Life is Strange, the episodic adventure game being made by Remember Me developer Dontnod Entertainment, features a protagonist who can rewind time. But unlike most games with this kind of mechanic, Life is Strange places few limits on the time manipulation abilities that Max Caulfield, a teenage girl living in the fictional town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon, can wield. So what's the point of a story-centric game where you have infinite do-overs if you don't like how things play out?
"In a way, we're taking the weight out of the choice," acknowledged Jean-Maxime Moris, creative director at Dontnod, in an interview with Polygon this week following a demo of the game. "So what's left if you take the weight out?"
In Life is Strange, Max returns to Arcadia Bay after a five-year absence. She and a girl named Chloe Price were best friends as children, but it quickly becomes apparent that Chloe has changed a lot while Max has been away. In the interim, Chloe's dad died and her mom began to neglect her; she's now living with her domineering stepfather. Chloe has dyed her hair electric blue and smokes weed in her bedroom, two universal signs of teenage rebellion. And a friend of hers, Rachel Amber, has been missing for six months. In an effort to reconnect with her old friend, Max helps Chloe with the search.
It's a coming-of-age tale, and part of "becoming an adult," said Moris, "is standing by your own choices." You can rewind time all the way back to the most recent checkpoint in Life is Strange, so it might seem as if choices don't matter. But they do, even in this world where Max can rewrite her own history.
"We came up with this system of short-term, mid-term and long-term consequences," said Moris. You might go back in time to flip an immediate outcome from negative to positive, to get out of hot water in the moment. "But," Moris continued, "you might very well be surprised down the line, because the mid-term consequences might actually be negative, or the long-term ones might be negative. You'll always be left guessing."
The story of Life is Strange itself represents an odd choice: It's a game set in the Pacific Northwest that's being developed by a studio located in Paris. According to Moris and art director Michel Koch, Dontnod is going to great lengths to ensure that Life is Strange doesn't fall victim to Heavy Rain syndrome — where it's painfully obvious to American players that the dialogue was written by non-native speakers of American English, and that the voice actors are trying to speak with American accents.
Koch told Polygon that members of the Dontnod team visited the Pacific Northwest a few times and took a lot of photos, and used other resources like Google Street View for additional reference material. Life is Strange's script is being penned by an American writer who lives in San Francisco and travels to Portland, Oregon, several times a year. The writer, said Koch, is always "pointing out when we are making mistakes, when something doesn't feel right for the immersion and for the realism of the setting."
Moris added that all the game's voice actors are American — voice-overs are being recorded in Los Angeles, and the voice directors are making efforts to bring in people who can speak with regional affectations like a New England accent.
"We basically put all power in terms of believability and voice acting and casting decisions and voice direction into the hands of an American person," said Moris. "It's pivotal in making [the story] come to life."
Life is Strange is in development on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Dontnod expects to release the first episode in early 2015; the studio plans to release each of the subsequent four episodes six weeks apart. For more on the game, check out our preview from Gamescom.