FTL: Faster Than Light heralds the Kickstarter age

Monday, 17 September 2012 08:19 GMT By Brenna Hillier

Sick of coughing up for Kickstarter campaigns? Here’s one that wants to give back. FTL: Faster Than Light is here and it only wants to love you and eat your life.

This is not the kind of experience that is green lit by investors. This is the type of game people only make for love, and that 9,818 gamers helped turn a passion project into a financially viable endeavour, and thereby brought FTL: Faster Than Light to all the rest of us, makes me happy to be a part of the machine.

Following Double Fine Adventure’s astounding launch on Kickstarter, developers began to look at the crowdfunding platform in a whole new light. Although its viability as a total funding solution is yet to be demonstrated, Kickstarter has proven itself an effective marketing tool, profit maximising pre-order system, source of substantial amounts of cashmoney, and an excellent way for mid-level developers to demonstrate to potential investors that there is demand for a product.

In the rush of Wasteland 2s, Project Eternitys and Planetary Annihilations it’s easy to forget that Kickstarter, as the name suggests, was founded with the intention of helping small companies, start ups and indies get a leg up, thanks to the charitable attentions of backers who believe in an idea. Both approaches to crowdfunding seem valid, but in the sound and fury, smaller projects can be swallowed up.

FTL: Faster Than Light is not one of those. Launched just a few weeks after Double Fine Adventure and seeking a very modest $10,000, the sci-fi roguelike pulled in over $200,000, taking advantage of sudden, intense interest in crowdfunded games.

It wasn’t the only game to do so, but it’s one of the few to launch so far; FTL: Faster Than Light is available now through the developer’s website, GOG or Steam, a month later than expected but otherwise very much as promised during Subset Games’ pitch. And it’s great.

Buzz
I missed the FTL hype when it first kicked into gear, but there was no chance of a repeat performance now that it’s launched. It’s not just a plug from Penny Arcade, or the marketing efforts of GOG; Twitter exploded with praise and discussion of the sci-fi adventure and hasn’t let up. For everyone tweeting “What’s FTL?” there are three more detailing their quests, chewing over strategy, or just pointing friends towards a place of purchase.

Faster Than Light has the player take command of a spaceship, tasked with travelling through several sectors of space ahead of an encroaching military threat. Ships can only jump between certain points on the map, and the longer they dally the higher the chance of falling prey to the enemy; but it’s only through exploration of sector maps that one can hope to find the equipment, crew members and wealth needed to face the challenges ahead.

With a collection of variously equipped starting ships and an endless number of randomly generated encounters, FTL provides plenty of challenge, replayability and sheer fun, but its true value probably lies in the stories it generates. It’s one of those roguelikes where every attempt feels sufficiently fresh and different that you never feel like you’re grinding through the same old early quests, and there’s enough variation in hazard and equipment that unless you’re a very slow learner each death you experience is likely to be unique.

This leads to the sort of situation where you sit across a table from your fellow nerds and excitedly discuss the time you accidentally opened the airlocks trying to eject boarders, leeching your last oxygen thanks to a forgotten hull breech. Or the time a missile hit your cockpit just as you were about to jump out of a sector. Or the time you followed a distress beacon and it was actually pirates but they were armed with the space equivalent of a pea shooter and immediately fled, leaving you to accept their captives’ gratitude.

Or the time only your pilot survived an encounter and had to repair every system on the ship, dashing back and forth to the med bay as fires took apart more and more of your vessel and you realised, with mounting horror, that you were fighting a losing battle against entropy. Alone, in endless space; the last survivor and humanity’s only hope. Well done you.

Remember the old roguelike mantra: losing is fun. It is fun, and that’s something that a lot of us have forgotten, because this is not the kind of experience that is green lit by investors. This is the type of game people only make for love, and that 9,818 gamers helped turn a passion project into a financially viable endeavour, and thereby brought FTL: Faster Than Light to all the rest of us, makes me happy to be a part of the machine. Thanks, Kickstarter.

FTL: Faster than Light is available on Linux, Mac and PC; DRM-free versions are available, while the Steam release supports Steamplay.

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