Why Life is Strange 2 writers ratcheted up the drama in Episode 3
Life Is Strange 2 is an emotional story about two brothers on the run, and in the recently released Episode 3, emotions are coming to a head. Sean, 16, is responsible for his rebellious 9-year-old brother Daniel.
But Daniel has supernatural powers that mean he isn’t your typical kid. He can cause a lot of trouble, and so Sean has to convince Daniel not to use his powers. But Daniel won’t always listen, and he will base his own behavior on how you, as Sean, behave yourself.
Dontnod Entertainment and Square Enix released Episode 3 on May 9 on the Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, MacOS, and Linux. I’ve played through all the episodes so far, as well as the teaser story, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. I then I interviewed Jean-Luc Cano, lead writer for the game, after my playthrough.
I enjoyed our conversation, as it felt like I was interviewing the author of a novel, just after I finished reading it. Most of my questions were about what the writers were trying to achieve. We talked about the responsibility of being a caretaker and how to react when someone isn’t going to listen to what you say they should do.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
Editor’s note: This interview has story spoilers. We recommend that you finish Episode 3 before reading it.
GamesBeat: This is good timing. I finished episode three last night. I enjoyed it, but I have some questions. I’m still figuring out how I felt about it. I noticed from the documentation that there’s something like a dozen possible ways that this one could end. Why did you give that one so many options?
Jean-Luc Cano: A lot of it depends on the choices you made earlier the game, in episodes one and two, when you made some decisions that impacted Daniel. It depends on whether Daniel will listen to you and do what you want. Depending on all those specifics, you’ll have a different ending for this episode.
GamesBeat: I don’t know if my ending was that great. Daniel went and did it anyway, the break-in. I let him use his power. And then I got hurt, Cass got hurt, basically everyone got hurt. They’re all lying on the ground at the end of this one. It was interesting in that I felt like the big choice I had to make was whether to let Daniel use his power or not. It seemed like Merrill was going to shoot somebody, so I didn’t feel like I had much of a choice there. Did I have a choice?
Cano: Oh, yes, you did. [laughs] But it also depends on what was going on in the beginning of the scene for you. You can go to the robbery with Finn and Daniel, or you can go alone, or you can go with Cassidy. The setup for the scene will depend on your choices before this. In the scene, there will also be different moves and different actions depending on who you go with.
The scene is basically the same in that you’re pulling the robbery and you’ll face Merrill, but Big Joe might or might not be there. Cassidy might or might not be there. Finn could get hurt or killed at the end. There are a lot of different possibilities.
GamesBeat: It seems like there are both consequential decisions and non-consequential decisions that make a difference here.
Cano: Right. You might not notice, because this isn’t the experience you had, but if you tell Daniel not to use his power — if you let Daniel use his power in episode one and episode two, he might go against you and use his power anyway, against your will. If you tell him to stop, but you’ve taught him to use his power for good, he’ll go ahead and use it against Merrill anyway. There are a lot of consequences to your past actions that come into play.
GamesBeat: Does Daniel have any ability to control this at the end, or does it always go out of control?
Cano: It’s always out of control. There’s one branch where he has a little bit more control, but there he hurts Cassidy on purpose and hurts Sean on purpose as well. You’ll always end with a sharp piece of glass in the eye, but in one branch it’s an accident, and in another one it’s on purpose.
GamesBeat: I thought Daniel was increasingly annoying in this episode.
Cano: Yeah, I see your point.
GamesBeat: I wonder if somewhere along the way I lost Daniel. Maybe because I wanted to have him keep it secret or control himself more. It seems like that inevitably leads to Daniel not listening to me.
Cano: It was our plan in this episode to make the player understand that even if he’s taken all the good choices and all the right decisions to shape Daniel previously, there’s a moment in life where your kid, or your little brother or little sister, will want their independence. In this episode, in every way, Daniel wants his independence. He wants to be considered an adult. There are some differences depending on your past decisions. He can be a real pain in the ass, or he can be a normal annoying boy. It really depends on the choices you made before.
GamesBeat: If I made choices that made Sean happy, like getting a haircut or going to the lake with Cassidy, it seems like Sean ultimately pays for that later. It’s more selfish behavior. Eventually Daniel comes to resent that.
Cano: It’s not quite as simple as that, but if you choose to do something for yourself, regardless of what Daniel wants, he’ll be a bit angry with you. If you choose to stay and flirt with Cassidy or Finn, and Daniel is alone, the next morning he’ll be a bit more angry, a bit more sad. We wanted to show that if you have to take care of someone, you have to sacrifice your own wants to do something for him.
GamesBeat: You don’t really give us any easy choices, then.
Cano: [laughs] No.
GamesBeat: Why did you want to set the story up this way? Were there some overriding points you wanted to make about behavior?
Cano: Life is Strange 2 is five episodes, and in every episode you have a step in how to raise a child. In episode one Sean is forced to take care of Daniel. He doesn’t really know how to do it, because he’s a 15-year-old kid himself. He doesn’t know how to face this situation. That’s why, in episode two, he tried to set up the rules. You can’t use your power, or you have to use the power according to my decisions. In episode three you have Daniel’s rebellion — he wants to be independent, to be considered an adult.
