Fail Forward: Life Is Strange

Fail Forward is a series of videos all about the bits of games which don’t quite work and why. In this episode, Marsh Davies discusses Life Is Strange [official site], an episodic adventure series by Dontnod Entertainment set in a US highschool. It’s great – not because all of it works, but because it’s so interesting when and why it doesn’t.

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    Spottswoode says:

    That was excellent, can’t wait to see the rest of the series.

  2. Dorga says:

    Love, love, love this new video series. Keep them special!

  3. anHorse says:

    That was excellent, the critique of Telltale games actually helped me to understand a problem I had with them but had failed to actually identify (the even consequences of every choice)
    Weird how you’ve made me want to experience the second episode by telling me about how bad it is.

  4. Nasarius says:

    The phrase “fail forward” as it applies to games is a very important concept in modern (tabletop) RPGs, where failing a roll basically means that the plot still moves forward, but with complications.

    It’s really interesting stuff if you’re into game design. Go listen to this recent podcast episode, even if you don’t play 13th Age: link to

    • Rymdkejsaren says:

      I love the concept in RPGs. Personally I think I first saw it in Apocalypse World, which was also my first encounter with a non-standard RPG system. if you are interested in knowing more about the RPG I am making. I am actually about to post something on game mechanics, should pop up later today.

    • cosmitz says:

      Thanks for the context. I actually didn’t knew this as a term, even though it sums up a 2000-ish article i wrote on why failing is fantastic in Life is Strange: link to

  5. Abajaba says:

    I approve! Two gold stars! Have some cookies!

  6. Nixitur says:

    About Point 1: Does it really fail to capture how young people speak nowadays? You yourself admit to being too old to know that with certainty. Not to mention that even if you were the right age, I’d imagine that youth speak in the US differs greatly from the one in the UK.
    In fact, I’ve read several comments by people stating that, yes, the speech in this game is actually very close to how their daughter/younger sister speaks.
    I think your cringing at the speech in Life Is Strange is nothing more than the cringing that your parents did when they asked themselves “Is this what they talk like nowadays?”

    • Wisq says:

      Completely agree re: point 1.

      Point 2, the artwork: I think the worst thing they could’ve done is try to go for realistic imagery. This is completely aside from the cost of making it — but that’s an issue too, since then your only options would be, real photos (a lot of which would be hard to find or be recoginisably incorrect), 3D renders (expensive and wouldn’t look 100% real), or more detailed drawings (which still wouldn’t look right, since they’re supposed to be photos, not drawings).

      In a game about photography, which is mainly about capturing the essence of a scene, it really does make sense to reduce your photos to just their essence. It also lets the imagination fill in the rest — which is almost always better than filling in every little detail, especially when there’s something key you want to convey in the photo and you don’t want people to have to scour every photo for miniscule clues. Plus, the photos (and the wind, and etc.) all match the menus / on-screen prompts, which are line-scribbles as well.

      Regarding the digression re: moral choices — yes, many choices have an obviously “good” option and an obviously “bad” one … but those choices come back to haunt you, and frequently the “bad” one will actually give you a big advantage later on. Without spoiling too much: What Chloe’s dad thinks of you, and whether you kept quiet about that nasty student just because the principal didn’t believe you at the time.

      But yes, re: point 3 … chapter 2 was almost certainly the weakest of the three so far. If I could say anything positive about that weakness, I’d say that, if you hadn’t been rewinding much before, at least it would force you to really try it out — albeit in silly, contrived ways. (Also, it really bugged me that when you were trying to guess the pocket contents, you weren’t able to just say “I’ve got time rewinding powers, not x-ray vision — just show me what’s in your bloody pockets so I can rewind and tell you” instead of just lying so she’d show you.)

      • H-Alien says:

        I agree with point 2. Full realistic, detailed photography would only result in all sort of amateur photography geeks like me debating why it is a rather bad picture, how we can make much better pictures, etc.

        And I absolutely looooooove the flock of birds, they are so mesmerizing

      • rmsgrey says:

        On the not x-ray vision thing, it strikes me as a little cruel to say to someone “hey, could you show me what’s in your pockets so I can erase you from existence and impress a parallel version of you?”

      • cosmitz says:

        I love the experience i had with episode two’s ending. Contrary to game design, i did rewind time by alt-F4-ing and reloading the game. Did i cheese it? Yes i did but not quite. Even though you can pick the right options without knowing bits of info or having scavenged her room, after my fifth try i decided that me, the player, cannot do it, and would not stoop myself down to ‘faking’ the right answer by googling.

        That messy event happened, and i owned it. With all of Max’s rewind powers and my gaming prowess, i, and Max implicitly, failed. It made the experience a lot more personal for me, Max’s powerlessness transferring to myself, a thing extremely few games managed to do.

    • Caerphoto says:

      I think it does a good job of how teenagers speak generally: trying very hard to come across as intelligent and knowledgeable in front of their peers, whilst inside being insecure and unsure of who they are. It’s realistically fake, something I can almost remember doing myself, and seeing others do at that age.

      Some of Max’s internal dialogue seems a bit contrived, but I think that’s mostly down to the game needing to fully vocalise what would otherwise be non-verbal thoughts and feelings.

    • ChrisGWaine says:

      I don’t know whether it’s accurate to how teenagers speak in Oregon, but I do rather suspect that only by being more neutral, less colloquial, and therefore definitely not accurate, would those kinds of complaints be avoided.

    • Splattercakez says:

      No you raise a very good point, this article addressing the dialogue complaints from someone who actually lives in NorCal

      link to

  7. SimianJim says:

    This was really good. Thanks :)

    I did think that the ‘speed-paint scribble’ style is definitely an aesthetic choice, and I think it works really well. The main reason is think it works is because of how it shifts the focus. When Max is talking about these photos that she finds so inspirational, if these were photo-realistic then we’d be analysing the photos and deciding whether or not we agree with her critique or not. As the content is blurred we are forced to focus on what Max’s emotions are, which is much more valuable in the context of the game.

  8. Monggerel says:

    I… didn’t expect the video to start with an explanation of what the game actually is. One would assume that whoever actually wants to watch the video is probably already familiar?

    This isn’t meant as constructive criticism, just as an insult. I would never dare offer a measured opinion.

    • TRS-80 says:

      Well, I’m considering watching the video (and I don’t bother with video much) but don’t know much about (er, anything) about the game, so I’m glad it’s there.

    • iainl says:

      It’s a discussion of ideas and why their failures suggest interesting alternatives, no? With this game I’ve not played as the example. So yes, context is good.

  9. amateurviking says:

    Can you put alt-text on an embedded video? And if not, why not?

    Great video by the way! I’ve been really impressed with RPS’s programming of late in general.

  10. nbean64 says:

    I finally made an account on here, I’ve been meaning to do it for a while now since I read many of the articles here, but I finally created one just to tell you how much I enjoyed this. Seriously, it was insightful, thought-provoking, and all-around enjoyable. I immediately looked for other “Fail Forward” episodes to watch, but it seems that this is the first one, so good job, it’s a great start. Very interesting and novel idea as well, examining and dissecting the interesting flaws and failures of a specific game. Can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like it before. Looking forward to future episodes! :)

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    kfix says:

    Wonderful work Marsh. I have been very impressed with the video work on RPS lately – Rab’s lovely letter to his future about his past, Quinn’s masterful and hilarious explorations of mechanics, and now Marsh bringing his own literary take to the medium.

    I’m glad one of the things left entirely impressionistic in the video was Graham windmilling past…..

  12. DeadOwl says:

    Yes, but where’s the alt text?

  13. Mariakelin says: