For a limited time (June 16-22 2020) you can play a free demo version of I Was a Teenage Exocolonist here on Steam! Don’t miss it!
This is the first publicly playable version of Exocolonist, a 1~2 hour cut-down version of the first tenth (one year) of the game. It’s rough but gives you an idea of what the game will be like when it comes out next year. I’m so excited (and scared) to share it with you!
We’d planned to show Exocolonist at real life games festivals like PAX West this year, but with the trials and tragedies of 2020, large gatherings were one of the first things to be cancelled and will probably be one of the last things reinstated. PAX West just announced they’ll be hosted online this year.
I’ve been thinking about the booths we’ve run in the past, like showing two games at once in the Indie Megabooth, or the time we paved our booth with astroturf at GDC, and all the challenges of showing a VR game in crowded public spaces.
I miss the energy of the players and the excitement of seeing something we made in a physical space (we’ve kept all the signs we ever printed – one wall of our apartment is covered in them).
But to be honest, there’s something nerve wracking about watching people play my games. And I’ve never felt so close to dropping dead from pure exhaustion as I did after 4 days showing at PAX (parties every night instead of sleeping, as you do). So going digital this year is a bit of a relief. Plus this way you get to take your time and play a longer demo without people queued up behind you.
The biggest downside is that I won’t get to meet you in person… But we can get partway there if you join the Exocolonist Discord server.
If you get a chance to play the demo, please come tell me & the team what you thought!
Like any good life sim, Exocolonist has a variety of life skills. They affect which options you can choose during events, and how hard battles of that type will be.
Skills are organized into social, mental, and physical suits, which matter mainly for card battles.
It was hard to narrow it down to only 12, so some are a bit overloaded – most knowledge is shoehorned into Engineering (the dry sciences) or Biology (the wet ones), while social sciences, arts and humanities are absorbed into your Creativity skill.
With survival on the line, some skills will come up more than others, like your ability to recognize and and interact with alien species (Animals skill).
Understanding other people
Charisma to command people and speak in public
Artistic ability and capacity for novel ideas
For both social and dangerous situations
Problem solving and general knowledge
Dedication to neatness, management
Study of machines, physics, math, and programming
Study of plants, chemistry, and the human body
Physical strength and stamina
Ability to find things and sneak past things
Tactics and weapons
Familiarity with xenofauna, hunting, ranching
Battles and Perks
Battles can challenge any skill, and are played out the same way whether your Combat skill is being tested (eg during sparring practice) or your Engineering skill (eg fixing a robot or taking a math test). Yes, you can even have an Empathy battle! More on battles later…
Once a skill reaches 30%, 60%, or 100%, it will unlock perks which grant permanent effects. Creativity unlocks crafting recipes, Organization lets you equip more gear, Perception makes collectible resources easier to find. Some unlock new career choices, shop items or give you a boost in battles.
I’m still ironing the perks out but they’re going to be cool and help make every playthrough different.
Kudos, Happiness and Rebellion
Three skills are different:
Kudos is the game’s currency – a virtual coin used mainly to reward children. For the most part the colonists don’t use money and instead share resources according to need (yeah… they’re Space Commies). But when someone goes the extra mile, or your kid finally cleans up their bedroom without having to be asked, it’s customary to say thanks with a few kudos. They can be spent in the supply depot on small luxuries like candy and fancy clothes.
Stress increases when you work, battle, explore, do just about anything. Too much and your performance suffers. It can be reduced by spending time relaxing.
Rebellion and Loyalty are at opposite ends of the same dial. It starts in the middle, and is affected by how you deal with authority. Neither rebellion or loyalty is inherently good or bad, but if the dial swings far to one side or the other it will close some event options and special endings and open others.
The colony itself has hidden stats like Food, Defense, and Morale. These are directly affected by your actions – every time you forage for a new edible plant, or help repair an automated turret, or perform a particularly beautiful song on your photophonor. But you’re just one child and I don’t want to overstate your importance, so they’ll either be tucked away or hidden completely.
Although your actions may affect whether your colony survives, thrives, or fails, Exocolonist isn’t a colony simulator so much as an RPG. You’ll have your hands full managing one teenager’s skills, equipment, and future.
In I Was a Teenage Exocolonist, only 100 other colonists made the 20 year journey from Earth, so you know all the other kids who were born on the ship with you. Scrappy, athletic Anemone always wins at sportsball, and once the ship touches down on Vertumna she spends all her time playing outside.
Nemmie, Annie, Nem
Armor plated lizard skin
First week of Dust
Garrison / Sportsball pitch
Anemone’s design is loosely inspired by Little Orphan Annie and her beautiful sea-creature-like curls. Her energy and smile can melt any old curmudgeon’s heart, even Chief of Security Rhett who finds himself in charge of a new sportsball pitch and a team of wild young things led by Anemone.
As she ages, her mop of red hair grows out to an unruly lion’s mane of curls.
Anemone idolizes her older brother Kom, who’s training to join the security force and helps coach the kids’ sportsball team. Her mother is Chief Steward Anne, in charge of the quarters and galley, who the kids fondly call “Aunty Seedent”. She’s often concerned for her daughter’s safety, as Anemone ignores her advice and fearlessly faces down whatever comes her way.
Her mom has reason to be worried! Throughout the 10 years of the game, time and tragedy will shape Anemone’s teenage personality, and she’ll go through some drastic changes. In her late teens she’ll eventually trade in her sportsball for a plasma gun and join the colony’s defense force.
