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Life is Strange: True Colors finally has tech to match its writing

Big emotions, small expressions

Everything about the next Life is Strange game feels momentous. There’s Alex Chen, an Asian American protagonist who is taking center stage at the same time that the United States is reckoning with its violent (and ongoing) bigotry against Asian Americans. The representation goes beyond the leading lady, though. Senior staff writer Felice Kuan is helping pen the story at Deck Nine Games, and voice actor Erika Mori — along with Alex’s singing voice, depicted by singer songwriter mxmtoon — will help bring that vision to life.

The Asian American visibility at this specific moment in time is not lost on Kuan. In a brief interview with Polygon, the developer noted that while the timing is a coincidence, she knows what the game will mean to people in 2021.

“I am very happy that you know, for an Asian American protagonist, that that empathy is a big theme and is the power,” she said. “So I am I have been very moved by the fan response, some of which has talked about, you know, recent events ... I’m very happy about what potentially Alex and this game can do for the community.”

Another big thing for the franchise? It’s finally moving on from the episodic model. When the game releases in September, the whole story will be available from the get-go. Players will still be able to take breaks between big story beats, the story is broken up into chapters, but they won’t have to wait months between episodes.

“For the development process, it also was a big advantage that we would be able to go back and adjust and make sure the whole thing felt unified, and was really telling the story that we wanted to tell from the onset,” Kuan said.

But the biggest shift overall is, paradoxically, also the subtlest. While previous Life is Strange games were extremely charming, much of the appeal rested on the writing. The animations and models, meanwhile, could sometimes seem stiff, almost doll-like. Now that True Colors is jumping onto current video game hardware, the tech has also made a leap. There’s full-body motion capture to go along with the voice acting, and it makes a huge difference.

In a short game clip shared with Polygon, the camera zoomed in on Alex’s face — and it’s like you can read every thought that goes through her head, even when she’s not saying anything.

The expressions are all minute, whether it’s a small adjustment of the shoulders, a lightly furrowed brow, or unsure eyes. The upgraded facial animations aren’t just for show, as one of the central themes of the game is empathy. Alex can sense and absorb other people’s strong emotions, so capturing the humanity of each character is key. But beyond enabling Deck Nine to tell an “emotionally nuanced story,” as Kuan put it to Polygon, the tech also highlights just how far we’ve come from the cartoonish “realistic” expressions found in games like LA Noire.

Speaking to Erika Mori, the voice behind Alex, it’s clear that these seemingly low-key depictions were at the forefront of the creative process.

“We need an authentic and very real performances, nothing like super-cheesy [or] overdone, we’re not looking for musical theater here,” Mori said. “This is much closer to what you what you see in film and television. And you can be more organic and natural, because we now have the technology to capture that. And specifically with ... the facial capture voice and body performance all happening at one at once, it allowed for a very natural depiction of some of these deep emotions that that Alex and the other characters go through during the game.”

“It was basically asking me to be a human,” she continued. “Which, you know, thank God. It wasn’t that hard.”

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