“I’ve always had a vivid imagination, but this dream unsettled me. It was wild and dark and weird, even by my standards. So yes—it began with a dream.”
‘My Name is Alan Wake and I’m a writer’. The words I have heard so many times since the game’s release in 2010. I remember first playing it in my bedroom at my Mother’s old 2-bedroom terrace all those years ago. Of course, it isn’t that long ago, but in the life of a video game, nine years is a long time! I have a lot to thank this game for, which I may have mentioned in a previous article a few months back: Alan Wake was the reason I picked up my very first Stephen King novel. Looking for a deeper look into the game once it had its shadowy hooks firmly in my psyche, I also found out that it was heavily influenced by some bizarre 90s TV show called Twin Peaks?
Alan Wake was developed by Finnish studio Remedy Entertainment over a period of more than 5 years. The studio is most famous for creating the hugely popular noir shooter series Max Payne, in the early 2000’s, most recently brought back to life in 2012 by Rockstar games. The story of Alan Wake was written by the studio’s creative director and principal writer Sam Lake, who also just happens to be the original face of Max Payne. If you’ve ever played a Remedy game, you will likely recognise Sam’s work a mile off. He loves the weird and the supernatural, a perfect fit for all of us here at 25YL!
Now, since the game was a long time in the making, it did go through many facelifts. I recently went back and looked at some of the concept art and original trailers that were featured in the collector’s edition version of the game. Alan had a very different look back then, looking more like an American rip off of some early Doctor Who characters with a big coat and a colourful scarf. Not really the type of costume you would imagine for a psychological survival horror game. He looks much better and much more relatable now in his hoody and tweed jacket. Anyone who’s played the game will also notice that the town of Bright Falls, the main setting for the game, has changed a little over the years too. Originally planned as more of an open world environment, you can see in those early trailers the town is a little more spread out and easy to navigate, much flatter and much less interesting. The tone of the game however always seemed fairly grounded. Even watching the original trailer from all the way back in 2005, the tone and the atmosphere were well established even then. The idyllic sleepy town, the long sweeping country roads, the vistas of fog rolling through tree covered mountains…any of this sounding familiar?
Going into Alan Wake, I had never heard of Twin Peaks and for good reason. Being from the UK, and being a child of the 90s I had missed all the buzz; in fact, I had managed to go eighteen years without ever hearing the name Twin Peaks. Imagine my intrigue then when I look into the game’s underbelly and find that most gorgeously troubled of towns staring me in the face, begging me to come looking. It wasn’t too long then before my mind turned from ‘Welcome to Bright Falls’ to ‘Who killed Laura Palmer?’
I remember once I was truly invested in the world of Alan Wake, I went online to try and look for some way to continue my journey once the game was over. There was just something about the game or about the setting that I couldn’t get enough of. I loved the quiet sleepy town location and the endless mountains. It all seemed like a world that was so far away from my own and despite its troubles and horror atmosphere, it actually felt like home. I felt happy and secure there with those characters that had been brought to life both through the expert storytelling of Sam Lake and the wizards at Remedy and the warm and calming narrative voice of Matthew Porretta. As the voice of Alan Wake, his monologues—along with the huge amount of scattered manuscript pages, all of which are fully voiced—guide you through the world and give you an unusual insight into the thoughts of the character. It’s something that you don’t see very often in either video games or in TV and film: that inner monologue voice. It’s something that I really enjoy. It adds an extra dimension to the storytelling and gives the viewer or player something more akin to the detail that you can get from traditional storytelling in a book.
I needed that feeling to continue. I needed to stay in that world.
I was in university, travelling to and from classes and home each day, something like 60 miles as I wasn’t living on campus. I had just gotten myself a part-time job at the local hospital filing medical notes in the evening. I had been thrust into the real world for the first time, having to work to pay my own way and commute every day. It doesn’t sound like too much of a trial to most people, but for an eighteen-year-old who was used to jumping on the bus to go to college and asking his parents for dinner money, it was a big change and I’m sure all of you can relate to this in some way. Everything felt different and I needed somewhere I could hide. For a time that was Alan Wake and through that journey I had found my home, I just needed to find the next step on the path.
A quick Google search told me that Stephen King—along with Twin Peaks, Neil Gaiman, The X-Files and the Twilight Zone—were some of the main influences on the development of the game. In some ways, I guess you could call that moment a turning point in my consumption of entertainment. All you have to do is step inside my house and see it for yourself. Twin Peaks and The X-Files have since become two of my favourite shows. I have Mulder’s ‘I Want To Believe’ poster on the wall of my study. More than half of my bookcase is taken up by Stephen King books and my single favourite novel is Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. All of these things I had either never heard of or never really given a second thought before Alan Wake.
