Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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New England Gamer
October 2012

Faster than Light

With a flash of light my ship exits in hyperspace. Immediately upon completing the jump, the game informs me of a nearby battle. A pirate ship is attacking a civilian freighter. If I don't intervene the freighter will be destroyed and the pirate will escape to continue preying on the innocent. The pirate, sensing the presence of my Federation warship, offers me some resources to leave him be. It's early in the game, but his bribe is substantial and could help me buy supplies and upgrades to keep me alive as the game becomes more difficult.

Even so, the idea of striking a deal with such a villain doesn't sit well with me. I refuse his offer and power up my guns. The pirate wastes no time, countering my hostility with some of his own. Before I can get off a shot he fires off a salvo. His lasers bounce off my defenses, but his missile passes right through, scoring a direct hit that knocks out my shields. I send one of my crew to repair the damage, but the battle doesn't stop and wait while he works. Our ships trade blows. I'm able to whittle away his shields and health, but I'm taking damage the whole time. By the battle's end my armor is reduced to fifty percent and I've lost one of my three crew members fighting fires. The civilian freighter contacts me to thank me for my assistance, but their gratitude is small solace for what I've lost. It will take most of the resources I've gathered to repair my ship and the loss to my crew will haunt me for a long time to come.

One might say that FTL is a difficult game. Putting you in the shoes of a ship captain on the losing side of war, you're tasked with delivering critical information to your headquarters on the other side of the galaxy. The game follows you as you work your way across sectors, struggling to survive against enemy forces trying to hunt you down. The universe built by the game is one that is either openly hostile or indifferent to your plight.

Your goal isn't to be a hero, it's to survive; ignoring this quintessential fact is the surest way to get yourself killed. It was something I had to learn the hard way. When I first began playing, I jumped into battle whenever the opportunity presented itself. I was the bane of pirates and never ducked an opportunity to pop my Rebel pursuers in the proverbial nose.

As cool as I felt leaving heaps of space wreckage in my wake though, I kept losing. I would make it to the game's halfway point and find myself underpowered and outclassed. My constant combat had the side effect of leaving my ship almost perpetually wrecked. I would gather resources just to spend them on repairs, leaving nothing left to upgrade my ship to match my increasingly more powerful opponents. Something had to change.

I began playing more strategically. Whereas my early playthroughs would see me speeding forward, blasting my way through space as quickly as the game allowed, I began to take a slower, more nuanced approach to the game. I would take time to explore each sector, staying just ahead of the forces chasing me in an attempt to gather as much intelligence and resources as I could. I began to pour my money into upgrading my ship and hiring crew members to keep my ship running smoothly and up to par with the opposition.

With my resources siphoned off to other areas, the task of keeping my ship alive often fell to my skills as a decision maker. This was, at times, my downfall. While fairly meek in life, I can often be overly aggressive as a gamer. My number one cause of death in many of the games I play is tendency to charge in with guns blazing. And if this is death in other games, it's suicide in FTL. My hardest lesson was simply learning when to cut and run. I'd come across those nasty pirates preying on the weak and need to be smart enough to know when I could fight and when I couldn't. I had to become a survivalist, keeping my own well being at the forefront my thoughts at every turn.

I kept failing, but with each defeat I got better and I began to slowly creep my way further and further across the universe map. Even as I made progress, it did little to abate the constant tension I felt at every new waypoint. As I made my way to the most difficult echelons of the game, each action and choice seemed to take on monumental weight. It didn't matter that I'd upgraded my ship with the best weapons and shields or that my crew roster was now more than double the beginning three. Just like in a good game of chess, a single ill-placed pawn, one small mistake, could lead me to a doom I hadn't even discovered yet.

And then, finally, victory, at least in a matter of speaking. Truth be told, my goal had been just to reach the other side of the map. I never gave much thought to what would happen after that. You can imagine my delight then when I finally made it there. I'd won! I'd made it to the . . . what? There's a final boss? Nobody had told me about that!

But indeed, in the last sector there awaited a final, terrible enemy. The Rebel Mothership, so mighty and powerful that my first engagement with the beast ended almost as swiftly as it began (hint: I lost). It felt like the game was taunting me, trivializing my accomplishment and all the work I had put into getting so far. It was as if it was saying "You might have made it this far, but you'll never beat this guy."

After a few moments of consternation, it almost made me smile. It was as fitting an end for FTL as I could imagine. A frustration sundae topped with a cherry of cruelty. I had reached the promise land, now I just needed to conquer it. Staring at one final Game Over screen I clicked out of the game, but my mind was racing. There had to be a way to bring the Mothership down. It was going to take some practice to find out how and I welcomed the challenge.

Read more by Stewart Shearer

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