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Life is Strange: Before the Storm devs on Chloe, Rachel, Ashly Burch, music, and more

It's almost time to make the trip back to Arcadia Bay. Fans of Life is Strange are set to travel back in time, albeit without the actual time travel mechanic, when they begin Life is Strange: Before the Storm. This is the story of Chloe Price during one of the darkest periods in her life. It's a time of tumultuous change and a period of uncertainty.

To get a slightly clearer picture of what's ahead, Shacknews recently had the opportunity to speak to developers from Deck Nine Games about the upcoming project. Lead Writer Zak Garris and Producer David Hein discuss Chloe's story, the mystery of Rachel Amber, the shockwaves sent by the loss of Chloe voice actress Ashly Burch, and the Oregon music scene.

Shacknews: Where is Chloe Price emotionally as this story begins?

Zak Garris, Lead Writer: It's two years after her father died, two years after Max left. Joyce is dating David and moving on and Chloe is destroyed in a lot of ways, sort of lost. She hasn't gained the confidence. She doesn't have the blue hair, the beanie, and the badass attitude she had in Season 1. She's more vulnerable and, in a lot of ways, she's imprisoned with the grief she feels over her dad and the sense that there's something wrong with her, because nobody in her life seems to like her or listen to her or understand how she feels or where she's coming from. So she's a teenager, is where she's at.

Shacknews: I've watched the past dev diaries and one interesting thing you noted is that Chloe meets Rachel at the right time, but Rachel isn't necessarily a positive influence for Chloe. Can you explain what that means?

Garris: I think the relationship that Chloe relates to Max about Rachel in the first game, the way she talks about Rachel is ambiguous. You can tell there's an intensity to Chloe's passion for who Rachel was. She's wandering around campus, plastering missing posters, desperately trying to find her and get to the bottom of what happened Rachel Amber's disappearance. But she's nevertheless caught off-guard when she learns that Rachel had a relationship with Frank. That really hurts Chloe. It's a secret that Rachel had.

So I think we saw a lot of potential in both the amount of what she kept private, with talking to Max. Chloe didn't share too much, specifically. But what she did share was a lot of emotional connection, good feelings, and betrayal. So we saw a lot of complexity there that we could play with.

What players will experience in Before the Storm is seeing the meteoric moment when these two girls meet and how each girl desperately needs something from the other one at this chapter in their lives. Based on the choices that you are making as a player, the agency that you are enacting, the answers to some of those questions about what exactly was Chloe's relationship with Rachel like. Well, that's going to be up to you. You're going to get to figure it out for yourself in such a way that it'll fit within the canon of the first game.

But what you might discover is that for all of Rachel's mythic power, the way she captivated everyone, the way that everyone had an opinion of her, she's not necessarily safe. There's a kind of danger to her and an uncertainty to her that will keep players guessing.

Shacknews: Going off of that, what does Rachel Amber mean to you guys? Are you approaching her character with a blank slate or did you write her with a persona in mind, given her fate in the first game?

Garris: I think Dontnod carved out a very specific space for Rachel in the first game that is deliberately mysterious. We never directly interact with her. We get to experience what other people say and remember about her. Sometimes, those memories and those opinions conlict. So what we wanted to embrace with Rachel was somebody whose charisma is so powerful that she would leave that kind of impact on the lives of those around her. She was someone who everyone looks to, when she walks into a room, she lights it up. She's that kind of personality.

But in a way, Rachel's kind of chimeric. She has these different aspects of herself that will come out in different contexts. That's part of what lets her be everything to everybody: the perfect friend for you, the perfect partner for David, the perfect enemy for me. She has a versatility in that way that might be honest, but it might not be. We saw that from the first game and the kind of content that was explored there and we wanted to embrace that kind of mysterious and invite the player to have the chance to contend with her directly, to develop the kind of relationship they want to have with this girl, who everyone thinks is perfect and whose life is perfect and then you find out, she maybe really needs somebody right now.

Shacknews: What are the biggest challenges in telling a story where most fans know the ultimate outcome for its key characters?

