THE BIG IN­TER­VIEW

With two episodes to go, Life Is Strange: Be­fore The Storm writer Zak Gariss dis­cusses the game.

PlayStation Official Magazine (UK) - - CONTENTS -

With the first episode of Life Is Strange: Be­fore The Storm out now, and the sec­ond due for re­lease soon, this is the per­fect time to catch up with lead writer Zak Gar­riss to learn how the pre­quel came to be. Tak­ing over the writ­ing reins from Don­tNod, Deck Nine had its work cut out mak­ing the pre­quel se­ries unique and com­pelling. Gar­riss dis­cusses the chal­lenge of writ­ing for Chloe, bring­ing Rachel to life, and the pres­sures of en­sur­ing a choice-led game could re­main true to char­ac­ters’ true selves.

OPM: Through the first game you had lots of choices, then at the end it came down to a bi­nary de­ci­sion. Did you see that as a prob­lem with this, in that it makes choice an il­lu­sion? Zak Gar­riss: I think it’s a good ques­tion. I don’t think it’s nec­es­sary for the con­se­quences of your choices to last for­ever to be mean­ing­ful. The act of hav­ing to make the moral choices you’re mak­ing through­out the game, re­gard­less of how long those con­se­quences live, the act of be­ing con­fronted with those choices and hav­ing to pick things is do­ing the work it needs to do to make you feel con­nected to those char­ac­ters and that world, so by the end you are hav­ing to make one fi­nal choice that’s go­ing to es­sen­tially clob­ber the town or save Chloe’s life. I don’t think that un­does all of the ten­sion, that all of the choices lead­ing up to that can force you

to think about, and prob­a­bly di­rectly forms which of the fi­nal choices you have de­cided.

OPM: In these pre­quels, it feels like there’s more go­ing on with choices be­cause you can’t rewind. Was that a bold move to make? ZG: It does feel bold some­times. It’s funny, I think the rewind me­chanic cre­ated a safety net that was re­ally fit­ting for who Max was as a char­ac­ter. She’s the kind of per­son who’s go­ing to sec­ond-guess her choices, she’s go­ing to want to stress about do­ing the right thing. When we were build­ing the game around Chloe, imag­in­ing ‘What will Chloe’s chal­lenges look like? How will Chloe meet those chal­lenges?’ that kind of a me­chanic didn’t fit. She’s not the kind of per­son who’s go­ing to stress about what the right de­ci­sion is, she’s go­ing to make her choice and charge right through, and then deal with what­ever the con­se­quences are. So, when we’re invit­ing the player to step into her shoes, we’re re­ally ask­ing you to be coura­geous or thought­less in a way that Chloe can be.

OPM: Will there be any su­per­nat­u­ral el­e­ments? ZG: Yeah, def­i­nitely. Just be­cause Chloe doesn’t have a power doesn’t mean that we’re aban­don­ing the su­per­nat­u­ral as­pects of what makes Ar­ca­dia Bay so strange.

OPM: There are com­par­isons to Twin Peaks. It’s a strange place with lots of of­fchar­ac­ters. Are you dou­bling down on that? ZG: Very much so, maybe even in some ways be­ing stranger. I don’t want to spoil any­thing. I will say this: I think a big part of the game is look­ing at Chloe’s world at this point in time, from the in­te­rior, from her in­te­rior. And so, we’ve in­ter­acted with her as a char­ac­ter through Max’s eyes and we’ve not re­ally known what’s go­ing on in­side of Chloe. One of the most ex­cit­ing things for me as a writer is get­ting to round out Chloe’s depths, so she’s not just an an­gry girl… we’re go­ing to see her be­ing funny and goofy, and silly, and sad, and a full range of hu­man emo­tions which makes a per­son, a per­son. And part of that, what she’s deal­ing with right now, she’s es­sen­tially griev­ing the loss of Max and the loss of her fa­ther, we’re ex­plor­ing grief, and part of how we’re ex­plor­ing grief is in the strange­ness of grief, how it al­ters our per­cep­tions, how it changes and takes con­trol away from how we feel one mo­ment to the next.

OPM: Since there was a lot of queer sub­text in the pre­vi­ous game, how far are you push­ing it? ZG: Pretty far, very far ac­tu­ally. Part of what we’re do­ing with that, that’s

WHEN WE’RE INVIT­ING THE PLAYER TO STEP INTO HER SHOES, WE’RE ASK­ING YOU TO BE COURA­GEOUS OR THOUGHT­LESS IN A WAY THAT CHLOE CAN BE.

also one of the most ex­cit­ing as­pects of the game for me. There are peo­ple who have strong opin­ions about what Chloe’s re­la­tion­ship with Rachel was. In my opin­ion, the game it­self, the first Life Is Strange, doesn’t clearly de­fine that, it’s very sug­ges­tive. So, we’re look­ing at that sug­ges­tive space to give the player agency in de­ter­min­ing how far that re­la­tion­ship goes, the na­ture of that re­la­tion­ship, and whether or not it’s ro­man­tic. But that is a path you can take, and it’s not a sin­gle choice you make, it’s not like: “Oh, we’re girl­friends now,” it’s more like an ac­tual re­la­tion­ship where there are mul­ti­ple op­por­tu­ni­ties to ar­tic­u­late how you’re feel­ing, and, de­pend­ing on the choices you’re mak­ing, Rachel may or may not re­spond the way you want her to.

