The will likely be spoilers, but should I talk about something super new I'll warn ya. But consider this a pre-emptive warning! You're WARNED!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

These are the voyages...

Recently I had to say goodbye to an old friend: my trusty Mac Mini I got circa 2005. Though she'd never been top of the line (I bought her refurbished), she'd always done what I needed her to do when I needed her to do it. A couple of months ago I started to notice signs that she was wearing down: websites took longer and longer to load (watching video became a particularly painful experience). Programs would take 30 seconds to shutdown- that is, when I didn't have to force quit them because they wouldn't shut down at all. Other times, applications I need to use everyday wouldn't open. I found myself getting slowly shut out of the internet because my girl's outdated processor meant I couldn't upgrade any of my browsers. Though she'd served me faithfully for years, I knew it was time. Today she sits on a shelf in my closet while I have a new friend- a brand new Mac Mini that's...well, I won't bore you (LIKE I HAVEN'T ALREADY) with all the details that make it so super terrific. The point is, I can finally game on my computer.

Well, I'll be able to run just about anything once I get Windows installed; for now, I'm still relegated to the anemic world of Apple gaming.

I tell you all this because it's the reason I came across FTL: Faster Than Light the other day. Had I access to all the games of the world on my computer, I would have skipped by FTL without a backwards glance. The graphics are pleasing, yes, but rudimentary. A strategy game? A simulator? Managing resources? Not my cuppa. But! Hey, it's under $10 and it'll run on Mac? Why, I'd better take a closer look...

As I'd never heard of this game, I looked up a few reviews and noticed that they all had something in common: rather than the standard rundown of graphics, gameplay, plot and the like, each writer told the tale of the crew of his or her ship and, more to the point, how they all died. Every story is different because while elements are similar or the same, the path your ship takes in FTL is largely randomized and no two runs will be identical.

The story is bare bones: you're the captain of a ship holding on to some sensitive information for the Federation. You've got to make your way across 8 sectors of the galaxy to deliver that info while avoiding pirates, slavers, solar flares, ion storms, hostile aliens and more...all while the Rebel fleet is hot on your heels trying to kill you dead. And believe me- kill you dead they will. Or someone else will. You will die very, very frequently, and in the roguelike FTL, it's permadeath. There is no saving, there is no going back, and FTL is difficult and unforgiving...and holy crap, is it fun.

As you can see in the top-down view, most rooms on your ship contain a system: shields, engines, weapons, oxygen, and so on. Each is upgradable (points are purchased with "scrap", FTL's currency), and each system needs power to run. Enemy ships will frequently target one or more of these areas, and as captain, it's up to you to quickly solve the ever-mounting problems before your hull is destroyed (and you and your crew along with it).

In one of my first games, I came across a Rebel ship that had been retrofitted for transport and I had the option to let them go on their merry way or to demand they hand over all their goods. I fancied myself as some sort of scoundrel-type of captain, so I chose the latter...and the Rebels did not simply roll over and give in to my obscene demands. We both powered up our weapons and while my lasers were trying to pew pew through their layers of shields, they launched a missile that promptly took out my cameras and sensors- nearly every room was now blacked our and I couldn't see what was happening in my own ship.

I launched a missile of my own and took down their shields. As I waited for my laser to recharge, I sent a crewman to fix the surveillance equipment. The enemy countered with a missile to my engine room, which destroyed that and with it, any chance that I may simply power up my FTL and jump away from this skirmish.

Finally, I'd chipped away at their weapons enough to disable them; at least I'd have some time to breathe without them firing on me. Of course, as I'd delegated my crew to repair duty, so would the Rebels; their weapons would be back online before long.

I sent another crewman to fix the engines and then the surveillance system came back online: that's when I saw that the missile that had taken out the cameras had also blasted a hole in my fuselage. In all of my scrambling since that first direct hit, I hadn't noticed the oxygen meter steadily counting down...and now, O2 levels were at about 42%. My crewman began frantically trying to repair the damage, but he simply wasn't fast enough. My entire crew asphyxiated, and I have to say...if I were those Rebels, I would have boarded and taken all of my goods just to rub it in my dead face.

Mind you, I was woefully unprepared for that battle. It was early on in my playthrough and I was lacking sufficient weapons, shield strength, everything. As another playthrough taught me, though, you can never be too prepared.

The Cocoa II (yes, you can name your ships and crewmembers) was a force to be reckoned with: I had offensive and defensive drones, an automated robot dude who could board enemy ships and wreak havok, and a full crew of varying alien species. My shields were substantial. I'd freed some slaves, helped out some stranded ships, bought long-range scanners...this run, I thought, would be the one to deliver that oh-so sensitive information.

Then I landed at a beacon planted too close to a sun. And there was an angry enemy ship there, too, who didn't care that a solar flare was imminent. They fired up their weapons.

Before I could react, a laser cut across my hull and took out my engines. Their drone knocked my shields down to half-strength. A missile took out my weapons. My offensive drone was firing a steady volley of lasers at my enemy, but they were strong and their shields weren't budging.

Then came that solar flare, and suddenly the room housing my oxygen regulators was on fire. I opened some blast doors and an airlock in an attempt to snuff out the fire before this crew was asphyxiated.

And then a signal sounded: the enemy had boarded my ship, and they were quickly pummeling my weaker crewmen to death.

More enemy fire. Another solar flare. Within 30 seconds, the Cocoa II had gone from being my pride and joy to being completely obliterated, turned into so much cosmic dust and completely forgotten in the ongoing Federation-Rebel war.

But the Cocoa III! She'll be the one to bring me home to glory. I tells ya, death has never been so addictive.

Friday, September 21, 2012

And what are YOU playing?

The Gameological Society asked me recently about what games I'm playing and if you want to read my answers, well guess what?? YOU CAN.

I would only add that I picked up FTL: Faster Than Light last night and was immediately hooked like it was my first sweet sweet whiff of meth!

Okay, so I don't go around whiffing meth. Hugs not drugs! I also recently started watching Breaking Bad and I'm totally hooked on that, too.

Anyway, I'll talk more in-depthly about FTL very soon. For now let it suffice to say: it's just plain awesome. She may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts, kid.