During E3 2015, on June 19, Greg Miller from Kinda Funny and Alexa Ray Corriea from GameSpot held a panel called "Life is Strange: Episodic Heartstrings" with Co-Game Director Michel Koch and Ashly Burch, voice actress of Chloe Price, about the inspirations for Life is Strange.
Greg Miller: What's up, everybody? Welcome back to GameSpot x Kinda Funny. Now that I'm thrown on a YouTube stage (...) Everybody, stay here on gamespot.com/e3. Never go to YouTube again! Except, when this ends go to youtube.com/kindafunny.
Alright! Great. I'm Greg, this is Alexa from GameSpot - there's the crossover we talk about all the time. We're here to talk about Life is Strange, so the developer Michel is here to talk to us...
Michel Koch: Hi.
Greg Miller: ...and of course Ashly playing Chloe in the game.
Ashly Burch: Hello.
Greg Miller: Hello! Now, I like Life is Strange, I enjoy this game, I get excited for this game. Alexa is on another level of (...).
Alexa: I am a little obsessed.
Gregg Miller: She's writing fanfaction about this game.
Ashly Burch: Are you actually?
Alexa: No! But I could...
Greg Miller: Spin us a tale right now! It was the backstory of a character.
Alexa: So Victoria is actually angry and sad because she's actually part cyborg from the future and knows how the story ends, and the Apocalypse happens and she's gone back in time to try and stop it, but she's just mean to everybody because she can't express what's going to happen.
Gregg Miller: Cyborgs don't have human emotions... Yeah, okay, of course.
Alexa: So she's a cyborg from the future come back to save the world.
Ashly Burch: So Victoria is The Terminator?
Alexa: She's the Terminator... Okay, Victoria is a Terminator.
Gregg Miller: Very original story, right?
Michel Koch: That's a good story.
Alexa: You can have that one for free!
Michel Koch: We can do that for Season 2.
Gregg Miller: So here's what we need to come to (...) right away - How spoilery do we wanna get? You were talking, and we were talking. I'm down to just spoil it if you're here right now. Here's what you need to know: Life is Strange is awesome. Go buy the season pass. Play the game. (...) I don't mind you going out to check out what's on YouTube. So I say we spoil everything. (...)
Michel Koch: I don't know.
Alexa: Are you not sure about that?
Michel Koch: Oh, like, okay, I don't know, maybe we shouldn't spoil too much.
Gregg Miller: Michel, did you expect this to resonate the way it has?
Michel Koch: To be honest, no, we didn't. When we started to make the game, we really wanted to make the game we wanted to play. We didn't add any pressure when we started because we didn't have a publisher yet. So we just thought, "Okay, let's just make the game we want to make, we want to play, and let's forget about target audience, about marketing." So we just worked on the game we wanted to create. We created the characters we wanted to tell the story about. And we were really lucky to find Square Enix who just loved the game we showed to them. And they said, "Okay, let's go, let's [make] this game!" And after Episode 1, when we saw so many good reactions from the players on Twitter, on the social networks, so many fanarts, so many cosplayers, we were really amazed because we didn't expect this kind of big resonance and success with the community. So we're really really happy. Since it's really hard to work on an episodic game, it's really helping us, helping the team to work on the next episode by looking at all the great cosplay videos and stuff like this. It's really, it's really helping us.
Gregg Miller: Now, isn't that a double-edged sword? Because, of course, it's episodic, you get to see people like, "I love this, I'm connecting with the characters and I want to do more!" But then you also get the chance to second-guess every decision you make, right?
Michel Koch: Yes, we can do that, and we did it a little bit. The story was fully written since the beginning, we know where we're going, we know what...
Gregg Miller: This train doesn't stop for anybody!
Michel Koch: ...what will be the different endings, we know what's the majority of scenes, but we still have the leisure to take into account some of the player feedbacks. And for example, we have seen that some characters were loved even more than we thought they would be, and we decided to maybe sometimes add a bit more dialogue with them, to just tweak a bit of the scenes to reflect what we read from the players. So that's one of the perks of doing episodic. Even if it's only a small development time, we still have a bit time to just adjust a bit based on the player feedbacks. And we really loved to read the player feedbacks.
Gregg Miller: How long had you guys had the idea for this game? Because it's a high school drama mixed with all the sci-fi and craziness.
