You Won't Survive FTL's Space Mission, But You'll Remember It

I could have have quit. I could have made my defeat happen quicker, less painfully. But cliche or not, the captain goes down with the ship. The rules don't change just because we're in space. So I watched my crew dutifully tend to my systems, keeping the ship running as best they could.

We knew we weren't going anywhere: the FTL was disabled, and we had no drones, fuel or missiles to defend ourselves against the pirate ship's attack. Hell, we couldn't run away even if we wanted to.

The flames shred through my vessel, eventually overtaking the populated rooms, but it didn't matter. My men would burn, but there are worse ways to go than ablaze with the virtue of dedication. Of course I couldn't give up. Not when good men and women spent their last moments proudly showing me the honour of what it means to serve a ship. It wasn't something I understood before FTL: Faster Than Light, the spaceship roguelike by Subset Games where you command your own ship and its crew under a space exploration mission.

This is the appeal of FTL: it provides you with the tools and context to tell compelling stories. Not in the way we might pat ourselves on the back for the authorship of awesome situations in open world games like Grand Theft Auto or Skyrim, but in a way that eludes the control of both player and creator. What happens in FTL is not wholly because of you, and not wholly because of the designer either thanks to levels and situations created on the fly.

Games have strict rules as to how they function and there's only so much you can mess with that, but there are too many variables and randomness in a roguelike to be able to easily account for all the fantastical things that might happen. There are only general rules of how things should work in the procedurally generated 'levels', but nothing is created in a specific way. And we have no indication of what the best course of action is in a given situation, or even how a lot of things function in the game. That's a staple to the roguelike genre, the need to demystify just about every aspect of a game as you play.

And so every game I've had in FTL was different, not just in how I might decide to play, but in what I find when I explore thanks to procedural generation. Maybe it's pirates this time. Maybe it's a distress signal. Maybe it's rebels. Maybe it's nothing at all. Maybe I have a certain upgrade or weapon, and maybe I don't. What do all these weapons and upgrades do, anyway? There are few guarantees in what to expect while playing, there's only the assurance of having more obstacles to overcome.

The roguelike's refusal to let you master it, refusal to let you fully know its secrets, is as utterly maddening as it is compelling. FTL, then, exists on possibility. What could happen out in space is a question that has captured our imagination for generations. Is this not the most appropriate thing for a game about space to embody, then? It's a marriage made in the cosmos, and I say this as seemingly the only nerd on earth that doesn't get a boner over space.

You're not playing to win, not entirely. You're playing for the chance to experience something new, to see what might happen this time, to learn something more about the system governing the game.

Nonetheless there's one commonality between all of the game's tales. Stories often end in tragedy, since FTL is a roguelike with a gruelling difficulty that drives home the idea of space as an endless, inhospitable place where where we either die spectacular deaths worth recounting, or die* sad, lonely deaths worth mourning. Nothing that gets in the way of a new game of FTL though. You'll have to get right back into the command centre regularly. That's part of the fun.

You're not playing to win, not entirely. You're playing to experiencing something new, to see what might happen this time, to learn something more about the system governing the game. If we ever figure out reincarnation, I suspect we'd approach life much in the same way as we do roguelikes: finite experiences meant to teach us how to live life a little better next time around. Intangibility of how life works be damned, as it's no match for the good old human stubbornness to try and try again.

FTL reflects what draws us into space in the first place. Ambition. In the game, it manifests itself in the desire to see more of what's out there, to take risks and chances for supplies and resources, to overcome the odds the game puts you against. It's a good complement to reality, where there's a race to lay claim to hunks of space rock, where we want to know that our cunning engineering can let us tame the extreme conditions in space, and that though there's something bigger than all of us out there, it is nonetheless all within the realm of our understanding.

The writer Joan Didion once said that we tell ourselves stories in order to live. I'd like to add to that and say we live to try to make an imprint on the world, to be remembered, to defy the idea that our lives are insignificant. Whenever you hear about FTL, that's what you'll hear: stories. Maybe we can't game our mortality, both in FTL and in real life. But stories? Stories defy everything and live on.


    So far I have only played 2 games and died horribly in both of them. But there is a certain fascination and as you say a story in each play through. I don't want to stop playing in the middle of a game, save and come back to it.
    We are on the run from an enemy fleet and must keep moving, stopping for something as mundane as dinner isn't on the cards. Still there is nothing worse than running out of fuel with the enemy fleet closing and having to click wait, over and over again. Just hoping that a next ship that turns up is kind hearted enough to spare you some fuel

    Stopped reading when it got too pretentious. Can't you be useful instead of flowery? You didn't even describe how a "roguelike in space" works. Is it still turn based?

      Not every piece of writing must be purely functional. This was well written, with purpose.

      It's partially turn-based - each time you travel to a new "planet/star" that's classed as a turn, but the actually combat isn't turned based - it's based on how skilled your crew are and the charge time on the weapons you have equipped.

        There is though, rather importantly, a pause button that can be used at any time during combat. It still feels pretty hectic a lot of the time though.

      I'm sorry you feel this way but to me delving into the specifics of how you command your crew and explore space does nothing for what I'm writing. I understand if you want to know that information, naturally, but personally unless it so happens that I'm delving into an analysis of the mechanics, or noting that they don't work, then I won't launch into details like "you can shift power into different subsystems of the ship in what is real time combat that can be paused" for instance. Furthermore there is also video included that can show you what you're asking about.

      My aim here was to tell you what is compelling about the game and what it means. I won't argue that I probably could have done a better job of it, I'm sure I could have and I DO think I stumble on describing how games work when I write about them....I was the kid that was general on those "how do you make a peanut butter and jelly sandwiches" exercises.

      I don't tell you this to excuse myself, because this is my job and obviously I need to figure out how to do it. But I don't think delving into those details in this specific case would have done anything for what I was trying to achieve in this piece, if that makes sense.

    Is this like flotilla?

      Similar. A turn is similar in that it is a star jump and then you get an event where the outcome will determine if you have fight or get a reward.
      However the combat sections are totally different, see the video above for an idea of how it works

    Its very hard there should be a very easy option, the easy setting is still quite hard and you never get enough resources for what you choose need a bit of tweaking I think

    I'd really love to see games really similar to this, any people have soem suggestions?

    Loving the game so far - only had it for 2 days and put in something like 10 hours...
    I don't know why but it just gets me hooked.

    For those looking for something similar I suggest, binding of isaac. It's a different type of game but has alot of similar elements without the micromanagement. It's a bit more random and luck based than FTL.

    Almost won... almost... dirty deceiver :(

    I'm absolutely loving this game. Almost mastered it in easy mode, but some of these ship unlocks are a bitch to do! I'm scared to graduate up to normal mode though, it's absolutely brutal :x

    Overall, one of the best games I've ever played. Absolutely loving it

    FTL is great. Go buy it.

    really good game been playing since the day it came out, The flagship boss should be made harder its a total cakewalk even my mum can beat him. Really loving the steam forums of all the people crying about how hard the game is lmao

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