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LONG BLOG

Life Is Strange: True Colors, and the Twin Mirror problem

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The following was originally written back in September, but I never got around to posting it. With Twin Mirror getting some buzz on Twitter right now since it's just been released on Steam, I thought now would be an appropriate time to post this.

Warning: some general spoilers for Twin Mirror and Life is Strange: True Colors ahead, though I'll avoid specifics as best I can before giving a more direct spoiler warning when needed

As of writing this, I just finished Life is Strange: True Colors. Despite loving what made the experience unique- from the characters and their chemistry with one another to the music and atmosphere- I had one major issue with True Colors from the very beginning that's gotten worse over time. This nagging issue festered until I learned something about the game's development that infected the entire experience.

Again, before I delve into my issue with it, I have to emphasize that True Colors is brilliant both isolated and under the lense of a Life is Strange game, but I can't help but compare and contrast it to another game entirely. We need to talk about Twin Mirror, the game devs over at Dontnod Entertainment, and how they relate to True Colors.

First, a bit of history. Dontnod's freshman project, back in 2013, was the often forgotten (and therefore ironically titled) Remember Me. Then, two years later, they burst onto the scene with the more fondly remembered Life is Strange, an episodic game about a missing persons case with emphasis on characters, choices and the protagonist's unique supernatural ability: rewinding time. While the ability of each protagonist changes from game to came, these three pillars unite practically every Dontnod title since the first Life is Strange.

The game was a huge success for the devs at Dontnod and their publishers at Square Enix. While Dontnod started toiling away at the sequel (and the criminally slept on Vampyr), a prequel to the original Life is Strange was developed by a different dev team. Deck Nine, previously known by the name Idol Minds, weren't really well known before they were brought in for the prequel. Their first title under their new name, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, was a success, and it kept fans of the original happy while Life is Strange 2 was still in development. Despite the contents of Life is Strange 2 being sociopolitical and therefore divisive, Dontnod's return to the franchise was also well-received.

Dontnod went on to make more character-driven games using the same pillars they created with the Life is Strange series, releasing the episodic game Tell Me Why- which also dealt with sociopolitical topics, primarily transgenderism- and a self-published title called Twin Mirror, which was originally designed to be released in parts, but was instead released as a complete game on December 1st of 2020.

Now I'm going to decribe, in vague detail, the plot of Twin Mirror for you. It'll make sense, I swear:

Twin Mirror follows a protagonist with unique supernatural abilities as they arrives in a small mining town and investigate the death of a loved one- which was originally believed by the public to be an accident. Using their abilities to solve the case as only they can, the protagonist must navigate the town, its people and the relationships they have with everyone else who gets mixed up in the investigation. The player, on behalf of the protagonist, makes moral and emotional choices that end up having impactful consequences. In the end, new light is shined on the mysterious death and why it happened, involving a conspiracy that has implications for the whole town. With the investigation now behind them, the protagonist then has to decide whether to leave the small mining town behind as well.

If you've already played at least some of Life is Strange: True Colors, you'll see the problem immediately. These games, while wildly different in some ways, share a LOT of DNA, to the point where it reminds me of the 2014 reality TV show The Chair, in which two amateur directors were handed the same script and given the task of turning it into a movie. Even with the final products being drastically different films, the script- the foundation of their projects- was exactly the same. That's what comparing Twin Mirror and True Colors feels like, though to be honest, sometimes it feels more like I'm comparing Dracula to Nosferatu.

Of course, the surface level simularities alone aren't an issue. While I was annoyed at how similar the settings and plot were, having played Twin Mirror back in March, the characters were unique enough in True Colors that it was only a surface-level issue in the beginning. However, as I progressed through True Colors, the characters and story beats began to line up so much so that it became too much to ignore. As I mentioned at the start of this, I did some digging about halfway through my playthrough, looking into the production of both games to see if the same people at Dontnod wrote both titles, and to see which title began development first. My theory, before the research, was that Twin Mirror was some kind of dry run for the story of True Colors.

