says. “In some ways we think about it — the event of death in video games, your character dying — it kind of easily loses its meaning and its impact and it just becomes a matter of frustration. You are trying to get past an obstacle, get past a certain dangerous combat, you fail, more than anything, you feel frustration in that moment, trying again.”
“But having this in between keeps that disturbing element as part of it flow and extends in some ways. To me, kind of being stuck in this nightmare loop of dying and trying again kind of brings the horror to it, and this being a horror game, I am really happy that we have it there.”
Alan Wake 2: Dark Place Screenshots
With Alan Wake 2, Remedy’s alchemy of mixing in-game visuals with live action footage hits new highs, and the fact that the studio’s painstaking approach to survival horror bleeds into the game over screen itself is just one of many ways the studio is raising the bar for itself, the genre, and the medium as a whole. While the screen might be fleeting, the scares will last much, much longer, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Matt T.M. Kim is IGN’s Senior Features Editor. You can reach him @lawoftd.