I’ve only recently fallen in love with Chloe Price through Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 1 and Episode 2, but that didn’t stop my excitement levels from going through the roof when I was recently invited to a Square Enix event in Santa Monica to preview Episode 3 and interview Deck Nine’s Co-Game Director Chris Floyd.
Chris offered a lot of insight on the storm of emotions behind the team’s story/gameplay decisions, and I was fortunate he was willing to take me on a spoiler-free journey to understand the complexities of Chloe and Rachel’s relationship, as well as Chloe’s development from Season 1 of Life is Strange and its prequel.
Many thanks to Square Enix and Deck Nine Games for making all of this possible!
*THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR BEFORE THE STORM EPISODE 1 AND EPISODE 2*
Could you just start out by saying your name and your title?
Yeah! I’m Chris Floyd. I’m the Co-Game Director at Deck Nine Games.
What was your role on the team for Life is Strange?
So I was the game director, and I’m one of two game directors. I have a background in game design. My Co-Game Director’s name is Webb Pickersgill. He’s a cinematic guy; he has a tv and film background. He’s been director and cinematographer, so he kind of came from that direction. I came from the video game direction.
Together, we’re really responsible for keeping the overall vision of the product. But a lot of my time is focused on the gameplay elements and things like that, as we go, as we went along.
What was your vision going on to this project?
First it was: let’s make a game that lives up to what’s so amazing about the first Life is Strange. That was, far and away, the thing we focused on basically day in and day out on the project. But beyond that, you know, when we started, we didn’t know exactly which story we were going to tell, so it was first determining what’s the best story within this universe. We knew we wanted to do a prequel, because the way the first game ended, it didn’t make sense to carry on some story after that. There were a couple of different ways it could end, and we didn’t want to pick one and run with it, and kind of invalidate all of the other players that picked something different.
So that’s what got us thinking about the prequel. And then we said, “Okay, who are the characters in Arcardia Bay? And who would be the most interesting to tell a story about?” And that’s eventually where we ended up with Chloe Price in this period after her father’s died in a car crash, and her best friend Max (who’s a main character in the first game) has left. You know, this character who’s kind of lost and abandoned. But we knew from the first season that there was this girl, Rachel Amber, this kind of magical and mythical creature from the first game, and that her friendship meant so much to Chloe. We said, “Okay, we have a story here about someone coming into the life of someone who is really lost and broken, and turning their whole life around” and it felt like it had the dramatic spark that we needed.
Yeah! One of my favorite things about Before the Storm is this focus on Chloe and Rachel’s relationship. I think it goes beyond the boundaries of just friendship, but really lets the players explore what kind of relationship they want to craft from that. And I feel like that was really good on the team’s part, because it’s this push away from heteronormativity, and you know, the players get to decide. Would you mind discussing that a little bit?
Thanks for saying that! I really enjoyed that. You know, obviously their relationship is at the heart of the whole game, I think, that’s really the core of it. We knew from what Chloe says about Rachel in the first Life is Strange that that relationship was very important. We even know that it might’ve been romantic; there are a lot of hints in that direction. When we came to that element of the game, we said, “Well, we’re going to have a game that takes place over just three days, so where can that relationship go? And what directions can it go?” And of course, we’re a game about choices and consequences, so we said, “Well, if we can put some of this in the hands of the players to decide, you know, what that relationship is or at least how quickly that it develops in certain ways, let’s do that. Let’s give them that choice.” But to make it a romantic relationship was something that we felt was right based off of what was in the original game, or to make it a possibility of that.
So yeah, we looked at how the player can influence that, and what we did was we looked for places a player could make small choices about how intimate or how flirtatious you want to be with Rachel. And those little things add up, and they start to change some of the larger choices later on in the story. That was kind of our overall pattern for how that plays out.
To talk a little bit more about Chloe, how has it been working with Chloe’s new voice actress?
Well, Rhianna DeVries is fantastic. We were really really happy and super pleased that the fans were really happy with the performance that she gave us.
