Javy: Hello! We are here at Game Chats! I’m talking to Bryant Francis.
Javy: Bryant, where have you written?
Bryant: I previously wrote for http://www.Jacehallshow.com, which a blog was tied to the Jace Hall Show on IGN. Currently my writing can be seen over on sevencut.com where we’ve got some good writers together and are putting together some good work, and we’ve been lucky enough to be featured on This Week in Video Game Blogging. I was very happy because then Gamasutra reposted that week’s thing; I was like “Yay, I made it to Gamasutra!” So I can be seen on SevenCut right now.
Javy: All right.
Bryant: And on Twitter @RBryant2012.
Javy: Awesome. I’m Javy Gwaltney; I’m one of the two members of Game Chats! And today we’re going to be talking about FTL: Faster Than Light.
Bryant: [pause] Wee? Because we’re…we’re going faster than light.
Javy: FTL was one of the first huge Kickstarter games, right? Like it had a Kickstarter campaign. It got funded, and it’s just been a really big success for those two guys, ‘cause two developers did it.
Javy: Very small. They were both from uh…can’t remember—I think it was 2K. And then they just decided they wanted to do their own thing. So Faster Than Light is their game, and it’s a rouge-like, and it’s what I wish the latest Star Trek game that came out was like. The latest Star Trek game is terrible. Don’t play it. FTL feels like it nails that sort of exploratory space with aliens and galaxies and getting in—not dogfights, I guess, but massive battlecruisers fighting one another.
Bryant: I think the difference between FTL and other games that try to chase the Star Trek dream is two ideas. The idea of the crew, which by not making you a single person on the crew and you are the entire crew—literally you could lose all your party members at the front and have all new party members by the end, and you’re still the same entity. You’re not actually the captain of this ship. You’re more like the ship itself. There’s actually a weird little thought experiment you could have about that.
It’s the crew and, believe it or not, I think it’s the whole shifting…it’s the power management. Literally shifting your power around the ship that combined with the other things we discussed—the combat, the exploring, the negotiations. I think that’s what actually makes us, reminds us of Star Trek because those are the two things I always thought separated Star Trek the show from all the other science fiction from around the time, which was emphasis on the crew and every single encounter they were in there was some emphasis on negotiating that power, which is a strange thing to focus on, I think, but it’s really one of the things that adds that feel for me.
Javy: Yeah, so it’s really interesting that you’re talking about like the actual ship being an entity itself where you’re controlling everything on it because I’ve read some reviews before I came online and a lot of them were making Picard references, so y’know, “Well, you’re the captain and it feels like you’re ordering your crew mates to raise the shields, uh divert shield energy or weapons energy to engines so you can escape faster.” So it’s really interesting that you havea different take, that you’re actually controlling everyone—you’re the hivemind of the ship.
Bryant: Oh god, maybe this is secretly a game about the Borg.
Javy: Heh, the Borg game. You just don’t realize it!
Bryant: Yahtzee always has funny reviews. His review on the game was actually very recent. He said it’s the kind of game where you sit back in your chair and tell someone else what to do, like “Hey, shift power to the shields, open fire—or hail them.” I thought his observation was interesting, given that no physical crew members are ever identified as the Captain! I’m actually reminded all of a sudden about for the description of Joss Whedon’s Firefly, the way they always describe the ship as the seventh cast member…or like the ninth cast member—oh fuck it I don’t remember.
Javy: Whatever that number is.
Bryant: The “nth” cast member. Replace “n” with the number. I think it’s an interesting way to read the game is that you’re playing that entity that is the nth cast member, which sort of has its own personality and inhabits the decisions of everyone on the ship. And I think that’s kind of a nice thing to toy with. Um, the resurrection bit, the Edge of Tomorrow bit, the permadeath bit, that’s the next thing to mull over in relation to that.
