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RPG Codex Interview: Faster Than Light, Spaceship Simulation Roguelike

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RPG Codex Interview: Faster Than Light, Spaceship Simulation Roguelike

Interview - posted by Crooked Bee on Sun 29 April 2012, 14:51:51

Tags: Faster Than Light; Kickstarter; Subset Games

For once, we are doing an interview on a Kickstarter project that does not seek your money. Anymore, at least. FTL: Faster Than Light is a "spaceship simulation roguelike(-like)" currently being developed by the two-man company Subset Games based in Shanghai, China, that recently got a whopping $200,000 on Kickstarter, with only $10,000 being the initial funding goal. Faster Than Light focuses on the inner workings of a spaceship - its (upgradeable) systems, subsystems, drones, weapons, ammo, augmentations, and last but not least its crew - as it travels throughout the galaxy, jumping from sector to sector and getting involved in random text and combat events that pop up along the way. As roguelikes are wont to, the game features heavy randomization and permadeath. To get a glimpse of what the game plays like, you can check out this official alpha gameplay video.

FTL had a dedicated thread here on the Codex, which got many of us interested in the game. Unfortunately, however, not everyone had the chance to try out the game's demo that was only available for a limited period of time via OnLive. Therefore, as the game nears its beta (currently scheduled for May), we have reached out to Justin Ma and Matthew Davis of Subset Games to ask them a few questions about the game, the things they plan on adding for the beta, and related matters. This interview is the result. Have a snippet:

What do you feel are the greatest strengths of the roguelike genre, and how do they come into play in FTL?

While the more typical ‘pure’ roguelike games are a lot of fun, what excites us most is when developers take elements of roguelikes and combine them with other established game archetypes. This interest began after being moderately obsessed with Spelunky.

We tried to pull our favorite aspects from the roguelike genre and put them into FTL. This can be seen in the randomly generated galaxy, the way unexpected loot influences your strategy, how permadeath dramatically increases tension, and an end-state that seems just out of reach.

With its streamlined interface, FTL seems to be developed with a more casual audience in mind compared to "hardcore" roguelikes. What will the game have to offer to a veteran roguelike player? How do you ensure that such a player finds enough variety and depth in the game's mechanics to warrant multiple replays?

As much as we love classic sims, we hate the burden of over-complicated UI. We value simple controls and ease of use, but we are still hardcore gamers at heart and FTL was designed specifically for players like us. The game truly shines when players are faced with managing power issues, environmental hazards, boarding parties, injured crew, and an enemy ship... all at once.

Our ultimate goal is to have an intense and difficult game where each failure can be traced back to a decision the player has made; making them want jump back in with their knowledge and strategy refined.

What are the most important features you are still to implement before release, and have your plans changed in any way now that you have collected $200k via Kickstarter instead of the $10k you initially asked for?

By the beta, we want to restructure the map and enemy generation system, create the end-game state, and add the meta-game elements / achievements. In addition to those major features, we’ll be adding more content in the form of additional encounters, weapons, and enemy ships will be added as well. The significantly increased funds are allowing us to hire contractors to improve various aspects of the game. However, our aggressive release schedule could mean that major, previously unplanned features will have to wait until post-launch when we’ll release them as free updates.​

We thank Justin and Matthew for their time and look forward to the beta! Meanwhile, you can visit the official FTL website.

And be sure to read the full interview: RPG Codex Interview: Faster Than Light, Spaceship Simulation Roguelike

P.S. Special thanks go to Zed for his input on the first version of the questions!



FTL: Faster Than Light is a "spaceship simulation roguelike(-like)" developed by the two-man company Subset Games based in Shanghai, China, that recently got $200,000 on Kickstarter, with only $10,000 being the initial funding goal. Faster Than Light focuses on the inner workings of a spaceship - its systems, subsystems, drones, weapons, ammo, augmentations, and last but not least its crew - as it travels throughout the galaxy, jumping from sector to sector and getting involved in random events that pop up along the way.

