With the release of the final episode of Life is Strange 2, Sean and Daniel’s occasionally tragic, but ultimately uplifting journey across the Pacific coast of North America reaches its end. Following the release of Episode 5, we sat down with Life is Strange 2 co-creative director Michel Koch and writer Jean-Luc Cano to talk about its development, the leftover threads from the original game, and their hopes for Life is Strange 3.
Life is Strange 2 kicked off a brand new direction for the series with new characters, perspectives, and mechanics, while still offering up a few hints as to what happened to Max and Chloe from the original Life is Strange after all this time. Read GameSpot’s reviews to see what we thought of each Life is Strange 2 episode below. Life is Strange 2 is out now on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
- Life Is Strange 2: Episode 1 Review – What Doesn’t Kill Us
- Life Is Strange 2: Episode 2 Review – With Great Power
- Life Is Strange 2: Episode 3 Review – Choosing Sides
- Life Is Strange 2: Episode 4 Review – Gotta Have Faith
- Life Is Strange 2: Episode 5 Review – Beyond Good Or Evil
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and readability. Minor spoilers for Life is Strange and Life is Strange 2.
GameSpot: So, with Life is Strange 2 finished, how are you guys feeling now that it’s all out there and what’s the reaction been from fans?
Michel Koch: You know, it takes a long time to make a game and we’ve been working on this game for almost four years–considering the final episode and Captain Spirit. So finally having the whole story released and starting to see that both the players and the press are enjoying the whole experience, the whole journey–it’s a big relief and a big enjoyment just to see that here we are, we’ve been able to share this whole story with the players.
Jean-Luc Cano: Yeah, and on the other end, there is also a little bit of sadness and nostalgia, because we’re travelling, we went on this journey of four years with these characters. And now, letting them go and seeing that the journey is over–we feel a little bit of sadness, also.
It must have been very different writing for two brothers instead of what it was like writing for what Max and Chloe had in Life is Strange 1. Would you agree with that?
Cano: Yes, you’re right, but, our job is to create relatable characters, you know, and as for Max and Chloe because obviously we are not teenage girls, and we are also not teenage boys like Sean and Daniel. We did a lot of research to be as accurate as possible. But it was the same process to do research, to watch a lot of documentaries, to portray them as well as we can.
Koch: Yeah, and it’s the same team from the original. It’s the three of us–Jean-Luc, myself, and Raoul Barbet, the other director who created the whole story in the beginning, and we still worked with Christian Divine for writing the English dialogue, and with the narrative designers. So we had to adjust to this new story, new characters, but as Jean-Luc says, I think what is great when you’re creating characters is to document yourself, to interview people, to try to put yourself in the shoes of those characters, to listen to stories from people you interview. I mean, that’s what’s really great when you’re telling a story. You learn so much about the people you’re writing for. I think it’s great, and also humbling to try to convey those new characters in a way that’s realistic in the writing and with their story and what’s happening to them.
Yeah, I suspect that your research must extend to how you guys write dialogue. I found it very interesting how genuine your dialogue feels, particularly to the ages of the characters. What are your considerations when writing that, is it particularly hard to try and write for American teenagers?
Cano: The story is written in French, with a lot of notes about dialogue and after that, I’m writing the main path of the game and the narrative designer, Masha and Mattias making the branching–
Koch: Yeah, all the different branches and choices and the variations that we are adding, really on top of the big story that Jean-Luc writes.
Cano: And the last part is written by Christian Divine, which is our “dialogulist” on this game and on the first Life is Strange. So it’s a process to be as accurate as possible and not to be too cheesy. You know, we always want to sound right. And yeah, it’s a long time job, but it’s cool to do it.
Koch: I think that for Life is Strange 2 with the narrative team, we pushed ourselves, I think more because, you know, in the first Life is Strange, it was taking place like a school drama, and I think that in the back of our mind, we added a lot of references–pop culture references of TV shows or movies that take place in this kind of setting. So I would say that we tried our best in the first Life is Strange to blend those references with realistic writing, but maybe we were still sometimes [including] too many pop culture references. For Life is Strange 2, it was quite a bigger challenge because it’s a story that has, I think, been less told in literature or movies so we had to do way more research and directly talk to people to just get their stories and try to represent them the best way possible in the game.
I think, personally, that every work of creation, be it a movie, or book, or video game is inherently political
I found it so admirable the direction you went with your story, to go out of your way to highlight voices whose stories don’t tend to be told. I think it’s especially interesting because 2019 was a year full of game developers insisting their presumably political games were not political, yet you guys along with many others devs went a different way. Can you talk about your approach to taking that head on?