Javy: Yeah, that’s like the consistent quality of all rouge-likes, y’know, learn through death. You lose your shit…y’know, you earn all this shit and then you lose it, and what you’re really getting is experience. That’s the real value of playing; you’re learning the game’s rules and systems um and it’s not just special equipment that lets you break the game, that you can kill literally everything, so I think that’s the appeal of games like FTL and The Binding of Isaac. And I like those games about the same. They have kind of the same feel except that the Binding of Isaac is a creepy little Zelda game in a basement, with religious overtones. So, what else besides the genre that FTL is in, like it’s an exceptional rouge-like game, but what else besides the rouge-like bits make it so interesting? It’s a pretty big hit, like, they were comfortable enough with it that they’ve been having sales on it all the time—just like Hotline Miami. So it’s had some success.
Bryant: Yep. Well, I think the thing is we have to go back to the original—like rouge-like is obviously a reference to the game Rogue, which was a procedurally generated RPG from…before I was picking up a Gameboy, quite possibly. FTL is not like other rogue-likes because it is a tactical game, a strategy game, a turn…in essence it’s a turn based game where every jump you make is more akin to Final Fantasy in some ways than uh dungeon crawling. And I think the itch is scratches is not just an itch for navigation or reflex-based challenges but a tactical…thinky kind of game.
Bryant: It’s not for…instead of who has the fastest finger in the room, it’s sit back and see everything and understand the variables that can come into play. And I think that through those instincts that’s what you pick up, that’s what rouge-like is trying to train you on with those instincts. And I think that it’s trying to train you…whereas other games like Rouge were trying to train you about those reactions, FTL is trying to train you about systems and the management we discussed earlier. I think I have stopped…I have now played FTL to the point now that I can snooze through the first couple of star systems, though you really need to make upgrades by star system 3 or you’re screwed. And there are all these shortcuts now that I just didn’t know at the front, like if there’s a fire on the ship I do not waste time telling my people to put out the fire. I just vent the room and tell them to go head somewhere else. Uh, also fun fact: the little challenges that FTL presents you that until you go read up online or until you just experiment with it…you don’t know how to handle them right away. For instance, stupid fact: I did not know that the Zoltan cruiser, which is my current ship of choice to try and get a game-winning run, I didn’t know it had airlocks at the back of the ship! I kept trying to vent it with the airlocks at the front and that only kind of sometimes worked. Obviously that would be a poorly designed…I actually thought they wanted to make a ship that was locked so tight like the, weirdly enough like the SR-2 Normandy from Mass Effect, um, that there was only one airlock. And I was completely wrong on that front. And then I discovered the doors later and was like “Oh I feel like an idiot.”
Javy: Well that’s one of the things I like about the game too (while we’re talking about tactics) is that you really have to pay attention to everything. The ship’s design isn’t just an aesthetic thing. It’s also tactical, like you say, with where the airlocks are um just especially the squares too. You have to know pretty much where every section of the ship is without looking for it. You have to know where the engine room is, you have to know where the armament room is, so you can send your crew mates if something gets damaged and not looking around with your little mouse. But there’s also….I found it really interesting that you can pause in battle when you’re battling with another ship. And it’s a little bit like the Final Fantasy quality you were talking about earlier where you have to think several moves ahead, even though there aren’t technically “moves.” It’s not like Chess or You Go and then They Go, it’s just when can the two of you launch weapons? It’s just delays on weapons. So it’s interesting that they have that pause function as like a major part of battle; I’d argue that it’s the most important part because then you can look at what rooms they have if you have the correct technology to peer into their ship.
Bryant: Yeah, I don’t think you can win the game without using the pause button, because I’ve noticed now that in my battle with the final cruiser now…you use that pause button to literally precision-time the strikes you need to make. And like if you have the cloak you need to use it to time your cloak. You need to like pause, breath, plan, move. Then pause, breath, plan, move. There’s a game I saw at E3 that had a similar mechanic, but it wasn’t turn-based; it was based off the Iridium engine. It’s called Pillars of Eternity from Obsidian, and they were demoing that game, and it was the same function. “We are building in a pause button not just so you can go get a sandwich but so that you can tell your people where to go next. Also Knights of the Old Republic, another older game I recall using that system very well. So that’s actually beyond the rouge-like, that’s just a mechanic that invites thinking and planning.
