In Life is Strange: True Colors, Alex’s psychic power of empathy comes to life through unique gameplay and cinematic experiences. Emotions are expressed by auras around other characters, which can explode into novas of light and color when the emotion becomes overwhelming. Each of these experiences transforms Alex’s world, offering him valuable information about another person, but sometimes threatening to consume his own consciousness.
As a development team, we grappled with the question of how to capture something as abstract as emotions. We found ourselves pushing back against traditional Life is Strange storytelling conventions, using the tangible audiovisual portrayal of emotional sensations to elicit the same response in the player that Alex herself feels every time. We also wanted to challenge the line between Alex and the other characters, using elements like internal monologue and world exploration to mix perspectives and introduce questions about the strength of Alex’s own thoughts. While we approached each nova as a bespoke experience, we ultimately landed on four general categories of emotions that share similar elements: sadness, anger, fear, and joy. Here are some tips on what the player might experience with each.
Sadness is expressed by a fluid and devouring blue aura. Inside a nova of sadness, the world takes on a gray-blue pallor. It may appear that a rain cloud has blocked the sun. Everything looks and sounds heavier, darker, duller. You can witness this firsthand as Alex watches Steph mourn Gabe’s death.
Fear is expressed with a purple aura that jumps and points, like an ECG monitor. Within a nova of fear, the world is made up of jagged lines and dark shadows. The player can hear his heart beating in his ears. There are jump alarms on every corner. As she gazes into a dark chasm, she may even see monsters staring at her. Alex first gets a glimpse of this fear in Haven Springs as Mac is overwhelmed by the situation behind Gabe’s death as he wakes up.
Anger is expressed with a violent red that sparkles like a flame. Inside a nova of anger, the world is intense and hot. Lights and sounds are amplified, movements are crisp and shifted. The player can hear short, shallow breaths. The world seems to be racing with adrenaline and clenching like a fist. This anger floods Alex as she sees Steph having a tense conversation on the phone, as she unwittingly mimics the same frustrated ways Steph shows.
Joy is expressed with a golden aura that radiates like the crown of the sun. Within an aura of joy, the world seems to be bubbling and vibrating with love and laughter. The colors are vibrant, the sounds are rich and full. Memories are tinged with a burst of tenderness, and the present is seemingly limitless. Joy comes to life for Alex as Gabe’s entire community in Haven Springs gives him a head start at the Bridge of Flowers, watching the bright lantern lights calmly drift into the depths of the sky.
In many of these sequences, Alex has the opportunity to find a catharsis that helps the other person balance their emotions. Much harder for Alex, and the crux of her journey in Life is Strange: True Colors, is confronting her own emotions and finding the relief and comfort she was looking for.