Life is Strange: Before the Storm has a daunting challenge as the prequel to a beloved game, developed by a different team & tasked with replacing or alternatively explaining away a core gameplay element from the original title. At PAX West 2017, members of the Deck Nine team gathered at the Life is Strange: Before the Storm – A new series has begun panel to discuss the upcoming 3-episode series. Hosted by Andrea Rene of What’s Good Games, the panel included narrative director Zak Garriss & game director Chris Floyd at the Grand Hyatt hotel for a spirited discussion about the development, narrative & emotional ambitions of the upcoming game.
Foremost on the audience’s mind is how the prequel would fit with the original game, Chris assured us that Before the Storm would stay true to & honour the original Life is Strange. He specified that Deck Nine wanted it to feel like the original game, but knew the player had to inhabit Chloe who is very different from Max. Zak acknowledged that it was understandable that some fans were skeptical, mentioned that he was a fan before becoming involved in the prequel to audience approval.
Friendship is at the heart of the game according to Chris, who was inspired to create (or as he phrased it, “opened his eyes to a creative life) by a friend who kept a diary. The panellists wanted the audience to know that both Square Enix & Deck Nine were interested in the community & the issues the original game explored, deciding to create a live commercial as recognition of that in a big way; they emphasized that Life is Strange is about the community they’re engaging with. Zak provided a poignant personal example: over the last 20 years, he had a constellation of 4-5 friends who at times provided help that only 1 person at 1 time could have offered.
The soundtrack is being composed by the band Daughter based on written descriptions of the main themes, emotional moments & character bios provided by the writers. These documents were used by the band to compose around those narrative movements, created by a team of 4 writers composed of 2 men & 2 women. The panellists described their approach to this panel as not writing women, bisexual women or teenage characters; they only write Chloe, the questions of her & her personality.
In terms of other works that affected their approach to Before the Storm, Chris highlighted Veronica Mars while Zak pointed to season 6 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as influences.
The panel was a lively, engaging discussion that strongly demonstrated Deck Nine’s commitment to respecting the original game’s legacy while forging their own path, a free flowing discussion driven by a veteran host (who I remember from the old GameTrailer days). Before the Storm is a 3-part prequel that is expected to release each episode approximately 6-8 weeks apart, I’m excited to revisit the world of Arcadia Bay from a new perspective.
Halo Wars 2 released in the spring, but the team at Creative Assembly is still hard at work on new content for the game. At PAX East 2017, a panel of developers spoke about the upcoming content for the Xbox One’s flagship (and possibly only) real time strategy game.
The developers noted that they had to make adjustments for console, such as exaggerating characteristics to be visible at scale because of the RTS camera. This also gave each faction a more distinctive look, such as the Banished receiving added armour and melee elements to it. There were also universe specific tweaks such as making AI unit Isabel more relatable, so she’s in the trenches with you on the battlefield.
The team stated that they could “pretty much do what they want from a thematic standpoint”, which is apparent in the finished product that retains certain elements of the core Halo shooter series (the iconic units, colour palette) while adding distinct new characters, unit and lore to the overall universe. The Mark of Atriox branding of that entire faction was presented as an example, as was lead antagonist Atriox himself; he was created as the answer to “what if a brute was incredibly smart?”
In the near future, features like ranked leaderboards are coming soon as well as new leaders like Morgan Kinsano of the Hellbringers as part of the season pass (or for individual purchase). Attendees got a sneak peek at her Inferno ability that swept the map with fire as well as her Flame Warthog unit, effective in early rushes and wiping out swarms of opposing infantry units in short order.
The panelists briefly mentioned their interest in a possible Art of Halo Wars 2, a project that I would personally enjoy as an avid fan of Creative Assembly’s visual style and the breathtaking cinematics by Blur. For fans of Halo Wars 2, there’s a lot of exciting content and possibilities down the road for the revived series.
Now a tradition at PAX, Telltale’s panel at PAX East 2017 brought a bevy of news about the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy series to eager fans. Presented as a different take on the characters from the enormously popular movie, the series was described as “Action and heartbreak and everything you’d want from a Telltale game” by community manager Caroline Liddick. Telltale’s head of creative communications Job Stauffer emphasized that “it’s really the Marvel Telltale Universe” and that “Telltale has become a safe space to create and collaborate”, a critical value for a studio that focuses so heavily on narrative in their games.
The importance of Telltale’s first adventure game in the Marvel universe was top of mind for Bill Rosemann, executive creative director of the newly formed Marvel Games who acknowledged that they “only got one shot to get this right”. He pointed out that it was “a dream to work on the game based on the movie based on the comic” and his commitment to “write about important issues, but make sure you know who everyone is, how they relate to each other”.
Job described the process as “When we develop games, we develop them live” and the importance of being able to “change and adjust for next episode, always take feedback into consideration” between episodes. Bill’s commitment that the team would “never write down, we write up” was a strong statement about the Marvel Games team’s focus on challenging its audience. One example that stood out was Peter Quill’s Walkman, a device that simultaneously provides him (and us) with great job as well as a bittersweet feel when it reminds Peter of his mom.
Executive producer Justin Lambrose spoke the team’s commitment to “make sure that they’re doing justice to each one of the characters” while “bringing in Telltale’s unique style”. The company showed a willingness to challenge fan expectations and history with a franchise with their take on Batman, which looks to continue with the Guardians as Justin emphasized that Telltale is “not reselling an origin” and their desire to “dig in to each one of the characters so we can understand the choices we’re making”. A prime example of the character development is Rocket (voiced by Nolan North, a Marvel recommendation) whom Bill describes as “the Wolverine of the group: short, hairy and a lot of attitude”. The series will also feature a new female character for the first time outside of comics as well…!
Bill said it best in describing Marvel Games’ approach as one that’s “always a mix of serious and fun”. The Telltale panel at PAX East 2017 showed off concept art, narrative previews and an in-depth look at the collaboration with Marvel Games that should result in a memorable adventure game with the Guardians of the Galaxy later this year.