Warning: This interview contains spoilers for the first two episodes of Life is Strange. If you don't want the game spoiled for you, turn back now.
The third episode of Life is Strange, titled "Chaos Theory," arrives this week. But anyone that has played through the game's first two episodes knows that there's a certain shadow hanging over the story. The second episode ended with one of the game's characters, Kate Marsh, attempting suicide by jumping off the roof of the girls dormitory. The result depended on how players approached the various dialogue choices, but for many players, Kate ended her own life and main character Max Caulfield was helpless to stop it, as her rewind powers had failed.
With those events still fresh in players' minds, the game now heads into the third episode. Prior to its release, Shacknews spoke to co-director Michel Koch about Kate's suicide, the nature of Max's powers, the power of friendship, and the looming tornado that's about to devastate Arcadia Bay.
Shacknews: What led to the team's big decision to have Kate Marsh attempt suicide at the end of "Out of Time?"
Michel Koch, Co-Game Director and Art Director: In Life is Strange, we really wanted to deal with this kind of social scene. And social media bullying is something really big, where there's a video out there on YouTube that you cannot easily get it out. We've done a lot of research about teenagers when working on the game and many teenagers have social issues in regards to their social image. And this kind of thing happens to Kate in episode two. A lot of teenagers don't realize that putting up a video like that can really hurt someone. That's something we really wanted to deal with. Kind of as a message to be careful with what you're doing to people when you put videos online.
It was really important for us to deal with this subject matter in a sensible way, so I hope we achieved that. One of the key messages was, "You can help your friends if you care about that, if you know them, if you take the time to just talk to them." And that's how you can save Kate at the end of episode two. If you took the time in the previous episode to talk to her, be a good friend to her, it's easier to save her at the end of episode two.
Shacknews: Is that a big part of the reason why you didn't allow players to rewind during that scene?
Koch: Yes. Because the player got into a comfort during the span of the two episodes with the rewind power. It was important to remove this power from the player and have them be careful with what they say... so your actions really have consequences. And I think we've seen with the response of the players, it kinda worked. We worked it out so that if you said the sensisble answers, you can save her. I wouldn't say it was a trick to the player, but more something we wanted to put the players and teenagers that played the game in a position where they realize they need to be more careful with their friends, just to learn to listen more to their friends, to know more about them, and to care about them. That's one of our main points with this scene.
Shacknews: How will the story change for those that saved Kate and those that didn't?
Koch: It would change in a lot of smaller stuff, like every character that you talked to will talk in a different way based on what happened at the end of episode two. The dormitory won't be exactly the same, depending on whether Kate is alive or dead. The characters will talk about her. And we have more changes planned in episode four based on this decision. I won't say it will drastically change the whole game, because we cannot make two different games based on this decision, but it will have an impact with each character, each dialogue, and each scene. Not in a big way, but in a way that will still be meaningful for the player.
Shacknews: There's been a sense in the first two episodes that Max doesn't understand the nature of her powers. Does she get a better grasp on them in episode three?
Koch: For us, Life is Strange is not a sci-fi story. The power is more of a tool for allowing Max to grow, to question decisions, and to grow up as a human being. But without spoiling anything, for episodes four and five there will be more consequences and more understanding of the power. But it's not a big sci-fi story. We are not dealing with aliens or anything like that. We are still a character-driven story. For us to use the power, it's just to help Max discover herself and to see how she wants her life to be next.
Shacknews: Even though she has yet to be seen in a physical sense, what has made Rachel Amber the perfect character to drive the story forward?
Koch: We learn a lot of things about Rachel through other characters, like through Chloe's relationship with Rachel. She's kind of what ties the story together. There was the issue of her disappearance and Max and Chloe are trying to find out what happened to her. She serves as the bonding link between Max and Chloe, because Max comes back to Chloe after five years and Rachel was there for Chloe when Max wasn't. Again, I won't spoil anything for episodes four and five, but of course, she played a great part in Chloe's life and you'll have to find out what it was.
Shacknews: Will we learn more about the past friendship between Max and Chloe?
Koch: It's something that we are putting in each episode, more childhood memories, and there's more that you will see quite soon. For us, it was important, because like I said, we're dealing with a lot of real-life themes, like social media bullying and domestic violence. But we're also looking at friendship. We've all experienced that, where we have good friends that we've lost touch with and sometimes we just meet back with those friends. That's one of the themes of the game. The friendship of Max and Chloe starts to grow back again and they are using those memories from their childhood to put back in perspective how different they've become and how they can become good friends again.
Shacknews: Lastly, I understand that Life is Strange is a story about a teenager growing up, going through high school, coming of age. It's not a sci-fi story. So then... why introduce a tornado?
Koch: (pauses) That is a good question. It will obviously play a huge part at the end of this season. Hmm... how can I answer that without spoiling what will happen? I know I haven't answered your question, but I cannot say much more without spoiling the final episode.
Life is Strange's third episode, "Chaos Theory," is available now on PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and PlayStation 3.