Tribeca Film Festival 2023 – Sam Lake and Hideo Kojima: Legends of Gaming

I have lived in NY my entire life and, for one reason or another, never attended a screening or panel at NY’s most famous film festival, Tribeca (though the Brooklyn Horror Film Festival is a close 2nd). Founded in 2003 by Robert De Niro, Jane Rosenthal, and Craig Hatkoff, the festival brings artists and audiences together to celebrate storytelling in all media forms, including film, TV, music, audio storytelling, games, and immersive. Tribeca champions emerging and established voices, discovers award-winning talent, curates innovative experiences, and introduces new ideas through exclusive premieres, exhibitions, conversations, and live performances. I have known for the past few years that Tribeca has been making an earnest push toward the “games” part of their initiative and was taken in by two panels that got announced for 2023, so I felt the need to get acquainted with Tribeca. These two panels both contain titans of the gaming industry, one who is what I consider the “Spielberg of Gaming”, a public figure who has an aura about him that is unmistakable and exudes the vision of an auteur (either by others or within his own promotions, but that’s the charm of him) and another who is definitely more reclusive in terms of public appearances but has crafted some of the most wild and imaginative stories and universes ever committed to the space. Without further delay, let’s hop in.

Alan Wake: Building a World of Fear

Between the two panels I was attending for Tribeca, this was far and away my most anticipated. Alan Wake 2 is the long-awaited sequel to 2010’s Alan Wake, the story of a mystery writer who becomes entwined and threatened on all ends by the very words he has written and continues to scribe in the town of Bright Falls, Washington. The creative world and the aspect of being drawn into the written world you have created left an impression back then, and players couldn’t wait until a sequel was announced….and they continued to wait as developer Remedy could never fully settle on the idea/direction they wanted to go (info gained from this very Q&A). Finally, at the 2021 Game Awards, it was announced that Alan Wake 2 was coming, and it would make a decided shift from the action/thriller aspect of the original to the genre of survival horror. After revealing the first look at gameplay in early June at Summer Games Fest, we also got a 60-minute Q&A at Tribeca to discuss the game further. It would be moderated by acclaimed filmmaker Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep, Haunting of Hill House, Hush) and series creator Sam Lake (creator of Max Payne 1&2, Control, and, of course, Alan Wake 1&2).

.I find these types of Q&A’s to be the most insightful and honest ones that can be had. A simple one-on-one conversation between two visionaries in the industry. It also helps when both individuals appear to be so down-to-earth in their demeanors and attitude, as is the case with class acts such as Flanagan and Lake. The conversation focused around Lake’s influences on creating the world of Alan Wake and the move to a more horror-fueled atmosphere of AW2. Lake clearly stated his love for psychological horror, mysteries, and a general love of the “unknowable”. While the original AW dabbled in some horrific moments, it was clearly still rooted in the action/adventure genre, though you can still feel Lake’s love of horror (Alan Wake even begins with a Stephen King quote). I enjoyed how Flanagan appeared to be a true lover of Lake’s work, knowledgeable of the gaming space and asking the right questions and follow-ups to keep the conversation consistently engaging. Both men believe that interactive storytelling such as AW2 and Control are the future of the medium, and its hard to argue that point. The influence of Stephen King and Twin Peaks is also very evident in most of Lake’s work, with an even heavier influence from movies like Seven and even HBO’s True Detective Season 1 for Alan Wake 2, as Lake noted during the chat. While not a complete surprise, it was interesting to find out that survival horror was not the original intention of AW2, but as the development progressed and leaned more away from pure action and more toward the feeling of anticipation/tension, the storytelling became more enriched and, as Lake put it, “better”, and the desire to make the game developer Remedy‘s first survival horror game was evident. I loved that, while we already knew that we would have two playable characters in the game, legacy writer Alan Wake, who is still stuck in the dark place of his psyche since the end of 2010’s AW (which has now manifested itself, as Lake put it, “Dark Place New York”, and is heavily inspired by Scorcese’s Taxi Driver), and FBI agent Saga Anderson, it was confirmed that you can switch between the characters at key moments of the story, but you could conceivable play the entire experience as one character (or 50/50 if you want to get a complete look at the entire tale).

A great part of the convo involved where Flanagan, after Lake revealing that Wake has been constantly trying to write the perfect story to escape the dark place and psyche of his writing room, where he has been trapped for 13 years, spoke of relating to that notion of never escaping our own dark place, always trying to write the “definitive” piece of our life’s work, the perfect story, with Flanagan speaking directly of the line from the end of AW1 “It’s not a lake, its an ocean”, a line that gave him “goose flesh” when Flanagan heard it and thinks of it to this day. As the chat came to its conclusion, the crowd was treated to a special treat only for the Tribeca audience. Sam Lake revealed that live-action sequences were making a return to Alan Wake 2. Remedy is quite fond of mixing live-action within their graphically developed games, an aspect of the interactive storytelling mediums converging in the gaming space. Even better than just revealing said information, we were all treated to a snipped of some of the live-action sequences that will appear on your journey in AW2. The clip was a hodge-podge of various scenes featuring Alan Wake (played by Matthew Porretta), a commercial for a thermos with the branding of the in-universe diner Oh Deer, and a brief snippet of the Twilight-Zone inspired TV show that is running across various TV’s in AW1, Night Springs. All in all, this was a great lively chat between two men who clearly had respect for each other and weren’t afraid to bear their souls on the inspirations that drive their work today. I am quite excited for Alan Wake 2 – I already preordered it – and can’t wait for it release. It will come out on October 17th, 2023 for PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC.

