Is the Noid really the villain this time? Or is he the true hero we all need?
While it attempted many things, Life is Strange was most successful at being divisive. This site itself has talked about what it did right and wrong multiple times. For one group of fans, both the strong connection they had and the disappointment they felt was fuel to make something new. Love is Strange is a visual novel that takes the characters and relationships that make Life is Strange special, examines them, and takes them to their incredibly sweet conclusion. It’s a dating game, but it’s also an examination of people and the insecurities they hide.
It’s also cute as heck.
This interview contains spoilers for the ending of Life is Strange.
Video Game Choo Choo: Did the team come together due to Life is Strange or was it a coincidence that you all had a familiarity with the game?
Team Rumblebee: Most of the team were already contributors to the Life is Strange community. The game was conceived in a Skype chat involving various members of the fandom and from there other members of the fandom were recruited and invited to hop on board.
VGCC: How did you eventually come to the idea of a visual novel based on Life is Strange?
TR: Kunaike drew a picture of Rachel at Blackwell, with “Talk” and “Look” graphics in the style of Life is Strange, and we were just like ‘Man, wouldn’t it be cool if there was a Life is Strange dating sim?’ We realized it was something completely doable, and it just spiraled from there.
VGCC: Life is Strange has a very particular look, from the fashion of the characters to the atmosphere of the town. Was it hard to transfer that aesthetic to the sometimes limiting world of a visual novel?
TR: As a fan game, we really wanted to show off the styles of our artists. Kunaike had done a great deal of Life is Strange fanart before, and it was a unanimous decision that she was going to be the sprite artist. The sprites went through a few different styles (the first pass was black and white), and finally settled on a more painted look. The style was cemented when we brought on Anh, our background artist. The background and sprite styles fit together perfectly.
VGCC: The game has original music instead of relying on license free music like most fan games I’ve seen. What was it like making music for something that has an established soundtrack?
TR: It was chill. Like, the music in Life is Strange has a very relaxed- although a little ominous at times- vibe. It’s something I didn’t, and probably couldn’t, replicate with precise accuracy, but it carved a musical road for me. I had the platform. “Gay and Happy Dating Sim,” right? You can already hear the music.
Now add Life is Strange into the mix, and you get this mixture of guitar strings and ambient sounds. That’s what I mostly had to work with, with the combination of bass and drums, of course. So to crack open a box of Fruit Loops and burn my tongue on hot coffee, while making gentle music in the morning, was marvelous.
Not only that, though. When I was done with a track, named it “Fried Eggs” or whatever my sleepy mind could come up with, I shared it with the team and they would say all these wonderful things that just provided this amazing energy to me. Making music is awesome. Making music with awesome people for support is extraordinary.
VGCC: You mention in your FAQ that you feel that Life is Strange is a game which the LGBTQIA+ community can relate to, which I totally agree with. However many people, myself included, feel like it let down that community by the end of the game. Do you agree with that sentiment?
TR: Nearly everyone, if not everyone, on the team felt some degree of disappointment with the ending of Life is Strange with reactions ranging from mild to extreme. It’s a game that’s perfectly tailored to invoke emotion from its players and for a lot of us those emotions were tied not only to the teenage nostalgia factor, but the themes of growing up as a young queer person trying to figure yourself out and trying to navigate that, which can be a painful process in a world that doesn’t always understand or provide the resources you need.
The love story between Chloe and Max unfolded really beautifully- it wasn’t done perfectly, but many of us formed significant attachments to it, and seeing that all end the way that it did with a harsh ‘To grow up, you have to suffer and sacrifice, and there are no other options’ message was wounding in many ways. That’s not to say that we expect happy endings all of the time- only that, for a lot of queer people, and in particular women who love other women as of late, we don’t even get to see those happy endings a lot of the time.
Why did the sacrifice have to be either the love between Max and Chloe, or their happiness together? It felt like there was a lot of narrative room for a number of different options- options that were not granted to us. It was rough. A lot of people in the fandom still talk about how, nearly seven months later, they continue to struggle with the way that ending made them feel. For some, that sense of disappointment has impeded upon the positive feelings the game initially gave them.
VGCC: Is Love is Strange in some way an attempt to “fix” that and explore those themes and relationships the game only hints at?
TR: Development on Love is Strange started a bit after Episode 4, and most of it had already been planned out before Episode 5 released.
We absolutely wanted to try to capture the positive themes laid out in Life is Strange, though, especially the ones in episodes 1-4. There’s a lot of great, warm stuff in there.
VGCC: Rachel Amber wasn’t much of a character in Life is Strange. Max never meets her and she is mostly talked about in the past tense. What decisions led to you having her being a romantic option?
TR: She’s hot. She’s really hot.
There was a sense of wanting to bring her to life, so to speak, because so many people expressed regret at never having gotten to meet her. When a lot of us think about the main female characters in Life is Strange, we all immediately say Max, Chloe, Kate, and Victoria… but for a lot of people, Rachel additionally rounds off that list. She had a significant presence in Life is Strange’s storyline, and she felt vivid and real to many players. We were writing a game where none of the tragic events had happened in this timeline meaning Rachel could be alive in it. Why pass up a great opportunity like that?
VGCC: From my interactions with Life is Strange fans there are fanbases for characters with small roles. Were any other characters, such as Brooke or Dana, considered for a route?
TR: There were lots of what-if pondering/dreams/jokes about including other routes. I think we were all fond of the idea of a Dana route, and one wish thrown out there was an opportunity to see her in her Blackwell Bigfoots cheerleading uniform. It would have been awesome to include other characters, but four routes was already a surprising amount to handle.
We planned at one stage to allow for polyamorous routes, including a finished outline for a Chloe/Max/Rachel route that would unlock once you had finished both Chloe’s and Rachel’s routes individually, but time, resources, and complexity prevented us from pursuing it. We would have absolutely loved to do it, though, and some of us like to imagine that it’s a post-Love is Strange possibility, anyway!
VGCC: One thing I really like about the game is the fact that none of the drama from the relationships ever hinge on the characters being gay, even when that could be easy drama. Was that a conscious choice or just what the writers ended up going with?
TR: I think it may have been brought up once, but it was never something that any of us were interested in writing. We wanted to bring something positive to the community after the event of episode 5, focusing primarily on the relationships of the characters. So that particular trope, often laced with heavy angst and homophobia, simply would not have had a place in the story.
There are so many other stories to tell. With these characters, there’s a million different layers you can explore within their personalities and histories. Compared to, say, Victoria’s surprisingly complex insecurities, or Chloe’s abandonment issues, the oh-no-I’m-gay struggle pales in comparison. Many of us find those storylines both exhausting and draining. They’ve been told many times before, and a lot of queer people simply don’t want to engage with them, because a lot of us have lived them already and are happy to leave them firmly rooted in the past.
VGCC: Just personal opinion, what’s everyone’s favorite route?
TR: The one where they kissed in the end.
Love is Strange is available on PC/Mac/Linux for free here.