FTL: Is It Too Random for Its Own Good?

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FTL: Faster Than Light is a bit of an indie darling. It was one of the first games to use Kickstarter to effectively fund it’s development and to see actually see the light of day (looking at you Double Fine). It’s a real-time strategy game about captaining a ship through interstellar space while being chased by fleet of Rebel ships. It’s basically every sci-fi nerds wet dream. Divert power from the medbay to use an extra laser. Open the bay doors to suffocate a fire. Skip through the galaxy encountering alien creatures, bandit ships, and automated drones.

One of the game’s biggest selling point is that the star maps you travel and the events at each star are randomized, meaning each playthrough is unique. It’s the this random generation that makes traversing the galaxy feel mysterious and dangerous, and it makes the game’s difficulty bearable because replaying the game doesn’t become rote and tedious.

But it’s FTL‘s random nature that’s kept me from playing it since I first bought it. I bought the game back in January and put about 10 hours into it. For a lot of that time I really enjoyed it, randomness and all. Exploring the galaxy, recruiting strange aliens to my crew, naming crew members after friends and having them eaten by giant space spiders.

But the random generation is a double-edged sword. A number of penalties and rewards are based on randomness. Good and bad events, side missions, the fate of crewmen during certain events, weapons and resources earned. All random.

These random elements never bothered me until I was able to make it to the final boss, the Rebel Flagship. After my first few failures, I shrugged it off as the game challenging me to do better, and I readily accepted that challenge. But then one time I encountered it, and this time I couldn’t do any damage. My lasers weren’t enough to bring down its shield and my missiles couldn’t get past its drone. It was literally impossible for me to win and it wasn’t even my fault.

After a few more attempts, some where I could do damage, and some that were impossible, I gave up. If victory wasn’t wholly up to me and my skill in the game, then playing felt pointless.

The game’s random nature, at first a bright spot for the air of danger it lent the game, had become its downfall, penalizing me for something I had no control over. So I stopped playing and haven’t picked it up since.

Eight months is quite the break to take from a game, and I certainly plan on going back to FTL soon. But my memory of it is marred by a system that too often took away player action in favor of random generation.

Do you like FTL? Is FTL‘s random generation detrimental to its design? Is there something in the game that I missed that proves what a big idiot I am?

– Cam

As always, check back next Tuesday for more, and comment below with your thoughts.

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