Details on the aesthetic language of Alex’s power of Empathy
In Life is Strange: True Colors, Alex’s psychic power of Empathy is brought 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 her valuable insights into another person but threatening to consume her own consciousness at times.
As a dev team, we wrestled with the question of how to capture something as abstract as emotions. We found ourselves pushing the conventions of traditional Life is Strange storytelling, employing the tangible audio-visual representation of emotive sensations to drive the same response in the player that Alex herself feels each time. We also wanted to challenge the boundary between Alex and other characters, using elements like internal monologue and world exploration to blend perspectives and introduce questions about the strength of Alex’s own thoughts. Although we approached each nova as a bespoke experience, we eventually landed on four general categories of emotions that shared similar elements: sadness, anger, fear, and joy. Here are some hints of what the player might experience with each.
Sadness is expressed with a blue aura that is fluid and consuming. Inside a sadness nova, the world takes on a gray-blue pallor. It may seem as if a rain cloud has blocked out the sun. Everything looks and sounds heavier, darker, duller. You can witness this first-hand as Alex watches Steph as she mourns Gabe’s death.
Fear is expressed with a purple aura that jumps and spikes, like an EKG monitor. Inside a fear nova, the world is all jagged lines and dark shadows. The player can hear her heartbeat in her ears. There are jump scares around every corner. As she looks down into a dark abyss, she may even see monsters staring back at her. Alex first gets a glimpse of this fear in Haven Springs as Mac is overwhelmed about the situation behind Gabe’s death while at his wake.
Anger is expressed with a violent red that flickers like a flame. Inside an anger nova, the world is intense and hot. Lights and sounds are amped up, movements are sharp and staggered. The player can hear short, shallow breaths. The world seems to pulse with adrenaline and clench like a fist. This Anger washes over Alex during her witnessing Steph having a tense conversation on the phone, as she involuntarily mimics the same frustrated mannerisms that Steph exhibits.
Joy is expressed with a golden aura that radiates like the sun’s corona. Inside a joy aura, the world seems to bubble and vibrate with love and laughter. Colors pop, sounds are rich and full. Memories are tinted with a gloss of fondness and the present is seemingly limitless. Joy bursts to life for Alex as all of Gabe’s community in Haven Springs give him a worthy send-off at the Bridge of Flowers, watching the bright lights of lanterns drift calmly into the depths of the sky.
In many of these sequences, Alex has the opportunity to find a catharsis that helps the other person achieve balance with their emotions. Much more challenging 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 has been searching for.