FTL: Faster Than Light is a real-time top-down roguelike-style space strategy game from indie developer Subset Games, released for Microsoft Windows, macOS, and Linux in September 2012. In-game, the player controls the crew of a ship. solitary space vessel containing important information that must be provided to the Allied fleet while a large rebel fleet pursues it.
The player must navigate the spaceship through eight sectors, each with planetary systems and procedurally generated roguelike events, fighting rebels and other hostile forces, recruiting new crews, and equipping and upgrading their ship. The battle takes place quietly in real-time, and if the ship is destroyed or its entire crew is lost, the game ends, forcing the player to restart with a new ship.
The FTL concept was based on board games and other non-strategic space combat video games that required the player to control various functions of the ship. The initial development of Subset Games for two people was done at its own expense and aimed to develop tickets for various independent gaming competitions. After receiving positive feedback from players and judges at these events, Subset decided to participate in a joint Kickstarter campaign to complete the title and managed to get twenty times more than expected; additional funds were used for more professional art, music, and writing.
The game, which is considered one of the top video game fundraising hits on Kickstarter, launched in September 2012 and received positive reviews. An updated FTL: Advanced Edition, which added additional ships, events and other game items, was released in April 2014 as a free update for existing owners and rolled out. sale on iPad devices. The game received generally positive reviews from critics, who praised its creativity. FTL is recognized along with games such as Spelunky and The Binding of Isaac, which have helped popularize independent “cheat” games that use certain features. but not all the principles of a classic roguelike.
The player controls a faster-than-light spaceship (FTL). He belongs to the Galactic Federation, which is on the brink of defeat in a war with an exclusively human and xenophobic rebel faction, simply called the Rebellion. The player’s team intercepts a Rebel Fleet data packet that contains information that could confuse the Rebels and ensure a Federation victory. The goal is to reach the Federation headquarters while waiting for multiple space sectors while avoiding the destruction of enemy ships or the rebel fleet pursuing them. The final sector ends with a battle with the Rebel flagship, a multi-stage battle that ends in victory or defeat for the Federation.
At the beginning of the game, the player chooses a spaceship with several special rooms for systems (piloting, engines, weapons, life support, etc.) and a crew. The game randomly generates eight roguelike space sectors with twenty waypoints per sector. The player must “jump” the ship between the waypoints, usually without knowing what to expect at each point, and go to the “exit” point that leads to the next sector until the Federation is reached. The player’s ship accumulates money, additional crew, equipment, ship upgrades, and also deals damage to the ship and crew, maximizing the number of waypoints (and therefore events / other ships) visited in each sector.
The player can revisit the waypoints, but each warp jump consumes fuel and forces the Rebel fleet to advance through each sector and gradually capture more beacons. Once the beacon is captured, jumping into it will lead to an encounter with an elite rebel fighter and will only give the player a portion of fuel as a reward for defeating the ship. Collisions are more dangerous and give better rewards in the later sectors of the game.
There are eight different types of the crew in the game: Humans, Engi, Zoltan, Praying Mantis, Doom, Slug, Lanius, and Crystal. All representatives of these types can be bought by the player or found on enemy ships. Each species has its own strengths and weaknesses, depending on its physiology. For example, stones are immune to fire and have high health, but are slower to act than other types.
Landmarks can include stores offering ship systems, fuel, ammunition, weapons, drones, crew recruitment, and hull repair for a certain amount of junk (in-game currency). Other waypoints can appear as distress signals from ships on land or traps set by rebels or pirates (a ship captured by an enemy group). Certain destinations are dangerous to the ship or its functions:
Asteroid belts constantly obstruct ships, nebulae disable sensors, and giant red star flares start fires. Enemy ships often attack the player and must be destroyed or fought until they offer to surrender or dodge by jumping backward. During battles, the game becomes a real-time space combat simulator, in which the player can pause the game to assess the situation and enter commands.
