When we were at SDCC, WNA was lucky enough to demo the prequel to Life is Strange, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, which tells Chloe Price’s story after her father died and Max left. We also were able to speak to the lead writer, Zak Garriss, and Producer David Hein; their interview will follow directly after my impressions of the game.
Before the Storm will be a stand alone story that will be told in three episodes, the first being released on August 31st, across all platforms (including PC). We get to see Chloe Price three years before the events of the first game; she’s sixteen, her father has died, and Max has moved away–all three difficult things for her to deal with. In the midst of all this turmoil, she’s going to meet the titular Rachel Amber. However, while we will be spending significant time with Rachel in this story, and exploring her relationship with Chloe, this won’t be the story of how Rachel disappears.
I was able to play through a scene in the game, one that involves Chloe getting into a bit of trouble–and meeting Rachel. The game plays great just as before, however without the rewind mechanic, choices matter more–there isn’t going to be a chance to go back and try again without actually reloading a save point. I made one choice that caused some consequences I genuinely wanted to change–but no dice, here. I just had to live with them. Obviously I won’t know how far reaching my choices will be until I get to play a bit farther, but I definitely felt my choices more heavily than I did in Life is Strange. I also saw two more scenes play out, one with Chloe and Rachel, and one with Chloe and her father (the latter can be seen below).
While Max had her photography to make her mark within the game, Chloe has grafitti to make a literal mark–the game allows you to go up to certain objects and choose what symbol you want to spray on them, which I think is a fun mechanic, and is totally within her personality.
One of the strongest parts of the game has always been it’s writing, and it’s here again in full force; both Chloe and Rachel sound like real teenage girls, just struggling to deal with their own issues in the best way they know how. There is some really great humor in the writing as well, and even in the short bits I played, were were some lines of dialogue that really tugged at my heartstrings. It’s clear this Chloe is a lot more soft around the edges than the hardened, blue-haired girl we meet in Life is Strange. Here, Chloe is still willing to mouth off and assert herself, but the follow through isn’t always there; she’s more willing to second guess herself– and her actions. She still isn’t nice, but there is a clear sense here that she’s biting off more than she can chew. Often in the dialogue choices you can be highly assertive/aggressive or back off immediately…only to assert yourself again, later. It reminds me very much of a teenager, and of Chloe, in particular.
I know some have been concerned over the loss of Chloe’s original voice actress (as the voice acting was something that was so integral to the previous game), but I personally found Rhianna DeVries does a great job, and while her voice does sound different, it still sounds like Chloe–which is what truly matters. The core, the heart of the character is still there, so I hope those worried will feel better after reading this.
Overall, playing the demo left me genuinely more excited for Before the Storm than I had been. Chloe’s story is one worth exploring, and if the small snippets I’ve seen are any indication, fans of the series won’t be let down. Going back to Arcadia Bay is going to be an emotional experience, to be sure, but I think one worth the journey.
I was also able to interview Zak Garris, head writer of Life is Strange: Before the Storm, and Producer David Hein, of Deck Nine Games (The game developer). Below is our conversation. I hope you enjoy it–I will say that Zak was one of the most thoughtful writers I’ve spoken to in recent memory. He has a clear passion for Life is Strange, and his determination to tell Chloe’s story in a realistic and heartfelt way shines through.
WNA: So what was the main reason you wanted to tell this story?
Zak Garris: I was in love with Chloe in the first game, partly because of how carefully guarded her vulnerabilities were as a character. I think she acts like she doesn’t care what people think, but she really does. You can you can tell from her performance in that story, she’s gone through so much. She does have an endurance and strength, but she’s also very broken because of that. I was very excited about looking at her life at a younger age when she’s closer to losing her dad, when that pain is more raw, and her vulnerabilities are higher. She’s a little bit younger, she’s a little bit more naive; to me, there’s something about the idea of Chloe at sixteen that felt so relatable.
She could become such a powerful vehicle for exploring grief, which is incredibly personal but at the same time universal. Most people live long enough to have lost someone, and your grief may be very different from my grief, but we both have a sense of what that experience can be like.
We’re looking at being alone, as well. A lot of people have gone through periods of life where they feel like other people don’t get them– especially non-represented groups, or misrepresented groups. Her age is important, too. If you’re an adult, you’ve gone through what it’s like when you don’t have control over your body, over where you spend your time, necessarily. Even your identity and your sexuality can be something uncertain–every day you don’t know, you might feel different. The world is louder.
To me, there’s so much potential to sympathize with Chloe, to able to experience, or re-experience those hardships, and through that make a claim about it and say this is normal, it’s okay. If you’re alone, just wait, because you’re going to get to meet someone someday. I think everyone can relate to a different version of that story in some shape or form. That’s what really got me excited as a storyteller, to get to carve out that space and say, ‘It’s okay to be lost, it’s okay to be alone, it’s okay to be whatever you are.’ Look at Chloe–it’s rough for her sometimes, but she’s going to be okay, too.