Via random events, the spaceship you control encounters friendlies, gets under attack, meets new alien races, gathers valuable resources, conducts trade, and explores anomalies. When attacked, you must manage the functioning of your ship's systems by ordering your crew around in real time (with pause) to put out fires and do repairs, all the while making sure they don't blow up or run out of oxygen. The game includes varied ship design, multiple races with different play styles, and gameplay-related text events. Apart from firing their weapons at you, enemies may board your ship, further endangering the meager health bars of your crew members. In addition, your ship may take damage from environmental factors, which are also randomized. FTL features permadeath and random loot drops, as well as an overarching end goal (so that you can "win" the game the way you win a roguelike), yet to be disclosed. The game gets more and more challenging as you progress, so that constant and careful upgrade and crew management is required if you want to reduce the randomness factor somewhat and survive for considerable time.

The core of the ship's systems that you can upgrade consists of Shields, Engines, Oxygen, Weapon Control, and Medbay, but there are also additional things such as Cloaking, Drone Control or Crew Teleporter. Among the subsystems are Door System, which lets you open and close doors remotely and even upgrade them to "blast doors" that delay fire spread and intruder movement, Piloting, which improves the ship's auto-piloting and dodging, and Sensors that help more fully reveal the interior of an enemy spaceship. Augmentations include (but are not limited to) such devices as Long-Ranged Scanners, Automated Reloader and Advanced FTL Navigation, and the weapons you can buy also vary in type and purpose, ranging from bombs to laser and missiles. Another important factor to keep in mind is Fuel: make sure not to run out of it!

Prior to launching the tremendously successful Kickstarter campaign, the game received honorable mentions for Excellence in Design at the Independent Games Festival 2012, where it was a competitor for the Grand Prize, and made it to the final of China Independent Games Festival 2011. It also had a dedicated thread here on the Codex, which got many of our regulars interested in the game. Unfortunately, however, not everyone had the chance to try out the game's demo that was only available for a limited period of time via OnLive. Therefore, as the game nears its beta (currently scheduled for May), we have reached out to Justin Ma and Matthew Davis of Subset Games to ask them a few questions about the game, the things they plan on adding for the beta, and related matters.

[​IMG]

Why did you choose to do a spaceship simulation roguelike, and what are the main inspirations behind FTL's concept? (For one, the spaceship design reminds me a lot of SunDog: Frozen Legacy.)

The game’s initial inspiration came from a love of sci-fi shows like Deep Space 9, Battlestar Galactica and Firefly. The core gameplay interactions were largely inspired by boardgames like Red November and Battlestar Galactica while the pacing and exploration was influenced by computer games like Weird Worlds and Spelunky.

We wanted to create a spaceship management game that focused on what was going on inside the player’s ship: what does the crew do when the captain yelled “divert power from weapons to shields and cut life-support to the engine room!”.​


As a newly formed two-man independent company developing its first title, what is the biggest challenge you have faced so far?

For the first 8 months of development, we never thought of ourselves as a company. We were just two friends making a small game for fun. We only realized its potential as an actual product after feedback from competitions and the very successful Kickstarter. As a team, the biggest challenge we’ve faced has been learning the business and marketing side of development. Just making the game seems like a vacation in comparison.​


FTL focuses on the inner workings of a ship under attack while doing away with space combat management in the traditional sense. Was this design decision there from the start? If given a larger budget and more time, would you introduce full-fledged space combat on top of what you already have?

Although we had a clear vision for what we wanted the player’s experience to be in FTL, the gameplay mechanics were still uncertain when we first started. We didn’t have a lot of experience playing similar games, so a lot of the early development was spent figuring out what gameplay was fun through trial and error. At that time our options felt limitless; we could take it in any direction we wanted. It was freeing as well as a bit terrifying.

One of our early builds involved managing relative spatial positions of your ship in addition to managing the crew and power distribution. Overall it was chaotic and not fun. The real turning point in development was when we decided to maintain static views of the interior of ships. We felt focusing on this style of gameplay was unique and still quite challenging.​

[​IMG]

Exclusive screenshot: A newly introduced player-ship in the style of the Engi alien race. It usually relies heavily on drones and ion weaponry. You can also see a friendly Federation Bomber.

One question bound to be asked by our readers is -- why real-time with pause rather than turn-based (as roguelikes usually are) or pure real-time?

We did not set out with the intention of making a rogue-like or strategy game so full turn-based was never seriously considered. The decision to add a pausing was purely a practical one: it allowed the action to be fast paced without feeling overwhelmed by time pressure.​


What do you feel are the greatest strengths of the roguelike genre, and how do they come into play in FTL?