Javy: I find it interesting in FTL because one of the big inspirations behind this…we’ve said Star Trek, we’ve said Firefly, maybe a little of Battlestar Galactica…just sort of those sci-fi/space operas—but being able to pause in mid-battle sort of uh goes against that because in those battles captains have to make decisions really quickly, like on their feet.
Bryant: Well here’s the question: does it? I’m about to get weird on you for a second.
Javy: All right, get weird on me.
Bryant: Is not the pause in FTL equivalent to however much time the camera and editing allow a commander in those narratives to make a decision? For instance, Star Trek…I think Star Trek abused this—the amount of time that the shields would actually go down in Star Trek is never consistent, and can either go really fast or really slow…it always went down to what the writers needed to pace the scene according to the experience they were designing, because film mediums and interactive mediums are both experiences that audiences have psychological reactions to. I could dig in longer into why camera, pacing, editing, blah blah blah affect whether I’m going to laugh or feel tense at something. In a sense, the FTL pause is just using another tool inherent to the genre. Which is the characters need to have X amount of time to make X much decisions as we will write in. And like everything else they’re handing it to the player, so like Picard has as much time as the writers will give him. Since these are mediums that have time constraint and an interest curve, there is a tool that writers have available to them, which is kind of innate, intrinsic, and not discussed openly ever in the show or talking about the show or in the characters’ motivations in the show, but it’s a tool used in the experience that I think has been handed to the player—just as we’ve handed the player control of the weapons, control of diplomacy, control of their buying power, we’ve handed them the ability to control the pacing of their fight the same way that in Star Trek the pace of the encounters is being controlled there as well.
Javy: Okay, so is the player the writer and the captain at the same time then, would you say?
Bryant: We’ve given them tools that were previously hidden, I would say. They’re not so much the writer as they are…they’ve been granted a power—Picard had both the power of his literal background as a character and whatever the writers, like literally the editing of time itself around the scene. We’re not making the player the writer, we’re just giving them a tool previously held to the writers. I think that’s the best way to phrase it.
Javy: Okay, I gotcha.
Bryant: And that maybe complete gobblygook but it’s one of those things that when I think about it I don’t think there’s actually that huge of a difference between Picard and the player, in that respect. I don’t think Picard has to think on his feet faster than the player does because Picard as a fictional character in a medium designed to deliver an experience has the same tools the player has…we just handed them to the player.
Javy: You did get weird on me, but I follow you. You did not lie: you got weird on me.
Bryant: It’s cause…I think it’s cause we keep making these comparisons to sci-fi things. I think we sometimes forget that film and TV are designed and planned for audience reaction just as games are. We’ve just inherited this entire set of language about it that we assume “oh when Picard did this and this thing it was his own reality,” but from a designer/thinker point, that was crafted, executed—everything down to the cuts and edits had just as much of an impact as that space bar. Y’know, the space bar is actually more akin to using Final Cut in the film world. The space bar is the same thing as a camera cut; you pause…you’re manipulating the perception of time to affect the outcome of events. And I think the most important thing, and this actually comes into the different between film medium and interactive medium, is that we’ve taken that thing that was previously just held by masters and handed it to the audience. I might have just completely repeated myself, but I really liked the Final Cut analogy.
Javy: No, no, there was some new information in there. Some retreading, but new information, so you’re good.
Bryant: So if I could actually make a left turn on something I think is one of FTL’s underrated accomplishments and it’s a reason the game won awards. The writer, I forget his name, was nominated for like 30 awards…and FTL has interesting writing and sense of humor going on—
Javy: Tom Jubert.
Bryant: Tom Jubert! Yeah. What do you think about the game’s writing? I think there’s three overall concepts we talk here; there’s the writing, its sense of humor, and its moral decision making.