It’ll be the same in episode four and episode five. Every episode will deal with theme. But the main thematic is education. That’s the main point of the game. Every episode will answer one question about the concept of educating someone.
GamesBeat: What were your thoughts about the romantic options for Sean here?
Cano: In this episode you can choose to flirt with Finn, or you can choose to flirt with Cassidy, or you can choose to flirt with no one. It depends on what you want to do with Sean as a player, how you want define him sexually. If you want Sean to be straight or you want Sean to be gay or you don’t want to sexualize him at all. We wanted to give the player the choice to do whatever they want. We shape the relationships and the stuff with Cassidy and Finn to answer the question how you want it. You’re free to do what you like.
GamesBeat: What do you notice about the percentages of how the choices come down in this episode? My choices in a couple of cases were close to 84 percent. Letting Daniel use his power, for example. Does that surprise you or tell you something?
Cano: One of the strong points about an episodic game is that at the end of every episode we as a developer can see what the players do. In episode three we were not so surprised that a lot of people are taking good care of Daniel. The majority of players are making their decisions in a way that makes Daniel happy. That’s continued from episode one through episode three. Most players choose to do the best thing for Daniel. That’s nice to see.
GamesBeat: When it’s something like 84 percent in favor of one choice versus 50 percent in favor of something else, does that tell you a lot? I think about 50 percent chose to sleep with Cassidy, so not as many on that front.
Cano: To be honest, I haven’t been able to watch all the numbers yet. I just finished the episode a few days ago. But when I go back to the office on Monday we’ll have a big discussion where we break this down. That’s what we do after releasing every episode, looking at the numbers. That’s how we shape the next episode, where we’re going with the story.
GamesBeat: I found my percentage screen. It says that Cassidy gets injured about 67 percent of the time. 97 percent of players didn’t take a gun from the safe. 57 percent went into Cassidy’s tent. 87 percent remained friends with Finn. I feel like I’m in sync with at least most of the players here in my choices. It doesn’t always turn out that way in Life is Strange for me. They often go all over the place. In episodes one and two, did you have any results that were very different as far as the big choices people make?
Cano: I don’t recall cases where we were really surprised by the numbers. I can tell you that, like I said, most people are taking care of Daniel, and that’s really important to us. There are good and bad decisions, selfish and unselfish decisions, and most of the time people are making the choices to help Daniel and make him happy. That’s something we’ve loved about making this game. The majority of people like Daniel and look after him.
One thing that surprised us, at the end of the first episode, had to do with Lyla. You have the opportunity to call her later on. For us, that story was finished. We didn’t think to pick her up later in the game. But after the first episode, we got so much feedback from the fans telling us that they loved Lyla. That’s why we put the option in episode two to call her again and follow her on Facebook, in case you have some news. It turned out that she was an important character for people, and we wanted to keep them happy. Every time a new episode comes out, we’ll look at the numbers, as I said, but we also consider other kinds of fan feedback. That’s very important for us.
GamesBeat: This episode ended with a big dramatic moment. Looking ahead to episodes four and five, what do you have planned as far as peaks and dramatic moments like that?
Cano: As you might imagine, I can’t really tell you much about episodes four and five. But you can be sure that we know where we’re going. We knew from the first draft of the script that I wrote that we were building to this ending for episode three. We totally know where we’re going in episodes four and five. We have a lot of surprises to show you. The story of the brothers — we have a few more key moments to reveal.
GamesBeat: I feel a little like leaving Daniel behind right now.
Cano: [laughs] Yeah, I can understand this.
GamesBeat: He’s a difficult kid.
Cano: Well, he had his dad killed in front of him. His brother Sean lied to him in the beginning. He’s had a tough life. Things have been complicated for him.
GamesBeat: It’s swung in a certain direction for me right now. It might be hard to move Daniel back to the center.
Cano: I get your point. We knew from the beginning that we’d arrive at this situation. We have some things that may change it, and maybe make things right. But of course I can’t tell you too much about that. We’re still working on episodes four and five.
GamesBeat: I was a younger brother myself, so maybe older brothers have a different experience.
Cano: You were Daniel. [laughs]
GamesBeat: Any thoughts on how Life is Strange 2 has been going for you overall?
Cano: We’re pretty happy with the fan reception. In the very beginning a lot of people were disappointed when we announced that the new series wouldn’t feature Max and Chloe and Arcadia Bay. But by now the majority of the community is following us and they love Sean and Daniel’s story as much as they loved Chloe and Max’s story. We’re getting a lot of support and feedback from the fan community. We’re very happy with that.
GamesBeat: I felt like for the ending here, I had to do what I had to do. I’m not sure I had that much of a choice.
Cano: Yes, but when you look at it from the other side, you did have the choice. It’s you that chose to use Daniel. If, as you said, 84 percent of the players made the same choice — if they didn’t want Merrill to use his gun, they wanted to protect Merrill — that’s important. That means everyone has some attachment to Finn. They want to protect him in that scene.
GamesBeat: How did things work out for that other 16 percent?
Cano: If you choose not to use your power, Merrill kills Finn in front of Daniel. Daniel will go crazy and ruin everything. He’ll be really angry at Sean, because Sean told him to do nothing. You’ll finish with Finn dead and Daniel angry at you.
GamesBeat: That’s pretty close to a no-win situation.
Cano: Yes, it is.