Koch: I think, personally, that every work of creation, be it a movie or book, a video game is inherently political in a way because you have some human beings behind the story while writing. Of course, we have some opinions of our own, we have some beliefs, and I don’t think that you can write a genuine, sincere story if you go against some of your beliefs. I think that if a game or a story doesn’t talk about a subject or shy away from dealing with something, it is already political by not talking about something. So I don’t really think that any work of art can be completely apolitical. So we just decided, I think, for this game to go with it and just try to tell the most genuine story about those people. I mean, you see, we are–Jean-Luc, Raoul, myself–we’re just white guys. We basically have a really easy life. We don’t face oppression or anything systemic. I mean, it’s easy for us.
So we weren’t sure if we were the right people, if we were allowed, even, to tell this story, but we met so many people, we interviewed people when we were travelling in the United States to just try to recreate the journey of Sean and Daniel. We met hitchhikers, we met people who were working into pot farms, and just by talking with them and trying to learn about their life, about their issues, about what they were facing, we wanted somehow to tell their story, to give them a voice and just to try to show their struggle in the game.
Cano: Yeah, and as creators, we also think that, you know, our world is becoming more and more intolerant every day. We think our job is also to talk about communities or people that are not always well portrayed or well represented in video games. So we want to give them a voice and maybe talk about subjects that are not always dealt with in video games.
Why did you decide to bring back David of all characters? I actually really enjoyed that because he’s a complex character, and I–Okay, I mean, he was like, kind of a dick, right? But it seemed like there was so much more to him and like room to grow–
Koch: [Laughing] He was really the most beloved character from the first game, so we figured, just bring back the one that everybody wants. No, I’m just kidding.
Cano: We knew from the beginning that we wanted David to come back because he can survive regardless of the ending of the first Life is Strange. If you choose to save Arcadia Bay, David lives, and if you choose to save Chloe, David was safe in the basement in that ending. We also wanted to show that everyone can have some redemption. As you said, David was behaving like a dick in the first season, but he had his reasons and we wanted him to find redemption in this season. It was also the fact that via David, we could have some news about Max and Chloe. We didn’t want to put back Max and Chloe in a big way, we just want to have some little hints of what they have become.
Koch: I actually wouldn’t say that David had his reasons to be a dick in the first season. He was a damaged character and he realised later–and that’s what we show in season two–that at a point he came to realise his mistakes and tried to make amends. We thought it was interesting to show that some characters can evolve, can get over some of the darker aspects of their lives and maybe come clean and try to be better. Another reason why we chose to have David is that we also wanted this cameo character to work for players who know nothing about season one, if you didn’t play Life is Strange 1, he is still a guy living in Away that works with with our story.
Speaking of the endings, I personally found that they vary in really interesting and satisfying ways. I had a few different playthroughs and, well, the one ending that I got on my true playthrough, the jail time ending, made me cry so much that I had to be late for a PR meeting, so thanks–
Koch: [Laughing] Oh, sorry for that.
Cano: [Laughing] Sorry for that.
It was like once the credits were done rolling, I was still crying, like I was remembering it and crying. So that was good. Was it important to you that the brothers could end up in very different places depending on your choices, and was it intentional that all the endings are hopeful, but not necessarily purely happy or good?
Cano: Yeah, we knew from the beginning we didn’t want to havelike a right ending or wrong ending. We really wanted the player to feel happy with the endings they should have in regard to their previous choices, and that’s why every ending has a bittersweet mood.
Koch: I think it was important that you know, the game is about education and about everything you’re teaching Daniel over the course of the five episodes. So it was really important that we found a way to make those endings feel logical based on what you told Daniel, like he is ultimately making the final decisions after you make your choice. It was also important that there was no possibility that everything would be perfect because that’s not how it works in the real world, especially for people like Sean and Daniel who are facing a system that is against them. So we saw that it was important that there would always be some hope in those endings in a way, but also showing that realistically it’s still hard on them. Because it’s not just Sean and Daniel deciding, it’s also the world around them reacting to that decision.
How much of the story is completely nailed down before you get underway and how much sort of unearths itself as you go particularly given your episodic format, so you have some time to see how things grow and develop?
Koch: So, when we started to work on the game almost four years ago, we always start by thinking about the big story. Like the big story beats and the structure, and what will happen to the brothers over the course of the five episodes was written almost right in the beginning. But of course, when we work directly on the game there are a lot of different reasons why we might need to adjust. There is of course production issues where sometimes we might reduce the length of an episode because of costs and because it was maybe a bit too long in the way we were envisioning it. We can also look at player feedback when an episode is released and see what worked best, what didn’t work as well. I don’t think that we changed much from that feedback during season 2 but definitely, it adjusts how we write or how we create some smaller choices.