Garris: I think that's one of the challenges with prequels, in general, for sure. We've deliberately set our story three years before the events of the first game, so that we're situating the narrative in a space so it's conclusion will not be known from the players of the first game. Fans of the first game aren't going to know how this game ends. The choices you're going to have to make in this story, the outcomes to those choices, you're not going to know how those conclusions may or many not map onto what's to come. Because we're setting it so far back, what we're actually talking about with this story, this isn't the story of Rachel Amber's disappearance. That's not what we're focusing on. We're focusing on another mystery, another time, in a way that we think will create a great deal of satisfying uncertainty, even for super-fans from the first game.

Shacknews: What are the big challenges in creating a Life is Strange game without the rewind mechanic?

David Hein, Producer: Rewind, as a power, was really good for Max. It fit her character and it fit the lessons she needed to learn over the course of that adventure -- that answers have consequences. She's the kind of person who might sit on the sidelines, who might second-guess herself and want to try one path and try another. There's a safety in that, that I think Max is very comfortable in.

Looking at Chloe, Chloe doesn't have those problems. Chloe will make a decision, charge right through the problem, and face the consequences that come her way. Often, the criticism is she doesn't think enough about the consequences. So we saw that as part of her character, and we've embraced that on every level of the design -- in features, in how we solve puzzles, and in how we progress in developing relationships through the story. You are in Chloe Price's shoes, so that means the ways that you're going to be solving problems will feel very different from the ways that Max solves them, but we hope in a way that is really satisfying for this adventure and satisfying for this character.

Starting out, it was a huge question. Do we want a power? What kind of mechanics are we going to use? And we let Chloe, as a character, be our guiding star in that way. And we're really happy with what we've got because of that.

Shacknews: Does the three-year window give you an opportunity to add new dimensions to existing characters? Going off of the demo, I'm seeing a new side to David.

Garris: One of the instincts out of the gate when you're writing a prequel might be to walk into the story assuming the characters you know and are familiar with are those versions of those characters. One of the most satisfying and interesting challenges to telling a prequel, a story before, is to challenge those assumptions, about who David is, who Joyce is, who other characters that you're going to know and have very strong opinions about from the first game... you're going to be seeing them and interacting with them at a radically different times in their lives and you're going to be making choices about them that might challenge you and your preconceptions. Hopefully, you'll see over the course of the story those characters growing and changing and evolving. It's a different world and it's a different time.

Shacknews: What was the team's reaction to learning that Ashly Burch wouldn't be voicing Chloe for this game and how'd you go about moving forward without her?

Garris: That was heartbreaking, honestly. We love Ashly. We loved her in the first game. She's extraordinary. She created such an incredible character with her performance of Chloe. The strike is a complicated thing. We were far along in development when that surfaced and we realized that was what that was going to mean, that we weren't going to be able to use Ashly. We considered probably everything we could have, including scrapping the project, because maybe we don't move forward without Ashly.

Ultimately, we decided that that's what we wanted to do. We know fans wanted to go back to Arcadia Bay and that the story we wanted to tell was strong. That was very hard. What we ended up doing was just sharing the script directly with her and saying, "This is our episode one script. This is the story that we're telling with the prequel. We'd love to hear your thoughts." Our passion and our interests really resonated with her and she said, "This is something really special." And she joined our team as a story consultant. And that was actually wonderful! We got to hear her craft as a writer, her interior understanding of who Chloe is, she's read every dialogue line, she's read the scripts in their entirety, and she's even talked about her thoughts on the story that we're doing. That was one of the biggest affirmations that we were heading in the right direction and it's been invaluable on the project, for sure.

Shacknews: Finally, I'd like to go in a slightly different direction. What does music mean to you for this game? We've seen it throughout the first game and through the demo. How do you feel it adds to the narrative and how did you go about assembling the soundtrack?

Hain: Yeah, so music is enormous for Life is Strange. Music was such a big part of understanding the characters of the first game and the world of Arcadia Bay. It's part of the environment, as important as the lighting and the art. So we really embraced that for our game. What we wanted to do was explore what that kind of musical part of Arcadia Bay could mean through Chloe, instead of Max. So we put a lot of effort into different kinds of music that would speak to an indie feel along the Oregon coast at this time of year, but also speaks to Chloe as a person. You hear it at the mill in the demo. That's the kind of place that Max would likely never go to, but it's a perfect place for Chloe. And we think the music has that kind of edge that reflects her attitude and where she's at during this point in her life.

Garris: We've got a lot of fun conversations and stuff to share about music in the future. It's really exciting.


Life is Strange: Before the Storm is set to begin August 31 when the first episode hits PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.

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