Sometimes good things in pairs.

Firstly, this weekend I was surprised by the arrival of a little game called FTL by Subset Games. I had heard about it way back when in the year, taken a quick gander and went “hmmm…. meh!” Perhaps I wasn’t in the mood for it then, I don’t know, but when mention of it showed up on the Dwarf Fortress Facebook page, my interest was piqued. The masochist in me that loved Dwarf Fortress tapped me on the shoulder and say “Hey! Losing IS fun! Get to it!”, so out came my $9 and down came the game, plucked from the aether. One tutorial later and I was playing the game I set out to try to make in ASCII/Unicode text graphics about three years ago, but never really got to doing any serious work  (I couldn’t get the Unicode thing working and a long time ago I figured that I wasn’t much of a code monkey anyway…)  This is not to take away from Subspace’s achievement and future success, or to climb on their shoulders, but it is interesting to see that some game ideas (though not the method of execution) develop in parallel.

Thankfully Subspace have taken up my slack and made an amazingly simple yet compelling spacecraft experience that is roughly modeled on a Rogue-like chassis.

Not today slavers! The FSM Gothmog wins the day! (FTL, Subspace Games, Mac version)

You command a small cruiser with a crew of three, basic equipment and dangerous yet heroic mission to inform a fragmented Federation about the rise of the Rebellion’s new flagship. Braving the perils of deep space: aliens, pirates, slavers, asteroid belts, asphyxiation by decompression, solar flares and so on, your ship and crew must hold your jalopy together long enough to get to Sector 8 and help the Feds defeat the Rebellion once and for all. Scrap metal can be used to upgrade your ship, gaining new weapons, crew and augmentations. Like Dwarf Fortress, there are a fair share of Kobayashi Maru scenarios where good planning and creative thinking will make all the difference.

The game is played in a hybrid of turn-based moves and real-time combat that can be paused at any time for you to get your planning hat on. Sound easy? Well, only if you can manage the power-requirements of your ship, fuel, missiles, drone parts and scrap levels, while keeping an eye out for whatever the enemy can throw at you. Its not all combat though, sometimes your choices might need to be ethical, diplomatic or heroic, or even quite the opposite as saving your own skin – and completing your good and holy quest to save the Federation – is equally important.

Just like any Rogue-likes, death is permanent, resulting in the destruction of your ship and crew. In addition, some situations can be potentially unwinnable, such as having your ship go up in flames because you can’t open a few doors, or running out of fuel AND ammunition in the middle of a gunfight, but thems the breaks ship captain! Worse things happen at sea, you know… The game can be saved, but you will only be allowed to continue from your last save rather than be able to reload it. Yes, you can save the “continue.sav” file, but you’re a real gamer, right? You wouldn’t do that…

Stats are tracked adequately and there is a wealth of unlock-able ships, layouts and achievements.  Replaying isn’t just an option, but practically a must.

So is it worth it? Yes, I think so. Its rare to see a remodeling of an old trope done in such a way that isn’t just a retread of the original. This is not Rogue in space, but something of its own innovative style that owes a lot to Rogue’s design philosophy. When I play it, I think of another old favourite game of mine: Elite. Its not the same kind of game, but there are moments when all that stands between you and annihilation is the right person in the right place, able to brave the flames and flip that switch. And those situations were all over Elite. FTL is just as unforgiving – and just as addictive – as Elite. Maybe if Subspace put in the fan-requested sandbox mode, it might even become the Elite of the 21st Century (yes, Oolite is awesome, but its still Elite and there hasn’t been another game to grab the crown of best space game since then, IMHO)

FTL is available from Subspace Game’s own game Website for $9, or from Steam. It runs on Mac, Windows and Linux and is DRM free, but save the pirating for IN-GAME only and support the game, so you can get some juicy DLC developed.

The second thing is this curious news article on Gizmodo, about NASA beginning work on developing a workable “warp drive” – basically a device that “warps” space ahead and behind a spacecraft, enabling it to travel through space-time faster than light without having to break that pesky speed limit, much like super-cavitating watercraft.

This is the sort of thing that I love about science fiction and its bound to polarize people on the whole “isn’t there anything better to do with this money?” front, but either way it could potentially go from science fiction to science fact, like the ion engines and sunjammers before them.  Obviously, at this stage, its largely theoretical, but in time it could provide valuable insight into our understanding of space-time and the universe itself. And if it works…
I’ll send you a postcard from Gliese 581g!