Hideo Kojima: Connecting Worlds

Hideo Kojima is probably the most synonymous individual within the industry that people most associate with when they think of games, outside of Nintendo stalwarts like Shigeru Miyamoto or Eiji Aonuma. A mainstay for gaming over the past 40 years and is the main creative mind behind the Metal Gear Solid franchise and other offshoot games such as Policenauts and Snatcher. After a very public falling out with employer Konami back in 2015, Kojima was left without a home and needed to make his next mark on the world. In 2016, we got our answer. Kojima created his own game developing company, Kojima Productions, and got industry giant Sony to agree to fund his new project sight unseen with no details or info provided, purely going in blind. At E3 2016, Kojima came on stage to announce Death Stranding, a new vision and and world created from the ground up, all in the mind of this iconic visionary that is Kojima. It would invent a new kind of gaming genre, the “strand” genre, a game more about connection, walking and delivering stuff to people across an America destroyed by disease than the pure action/espionage titles of Kojima’s past gaming ventures. As with most auteur work, what was initially received with middling reviews back in November 2019 upon its release, it was eventually embraced as another cultural milestone for Kojima, helped by the excelled Decima engine used for its graphics and the all-star cast that filled out its characters – Norman Reedus, Mads Mikkelsen, Lea Seydoux, amongst others. After announcing Death Stranding 2 at The Game Awards 2022, we also learned that a documentary was filmed during the days of the Kojima Productions creation and development of DS1. This documentary, called Hideo Kojima: Connecting Worlds, would make its world premiere at Tribeca. 

The documentary, coming in at a scant 60 minutes or so, was a nice tertiary overview of the development of Death Stranding and the pressure bestowed on Kojima by himself as he needed to deliver on his first independently produced game, one that could either make or break his newly minted studio. We also get some insight into Kojima’s upbringing and what he gravitated toward to as a child. Pretty standard stuff for someone as enigmatic and outside-the-box as Kojima. He grew up in mostly solitary situations, enriching himself in books and movies to expand his mind and become the creative force that he is today. While I did enjoy the documentary overall, I really wanted it to go waist deep into the production of DS1 and get into the more intricate and troubled parts that naturally would have come with a production of this magnitude and situation overall. That was the part that most intrigued me, especially wanting to see Kojima just work in his environment. Alas, overall, it was a breezy look at the man himself and the birth of his new studio that I would have loved to see be twice as long.

After the film, there was rather brief Q&A with Hideo Kojima and the director of the doc, Glen Milner. This was moderated by gaming journalist powerhouse (and creator of the Game Awards + Summer Game Fest) Geoff Keighley, who has been a close friend of Kojima for as long as I can remember. Kojima can sometimes be “high on his own supply” but that doesn’t take anything away from how truly creative and amazing he is as a creator of amazing worlds, rich characters and dense narratives that can take years to decipher. Kojima is a lover of films, as he stated during the chat that his body is made up of 70% film, and he could really be considered the first developer to attempt to marry the concepts of film and games into a single piece of entertainment with the release of Metal Gear Solid back in 1998. Kojima also went into how his mindset after every game he releases is that this could be his last game, pouring his heart and soul into every production that he feels like he could not bring anything else to the table once its complete and shipped. He noted that, while at Konami, he had no interest in climbing the corporate ladder. He always wanted to remain involved in the creative process, on the ground floor of where the magic would happen, so even when he became an industry icon and someone who most would believe would not be involved in the day-to-day, he would remain as producer to always have his hands on everything. A real perfectionist and the truest form of the word “auteur”. He even alluded to his penchant for being a perfectionist, and he stated he would love to direct movies but that is nature and need to improve upon everything would result in him taking years and years to make a movie, when it takes much less time to create a film as opposed to a video game. I did love the tidbit that Kojima shared about when he told Guillermo Del Toro, acclaimed filmmaker, and truly awesome horror icon, that he was thinking of directing movies in his twilight years, and Del Toro told him straight-up not to shy away from games, where he has true creative freedom being the head of his own studio now after years working under the corporate eye of Konami. 

In the end, it was still a nice look into the complicated mind of one of gaming’s most untethered and wild imaginative figures. It’s always nice to see the bromance that moderator Geoff Keighley and Kojima share, and it always comes off as a great friendship that has bonded over the years. All in all, I consider both panels I attend for Tribeca to be a rousing success. I truly hope that continue this push to have gaming integrated within the festival at large, because if they do, consider me in for Tribeca 2024.

Eric Mayo
Horror Lover / Resident Evil Fanatic
While Evil Dead 2 is my first horror love, my cozy horror that I always return to is the Friday the 13th franchise, though I am known to thrown on Tremors or even Malignant at a moment’s notice for some good old absurd fun. However, first and foremost, my most loved piece of horror anything was, is and always will be the Resident Evil series. Wesker for life!
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