Life is Strange: Before the Storm
Episodes 1, 2, 3, & Bonus "Farewell"
- Level Design
- Narrative Development
- Environmental Narrative
- Gameplay Development
- In-game Text (Letters, emails, notes, etc.)
I had the good fortune to work with Deck Nine Games on the narrative-adventure title Life is Strange: Before the Storm, a prequel to DONTNOD’s original Life is Strange. It was an unique challenge stepping into such a beloved franchise, but Deck Nine’s fan-focused direction and careful development produced a wonderful title that fan’s found, quoting Steam, “Overwhelming Positive”.
Life is Strange could be said to have simplistic levels, but that ignores their purpose. The life of a troubled high school girl is not given to massive landscapes, cover from enemy fire, or jump pads. Chloe’s story breathes inside the mundane spaces of her relatively normal world. Without the simplicity, the events of Before the Storm couldn’t maintain their dramatic weight. While not spatially complex, the devil is in the details of the environmental narrative.
Unlike the macroscopic lens of an open-world title, players perceive Life is Strange at an intimate level. Without the impetus of a more action-adventure mechanic in play, content is experienced casually and with more attention. Smaller, simple to produce elements can be added to make the space feel “lived in” even when the player character is alone. An example I designed is the fan-named “Pencil Mystery”.
Steph, a high school stage manager, is suffering from a common issue in theater: Her pencils are not being returned. A very mundane, relatable issue made more interesting by Steph’s passive-aggressive (and aggressive-aggressive) notes and the twist conclusion that it wasn’t anyone’s carelessness, but instead Hayden purposefully throwing them like darts into the ceiling. Uncomplicated, a little stupid, but also so damned high school, an element often missing in teen drama.
Steph and Hayden, neither of which are present, are developed without voice-over or animation and players are given a satisfying, if simple, puzzle to solve without feeling as though they were led by the hand to find it. The exposition within this micro-story is relevant and adds to Chloe’s world rather than feeling like an irrelevant easter egg.