Given the talk going into this year’s E3, many fans of the original Life is Strange (including myself) expected Square Enix and developer Dontnod Entertainment to reveal the proper sequel that we’d been waiting for.
Instead, we got something rather unexpected: The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. Having a game that had no direct ties to previous main characters Max and Chloe wasn’t the surprising part, as we’d known to expect that. Instead, what was surprising was that this would be a singular standalone game to get people ready for the proper Life is Strange 2—and that it’d be completely free from day one.
Thus, when I got a chance to sit down with Captain Spirit‘s two creative directors Raoul Barbet and Michel Koch, I had a number of question about what had been revealed (and which has now been released this week). First, however, I wanted to understand where the team saw both themselves and the series after the release of Life is Strange, given that would no doubt have had a profound effect on where they’d be looking to go next.
“When we were working on the first Life is Strange, we had no idea how it would work, or how the players would react to the story or the scenarios,” explained Koch about how things were during development. “We were trying to make something a bit different, talking about everyday characters facing everyday social issues.”
That focus on a smaller, more intimate “slice of life” story was of course one of the things that pulled players into Life is Strange. All of the pieces that Dontnod placed into the game gave it a distinct feeling—which can be both a blessing and a curse. While Life is Strange stood out from other games at the time, I suggested that it might also create a set of expectations for how any future Life is Strange games might look and feel from us fans.
“It was complicated,” Koch admitted. “On one side, you have the fan expectation of what they’d just played in the first Life is Strange. On the other, we wanted to try to bring some novelty and new ideas to the table. We didn’t just want to do the same thing over again.”
As someone who’d loved Life is Strange, one of the biggest complications to further games that I felt existed was Max’s time-shifting powers. Given how integrated her powers were into the core of the story that was being told, I wondered—and maybe even worried—where things could and should go from there. Would every Life is Strange game going forward have a protagonist with a superpower because they had to, and would it go so far as to seeing Max’s time-bending abilities again?
“Max’s power made sense given the choice and consequences aspect of that particular game,” Barbet answered. “There was also the fact that, as a teenager, it’s difficult to face tough choices. You have to make them, live with your choices and go on.”
While it remains to be seen what direction Life is Strange 2 will be going in the handling of some sort of superpowers, we’ve now gotten a taste of what kinds of alternatives the team could potentially bring us thanks to Captain Spirit. Koch and Barbet told me that they still wanted to have that connection between gameplay, story, and some sort of spiritual element. In Chris—as we saw in the reveal reveal, and are learning deeper in the release of the full game—that power is his imagination. Once again, we’re given a character and a world that feels incredibly grounded and familiar to us, yet which, at the same time, provides room for some fantastical things to happen. Of course, there’s a question that players will have going into Captain Spirit: Is everything we’re seeing only in Chris’ mind, or is there a bigger, reality-impacting situation occurring as well? No spoilers for anyone who hasn’t had the chance to play the standalone story just yet, but Barbet smiled and assured me that that question was one they wanted fans to be asking.
What of Chris himself, though? As much as some players (such as myself) wanted Dontnod to not feel tied down to Max and Chloe, creating such iconic and beloved characters and then essentially abandoning them for someone new always seems like an incredibly risky chance to take.
“We created Max and Chloe the way we did because we wanted to make characters with a story worth telling to the players. And, from that, those players went from having no idea who those characters were to falling in love with them,” Koch told me. “So, we’re working the same way for our new characters such as Chris. Of course, we’ll see if the community comes to love him and the other new cast members as much. But, if they could find that love for Max and Chloe, then we think that they can love Chris.”
“I really hope that players will be able to rely on Chris the way they relied on Max and Chloe, even if it’s in a different way,” added Barbet.
Chris is an interesting choice for protagonist due to a number of reasons, one of which is the difference in tone both his gender and age will give Captain Spirit versus the original Life is Strange. The jump from teenage girls trying to survive high school to a 10-year-old boy trying to make it with his now-single father may only be one of a few years, but the two situations feel miles apart. The team focused on those differences and what they could mean for both Chris and Captain Spirit as a whole, from the difficulties of living alone with your father to the possibilities for a child to escape that harsh reality through the power of imagination. While it was certainly a big shift from having previously focused on teenagers, Koch argued that it was easier at times to put themselves in the shoes of a 10-year-old.
“Working on Captain Spirit, there’s this big feeling of nostalgia, as we’ve all been kids,” he said. “When we worked on the game, a lot of what you can do with Chris—with his toys, with the way we built the house, his bedroom—it’s often relying on our own memories of when we were young.”
There was one other topic that I wanted to broach in regards to Captain Spirit, one that might at first seem to be of little relation: Hideo Kojima’s P.T. demo. Even thought Life is Strange 2 has now officially been announced and even given a start date, I knew the secrecy that still existed surrounding how exactly Captain Spirit ties into that upcoming proper sequel.
So, I took a different approach. I brought up P.T. while talking to Koch and Barbet, and as both men gave me sly smiles, I explained that while P.T. was meant to have a connection to Kojima’s now-cancelled Silent Hills, its real purpose was to be something that would get you into the mood for that rebirth of Konami’s legendary horror franchises, and not something indicative of what you’d actually be seeing or playing. Thus, I posed a question to the duo: was Captain Spirit the P.T. of Life is Strange 2, or was it intended to be more of a direct look into what Life is Strange 2 will actually bring?
“I think it’s really cool that you talk about P.T., because it was a huge influence,” Barbet admitted. “I would say Chris is a character from Life is Strange 2, but I think Captain Spirit is meant to put people into a certain mood. Because of what happens here, I think players will be ready to start Life is Strange 2 in the best way—even though I can’t be clear on what that means.”
“More than just the spirit of Life is Strange 2, though, there are real connections that you’ll discover in Captain Spirit,” countered Koch.
“But again, it’s really a stand-alone game,” Barbet replied. “We wanted the experience of Captain Spirit to be playable as a whole, so that it stands alone. Even if you don’t want to play Life is Strange 2, you can still enjoy this story built around Chris. It was important for us to give this demo as a whole—not just as an introduction or first episode to Life is Strange 2.”
If you do want to try The Amazing Adventures of Captain Spirit, it’s available for free now for digital download on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The first episode of Life is Strange 2, meanwhile, hits on September 27th.