I’m Happy Yet Hesitant About the Life is Strange Prequel

As you’d expect from E3, a ton of exciting news and announcements are coming out of the event. Yet one of the more minor reveals probably has me the most excited… a prequel to Life is Strange was announced with a teaser trailer!

A surprisingly gripping indie game, Life is Strange puts you in the shoes of Max, a high school teenager who suddenly discovers she has time-rewinding powers. As fantastical as that aspect is, the game mainly stays grounded in the world of teenagers, focusing on the awkwardness and intense emotional swings of that stage in life.

As much as I want to dive back in to that world and absorb every iota of experience there, I’m hesitant about the idea of a prequel focusing on Chloe for a few reasons.

First, I generally think prequels are a bad idea (not just because of Star Wars). When a story or characters becomes successful and popular, the obvious urge is to go back and see more. Exploring origins may give more context, but trying to tell a story in that way is problematic. Mostly because you already know where the end of that origin story winds up. It takes a lot of the mystery and drama out of it.

For Life is Strange, we already find out a lot about Chloe and what she was doing in this era through the course of the first game. She gets expelled from school, befriends Rachel Amber and has run ins with Frank. I didn’t ever feel compelled to know more than that. What was always more important was Max and Chloe’s relationship to each other.

It leads me to my second issue in that Chloe has a great redemptive arc in the original game. She starts off at a low point, aimless in life and even attempting to blackmail Nathan.

A prequel focused on Chloe essentially means she has to experience another arc to propel a plot. I doubt the devs would go the dark route and have her spiral downward, but you’d need her to do that to make the link back to the original story make sense and retain its impact.

Another issue is that the trailer reveals Rachel Amber as an actual character. I’m sure plenty of people are happy about this, and yeah, I’m curious about it too. But the fact that she never actually appears in the original game outside of photos and referenced in conversation is such a powerful way to tell a story.

It’s a lot like the great Wes Anderson movie, Rushmore, with Edward Applebee who also never actually appeared in the film but loomed large over every other character like a ghost.

I think it’s such strong, evocative and mature storytelling. I just fear that going back and making her an actual presence undercuts the effectiveness of that original story.

Finally, it was revealed that Dontnod isn’t developing this game. I don’t want to outright dismiss the new developer but it’s a tad disappointing and just gives me less confidence overall.

But I guess all that we can do is wait and see! Hopefully we get a great game that enriches the world rather than detracting from the original story. Plus, Dontnod is working on an actual sequel, which we still know nothing about.

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I’m deep into Persona 5 right now and there’s no end in sight. People have been touting 100+ hrs and I’m only around the 35 hr mark.

So far it’s great, but I definitely think the anticipation and high praise made me expect a lot. The game’s a little more confining than I expected, forcing me to do or not do things at certain times. Which can be frustrating because there’s a ton to do in the game and I want to do it all.

I’m also wondering if the game will change things up later on. Even though I’m not halfway, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good handle on the mechanics and the gameplay loop. It hasn’t felt tiresome yet, but I’m afraid that I’ll get worn out by the same process throughout the whole game.

Other than that, I’ll still jump into Mass Effect Andromeda multiplayer from time to time. It doesn’t have its hooks in me quite the same way that Mass Effect 3 multiplayer did, which I can’t figure out why since it’s basically the same format.

My hunch is that there are just too many other games I want to get to. This has been an incredible year for games and we’re only now reaching the halfway mark.

The second half of the year doesn’t seem has loaded with games I’m anticipating. That’s even before Red Dead Redemption 2 got delayed until next year, which surprised absolutely no one.

I still have yet to play Horizon Zero Dawn and Legend of Zelda. I’m hoping that by the time I am ready to get to them, they’ll be on sale or at least in stock (looking longingly at the Switch).

For now, I’ll keep an eye out for more indie gems like Little Nightmares and What Remains of Edith Finch. And I’m still itching to do a second run-through of Dishonored 2.

I assumed I’d do another play of Andromeda simply because it’s Mass Effect, but the further away I get from the game, the less interested I am in revisiting it.

But good news is that a sequel to Life is Strange was announced! I have no idea what that game might look like, but I’m still excited.

Why I Play Video Games

There’s a recent article on Vulture examining why some (particularly grown-up adults) choose to spend so much of their free moments playing video games.

As much a past-time as reading, watching tv, or sports, playing video games has always had a negative stigma. That it wasn’t as worthy of our time and effort as the other recreational activities. I assume because it’s thought to be more for kids. Although I can’t fathom then why so many have no issue obsessing over sports… and not even playing but watching sports.

The article tries to justify gaming through several angles… some people make money broadcasting on YouTube! Or it’s a way to experience a world that has rules and goals unlike real life!

But the author (while a self-described gamer) doesn’t seem to fully buy into any rationale. Even stating that writing for a video game is an inferior artform to literary writing.