OPM: Are there Easter eggs and things that the fans of the last game will pick up on? ZG: I think the best way to ref­er­ence ma­te­rial that you love, that fans love, isn’t nec­es­sar­ily… well, Easter eggs are kind of con­tentious, too much of it isn’t good. We’ve de­lib­er­ately crafted the story to be nos­tal­gic with the first game, to re­ally res­onate with the ma­te­rial of the first game. You’re go­ing back to a lot of the same places, you’re see­ing a lot of the same char­ac­ters. We’re look­ing at them in a dif­fer­ent time and we’re look­ing at them through Chloe’s eyes, which is go­ing to change how we see them com­pared to Max. But we re­ally tried to make it an even mix of spa­ces you’re go­ing to know and love, and spa­ces you’ve never been to. Char­ac­ters that you’re go­ing to know and love, or hate, and char­ac­ters you’ve never met be­fore that are new and in­ter­est­ing… We loved the first game long be­fore we were talk­ing to Square about work­ing on Life Is Strange, we were huge fans of the fran­chise, so we couldn’t help but put that love all over it.

OPM: There’s a bonus episode with Max. Can you tell us some­thing about that? ZG: Yes, it’s the fourth episode. It’s an op­por­tu­nity to play as Max one more time, and we’re look­ing at Max and Chloe’s re­la­tion­ship at a time be­fore Be­fore The Storm, so it’s early.

OPM: In the first game you kind of felt there was a dan­ger in the world. Was it a chal­lenge to keep that level of threat when you’re play­ing a char­ac­ter who’s quite con­fi­dent, who’s open to dan­ger? ZG: It’s dif­fer­ent, it is chal­leng­ing, it’s not the same, but what it does to have Chloe be­ing out of the gate, less scared than Max, is, it gives us an op­por­tu­nity to re­ally make you won­der what’s go­ing to make Chloe scared. So, when you take a char­ac­ter like Max, and you can cre­ate this loom­ing back­drop of threat, it’s not a sur­prise, nec­es­sar­ily. For us, we took a dif­fer­ent ap­proach with Chloe; as a char­ac­ter she’s seem­ingly fear­less un­til she’s sud­denly not, and we’re look­ing at the kind of thing that will make Chloe afraid. I think that’s go­ing to do in­ter­est­ing work nar­ra­tively.

OPM: Did you sit down and work out ways to put Chloe through the mill? ZG: I think good drama puts the hero through a jour­ney. That can be re­ally dif­fi­cult, the nu­ance for me, with Chloe, the way I wanted to take her even fur­ther than the last game did, was more about cre­at­ing sit­u­a­tions where we get to see Chloe vul­ner­a­ble. I want to find ways to have her be will­ing to lower her guard and open up, and, yeah, po­ten­tially then be hurt, and how she could re­act to that. Find­ing ways to make Chloe com­fort­able enough to be happy for a bit, we get to ex­plore these parts of her through­out the arc. That’s been the most sat­is­fy­ing.

OPM: We don’t know much about Rachel. Was it a big chal­lenge to work out why a char­ac­ter like Chloe would love a char­ac­ter like Rachel? ZG: Yeah, that’s one of the core chal­lenges. When we started con­cept­ing the story what we re­ally con­nected to was this idea of look­ing at this chap­ter in Chloe’s life when some­thing hap­pened that was in­cred­i­bly sig­nif­i­cant, so sig­nif­i­cant that when we see her in the first game, she’s putting fly­ers up all over Black­well be­cause this girl’s miss­ing and she’s los­ing her mind. And she never re­veals why, why she was so con­nected to Rachel, ex­actly what the de­tails of that con­nec­tion were. And so, that seemed like a great op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a lot of depth and a lot of agency for the player.

OPM: Were there times when you thought: “Oh, I would pre­fer it if we didn’t know any­thing about these char­ac­ters”? ZG: Yeah, that’s a good ques­tion. Pre­quels are re­ally hard in that way. We kind of cheated it be­cause we’re not telling a story that leads up to Rachel’s dis­ap­pear­ance, that’s not the story.

OPM: Yeah, but we know, for in­stance, you can’t kill Rachel in the game. ZG: That’s true, but some­times re­strict­ing the op­tions, what you have cre­atively, is ac­tu­ally quite help­ful. We can cre­ate all kinds of dra­matic ten­sion that has noth­ing to do with threat­en­ing Rachel’s life.

OPM: If you’ve got a game where every choice you make de­vel­ops that char­ac­ter in a cer­tain way, do we re­ally know who that char­ac­ter is? Does the player have a Chloe or is there a Chloe in your head, as a writer, that is ac­tu­ally the true Chloe? ZG: That’s a com­pli­cated ques­tion. This is what the craft of in­ter­ac­tive nar­ra­tive is, of writ­ing choice, of writ­ing hooks that the player can use. It’s a ques­tion of what the choices are? How dif­fer­ent they are from each other, and where they live within the story over­all, that will re­ally form the an­swer to what you’re ask­ing. If we give a lot of very black and very white choices to the player, where this ver­sion of Chloe and this ver­sion of Chloe are this far apart [ges­tures a wide gap with his hands], the story is go­ing to strug­gle to ac­com­mo­date those two per­son­al­i­ties. I’m more in­ter­ested in choices that live within a moral grey space and I can imag­ine a ver­sion of Chloe that would do that, on a dif­fer­ent day I can imag­ine a ver­sion of Chloe that couldn’t do that. You’re go­ing to have to de­cide for your­self where you land within that. It’s re­ally abstract, but that’s a ques­tion of the dif­fer­ence be­tween the choices that we’re giving and when within the story those choices live. I think when you get to the very end of the nar­ra­tive, you can have choices that are this far apart [dis­plays his hands far apart], but if all of them are like that, then the game’s go­ing to spi­ral out.

Chloe’s re­bel­lious na­ture leads to a bit of sarky backchat. We like that.

Left Chloe gets her nerd on with some clas­sic table­top RPGing… Right …and then rocks out by sneak­ing into a killer gig in­side an old barn. This girl’s com­plex.

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