Life Is Strange: True Colors introduces a new protagonist to the choice-driven supernatural franchise: Alex Chen, a woman with Empathy powers. I sat down with True Colors senior staff writer Felice Kuan and Alex’s voice actor, Erika Mori, to talk about how developer Deck Nine created the character as well as what it was like to make a Life Is Strange game and tell a story with full body and facial mocap–an experience that Mori describes as “an actor’s dream.”
I also asked both of them to pick between team Ryan or team Stef to get a better sense of which romance option would be better to pursue first.
True Colors is scheduled to launch for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PS5, PS4, Stadia, and PC on September 10. The game loosely connects to Life Is Strange: Before The Storm, as it features Before The Storm’s Stef as one of two friends whom Alex can romance. True Colors will be the first game in the franchise to drop the episodic release format, with all five chapters releasing at once.
Was there a desire from the start to connect True Colors to previous Life Is Strange games? Why specifically Before The Storm?
Felice Kuan: Sure. We wanted to have a standalone tale. We were excited to be able to pair our protagonists with her own dream and her own power. So we didn’t seek to tie into previous games, except for the fact that it’s the same world, and that Stef is an important character, regardless of whether you romance her or not.
Even though True Colors won’t have an episodic release schedule, is it still written like an episodic series?
Kuan: Yep. True Colors is five chapters, each with their own exciting ending. So you can binge it all, or you can do individual episodes if you want to.
Erika, how was it recording Alex’s voice lines considering she can regularly shift between different emotions? Did you come in one day and just record all the angry takes and then the sad takes or did you go scene by scene, voicing different interpretations of each conversation?
Erika Mori: No [laughs]. Thank goodness. We didn’t use all of the shoots for one particular emotion during one day. I feel like the sadness day would have been really brutal. No, so we didn’t do it like that. We started at the beginning and then bopped around based on availability and when scripts were ready and when the rest of the crew was prepared. But I think that we were very lucky that we had the tools for an entire performance capture versus just the body being done by one person and then voice being done by someone else and trying to combine it. Plus, we had facial capture. So because we’re dealing with emotions and empathy as the crux of this game and of Alex’s journey, having all three of those together and captured at the same time, it really gave us a deeply authentic performance.
Erika, how is it sharing a character with another person, since you primarily voice Alex but Maia handles the vocals for when Alex sings? Did the two of you have a chance to bounce ideas for the character off each other or was there little overlap between you two?
Mori: No, initially I had sung everything and then later in the process, Square Enix made the decision to bring mxmtoon in. And so she took the performances that I had already done and reinterpreted them.
I’d be foolish not to take the opportunity of this unique situation: Usually I get to talk to just a writer or just an actor, not both at once. So, how was it bringing Alex to life? Was there much collaboration between actors and writers? Does True Colors have a few improvised lines in there?
Kuan: Improvise lines? Not as often. But we very much improvised the way a scene went down sometimes. One of the nice things about full facial and body mocap and VO at the same time is we’re essentially seeing the scene in front of us like it’s a theater. And very often we would find that the character would say something, and Erika would convey her reaction with her face. And it would be either hysterical or heartbreaking. And so we would often change the shape of the scene right there, just to let more come through from the emotion on her face or from her body movements, to better reflect real life.
Mori: We always had the writer for the scene on set, and I’m sure they got super annoyed with me because they created such a collaborative space that I really took advantage of. And you read through the scene, run it a few times, and then if there was a line or a word that I wasn’t able to find a way through or say in a way that I thought Alex would, I would just ask if I could change it. And a lot of times they said, “No,” [everyone laughs]. But a few times they did say, “Yes.”
We would also talk a lot about how the writers were approaching a line or the actors were feeling in a moment or what someone was thinking. And that inner psychology was really useful for us, because we would wrap that into future scenes. I think the character of Alex was built collaboratively as we went on.
How is it to write for–and, I guess now that I think about it, voice–a character where their story can fluctuate in how it plays out? I assume True Colors will have multiple endings, but even if it doesn’t, players will have agency in who their Alex is. What is it like to create a character in a story where there’s no “right” way for the story to play out?
Kuan: Oh, I’m excited to hear Erika’s answer to this. I know that from our perspective, even though there might be a few choices you can respond to, they all still exist within the group of choices that would be right for Alex. And what’s exciting about that is that you get to see what the limits and boundaries of this character are. What really defines her? You know, how far will she go?
Mori: I think that this narrative adventure game genre is really an actor’s dream. Especially because with that type of game, the character you create is one you develop over years, so you get really, really knowledgeable and intimately involved with who this character is.
And the idea of having to play different choices–I mean, who among us hasn’t gotten into a car after a conflict or a conversation and said, “Damn it. I wish I could do it again. I totally would have said this and this, and then I would have done this.” In a way, as Alex, I got to do that by performing all of these different conditional branches. And so I think that because of that process, it helps me flesh out Alex; like Alex was so much more real because I was able to go down those optional scenario branches of what she would do as a person.
Between the two romance options, do y’all have a favorite? Help a brotha out here who has to play many games for work and will likely only be able to complete True Colors once before end-of-the-year “Best Games” conversations?
Kuan: You know, you can also just be friends with them.
Mori: I would not choose that. I would not choose that.
Kuan: But you can ’cause it’s Alex’s story, right?
Mori: So which team are you–are you team Ryan or team Stef? Is that the question?
Pretty much, yeah.
Kuan: I mean, all right, there are going to be a lot of people who try the Stef branch. So I think that you should give Ryan a shot–see what that’s like. He’s a good guy.
Mori: There’s no wrong answer. I will tell you that both the Stef romance and the Ryan romance are very aww-inducing. It’s also nice because regardless of who you pick or whether you pick anyone at all, they will both still be around. They’re still your good buddies. So you won’t rule anybody out of your life.