In combat, the player can manage the ship’s systems by distributing power, order crew to specific stations or rooms to repair damage and fire weapons at the enemy ship. Successful weapon strikes by either side can damage systems, disabling their functions until repaired by the crew; cause hull breaches that vent air into space until patched by the crew; ignite fires that spread and damage both systems and the hull until they are extinguished by the crew or starved of oxygen; and inflict direct hull damage, which reduces the ship’s hull points. A ship is destroyed once its hull points are reduced to zero, or defeated once its crew is eliminated. A player victory earns resources for bartering, upgrading, or combat; an enemy victory results in-game failure, deleting the save file and forcing the player to start over, creating a high level of difficulty. Alternatively, the player may evade combat by jumping to another waypoint after the ship’s engines have fully charged; occasionally hostile ships may likewise escape the player.
The game begins with a single available ship, the Kestrel-class cruiser in default “A” configuration. Nine further ships, one for each of seven non-human species and two additional human Federation ships, are unlocked by completing various optional objectives. All ships have two additional layouts (except Crystal and Lanius, with one each) — different color schemes, equipment, and crew — that can be unlocked by completing base-layout objectives. Each ship design and layout begin to focus on different gameplay aspects: the ship roster has designs emphasizing stealth cloaking, boarding, drone systems, and other variations. The game also has separate achievements with no gameplay impact. The game can be modified by the user to alter the various ship configurations.
FTL is the product of the two-man team of Subset Games, Matthew Davis and Justin Ma. Both were employees of 2K Games’ Shanghai studio, and became friends during their tenure there, playing various board games in their free time. Ma, who considered himself a jack-of-all-trades, had become dissatisfied with working in a larger studio, and after traveling to the 2011 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco and seeing the Independent Games Festival, he realized he wanted to become an independent developer.
Davis had left 2K Games early in 2011, and after biking through China, returned and joined Ma, who had also recently quit, and began working on the core FTL game. They agreed they would spend a year towards development and if their efforts did not pan out, they would go on to other things. Following the success of the game, the pair began work on their second game, Into the Breach.
The idea for FTL was inspired by tabletop board games, such as Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game, and non-strategic video games, such as Star Wars: X-Wing, where the player would have to route power to available systems to best manage the situation. Davis also stated that some of the influences for the game from TV shows and movies included Star Trek, Firefly, and Star Wars.
Unlike most space combat simulation games, “the initial concept was as simple as wanting to put the player in the commander’s chair instead of the pilot’s”, according to Davis, and to make “the player feel like they were Captain Picard yelling at engineers to get the shields back online”, as stated by Ma. The intent of the game was to make it feel like a “suicide mission”, and had adjusted the various elements of the game to anticipate a 10% success rate.
They looked to Super Meat Boy as an example of a game designed “to be hard, but not frustrating”, according to Ma, noting that there were almost no barriers to the player restarting after a failed attempt; they developed the restarting process for FTL to be similarly easy. However, they also considered that each loss was a learning experience for the player, gaining knowledge of what battles to engage in and when to avoid or abandon unwinnable fights. The permanence of a gameplay mistake was a critical element they wanted to include, and gameplay features such as permadeath emphasized this approach
In November 2013, Subset announced that FTL: Advanced Edition was under development, and would add several new events, ships, equipment, and other features to the existing game. This version was released on April 3, 2014 as a free update for FTL owners, and as a separate release for iPad devices, with the potential for other mobile systems in the future. Chris Avellone was announced as ‘special guest writer’ on the project.
A new playable species, the Lanius — metallic lifeforms that reduce oxygen levels in any room they are in — were introduced. Additional components added to the game included a clone bay, a counterpart to the medical bay that creates clones of a deceased crew with a small penalty against their skills, hacking drones that target specific systems on an enemy ship, a mind control system able to take control of an enemy crew member, a pulsar environmental hazard which periodically disables a ship’s systems, and battery systems to give the player a short burst of power at their discretion.
Other new features included a new ship, a third layout for eight of the now ten ships, new weapons, and additional beacon encounters, as well as a new sector. An additional Hard difficulty mode was also introduced. All of the expansion’s content can be disabled within the game if preferred.
The team looked at bringing this version to the PlayStation Vita, which also would have supported touch controls, but ultimately believed that the screen size of the system was too limiting for the game.
In 2020, Subset updated the personal computer version of the game to include achievements.
Subset Games have stated that they would not likely create a direct sequel to FTL, though future games they are planning may include similar concepts that were introduced in FTL. It is unlikely that they will use a Kickstarter method to raise funds, as they have raised enough money through sales of FTL to continue to fund their future projects.