The much-anticipated standalone DLC for Life is Strange: True Colors, which was released earlier this month, is out tomorrow. Titled Wavelengths, the bonus episode stars not True Colors protagonist Alex Chen but rather Steph Gingrich — a fan-favorite since she was introduced in Deck Nine Games’ first foray into the Life is Strange universe with Before the Storm. After the events of Before the Storm, Steph moves from Arcadia Bay and, after a few life changes involving music and exes, eventually finds herself staying in the small picturesque town of Haven Springs. In True Colors, she’s become the charismatic DJ at the local radio station, a main character in the narrative, and Alex’s (superior) love interest. With Wavelengths, Steph can add being the protagonist of her own DLC episode to her extensive repertoire.
After previewing Wavelengths’ first 15 minutes, I sat down to interview Mallory Littleton, senior narrative designer on True Colors, and Katy Bentz, Steph’s full performance actor, to talk about the upcoming DLC episode.
While Steph being so popular certainly factored into why Deck Nine decided to bring her back in True Colors and center her in Wavelengths, it’s not the only reason. “We just had so many interesting questions about Steph in our heads,” says Littleton. “Even we as the writers wanted to know how she ended up in Haven Springs of all places; what living in Arcadia Bay and how what happened there affected her as a person. Because she’s such a fan favorite, we really did want to explore her in greater depth. And we thought that there was depth there to be found.”
Littleton’s team started working on Wavelengths while True Colors’ final episode was still being developed. “The writing team works a little bit ahead of the rest of the studio because we have to show them what they’re gonna make,” she says. “[We] transitioned onto Wavelengths, while the rest of episode five was still being produced. Once episode five was completed, the rest of the team sort of followed on to Wavelengths after we had it written. And so we had a lot of context with Steph; we knew where she was going to start her story in True Colors. We wanted to set up for that, build to it, and add whatever layers we could to what was already there.”
While the COVID-19 pandemic naturally affected the episode’s production, its effects are reflected through the content players will experience in interesting ways. Steph will spend the episode in the record store on her own, a decision made partly to keep Deck Nine’s motion capture staff and Steph’s actor safe. “Everyone was kind of boxed up alone, so we thought that making kind of a bottle episode with Steph was sort of the right way to go about doing it,” says Littleton.
It wasn’t difficult for the team to come up with reasons for why Steph stays in Haven Springs after Gabe convinces her band to perform at The Black Lantern; it helps that Steph feels like a very “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of character. But the core game didn’t have much space where the team could dig into her motivations. Littleton states that, although the team answered those questions at a high level for themselves when writing True Colors, the DLC provides an opportunity to dive into them more deeply.
What has been more difficult is exploring Steph as a player character with her own inner monologue. “When it’s a video game character, you’re in their head,” she explains. “And people sort of speak and act a certain way. But everyone’s a little bit different when they’re inside their own head. And so we really had to drill down on who Steph was. How does she think about things? How does she approach things? When she’s going on six hours of a really long shift and starts to get a little bit loopy, what jokes does she make with herself?”
Compared to writing Steph as a secondary NPC in Before the Storm, or even one of the main characters like she is in True Colors, this has required a different writing process — one that typically forced the team, “to get a lot more detailed with people’s psychology and with their experiences, and how those experiences shape the way they react.”
Bentz says that while breathing more emotion into such a familiar character was fun, it was also challenging in its own right. “You want to make sure you bring justice to a character that’s already so special to so many people,” she explains. “Making sure that, okay, is this how Steph would feel insecure, how Steph would feel awkward? How is she going to play?”
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It isn’t an overstatement to say Steph has been a special character for years now. She stands out in a series full of endearing characters thanks to being wonderfully nerdy, ridiculously hot, and extremely lovable. But though she’s long captivated hearts through her boundless creativity and love for Dungeons and Dragons, her confidence in her queerness is also an undeniable part of why so many people — especially among Life is Strange’s extensive queer fanbase — have adored her.
“We expect our TV shows, movies, or video games to — in some regard — represent the world around us,” reflects Littleton. “I think when you see queer characters left out of those stories, time and time again, it can make you feel really alone. And so for us, we really wanted to forefront Steph as a lesbian and as a person who’s just trying to find her way in the world. It felt really important to us to include that and not shy away from it or try to minimize it because it’s a big part of her character. And everyone, including the dev team, just loves Steph so much. She’s so much fun.”
As the voice that brings Steph to life, Bentz has been on the receiving end of that love perhaps more than anyone else. “Just from Before the Storm, I’ve received letters from people explaining that Steph allowed them to feel comfortable coming out to their friends and their family,” she shares. That’s when she realized how important Steph is to so many people.
“That was one thing that I was really excited about for True Colors and for Wavelengths, for her to come back,” she continues. “Because if she was such an important part of people’s lives in helping them find out who they really are — and being able to feel comfortable with who they are — with Before the Storm, what’s that going to do for people with True Colors and Wavelengths?”
Although many fans are excited to play through a whole episode dedicated to Steph, it feels bittersweet. Wavelengths is the only announced DLC for Life is Strange: True Colors. The anthological nature of the series means that whatever is next for Life is Strange likely won’t take place in Haven Springs. It’s a perpetual conundrum for fans; we have to say goodbye to an incredible cast of characters almost as quickly as we get to know them. This is only exacerbated by how Life is Strange: True Colors is the first installment to have its episodes released all at once instead of gradually over many months. As a Life is Strange stan, it’s both the best and worst part about this series for me. Though since I adore this game so much, it’s kind of the worst right now. That sadness isn’t a feeling the fans are alone in.
“When we wrapped writing on episode five … we felt that same kind of sadness about it because [developing True Colors] had been our whole lives for something like three years,” shares Littleton. “When we were told we could make a DLC episode, we were thrilled to get to spend a little bit more time with these people. We wanted to use it to build up the experience of True Colors, add context to it, and increase the depth of the core experience. That way, you can finish it and only wait a couple of weeks before Wavelengths can come out and add a little bit more to all of those experiences.”
Bentz has recently finished her first playthrough of the game, which she originally live-streamed on Twitch and has since uploaded on her YouTube channel. While it was amazing to experience the full game, especially with Steph’s eager fanbase in the chat, she couldn’t help but also feel sad.
“I didn’t want to finish chapter five,” she says, her pride for what they’ve created together palpable as she tells me about how much she loved True Colors. “I was like, ‘it’s over, it’s done, I can’t replay it for the first time again.’ I think that, for me and a lot of the fans, it’s going to be really awesome to have Wavelengths because they get more with a character they all really love.”
After arriving in Haven Springs, it didn’t take long for Steph to realize she wanted to stay there a little longer — and it didn’t for me, either. If Wavelengths is the only chance I’ll have to see Steph, Alex, and Gabe one final time, I’m more than happy to take it.