We asked a bunch of questions to lead writer Zak Garriss ahead of the release of the third and final episode.
Life is Strange was a massive success, and perhaps a bit of a surprise to both developer Dontnod Entertainment and publisher Square Enix. There was a desire for more, and quickly. With Dontnod working on the sequel, Deck Nine Games stepped in to keep fans from starving in the meantime with the three-episode prequel that is Life is Strange: Before the Storm. We had an opportunity to ask lead writer, Zak Garriss - who we've talked to on a few occasions prior to the release of the first episode - a few questions ahead of the upcoming series finale.
Having played the first two episodes (of three) of Before the Storm it strikes us just how different the game is compared to Life is Strange, even if many elements remain. There seem to be fewer extremes if you will, even if there's no shortage of drama. Would you agree with this assessment and what went into the decision to go in this direction?
As far as the first two episodes go, I think that's a fair assessment. We chose to situate our story in a smaller framework compared to the first game, due in large part to the decision not to feature a power of any kind. No quantum storms here.
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We loved the narratives of the first game, and in general wanted to make sure - above all else - that in telling Chloe's story in Before the Storm, we honoured the character of Chloe from the first Life is Strange. And for that, focusing on a more intimate scope of the story felt right - something that still had all the potential for intense drama, but could also live in a register that Chloe would believably keep personal, even from Max.
What can you say of the third and final episode? What can we expect?
Across each episode in Before the Storm, we've tried to show a significant arc to Chloe's character just as much as we paint an arc to her relationship with Rachel. In that direction, expect Episode 3 to build from what's come before in the biggest ways, yet.
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Rachel is an interesting character, we got to know her through the people she had touched in the first game, now we get to know her through Chloe as well as first hand. What was the main challenge of bringing such a mythological persona to life?
Writing a character that has the capacity to be almost anything to anyone can be incredibly fun, but it's simultaneously hard to maintain a coherent sense of identity within that mutable framework. It's something we cared about from the beginning: rendering both the spectacle of Rachel Amber in all her power while still fleshing out a real person, a girl with vulnerabilities, passions, and an authentic interior world that Chloe could navigate.
Without spoiling too much for those who haven't played the first two episodes yet, there are a couple of scenes we'd like to ask about: In the first episode, there's a sequence where you can sit down with Mikey and Steph for a bit of table-top fun. What was the inspiration and motivation for this?
Basically, we're nerds. I originally pitched a tabletop RPG game because I love tabletop games, but the idea flourished across the whole team because I'm far from the only one here at Deck Nine for whom that's true.
In fact, we actually cut the first version for production reasons, but then the team lobbied hard to add it back in. And to everyone's credit, nearly every discipline worked nights and weekends to make it a reality, despite how challenging our production schedule was at the time. We were all so happy with what resulted and how much it seems to have resonated with fans.
In the second episode Chloe was a last minute replacement in a school play, what was thought process behind bringing Shakespeare into the mix?
Talking about Chloe at this time in her life means talking about high school, which, in many ways, is a kind of hell for Chloe. An exile of self, a rite of passage we've all gone through where we're subject to so many forces of control we cannot challenge or navigate gracefully.
A part of the high school experience is theatre. There's a spectacle to it that fits our game world well, and it's a sphere of Blackwell - an artistically minded school - that we haven't seen. It also fit with what we understood of Rachel's character from the first game.
And Shakespeare's done in high schools across the world. So it felt right, the Tempest felt right (for a whole host of reasons), but we wanted also to include our own spin on that energy and that experience.
The chance to play in a play within a game? And in a way where you, the player, are as subject to Rachel's mastery as Chloe is, as Ariel is to Prospera? It worked too well to pass up. A chance, we found, to have Rachel convert exile to bliss as much as theatre might turn high school into something more, if only for a night.
There was a scene the second episode where you're faced with a moral dilemma as you're meant to steal something, but things get complicated... There was a moment there when we thought we'd be forced to act very immorally, but we were allowed to salvage things (which we did). What went into designing that scene?
A whole lot of care! Arcadia Bay has darker elements, criminal elements we know Chloe's a part of by the time of LiS1. So we wanted to see some of the beginnings of her work in that direction.
At the same time, we wanted to explore new sides to some of our other characters, like the North brothers, and show how their lives - like most - are much more complicated than they first appear.
One relationship that we suspect you struggled with a little is the one between Chloe and her stepdad. Clearly, things aren't rosy in Life is Strange, and so there's not a ton of wiggle room for you as a writer. How did you deal with that while still allowing for player agency?
We struck upon a premise for that relationship that felt right - that Chloe's approach to David could be not about David, truly, but about Joyce, and how well Chloe is able to divorce herself from her personal distaste for the man and make it about what Joyce needs, what Joyce is feeling in her own grief and how David can help with that.
Ultimately, it's an impossibly difficult thing for Chloe to do, trapped as she is in a grief of her own. But life is about impossible situations.
You wear your inspirations on your sleeves in Before the Storm (or perhaps more aptly on your license plates). How important do you feel these winks are to the overall atmosphere and feel of Life is Strange?
The game does well with details and rewards players who choose to look a little more closely where they can. We wanted to offer up as much depth as we could, while at the same time honouring the movements Dontnod made in the first game.
Now that we approach the end of Before the Storm, what can you say of the journey you've had with the project?
It has been an incredible gift to create Before the Storm and to interact with the community that's played it. For me personally, it's been the greatest privilege of my career. For us as a team at Deck Nine, I think we've discovered in each other a shared passion for this world and for collaborating as artists that isn't going away anytime soon. We can't wait for what's next.
Are there other stories you'd like to tell about Arcadia Bay and its inhabitants or are you inspired to use what you've learned with this project on something entirely different?
What inspires us are great stories, wherever they might be found.
What would you say is the main challenge of writing for an episodic video game?
Unlike a two-year project, you can't apply lessons learned part way through to earlier content. You're going to make mistakes; the trick is folding each lesson into the next piece of content, and letting every episode speak for itself.
Below you can check out our previous two interviews with Zak Garriss from E3 and Gamescom respectively.