Javy: Yeah, we need to talk about—actually let’s save the moral choices for last because I read an interesting article on that before this cast that I want to talk to you about. Let’s talk about the humor because FTL is a very funny game, and its subtlety funny too. Some of it is just nods to old Star Trek episodes. Most of it’s during the interactions with other planets or abandoned space ships or when you fuck yourself over by deciding to investigate a space station, and there turn out to be like aliens or robots and you’re just like “aww fuck.” It’s humorous. It’s frustrating because you screwed yourself over but at the same time there’s sort of a grim gallows humor about it.
Bryant: It’s kind of…I would love to play FTL as a board game with a DM. I feel like I should be at PAX; I should have like this guy with rim glasses at the same table as me and I make a decision and they just look at it and go “Well you did this and giant spiders just murdered one of your crew members.” And I think everyone at the table would just laugh.
Javy: Yeah. Exactly.
Bryant: And on my own by this point I’ve stopped laughing a little bit, but everything written in the game could be written like it’s being said by a DM. I think like…I think some of the other funny comes from like the random things that can happen on your ship. I think there’s almost something inherently funny to what you’re doing, like sometimes people catch fire and you feel like you’re watching little ants run out of oxygen if you decide to vent your enemy ships—
Javy: It’s the sadistic Sims thing, right?
Javy: Where you like put ‘em in a pool and take out the ladder and watch them..y’know, perish. It’s the same thing.
Bryant: God, I love starving people of oxygen on my ship. I just…it never gets old.
Javy: I’m gonna put that in bold Bryant. What you just said in bold.
Bryant: It never gets old! I never panic. Put a bunch of Mantis on my ship? Don’t care just… [mimics the sound of air being sucked out of a ship] out the airlock! Oh god but the Advanced Edition added the new enemies who remove air from the room so they can’t be hurt by the airlock. They are scary dangerous. I haven’t had too much trouble with them yet. I actually managed to recruit one of them, and it’s like “wait, I can’t put you in the same room as anyone else, so where am I gonna stick you?” Security. Just on the cams. It’s really funny. There’s just like this one…your oxygen bar I permanently set at 95% and there’s this one guy who’s just like “I am removing all the oxygen…but I am on your side.”
Javy: Did you ever teleport him aboard an enemy ship?
Bryant: I haven’t made…I’ve only used the teleporter once and it went very badly.
Javy: Do tell.
Bryant: It was basically “Well, I’m gonna use the teleporter. I’ll just send the crew.” And then everyone on their ship just punched them to death. It does not work well with the Zoltans because most of your crew only has 75 health. You need a lot of guys to make the teleporter work, which is weird because in the original edition you needed teleporter to win the game, according to people I’d talked to, because you need the right amount of scrap, and in Advanced Edition I noticed they upped the value of scrap you get from destroying ships—especially in the endgame. And if you get the scrapbooster uhhh and a couple of other…well, you’re set for days, but in the old edition there was a point where you have to pillage them, like you can’t destroy them you have to—and it’s like “What the fuck?” That’s so hard!
Bryant: Because I don’t think the combat’s not like Age of Empires or Warcraft where there’s tons of intricacies to navigate there. You’re just navigating dudes punching each other, and I don’t think it’s very fun. I’m not a fan of that mechanic, actually. I’m not a fan of the successful boarding phase.
Javy: Yeah, it’s not very fun and it’s always a crapshoot whether your crew will survive or not. And I feel like that’s some—that’s a good portion of FTL that I’m just not crazy about. The balance between skill and luck. You could be the best FTL player possible and I think you can still lose at least half the time you start up the game. You just don’t hit the right resources, you don’t find the right ships, you don’t find a station in enough time, you don’t have enough fuel, so on and so forth—
Bryant: God, the most annoying one I’ve encountered so far was, I encountered an Ion planet, which I think are new to the advanced edition. And it took out my guns AND my shields. And so…they just lit my gun room on fire.
Javy: Ouch. Oh no.
