On June 12, 2017, 20 minutes of gameplay pre-release footage of the upcoming prequel Before the Storm was released at the E3 2017, featuring an interview with lead writer Zak Garriss and co-game director Chris Floyd.
Daemon Hatfield: The time traveling, episodic adventure Life is Strange was a sleeper hit and took home so many awards one mantle would not hold them all. Now we've got a prequel, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, on the way. Here to tell us more is co-director Chris Floyd and writer Zak Garriss. Gentlemen, welcome to the show.
Chris Floyd: Hi, thanks so much.
Zak Garris: Thank you.
Daemon Hatfield: We're joined by Lucy O'Brien.
Daemon Hatfield: Mm-hm.
Chris Floyd: It's true.
Zak Garriss: Yeah.
Lucy O'Brien: You guys are a brand new studio.
Zak Garriss: Right.
Lucy O'Brien: Tell us about how this project came to be for you.
Chris Floyd: Well, Deck Nine Games has spent the last three years preparing to make narrative adventure games. We brought in a team of people from film, television, and video games, and really built up a team of story tellers to make games like Life is Strange. And we developed a tool set we call StoryForge that really unchains those creative people and lets them make great stories.
Zak Garriss: So when the opportunity came to work with Square Enix on Life is Strange, we were incredibly thrilled, absolutely, just very excited to get a chance to work on this IP.
Daemon Hatfield: So you set yourselves up to make a game like this, and it just sort of worked out that you're the right team for that?
Chris Floyd: I mean we were fans of Life is Strange, of course--
Daemon Hatfield: Sure, yeah.
Chris Floyd: We wanted to play the next game, we didn't imagine we would be (laughs) making the next game; when the opportunity came our way we couldn't have been more thrilled.
Daemon Hatfield: That's a really cool story.
Lucy O'Brien: So it's important to note that this is not Life is Strange 2.
Zak Garriss: That's right, yeah. So Dontnod announced a little over a month ago that they're working on the sequel to Life is Strange. Square cares so much about this franchise and the community. While Dontnod has been moving forward with the sequel, they wanted to answer the fans' request to see more about Arcadia Bay, to explore the characters and the world from the first game. And that's how they ultimately led them to us.
Lucy O'Brien: And of course this is a prequel, so this takes place before the events of Life is Strange and follows the story of Chloe at age 16, is that correct?
??: That's correct, yeah.
Lucy O'Brien: And subsequently her friendship with Rachel, who we sadly never got to meet in Life is Strange. Why was this the right story to tell?
Zak Garriss: We feel like everybody has had a time in their life when they meet one person who changes their world. And looking at the different characters--there's so many rich characters in Arcadia Bay from the first season--Chloe and the relationship we know, we've heard about with this mythic character Rachel Amber, but we never actually get to experience as players. That seemed like a wonderful opportunity for us to tell a unique story, a story that's different from the first game. And it takes place--so, like you pointed out--several years before the events of the game, so it was important to us to tell a story whose ending the fans won't know.
Lucy O'Brien: And, you know, Chloe does not have time travel powers like Max did in Life is Strange. I mean, that was such a big hook of the first game: that you could rewind time. What's the gameplay hook this time around? I mean, what's Chloe's thing?
Chris Floyd: Well, first of all, that's a big choice we had to make early on in this project, and we considered what kinds of powers, how would the supernatural manifest in our story. And time travel just didn't make sense. You know, that really is an embodiment of Max's character; she's timid, she's cautious. Chloe is not that. Max is gonna go back and question the decisions she makes, but Chloe is a wrecking ball; she's gonna bash through whatever gets in her way. She has attitude, she is brash. So it just didn't fit.
Zak Garriss: We also didn't want Arcadia Bay to feel like it was a town of superheroes. We didn't want those kinds of powers to be too prevalent. We also knew that Chloe didn't talk about any kind of power. So there isn't a power in this game; Chloe doesn't have a power. We're really focusing on what we think is actually the heart of Life is Strange, which are relatable relationships between characters you care about and how they deal with real-world problems.
Daemon Hatfield: Can you tell us about--so, when Dontnod brought this project to you, was the story already written? And you just took it from there to build up the game?
Zak Garriss: Yeah.
Daemon Hatfield: Or how much input did you have on it?
Zak Garriss: Yeah, that's a great question. Dontnod, they've created such an amazing world with Life is Strange. We really hold them in the highest regard and see them as the founders of the franchise. When it comes to the story, the gameplay, the full production of Before the Storm, this has been entirely Deck Nine working in partnership with the same team at Square Enix that worked on the first Life is Strange.
Daemon Hatfield: Mm-hm.
Lucy O'Brien: And tell us about Ashly Burch's involvement, because obviously she is not coming back--well, actually, that's not obvious (laughs), a lot of people don't know that Ashly Burch is not coming back to voice Chloe this time around. However, she is involved, from what I understand, in a writing capacity.
Zak Garriss: That's right, yeah. Ashly's just an amazing writer. She received the first script from us for the first episode, fell in love with it, and joined our team as story consultant. So everything from any given dialog line you might see to the high-level break of the entire story of Before the Storm, Ashly's been involved collaborating with the writing team, giving notes, sharing her very unique and very personal perspective on what Chloe is about.
Lucy O'Brien: So she really--she really knows Chloe from basically inhabiting her in the first game.
Zak Garriss: Yeah.
Lucy O'Brien: So she's kinda there to say to you guys, "Hey, listen, Chloe wouldn't say that, that sounds really wrong", or she would say, "Okay, this is something that Chloe would say".
???: Sure, yeah. Right.
Lucy O'Brien: That's fantastic!
Daemon Hatfield: So the first series is episodic, five episodes. Before the Storm is also episodic?
Chris Floyd: That's right.
Zak Garriss: It is, yeah.
Chris Floyd: It's gonna be three episodes, maybe total of about 6 to 9 hours of play.
Daemon Hatfield: Sure.
Chris Floyd: So we split up our story that way, and our first episode is gonna be released on August 31st.
Daemon Hatfield: Yeah, it's coming pretty soon. Tell us how you feel about episodic gaming. What are the advantages there, are there any particular challenges that you face as developers?
Zak Garriss: Yeah, from a development standpoint, it's different from working several years on single project before fans ever get to see it or put a controller in their hands. So I think it's exciting to work on segments of content and release it and share it and see the fan response. The community supporting Life is Strange is so passionate and so large; we're really excited to see their response to the first episode.
Lucy O'Brien: Considering we know where Chloe and and Rachel end up, what kind of choice and consequence system are we looking at this time around? Is it more sort of intimate or is it gonna feel as "end of the world", apocalyptic (laughs) as Life is Strange did?
Chris Floyd: That's a really good question. Obviously, choice and consequence is so important to Life is Strange, and that's absolutely the case in Before the Storm. But you're on to something. I mean, this is gonna be an intimate, relatable story, that we're really focusing on this relationship between the two of them. To see and let the player engage in how does that relationship blossom over the first few days after they meet each other.
Daemon Hatfield: I think we are seeing some of the first gameplay footage here on the screen. From a gameplay perspective, is it gonna feel very familiar to people who played the first Life is Strange? Is it played the same way?
Chris Floyd: Yeah, we think the foundations of the gameplay and the story-telling of Life is Strange, that's something we held really sacred and we wanted to make sure this felt to everyone, to all the fans, just like Life is Strange, which is visiting new places and meeting new characters along the way.
Zak Garriss: Sacred's the right word to use. I mean, we are very much fans first. We loved the first game; getting to work in Before the Storm, we wanted to both pay homage and explore areas that'll be familiar to fans from the first game, and introduce entirely new spaces, like the one we're looking at right now. This is a place called the mill, it's on the outskirts of Arcadia Bay. It's where Chloe, at 16, is at an illegal concert.
Lucy O'Brien: (laughs) That is like--that is very her. (laughs again) What sort of character is Chloe in this game? Because obviously she's very foolhardy; as you said, she's something of a wrecking ball. I can't even imagine what she is gonna be like as a younger teen.
Zak Garriss: Yeah. So, she--like Chris said, is a wrecking ball--she's very courageous. I think it's important to point out, though, that she is not the Chloe we know from the first game. There's a journey that she's gonna go on that our game participates in, in the intervening time.
Chris Floyd: You're gonna see her turn into that blue-haired, beanie-wearing Chloe that everybody knows.
Zak Garriss: Yeah. But at the start of our game, what she's dealing with, it's 2 years after her father's died, Max has left, she's all alone. Emotionally, and I think psychologically, she's in a very different place from the Chloe we know from the first game.
Chris Floyd: We were talking about choice and consequences earlier. There's a moment here, about to come up, that's gonna be one of our key decisions where the story can really branch. She's gotten herself in a little bit of trouble here with some overgrown bullies, basically, who wanna make a deal out of her bumping into them earlier. So she's gonna have to choose how she wants to deal with this situation. Should she fight or should she run?
Zak Garriss: And that's gonna have consequences, not just in this scene, but later.
Lucy O'Brien: Tell us a little bit about the new story-telling program that--oh, see, here we go. That's exactly what you were talking about.
Chris Floyd: Yeah.
Zak Garriss: Yeah, right.
Chris Floyd: So here's a key choice that you...
Lucy O'Brien: Tell us a little bit about the new story-telling program that you guys have worked on to make this possible. You know, in terms of the narrative branching that you have in this prequel.
Zak Garriss: Yeah.