That's when I learned something that soured the entire game for me: I had ASSUMED that Dontnod was the dev team behind both games, but they didn't make True Colors- Deck Nine did.

Here's what I found during my research:

Twin Mirror was announced as a 'new IP' from Dontnod back in 2016, a project they were partnering with Bandai Namco to publish. According to the game director of True Colors, Zak Garriss, Deck Nine began working on their game some time in 2017. Twin Mirror came out on December 1st of last year, and nine months later, here comes the latest entry in the franchise Dontnod created before the publishers at Square Enix gave the reins of said franchise over to Deck Nine. Twin Mirror started production first, and released their finished game first.

Of course, you may be thinking that there's not enough information here for this situation to feel like someone copying someone else's homework, which is fair. I mean, Dontnod was still working on Life is Strange 2 when True Colors began development, meaning there was still a working relationship between them and Square Enix at the time. And anyway, great minds think alike, right?

I tried to justify the simularities with that mindset, but the more I compared the plots and characters, the harder that was to do, especially within the second half of the game. To show you what I mean, I'll go over some of the major (and minor but strangely similar) details of both games so you can see what I'm talking about. To be fair, I'll also point out some of the major differences, because those matter, too, especially when we delve into spoiler territory:

Both games begin with the protagonist arriving in a small mining town, Basswood in Twin Mirror and Haven Springs in True Colors. Both Basswood and Haven Springs are almost characters of their own throughout the games. A festival is coming up in both games- Miner's Day in Twin Mirror and the Spring Festival in True Colors. Both towns also have a single main street full of storefronts, including a statue of a miner.

Both towns have a bar closely connected to the mines. The bar in Twin Mirror, funnily enough, is called Coal Miner's Haven. The bar in Haven Springs, run by a former miner named Jed, is called the Black Lantern, and is full of decorations from the old mine. Both bars are major locations in their respective games.

While the death of a loved one doesn't take place in True Colors until the end of Chapter One of Five, both games center around these deaths, the grief of their loved ones, and the investigation by the protagonist into the death. In Twin Mirror, the loved one is Nick, best friend of protagonist Sam. In True Colors, it's Gabe, the older brother of protagonist Alex. Both dead loved ones are someone the protagonist hasn't seen in years, as Sam left Basswood several years ago in Twin Mirror and Alex was separated from Gabe as children in True Colors.

Both Nick and Gabe leave behind a girlfriend and a child- Nick's child in Twin Mirror and the girlfriend's child in True Colors. Both griefing girlfriends- Anna and Charlotte, respectively- are artists who also have a job in town, Charlotte being a painter and sculpter who also runs a weed dispensary and Anna being a musician who works at the local newspaper.

The children in both games are at the emotional core of their storylines. Joan and Ethan, the children, are having particularly tough times dealing with the loss of their parental figure. It's up to the protagonist to help them grief as best they can, and they're motivated not only by their own needs for justice and closure, but for the child's sake as well. Also, the children both like to draw and love comic books, specifically. Like, it's their most unique trait as a character.

Speaking of the children, one of them is considering leaving town. Joan, the child from Twin Mirror, needs to be convinced by the player to stick around or she'll abandon the person who raised her, her mother. Similarly, the character of Riley in True Colors is planning to leave town to go to college, and it's up to player to convince her to stay and help her ailing grandmother, who raised her and is beginning to suffer from dimensia. Of course, it's worth mentioning that Joan would be running away from town while Riley is originally unaware of the state her grandmother, but it's odd that both of these subplots exist and both require the protagonist to take action to stop the person from leaving.

It's also worth mentioning that True Colors includes a character choice relating to Riley's grandmother that will make the decision for Riley depending on the player's response, so in my playthrough, Riley learned about the dimensia and chose to stay in town without my direct input. Based on the stats I was shown at the end of the chapter, however, most players made the other choice and were forced to later make the call relating to Riley leaving, which means that the more common player experience lines up with the experience players of Twin Mirror had.

