In the upcoming 2020, the French company Dontnod Entertainment plans to release not one, but two titles, namely Twin Mirror and Tell Me Why. Like the studio’s biggest hit, Life is Strange, the games will be split into episodes.
When Dontnod was just getting started in the industry, it targeted major developers like Naughty Dog. However, over time, her focus has shifted to creating more intimate games, the development of which does not have to sacrifice your creative principles.
Remember Me (2013)
Dontnod Entertainment was founded in 2008 by five talented individuals who were caught up in the idea of developing their own AAA game in Remember Me. By that time they had already gained enough experience working for such giants as Ubisoft and Electronic Arts, and they wanted to get more creative freedom.
It was decided to implement the ideas of Remember Me in the form of an adventure third-person shooter, which for the first time demonstrated the studio’s love for non-linearity in game design.
The player is introduced to Paris in 2084 in a world where people have learned to digitize memories using the Memorize social network. In this regard, memory hunters appeared, who is the main character of the game, Nilin. It can change a person’s memories in places and, in principle, turn his idea of \u200b\u200bwhat happened. Nilin herself does not remember anything about herself, and the reconstruction of the picture of the heroine’s hazy past will become one of the leitmotifs of Remember Me.
Interestingly, Remember Me was originally called “Adrift”, and its concept was twisted around the “purposeless existence of a family man.” However, after writer Alain Damasio joined the team, he offered to move the events to the future and helped develop the key concept for the game that became Dontnod’s trademark – “Memory Remix”.
As you progress through the game, Nilin regularly uses his ability to get into the heads of enemies, and the Combo Lab system invented by the developers allows players to customize the entire character’s combat, building the necessary combos.
By the time Remember Me development had picked up full speed, Dontnod had grown to a few dozen people. Despite the fact that the studio quickly received a contract with Sony for the release of their first game, the Japanese publisher later canceled the agreement for unknown reasons. Dontnod had to quickly look for another publisher, which ended up being Capcom. Such changes in plans could not but affect the game itself, and as a result of all the castling, a large amount of material had to be cut from Remember Me.
“You can’t create a whole world and then show only a third of it. We had to build a new story from scratch in the same setting,” said Stéphane Bouverger, one of the screenwriters.
Remember Me was released on June 3, 2013 to very lukewarm reviews from critics, not to mention weak sales.
According to the developers, their main mistake was overly high expectations from the project.
“We released an AA title. Pretty strong but not impressive. However, while creating Remember Me, we have learned to better understand what we can and cannot do, ”says Oscar Gilbert, CEO of the studio.
Life is Strange (2015)
The first steps towards the development of the Life is Strange concept, then called “WHAT IF?”, were made back in April 2013.
Life is Strange follows the adventures of 18-year-old Max Caulfield, who returns to Arcadia Bay five years later and discovers her ability to travel through time. Thanks to this talent, she manages to save the life of her old friend Chloe, with whom she will begin to investigate the mystery of the disappearance of the girl Rachel Amber, plunging into the secrets of a provincial town.
Dontnod quickly realized that they needed the help of an American screenwriter to tell a convincing story about American teenagers. Soon Christian Devine joined the team, who by that time had managed to work not only on a number of feature films, but also on such well-known titles as Deus Ex and Daikatana.
“Jean-Luc and the team came up with the character archetypes and set the direction for their development. After that, it was time to use my understanding of US culture and my experience of studying in a typical American school. It really doesn’t matter what country you live in. School is school. All teenagers have to face social pressure and find themselves wherever they are.”
Dontnod tried to make every decision in Life is Strange have consequences, but at the same time they made it possible to go back in time so that the player could choose a different scenario. It was in Life is Strange that Dontnod finally revealed their beloved “Memory Remix” concept properly.
From the very beginning, the developers knew they wanted to break the game into episodes, like a TV show. They began to write the story in the form of key events, thinking through the gameplay and story for each of them at the same time.
Also, by releasing the game in parts, the developers were able to look at the reaction of the players and adjust subsequent episodes. However, of course, there were also difficulties.
“Everything had to be done five times. Five character voice sessions, five motion capture sessions. If you release a title in episodes, you are like participating in a triathlon, because the race consists of several parts, ”says game producer Luke Baghadoust.
Square Enix was the only publisher that didn’t want to change anything about the Dontnod project. According to other companies, the game simply could not succeed if the main protagonist was a teenage girl.
The release of the first episode took place in January 2015 and immediately received rave reviews from critics. Even before the release of the fourth series, Dontnod sold a million copies of Life is Strange. The final fifth episode aired on October 20, 2015, ending Max’s story.
Ultimately, Life is Strange won more than sixty awards, including from the BAFTA. However, in addition to the awards, Life is Strange also received its portion of criticism, primarily related to technical problems and weak points in the script. However, the characters turned out to be so detailed and realistic that they remained in the hearts of the players for a long time, who raced to upload videos of thanks on YouTube.
“Life is Strange has changed the way we look in the gaming industry,” Gilbert said. “Before, we had to look for a publisher who would like our ideas for a long time. Now publishers are contacting us themselves, asking about future projects.”
Starting with Vampyr, Dontnod immediately set themselves the goal of developing an “AA” game with a medium budget. Thus, they wanted to have more freedom to experiment, in order to eventually offer players something new.
According to the plot, the talented doctor Jonathan Reed returns to London in 1918 after the war, covered by the “Spanish” flu. Shortly after his arrival, he is attacked by a vampire, turning his life upside down and dooming him to toss and turn between compassion for his patients and bloodlust. Having trusted science all his life, Reed unexpectedly becomes something supernatural.
