It's been about three months since Life is Strange officially closed the book on Max Caulfield and Chloe Price, as well as the strange happenings in Arcadia Bay. Despite hitting a few rocky points (many of which are detailed in our full review), Life is Strange proved to be a breakout effort for Dontnod Entertainment and even found a place with the Shacknews Chatty community on its 2015 Game of the Year list.
Earlier this week, Square Enix released the Life is Strange Limited Edition, collecting all of the game's episodes with a collectible art book and full soundtrack. With the timing of the Limited Edition's release, it seemed like a good time to revisit this story with Life is Strange Co-Director and Art Director Michel Koch. In addition to answering a couple of questions about the Limited Edition, he also gracefully answered a handful of questions from the Shacknews Chatty community.
(Warning: There are spoilers ahead, so tread carefully if you haven't played Life is Strange all the way through. If you've completed the game, you are safe to proceed.)
Shacknews: What can you tell us about the Limited Edition for Life is Strange? And what makes it worth getting if you've already played through the game?
Michel Koch, Co-Director/Art Director: We are extremely happy to have the physical edition, the Limited [Edition], because when we started to make the game, it was only a digital game and since its success, we've had the opportunity to have this box. It's awesome to see your game, your baby, outside, so it's really great. What's really cool in the Limited Edition is, of course, is the art book and the soundtrack. We are really excited about the soundtrack, because while you could always use Spotify or iTunes to listen to the licensed tracks, we have a lot of score tracks from Jonathan Morali, which you cannot find online, so it's really something special. And the art book, we are really excited to create this replica of Max's diary.
And we also make a few tweaks that are available for everyone, even for the digital edition. We have new subtitles for Italian, German, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese. What's cool is that they can buy the Limited Edition to get the art book and soundtrack and maybe give the game to a friend.
Shacknews: Life is Strange has picked up quite a following, including from our own community. Are you surprised by how much people have latched onto these characters?
Koch: Yes, actually. We never really imagined when we were making the game that it would reach those proportions. We knew we were making something interesting, because we were passionate about it and we really wanted to create those characters that, we ourselves, cared and loved. And we saw that some people did love them, but seeing so many people loving the characters, making cosplay out of them, making tons and tons and thousands of fanarts and fan fictions is incredible. It's a bit overwhelming that we managed to create those characters that resonate so well with the community and I guess that's maybe because of the theme of the game, of the fact that we are so close to reality. People are finding some of that in themselves, whether in Max or Chloe or in both of them.
FirstPersonCooter asks: Was the story mainly laid out at the start or did it change as you developed new episodes?
Koch: It was really written from the beginning. We spent a long time on the story. We wanted to have the full story done and really precise, with all the major scenes, before we started to work on the game. So when we started to work on episode one, we had the full story worked out across all the episodes. Every big moment, every big decision, and most branching decisions were already written.
baron calamity asks: Did Rachel Amber have a bigger role in the story at one point?
Koch: She was like she is in the game. We really wanted to push this mysterious character that you would never see. We really tried to create her and have characters talk about her to the point that she was in the game, even if you never see her. We really wanted to have her be one of the main characters, but one that's never seen.
It's quite hard, quite dark, the way you discover her, but that's something we also wanted to push, because... it's like some times in real life, when you have someone that's been missing for months. Most of the time, the reality is, that person is dead. We knew for a lot of players, there was this fantasy of finding her alive or that she was a time traveler or she was something else. But for us, Life is Strange is not a fantasy game, even if there are sci-fi elements. It was about real life and it was something dark and hard, but the most logical outcome was that maybe she's dead. Creating the scene where you see the pain of Chloe when she discovers, even without showing the body ever, it was important for us to show this scene and how Chloe would react, to really push more on the characterization of Chloe.
Serpico74 asks: What films and photographers inspired the game's story and cinematography?
Koch: There's a lot of inspiration. We are a team of three people, in our 30s, so we have a lot of memories from our teenage years and pop culture. So there was inspiration from TV shows like "Twin Peaks," "X-Files," "Buffy [The Vampire Slayer]," "Veronica Mars;" inspirations from movies like "Donnie Darko," "The Butterfly Effect," and even some independents seen in the U.S., mostly for photography, for framing movies, like "Another Earth." And also, a lot from books. We are really big fans of the books from Stephen King and the way he uses real settings that are grounded in reality and then he brings in a supernatural element that causes chaos.
VictoriouSecret asks: Were there any choices, impacts, or consequences that ultimately needed to be cut from the game?