Cano: The episodic format also allows us to make some changes. For example, the flashback at the beginning of Episode Three was meant to be in the beginning of Episode Four in the first draft, when Sean was in the coma in the hospital. We wanted to begin Episode Four with a flashback in Seattle, but we decided to put it in the beginning of Episode Three, because it resonates with the themes of this episode, and the fact that with Daniel, we took a little bit more of his independence in that episode.
Well, this is probably a big question you probably can’t answer but will we ever see Max and Chloe again, or Sean and Daniel for that matter?
Cano: You know, we don’t really know what we are going to do now because the game has just been released. For the next adventure we don’t really know yet, but we have some ideas and stuff we want to explore, but we don’t really know what will be our next game. The thing that I can tell you is for us the story of Max and Chloe in Life is Strange 1 is done, it’s told, and the story of Sean and Daniel is told in Life is Strange 2, so, maybe we can see them again one day but–
Koch: You saw just a bit of Max and Chloe in Life is Strange 2, so definitely, if we are going to work on another Life is Strange, it’s a shared universe so there are possibilities. But definitely as a full story, I think those games are both a beginning and an ending for them, and I think we really want to continue to explore new characters, new themes, and new ways of storytelling.
So if there is a Life is Strange 3, I assume you’re likely to approach it in the same way you did with 2 where you’ll have a brand new story, new characters, a new duo or something like that?
Cano: I think it would be a new story.
Koch: That’s what I think we would personally like to do, of course Life is Strange is owned by Square Enix so it’s a Square Enix decision. But to us as creators, we really enjoy this anthology format, and it’s really interesting for us to try to think about brand new characters and brand new stories. So we could also share new scenes and bring something new for the players and just to not, again, have the same ideas and just maybe bring them some new perspective on another story.
Life is Strange games tell such relatable and human stories. So I want to ask why is the addition of the supernatural elements which have been in both of your games been important to you to include on top of that?
Cano: Yeah, good question. I think we always imagine the supernatural element as linked to the main character as a metaphor of his trigger. You know, for example, in the first Life is Strange, Max was a shy girl who was a bit afraid to grow up. So that’s why the power of rewinding time and changing her decision was directly linked to a flaw, you know, to a weakness. In Life is Strange 2 the main theme is education. So you are in the shoes of Sean, we have to take care of his young brother and to raise him and to teach him some lessons. So we give the power to Daniel to show the consequences of your actions, or of your decisions in a more spectacular way. You know, because when a child is really angry, you know, it’s bad, but it’s okay. In the case of Daniel and because of his superpower, when he gets angry, he can explode a house, you know, he can, he can make catastrophic stuff.
In the first Life is Strange, Max was a shy girl who was a bit afraid to grow up. So that’s why the power of rewinding time and changing her decision was directly linked to a flaw
As you look to the future at the studio, do you see Nintendo Switch as being a part of that? Are there any plans to bring the franchise there?
Koch: We would love to, to be honest. And I think it’s something that needs to be decided by Square Enix, but definitely, I love playing games on my Switch so I would love to see some Life is Strange on Switch for sure.
Cano: I have the same answer, I love the Switch and I would love to see Life is Strange and Life is Strange 2 on this console.
You touched on this previously, but in your view, how has Life is Strange grown from the first series to the second?
Koch: I think, even mechanically, we really try to think about what we’re saying in the story of the game. So, for example, in the first Life is Strange, you had the rewind power, and we were trying to create big choices in a way that would surprise the player. So Max would rewind and try a lot of different consequences, and it would resonate with this theme of her having a really hard time to settle in her life and to make a decision. In the second game, we decided to have a lot more smaller choices and consequences, and maybe less big, important choices. It was all resonating with the education of Daniel, where you are basically needing to think about almost everything you’re saying when he is around you. Every small action you do, because he would be looking at you and maybe sometimes learning from that.
So that’s where we are trying to think about our mechanics. There is of course, some improvements that we made in Life is Strange 2 where we have what we call dynamic dialogues where you’re still walking, you have control of your character, and you can still choose your answer and talk to Daniel or to some other people around you. So this was an evolution we realised, and it was more thinking about how we can make the game more smooth for the player more enjoyable. So it’s a bit more of the impression that he’s in control of his character. I think on the last part, where we really like to try to always improve and evolve is in how we write branching dialogues. The dialogues and conversations are really important in those games, and I think they are still, sometimes, maybe too scripted or too static. There should be a way to try to make them even more organic and fluid where you have more agency over the course of the conversation. So that’s something I think that we can continue to try to improve.