Bouverger emphasizes that most video games give the player abilities only to overcome the obstacles offered to him, but do not force him to deal with the consequences of his actions. Dontnod wanted to put the player in front of a difficult choice. As a doctor, Reid regularly communicates with the people of London, learning their intentions and secrets. Based on this information, the player must decide who exactly to make the next victim. The developers did not want to create static NPCs, but gave each character an individuality so that the player would not perceive the townspeople as faceless blood bags.
If Reed belongs, one might say, to the classic image of aristocratic vampires, who are called “Econs” in the game, then in addition to them, other subspecies of these bloodthirsty creatures can be found in London. The Rocks resemble Ekons and live in the sewers, the Vulkods are a mixture of a vampire and a werewolf, and the Nimrods are puzzled by the goal of destroying as many of their kind as possible, as well as a society of vampire hunters.
“Zombies, mummies and werewolves are, in most cases, just stupid killing machines. Vampires are interesting in that they are fully aware of what is happening, ”notes Bouverger.
Instead of modeling all of London, Dontnod decided to focus on four main locations. In addition to the Pembroke Hospital, the game features the Whitechapel area, flooded with immigrants, the wealthy West End, and the East End docks, where the main crime is concentrated.
“In the early 20th century, communism was born, feminism was born. Darwin killed God. A whole new era has begun,” Bouverger says. – Humanity was at the same crossroads as the main character Vampyr. He has incredible power in his hands. The question is how exactly will he use it?
Vampyr was first shown to the public at What’s Next 2016, and the title was released two years later. Despite the expectations of the developers, the game was received rather cool. Critics complained about low-quality animation, unconvincing combat system, long and too frequent loading screens. However, Vampyr turned out to be a profitable project for both Dontnod and publisher Focus Home Interactive. By April 2019, the first million copies of the game had been sold.
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit (2018)
Before the release of Life is Strange 2, in the summer of 2018, Dontnod gave fans a small free title called The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. The game’s plot develops in the Life is Strange universe and invites you to immerse yourself in the fantasy of a nine-year-old boy Chris, who runs away from reality, calling on his alter ego – “Captain Spirit”.
With this maneuver, Dontnod wanted to return players to the world of Life is Strange and demonstrate the graphical improvements of the upcoming second part. The developers have placed several references to the second part of the series in the title, but what is even more interesting is that the decisions made by the player in The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit affect the development of dialogues in Life is Strange 2.
“We wanted to remind the player what it means to be a kid and spend time as you please. You can play with toys, help your father, you can follow the quest of the game. You decide how to spend your Saturday morning, and each time you will find something new, ”said Raul Barbet, co-director of the game.
Life is Strange 2 (2018)
Work on the second season of Life is Strange began to boil immediately after the release of the final episode of the first. In the sequel, Dontnod decided not to develop the plot of the first part, but to present a completely new story.
After an unexpected tragic incident, two brothers, 16-year-old Sean and 9-year-old Daniel, are forced to leave their native Seattle and go to Mexico on their own, hiding from the police and trying to cope with their paranormal abilities. Suddenly, they will have to survive in a world where until recently they felt completely safe. During the journey, Sean will have to become a kind of mentor for his brother. As a result, every decision of the player and behavior in the dialogue will affect the behavior of Daniel in the future.
The developers claim that in the Life is Strange series they are not trying to write sci-fi stories, but adding elements of fantasy to make the characters more vulnerable.
“In Life is Strange 2, Sean is supposed to be like a father figure to Daniel. So by giving his little brother super strength, we made it harder for Sean. It’s pointless for fans to ask us where these powers come from. It’s not about them, it’s about how the main characters deal with them,” explains game director Michel Coche.
The developers decided not to change the general style of the first part, but wrapped the familiar elements of the game into new technologies. It was also important to find suitable voice actors. Gonzalo Martin and Roman Georges portrayed Sean and Daniel respectively.
If in the first part the music consisted of a mixture of works by Jonathan Morali and world-famous compositions, it was decided to add more rhythmic electronic music to the musical design of the second season of Life is Strange.
The release of the first episode took place on September 27, 2018, and the remaining four parts were released throughout the next year. Although the audience was a little disappointed with the debut episode, by the release of the fifth episode, the game received reviews on par with the first Life is Strange.
Twin Mirror was first announced at Sony’s E3 Countdown in 2018. When exactly the title will release in 2020 is unknown, but after the release, the Windows version will be sold exclusively through the Epic Games Store for a year.
In Twin Mirror, Dontnod tells the story of 33-year-old investigative journalist Samuel Higgs, who unexpectedly decides to return to his hometown of Basswood after learning of the death of his best friend.
Higgs very quickly realizes that although he has long since left his home, some things simply cannot be left forever in the past.
The developers were inspired by titles like Heavy Rain, Fahrenheit, and Beneath the Steel Sky, and wanted to demonstrate in Twin Mirror that the bad things in our lives are not accidental, but are the result of our own decisions.
On November 14, 2019 at X019 in London, Dontnod announced their next project, the Tell Me Why adventure game. This time, the studio will offer you to immerse yourself in a mystical story that revolves around the memories of the twins Tyler and Alison Ronan about their troubled childhood. The game will be released in the summer of 2020 and will be divided into three parts.
“At Dontnod, we believe that video games should make people think and react to what is happening,” says Bouverger. We like to put players in situations where they have to deal with the consequences of their decisions. Many games have done this before us, and we are happy to develop this direction together with other studios that want to offer players a new experience.