I picked up Alan Wake in the bargain bin at Target over 10 years ago.
I love Max Payne 1 and 2 and wanted to play another game that was crafted by Remedy Games.
At the time I enjoyed Alan Wake just to play.
I recently replayed the game, this time I had a different reason for playing. I wanted to learn how Remedy created the single-player, story driven experience and how this influenced its level design.
I walked away with 12-pages of notes.
Here is what I learned about level design storytelling from playing Alan Wake.
Important Note: Following tutorial (like all tutorials on WoLD) is based on my own experience, opinions and conclusions as I was playing the game. Nothing here reflects what the developer or the publisher might have intended or did not intend as they were creating the game. These are opinions and conclusions I reached.
Spoil Alert: This tutorial features spoilers.
Alan Wake is a single-player, third-person adventure horror with heavy emphasis on storytelling. For such a game, each level design decision has to be filtered through the game's story.
Each level has to reveal parts of story, introducing and continuing specific plot points/beats, locations and characters as the player progresses.
Alan Wake is broken down into two types of levels: primary levels and secondary levels.
Examples of Primary Levels include:going to the Gas Station, Lover's Peak, Mining and Ghost Town, escaping Cauldron Lake Lodge, going to Anderson Farm, going through the Town, Bright Falls Light & Power, Bright Falls Dam and Larsen's Auto Salvage.
Primary Level: going to Gas Station.
Primary Level: Lover's Peak.
Primary Level: Mining and Ghost Town.
Primary Level: Escaping Cauldron Lake.
Primary Level: Anderson's Farm.
Primary Level: Town.
Primary Level: Light and Power.
Primary Level: Dam.
Primary Level: Larsen's Auto Salvage.
Examples of Secondary Levels include: first level on the boat, visiting the Diner to get the cabin keys, vising Bird Leg Cabin with Alice, driving to the mining caves, visiting mobile homes (Sparkling River Estates), NYC flashbacks.
Secondary Level: boat ride.
Secondary Level: Diner.
Secondary Level: Bird Leg Cabin with Alice.
Secondary Level: driving to mining caves.
Secondary Level: visiting mobile home park.
Secondary Level: NYC flashbacks.
The sequence of each level (primary or secondary) should always be determined by the game's story and how you want to communicate that to the player. With primary and secondary levels it allows you to design how you want to the story and the game to unfold and at what pace.
Secret #1 Takeaway: level design decisions have to be filtered through the game's story. To tell the game's story effectively through level design, you have to weave primary and secondary levels through your game.
First level in Alan Wake is a tutorial.
This is common to a lot of games. It introduces the player to the game world, gameplay mechanics and its story. But this first level is more than that. It is a blueprint to learn from.
To create the tutorial level you have to know the game, understand its gameplay mechanics and use level design to create the playable space.
What would you do?
In Alan Wake's first tutorial level I learned:
It's a short level but packs a lot of information on gameplay mechanics, story and level design.
Secret Takeaway: first tutorial levels are very important to the player, not only do they teach you about the game, its story, gameplay mechanics and level design but can also be used as a primer to introduce what to expect for the rest of the game.
You might ask what characters in the game have to do with level design.
Character introduction and their development are dictated by the game's story. But as a level designer you have to create the playable space where these characters are introduced and live. So it is up to you to design the world and arrange the sequence.
Just within the first few minutes of playing, most of the game's characters are introduced. All of them will make re-appearances throughout the game.
In the beginning of the game during the boat ride you are introduced to three characters Ben Mott (local), Pat Maine (radio host) and Barry (Alan Wake's agent) and of course Alan's wife. All of these characters are important to the game.
Next in the Diner, seven more characters are introduced: Rose, Ranger Rusty, Anderson brothers, Cynthia Weaver, Barbara Jagger and Carl Stucky.
No character that is important to the story comes out of blue. They are first introduced in a causal way, usually through a secondary level.
Even at the Sheriff's station, inside the jail cell you meet the guy who you later see in the cabin on your way to Anderson's Farm. That is how you connect your game world together.
Of course you can't introduce every single character in the first few levels, but you can mention them through dialogue, props or cinematics.
Emil Hartman is an important character to the story and is introduced through dialogue from Alice and through a book in Alan's car.
Most of character introductions happen within a forced area such as the boat ride, diner, Sherriff Station, Cauldron Lake to make sure you don't miss it.
Secret Takeaway: introduce as many characters in the beginning as you can in a casual way using a secondary level. Re-introducing them later will make sense because the player already met them. Never have a character that is important to the story come out of nowhere. Reveal the game's story and its characters deliberately.
