After hearing multiple people I respect rave about FTL, I decided to give it a try. And I’m glad I did, it’s rather lovely.
If you don’t know, it’s basically a roguelike-meets-Firefly/Star Trek simulator. You command a small ship navigating hostile space, having encounters (text adventures), getting into battles, managing crew and resources, upgrading your ship and fighting off boarding parties (or boarding enemy ships yourself). Since it’s a rogue-like, the universe is procedurally-generated and you cannot choose to save and restore a previous game. You play and have to accept the consequences, meaning that taking a risk on an unknown is always tense. Exploring a mysterious asteroid field could have disastrous consequences, or reveal a hidden cache of resources. The core risk-vs reward focus of roguelikes is strong here, even if it doesn’t look like a traditional roguelike. And a lot of the joy is in seeing how far you can get, and the story you generate in the process.
Now, I’m not really a huge fan of roguelikes. I’ve tried the forumula, and it’s ok. But generally I feel like I’m playing a dungeon-crawler RPG (which aren’t my favourite) with less point. And I’m especially not fond of the (what seems to me) nostaligia-driven love for ascii graphics and shitty, arcane interfaces. I’m not really a fan of retro graphics, though I can see the advantage to using them, for indies.
That being said, FTL works for me. There seems to be a clear goal and an overarching sense of a plot (if not an actual plot) to keep it focused, the roguelike “procedural generation plus tense risk-reward analysis” formula is there, and it taps into that geeky desire to captain your own starship into uncharted space, like on TV! 😉
It’s also made me that much more excited for Star Command, a game which seems to tackle this concept as well, but perhaps with a bit of a different implementation.
But most of all…I enjoyed the feeling of playing a game that felt like it was exploring uncharted territory in the game design space. Fresh and interesting. It’s a problem for me, I often feel a bit bored of gaming as a whole, there’s a bit of “been there, done that” settling in. Makes me question, at times, my decision to try become a full-time game developer. Have I just moved on, grown out of gaming? I can’t relate to the things the teenagers get excited about much anymore.
So it’s great to be reminded that there is still the possibility of excitement and novelty in game design. In fact, it makes me question myself. Am I being too lazy in my thinking, defaulting to thinking about and wanting to make games in well-worn genres? Perhaps the reason I feel bored is because my thinking has grown a bit stale, a bit too focused on the game designs that others have pioneered. Perhaps I need to work harder to start with fewer assumptions about things like genre and so on, instead focus on capturing some general type of experience or idea. Such as “Captain a Starship through dangerous space!”.
Build up from the premise and a clean-slate, assume nothing.
It’s good to play a game that is both fun and challenges me as a game designer. So FTL designers, I thank you.