Gamers, Christmas has come early. After months of waiting, the highly anticipated conclusion to Life Is Strange: Before The Storm is now only a day away. To celebrate, we sat down with the game’s narrative director Zak Garriss to learn more about how relatively unknown studio Deck Nine Games managed to write such a moving prequel.
Check out the video above for the full interview. Or if you’re feeling a bit old school, you can scroll down and read the whole thing. Because we’re nice like that.
Who Is Making This Game?
When it was first revealed that a developer called Deck Nine Games would be doing a Life Is Strange prequel, the initial fan reaction was one of confusion. Formerly known as Idol Minds — the studio behind snowboarding classic Cool Boarders — on paper, this little-known team seemed like a bizarre choice for Square Enix’s beloved narrative-driven series. Yet, despite the team’s (largely) arcade-y background, Before The Storm‘s narrative director, Garriss, actually came from the world of TV.
“I worked as a researcher on Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders, which is a spin-off of [popular crime show] Criminal Minds. It’s a prime-time crime procedural …which is kind of a fancy way of saying that it’s a big budget show. They spend six days making an episode, so the writer’s room had a pretty intense pace. Working in a single room with a couple of white boards and eight to ten writers arguing about story productively – there’s a real nuance to that.
I had a really awesome experience getting to learn how to do that with some of the best people in Hollywood. When coming to Life Is Strange, I took that model and really tried to leverage it.”
Taking a TV-style approach to writing Before The Storm was the first step in making the episodic prequel feel like a truly compelling drama. Yet, with the Deck Nine’s teenage years long behind them, the writing team spent a lot of time doing research and digging into their past to ensure that the game’s dialogue felt truly genuine.
History Writes Itself
“Research, lots of research. Remembering our own experiences at 16 and bringing that into the writer’s room and talking about that a lot. Young people are more vulnerable… they’re going through a lot biologically, psychologically, socially all at the same time. It’s acquainting ourselves with those realities, and immersing ourselves in what life might be like or is like as we understand it for people at 16.”
Unsurprisingly though, the team didn’t always get it right. Yet for Garriss, the team’s mistakes were often where they learnt their biggest lessons.
“It’s just good writing VS bad writing, and we write a lot of bad stuff. You look at it and say “god that’s really bad, how do we make that better” … let’s talk about why this isn’t working. Why does it suddenly work so much better if we change this around? That’s interesting, that feels like Chloe… let’s do more of that.
It’s a process of discovery…we throw paint against the wall and see what kind of structure takes shape.”
While the original Life Is Strange is still a fascinating and wonderfully gripping game, Before The Storm arguably tells an even more grounded and relatable experience. In Zak’s eyes, a big reason for that is down to how different the background of all the game’s writers really are.
“We have writers who have trained in film, worked in musical theatre. But also from a personal standpoint having men and women, older people like myself and some younger writers too really helped us create a kind of alchemy that I think made Before the Storm diverse in a lot of the themes and the way that it explores those themes.”
More importantly though, despite their unique experiences, the team quickly learnt to leave their egos at the door.
“I think the final piece is humility. It’s the crazy kind of paradox of having a really passionate vision for the story we want to tell at any given moment in that room, and at the same time, being willing to listen completely when someone else says “that’s not my experience” someone who might have a closer perspective on a particular character or a particular moment and every writer in the room having the courage to be like “ OK, tell me more about what would [feel more natural].”
For the Fans
Life Is Strange is one of those rare games that really makes a lasting impression on anyone who plays it. Whether it’s because of the series’ fantastic characters, the way it tackles difficult themes or just falling in love with its achingly cool soundtrack, Arcadia Bay has won over a legion of devoted fans. For Deck Nine, it’s that passion from the community that has pushed the team to up their game with each episode. Garriss says:
“People write us all the time now. They write us on Facebook, reach out to us on our website. I go to events, conferences and I meet fans who have personal stories to share and I love every single one. Every single one affects me, and the whole team. I think the moment we announced at E3, it changed our worlds just to know that people were excited about it.
The more exchanges we have with the fan community, which is so vibrant and just as passionate as we are… I think the more honoured we feel to get to work on the franchise, and the more motivated and excited we are about releasing [future episodes].”
Before The Storm Episode 3, “Hell is Empty,” launches tomorrow. You can find out more about the series and what lies ahead in the first part of our interview with Garriss: