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 storytellers to make games like Life is Strange. And we developed a toolset 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?
Zak Garriss: 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".
Zak Garriss: 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? 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.
Chris Floyd: Well, it starts with a tool we called Playwright, and that's basically like writing a screenplay, except that our writers can put in the gameplay, put in the branches, the consequences, the checks of "what did you do last time" to make a nonlinear story. Then we take that, and we port it over into a tool called Storyteller. And that creates essentially like a giant timeline, we bring in the characters we need, we apply animations to them and then w go and we do facial performance - we literally have sliders, we can "turn up" the sadness and "turn down" the surprise, or blend them, and whatever we want to, to create the emotional performances that we need to get across this story.
Zak Garriss: This is a technical toolset that our team's been developing for over three years.
Lucy O'Brien: That's amazing. (laughs)
Chris Floyd: There's really nothing else like it inside the industry.
Zak Garriss: Yeah.
Daemon Hatfield: So, here, after this key choice, did Chloe choose to fight?
Chris Floyd: I believe in this footage she chose to run.
Zak Garriss: She ran, yeah.
Daemon Hatfield: She ran there, okay.
Lucy O'Brien: And she flipped the bad, which is very Chloe.
Chris Floyd: Of course.
Lucy O'Brien: By enacting those key choices, there isn't a wrong answer.
Zak Garriss: That's right, yeah. And we see that as a component of Life is Strange, the game, the first season really embraced it, and we did, too. You're going to choose how you want to embrace this adventure and how you want to navigate the challenges you're going to face. There isn't a "right" or a "wrong", different choices you have will have different consequences, you're going to develop potentially a very different relationship with Rachel Amber than someone else.
Daemon Hatfield: So where are we here in this scene?
Chris Floyd: So we've jumped ahead a little bit. This is a place called the Overlook. After the night at the mill, the girls meet up at school the next day, they decide to ditch school. So they've now come out here to this park, Rachel's kind of on a mission, but they're going to have fun.
Zak Garriss: Yeah.
Daemon Hatfield: And all this footage is from Episode 1, that's out in August?
Chris Floyd: That's right, all of this is from Episode 1.
Daemon Hatfield: I see.
Lucy O'Brien: And, you know, we were talking about her relationship with Rachel,and you said that people might have different kinds of relationship, just as Chloe did with Max in the original Life is Strange, I mean, one of the biggest... you guys know what I'm going to ask, I can see it on your faces (everyone laughs) One of the biggest draw cards of Life is Strange is the shipping and the romance, is that going to be something that is prevalent in this prequel?
Daemon Hatfield: Let's actually hold that thought, we've got to say "quick break". We'll answer it soon after, right after this commercial break, with more Life is Strange: Before the Storm right after this.
Daemon Hatfield: Welcome back to IGN Live at E3! our Ubisoft pre-show kicks off soon, but right now we're continuing our look at Life is Strange: Before the Storm with Zak and Chris, and we were just about to ship some characters, I think. (laughs)
Lucy O'Brien: Yeah, you know what, let's reiterate that a lot of the reasons fans were very drawn to the original Life is Starnge, among a plethora of reasons, is that, you know, there was a romance aspect, a lot of characters were shipped together. Is that going to return in this prequel?
Chris Floyd: Yeah.
Zak Garris: So, I think that, like you said, the first game was so successful at building realistic characters who are complex, who are rich, and who could develop relationships with each other that felt meaningful, that felt real. And we've embraced that very much with Before the Storm. It's important to us not to be prescriptive with the player about how they choose to relate to the characters and the world but rather to create a vibrant collection of characters that they will have strong feelings about, one way or another, and then the freedom to explore expressing those feelings and navigating what those relationships might be.
Lucy O'Brien: Well, especially considering Chloe's relationship with Rachel was actually fairly ambiguous in Life is Strange, there were moments where I was like "I'm not quite sure how close they were", they seemed to be, at one point I thought they had a romantic relationship, at another point I was like "no, they were just really close friends". So, obviously, there are a lot of options for you guys to explore.
Chris Floyd: That ambiguity gave us a lot of opportunities, like you're saying, to create the story we wanted to tell, tell something that maybe players aren't expecting, and also leave, as Zak was saying, some of that open, to see how they want to develop that relationship with Rachel.
Daemon Hatfield: Even to know here (?) that Max, lead character from the first game, has, she's out of the picture here, at least at the beginning. Well, does she participate at all in the prequel?
Zak Garris: Yeah, Max's absence is an important element of Chloe's life at this time, but she does have a presence. Where Max had a diary in the first game, where she would about everything that happened, moment to moment while you're playing, Chloe actually writes letters to Max that she never sends.
Daemon Hatfield: Interesting.
Zak Garris: Yeah.
Lucy O'Brien: Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but Max does appear in your prequel, as I understand, as like a bonus chapter, is that... right?
Zak Garris: Oh, right.
