My biggest dream has come true! I have met up with Michel Koch and Jean-Luc Cano – two of the masterminds behind Life is Strange! Most of the interview is based around Life is Strange 2 (for obvious reasons). But there are some talking about the previous games in the series as well.
Do note that this interview was done with two other medias in attendance, but unfortunately I did not get their names to credit their questions.
I read there was a road trip involved in planning Life is Strange 2 – was there anything you took directly from that experience that made it into the game?
Well, I wouldn’t say we took anything directly from that. But yeah, we did travel me [Michel], Jean-Luc and Raoul to some of the places that Sean and Daniel [the two main characters] will go during the story. We did that mostly because it was important to us to see parts… I mean the way we did it was not sticking to the main road but more like the remote parts of the journey. Because we wanted to make sure we would be realistic when we do those sceneries in the game. We also tried meeting a lot of people when we did that, talking to people on the road, hitchhikers for example, to get to know their experience from living on the road. So we took elements from what we gathered from those people. But nothing directly no. The characters we meet and the things that happen [in the game] is more a combination of elements to match the story. – Michel
I’ve read from other interviews of yours before this, and education is a big theme in the game. What lead to that? Was it something you started with and worked towards? Or did it just come along while you were working?
When we began working on Life is Strange 2, we asked ourselves the question “What is the real journey of Life is Strange?”And we figured out that it’s not about Max or Chloe, or Arcadia Bay. Life is Strange is about relatable characters. It’s about everyday decisions. With a little taste of the supernatural, you know. So after figuring this out, we were able to make Life is Strange 2. We asked ourselves “Okay, in the first game we talked about coming of age, being an adult. What is the thing we want to explore, that resonates with us?” And education came up very fast. It would be nice to make a game where your decisions, as a player, will affect, not you, but someone you’re taking care of. Education is really about that. So when you play as Sean, and choose some dialogue or make a decision. That might have an impact on Daniel’s behaviour. It is really important to use that the player keeps in mind that “Oh my God, my action does have repercussions for someone else and it will shape that person.” So yeah, it’s a subject that we truly love because people can relate to this. – Jean-Luc
Every protagonist from Life is Strange is quite creative. Max has her photographs, and Chris is making his costume. Is that something you’ve been thinking a lot about having in the games?
That’s a good point that all of our characters are creative. From a gameplay point of view, it allows us to add more layers of storytelling with Max’ photos or Sean’s drawings. Definitely, it adds to the narrative. Sean and Daniel will be on this journey from Seattle to New Mexico (?) – and when you draw that helps you remember. Since they are always moving and leaving places and people behind, having some sketches will help make memories. – Michel
Yeah, it’s important for us to bring relatable characters to screen, and adding a little creativity to the main characters helps personalizing them, because everyone has some creativity inside them. And for me it’s like, “I can’t draw, but I love to” – so I think it’s the same for many people. For example for Max, she’s not a genius when it comes to photography. Sean’s not great a drawing, but it helps them both being realistic characters. – Jean-Luc
Story wise, what’s your favorite side character? Could you give us like a behind the scenes look at what you get a personal connection to?
Well, we can’t talk about the characters in Life is Strange 2, because that will ruin some of the surprises which await the players. But we love Chris, which we’ve already revealed you will see again. One thing we can say though is you’ll meet a lot of people in Life is Strange 2 and you’ll have lots of cool experiences with every one of them.
When it comes to Life is Strange [the original] I really love, and this is really cliche, Max and Chloe, said Jean-Luc, but Michel quickly shot in and pointed out that these are not side characters… I think I have to say Kate [Marsh] then, I love her. She’s probably the character that is the furthest from whom I am, but I learned to love her. – Jean-Luc
I have a follow up question for that. During the travel in Life is Strange 2, you’ve said the brothers will be visiting a lot of places. We’ve already seen several places, for example Seattle during Halloween and Oregon around Christmas times. Will the story take place over a long period of time?
Haha, how do we answer that without spoiling the journey? I mean yeah, you’re right about what you’ve seen. Their story will be longer than the five days that the original game took place over. The game starts during Halloween of 2016, and then you have the story in Captain Spirit that takes place during Christmas 2016, and as you know, we will be seeing Chris again. said Michel
Obviously, Life is Strange is known for the whole mantra of “This Action will have consequences.” As you’ve already said, this is also a thing in Life is Strange 2. How will that affect the game’s ending, will there be several endings? Will it be more different endings than in the first game?
Definitely, the game will feature several endings. And the consequence system in this game is focused a lot around education, so that allowed us to push ourselves when writing Daniel. Because Daniel’s behaviour branches a lot in variation, depending on what you do around him. So that does affect the game’s ending for each playthrough. We want the players to play the game several times.
Will the system with comparing your choices to other players around the globe be in this game to?
Uhm, I’m unsure if we’re allowed to say this, but yes, you will be able to see what other people have chosen.
About making the game; What was the biggest difficulty, and how did you overcome it?