Music is a large part of both games, but not the storyline. The female lead of both games- player character Alex in True Colors and NPC Anna in Twin Mirror- have sequences in which they display their musical talents with performances in front of the town. Both characters sing and play the guitar. Also, if you'd like to argue that Alex and Anna are on different levels as major characters because Alex is the player character, it's worth noting that the other biggest female character in True Colors- Riley- is a drummer who also played music in front of the town.

Let's touch on the abilities of both protagonists. Sam, in Twin Mirror, has two specific abilities. The first ability is the Mind Palace, where Sam can recreate environments and scenarios in his head so he can look over the information he's gathered. The second ability is the presence of the Double, a version of himself only he can see and hear, who offers emotional advice and perspective that the cold, calculating Sam often needs to navigate more social situations.

In True Colors, Alex has one major power that works in several different ways. Alex has a sort of super-empathy that allows her to read the minds of those around her if they're emotional enough, emotions that she can also absorb intentionally in an attempt to help them. Intense enough emotions can alter her behavior, as she takes on the traits of those whose emotions are strong enough in her proximity. Her empathy also allows her to relive moments that are imprinted onto certain objects, hearing conversations that characters have had with each other in the past.

Both Sam and Alex's powers have unique drawbacks, which is what makes them feel similar in practice despite being very different in theory. Sam's Mind Palace doesn't always exist as a space frozen in time, and his tendency to sink into his own head can confuse and upset others who find him in an almost catatonic state. Sam's Double appears in real time, which can distract him and sometimes make him look a bit crazy, as well. Alex's power, as mentioned earlier, can affect her emotions and even make her lose control of herself, as she does early on when her brother is attacked by Riley's jealous boyfriend, Mac, leading to her attacking Mac. Also, some people's emotions can overwhelm her enough that her environment changes to match said emotions, with examples including Ethan's fear of a monster allowing Alex to see it as well, and Ethan's joy at LARPing temporarily turning their world into one of high fantasy.

Before finally delving into the main storyline, let's touch on collectibles for a moment. Alex's ability to read imprinted emotions on objects serves as the major collectibles in True Colors, called Memories. Twin Mirror also has a collectible called Memories, which allow Sam to relive his own experiences in the Mind Palace. Twin Mirror also has a collectible called Mementos, which- like True Colors' Memory collectibles- are connected to other characters and their pasts. In fact, both of these objects are listed in the in-game menus as being linked to one specific character, even if more than one person is involved in the backstory of the object.

Finally, let's get into the investigation. Both games heavily involve a plotline directly connecting to the mines and the mining company. While it's backstory in Twin Mirror and the present day mystery in True Colors, both protagonists at one point lead investigations into the mining company and their negligence after a serious accident they caused. Sam, a journalist, had uncovered the mining company's wrongdoings before leaving Basswood for several years. Alex, whose brother Gabe dies as a result of a rockslide triggered by explosions set off by the mining company, investigates what happened during the events of True Colors. Again, a big difference that's worth noting; the mining company aspect is far more important in True Colors when it's more backdrop and history in Twin Mirror.

Speaking of the mining companies, though, it's worth mentioning one specific character in both games before we move on. In Twin Mirror, the character of Joe Miller is a former miner and current wheelchair-user as a result of an accident at the mine- an accident which started Sam's investigations into the mining company, similar to how Alex begins her investigation into the mining company in True Colors after her brother's death. A character with even more in common with Joe Miller is the bar owner in True Colors, Jed, who was a former miner; both men are also fathers to someone who works directly with the game's protagonist to solve the mystery of the game- Joe being the father of Anna in Twin Mirror and Jed being the father of Ryan in True Colors.

