Games of 2012: FTL: Faster Than Light

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

FTL: Faster Than Light

It’s hard to think of a bigger source of both hope and anguish for the gaming community this year than Kickstarter. The success of some high-profile crowdsourcing campaigns brought on a massive flood of projects, many of them with lofty aspirations and promises that seemed too good to be true.

I’ve been told by a few friends that I have a “Kickstarter problem”, as I’ve now backed 34 projects. 19 of these have been for video games. FTL: Faster Than Light was the fourth game I backed, and the first one to actually ship. (None of the three I backed before it have shipped yet.) With just one play, the game reenforced my faith in the power of the funding model. If even a handful of games this enjoyable could come out thanks to Kickstarter or IndieGogo, it’s worth the risk.

I have never had a great relationship with space games. I have tried time and time again, but whether it’s a dogfighter ala Wing Commander or 4X games like Masters of Orion, there’s something about them that makes a game clicking with me much more difficult.

FTL avoids falling into that trap because it’s not rooted to the way space games normally flow. The pitch from the developers told me it was going to be different:

FTL is a spaceship simulation roguelike-like. Its aim is to recreate the atmosphere of running a spaceship exploring the galaxy (like Firefly/Star Trek/BSG etc.) In any given episode of those classic shows, the captain is always yelling “Reroute power to shields!” or giving commands to the engineer now that their Warp Core is on fire. We wanted that experience, as opposed to the “dog fighting in space” that most videogames focus on. We wanted a game where we had to manage the crew, fix the engines, reroute power to shields, target the enemy life support, and then figure out how to repel the boarders that just transported over!

The roguelike elements are (as is the case with most roguelikes) both fun and frustrating. There’s a variety of randomness in the systems you explore, but there’s nothing worse than wandering into a battle that wipes out a carefully upgraded ship you’ve spent hours with.

The combat is fulfilling in ways that dogfighting is not. It’s tactical rather than reactive, less about looping circles behind ships and more about running your crew around to boost and repair the systems you need to win the fight. A wide array of upgrades and components mean you can customize the tactics to your taste. Maybe you want to use energy weapons to spare yourself having to stock missiles, or load up on drones, or use a teleporter to beam your crew over to the enemy ship and take it down from the inside. The flexibility helps convey that feeling that you’re commanding the ship.

There’s also pressure driving you forward, which is rare in space games. You’re being chased by rebels across the map, which keeps pushing you forward. While you get some time to explore, sticking around for too long will lead to your inevitable death. There’s no market system to pump your resources with buying low and selling high – you have to acquire money and parts largely through combat or interactions with other ships.

It really is a wonderful and unique experience, and one that provides a shining example for what Kickstarter can do for the gaming industry. Of course, out of the remaining 18 projects, 14 still haven’t shipped – so it’s a little discouraging to have so many projects sending me constant text updates but not having games in hand. Hopefully by this time next year, I’ll have more examples than just FTL.

FTL is available for OS X and Windows.


My OS X Standard Apps, 2012 Edition

Lia recently posted about her favorite OS X apps, triggers by a recent rebuild of her Mac. It’s been a long time since I’ve cataloged what I’m using on my desktop, so here’s a quick inventory for the sake of having a list. Not every last I use, just the things I feel strongly about or think people may not have heard of.

Chrome – my general tolerance times for browsers tends to be about two or three years before I feel compelled to switch, but Chrome may finally break that trend. It remains zippy fast, has a good extension community, and it works well. Little quibbles are building – the new print pane is pointless, browser sync seems to break a lot when you have two-factor authentication, and I have a bad email address in my autocomplete I absolutely cannot seem to remove – but generally I’m still happy.
Favorite bit: background updates, rather than Firefox’s habit of alerting you about every last change to your extensions.

Reeder – it’s my RSS app of choice on iOS, and the desktop version is plenty nice as well. My general OCD about feed reading means I’ll typically have a browser with three tabs to Google Reader open, as well as having Reeder open in my dock – I should really use this more.
Favorite bit: Fully customizable keyboard shortcuts, so it works the same as the native Google Reader.

Adium – I took a lot of crap from friends over the years for choosing Adium over iChat. Apparently video chat and Direct IM were more important to them over tabbed conversations, multiple accounts compiled into the same window, or conversation logging that had search. As someone who’s been feverishly communicating by IM for half my life (!), I need a versatile IM client, and iChat is pretty inflexible.
Favorite bit: multiple profile support (hold Option on launch), so I can glom my work accounts into one profile, my home into another, and jump between them on launch.

