Alan Wake 2 is one of the best-looking games I’ve played to date, and yet the most compelling aspect of the game to me is the mind place.
Usually referred to as a mind palace, the mind place is an imagined space within the detective’s head where they categorize evidence and connect the dots, so to speak.
This is easily one of the most fascinating constructs that writers invoke in detective stories for me, and the ability to construct and maintain a mind palace seems so alien to me that it further elevates the whole idea in my head.
So, I am biased towards stories that revolve around this idea. And yet, Alan Wake 2 has managed the most evocative and satisfying implementation of this concept in any media I’ve experienced so far.
Most of us have played or watched Heavy Rain and witnessed the hard-to-navigate and frustrating VR version of a mind palace they offered. And similarly, in movies or other media they often skip showing a mind place and simply refer to its existence vaguely.
Alan Wake 2 loads you into the mind place with the push of a button and instantly brings you into that space. This works so well because that is how it would work – if you were well versed in the technique, you would be able to slip in and out of your mind palace without a loading screen.
This might seem like a small cool detail but let me explain how significant it is in practice. Let’s say you pick up a single piece of evidence from the ground. Will you go into the mind place to categorize it? Well, if it takes you into a loading screen you likely wouldn’t, you might wait until you have more clues to add to the board. But the snappiness of the mind place allows you boot it up instantly, place the clue on the board and then resume exactly where you were in the real world.
The fact that we can do that technologically is amazing to me, and it’s one of the best examples of how better technology can elevate games that I can think of.
The lesson here?
To me this is also a huge lesson to other developers in UX design in general. Whenever you have a menu – whether it’s fully interactive or just a skill tree – when you make it snappy and without delays you remove the friction to the player to go into that menu.
As James Clear discusses in his book Atomic Habits, any habit you want to cultivate will benefit from removing friction so that the path of least resistance is to perform the habit. Bringing it back to the topic at hand, when you have a menu that is instantly accessible you make it much more likely for people to integrate that into their habits.
Similarly to the mind place, if your skill tree menu takes 2 seconds to wind up, I will wait until I have 2 or more skills to allocate before trudging through the painstakingly long animation. I’m aware this will not apply to everyone, but I would argue that delay does grate in everyone’s experience – chipping away at your will to play. Add too many of these delays or UX hurdles (looking at you Harry Potter) and you might find yourself taking more breaks from the game than you would otherwise.
To bring it full circle, Alan Wake 1 was my favorite investigation game ever. The addition of the mind place to this new entry makes it something even more special to me – having grown up with a fascination for that concept. I’m beyond shocked at what 2023 has offered so far for games, and we’re not even done yet.
If you want to see me play the game live hop over to JonnyPlaysLive – Twitch.
If you enjoyed this little write-up, consider checking out my Lies of P breakdown here.
Thank you kindly for slowly restoring my faith in humanity, in the fact that we can still read pieces like this instead of consuming tiktoks all day long.