Back to the investigations. When both Sam and Alex begin looking into their loved ones' deaths at the start of the games, they quickly learn that the events leading to the deaths don't add up. Their sights are originally set on a character who turns out to be a patsy- Dickie in Twin Mirror and Mac in True Colors- who played a direct part in the loved one's death without being responsible for or truly behind it. After being tracked down and confronted by the protagonist, both men explain who was behind the death of the loved one, leading to a climactic confrontation near the end of the game.

Before we get to that climax, we have to mention something so specific that it boggles the mind. In Twin Mirror, Dickie tells Sam about a USB that has all the proof of the antagonists' misdeeds, and where to get it. In True Colors, Alex is pointed by Mac to the mining company's representative in town, Diane, who has a USB with all the proof of the antagonists' misdeeds. Why are both storylines so hyper-focused on these USBs? Strangely specific, in my opinion.

This is where we delve into spoilers for the last act of each game. You've been warned.

Let's talk about who was behind both deaths, serving as the antagonists of the game. The drug supplying in Basswood and the mining company coverup in True Colors are both directly tied to a duo. While one character remains a silent mastermind in some endings of Twin Mirror, they are still, at the end of the day, at the head of the conspiracy. Before we talk about them, let's talk about the Heavy.

I refer to one character in each game as the 'Heavy' for the coverups, the person who does the grunt work needed to try and shut up the protagonist. In Twin Mirror, the Heavy is Officer Declan Stephenson, the cop who allows drugs to litter the streets of his town. He killed Nick after he got too close to the truth.

The Heavy in True Colors is Jed, the bar owner and former miner mentioned earlier. Jed's actions as a supervisor in the mines lead to their original coverup, in which seven miners died due to his negligence. Similar to Declan, Jed is the person behind the threats the protagonist and their allies get when they get too close to the truth.

Both games lead to a direct confrontation with the Heavy, who wields a pistol. The confrontation is resolved without either protagonist ever being at real risk of death (meaning nothing the player can do will get them killed), though in both games, the female lead is shot by the Heavy- Alex in True Colors, and Anna in Twin Mirror.

If you've played True Colors past this event, you'll know that Alex then goes through a unique experience after being shot and falling down a mineshaft, reliving some of the worst events starting from her childhood and leading into her recent past. Or, well, this would be a unique experience if it wasn't for Twin Mirror. In the moments leading up to the confrontation with Declan in Twin Mirror, Sam has a panic attack when his abilities overwhelm him, directly leading to him also going through a surreal experience centered around his past, from childhood leading into more recent events. In both games, we'd heard a lot about their pasts already, but before moving forward, they both are forced to confront it directly.

This was, for me, one of the most specific and egregious examples of True Colors doing exactly the same thing as Twin Mirror, especially because it doesn't feel earned in True Colors. This was especially odd due to the fact that Twin Mirror's memory collectibles and Mind Palace ability are established long before this giant flashback sequence, while in True Colors all we have in terms of flashbacks are those audio-only collectibles I previously mentioned. True Colors does have sequences in which Alex's environment change in dramatic and surreal ways, but only when she connects to the strong emotions of others in the present, not in flashbacks.

As I said earlier, True Colors doesn't feel like it earns this sequence, but Twin Mirror certainly does. Throughout the game you're constantly being forced to choose between the more emotional recommendations of the Double and the more calculated judgement calls that Sam would make without the Double. In this insane sequence, Sam is forced to choose one or the other- pursuit of truth with the Mind Palace or pursuit of happiness with the Double. The entire game was leading up to that choice, and the consequences of this choice shape the entire ending.

The equivolent sequence feels entirely out of place in True Colors. Gabe, who appears in the flashback sequence and in the last scene of the game in a capacity similar to the Double in Twin Mirror, lazily explains what Alex needs to do to progress by telling her to "play her part" in the flashbacks. He then justifies the entire sequence by saying that she needs to 'fight' and that she can 'change the world.' This feels especially hollow when the moments we experienced through Alex's eyes were her mother's slow death in the hospital, her father abandoning them and running away, and Alex being passed on by would-be foster parents. These are all emotion, heart-wrenching sequences, but none of them have anything at all to do with Alex's current situation, her need to fight, or her capacity to 'change the world.'