Bryant: And that was it! There was nothing to be done. Evacuate the room, try to vent it? Nope. Okay. The shields come back up, but I still can’t take out there weapons—I had a really good ship! But the mechanics can turn on you so quickly. There are these strange little combinations where this, this, that [makes tomato squishing sound] like a bad fire in the wrong sector takes out your door control and you’re screwed. Then you have to put out the fires by hand and you just can’t do that. That’s ruined me like twice but I’ve learned how to strategize around it a little bit.
Javy: It’s a little frustrating because on paper I want to like that, I think that’s a great idea—forcing the player into these Kobayashi Maru situations over and over, because I’m sadistic and masochistic, so I like that. But when you actually play it and you’re dying constantly, and you play let’s say an hour or hour and a half getting the best ship that you’ve gotten so far. Like it’s a magnificent ship, you’ve lucked out and you found four or five crewmates that are awesome—and then you lose everything. And there’s nothing you really could have done about that. When that happens, I just get so mad, like FTL is one of the few games where I’ve just ragequit. I don’t do that often. I’ve only done that recently in Dark Souls and FTL.
Bryant: I kind of did it in League last night but that’s because someone was telling me I should quit the game. No, this was two nights ago. Unrelated! That’s PVP.
Javy: Yeah, that’s just some guy being an asshole. So, what do you think of the luck/skill ratio? Does it bother you? Do you think it’s fair?
Bryant: I’m starting to hit a point now where I don’t like it because I’ve nearly killed this friggin’ endgame ship three times now and I don’t like that—like you said you could really be the best player and just get fucked—and I wish, I think there’s a point where with that luck/skill ratio the balance is slightly on the wrong side sorta. There needs to be a point where your skill can overcome the luck, and it does not exist. And you’re just waiting for that one run where you’ll have the hacker and all the guns AND the mind control although…would mind control be helpful in the endgame? I guess if you used them to destroy the systems or take out the guns by having them blow them up. That’d be useful.
Javy: And it’s also that the last run to the last ship is so grueling, like it is this gauntlet, where you have to fight ship after ship after ship and hope you find a station. It’s just really frustrating to play like an hour to two hours and get there and just lose everything.
Bryant: There’s also still random encounters along the way that are just completely off the wall, like what the fuck just happened? Like I found a quest and did the quest until I got to the end of the quest and suddenly found myself at a station fighting a ship and that planetary defense gun was online, the one that will just uh, the Fuck You Gun, as I like to call it. It’s the one that the fleet has if they catch up to you. And it’s there and it’s like “what uh—“ [explosion sounds]
Bryant: And you think you’re winning! And then just—and also I think the ship was like one sector level higher than it was supposed to be. I remember thinking “wait I’m not supposed to be fighting people this powerful.” And then it was done, and it hasn’t happened since. I will say this: the only thing I absolutely hate and is terrible and absolutely ruins my playthrough like every time—the giant spiders encounter. That thing is statistically designed, unless obviously you have a rock crew member that you can send in and stomp the spiders, to take out one of your crew members. There is no win against the spiders. I’m pretty sure if you look in the game there’s like a 75% chance that this outcome will happen. Although, from a writing standpoint what I do enjoy is…I went to, there’s only a handful of quests to get the ships have a specific script that you can survive…like you can look up online and play in advance. I do enjoy that every other random encounter, there is no guaranteed survival ordeath. It could go either way, like there’s this one that’s “red button or blue button?” and I’m like “this must be part of a challenge because I haven’t encountered it before,” so I look online and either of these can lead to doom. So I’m like “shit.”
Bryant: So the game can just randomly decided to kill you, or not.
Javy: Yeah, and again that’s something I love on paper, that’s a concept I’d really be gung-ho about and something that, if I was a designer, I’d probably go for. But as a player playing it, I get really angry. Since…since we’re talking about writing, let’s talk about the moral choices. So what moral choices did you want to talk about? Are there any in the game that stick out in your mind?
