Don’t Nod, best known for creating the Life is Strange franchise, opened a new studio in Montreal in 2020. At that time, the studio had left the Life is Strange series behind, but it primed this new studio to create a spiritual successor under the guidance of developers behind that hit series, including Luc Luc Baghadoust and Michel Koch. The Game Awards 2023 bore the fruits of this labor with the reveal of Lost Records: Bloom & Rage.
Lost Records: Bloom & Rage is a new narrative-focused game that follows the story of four girls who reunite 27 years after a traumatic supernatural event. We don’t know much else about it yet, but my conversation with three developers at Don’t Nod Montreal painted a picture of how the studio is preparing for Lost Records to be a game that not only lives up to expectations as a Life is Strange successor, but puts and keeps Don’t Nod Montreal on the map.
“We’ve had this opportunity to create this studio on the basis that we wanted,” Baghadoust, the game’s executive producer, tells Digital Trends. “Now, for the first time, we can build a strategy regarding how we’re going to make this a studio dedicated to this franchise. We shape the way we work, the creative, the team, the production, the tools, the tech; everything is made toward this goal. It’s the Lost Records franchise, but also the Don’t Nod Montreal project.”
While Don’t Nod is not yet ready to share any mission statement of sorts for the entire franchise, Bloom & Rage’s premise harks back to the character-focused coming-of-age dramas that Don’t Nod is known for, with creative director Koch telling us that the pandemic ended up influencing the game in that the idea of connection, or lack thereof, is a central theme that Bloom & Rage tackles.
Its premise does share some similarities to Yellowjackets, although Koch tells Digital Trends that Don’t Nod’s ideas for Blood & Rage predated that show’s release; it’s likely that the same sources, such as Stephen King and Twin Peaks, inspired both. The most significant influence looming over Lost Records is Life is Strange, though. That’s the franchise that put the studio on the map, but it’s also a property owned by Square Enix that Don’t Nod didn’t have direct control over.
As a result, Don’t Nod moved away from that franchise following Life is Strange 2, with Deck Nine developing 2021’s Life is Strange: True Colors. Lost Records could potentially serve as a Life is Strange successor from the original creative team, one that Don’t Nod has complete ownership and control over. Koch seemed quite excited about the idea of building up not only a single game, but an entire franchise that completely belongs to the creatives at Don’t Nod Montreal.
“We are working on this first game as a complete entity, but we have in mind the links and all we can unravel with further games, how we could have characters come back, and what could be the follow-ups for some characters in the future,” Koch says. “It’s really liberating and great creatively to be able to work like that. Even if there was only one game, we still had the chance to think of how things can extend and know that if things go right, we will be able to do that and extend those games with other ideas, follow-ups, and side stories that we have imagined. As a creator, you cannot ask for something better than that. ”
Most story and gameplay details about Bloom & Rage are still under wraps. However, the developers want to evolve the narrative adventure gameplay experience with this new entry. “There are core base mechanics that are part of the games we make, and we’ll still want to use on these games regarding exploration, dialogues, choices, and consequences. But there’s also room for innovation,” Baghadoust says.
Koch adds that Don’t Nod referenced the strengths and shortcomings of Life is Strange’s gameplay as it created Lost Records. He praises the rewind mechanic in Life is Strange for offering that agency and critiqued Life is Strange 2’s distance from those power-based consequences, even though it was thematically appropriate. With Lost Records: Bloom & Rage, Don’t Nod wants to lean into giving players more agency.
“Something that we’re trying to push more is giving the feeling of more agency to our players with our dialogue system. We make sure that you feel more connected with your character when you’re talking rather than just watching an interactive movie,” he says. “Immediately, we reward the interaction with the controller so you feel like you’re playing the game and not just playing a character who then makes the game evolve.”
While opening in the middle of the pandemic brought its own challenges, Don’t Nod Montreal eventually settled in as a remote-friendly studio entirely focused on making Lost Records the best it could be. Frederique Fourny-Jennings, Don’t Nod Montreal managing director, who was also on the call, likened having a successful first game as a studio to converting a try in rugby, as it means they’ll get to stick around and make more despite the economic hardships the game industry is facing.
“One thing that’s deeply important to me is courage, the courage to manage, the courage to make decisions, the courage to stick to what we want to do in a way that makes sense while working with all the other stakeholders,” Fourny-Jennings tells Digital Trends. “You have marketing and biz-dev and many other people revolving around us whose mandate is for the project to be a critical success, a commercial success. We have all this we need to bring together, but it’s really the courage to keep the essence of what we’re trying to do, to keep these values that we’re trying to bring in our game, in our studio.”