Life Is Strange sounds like a Stephen King novel mixed with last year’s exploration game dark horse Gone Home  The second game from Dontnod will see the player slip into the shoes of a high school senior called Max Caulfield, returning to her hometown of Arcadia Bay, Oregon for the first time in five years. After reuniting with the clashing personality of her old school friend Chloe, she quickly realises that something’s not quite right about Arcadia Bay, and sets out on a journey to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of another old friend.

We caught up with Dontnod’s creative director, Jean-Maxine Morris, to talk about what drove the studio to make Life Is Strange, and pick apart the metaphors at the game’s core.


Where did the inspiration behind Life Is Strange come from?

Much of what we did on Remember Me was related to time manipulation and memories and we basically started to ask ourselves again: what can we do with these ideas and themes? That’s really where the basic idea came from.

Then we iterated on that and asked ourselves how we make the best game possible, because Remember Me wasn’t the success we hoped it would be. That’s why we decided to concentrate more heavily on the narrative aspects and opt for an  episodic structure.

The story has been through some very heavy tweaking since we first began, and we were constantly brainstorming different plots, settings and characters. It has now been stable for a quite a while, so we’re taking that as a good sign.

Remember Me was very combat heavy. Has it been liberating to move away from that and concentrate more on narrative?

I wouldn’t describe it as liberating, no. I think the world can actually be divided into two sets of people: the people that ‘got’ Remember Me’s combat and those that didn’t. It’s my fault that some people didn’t get the combat, but I was actually very happy with what we offered in that game. We just presented it to the player in the wrong way.

One day I’d like to revisit a game with combat, but Life Is Strange is a chance for us to do something different. This is us focusing on what we did well in Remember Me, which is the art, narrative, characters and overall themes. We’re also excited about the episodic structure.I don’t feel bad that there’s no combat like that in Life Is Strange, it’s just a different kind of game.

How do you make the choices in the game meaningful when you can rewind time and try all of the options first?

That’s something we thought about very early on in the design process. Basically, we’re going for a Telltale type of experience with a Gone Home kind of mood and tone to it... although Gone Home came out after we started working on Life Is Strange.

It sounds cool to be able to rewind time and change your mind about things that you’ve already done, but very soon you realise that it might allow you to cheat the game and render your decisions meaningless. The way we get around that is we use short, medium and long-term sequences that see the choices you made combine with each other in interesting and surprising ways. Something that looks positive and seems to fix a short-term goal, for example, can actually end up being bad in the middle or long term.

That doesn’t mean all seemingly ‘good’ choices will end up being bad, because that
would be silly and predictable in itself. We’re just trying to include a very wide variety of outcomes that makes it difficult for the audience to accurately predict what is going to happen. Really, we want to keep the player guessing about what is to come further into the game.

It seems that Life Is Strange’s time mechanic is a metaphor for teenagers feeling insecure in themselves and wanting to have a second chance at their decisions...

That’s exactly right, actually. Becoming an adult involves, to a large extent, learning to make, and stand by, your choices in life… whatever the outcome might be.

In the game, Max can choose to rewind time and try different things to make different decisions, but the bigger picture is certainly more about her coming to terms with the fact that eventually you must stand by your choices and you can’t simply expect to keep getting second chances. It’s those choices that ultimately make you who you are and that’s what the game is about.

“  Basically, we’re going for a Telltale type of experience with a Gone Home kind of mood and tone to it ”
 THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES

THE KEY line of connection between Remember Me and Life Is Strange will be its time rewinding mechanic. It was one of the strongest features of Dontnod’s last game and one we’re looking forward to experimenting with this time around. In  Life Is Strange, it will allow you to hit rewind after making puzzle-breaking errors or just to see what a different choice might lead you to. For instance placing a ladder to reach an object may cause others to fall and break. Rewinding time can fix that for you. However, much like  The Walking Dead, seemingly ‘good’ decisions won’t always lead to what you expect.
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Interview by gamestm