While the more typical ‘pure’ roguelike games are a lot of fun, what excites us most is when developers take elements of roguelikes and combine them with other established game archetypes. This interest began after being moderately obsessed with Spelunky.

We tried to pull our favorite aspects from the roguelike genre and put them into FTL. This can be seen in the randomly generated galaxy, the way unexpected loot influences your strategy, how permadeath dramatically increases tension, and an end-state that seems just out of reach.​

[​IMG]

In FTL, text events that pop up as you jump from star to star are 100% gameplay-focused, leading to things like trading, receiving help or being lured into a trap, and acquiring or losing crew members and other resources.

With its streamlined interface, FTL seems to be developed with a more casual audience in mind compared to "hardcore" roguelikes. What will the game have to offer to a veteran roguelike player? How do you ensure that such a player finds enough variety and depth in the game's mechanics to warrant multiple replays?

As much as we love classic sims, we hate the burden of over-complicated UI. We value simple controls and ease of use, but we are still hardcore gamers at heart and FTL was designed specifically for players like us. The game truly shines when players are faced with managing power issues, environmental hazards, boarding parties, injured crew, and an enemy ship... all at once.

Our ultimate goal is to have an intense and difficult game where each failure can be traced back to a decision the player has made; making them want jump back in with their knowledge and strategy refined.​


If I got this right, you plan on introducing a higher difficulty option to the game. What exactly is going to change between difficulty levels?

This will depend heavily on beta testing.​


In FTL, text events that pop up as you jump from star to star are 100% gameplay-focused, leading to things like trading, receiving help or being lured into a trap, and acquiring or losing crew members and other resources. In that, they are handled refreshingly different from the story-driven approach dominating the industry today. Do you plan on adding more story-focused "fluff" events?

Since the game is randomly generated, our initial plan was to keep the text events as gameplay oriented as possible and let the “story” be created by the players actions. We are working to create a coherent universe rather than a clear story arc. The player may catch glimpses of this background story but the events will generally be light on fluff.​

[​IMG]

Ship upgrades are an extremely important asset to your survivability. Throughout the galaxy, you collect scrap parts that represent the current number of upgrade points you have.

In general, compared to the demo, to what extent would you want the story and setting to be more fleshed out by the time of release?

We have started to work with a professional writer to help us develop a solid setting. Hopefully the beginnings of that will be in place by the time the beta starts.​


In the demo, you are only given one spaceship, the Kestrel. How many types of player and enemy ships can we look forward to in the game, and what are the differences between them going to be?

I can’t give a specific number for the final playable ship count since we plan to just add as many as we have time for. We have design and/or art for at least 6 playable ships and many more enemy ships right now. They are divided into a number of factions and alien races, each with their own visual style and preferred equipment.​


You must have replayed FTL a thousand times already. What is the most intense situation, the most memorable FTL story to happen to you personally?

There was one time I teleported a number of my crew onto an enemy ship when fighting too close to a star. They were successful in clearing out the enemy crew but both of our ships were about to break apart. Just then a solar flare alarm went off signifying I had a few seconds before both ships would be damaged. However the teleporter would not be able to teleport all of my crew back in time so I made the tough choice of retrieving half of the away-team and jumping away before the flare hit. I felt pretty guilty after that...​

[​IMG]

Be advised: it can get hot, very hot in FTL! And you better avoid letting intruders board your ship!

What are the most important features you are still to implement before release, and have your plans changed in any way now that you have collected $200k via Kickstarter instead of the $10k you initially asked for?

By the beta, we want to restructure the map and enemy generation system, create the end-game state, and add the meta-game elements / achievements. In addition to those major features, we’ll be adding more content in the form of additional encounters, weapons, and enemy ships will be added as well. The significantly increased funds are allowing us to hire contractors to improve various aspects of the game. However, our aggressive release schedule could mean that major, previously unplanned features will have to wait until post-launch when we’ll release them as free updates. ​


Do you believe that, as a way of independent game publishing, crowdfunding can significantly influence the industry in a positive way?

I personally think crowdfunding has and will continue to make a positive influence on the industry as a whole. Kickstarter has shown that there is a lot of support and money for ideas that don’t fit with a traditional developer/distributor model. I believe that the current Kickstarter craze will simmer down, but hopefully this new model for funding continues to be viable for small development studios.​

We thank Justin and Matthew for their time and look forward to the beta!

Links:
Official FTL website
Official alpha gameplay video

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