Later this week IBTimes UK will publish its game of the year list. Without giving anything away, Life is Strange features quite prominently on said list – and we've known it would do from about half-way through the supernatural teen adventure game's amazing, episodic run.
Further gushing will be published later this week. Below is our recent interview with the game's directors Michel Koch and Raoul Barbet, who we spoke to about success, player reactions to the game's twists and turns, their favourite scenes and the possibility of a second season.
The interview was conducted via email for everyone's convenience, so Michel and Raoul answered questions jointly, unless stated otherwise.
How does having a success like Life Is Strange under your belt effect a development team? Is there a greater confidence among you now?
At first the success was quite surprising. We knew that we wanted to make this game and tell the story of those characters, but we tried to shy away from over-thinking things. Of course now we are extremely happy to see we found that there is a real broad market for this kind of "different" project.
As it was episodic, the success and reaction from the community helped us tremendously during the production, each episode release motivated us. It would have been really hard to continue with each episode without this fuel. There is motivation and confidence within the teams, a lot of strength and a real will to push further in this direction. We will try to learn from what we did, improve where we can and continue in this direction to push the genre.
The nuts and bolts framework must have been there, but to what extent did plans for the series and story change between the release of the first episode and the last?
The whole story was written from the beginning of pre-production, with all the twists, character arcs, cliffhangers, etc... For this kind of game about choices and consequences, and for the story to really work, it would have been impossible to write on-the-go, episode after episode. We needed to have almost everything planned.
However, the episodic release also allowed us to adjust some details – to improve on some elements based on what we figured out during the production (puzzles, framing, dialogue, etc). Also we've looked a lot at the players' reception online, and we were able to do some small adjustments. For example, we were able to add more dialogue with characters the community really liked.
People reacted to every episode, character and moment differently. Were there any reactions that took you by surprise?
It is interesting to see how players really took to the game. It was their experience, and everyone got something different out of it. When we were writing the story and the scenes, of course we knew we wanted some moments to be more emotional than others, some with mysteries and questions, and some hard moments as cliffhangers, but you're never sure that what you write and create will really work on the players.
To be honest, we were amazed by the player reaction on the endings of episodes 3 and 4, the beginning of episode 4 and also this particular scene in the same episode in the junkyard... it was our goal of course, but it worked even better than we anticipated.
Some of the emotional attachments to some of characters was also, somehow, unexpected. We loved to see that players related so much to Nathan for example, whom we wrote with a genuine tragic character arc. Even before his "redemption" in the finale, we've seen players getting more and more attached, and sympathising with him in the previous episodes. The fate we had for him might then have been a bit cruel, but that's also the definition of a tragic character!
The finale proved, quite aptly, to be polarising. Do you understand why some fans felt disappointed, and how would you argue it was the right way to end things?
For every story you follow for a long time, where you invest a lot of your imagination, you start to have really personal expectations, your own vision of the story, which might not be the same as the creator's one. Since the beginning the dual endings were written like this, and the whole game and characters were constructed in order to converge toward those endings. They were our guide and framework for building the game, building the characters' relationships, and especially Max's coming-of-age character arc as we always knew we would get there.
[Warning: spoilers follow]
What is your favourite scene in Life is Strange, and why?
Michel: There are a lot of scenes I truly enjoy in the game, but I think one of my favourites is in episode 3 when Max and Chloe wake up in Chloe's room after the swimming pool scene the night before. I think that we captured a real moment there, just chilling out with your best friend. Not getting out of bed in order to make this moment last longer, barely talking, just enjoying the presence of this important person right next to you.
Another favourite is in episode 5 when Max is trapped inside her nightmare and she comes face to face with herself, like some sort of good/bad conscience discussion. It was important to show some of Max's internal struggle with the use of her power, and since Max is a positive character, we thought that it would be interesting to show that deep inside she is aware that using her power to convince other people might not be as pure as she thought. We created this exchange to try to convey this message to the players, and I think that in the end it worked really well. Hannah Telle [Max's voice actress] gave an awesome performance there.
Raoul: For a lot of reasons, like the strong social theme we approached, the editing work, the framing choices, the work with the audio and music team, and the reaction of the players, I would say that one of my favourite scene is the euthanasia sequence followed by the "focus" scene back in time, when Max let Chloe's father die, followed by the reunion scene with blue hair Chloe in her room. I think that this sequence had a very strong emotional impact, and worked extremely well on several layers, both artistically and thematically.
Would a hypothetical second season work, or is Life is Strange best left as a one-off?
A second season would work but the story of Max and Chloe is told, their character arcs are closed. Whichever choice the player made, Max reached the end of her coming-of-age story, now she has grown up. She made her pivotal decision and the player helped to create her character, her feelings, her relationships... we like to think that we did our job as storytellers and game designers, we helped the players to meet their own personal version of Max and Chloe.