Friday Feature: FTL

Here’s a real life situation I encountered this week, and I think it’s pretty universal:

You’re sitting in your room lazily watching Star Trek: Voyager when you hear the peerless Captain Kathryn Janeway say something like, “reroute all available power to the shields and begin charging phasers!” You begin to think to yourself, “Gosh, I wish I could reroute power through some stuff and charge things to shoot other things…”

Well, the good news for you is that there’s a game that lets you do just that!

Enter the video game, FTL: Faster Than Light.

In video-game classification, FTL is a roguelike space-sim with simplistic graphics and a high degree of difficulty. Its almost flash-game-like graphics make it a very unassuming title in the ever-highly detailed landscape of AAA video games, but as I mentioned when I recommended the Infinity Engine, graphics don’t make a game!

And it’s also worth noting that FTL is definitely not a AAA game. It was kickstarter funded and can now be purchased on GOG.com for a whopping $9.99, but I’ve seen it dip down to $2.49 during their more aggressive sales.

FTL has a vague background story-line but the real fun of the game comes in the trial and error execution. When you play FTL, you’ll almost certainly lose the game a handful of times before making it to the final level. The random encounters and equipment drops mean you can never really count on having the same ship more than once.

Your starting ship isn’t much, but it gets the job done until you find some more impressive equipment.

Occasionally this is a frustrating aspect of the game. It hurts to have a really awesome layout and a great crew only to have your ship boarded by insectoid aliens that just tear it up from the inside out. Sigh.

Such as war, they say.

Dying is just part of the game! Eventually you learn the best way to deal with certain problems, but prepare to see your ship blow up a few times before you do.

BUT, even when you lose a really good setup, you won’t lose much time. The game can be completed in about an hour and a half (if you make it to the end) so you’re rarely going to be giving up more than just a little while and, if you’re anything like me, you’ll enjoy the process!

Friday Feature: The Infinity Engine

In honor of our first video-game themed weekly article, this week’s Friday Feature highlights a collection of quality games from the (relatively) ancient history of PC gaming.

These games all ran on a framework called the Infinity Engine, which was responsible for creating great strategy role-playing games, played from an “isometric” (in gaming, isometric typically refers to aerial third person) perspective.

The engine entered into the gaming scene in 1998 with its first game: Baldur’s Gate. It, like most of its Infinity successors, was a Dungeons and Dragons-based strategy rpg. While Baldur’s Gate may not have been the most polished of the Infinity games, it was probably the most popular. It received rave reviews and continues to have a thriving fan-base that was responsible for the recent reincarnation Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition.

Baldur’s Gate in its original (1998) incarnation.

One of the beauties of the Infinity engine was that it overlaid character sprites onto pre-rendered backdrops. While it doesn’t sound like much, it makes for really interesting and attractive environments.

Some of the other important games made in the Infinity Engine include: Planescape: TormentBaldur’s Gate IIIcewind Dale and Icewind Dale II.

Icewind Dale II (2002).

Icewind Dale II may have been the pinnacle of the engine’s performance, graphically speaking, but by current gaming standards, all of the Infinity Engine games will look sub-par.

That’s because they’re old! But what they have going for them outlasts graphical polish. They’re just great games! 

They tell fun stories that balance the right amount of dorky humor with interesting high-fantasy plot. They get probably closer than any other video games to getting the “feel” of playing Dungeons and Dragons around a table. And if you’re looking for a challenging game experience, any of these games set on the “AD&D Core Rules” difficulty setting will be sure to teach you the meaning of “challenge.”

If you’re interested in checking these games out, they’re available for very little money on GoG.com (if you’re undecided keep your eye out for a sale, these games are among the more frequently discounted, and they’re discounted price is typically in the $2-$4 range). If you have a computer built in the last 5 years, it will run the games if you pick them up from GoG.

If you’re among our wealthier readers, or you think you’ll be concerned with something silly like “screen resolution,” check out the Baldur’s Gate: Enchanced Edition, available only on Steam at the moment. Keep an eye out for the technical requirements on the enhanced edition, I’ve read that not all graphics cards agree with it.