Michel Koch: I think it started after we finished our previous game, Remember Me, and in Remember Me - it was a fast-paced action adventure game - we had those sequences, the memory remix, where you could just go inside the people's memory and try some different interactions to provoke and cause a consequence effect. And we thought we loved this idea and thought we should make a full game with a very slow pacing, an adventure game using this kind of mechanism and really focusing on the choice and consequence aspect of this. And that was the beginning of the process. So we started to try to find what would be the best gameplay, and that's how we created the rewind power, and then we worked on the story, the characters, the setting to be sure that everything would be resonating with that and working, to be really cohesive with the power. So that's why we have this art direction, that's why we have those characters, why we choose the setting of a high-school. And because when you're a teen, it's a time in your life when your choices will really affect you as an adult, so it's a really good period to question fate, choice and consequences, and destiny.
Greg Miller: Alright, final question and I'm gonna let Alexa (...) How did you get involved with the project, Ashly? Was it, they've come to you, you heard about it, how did it all happen?
Ashly Burch: I actually just got an audition through my agency and I auditioned originally for Chloe and Max - which I don't know if (...)
Michel Koch: I think yes, we have a lot of voice actors with auditions for several characters.
Ashly Burch: Yeah, so I remember even when I got all the sites, really connecting and liking Chloe a lot, and then-and I think you guys knew about Hey, Ash - some of you did actually, right?
Michel Koch: Actually, and what's funny is when we received all the castings, we didn't have the name of the actress, so we were listening and when we heard your (...) with everyone in the office - "Okay, this is Chloe, we're for sure." And it was only after that that we recognized your name (...)
Greg Miller: (...)
Michel Koch: So we didn't know you were famous and we didn't know who you were when we decided that's who was the perfect voice for Chloe.
Ashly Burch: Aww well, shucks.
Greg Miller: Alright, now, Alexa, get nerdy!
Alexa: Oh my god, okay. So, my big thing with Life is Strange is I was Max, I was the loner, I was the weirdo, kids made fun of me, I was never invited to parties, girls spit in my hair on the bus, you know.
Ashly Burch: Really?
Alexa: I was like the kid that got picked on, I was alienated. [...] So I really identity with some of these, like, young teenage girls. So I guess my question is: Why did you decide to a write a story about adolescent girls?
Michel Koch: I think, really, it started with what I said before, the fact that we wanted to talk about choice and consequences und using this rewind power, which is really a nostalgic power, and I think the highschool years are nostalgic for maybe all of us. So we really saw that it was a good time of a period of life to talk about those themes, those choices and consequence. And it hasn't been done that much in videogames - you have Bully from Rockstar, you have Obscure from the French company there is not many games about adolescence, about teenagers. And it's really hard to be a teenager, it's a really violent world, it's brutal, and we really saw that using this theme could allow us to talk about much more than just teen drama. And something that's really important for us in Life is Strange is to talk about important serious themes, so we are talking about social media, bullying, about domestic violence, about teen pregnancy, and there is a lot of themes and secondary themes we can develop in a story, in a story like this.
Greg Miller: (...)
Alexa: Oh yeah, every horrible thing about being a teenager plus the impending end of the world, trying to fix things... When during conception of the story did you start to add that fantasy element? Like, where did that come from?
Michel Koch: We added, for the beginning, the rewind because of course I think the ability to rewind time is a supernatural power...
Greg Miller: Yes, noone has that power!
Michel Koch: Who knows... But for us, really, the sci-fi aspect is not the important part of Life is Strange. Life is Strange is really a story about characters, about intimacy, about human emotions. And this sci-fi elements, these supernatural elements, this is just a layer that's added on top of it to bring some chaos and to add a layer of excitement about the story. It's a bit like, you know, Stephen King is doing that in his books. He's writing stories about people, about human emotions, and (...) the supernatural elements are just here to stir things up, and we are almost with the same formula. But it's really the character that's important.
Alexa: Well, as a fan of sci-fi/fantasy stuff, I love it. And then playing as basically me makes me love it even more. My favorite character is Chloe - and I'm not just saying that because you're sitting here - but you sound like... like, when I play the game, you sound like you're having a lot of fun playing her. How do you find Chloe when you go in for a VO session? How do you feel about her?
Ashly Burch: I love Chloe. I kind of, as an adult woman, I kind of want to just like give her a cup of tea and make sure she's okay.
Greg Miller: "It's gonna be okay, don't worry."
Ashly Burch: Yeah, like, "Don't worry, Chloe, I'm here for you, man. But yeah, I mean like I think everyone has... Like you said, it's a very... I think the characters of Max and Chloe are very universal. I'm sure a lot of girls - and even men too - I think have an experience of being like Max or feeling like Chloe. And so there is this element of Chloe that, like, feels very rejected and alienated and abandoned, and there are definitely parts of me that resonate very much with that, and so being Chloe is sort of like an (...) part of my brain coming online. You know, it's like it's the little kid that's, like, afraid that they're gonna be left alone, and that's just kind of who Chloe is. Being a teenage girl, it comes out a lot in, like, aggression and angst, and it's this core thing of, like, she, you know... [to Michel] Can I say that the better dad...? I mean it's obvious in the first episodes.
