I Was a Teenage Exocolonist Q&A – On Dark Twists, Dating, Groundhog Day Influence, and More

I Was a Teenage Exocolonist

Growing up is tough regardless of where you are, but what if had to endure the trials and tribulations of adolescence while living in a remote space colony constantly on the brink of disaster? That’s the compelling setup for I Was a Teenage Exocolonist, a unique mashup from Canadian indie developer Northway Games that combines elements of anime-style social sims (Princess Maker is an obvious influence) and collectible card games.

While that description may get some folks revved up, I understand if some may be scratching their heads a bit. Thankfully, I recently had an opportunity to chat with Sarah Northway about how I Was a Teenage Exocolonist actually works, as well as its surprisingly-dark subject matter, Groundhog-Day-style looping storyline, romance options, and more. Scroll on down for the full discussion…

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I Was a Teenage Exocolonist

Could you give our readers a bit of an overview of I Was a Teenage Exocolonist? Beyond the basic teenage sci-fi life sim premise, could you describe the structure the game? What does the minute-to-minute gameplay look like? How do you progress?

I Was a Teenage Exocolonist begins as you take your first steps as one of the first people on an alien planet at the age of 10. Every month you choose one activity: take a class at school, work in a job, or explore the planet as a surveyor, a forager, a hunter, etc. Based on what you choose your skills increase, you make friends, and you might see a narrative event with a choice between different cards which represent your memories. Card battles are used for everything from fighting monsters to taking a physics exam.

The game ends when you reach age 20, if you survive that long. What happens to the colony, your friends, and yourself will depend on your skills and your decisions. There are many endings, and some will take the combined memories of many lives to find.

All the game’s trailers show a similar-looking main character. Can players create their own character or are you sticking with a set protagonist?

The main character's personality and traits will be different during every life, as chosen by the player. But to add consistency among all these disparate parallel lives, the main character's genetic makeup, their hair and clothes are always the same.

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It looks like you’ll have a large variety of different character stats you can effect. What are some of the more unique traits you can level up?

We have the standard RPG skills like toughness, perception, reasoning, persuasion, and combat. But also more social type skills like empathy and creativity, and knowledge-based ones like biology or animals. Because all types of people are needed in your exo-colony, not just fighters and explorers.

Is it possible to really focus in on certain things? Or is a more balanced approach your best bet?

It's possible to live an entire life just becoming a rancher, or an athlete or novelist. And all skills grant up to three perks which might be useful in ways you don't expect.

So, as you allude to, there are different occupations you can take on. What are some of the more unique or outright weird ones?

If you spend enough time with the expeditions teams you'll unlock exploring ancient alien ruins in the Wresting Ridges, which is a pretty cool area with a lot of weird secrets. I also have a soft spot for the late game engineering jobs like robot repair, which you do with the help of the ship's quirky AI. And becoming a musical star by playing the photophonor (a reference to Futurama / the Foundation trilogy) is pretty fun.

 

You tout a lot of freedom, with players being able to choose how to busy themselves, but is there also a solid core story? How strongly are you drawn back to that or can you just mess around and squander your one wild and precious youth like I did in real life?

There is an overall story to the game that will happen during every life, whether you choose to be in the middle of it, or off hanging behind the bleachers with your friends. The planet Vertumna is a tough place for humans to try to settle, and things go very wrong over those ten years. If you have the skills, and the inclination, you can help fix problems or prevent them from happening.

It seems a bit of romance might eventually bloom between yourself and other characters. How involved does this get? Considering your protagonist is a kid for much of the game, it seems like it would have to be somewhat limited by necessity.

The romance is mostly very cute and tame, and as co-writer Lindsay Ishihiro would say, slow burn. You might have a secret admirer leave you gifts, or tell your childhood crush you "like" like them, but most relationships grow gradually as you go through the joy and pain of growing up together.

