Design Bites: FTL: Faster Than Light

The "Design Bites" series is about learning or appreciating just one design element of one game. It's about applying an analytical eye, even if it doesn't touch on everything.


What's FTL: Faster Than Light?

FTL: Faster Than Light is a roguelike top-down space-sim developed and released by Subset Games in Late 2012. The player manages a small spaceship and crew, arranging them on the ship and adjusting power levels for various systems like shields, weapons and engines. You jump from area to area, where you may encounter other ships or answer distress calls. All the while, the rebel fleet advances on your position, making areas behind you dangerous.

What's Awesome?

Permadeath, an important element of the roguelike formula. When used correctly it creates a bond between the player and their character. It immerses us by making our decisions carry more weight and encourages us to care for the characters we're controlling more deeply - emotionally. FTL is great example of these things.

As a new player, FTL excels at creating a feeling of desperation - every choice carries tension. Each time you jump to a new location, you are presented with a choice. This could be the choice to avoid or engage a hostile ship, but it could also be to answer a call for help, a trade offer or any number of other things.


These, sometimes moral, choices have a large impact on your ship both immediately and for the long term future. You need resources like fuel to make the trip, and missiles to defend yourself.

You may begin the game by fighting all slave ships you encounter on moral grounds but, eventually, you might reach a point where doing business with a slave trader might be the key to your survival. You are put into positions where you may need to take advantage of someone, fight unwillingly, or give away precious scrap just to avoid dying and losing all your progress. 

Moral choices in games often amount to a choice between some absolute "good" and "evil", where the only difference is who gives you quests and what color your eyes glow. In FTL they are about doing the right thing versus doing the smart thing, and I found myself agonising over both.