Michel Koch: Yeah, yeah.
Ashly Burch: She lost her dad, so that's the ultimate abondonment. So she just has that kind of core to her and I think, yeah, just like you said with Max, Chloe is a very resonant character because she has that sort of emotional core to her that's very human.
Alexa: Yeah, yeah. Without spoiling anything for people watching...
Greg Miller: I already told you - Play the game! (...)
Alexa: I didn't know what happens because I didn't work on the game, so I had a couple of really horrible gut-punch moments that just left me on the floor in the feta pisition for a while, but you obviously know what happens, so... When you're playing, do you ever, like, think like "Oh, I know what's happening"? Like, does that affect, like, how you play yourself? I don't know (...)
Ashly Burch: No, no. I know what you mean. Like, when I actually go to play the game?
Ashly Burch: Yeah, it's interesting because I, yeah, I know the different routes that everything could take, but I kinda play it just as a normal player even though I know... It's sort of like a movie that I've seen before but still enjoy. And I (...) It's also an interesting thing because obviously I'm also listening to my performance and critiquing it, because that's what you do when you (...), but then also I kind of just have Vietman flashbacks to being in the booth (...)
Greg Miller: Booth flashbacks!
Ashy Burch: Booth flashbacks! So yeah, 'cause it's a very emotional character and every VO session I love going into, but it's also actually kinda emotionally taxing.
Michel Koch: I'm sure, yeah.
Ashly Burch: But in a really good way, like
Alexa: Are you guys Twin Peaks fans? Because there's a lot of, like, Twin Peaks references.
Michel Koch:Yeah, of course, we are major Twin Peaks fans.
Alexa: So how do you guys feel about the reboot coming? Or, no, it's not a reboot - please don't listen to me! Oh my god (...)
Michel Koch: No, I'm really excited for it. And knowing that David Lynch is directing all the episodes now, that's really cool. So, we'll see, but I have high hopes for that.
Ashly Burch: You know, actually, Twin Peaks is on my list. (...)
Michel Koch: That's my second-best favorite TV show ever.
Ashly Burch: So Twin Peaks and then Buffy?
Michel Koch: Yeah.
Ashly Burch: Okay, I'm doing a reversal now. (...)
Alexa: What do you see people talking about? And what are you hoping they're taking about more?
Michel Koch: It's been awesome. People are talking about the game every time on... We've been quite addicted with Twitter on the team, so even after work, we are going on Twitter, or Reddit and everything.
Greg Miller: (...)
Michel Koch: No, it's really awesome. And people are talking about everything. They're loving the characters. We've seen more than thousands of fanart. There is really fanart everywhere and people are drawing Max and Chloe and the other characters, so that's really awesome. And we've seen theories about Rachel, about the characters. A lot of talk also about who Max will eventually date, and stuff like this, and it's really cool to see the guys are so much really relating to the characters. It's really cool.
Ashly Burch: Yeah. I mean the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. And I always have people on my Twitter feed when they find out that I'm Chloe or just knowing that I'm Chloe... Yeah, they really like her which I really appreciate. I also love just how wide of an appeal it has and the E3 is a great testament to that there are a lot more female protagonists that we're seeing, which is so heartening for me. It's really encouraging. We were just talking about (...)
Greg Miller: That's what games are at their best, right? (...)
Alexa: So there's a lot of potential there. Like, I'm someone who is reviewing the game, so I played the episodes multiple times, but there's a lot of potential there for them to maybe be a little bit more than friends. Now I had a close girlfriend when I was younger and (...), but there might be something more there. Can you talk about that?
Michel Koch: For and foremost, this is really a friendship, a really strong friendship story. And after that - we won't spoil anything - it's still up to the player because there are a lot of choices in the game, and a lot of dialogue choices, and minor and major choices you can make, and those are up to the player to really play their version of Max (...). But what we really wanted to talk about is about friendship, about loneliness, isolation, and really the friendship of Max and Chloe which is really strong when they are almost disconnected with everyone else. So that's what was really important for us.
Alexa: So I have a theory that Rachel has the same power as Max and screwed everything up and what's happening is because of her. That's my theory.
Michel Koch: We've seen a lot of theories on the internet...
Michel Koch: ...and a rule we have is to never answer to any theories (...)