Locations of the game are introduced to the player in similar way as the characters.
You first visit most of the locations casually, in the safety of daylight. You can explore and talk to the locals. Then you also visit the same locations at night.
Such locations include the Diner:
Elderwood Visitor Center:
Sparkling River Estates:
Cauldron Lake Lodge:
You can explore, learn location's history, meet characters and enjoy the scenery.
Most importantly and probably without realizing, you learn the map's layout since you will be coming back here at night.
The effect would not be the same if you had to visit most of these places at night and for the first time. There wouldn't be a connection made between the player and the game world.
Another advantage is you only have to create these locations once then re-use it with different lighting and gameplay.
Of course not all locations are introduced in the daylight then re-visited at night. There has to be a balance. Many locations are visited only once such Bright Fall Power/Light, Dam, Anderson's Farm, Coal Mines, Ghost Town, Lover's Peak, KBF-FM Radio Station and Larsen's Auto Salvage.
Secret Takeaway: introduce the game's locations first in a casual way through a secondary level. Allow the player to explore and learn the layout. Then re-introduce that location later in the game as a primary level.
One of my favorite techniques used in the game is to show the final destination where the player has to reach at the beginning of the level.
This is used constantly throughout Alan Wake.
It gives you a landmark to orient yourself and it guides where you need to go. This landmark is often seen throughout various parts of the level.
Light House in the tutorial level is seen right from the start and it's where you end up going:
Gas station after the car crash is seen at the start and it's your final destination:
The rail road bridge is shown at the beginning of the level and you end up circling back through the forest and under the bridge:
Anderson's Farm is seen in the beginning and it's where you need to go:
Bright Falls Light and Power is another example:
And so is the Dam location:
Secret Takeaway: design your levels in a way as to show the player final destination at the start of the map. This gives the player a direction to head for and a way to orient themselves within the level so they don't get lost. They will always know where to go.
Foreshadowing is a warning or an indication of a future event. It is a hint of something that will happen.
It's a form of storytelling used in all genres of fiction, movies and games.
In Alan Wake foreshadowing is used with characters, level events, props and upcoming obstacles.
Anytime you interact with a character, they often tell you what you should be aware of.
Such as in the diner at the start of the game. Cynthia Weaver foreshadows the absence of light as something to be afraid of. The mood and atmosphere changes as you walk through the shadowed hallway:
Another foreshadowing example is the history of the Cauldron Lake told by Barry when you are visiting Sparkling River Estates. Cauldron Lake is a place you visit often and come back to at the end of the game:
Anytime you pick up some items, it foreshadows an upcoming event where you'll have to use them. Such as the flares when you have to follow Ben Mott and protect him:
Or when you pick up a set of flashbangs near the car, which you end up using right after:
Introduction of all the characters in the beginning of the game, in the Diner is foreshadowing all of their re-appearances:
Foreshadowing of Cauldron Lake Lodge location in the distance when you first arrive to Bird Leg Cabin with Alice:
Many levels feature a landmark in the distance, foreshadowing the location to where you need to get to as covered in Secret #5.
When you are going through the forest, the atmosphere will often change from calm to sinister, foreshadowing the arrival of Taken:
Some props in the game foreshadow their reappearance later such as DeerFest truck which can be seen from the boat at the beginning of the game. Then at the gas station and later in the game at the Town level:
Emil Hartman's book in the car, foreshadowing an important character in the game that hasn't appeared yet:
Crows are a recurring element throughout the game. They first appear at the Bird Leg Cabin and make additional appearances throughout various parts of the game's levels:
Manuscript pages scattered around the game, foreshadowing upcoming events:
There are many examples of foreshadowing in the game and it is something you should use in your own environments and level designs.
Secret Takeaway: use indications of a future event in your game environments with characters, locations, dialogue and props. Reveal the story, show locations, build tension and create connection with foreshadowing.
This website is 100% supported by you. I don't run sponsored posts or get paid to promote anything by anyone. I create tutorials for you.
All content on this website is copyrighted ©2008-2023 World of Level Design LLC. All rights reserved.
Duplication and distribution is illegal and strictly prohibited.
World of Level Design LLC is an independent company. World of Level Design website, its tutorials and products are not endorsed, sponsored or approved by any mentioned companies on this website in any way. All content is based on my own personal experimentation, experience and opinion. World of Level Design™ and 11 Day Level Design™ are trademarks of AlexG.
Template powered by w3.css