Of that, I totally disagree. Just because examples of stellar video game writing are far more scarce than books or poetry or whatnot, doesn’t mean it’s not capable of achieving the same heights.

Take The Last of Us. I can’t recall too many novels that caused me to swim in such a deep well of emotions by the end. I put down my controller at the end credits and felt a mixture of awe and devastation for characters that I had come to connect with more than most fictional characters

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We also tend to forget that video games are a relatively new medium compared to other forms of artistic expression. Music and writing are about as old as human existence. Television has even been around for almost a century.

Video games, starting off severely limited by technology, have only really recently begun to venture into the waters of art and storytelling. More complex stories, professional voice (and mo-cap) actors, and music conductors, are all becoming as vital to video game production as the level designers and programmers.

Back to my own gaming journey, I spent a hefty amount of my childhood playing NES and SNES games, only to fall off around college, thinking that yes, indeed video games are just for kids.

I missed entire generations of consoles such as the N64, Gamecube, Playstation 1, and Playstation 2.

I finally found my way back after being intrigued by the concept of the Mass Effect trilogy. That there’s a series of games that allows you to craft your main character, to make decisions that have actual effects in not just the game you’re playing but subsequent games too. That video games were now much more epic and cinematic than when I was running around on 8-bit and 16-bit levels.

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Even now, I have friends and girlfriends who look at me a bit sideways when I reveal that I spend a significant amount of my time gaming. It’s still viewed as a waste of time. Especially at an age and time where so many other things should take priority.

My simplest explanation basically breaks down to how video games are much less passive than watching tv or movies. And video games are as immersive as books, but have visual stimulation as well.

Being able to control a character, guiding them through a story or a puzzle or a battle, allows me to have agency and investment.

I won’t deny the sense of satisfaction when beating a tough boss enemy or solving a puzzle obstacle or the pleasure of killing an obnoxious online player. But that’s not what keeps drawing me into gaming. There has to be a story. There has to be character. There has to be emotion.

Recently on the way in to work, Life is Strange‘s main theme came up in my phone’s shuffle mode and I had a flood of feelings hit me. I felt a sense of missing Max and Chloe and their heart-warming, heart-breaking journey.

This is a grown-ass man going to an office, fighting back emotions for a video game about two teenaged girls.

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Now, I know that people play video games for different reasons. I’m all about the story. But I recently found out that my cousin only likes to play online shooters and skips any cinematic just to get to the action. I found that mindset completely baffling. But to each his own.

Personally, I don’t play games for profit, popularity, or even as an escape from my real life.

I just like that as a form of entertainment. Like going to see a film or listening to music. Video games have just as much value to me as any of those.

Hopefully soon, there will be less stigma whenever I admit to someone that I like to game. I’ve definitely had the urge to sit people down in front of a game to show them that things have progressed very far from Super Mario Bros.

Here are some of my go-to games to express the potential of the medium:

The Last of Us
No brainer. The prologue might play a little too long for some people’s patience but it’s a hell of a display of the power of interactive story-telling.

Journey
A very different type of experience. Most people are caught off guard by how restrained it is. Usually, games come off as loud amusement parks. This game is more like a monastery.

Limbo
This one tends to be a bit easier transition for people since most are at least familiar with side-scrollers. But the art direction and the stellar adherence to minimalism is always impressive.

Life is Strange
As mentioned above, this game really gets its hooks in you emotionally. It’s a bit of a tough sell though since it takes a good amount of time before the appeal kicks in.

The Walking Dead
I’ve come to love/hate Telltale games but this is a good one to introduce to people due to the popularity of the show. Plus it does a good job of retaining the show’s brutal no-win scenarios but puts decisions in the player’s hands.

Until Dawn
A great one to pull out for a group gathering around Halloween. The impressive visuals and the Scream-like setup is another good example to people of how games can be just as engrossing as a movie.

Let’s Play: Life is Strange

I only decided to give this game a try because it was appearing on so many people’s Best of 2015 lists and hints at some crazy twists.

I was definitely intrigued even though it seemed like a pretty generic walking simulator for emo teen girls.

Boy was I wrong! I loved playing this game, and it really hit me in the feels! Really glad I ended up doing a Let’s Play for my first run-through.

Hope you enjoy it!

Life is Strange, Episode 1 is free to download

Life is Strange is a fantastic game. If you like living out the life of a teenage girl. With time travel powers.

The first episode (out of five) is now free to download on various platforms. I highly recommend giving it a go.

I’ll admit that the game is a bit slow to really get going, probably not until midway through the second episode. But once it gets its hooks in you, it wont let go.

I was surprised by how attached I got to several of the characters in the story. The writing is a bit shaky at first but the episodic release structure allowed the developer to right most of the wrongs by the end.

One of the best surprises for me of 2015, and the emotional resonance is a level that very few other games (indie or AAA) are able to achieve.

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