You’ll miss her innocent smile, but when the going gets tough you can count on Anemone to defend her friends.
Her genetic enhancement is tough, armor-plated skin and protective bone spurs. Character artist Mei and I considered giving her feline characteristics like claws and a tail, but instead extended her scales all the way from her jawline down her back and sides a little like a Trill’s spots.
Sometimes her scales itch… but with her active life Anemone needs the added protection.
Your parents are farmers, and they named you after their favorite taxonomic family, the nightshades, which contains potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and tobacco.
You are your father’s Little Tomatillo, his Brave Gooseberry, his Spunky Petunia, and his Busy Aubergine. Your dad’s a sweetheart… but a little embarrassing.
Your mom’s the realist of the family, always trying to get you to work hard and toughen up. You may butt heads with her, but it’s usually for your own good. It’s your choice whether you take her advice, or roll your eyes and fidget like a proper teenager.
Exocolonist starts with a short character generation which takes place during the first ten years of your life on the colony ship Stratospheric before it lands. You choose your name, your gender (two sliders for appearance and pronouns) and a genetic modification.
Before the colonists left Earth, they “acquired” valuable gene editing tech to give themselves an edge on their new planet. All the colony children have one augmentation. You can pick:
creativity + 10
Increase Creativity and Organization faster
perception + 10
Increase Perception faster, events while exploring
reasoning + 10
Increase Reasoning, Biology, Physics faster
combat + 10
Increase Toughness and Combat faster
empathy + 10
25% less Stress
Nothing at all
kudos + 30
25% more Kudos because you tried your best
Through a series of other choices you pick your childhood best friend, starting skills, and early childhood memories. These memories take the form of cards.
More about these cards and Sol’s list of skills in future posts!
Sarah Northway: When I started Exocolonist, I had only a vague idea what I wanted its characters to look like. I knew the setting: a small colony ship leaves earth in the late 21st century, spends 20 years in space, then lands on an uninhabited alien planet.
I grew up with Star Trek, but I didn’t want a Utopian society with all its problems solved, or the Enterprise with its clean uniforms and military discipline. I wanted pioneers, free thinkers, explorers, refugees, taken from all over the world with different cultures and ideas. What they have in common is their desire to get the hell away from Earth’s problems and start over.
And their children: born in space, augmented with stolen genetech, sheltered from the strict society of Earth and outfitted by textile replicators (probably also stolen). What would they look like? How would they dress?
I started with color scheme. Every location has a color (Geoponics = green, Command = blue, Garrison = red, etc), and every character is associated with a location. Cal’s in green because he wants to be a farmer. Marz in blue because she wants to run things. Soldiers wear uniforms (red) and explorers have environmental suits with strips of safety orange.
Still Sarah Northway: In a colony of 100 open-minded people from different backgrounds, there’d be less pressure to fit in. So I thought about how I’d have dressed as a teen if I could have done anything. It was… a lot. My design doc listed everything from face tattoos and AR glasses to colorful dreadlocks and beads. It touched on cyberpunk, burning man, scene kids and hippie culture. And I imagined a mix of newly printed nylon and plastics, plus worn and patched old fabric (the textile replicators are slow and break down).
Then I threw everything out the window because I couldn’t draw characters worth a damn and this was never going to work if I did the art myself.
Meilee Chao: I was so stunned to be approached by Sarah about Exocolonist that it took several conversations to realize that I was being invited as the character artist and not just the character designer. I really couldn’t believe my luck that I could be designing characters for my favorite genre of games, new as I was to the game development scene.
The game concept sounded right up my alley as a player, but in spite of my excitement and desire to draw kissable characters I had initial concerns about the world and my ability to vibe with the prompt. The genre of sci-fi is something as unexplored to me as the planet of Vertumna is for the colony. A little cyberpunk here and there is about as far as I dabbled in that particular direction before I start wandering back towards the comforts of modern fantasy and JRPG impracticality.
However, after going through the wonderfully-colorful design documents and moodboards, I was quickly finding that the initial concepts for the Exo characters were different than the deep space, mechanical concept art I’m frequently intimidated by on ArtStation. After pouring over the documents and collections and taking my own notes, I started my own moodboard that could bridge the gap between what I responded to and the beautiful mass of ideas I was given.
Before long, the Pinterst I pulled together could be described as a holosexual, leather-queer’s dream with a splash of disgruntled visual kei. The avant garde nature of the images formed its own futuristic nature while it overlapped just enough with my comfort zone that I could see a cast taking shape in my mind’s eye. I was down for it.
A few tentative concepts later, styles and conventions started coming together quickly. With each set of concepts, the colony’s society began to focus into something unique and still functional for the setting. Blessedly, Sarah responded so well to the quirkiness of the concepts and encouraged me to go even weirder if it suited me.
I feel my inexperience with classic and contemporary sci-fi, in the end, was more of an asset to the process than a handicap. The spectrum of prompts provided were a great road map for the game, and allowed myself and my experiences to draw more inspiration from other genres and my personal favorite design features. It allowed me to delve deeper into the Exocolonist lore without ideas from other pop series with me. Additionally, using my talented and tasteful friends as a target audience helped validate the designs of the dateables by using aesthetics that appealed to them. It’s one thing if I want to date them, but I’d love for the cast to be appealing to all sorts of tastes.
I think the best part of this whole experience is creating a cast that the dev finds both lovable and hot. Nothing is more rewarding than that. I love these characters to bits, and I hope they get many smooches from future players of Exocolonist!