It was interesting: she’s a local actor from Colorado, where our studios are based. We brought her in originally to do motion capture. We have a motion capture facility in our offices, and we were recruiting actors to do the physical performances for all of our characters. In the course of that, we got those actors to perform the lines, because of course they want to get the scene down and all the emotions down that involve the words as well as the physicality. And we recorded that to use as a sort of template track for all of our scenes as we were putting it together, before we got the official voiceover.
And she just kept nailing the delivery, she had the character down, she really understood the character. So she was the natural choice once we kind of came to grips with the fact that we couldn’t get Ashly Burch to reprise the role (she was the actress for the original Life is Strange). And because of the SAG-AFTRA strike, she couldn’t take that role.
We were lucky enough: we got her to come on and help us with writing the script, but at that point, we just knew, hey, Rhianna would do a fantastic job, and she did.
Subsequently, with Hannah and Ashly returning for this bonus reunion episode, what is it like to work with them: the original team and the newcomers?
We were thrilled it kind of all worked out in time for “Farewell,” to do the recording for that. We, of course, really wanted to get Hannah, and we were excited Ashly could come back. I’ve heard some of their VO, and the two of them together and playing those parts again…it’s just, it’s amazing, what the sound of their voices does to take you back to that first game. And of course, they already have a rapport working together, and they know those characters so, so well. So it’s been super exciting to get them back on board.
I just finished playing the demo for Episode 3, and I think that, right off the bat, it’s just so emotional and picking things off where they were left. And one thing I noticed was the dream sequence with Chloe’s dad…it seems to me that each sequence, as the episodes continue, are becoming more realistic and intertwined with Chloe’s reality. So in Episode 3, she was actually on the stage where they performed the play [Episode 2], and her dad was there, and other people were in the scene with her. Would you mind discussing a little bit about how realistic these sequences are becoming?
Yeah, that’s a great observation! We start with the first dream you have in Episode 1, where she’s in the car with her dad…that’s kind of a strange fantasy world where everything’s kind of right with the world, and she doesn’t even really realize she’s dreaming. She’s kind of taken back to those moments with her dad in the car, until she realizes that it’s that moment. And so that was where we started with those dreams, and we’ve been very deliberate with how we’ve transformed them each step of the way. Part of that is bringing Rachel into them, so in the second dream in Episode 1, she’s there.
We have Chloe at the start of the story who’s weighed down by her grief, and her loss of her father. So we’ve introduced Rachel as suddenly this new sort of spark to start to light the way out of that. And then the dreams, I think, keep illustrating her inner emotional world as she’s transforming under the influence of her relationship with Rachel.
So yeah, more realistic, maybe, but also I think her perspective gets broader; her world is kind of broadening, instead of being so wrapped up in what she’s lost.
Another part that I really liked about Before the Storm is how there’s so much extra content. Could you elaborate on that and how it relates to the story?
Partly, that’s something we took from the original game. They were really wonderful of doing that: fleshing out the environments and telling you about the characters that inhabit the world through those places, and letting you really explore and find extra texture to the world that way. So in a lot of ways we were just sort of following Dontnod’s lead there, and trying to do the same.
It’s a fun process, because we write our script, and we get all of our main story beats and all the things you have to interact with to keep the story moving along (the main puzzles in a scene). But then we have this second effort coming back that involves our environment artists and our level designers and the writers to try to flesh it out and add that extra texture. So it’s a neat process and a lot of fun to think about how to use the environment to tell more of our story.
And then, you know, we obviously can’t make an infinite amount of content, but when we find the right idea…the tabletop game is a great example of that, which at first we did kind of think was a little crazy and maybe not quite right for the feeling of the game as a whole, or too big of a diversion. But the more we kept putting into it, the more we liked it, until we finally said, “I don’t know why we were questioning it!” Everybody on the team thought it was great, so we were pretty sure everyone playing it would think it was great too.
Do you have any particular favorite episode or moment from the series?
I think my favorite moment is on the stage: the part where Rachel (in the middle of Episode 2) starts to improvise. So they’re playing their roles on stage and Chloe’s trying to memorize her lines, and Rachel breaks out of the script. It’s this fantastic moment of these very sincere feelings coming out in Shakespearean language, on stage in front of everybody, and all of these people don’t necessarily know the full meaning of what’s being said. It’s just, I think it was a brilliant stroke on our writers’ part, and it’s just my favorite little moment.