Chris Floyd: Right, so, so there is an additional episode, part of the Deluxe Edition of the game.
Lucy O'Brien: Right.
Chris Floyd: The "Farewell" episode that's being created when we're finished making Before the Storm itself, three episodes, complete story, we're going to add on to that for the fans who really want to play Max one more time, a special "Farewell" episode. We'll talk about that more in the future.
Lucy O'Brien: Tell us a little bit more about, I mean, you know what we're looking at here, Arcadia Bay, we're returning to Arcadia Bay. Are we going to see any familiar faces? Obviously, this is set a lot earlier but Arcadia Bay really felt like "lived-in". It had a sort of Twin Peaks-esque vibe to it, there were some characters that really stood out to me, that I would like to see again. Are we going to have some returning faces?
Zak Garris: Absolutely, yeah. Returning, being a part of Chloe's world means you're going to see Blackwell, you're going to see Joyce, you're going to see David, you're going to see a lot of other characters that you'll know from the first game. And then, entering into Rachel's world, we're also going to see a variety of new characters that we've created just for Before the Storm.
Lucy O'Brien: Right. So, are we getting a sort of, are we going to be able to play as Rachel at any point, or is it just very much Chloe's...
Chris Floyd: It's really from Chloe's perspective, it's telling her story. We're looking here at a scene at a familiar location, the junkyard eventually becomes Chloe and Rachel's hangout. But here we're going to have a dramatic moment we'd really like to show the players.
Lucy O'Brien: Okay, let's, let's turn it up.
(Junkyard scene plays. It is followed by scenes from the reveal trailer.)
Daemon Hatfield: Good, so we saw Chloe make some decisions there. Can you talk a little bit about the different permutations, how it'd play out if she had made the other choices?
Zak Garris: Sure, yeah. So, Chloe has a chance here to tell Rachel what she thinks is going on between them and during the course of that day. Rachel's opinion might not even map onto Chloe's based on previous choices that Chloe's made, so, depending on how Chloe expresses, how the player expresses their interest, Rachel might respond in a variety of different ways.
Daemon Hatfield: Sure.
Lucy O'Brien: How do you keep the dialog, I mean, obviously this is somewhat aimed at a young adult audience, as well as, you know, those of us who are a bit older, who enjoyed Life is Strange (laughs). How do you keep the dialogue grounded so it doesn't swing too far into kid of cliché, stereotypical teen territory?
Zak Garris: Part of that just has to do with, I think, having the right kind of team in place, the plurality of voices, the diverse body of voices in the writers' room, kind of contributing to the construction of the story. In some cases, we're dealing with 16-year olds, cliché even fits.
Lucy O'Brien: It does, absolutely. I mean, I was never in a junkyard like that, but I have experienced a similar moment in my teenage [years].
Zak Garris: Everything's so intense and so loud when you're that age. Sometimes the writing embraces that, yeah.
Daemon Hatfield: We have just a few minutes left, if there's any file questions.
Lucy O'Brien: Well, I guess, for me, you know, you guys said that you were fans first. Why do you think Life is Strange has resonated in the way that it has with people, I mean, when I saw the reaction on Twitter to the announcement of this prequel Before the Storm, you know, people were like "A am crying!" and there were emojis all over the show. You know, why do you think people love it so much?
Chris Floyd: I mean, obviously it's unique. Right, I mean, I think what Dontnod created has such a unique vision on every level, visually the way the game looks, the way it feels, the way it's a story that takes its time and really lets its characters and moments kind of breathe. It just doesn't feel like any other video game. To me, that was such a big part of its appeal.
Zak Garris: I think, for me too, the authenticity of the characters, their frailty, their vulnerabilities, their flaws, I mean, the franchise embraces that, for me as a player, that's what I resonated with. A willingness to explore characters and heroes who weren't perfect.I think we need more of that, honestly.
Lucy O'Brien: Do you think, perhaps, some of that has to do with the fact that you know, it's quite rare to see video games centered on younger, you know, women, like teenage girls? That's something that we don't generally see, at least explored in an emotional way.
Chris Floyd: Absolutely. I mean, this is the protagonist, in the first Life is Strange and in Before the Storm, of a kind that you just don't typically see.
Lucy O'Brien: Do you think we will see, I mean, obviously you guys can't, you guys, well, probably you know a little bit more than I do and don't want to ruin any surprises, but do you think that in future iterations of Life is Strange we will be telling stories from other perspectives outside of Max and Chloe, or do you think, really they are the heart and soul of this series?
Zak Garris: I think, a corner stone of the franchise is to embrace stories that live in all sorts of places. I don't want to speak further about the details but yeah, we'll see.
Daemon Hatfield: Well, we are certainly looking forward to exploring more of Arcadia Bay on August 31st?
Chris Floyd: That's right.
Daemon Hatfield: Thanks so much for coming by to the show.
Chris Floyd: Thank you so much for having us.
Lucy O'Brien: Thanks, guys.