When you think of video games, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t a medium that has the power to change lives. Yet, with Square Enix’s cult hit adventure series, Life Is Strange, that’s exactly what this piece of interactive entertainment has managed to achieve.
Instead of being yet another po-faced shooter or gritty RPG, Life Is Strange has won itself a legion of devoted fans by simply being something that most games aren’t: relatable. This year, fans have been hungrily consuming the series’ angsty new prequel, Before The Storm. With the first two parts of this episodic adventure already out, we sat down with the game’s narrative director, Zak Garriss, to find out how his team aims to raise the bar for writing in video games.
You can watch the first part of our interview in the video above, or you can read more below.
Despite Before the Storm feeling like a Life Is Strange game through-and-through, this new entry in the franchise hasn’t actually come from original developer Dontnod Entertainment. Developed by new studio Deck Nine, Zak reveals that their first task was deciding what kind of story they wanted to tell… and more importantly, choosing a narrative that would fit neatly into the Life Is Strange universe:
“ A prequel out of the gate felt right. We didn’t want to situate the story after the final choice in the first game because we didn’t want to make one choice or another canon, we wanted to leave that sacred.”
On why the team chose to explore Chloe rather than give us more of Max:
“I think we fell in love with Chloe as a character. Accompanying that is a need to step away from powers. [The question was] can we tell a really compelling story without time travel powers? We felt like we could. I think, at the end of the day, what fans are resonating most with isn’t the time travel — that’s cool — but it’s the really relatable things and the real-world characters [ that fans are connecting to]. It’s the challenging and tricky situations that [these characters] find themselves in.”
Life is Strange enough… we should have called it that.
On stepping away from power fantasies and using gaming to let people experience the world from a more fragile perspective:
“We’re finding a value and a richness in putting ourselves in shoes that aren’t powerful. That are maybe even less powerful than we are… Chloe has a lot less freedom than I do. Living in her world is a reduction in power, it’s a restriction and I think that there’s so many interesting spheres of human experience to examine in that way that can be really compelling… That can make us see elements of our own lives in new ways. That’s really what we wanted to do in Before The Storm.”
For Zak, making Chloe relatable was key. In order to do that, he and the team decided to focus on a core theme that everyone could identify with:
“Chloe is a lot more pre-defined than Max, in a lot of ways, and that’s really interesting and challenging and fun to write. We’re really asking the player to take a leap of faith and step into Chloe’s shoes. We wanted to level that challenge by looking at a theme that feels universal. That’s where grief felt right.
Because everyone has experienced loss in some way, everyone has experienced grief and within grief’s complexities, everyone experiences grief in a very individual and personal way, so I think that really fit into place for us as an operating theme to explore. We felt we could ask players ‘be Chloe for a second’ and you might be surprised how you are going to relate to her in ways that you didn’t antipciate based on what you saw from the first game.”
So what can we expect from episode three? Well, unfortunately, Zak doesn’t give away much.
“ The end of episode two was a pretty big bomb… and that’s going to really orientate a motivation that we’ll see right out of the gate in episode three. Where it’s going to go? You’ll have to play to find out… but I hope you’ll be surprised.”