Life is Strange: Before the Storm takes place three years before Dontnod Entertainment's critically acclaimed supernatural teen drama, focusing on a new protagonist but a familiar face in fan-favourite Chloe Price.
Chloe was at the heart of Life is Strange season one, and was the choice-driven adventure game's most popular character by far. In Before the Storm she's not quite the recluse we knew her as, but still a wounded youngster mourning her dead father.
Developed by Deck Nine, a US-based studio, the game tells the story of the romance between Chloe and Rachel Amber – a relationship crucial to season one, but left largely unexplored.
At Gamescom 2017, IBTimes UK sat down with writer Zak Garriss to discuss the game ahead of episode one's release next week (31 August) on PS4, Xbox One and PC.
Why is Before the Storm a story that Deck Nine believes needs to be told?
Zak Garriss : That's a great question. I think it's important for the Life is Strange universe, but I think it's important even outside of the Life is Strange universe. We're inviting the player to step into Chloe Price's shoes at 16 years old, closer to the death of her father. We saw her in the first game. She's hurting because of that. She's struggling with school. Joyce, her mum, is moving on, she's dating this new guy named David. Chloe's having a difficult time with that. [Season one protagonist] Max moved away.
We're looking at this time when she's really vulnerable, she's really alienated and we're examining what it's like for her to meet this mythical character from the first game: Rachel Amber. This character everybody has something to say about, but you never got to actually interact with directly. The ways in which meeting Rachel just radically changes Chloe's life gives her a grounding, gives her motivation and reason to kind of think about someone else for a second, and then that to step out of her own grief.
Within the Life is Strange universe, I feel like we're carving out a space to explore Chloe as a character who is so important, but in a much more interior perspective, seeing her world from the inside, seeing a lot more depth to her. But on a larger level, within interactive games, we're really just talking about very relatable human problems. What it's like to be flawed, to be angry, and to be alienated, and just saying like that's okay, everyone's gonna go through that sometimes. I think that's an important message, I think that's an exciting story.
Do you feel any pressure to do Chloe justice because of this enormous following she has?
Pressure is the right word... we definitely do feel that. The [first season] was an extraordinary achievement. When we were first talking to Square [Enix] about the possibility of telling a new story within the Life is Strange universe, we were immediately excited and thrilled because we love Life is Strange. We loved Life is Strange before we even had this chance. And then immediately like, 'Oh my god what are we getting ourselves into?' The bar is so high. This is important.
The fan community cares so much about this. But ultimately, I think, as a game writer... I've worked in TV, film, and games. I love games because we don't know what they are yet narratively. We're still figuring that out right now. That's one of my greatest passions as a creator in this space. Game narrative is in a different place in its life cycle compared to cinema and television. We're in our infancy essentially.
So despite the pressure, that's an enormous gift. It's an incredible privilege, and I think everyone at Deck Nine... We feel that every day working on this game.
Chloe's played by a new actress, something which has been very well publicised, but Ashly Burch has this role behind the scenes as a consultant. What has she brought to the project?
Ashly's an awesome writer. I think if she hadn't played Chloe Price in the first game, she still would have been incredibly useful as a story consultant. She's read every line of dialogue, she's talked to me about every structural concept of the story, she would be useful in that regard just because of her instinct and her training. But knowing Chloe the way she does, she sees her from a very personal perspective. So having that nuance and that insight, that's been invaluable, I think, for helping us to sort of really deepen our understanding of who Chloe is and who she could be.
Chloe is different in this game, but she's an established character. When it comes to Rachel, she had a huge impact and was incredibly important to the first season, but we don't really know a great deal about her. How did you approach realising Rachel?
The foundation of that came from the insights we do have from the first game and what we can deduce from those insights. For instance, everybody had something to say about her. Mostly it was positive, but not all of it was. But it was very clear that every character you encountered have spoke about her was affected deeply by her, even if they barely knew her in school, they still have strong opinions about her. She still impacted their lives in some way. She had this charisma, this ability to influence other people, that was really clear, so we thought, "Well what does that mean for her character and her performance? What is she gonna be like with that?"
There's also a kinda complexity to the narratives that those characters shared about her. The secrecy of her relationship with Frank, her relationship with Chloe, even Chloe doesn't tell you the details, and the fact that so many different personalities all felt like Rachel was significant to them. We really spoke to this idea, this almost chimeric quality to her inability for her to be anything for anybody. And coupled with what we did know, that she wanted to be a model, she wanted to be an actress, this idea of someone who's incredibly gifted as a performer but maybe needs to see people like her. Maybe she cultivates those relationships very carefully because she needs that affirmation. To us it kind of created a kind of... almost an alchemy of someone who could be really compelling and exciting but not necessarily good, and that's something that we really explore in the story.
The supernatural element of the first season was integral to that success but you don't have that now. What you do have is the Backtalk system. How have you approached this system as a writer?
It was important to us to honour the canon in every single aspect of the game. With that, the power idea kind of didn't fit, for sure. Backtalk is... it's really not a replacement for the time travel necessarily, right? The time travel it suffused the original Life is Strange in every way. It was important for the plot, it was important for Max's personality, it was important for the gameplay. It had a kind of endemic quality to the entirety of the game.
Backtalk is one of a few mechanics that we've designed to create some daylight between what it's like to be in Max's shoes and how being in Chloe's shoes would be different. It felt really right for her the more we examined if... like if rewind is how Max second guesses herself, would solve problems and overcome obstacles, how is Chloe different? How would she solve problems? And sometimes she's just gonna smash through. Sometimes she's gonna pick a fight with the toughest person in the room because she doesn't care. And she's gonna be witty and sometimes she'll be funnier and sometimes maybe she'll fall on her face, but she has this ability to kind of trigger other people and maybe she can figure out how to use that to get what she wants. And even if she does that, maybe that's not even a good thing to do. And there can be a nice moral texture to that mechanic.
That's what I like most about it. Just how perfect a fit it is for Chloe.
My final question is an important one: How many times is the word 'hella' said in Before the Storm?
I'm gonna spoil it if I reveal that.
It is likely that you can count it on one hand. Breaking information!
Breaking news, yeah. I've got my scoop!