Also, Gabe yells that no one can tell Alex what she's worth and that no one can take her life away, but the dude just died at the start of the game and his girlfriend was given an offer for a payout from the mining company in exchange for her not suing them, so his life was given a literal dollar value and his life was taken away. What?

That nonsense aside, let's talk about the brains behind both conspiracies. Now, while there are bigger names in the mining company in True Colors than Diane, she is still a direct parallel to the true mastermind of Twin Mirror's conspiracy: Hugh Kirkland, the owner of Basswood's new pharmacy. Kirkland and Diane are both connected to the town financially, throwing their money around in an effort to build positive reputations and avoid negative attention. Kirkland's pharmacy is where the drugs plaguing Basswood are coming from, and Diane's company is responsible for not only the death of Gabe, but the earlier deaths of the seven miners who were killed in an accident Jed caused. Both conspiracies are at least partially uncovered in the finale of the game, though Twin Mirror only exposes Kirkland's involvement if the player chooses the keep the Mind Palace. Truth over happiness, remember?

And speaking of that major decision that takes place in Twin Mirror, there's another way that it can be directly compared to True Colors. In the final scene of True Colors, Gabe appears again and asks Alex to choose whether to leave or stay in Haven. This is especially weird and feels out of place because Gabe is again filling a role similar to the Double in Twin Mirror, and is giving an important choice to Alex, just like the Double did to Sam. The one detail that makes this incredibly weird in True Colors is that Gabe only previously appeared earlier in that fifth of five chapters in True Colors, and in a sequence that is entirely made of flashbacks. Why would Gabe then also appear in the present day as a sort of hallucination to Alex? It made sense for the Double, whose entire 'thing' was appearing in person and not being seen or heard by anyone else- effectively being an imaginary friend to Sam- but doesn it make sense for Alex? To me, absolutely not, another example of True Colors having major elements in the final act of the game that matches up with Twin Mirror while feeling both unearned and out of place.

Also, remember Mac and Dickie, the patsies? They both worked for the mastermind antagonist, Mac being an employee of the mining company and Dickie being a drug dealer who picked up his supply from the pharmacy.

And in the end, while the conspiracy is at least partially uncovered and the Heavy goes down regardless of player choices, it's the protagonist's status in the town that becomes the final question. Do Sam and Alex stay, or do they leave? Sam's decision is partially made for him based on player choice to keep the Double or Mind Palace, but both games end with the protagonist putting the mystery- and perhaps the small mining town itself- behind them.

Now, that was a lot to read, so if you did read all that mess, thank you for doing so. Now that you have gone through that, I ask you the question I've been asking myself: does this feel more like a sad coincidence, or intentional? I mean, on one hand, Dontnod was working with Square Enix at the time True Colors was in early development, so why would Square Enix screw them over? On the other hand, Dontnod was planning on working with another distributor all the way back in 2016- which was public knowledge before True Colors was even in development- and there's a possibility that Deck Nine might have had access to Dontnod's plans for Twin Mirror since they'd worked on Before the Storm. This is all, of course, complete speculation. Call it a conspiracy theory if you want.

- Thanks for reading. Call me an idiot on Twitter @FoggyGlassEye if you want


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About FoggyGlassEyeone of us since 10:26 AM on 12.03.2021

Thanks for visiting this little page. My name's Phil, and since 2018 I've been writing horror stories under the username FoggyGlassEye online, primarily on Reddit. I'm also a lifelong gamer, and sometimes my thoughts on the hobby are too loquacious for Twitter's character limit. This seemed like a fine alternative, and while I'm not sure how much use I'll get out of the platform, I appreciate that it's here.