One of the biggest challenges was creating Daniel. His AI was very difficult to make. He has to be lovable, but at the same time he should be able to be a pain in the ass. The most important thing is to make him react as a young boy would do in real life. So it was a huge challenge making him as realistic as possible, because if you don’t enjoy spending time with Daniel the whole experience with the game will be broken. – Jean-Luc
Yeah, even the writing and design were really complicated. Because we have to make him react to what you [the player] do. So there are lots of lines and animations that only triggers if you have chosen a specific answer earlier. It’s generally a lot of work making sure that all possible situations are covered, and that he reacts believably to what you are doing in any given situation.
I just want to talk a bit about Sean’s backpack, seeing it’s obviously important since you’ve used it in the trailer. Having played the demo it seems there’s an inventory system now, which is very different from the first game. How does this mechanic work?
Well, we definitely wanted the backpack to be an important part, because it is important when you’re on a journey. Everything you have in that backpack is basically your life when you’re on the road. We will use this inventory system during the game, with decisions on what to take with you and what to leave behind. But it’s not a major part of the gameplay. What you have in your backpack will help in some scenarios though, but it’s otherwise mainly a memory bank of sorts, to look back at things you’ve done before in the game.
You’ve been doing a lot of interviews here at Gamescom, is there anything you haven’t been asked about that you really want players to know? ‘
Haha, let us think about that for a little while… The most important thing is really we want players to love Sean and Daniel as much as they love Max and Chloe – so please, do love them! Obviously we are a bit nervous, because it is a lot of change from the first game to the second. Luckily we’ve had mostly positive reactions so far, after releasing the trailer. That is heartwarming for us, ‘cause the first game has such a huge and dedicated fan base. For example seeing your (Chloe’s) necklace, and tattoo, and blue hair – that is such a huge reward for us, so yeah, that makes it all worth the late hours when making a game! – Jean-Luc
Well, as Jean-Luc said, it is a bit scary for us, but it’s also our job as creators to make a story and characters, that in the end, pleases the players. That’s obviously not always successful, but it’s important to try. We were told several times when designing Max and Chloe that no one would like them, but that was a risk we had to take, because it was important to us. Luckily it worked out. So yeah, we basically have the same approach here. – Michel
Since we’re nearing the end of the interview, I have a more general question about game design. What are your inspirations when you start making a game? Do you have any tips for aspiring game designers?
First of all, designing games is super hard. It takes a lot of time. With Life is Strange 2 we’ve used more than three years. So staying passionate about your project is important. Especially over time. It’s easy thinking “let’s just finish and release it”, but that will make the game not as good as it could be. So it’s important working hard on the project to the very end. – Michel
What has helped us massively, I think. Is the fact that we’ve been three head developers. So every time one of us has been thinking “to hell with the game. The others have been there to help regain a positive momentum. And also, working in a team allows for all of us to see things from different perspectives, for example I could be very happy with a script, but then Michel says to me “How about we do it like this instead” – and that really makes the scenes a lot more thought through. – Jean-Luc
I’d also like to add we have a great team at Dontnod. It’s mainly the same people who worked with the original game. You know, it’s the same concept artist, environment artist. So it’s a great thing being able to work with the same people when you all pull in the same direction. Michel added
As you said, most people have been happy with Life is Strange 2 so far, but some are also saying “This is not Max and Chloe, so we don’t want it.” What do you feel when you read those comments?
You know, the reaction is pretty normal. We all have those things that if they are changed we don’t want the new story. But it’s okay, because Max and Chloe is still a thing, it’s just not the focus of this game. sai Michel, adding. A thing to remember is Life is Strange 2 takes place three years after the first, and there will be small links and easter eggs between the stories. So yeah, if you’ve played the original game, you will find fun things during the second game. The same goes for Captain Spirit. Well, even more so for Captain Spirit, since Chris is quite a big part in Life is Strange 2. And what I’m really happy with is your choices in Captain Spirit will have consequences for the story in Life is Strange 2. And no, there’s no canon ending from the first game, but you will be able to put in which ending you chose in the start of Life is Strange 2.
Talking about that, what is the “correct” ending in your minds?
Well, there’s no correct ending, as none of them are canon. As we said earlier the important thing in Life is Strange is coming of age and actually stand for your decisions, regardless of consequences. So the most important thing is that you did choose an ending. And that you are able to stand for why you chose that.
This final question goes for both the first game and the demo. They’re both very emotional for the players, but how is it for you to write those emotional scenes?
I think Michel can confirm this. During the first game I had to call him several times, just because I was imagining the scenes in my head and had to talk it through. And the same goes for Life is Strange 2. I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but as with the first game, this too is emotional, and there are hard times ahead for Sean and Daniel. Luckily there are a lot of fun moments and joyful moments too, just like life itself. So yeah, Life is Strange 2 is an emotional rollercoaster, but that’s all I’ll let you know. – Jean-Luc
I’d like to thank both Michel and Jean-Luc so much for their time. It was so amazing meeting them both and getting to chat with them about my favorite game series was such a blast. I am definitely going to buy Life is Strange 2, and will be sure to make a review of that, so keep checking out our website for updates on that.