Post Script

In­ter­view: Jean-Maxime Moris, cre­ative direc­tor, Dontnod En­ter­tain­ment


Jean-Maxime Moris worked in pro­duc­tion roles at Ubisoft in Shang­hai and Paris be­fore go­ing on to co-found fiercely in­de­pen­dent Parisian stu­dio Dontnod En­ter­tain­ment and di­rect Re­mem­ber Me. Now the stu­dio’s cre­ative direc­tor, Moris is cur­rently over­see­ing sev­eral projects, in­clud­ing the on­go­ing devel­op­ment of Life Is Strange. Moris has a con­sid­ered, con­fi­dent air about him when we meet at Square Enix’s Lon­don head­quar­ters, but one that’s off­set with mod­esty and can­dour. Tell­tale Games cur­rently dom­i­nates the adventure genre. What made you want to en­ter the fray? Tell­tale de­fined what I see as the mod­ern adventure game, favour­ing char­ac­ter and story devel­op­ment, and choice, over puzzles. They’re a huge in­flu­ence, but I think we’re very dif­fer­ent in many ways, and I think that shows very sim­ply in the game. If you take Gone Home, Tell­tale’s games and the Quantic Dream stuff, I think we’re some­where [near] the in­ter­sec­tion, but not quite in the same area. We were open to con­tinue on the Re­mem­ber Me IP, but we were also toy­ing with other more ac­tion-ori­ented ideas, be­cause we like dif­fer­ent things and thought, ‘Let’s use our en­gine, the rewind me­chanic and all the third­per­son tech­nol­ogy that we have.’ We just wanted to try some­thing else, and this is the one idea that we ended up fo­cus­ing on. So what came first, the time travel me­chanic or ques­tion­ing the na­ture of choice in videogames? The brief we gave to the smaller team at the in­cep­tion of the con­cept was: ‘Think of a new IP that is cen­tred on the rewind me­chanic we ex­plored in Re­mem­ber Me.’ Then we asked our­selves if we could use the rewind in real life rather than peo­ple’s mem­o­ries. And we thought the rewind could be a way to ques­tion the na­ture of choice, be­cause you can al­ways go back and forth and change what you’ve done. So we were like, OK, what kind of story would we be telling? What’s the area of your life where your choices mat­ter the most? Ob­vi­ously, it’s when you’re tran­si­tion­ing be­tween your teenage and adult years, and that’s how the game was born. So the su­per­nat­u­ral time travel as­pect was more a con­se­quence of all that. We wanted to do some­thing in­ti­mate that is be­ing echoed by [big­ger events in the story], but it’s al­ways there as a metaphor for what’s go­ing on in­side Max and Chloe. Your ap­proach to en­vi­ron­ments – which are more spa­cious than those of Tell­tale’s games – makes the game feel dif­fer­ent. What’s the story be­hind it? It’s a mix of many things. One was that we wanted more en­vi­ron­men­tal sto­ry­telling and ex­plo­ration than you typ­i­cally get in a Tell­tale game. The Walk­ing Dead, es­pe­cially, is a big in­flu­ence, but Gone Home is an­other one. We started work­ing on Life Is Strange way be­fore Gone Home came out, but when it had the suc­cess that it did, we felt we might be on to some­thing, be­cause Life Is Strange had the ex­act same spirit. That was a huge boost to our morale. But the other bit was that Re­mem­ber Me was heav­ily crit­i­cised for its lin­ear­ity, and I think that kind of trau­ma­tised us. How­ever lin­ear Re­mem­ber Me might have been, the prob­lem was more that we were pretty bad at hid­ing that lin­ear­ity – many other games are just as lin­ear, but they hide it bet­ter. You’ve al­ways had trou­ble pitch­ing a fe­male lead to pub­lish­ers. How does that con­ver­sa­tion go? It’s al­ways the same thing. You meet a [busi­ness devel­op­ment manager] and then that guy takes it to a com­mit­tee and comes back with feed­back. What usu­ally hap­pens is that the guy you meet first comes back and says, “We love it and we’re ready to se­ri­ously con­sider it, but there’s just one thing…” It’s as straight­for­ward as that. I think it’s like ev­ery­day racism – it doesn’t sound like it’s the worst sex­ist re­mark they could make, but it’s there and it’s just proof that this type of think­ing and be­hav­iour still prevails in the in­dus­try. An­other dif­fer­en­ti­at­ing fac­tor is the sheer num­ber of choices. That must have been a de­sign headache. It was a headache. Not all of them will have ma­jor con­se­quences, but we’re very open about the choices you make. So ev­ery time you see the [time travel] icon in the up­per-left cor­ner of the screen, it means there will be a reper­cus­sion. You’ll never be tricked into think­ing there might be a con­se­quence where there isn’t any. The story is go­ing in gen­er­ally the same di­rec­tion for ev­ery­one, but to me it’s about the lit­tle de­tails that make me feel im­por­tant as a player. If two of th­ese choices, com­bined with one more choice in episode two, mean that two episodes later I get a cus­tomised SMS that ba­si­cally says, ‘You didn’t tell me you were meet­ing X at this mo­ment, and you talked about this or that,’ I’m like, ‘What? Oh, that’s from back then. Wait a minute, how did they record that?’ And you know that mo­ment where you’re like, ‘Holy shit, this is me.’ It’s not fea­si­ble to build 100 dif­fer­ent branches into the game; no stu­dio of our size has the fi­nan­cial power to do it… and many peo­ple will end up only see­ing ten per cent of what you’ve built. There will be more than one end­ing in Life Is Strange, but there won’t be 67. But there will be a great num­ber of th­ese lit­tle mo­ments. In a genre where most peo­ple like to ex­plore and take their time, I think that’s where you do in­cred­i­ble things in terms of mak­ing peo­ple live the story.

“I think it’s like ev­ery­day racism – it doesn’t sound like it’s the worst sex­ist re­mark they could make, but it’s there”

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