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- Life is Strange 2
Life Is Strange 2 is finally done and it’s been a long journey. Jean-Luc Cano has been a part of that journey since the beginning as he is the co-creator and writer of Life Is Strange 2 as well as the first game and The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. He sat down with us to speak more about the core principles of a Life Is Strange game as well as the series’ diverse cast and why each episode of Life Is Strange 2 took so long.
Game Revolution: Both Life Is Strange games explore similar themes of growing, adapting, and living with trauma. They are executed differently but they have those common elements. What did you learn from writing the first game and how did you want to change and adapt that for the sequel?
Jean-Luc Cano: When we started working on Life Is Strange 2, we didn’t know we were going to make another game in the Life Is Strange universe. The first Life Is Strange was standalone so we had to think about what Life Is Strange was as a series. So we asked ourselves what is the real DNA of Life Is Strange as a series? Is it about Max and Chloe? Is it about Arcadia Bay?
We discussed and figured out that Life Is Strange is about relatable characters, social themes, and supernatural stuff. That’s why we wanted to keep this DNA but to change everything else in Life Is Strange 2. In the first game, it’s all set in one place, Arcadia Bay. And you have a whole bunch of characters that you meet and you learn how they are, what their secrets are, and more.
In Life Is Strange 2, we wanted to change this with the trip structure. So it’s a lot of different locations and characters you meet on the road. You learn from them and they learn from you. We wanted to challenge ourselves with this new layout and that’s why we didn’t want to do the same thing as the first game.
GR: Telling a story on the road is a popular storytelling method. What did you look at for inspiration?
JLC: It was one of the biggest challenges I faced as a writer. In Life Is Strange, when we presented a character, we knew we had five episodes to dig in and explore secrets. In Life Is Strange 2, you have to immediately like or dislike a character and the biggest challenge is to not make too many archetypal characters. It was the biggest challenge for me write believable characters but to shade them very quickly for the player to know what they are in for.
GR: How do you tell a story about two brothers and how is that different from two teenage girls like Max and Chloe?
JLC: I think the main difference is the theme we wanted to explore in this game. In the first game, the main theme was coming of age. That’s why Max’s power was linked to her weakness. Max didn’t want to grow up and that’s why she had the power to rewind time and come back to every decision she made and make another.
In Life Is Strange 2, the main theme is education. That’s why we give the power to Daniel and not Sean. Because of the theme of education, Daniel will use his power for good or bad things because of the choices of the player. It was really different to write a friendship or a love relationship than a story of education. In Life Is Strange, you are responsible for your actions and they affect you. In Life Is Strange 2, every choice of dialogue you make, it will impact Daniel. It is a very different way of writing.
GR: So you said the themes influenced the powers. Did you have other powers in mind?
JLC: It was not about the telekinetic power. We can talk about the story without having the power. But the power there was something bigger than life and cool to show repercussions with. You can tell the story of Life Is Strange 2 without the power but it is part of the DNA of Life Is Strange. So that is why we added the power so we could show players the consequences of their choices in a way that is bigger than life.
GR: Obviously, no one on the team is a teenager. So how do you craft the dialogue in the game? The dialogue has been divisive in the past (as shown from the above picture from the first game).
JLC: I wrote the first draft of the dialogue because we shot all the motion capture in Paris so we didn’t have the first draft. And after that, we worked with Christian Divine, an American writer, and he took the dialogue I wrote and rewrote them in a more realistic way. Because French people and American people don’t have the same way of talking or the same expressions. He did a lot of research like how would the kids nowadays talk? What are their expressions?
GR: Can you give any examples?
JLC: It’s more about expressions. Finn, for example, will curse a lot. But if we translate the curse in French, it’s not an actual curse that a teenager in America would use. So I said I needed Finn to curse a lot and he figured out which curse we had to use.
GR: Life Is Strange has always been pretty diverse and progressive. What is the team’s attitudes of telling stories of people who aren’t usually in video games?
JLC: It’s something we wanted to do from the beginning because we wanted to talk about societal subjects because that is important to us. And no one is would be better for this than average people. Somehow that ended up being people that are not really pushed into video games like minorities. Minorities are not represented a lot in video games.
GR: It also lets players seamlessly choose their sexual orientation like the kiss in the first game and the duo of possible sexual encounters in the sequel.
JLC: Yes, that’s really what wanted to do: give the choice to the player. Basically, at the beginning of the game, Sean is defining himself as straight but because he has never questioned his sexuality. And when he meets Cassidy, Finn, and the drifters, he learns that there are other ways to live, love, and learn stuff. And that is why we wanted to give the player the opportunity to choose what he wanted to do. And it was important to give the choice to flirt with Cassidy, Finn, or neither of them.
GR: The episode release pattern has been quite spread out. Was that to avoid crunch?
JLC: We knew that the players have been disappointed between episodes but it’s because of the new settings of the game. Everyone was in one location in the first season. So once we built the locations and characters, we could reuse them in every episode.
But in this season, we had new locations, characters, and new gameplay in every episode. So it’s like creating a new game in every episode. The only thing that stays is from the beginning to end is Sean and Daniel.
That is why it is taking longer than the first season and we are sorry about that. But we are working hard to keep the release dates we gave. Somehow the journey of the two brothers would also take something like a year so we think it is also cool to live the season alongside them.
GR: So since the game has widely been criticized for the long wait time between episodes, what do you think the advantages of episodic gaming are?
JLC: I think for us at Dontnod it is to know what our audience loved in the game. For example, we have the numbers of what players choose what path. We really care about the messages from the community.
At the end of episode one, the story of Lyla was closed. You call her and say goodbye. But at the end of the first episode, fans wanted to see what happened to Lyla. We added the possibility in the following episode to call her again. It wasn’t in there in the beginning but we saw the reactions and we thought we could bring back Lyla one more time to please the fans.
Episodic games make this possible. We have the whole story and we know from the beginning where we are going but we can make some slight adjustments because we are listening to our fans and trying to provide them the best experience as possible.