Yeah, it really gives them a lot of visibility, although it’s secret between the two of them.
Yeah! And that’s what’s so cool. It’s both of those things: it’s this secret conversation they’re having but totally public, and very forward and very intimate. It’s really really neat.
How would you describe the progression of emotions players might experience from episode to episode?
Oh, interesting. Boy I don’t know, let’s see. We’re obviously taking Chloe on a journey, and we want the player to come along. It’s interesting when most players have a lot of expectations coming from the original game, so it can depend on whether you’re really familiar with the first game or you’re not. And we hope that players who aren’t familiar with the first game can enjoy our story.
But, I think we want players to really sympathize with Chloe, and understand how hurt she is at the start of the story. We also quickly want to give you that trajectory of hope for who she can be, and how that relationship with Rachel is going to go.
I think also, as we get deeper into the story, we want to complicate things a little bit. One of the trademarks of Life is Strange is that nobody’s just a simple caricature, and no situation is just straight forward. So we do some things to show (which is consistent with Season 1) that Rachel is a beautiful creature that changes people’s lives and is wonderful for Chloe, but she also has a side of her that can be a little darker as well; she has her own flaws and her own hurt that is, really in some ways, the reason she needs Chloe as much as Chloe needs her. But also, it just deepens her character and makes what’s going on in that relationship a little more complex.
So would you say that this sympathy for Chloe and her troubled past is what you want players to feel after playing Episode 3?
Boy, after Episode 3, I don’t know what to say without spoiling anything. Oh, how can I put this? We definitely want players to be excited, as I think you probably finally saw in your demo, about Chloe heading in the direction of the character we know from Season 1.
We also want them to understand that grief is never something that you ever lose or really get over. You learn different ways of how to cope with it, and that’s part of Chloe’s story for sure. You still see that pain in Season 1, but she’s a person who has her ways of dealing with it, and I think Rachel’s influence on her is part of that.
Yeah, I don’t know what to say! There are other elements there that I hope you’ll see when you play, but I don’t know how to get them across without spoiling anything.
That’s okay, no worries! What’s next for the team after Before the Storm? Do you think that the Life is Strange universe will continue?
Well Dontnod has announced that they’re making a Life is Strange 2, so they’re hard at work on that. Beyond that, I don’t know that I can speak right now on the future of the franchise. Deck Nine is really geared toward making these kinds of games, so we’ve got our eyes on continuing to do that. But the specifics of that, we’ll have to announce sometime in the future.
This is a broader question, but…a lot of the popular games these days are first-person shooters or RPGs. What do you think is the place for interactive story games in today’s market?
I think people are always hungry for great stories. And there’s not enough stories in video games that are relatable stories about people who feel like real people, dealing with everyday issues. I think that was a lot of the genius of Life is Strange, even with the supernatural element; it’s really there to heighten the sense of these characters as real people. So, my instinct says there’s still a big appetite for that out there, and I think that’s why Life is Strange will endure, and story games in general.
Of course, people always expect some kind of story in almost every video game. We’re just really putting that at the heart of what we’re doing, and making that the real gem we’re setting in front of people to let them ponder and let the gameplay just accentuate that. I think there’s probably more than enough room for a lot more deep story games right now out there.
Do you have anything else you’d like to say?
One thing I just continue to be really proud of in the game is the music. It’s a big part of the original Life is Strange, and I’m just so pleased with the work that the band Daughter has done; they created the score for Before the Storm, and they just really got our story. And they not only created the instrumental pieces that we put underneath all our scenes, but they created three or four brand new songs, with lyrics and everything, based off of the character in the story as we conveyed it to them. They just, knocked it out of the park, and they blew me away when we heard those songs.
That’s just a little thing, which in some ways I had very little to do with, but we inspired them and they created something that’s so wonderful and makes every scene that their music is in so much richer. I’ve been super happy with how it worked out.
Life is Strange is also coming to iPhone and iPad on December 14th, and is now available for preorder.