Dontnod Entertainment's upcoming episodic adventure game, Life is Strange, draws some parallels with The Fullbright Company's indie hit Gone Home. But it also has some major differences. For one, there's time travel.
Speaking to Polygon at Gamescom, Life is Strange's creative director Jean-Maxime Moris and game and art director Michel Koch said they are fans of games like Gone Home, and Koch himself was even in contact with The Fullbright Company after the latter's game launched last year. But Life is Strange was in development six months before Fullbright released Gone Home, so it is a coincidence that both games feature coming-of-age stories set in Oregon, U.S., that also rely heavily on environmental storytelling.
While there may be similarities in the games' setting and the way players interact with objects and the environment, Dontnod's Life is Strange is distinct in a number of ways. The story will be told through five episodes, which will release on a schedule similar to Telltale Games' The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead. It will also focus on the friendship between the two main characters, Max and Chloe, and players will have to navigate the complexities of the relationship between the two who, personality-wise, are polar opposites.
"It's a friendship story," said Koch. "We wanted them to be quite different. We wanted Chloe to be the best friend [to Max], but we also wanted her to be one of the main antagonists. We tried to find a balance in the hostile best friend."
In the demo of Life is Strange Dontnod showed at Gamescom, Moris and Koch played through a scene in which Max returns to her home town after five years away and reunites with Chloe, who was her best friend before she left. In this scene, the two girls are hanging out in Chloe's bedroom. Her bedroom paints her as a rebel — her walls are plastered with posters of rock icons, her floor is strewn with clothes. CDs pile on her desk and her messy blue hair is hidden under a beanie. She seems aloof and occasionally hostile, as though ready to start a fight if the opportunity presents itself. Max, on the other hand, is tidy and reserved. Through Max, the player explores her surroundings by picking up objects, examining photos and books, reading notes and recounting anecdotes and memories.
From the demo Polygon saw, the characters were sharp and believable, but most of the story's depth came from the environment, which often revealed more than what the characters volunteered in their interactions. For example, instead of having Chloe explicitly tell Max that her stepfather is paranoid and militant in his approach to parenting, we learn this ourselves when Max rummages through Chloe's family's garage and finds surveillance footage that suggests the entire house is being surveilled. We also come to understand people's pasts better through the help of photos and knickknacks, all of which tell a story and reveal something deeper about the characters.
According to Koch, the developers want the game to have "gray characters," where no one is completely good or bad. Like in real life, people are complex. Dontnod wants to bring that complexity to Life is Strange.
While the game is mostly realistic in its depiction of human relationships, an achievement that Moris puts down to research and extensive documentation of the way people interact with each other, there is also a supernatural element. For reasons yet to be explained, Max has the ability to rewind time. Players can rewind as far back as the last checkpoint, and they can do this as often as they wish. This allows them to test different paths of the branching narrative and see how the game plays out when they make different decisions. Player decisions will have lasting impact throughout the game and will alter relationships, future situations and even character appearances.
"A lot of the supernatural powers in the game are metaphors for what goes on inside us [during that period in our lives]," said Moris. "What goes on inside us is very individual, and when you look back at this period in your life, it's when you made choices and built friendships that defined who you are."
Moris said the game shares similar traits to Dontnod's last title, Remember Me, which also explored themes of memory and identity. But where Remember Me was an action-adventure game with a kick-ass heroine named Nilin who was trying to survive in a sci-fi universe, Life is Strange attempts to tackle a much more nuanced theme most people can relate to: growing up and figuring out who you are.
"The more detailed something is, the more realistic it is, the less room there is for your imagination," Moris said, referring to the game's painterly art style. "That's why we went for an art style that is not perfect. There are holes in it for you to project yourself into and interpret those characters.
"This is going to sound cheesy, but it's personal in trying to be universal."