Bryant: To start out: I love that the moral choices are not—there is no Bioware morality meter. There is no Renegade or Paragon, obviously. There are just decisions…where what you do has an impact on people in the universe but has zero…there is zero long-term consequence for all of it. So the only way you can make decisions…there is no good/bad reason to anything. Because you could be playing the crew like you’re the Enterprise and you’re trying to save everyone or you could play it like you’re the crew of the Serenity and you’re just doing what you need to to survive, or you could play like you’re Klingons and ruthlessly pillaging throughout the galaxy. Um, so there’s the slavers, there’s the federation convoys that you can destroy or bribe to delay the fleet, there’s the Mantis prisoner dilemma. There’s all these little moments where the game doesn’t judge you for any of it, although sometimes it may get snarky with you based on what you’ve done, like you’ll try to help some people and accidentally blow them up. And it’ll just say “you try to clean up the scrap without thinking too much about what just happened.” Um but I like that on the road to victory it says that you might do some things that you’re uncomfortable with. Especially the mercy option. Like so many ships beg you for mercy but unless…my only rule is if they’re offering me a lot of fuel, I’ll say yes. If they’re offering me anything else, I’ll say no because it’s always more advantageous to blow them up.
Javy: Yep. ‘Cause of scrap.
Bryant: Yes, scrap and…well unless they’re offering a weapon right then and there, there might be a weapon in the loot.
Javy: Yeah, which even if you’re not gonna use that weapon it’s still worth a lot of scrap. I find that…I’m actually more comfortable Zoltan weaponry, so I find that I trade most of the weapons that I pick up for scrap to get other stuff.
Bryant: And I think that’s true to the Star Trek thing. Star Trek was great about making all these episodes where these characters had to go through some really tough decision making and it never expressed a firm…I mean, it had some liberal underlying morality—and I do mean liberal in the most traditional sense of the word, like John Locke liberal kind of deal, Western type thinking—um I think it does a good job of letting the player have those encounters and have their own little, their “Did I do the right thing?” moments. And then what’s great is that they’ll get to do it again…go try the other option and they’re not going to get a solid answer because the game doesn’t want…the game does a great job of not wanting to force you into one decision or the other.
Javy: Yeah, before this I read an article, a piece on the slavery option in FTL and the author, Chris, doesn’t come out and necessarily present an argument against it in his article, he’s most just observing it and I wanted to read his summary—or his conclusion because I thought it was really interesting: “While the game never addresses it explicitly, FTL presents a universe in which slavery is simultaneously morally reprehensible and strategically significant.” What do you think about that?
Bryant: I think it’s interesting because there’s some zero gain options in the slavery. The slavery mechanics are some interesting mechanics. On the one hand, you encounter slavers and they say “hand over your crew or else,” there’s no reason to hand over your crew members. You should always fight because you need crew members and you need the scrap. There is no reason to participate in slavery. Sometimes they offer to let you buy slaves…uh obviously that’s a way to get a crew member for cheaper than what the stores will offer, but when you fight them, 90% of the time…there’s only been a few times where they wouldn’t make you a surrender offer and then offer the slave for free. So you’re kind of forcing them out of the slave game by saying “hey free a slave and we’ll let you live.” And the other slaves are obviously condemned. There’s no mechanic to free all the slaves; you cannot be Abraham Lincoln. The way I feel the it casts the player is that you don’t participate in slavery so much as you can just be…a part of its system, like you can skill slaves and you can buy slaves but you can’t obviously trade in slaves and the game puts you in all these positions where it wants you to work against the slavers. There’s rarely a time where you’re cooperating with slavers.
Javy: But see, you said “participate.” Isn’t buying a slave participating in that?
Bryant: Yes, but…er…I think it’s up to how you interpret it because I feel like you’re buying a slave but on your ship how do you judge if they’re still a slave? Because doesn’t the text also imply that you’re buying and freeing them?
Javy: I can’t remember to be completely honest.