Koch: We really didn't cut anything, because we had our budget in mind when we started to create this story. So we really tried to create a game that would work within the budget we had. So we tried not to remove scenes. I think on the opposite, we did add a scene in episode four, the scene where you can see Kate again in the hospital. We thought at the beginning we wouldn't do it for budget reasons, but players were liking Kate so much, we did what we could to add this scene to the game.
When we are writing, we have some ideas to add a few more scenes that we didn't get to during production. It was when we were doing the writing process that we reduced some scenes and we tried to adjust the scope of the game. I know some players found out when you look at the files of the game in the PC version, you can see, for example, a file for an ending called "The Hospital Ending." It wasn't a third ending. It was when we were in the writing process, we were hesitating between when you make the choice of sacrificing Chloe to save Arcadia Bay, we were hesitating between really killing Chloe like we did and maybe leaving her in a coma to offer hope that she could still be alive. But ultimately, when we were writing, we thought that it wasn't a good decision to go this way, because it would reduce the impact of your choice. So if you're making the choice of sacrificing Chloe, we shouldn't make a cop-out and we should go all the way to really offer an end.
Hemtroll asks: Are there any scenes you would have done differently in hindsight?
Koch: I think we are really happy with the final product. It's really close to the story we had in mind and the story that was written in pre-production. We've been, of course, looking and listening to the players' reactions. I see that some players feel there should have been more endings or more variations on endings based on your choice, but still, for us, I don't think we'd change the way it is, because it was really important that those two endings, like we said before, offer definitive choice. You make a sacrifice to accept your life as it is, to stop trying to have a perfect life, changing everything, and to stop looking to the past. This is the metaphor and the theme of the game. Somehow, you need to accept grief, you need to accept the past, you need to stop trying to make everything perfect, and then think about the future. To make a compromise, and then go for a while and try to make the best of your future, not by changing the past. We still don't think we'd change anything, even if players would have loved to see more outcomes based on their choice. The way you play the game, with all the choices and consequences, you are creating your own version of Max. And when you get to the end of the game and you make this final choice, the way you are choosing, it's a complicated look at everything you did in the game. So I still think it's those choices and consequences that creates you as a player and your relationship with Chloe and that allows you to make one of those two choices.
Zek asks: Are you surprised by how many people chose to sacrifice Arcadia Bay?
Koch: No, I am not, actually. We were always thinking it would be quite a heavy decision, and I'm not sure of the statistics, but I think it's about 50/50. It's good, because we never wanted to have one ending be the "right" one and one be the "wrong" one. It's really the right the one, because the player is choosing it. You are presented with saving Arcadia Bay or Chloe and we really wanted this decision to be yours. We are not saying one is better than the other. You have to make the decision and sacrificing Arcadia Bay, for us, is not a bad decision, it is your decision. If you're really willing to sacrifice a lot of things, because you wanted to keep this important relationship you have, that's your choice and we're not saying one is better than the other.
Shacknews: I'd like to tag back in and ask this question. What lessons about narrative in games is the team taking along to its next project, especially since Vampyr seems to be something different?
Koch: Vampyr is a game by another team. We really have two different teams at Dontnod and the other team is working on Vampyr. But there is still, even if it's an action RPG, a focus on storytelling. They're also looking at what we did on Life is Strange and also decisions is in the DNA of Dontnod, to take good stories and focus on that. So I think what we've learned on Life is Strange is that we love to create characters. To me, Life is Strange is a story about characters than a story about story. Story is important, but it's mostly characters that are the fuel and the dynamic of the whole story, as opposed to sometimes you have games or movies that have story brought and the characters are just there. For us, it's the other way around and we really like to work on our next project putting the characters at the center of everything. I think what we've learned, also, it's that it's difficult to create branching dialogue and we will try and improve that, of course, with better variations and subtleties in the interactive branching dialogue. But it's really complicated to create.
Shacknews: Finally, Max and Chloe's story is pretty much over, but there have been reports that the team is potentially going back to Life is Strange. If you were to go back to Life is Strange for another season, would the story be set in Arcadia Bay once again?
Koch: It might be too early to talk about that, but I think if we have a chance to explore Life is Strange again, of course it would be within the same universe. Maybe not in Arcadia Bay, but we would have links. Even if we have new characters, we would have some ties within the stories.
The physical Limited Edition of Life is Strange is available now on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, while the full season remains available digitally on those two platforms, as well as PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.