Beginning an episodic adventure comes with its share of pros and cons. Sure, you have to wait for the next release, but it also reminds you to take your time as a player and get the most out of the adventure. The team at DONTNOD uses this to their advantage by creating memorable and iconic moments that will hold your attention until the end.
Coming up on the conclusion of the final episode in Life is Strange 2, we caught up with co-creative director Michel Koch to talk about creating these worlds and what it means to tune into the emotions of players.
Azario Lopez: The story of Life is Strange 2 is coming to an end, how do you and the rest of the team feel about the conclusion of Daniel and Sean’s journey?
Michel Koch: Sad. We just recently released Episode 4 and have plans to release Episode 5 in December and that’s it. It’s weird to be at this point because we’ve been working on this game for the last three years, but even more than that if you consider the early stages of crafting it together and creating the characters. It’s a similar feeling to when you finish a tv show as if you are losing a friend or family member. I don’t really want to let them go. But we are excited to bring together the big picture of their journey and story, which deserves to be seen as a whole. These five episodes tell that complete story.
AL: Was it harder or just as hard when you concluded the story of the original Life is Strange?
MK: It’s kind of the same feeling. The first game was worked on for a little longer than three years, but you get attached to these characters as if they are family and it’s really hard to let go and consider anything after. Especially when we know that we’ll just get attached to new characters later on and have to do it all over again. When we concluded the story of Max and Chloe, we had to take a vacation, so I think we’ll do that again after this next episode and then decide what to do next.
AL: Everyone knows how popular the MCU is right now and it seems like the Life is Strange series is creating their own universe, is this all leading to something bigger?
MK: To be perfectly honest, we aren’t thinking about the powers at first when we are creating these stories. Although it could happen because these characters exist in the same universe and there could be a point where multiple characters with powers meet. I think what’s important for us when creating a new story is to not worry about the universe, but instead focus on what kind of story we want to tell. We notice that our stories are what reach the players in some powerful and important ways. This is what’s most important for me when creating a story. I’m not focused on blowing things up or having a crazy superpower. Instead, I’m focused on what’s behind all this, what emotion can we instill on the player or what social issues can be brought to light through these characters.
For instance, Life is Strange 2 is about outcasts, but more importantly, it brings up issues about people who have been marginalized or cast off to the side of society. This was really important for us to portray and have the player experience these kinds of characters who aren’t always talked about. I would like the player to remember these characters and situations more than just the superpowers.
AL: In the original Life is Strange, you were able to reverse time, which affected the game’s “choose your own path” system. Do you feel like the choices made in Life is Strange 2 are a little more concrete because it doesn’t have this?
MK: I understand what you mean about the first title and how the time mechanic played with the rules of the genre. Our intention with the rewind feature was for the character to be more in line with Max’s character. She is a teenager who has a lot of issues with moving forward, as you know she still uses a polaroid camera and still thinks about old friends as she returns to her old town. The rewind feature was implemented because of this and how she has a hard time making decisions. Now, she doesn’t have to make any decisions and she can just rewind until she gets somewhere she wants to be. Her superpowers led up to the bigger message found at the end of the game where she can’t look back anymore and must accept life how it is, even if it isn’t perfect.
For Life is Strange 2, the bigger picture of the superpower would be education. Sean has to take care of Daniel and show him how to behave and have him understand what is good or bad. When we gave the superpower to Daniel, this increased the odds of teaching right from wrong because now you’re dealing with a living weapon.
AL: With Life is Strange 2 nearing its final episode, narrative-driven adventure fans are very critical of how these titles end. Is this something that is always on your mind as a studio when creating these games?
MK: It is on our minds for sure. We know that the biggest criticism of the first game was that the final choice wasn’t affected by anything else in the story. The player can erase everything or deal with fate. In pure game mechanics, they’re right, it doesn’t change the ending, but I think for the player, each ending was different because they spent an entire week with Chloe knowing all the choices they made along the way. The relationship that the player built with Chloe over that week was unique for each player and when you decide what will happen at the end, it’s not the same Chloe for everyone who is affected by that choice, it’s your Chloe.
With Life is Strange 2, it’s a bit different because we are focusing the story on Daniel and what kind of education you give him. Without spoiling, in this kind of game, your choices will have a great impact on this story.
AL: In Life is Strange, the game took place in one area, now with Life is Strange 2 you can go to new environments, how has that been for you?
MK: It’s really complicated in terms of production and requires us to be more creative, but it was also really exciting. We got to travel through the United States with the team with the idea that we wanted to tell a story set in America and show it as the large space that it is. The fact that each region has a different feeling was something that we wanted to use in the game. The story is to describe a journey and how small you, as a human being, are in this big world.
AL: Would you say that DONTNOD will still stick with this narrative-driven style of gameplay after Life is Strange 2?
MK: We have several teams within the studio, who are each working on their own projects. While there will be different styles of games from the studio, I think there are still many things we can do within the interactive storytelling genre and improve on. We are constantly looking at new ways to make the player the center of the story and advance the genre.
AL: With studios, such as Telltale who put out a lot of the same types of narrative-driven titles closing, do you think that advances need to be made in the genre to keep players interested?
MK: I’m one to think that if you have a good story, that is the biggest part of the game in this genre. However, if it was mostly the same mechanics every time, I can see how players get burnt out. I think it’s better to do both, tell great stories and see how we can improve the mechanics and keep the player immersed.
AL: Are there plans for a Life is Strange 3?
MK: So we cannot talk about that yet, we are still working Life is Strange 2 Episode 5 and then we’ll take a vacation and see what happens next. That’s also a question for Square Enix because they own the Life is Strange brand.
AL: Have you ever played any narrative-driven adventure games that have come out of Japan?
MK: I have started one that I would like to finish, Danganronpa. I know there are some crazy good story ideas in those games that I need to play. I did also hear of the Zero Escape series, which also has some good ideas. It’s something that’s on my mind to see how we can incorporate those types of stories into our western style of storytelling.
AL: With Life is Strange 2 Episode 5 being the conclusion, do you feel that five episodes were enough to tell the story that you wanted?
MK: When we started the story, we knew it was going to be five episodes, but these original drafts had some more stuff in them that made them a little longer. When production started, we had to readjust scenes and move things around, but the conclusion of the story is the same as what we had planned. I don’t think we would have needed another episode. I think our edits were also good because sometimes too much is too much.
AL: Is there anything you’d like to tell fans awaiting the conclusion of Life is Strange 2?
MK: I hope that you will enjoy this Episode and are satisfied with your playthrough and your Daniel. Even though it’s not bad to play the story once and say, “Okay, this was my story, I’m good.” maybe you’d want to play through the game again to see a different Daniel. I also hope that after the conclusion other players decide to go on this journey with Sean and Daniel and experience their entire story.
This post may contain Amazon affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate Noisy Pixel earns from qualifying purchases.