Following that Google search, I did two things. I went on Amazon and bought Two Stephen King novels—‘The Gunslinger’, still one of my favourite ever novels, and ‘Bag of Bones’, which weirdly is still on my shelf unread despite all of the other King novels that I have collected and consumed in the past eight years or so. Then I went on Ebay and bought myself the Complete Gold Box Set of the original Twin Peaks on DVD. Over the following few weeks I devoured anything and everything that was on those DVDs. I replayed Alan Wake and I lived and breathed the nortwest of the USA…or so it felt.
Looking back however, the similarities are profound. Sam Lake cites many different influences for his creation of the world and the lore, but if you have seen Twin Peaks and played Alan Wake, you will know beyond doubt that Twin Peaks has to be the single biggest one. The setting itself is pulled right from the show, with the ‘everybody knows everybody’ small town nestled in the forests and mountains of the Pacific northwest. Rolling fog and mysterious noises filter through every second of the game, giving it a strange edgy atmosphere, much the same as how David Lynch lays on the atmosphere in Twin Peaks. Even the structure of the game is set out like a TV show. The game is split into six ‘Episodes’ each complete with cliffhanger endings, credits along with licensed music (even featuring Roy Orbison’s ‘In Dreams’ for all us Blue Velvet fans) and a ‘previously on Alan Wake’ segment starting each new episode. It gives off that vibe that it wants to be something bigger than just a video game and if it was a TV show, it would certainly have the same effect on people that Twin Peaks had on viewers twenty years earlier.
The Characters show the largest similarities though. ‘Triple D’s Oh Deer Diner’ (possibly a play on the ‘Double R’?) which happens to have almost exactly the same layout as the diner in the show, is the workplace of the young and beautiful Rose Marigold. Slightly naive and a little ditsy just like Madchen Amick’s character, Shelly Johnson.
The park ranger Rusty—who’s described as being nothing but ‘black coffee under a thin layer of skin’—tells Wake to ‘try the coffee. Just don’t blame me when you fall in love, ‘cause it’ll break your heart when you have to leave.’ A strong reference there to the coffee-loving Agent Cooper.
Cynthia Weaver is the ‘Lady of the Light’ who likes to carry a lantern her arms like a baby everywhere she goes, speaking in riddles and always warning Wake about going into the Darkness. This is perhaps the strongest and most obvious reference to another character, Margaret Lanterman (Lantern/Lanterman?), the Log Lady of Twin Peaks who so often tries to warn and help other characters in that show through the visions from her log.
One of the other more obvious similarities here is between Deputy Grant and Lucy Moran. Both act as receptionist for the Sheriff’s department; both have a squeaky high-pitched voice; and both like to gossip more than they should. The similarities go on and on for days here, some right up at the surface, staring you in the face and some buried deep, but still there none the less.
A less obvious one and one that you can’t actually see in the game is Agent Nightingale’s preference to record all of his interviews and thoughts about his investigation on a dictaphone, just the same as Agent Cooper. Nightingale is brought in just the same as Cooper to investigate the strange occurrences and help the Sheriff’s department, though character-wise he is almost the complete opposite. This little bit of info though can only be found in The Alan Wake Files, a book full of inside information, fictional character profiles, news clippings and manuscript pages included with the collector’s edition of the game. For any fans, I highly recommend it!
For the final comparison though, I leave you with my personal favourite. Without spoiling too much for those who, for whatever reason, haven’t yet played the game, Alan ends up in the same doppelganger situation that Agent Cooper ends up in at the end of the original run of Twin Peaks, eventually having to confront his not-so-good side in the form of Mr Scratch in the follow-up game Alan Wake’s American Nightmare. It’s something that totally confused and bewildered me the first couple of times I played the game, but the more I understand of it, the more I love it and understand the genius of what Sam Lake created with his universe, despite borrowing the idea from Lynch and Frost.
For some longtime fans of Twin Peaks, the town, the characters and their stories have been ingrained in their minds forever. We can’t help ourselves but go back there and join them; they are like our extended family. What David Lynch and Mark Frost created was, for some people, a sanctuary. A place where we could go and be safe. For me, Alan Wake is also this place. I play it religiously at least once a year nowadays and although it is dated graphically and technologically, it doesn’t matter. The people are still there. The story is still there and it still has the ability to help me forget my troubles and go to another place.
Welcome to Bright Falls.
Two places outside of reality and portrayed through two different mediums yet, they could be the same place. One came much before the other and Alan Wake does draw heavily from Twin Peaks, but it still manages to tell its own tale and have its own identity.
Whether in dreams or not, Twin Peaks, Bright Falls…they are home.