Dateable characters have a gamified "love" meter you raise by spending time with them and giving them gifts, but the path to every romantic relationship is quite different. Some romances are casual and undemanding. Other bonds are only formed through specific experiences together, assuming the two of you are compatible. Some characters won't settle for monogamy, but you can end up in fun polyamorous triangles. And most of them will date each other unless the player intervenes, because it's not like they're all just waiting around for you to make your move.

Teenage me was wounded by that last statement. Speaking of things getting real, your website includes a pretty extensive list of content warnings. I haven’t actually read them, as I’d like to go in fresh, but is Exocolonist going to be particularly dark? Or are you just being cautious?

The tone does change through the course of the game, and we don't want players to be too shocked when dark moments occur despite the cozy watercolor art style. Characters can die (including the player if you aren't careful), and we reference topics like fascism, colonialism, and climate change that do get heavy. But we've tried to present it with sensitivity and (sometimes dark) humor.

We went with detailed content warnings to help players with an aversion to specific things avoid them if possible. We let people drill down to hear more about a particular warning so they can avoid spoiling themselves on other parts of the game. It's a big big narrative (6 novels' worth of dynamic writing) stuffed full of feels.

You’ve alluded to multiples lives and “combined memories,” so it seems like you’re meant to play through the game multiple times. Without getting into spoilers, beyond just making different choices and getting new endings is there some sort of meta story you’ll understand better as you replay?

At the start of the game, as you pass through a wormhole orbiting the planet Vertumna, you begin to have strange experiences of remembering past lives. On your first playthrough these are pretty rare, but as you play again, you'll have more and more premonitions of things you've actually played through before. These can give you helpful shortcuts to skip over doing the work (eg. curing a disease without spending years researching it), but eventually the premonitions also make the game more difficult by messing with your sanity and sense of self. I'll be honest, I love the movie Groundhog Day, and the idea of playing over and over to produce one "perfect" life.

How large is the world you’ll be exploring?

There are five regions to explore, twenty-five jobs to master, ten characters to befriend. And an enormous narrative of eight hundred or so events binding it all together.

 

A lot of indie games offer card-based systems these days. Why did the card route appeal to you?

I had this idea early on, of having to choose between two narrative choices, where doing the "bad" thing or breaking character might give you a better card. And also that over the course of the game as you saw your deck change, it would reflect who you were becoming. I'm a big fan of Magic the Gathering, and the idea of hiring a hundred different artists to draw beautiful oh-so-collectible card art in their own styles was a big boost. I've already developed a miniature real-life version of the card game.

Can you provide a bit more detail on how the Battle Card system works? As the name implies, you’ll be battling with them sometimes, but what other situations will you use them in?

The card challenges are used everywhere for everything. There are quick single-round battles every month to determine how well you worked in a job and how many skill points you gain, and longer multi-round battles during narrative events. For, yes, everything from finding your way out of a dense fog, to convincing someone to stay home from work today because you've had a premonition of their death.

The challenges use a fairly simple matching mechanic. The goal is to reorganize cards from your hand to make the most valuable set of five. The order matters, so you want to put same-color or same-number cards together, as well as straights of 1-2-3. The tricky part comes with the text on the cards themselves, which might affect neighboring cards or increase their own values when the right conditions are met. Every challenge tests a particular skill, and cards with that same "suit" (social, mental, or physical) have an advantage.

Finally, before we wrap up, if you were to pick one moment or experience from I Was a Teenage Exocolonist that is truly unique – that a player couldn’t get anywhere else – what would it be?

Getting to review your gameplay choices in the afterlife with a cheeky ancient interdimensional time-lord version of yourself! They're never satisfied. What do you mean becoming an astronaut and exploring the wormhole nexus wasn't good enough??

I always knew there was an ancient interdimensional time-lord version of myself out there somewhere. Thanks muchly for fielding my questions!

I Was a Teenage Exocolonist touches down on PC, PS4, PS5, and Switch on August 25. Expect a review from Wccftech on launch day.

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