Bryant: I’m at the point where I just skip past the dialogue sometimes. Y’know..1,2,3….asshat bonus! But it does put them in the same exact position as being on the ship as part of your crew. They’re equal from that regard. You’re buying them, but you could also be freeing them, which I still haven’t read enough think pieces on like when that happens in movies to decide if it’s part of the system or not. Like when you buy a slave and free them, or you still participating in the system? I don’t know…quite where I land on that.
Javy: I think that’s interesting that you bring up sort of the former/possibly still slave on the ship because that says something about the sort of nebulousness and vagueness of the characters and of FTL because you don’t really get to know your crew members. They’re basically just names, races—alien races—and stats. What do they bring to the ship?
Bryant: Yeah, you can’t romance anyone either.
Javy: I know, right? That’s so sad. Can’t have a Garrus. You know how much that upsets me?
Bryant: I name crew members Garrus and Shepard.
Javy: And then they die!
Bryant: Oh god I think my favorite…because this is Mass Effect …. I did a run where my Ship was called Lover’s Wreck, with Shepard, Garrus, and Liara which is also what I called my squad in Mass Effect 3.
Javy: What do you think of that vagueness in the writing? Is that a problem that maybe there aren’t assigned traits, like in Rogue Legacy and, more recently, Watch_Dogs? Would it better for it…for something to say maybe like “colorblind” or “enjoys pizza on Wednesday nights but no other night,” y’know just some wacky stuff—would that be better?
Bryant: I’ve read Jubert’s blogging on what it’s like to be a designer in his position and I agree with a lot of what he said where you really, really, really wanted to actually step back from elements like that where you as an author are trying to dictate things to the player because I feel like one of the things that Jubert’s writing—and I’ve forgotten what else he’s written—and I’ve put these thoughts together by reading about what else he’s written…I think that right now FTL lets you feel in the gaps in so many ways and it’s just that nice…it’s not fucking obtuse, it’s not like saying “you make it up!” It’s just saying hey…it’s like we poke you and your reaction is to interpret the poke. We give you this piece of information and build intent on it. Actually, funny enough, we can reference Ian Bogost’s wonderful article “Shaka, When The Walls Fell,” which is about Star Trek. And he talks about the separation between these forms of communication and how the game is presiding intent; it gives you an arch form of this science fiction thing and you either ascribe…we as an American culture, a Western culture have like…the Rock are Klingons and the energy things are vague energy things that show up in science fiction and the Mantis are the bug enemy. Um, and we can fill in the gaps on these things but we can also subvert and manipulate our expectations by…by the way when you get Mantises names Claudia for some reason. I don’t know why. You get a lot of Mantises, Rocks, and Engis who have girl human names, and I think that’s an interesting subversion. I think what FTL does instead of adding all these specific things to create a lore and a universe…it leaves you with this canvas that you just sort of paint on. I think it’s a good decision to let you paint on that canvas because If you try to add anything else it would just eliminate some of its strengths, like the weird writing, like the moral choices, and I think it’s better that it pulls back. I don’t want to know why the rebels are evil. Some of the rebels you encounter are like “hey I don’t want to fight you but also what would I be without a war?” So there’s some light implication about who the rebels are and so there is some inherent political machinations of its own, but I think anymore and it wouldn’t be as interesting.
Javy: Yeah. We’d get bogged down in all that stuff. But even then, still, I just wish—and it’s weird because I don’t have this problem with something like Fire Emblem but I guess those characters have more characteristics applied to them anyway—I just wish there was a little more to get me attached to his crew…I just don’t like seeing them as X-Com units. I want something more to get attached to, but I do get the reasoning. I do understand.
Bryant: I feel like the act of letting you name them is more powerful than giving them backstories, because, like I said, I made Lover’s Wreck. I called my ship The Bastion, filled it up with my roommates. I’ll call it Wintersmith and fill it with my crew from Wintersmith. (My film)
Javy: Didn’t you fill a ship with a bunch of game critics and they all died?
Bryant: Yes. Repeatedly.
