Today, Citizen Sleeper studio Jump Over The Age announced Purge, the third and final narrative expansion to be added to the game on March 30th. This update brings an end to what creator Gareth Damian Martin calls a ‘half-sequel’ to the original release, but, as we found out in a discussion about Purge, this doesn’t seem to be the end of Citizen Sleeper’s universe as a whole.
For the uninitiated, Citizen Sleeper is a narrative RPG set on Erlin’s Eye, a ruined space station home to a community of interstellar misfits and outcasts desperately trying to build a life. You can read more about the base game over here, but for now, let’s focus on Episode 3, the last in a series of free updates that seek to bring a close to this era of Citizen Sleeper.
The previous two episodes, Flux and Refuge, both explored complex new tales featuring fresh and returning faces – Flux revolves a refugee flotilla that has arrived on Erlin’s Eye, and Refuge follows on from the events of Flux, allowing you to explore the refugee flotilla and encounter new characters. Although Martin is extremely cagey about what exactly will unfold in Purge (the pleasure of Citizen Sleeper is the story, after all) we do know that the expansion will bring this arc to a conclusion.
While Citizen Sleeper is a fully realised game with several branching narratives, it was merely a dip into the ocean of the universe that Damian Martin is aiming to create, and this trio of DLC instalments represents just the first step. We sat down with Damian Martin ahead of the launch of Episode 3 to look back on Citizen Sleeper as a whole, the choice to expand on certain story beats in DLC, and what’s next for this dynamic and captivating sci-fi universe they’ve created.
“I love universes that are big enough to contain different types of media, and it’s really exciting to be in this moment where I have this thing that people actually like,” they tell us. “There’s all these dangling teases and threads that I can pick up later, and a wealth of places that I can take the story. I’d love to see people two or three years down line going ‘oh, wait, these things are connected’.”
The plan to evolve Citizen Sleeper was always in motion, but Damian Martin used the ‘complete’ base game to essentially test drive the concept, and see how players found it:
“I wanted to make the most lightweight form of the game that could sell the idea and make sure people understood what I was trying to do, while being efficient with my time in case it didn’t work out,” Damian Martin tells us. “I was pleasantly surprised to find out how many people got on with it, because I thought it was a very niche game.”
Damian Martin explains that the plan to create this series of expansions stemmed from two things. One was to limit the scope of Citizen Sleeper in order to get people on board with the idea, and the other came from a strong, personal love of stories and worlds – like those in Mass Effect and Destiny 2 – that build even after the original story seems complete.
“After launch, I immediately greenlit the DLC in my head for two reasons — one, I love ongoing stories and serial narratives that allow the world to live with you for a bit. I wanted to see if I could bring this feeling of a story that progresses over time,” Damian Martin says.
“The second is that I wanted to give an indication that Citizen Sleeper is a long-term project. Some indie games, you play them for six or eight hours and they’re great, but that’s it, you never go back there. So these episodes felt like the best to keep momentum going, and see where we can go with it.”
Damian Martin tells us that this design choice is heavily inspired by tabletop games, which often allow players to branch off and explore different paths and uncover plots that pertain to a bigger overarching story.
“If you want anything to happen in a video game, you have to make a system for it. In tabletop games, you can improvise, characters you’ve invented suddenly become main characters, and I wanted to find a way to bring that energy and structure into a video game,” they tell us.
“What I love about tabletop RPG is that players can go to any place they want, and the [game master] has to comply to give them a story. I wanted to put that feeling in the game, so like, having a drink at Tyler’s bar stems into you building a relationship with Tyler, but it all stems from just going there for a drink.”
Citizen Sleeper is driven by the characters you meet and the conversations that take place, but Damian Martin says that making game-altering decisions in dialogue feels unusual to them. This is reflected in their experiences with tabletop RPGs — conversations are not huge focal points for players, but where to go, what to do, and who to do it with matters greatly.
“I think dialogue options are great as expressive choices, but the decisions I make that affect my life are usually about what I do with my time, what I turn up to do, the people that I help or respond to,” they explain. “So I was really interested in a system where decisions were almost made unconsciously by the player. There are lots of things available to you, but you have a limited amount of time. Players automatically prioritize in their head and make choices that feel natural to them, as opposed to contrived choices. I try to encourage players to just go with their gut and see where it puts them.”
Damian Martin describes some of the more visceral, personal experiences that inspired the narrative of Citizen Sleeper, like feeling out of place or exposed, and how they wanted to incorporate that into the characters and stories. You can tell that it’s these kinds of stories that will form a part of their thinking for the future of this nascent series.
“I really wanted to make a game that was about a lot of the things that I’ve been thinking about for the past 10 years, things that were really important to me, and things that I kind of intuited on some level, where important to people of my generation and our experiences,” Damian Martin explains.
“The idea of [rolling dice to choose actions], and randomness, and risk, and then the risk of precarity and existing in society in a minoritized position and trying to struggle to survive, those things kind of slipped together.”
While you can end up in some dicey (excuse the pun) situations in Citizen Sleeper due to low number rolls, the story still continues. Damian Martin stresses the importance of keeping the narrative rolling (sorry, that’s another pun) and avoiding ‘game over.’
“Something I learned as a game master is that you should never offer the player a choice where the bad outcome won’t be interesting or progress the story,” they explain. “I tried to set that rule for myself in Citizen Sleeper too. I wanted to feel like failing was still moving things forward, and in some cases, was more interesting than succeeding.”
Purge is the third and final instalment of post-launch DLC content heading to Citizen Sleeper, and it’ll be free to download for existing players. Flux and Refuge are also available for free, so be sure to get them squared away before heading into Purge and uncovering whatever mysterious ‘ending’ that Citizen Sleeper has in store.
However, if our conversation with Damian Martin unsheathed anything, it’s that their universe has many, many more stories to tell, this trilogy serving as a mini-sequel is just one tale unravelling in this complex, dystopian setting, and you may even be oblivious to some of the celestial breadcrumbs that your mischievous Game Master has left for you.
Purge is set to land on Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and Windows March 30th. Citizen Sleeper is available with Xbox Game Pass and PC Game Pass.