Episodic game series Life is Strange was a huge hit when it debuted in 2015. Developed by French studio Dontnod Entertainment and set in the fictional town of Arcadia Bay, the game told a multilayered story across five episodes that covered issues such as grief, bullying, sexuality and suicide, just to name a few.
All of it was wrapped in a supernatural coming-of-age story and a complex murder mystery involving strange characters, reminiscent of the TV show Twin Peaks.
Both adolescent and adult fans were drawn to the teen drama about a high school girl named Max Caufield who used time travel abilities to change decisions—ones that mostly centered on her estranged childhood friend Chloe Price, who was looking for her missing friend Rachel Amber.
So, it came as a surprise to fans when, instead of announcing a sequel, Square Enix brought a prequel titled Life is Strange: Before the Storm to this year’s E3, which is being developed by Deck Nine Games (formerly Idol Minds) while Dontnod finishes its work on a separate game called Vampyr.
The three-episode game series will release its first chapter August 31. It will focus specifically on Chloe Price (who does not have any supernatural abilities) and is set during the time period when she first meets Rachel. The setting is important because it deals with a period that isn’t fully discussed in the first game; therefore fans won’t already know what will happen, or how the story will end.
“We’re examining the life of this girl when she’s really lost and has burned every bridge at school and at home,” Zakariah Garriss, lead writer at Deck Nine Games, told AListDaily. “We’re looking at what it’s like for her when she meets Rachel Amber and examining what it’s like in someone’s life when they need somebody and they meet somebody who can change everything for them.”
Garriss has had experience in Hollywood writing for TV and film before entering game development, and the opportunity to work on the Life is Strange franchise came when the studio met with Square Enix to discuss using its game development toolset StoryForge.
That conversation occurred just as the Life is Strange fan base was exploding, which shifted the topic of the conversation. “Square cares so much about the franchise, that world, and meeting fans’ desires to go back there,” said Garriss. “We met, and those conversations turned into discussing what kind of story we would tell in a Life is Strange game. That led to creating the prequel.”
However, one of the core elements from the first game was Max’s ability to rewind time. Garriss explained how he pitched fans the idea of a Life is Strange game that didn’t seem all that strange. “While we don’t have a power like time travel, we have plenty of supernatural stuff in the game,” he said. “The idea of Chloe herself having a power felt wrong, but Arcadia Bay is a very strange place. Life is Strange’s art and narrative styles have surreal aesthetics to them. It has the willingness to examine odd, almost unexplained things as ways to represent the interior worlds of the personalities that live there. We’ve fully embraced that. There are all sorts of strange and surreal spaces to navigate in the game.
“The other way I would pitch it is that [the story] is more about responding to fans. I think the thing that’s most memorable about Life is Strange for most people isn’t the power, it’s the characters. It’s dealing with these relatable people and real-world issues. A lot of those stories were very personal [with issues like] bullying, relationships and even sexuality. There’s a courage there that we see as the cornerstone of the franchise—taking relatable problems that teenagers go through very seriously. We let that be our guide.”
It seems as though fans have taken to the game’s announcement very well, despite the fact that it’s being developed by a different studio. “There was rightfully a lot of curiosity,” said Garriss, “but our experience is in sharing what we’re doing by talking about the work and revealing more as we lead up to launch. We’ve received an incredible groundswell of support from the community, which is excited to go back to Arcadia Bay. The expectations are really high, and we wouldn’t have it as any other way. We all identify as fans ourselves.”
With the release date fast approaching, Deck Nine has been closely engaged with fans of the series. “One the most exciting moments for us in development was E3, because that’s when we announced, released the first trailer and started to engage the public to talk about the game and what’s to come,” said Garriss. “Here at the studio, we all monitor social media differently, but our entire studio was watching when we announced the game and they saw YouTube videos of people recording their responses to the announcement and trailer. We take them very seriously, and it’s an incredible privilege to work in this franchise and share our love of Life is Strange with the community. It’s incredibly humbling and rewarding to see so many people excited about the game and wanting to learn more about what Before the Storm is going to be like.”
Before the Storm was also presented at the San Diego Comic-Con, where Deck Nine showed an early demo of the game. The studio has also released developer diaries on social media and YouTube as opportunities to further engage with the enthusiastic community.
In May, Square Enix and Dontnod Entertainment announced that Life is Strange had sold over three million copies, and thanked its community for sending a multitude of supportive letters and gifts, including photos and even statues inspired by the game. Garriss shared his thoughts about how Life is Strange brought together an incredibly dedicated fan base that’s comprised of both teenagers and adults.
“To me, it’s about the flaws in the characters,” said Garriss. “Life is Strange is about telling stories with imperfect people who are dealing with really difficult but relatable problems. I think there’s a kind of celebration of the normal, even as it explodes what normal means if everyone is weird—if everyone is a little strange. There’s a kindness in that. There aren’t a lot of stories that feature characters who are really flawed but very real. I think that’s what creates the powerful connection players have with Max, Chloe and the other personalities in Arcadia Bay.”
In addition to the dramatic story and engaging characters, the music featured in Life is Strange turned out to be a huge draw for fans. The game became a vehicle for music discovery, which led to the inclusion of a soundtrack disc in the Life is Strange Limited Edition, a boxed retail edition that released last year.
Before the Storm will continue to engage with that love of music by including a Mixtape Mode in the deluxe edition. With it, players can create their own playlists from the soundtrack to play alongside a dramatic scene in the game.
Jeff Litchford, vice president at Deck Nine Games, discussed Before the Storm’s soundtrack with AListDaily.
“The first Life is Strange game was hugely praised for music and we want to follow in those footsteps,” said Litchford. “Aside from multiple licensed tracks, we also have a bespoke musical score that has been created for the game by a well-known band. Discoverability is something we feel was really important in the first game, and we look to continue this by using a mixture of recognizable tracks alongside some bands that players may not have come across themselves.”