Bryant: Because I won’t run with a ship once. I’ll run with it repeatedly. I’m still running—I have a save right now and will get back to it after this call. It’s filled with my E3…I’m putting people I met at E3 in it, so my friend Carli from The Escapist and Mike from Automatic Zen, yeah I’ll do that. And then sometimes I’ll make up characters—I just think that act is more important than giving backstory. I think it’s just such a good decision about what to give the player agency over. And a lot of people will just go with the default names, but for people who like wanna kill their friends they’ll go with those names, but sometimes people say “I wanna go on an adventure with my…” uh hang on, let me reverse the camera real fast. Um. So I will name them after everyone up here on my shelf.
[Bryant pans the camera over a bookcase featuring such figures as Chell from Portal and Gipsy Danger from Pacific Rim]
Bryant: Like I’ll call it The Normandy and put Gipsy Danger and Chell…Knifehead…Master Chief, I have three Master Chiefs (it’s a long story). I’ll do that and—
Javy: I’m super excited to transcribe that. “Bryant takes us over to his shelf. He shows us Chell. He shows us Gipsy Danger.”
Bryant: Yeah, totally. So I think there’s something more gamey in that, something more interactive in that—letting us fill in the backstory by deciding…like I said, the fact that I name it so often with my real life organizations is a reflection on me as a human being, and what organizations I put importance in.
Javy: Okay, that’s cool. That’s a fair answer. So before we go one last question: is it an honor to be on your ship even though it’s doomed, most likely? Like…let’s be generous and say there’s an 80% chance that your ship is doomed, is it an honor?
Bryant: I only bring the best people on my ship with me.
Javy: So they can die.
Bryant: Only the best.
Bryant: If you’re on my crew, we have served together in combat in the real world someway.
Javy: And now you will die.
Bryant: You won’t. Really. Oh wait, we didn’t talk about Edge of Tomorrow, the R=rouge-like movie!
Javy: Oh yeah. Oh well.
Bryant: If I can include one interesting thought on the rouge-like before—Sorry, I know we’re running over a little bit.
[MAJOR SPOILERS FOR EDGE OF TOMORROW]
Javy: It’s all right, it’s all right. It’s cool.
Bryant: One quick thought on The Edge of Tomorrow. So Edge of Tomorrow suffers from a plot problem that, and I don’t know if or how um (and it’s not a giant problem I still think the movie’s a great, fun watch by the way) so I think it’s interesting in how to interpret how FTL would handle it as well. In Edge of Tomorrow, tension is supposedly raised when Tom Cruise loses his ability to go back in time, but it is effectively also nullified because we understand the movie must end, there must be a happy ending of some kind. It might be a pyrrhic victory but this will not be a shaggy dog ending where it ends and “oh it was all for nothing.” We know that Tom Cruise is gonna win in some capacity. So the second they took away the rouge-like energy, the movie loses some momentum. What I would challenge: what if instead of the movie taking away his power, had him take something back with him like battle damage or a monster that goes back with him. They would have essentially added to their own reset mechanic. I wonder if FTL, and there are obvious rouge-likes that will let you keep things after you die, I think that you could argue Majora’s Mask is an interesting example of this; you always have to reset the clock but then they give you the ability to keep something, like some things can go back with you. I wonder if for rouge-likes as a genre if there’s room to experiment with what goes back with the player besides knowledge. Because we know knowledge and sometimes items, but what else can we send them back with that’ll affect the next run? That’s my Edge of Tomorrow tangent.
[SPOILERS OVER. YOU CAN STOP AVERTING YOUR EYES]
Javy: All right, it’s a good tangent to end on. Thanks for joining us Bryant.
Bryant: Thank you.
Javy: Be sure to play FTL if you haven’t yet, reader. It’s an interesting experience
Bryant: And hit me up at @RByrant2012 if you wanna join my crew.
Javy: Yes. Follow Bryant on Twitter. He is funny. All right, goodbye everyone. Thanks for joining us.