In 2015, Dontnod Entertainment’s Life Is Strange made quite an impact with its endearing, and heartfelt story. Focusing on the slice-of-life moments of young Max Caulfield in her ordinary small town, it cleverly weaved in a time-travel mechanic to allow players to control the fates of the many characters in Arcadia Bay–for better or worse. However, the core of its story focused on the emotional connection between Max and fellow outsider Chloe, who shared several heartfelt moments together while contending with the reality of their tragic and less-than-ordinary circumstances.
With season 2 still a ways out–featuring a brand-new storyline and characters–fans have been enjoying the prequel Before The Storm, developed by Deck Nine Games. As a companion piece to the first story, it shifts things over to a younger Chloe (voiced by Rhianna DeVries), and how her emotional journey three years priors to season 1 led to the character many have grown to love. In addition to seeing how she gets her iconic blue hair, owners of the Before The Storm deluxe edition will get to experience the bonus episode Farewell next year, which will tie-up the story for Max and Chloe.
Prior to the launch of Before The Storm’s episode 3, co-game director Chris Floyd and actress Ashly Burch–who was the voice for Chloe in season 1 and served a story consultant for the prequel–spoke with GameSpot about their work on the game. During our talk, we learned how Chloe evolved between both games, and how they hope to live up to their fans’ expectations as they put the capper on the main story.
A lot of fans hold these characters dear to them, which likely made it challenging to try and revisit them for the game. Can you talk about how the change in perspective made things different this time around?
Ashly Burch: Well, it’s interesting to see Chloe in this context, you never really got to see a sense of her relationship with Rachel, apart from the fact that Chloe cared a lot about her. So I think the first Life is Strange is a lot about Chloe’s story told through Max’s eyes. They share a story, but it’s about their emotional arc through that game. But in this game, the story is about Rachel and her storyline. I think the thing that that makes it so satisfying is that even though you’re playing Chloe, you’re really learning about this character that’s almost mythic from the first game. And you’re playing her story, and the revelations about Rachel, and the story you’re following is about Rachel. It was really smart decision on [Deck Nine’s] part.
Chris Floyd: It was really a thing we discovered early on in the story and analyzing the original game. In many ways, the protagonist is a lens to see the rest of the story, and so that makes that main relationship–in the character of Chloe in the first game, and Rachel in Before The Storm–the focus of the story you’re telling. So yeah, by the time we got to the third episode, we really put a lot into this question of Rachel’s identity. She supposedly had the perfect life, was successful with everything, but she still had some-earth shattering problems. And Chloe was the right person at the right time to help her out.
It must have been daunting for Deck Nine to pick up after Dontnod for this prequel. Can you talk about what interested you about this project, and how the development went?
CF: Well, it was a great privilege to be asked to make another Life Is Strange game, and it was a lot of pressure. We were huge fans of the original game, we recognized what was so amazing about its story and how it told it. Visually it’s really fascinating, and just about everything that Dontnod did was not only a high bar, but was also a kind of unique vision. So for us to be the next Dontnod for this game, and try to do what they did, it was really a lot of pressure. And what we did was every step of the way, we just asked ourselves: are we living up to those standards? Does it feel like Life is Strange? Are we being true to these characters that people love? That was kind of our north star.
I’m really proud of the work Hannah and I did on the first game, and it was like we went on a journey with those characters.
What’s it like being able close out your time with Before The Storm and for the bonus episode?
AB: It’s so great to be able to play the character again [In the Farewell bonus episode]. It’s Hannah and I saying goodbye to these characters, to playing these characters, and saying goodbye to the fans of the series. I don’t know of any plans to keep these characters going forward, so it feels like a nice bookend to the previous game.
For newcomers, which game should they play first?
AB: I’m not sure, that’s an interesting question. They’re both designed to be stand-alone–I’m sure the first game wasn’t expecting prequels or sequels. But I am curious to see how people would react if it was played sequentially.
CF: We tried to design it so that people would come to our game first, we didn’t spoil anything from the original game, and tried to make it a self-contained story so that it can easily roll into the next one. But most players on Before The Storm are familiar with the game, and they’re playing it because they’re fans of it. I have spoken with other journalists who haven’t played the original game and started with this one, so I am curious to see how their experience with the prequel will color everything they see in the first Life Is Strange.
We often hear a lot about how passionate fans are about Life Is Strange, and how they saw a bit themselves in the game. And it’s certainly one of the rare games that focuses on a particular generation and age group that usually don’t have much focus in games. Was there anything about these characters that stuck out for you?
AB: What connected me to [Chloe] was that she has so much anger, and it comes from a place of feeling unsafe and unloved. She used to have a person that she could rely on for that, and that’s gone. So not only is she feeling lost in the way that teens often feel, but she’s experienced real loss at such a young age. Trying to process that without letting it consume you kind of created who Chloe is–so she’s rebellious and cavelier with her safety and others. Any teen can probably relate to that, the feeling of being stuck and not having anyone understand you, but I also think there’s another layer of kids that age that relate a bit uncomfortably close to Chloe, and I think that gives a viewpoint into that that can people feel seen. And especially, in games, that’s not type of characters you see.
CF: I think we hear a lot from fans as well about this as well. They’d point to a character like Chloe and say “Oh that’s me when I was a teenager.” Or “I sorta wish I was like Chloe when I was a teenager.” When it comes to portraying the lives of teenagers, it can be tricky, but we have a really diverse and amazing group of writers–some of whom were teenagers not too long ago–so they can relate and draw upon their experiences. So our hope is that the experiences of these characters can resonate with everyone who plays the game, recalling memories of being teenagers. Because those are always experiences we carry with us for a long time.
Though we still have the Farewell episode coming out next year, this is pretty much the end of the line for these characters and their stories. Can you talk about certain things that made you feel proud while working on a game like this?
CF: For my part, the thing I’m most proud is the collaboration with really talent people. I’m just really proud of the team we assembled, and then we came into this game with–rightfully so–a lot of skeptical eyes on us. Understandably so. And to see the fanbase out there cares about this series as much as we do, that they really resonated with what we created, and we seemed to have lived up to that. When I think of the The Tempest scene on the stage, which ties together a lot of our more ambitious ideas and writing, to not only have this Shakespeare scene take place in our game–without alienating people–and to even write our own Shakespearean dialog in this improvised section, the costumes, and so many other things. I think of it as one of the highlights for the series.
AB: Definitely working on Chloe in the first season asked a lot of me, and it’s the first time I felt like I connected with a character, emotionally, to that degree. I’m really proud of the work Hannah and I did on the first game, and it was like we went on a journey with those characters. The first season was an emotional journey, as many people who played it knows, and Life Is Strange is something that just does things so differently. You know, telling stories that don’t often get told, and I feel like they were responsible about how they told those kinds of stories. It’s really amazing to be a part of something that was so emotionally effective and meaningful for people, and it’s just so different from other types of games on this level. There’s some wonderful indie games out there, but you don’t usually see it with a level of polish or a bigger team. It’s a testament to how far spread it is. There are people that want that kind of thing.