WNA: I think grief is really complex. Some people, like Chloe, seem to lash out, while I find myself often shutting down.
Garris: You might see moments where Chloe shuts down as well; we’re exploring lots of complexities in emotion. How she acts one day may be different from the day after–or, as a player, you might choose to deal with your grief a range of ways, and that will affect Chloe’s reactions.
WNA: There is also the key element of bringing Rachel into this story; she was a mystery in the first game. Did you also want to tell that story?
Garris: Yes. Rachel is this chimeric character in the first game, who was apparently something to everyone–everyone had an opinion about her. There’s something enchanting, and I think probably dangerous about that? I’m really interested in genuine people, in my life, personally, and when you start piecing the clues together about who is Rachel in Arcadia Bay, you might start to question how genuine she was with everybody.
At the same time, I know from Chloe’s recounting, she loved her. She’s not clear how, but it’s clear the emotion was there. That girl had a huge impact on Chloe’s life. If I want to protect Chloe, maybe I’m angry at Rachel; perhaps if I’m fully sympathizing with Chloe, maybe I’m grateful for her–maybe both at the same time. There’s something mythical about Rachel, and this story is getting to pull her down to the ground. Instead of being unknown, she’s gong to be a person you get to interact with, have dialogue with, and she’s going to need you.
That was a real exciting piece in completing Chloe’s arc: here’s a broken girl who has been through some really hard stuff and she still has something she can offer someone else– someone who seemingly has everything she could possibly want.
I think some fans are nervous over actually seeing the mythical Rachel–it’s like we’re taking a secret away as we make her flesh and blood. But I think it’s going to create a lot more richness in what that story is, by actually giving her depth.
WNA: While the humanity is universal, do you find it a challenge to write young women, when you are [laughs] obviously neither of those things? Young people, especially, have a way of talking that dissipates as we grow older. So how do you get in that mindset?
Garris: So when we’re writing–I say we, because while I’m the lead writer, there is a team of writers. It’s myself, it’s another man named John, a woman named Felice, and a woman named Mallory. I’m the oldest at thirty five, Mallory’s the youngest at twenty, and she’s still in school. I think a good shield against your own blind spots as a writer is to have a diverse room.
Culturally at Deck Nine [The game’s developer], we really believe the best stories reflect a diversity of experience in the narrative itself, and the best way to generate and create those stories is by having that diversity reflected in the people are making it. I think it is important especially when it comes to writing. But we’re going to draw on our personal experiences, for sure.
There are ways in which my experiences as a guy at the age that I am, will make it potentially challenging to really understand what being sixteen means again, or what being a girl means in a thousand ways. So when we’re writing about grief, about being angry your parents, about loss and friendship, I have plenty of things to say about those themes from my own experiences, but simultaneously I beg every writer in the room to challenge and critique every opinion and every idea that I’m sharing, and I do the same with them. We’re striving to augment each other’s blind spots, and to broaden our views and deepen our understandings so that the work itself is more bulletproof. It’s more authentic, and it’s more right in the ways that it needs to be. So we just try really hard to question our own privilege, and to be open and supportive of criticism.
WNA: Music was something that was an integral part of the first game, and that seems to be continuing in this game. Not only the soundtrack, but the orchestral music is setting the tone. How do you go about finding that kind of music, and finding the music that will set the right mood for the scenes?
David Hein: We started investigating what we wanted in music, both from a licensed track standpoint, as well as the score, when we were getting our first story concepts ready. Music was there at the very beginning, and that was important for us, because Life is Strange— as a franchise– one of its pillars is music. The music helped to understand the characters, the town, and the environments in ways, that without it, I think the experience would have been really hampered. We knew that it was something that was vitally important to us.
One of the fun things about this game is that Chloe and Max are different people, so they will have different musical tastes and different ways in which they express themselves musically. Into the Mill [The scene I demoed] is a great example of that, as that isn’t a concert Max would go to. It still feels very situated in Arcadia Bay.
We will have a series of licensed tracks for the game as well as some really cool stuff in the score.
WNA: There is that scene at the show where Chloe finds a man who has a note near him regarding some things happening in Arcadia Bay [no spoilers here!]. Is that a thread that is going to be pulled, or is that more world building?
Garris: I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say that is an example of what the first game did really well, which was creating a seemingly real town that has so many disparate threads that might touch on, or reference characters you know. We really strive to do the same thing. Everything that we place in the world has a purpose, and it’s a question of how many we place in, and how each creates narrative echoes or ties into characters we meet.
WNA: Are there any other stories that you would like to tell within this universe?
Hein: Well we will have the farewell episode, which will be exploring Max and Chloe before the events of the first game. That’s one story we’re just bursting at the seams to tell.
Life is Strange: Before The Storm, episode 1 releases August 31st!