Indie developers are the starving artists of the video-game world, often brilliant and innovative, but also misunderstood, underfunded and more prone to writing free-form poetry on their LiveJournals. We believe they deserve a wider audience with the Joystiq Indie Pitch: This week, Justin Ma and Matthew Davis of Subset Games describe their quick rise to space roguelike-like fame with FTL: Faster than Light, which recently launched on Steam for PC and Mac.
What’s your game called and what’s it about?
Justin Ma: Our game is called FTL: Faster than Light and we’ve been describing it as a “spaceship simulation roguelike-like.” The focus is on managing a spaceship and her crew as they explore a randomized galaxy. Combat requires you to control the crew to keep your ship running and fight off intruders, balancing your power distribution, and trying to wreak havoc on the enemy ship. In between fights the game is filled with “choose your own adventure” style text-based events with many possible outcomes.
Matthew Davis: The core game can be compared to something like Weird Worlds or Flotilla where the player is travelling to various star systems, encountering events and upgrading their ship. But the combat is focused on the ship interior as opposed to “dogfighting” in space.
What’s the coolest aspect of FTL?
Justin: Each element of the game is pretty simple on its own: Blast doors can restrict enemy movement on your ship; oxygen can be vented by opening the airlocks; fire spreads through open doors. When all of these interact you can get some amazing and unpredictable situations. Your crew might be trapped putting out a fire in the weapons rooms while at the same time boarders are trying to break the doors down because they’re suffocating after mistakenly sabotaging your oxygen system.%Gallery-166005%
Your Kickstarter was a gigantic success, raising more than $200,000 when you asked only for $10,000. How has that extra cash helped development or your personal lives?
Matthew: FTL was already so far along in development it would’ve been difficult to make any massive changes to the core game (especially if we wanted to meet our deadlines). We still found ways to make FTL better thanks for the funding. It has allowed us to dramatically expand our sound budget to include a much larger, absolutely brilliant soundtrack from Ben Prunty. And we’ve also contracted out our writer, Tom Jubert, to greatly expand the galaxy of FTL. The previous five alien races has turned into seven, all with unique personalities, ships and encounters that really add to the in game exploration.
On a personal level, it’s just pleasant to be able to release the game without worrying about how we’ll pay for food or rent.
What do you think intrigues players about FTL, so much so that they’ve over-funded its production and it’s been nominated for several awards, before the game was even released?
Matthew: FTL has managed to tap into something that people have wanted. Many of the early responses to the game were something along the lines of, “Oh I always wanted to make a game like this.” It’s thanks to the TV shows and movies that inspired us that other people have also been wanting games like these. I hope FTL starts to fill the gap in the gaming pantheon and inspires more people to make “spaceship simulation roguelike-likes.” There’s not enough supply and plenty of demand at the moment.
What inspired you to make FTL?
Matthew: Sci-fi classics like Star Trek and Firefly provided the base inspiration. We wanted to create the tactical experience of being a ship captain, yelling out orders and making decisions during a thrilling space adventure.
Justin: There are a lot of games that task the player with commanding a spaceship, but there are too few that focus on what goes on inside the ship. What does the crew do when missiles destroy the aft shields? What happens when the captain yells to vent the living quarters and prepare to be boarded? These are things we had never experienced in a video game before so we decided to make it.
Matthew: Inspirational credit also belongs to the previously mentioned “space roguelikes” Weird Worlds and Flotilla. And while the video game world has been lacking in internal ship control, board games like Red November, Battlestar Galactica, and Space Alert demonstrated to us how awesome the subject matter could be.
Has FTL retained its Firefly and Star Trek inspirational roots? How?
Justin: The entire premise of the game was inspired by those types of shows, books and movies, but it’s most obvious in the variety of text-based encounters. The randomized events capture the spirit of an episodic sci-fi show, where the ship and her crew never know what’s at the end of the next jump. It might be something silly like a massive space whale. Or it could be the dreaded Mantis engaging you in an epic battle so they can collect your fingers as trophies.
Matthew: And once combat begins, every action you do in the game would be something awesome for Lt. Commander Worf to yell: “Full power to engines! Target their starboard artillery! Shields down!” The game set out to put you in the shoes of your favorite commanders and FTL hasn’t lost that focus through to the end.
“Great design can be found everywhere and I hope the passion you often see in the independent world is also present in the rest of the industry.”
– Matthew Davis
Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?
Matthew: We both worked for a bigger game studio when we started in game development. Personally, I was having troubles getting excited about the projects I was working on, and was eager to do something on my own. Once we had the savings it seemed like an obvious choice to give it a go and see what we could make. FTL was created as something for ourselves that we could get excited about, and it’s amazing that it’s something other people want as well.
Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?
Matthew: I’d see myself as part of any movement that puts good game design forward as the primary goal. I don’t think that independent development necessarily has the monopoly on that. Great design can be found everywhere and I hope the passion you often see in the independent world is also present in the rest of the industry.
Sell FTL in one sentence:
Justin: “Firefly by way of Spelunky,” as Tom Francis put it.
Matthew: One thing at a time! We have enough on our plates making sure FTL is the greatest game we can make it without worrying about future projects. FTL is a unique design that has a lot of potential to be expanded on in future content, but that’s all up in the air. We’ll see how FTL works out and plan accordingly from there. A vacation from working seven days a week might be nice though.
FTL: Faster than Light is on sale on Steam (PC and Mac) to celebrate its launch, currently running $9 instead of the normal $10. Get it fast – no, faster!
If you’d like to have your own shot at converting our readers into fans, email jess [at] joystiq [dawt] com, subject line “The Joystiq Indie Pitch.” Still haven’t had enough? Check out the Pitch archives.
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