YoruFukurou – generally, desktop Twitter clients fall into one of two buckets. Either they’re overly simplistic for day-to-day users (see: official client), or they’re over the top and intended for “social media consultants” (see: TweetDeck). YoruFukurou finds the difference, being a client meant for regular users that just happens to be full featured and have lots of customizations available.
Favorite bit: the hotkeys that let me either go to my full stream (Command-1), just the stream of the user I clicked on (Command-2), or the conversation of the tweet I clicked on (Command-3).

Aperture – everyone’s got their habits for photo post-processing and Aperture is mine. All of my post-processing workflows are there and I feel comfortable with it. FlickrExport for Aperture is a must, as the native Flickr support is TERRIBLE.
Favorite bit: the price tag, now $80 in the App Store, down from the $300 list price it had on its original release.

Transmit – another long-standing favorite, it does everything I need in an FTP/SFTP client.
Favorite bit: “Open With…” for remote files. Being able to toss things into my editor of choice and save them naturally to upload is something I take for granted now. Things used to be so much worse.

Paprika – I was looking for a recipe book application of choice for my iPad, when I stumbled onto Paprika. It was exactly what I wanted. The desktop version came out later, and it’s similarly indispensable. With the cloud sync between the two versions, I generally do recipe input on my iMac, and then cooking with the iPad in the kitchen.
Favorite bit: the in-app browser that recognizes most recipe sites, and gives you a glowing “Save Recipe” button to auto-create a new recipe. It’s like magic.

Notational Velocity – text editors are generally causes for holy wars among coders. As management, I don’t do much coding anymore (the bits I do, I use TextMate for). But I do often need to jot notes and refer back to them, and Notational Velocity excels at quick capturing of meeting notes or phone messages.
Favorite bit: cloud sync that works with SimpleNote on iOS.

Linkinus – it may defy all rational explanation, but I do still regularly use IRC. While I had been a Colloquy user up until a few weeks ago, Linkinus feels a bit more tended to and thought out.
Favorite bit: being able to favorite snippets of chat for later reference. Why did no one think of this sooner?

Transmission – if you need an OS X BitTorrent client, this is the one to go with.
Favorite bit: auto-grouping of torrents based on import criteria, so they’re all neatly arranged in a list.

Fantastical – best menu bar calendar add-on ever. Works with Outlook as well as iCal, so helps greatly at work.
Favorite bit: quick entry of events through text input.

Delivery Status – as someone who orders a ton of crap from Amazon, this is a life saver to know where my things are. If it wasn’t for this, I would never use Dashboard anymore.
Favorite bit: Growl notifications.

What are you all using these days?


Some Quick WWDC 2011 Keynote Thoughts

As you may have gathered, I’m not at WWDC this year – the recent job change made the timing difficult, as I’m still trying to get through the first 90 days. Not only that, this was the first year in quite a while where I made no effort to follow the keynote as it happened – if only because it again fell on my birthday, and I had more important things to obsess over.

But, as the sort of typical post that comes out of me around this time of year, here are my fractured impressions of what Apple laid out at the keynote.

OS X Lion

The most fascinating part of Lion for me is the new licensing model, which does a pretty good job at derailing what has been standard practice since the dawn of the PC. Most OSes are licensed on the basis of a single computer; Lion appears to be licensed per person. On the full feature list, Apple writes:

When you purchase Lion from the Mac App Store, you can install it on all your authorized Mac computers. Just sign in to the Mac App Store from each Mac and download Lion from the Purchases list.

This is great for consumers – given the five computer authorization limit, you are now potentially paying $6 a machine for a full OS upgrade. That’s pretty huge.

Of course, for IT organizations or anyone that has to worry about corporate licensing, this is a giant unknown at the moment – and there’s nothing IT fears more than the unknown. Details will undoubtedly appear soon, but for now this is a giant question mark.

The cost worth observing on its own, both for the client version ($30) and the server version ($50). OS X sales were always a big revenue generator for Apple, so I’m not sure what the driver is in bring the cost down this much (typical OS X point upgrades are $130; OS X server previously retailed for $499 or $999 depending on the user count.)

As for the rest of the bullet points in Lion itself – it seems like a pretty thoughtful upgrade across the board, perhaps lacking any particularly sexy features for the power users. I’m personally most looking forward to the auto saving, versioning, and the resume on restart (seeing as I frequently bounce between Windows and OS X for gaming).

iOS 5

“Fall” is a very nebulous release date, but since most major iOS releases have gone through about 3 months of developer testing (usually April-June), my expectation is a September-ish release for this, hopefully with accompanying new hardware. (My 3GS is long in the tooth.)

Like Lion, I’m not feeling anything groundbreaking here, but there are features that knock out pain points for me. The notifications tray will end the parade of modal popups that make me dread Foursquare. WiFi Sync will allow me to set up a charging station that isn’t in the middle of my desk. Tabbed browsing on the iPad is welcome, as is iMessage as a way to cut down on SMS fees. And having just played around with a recent Apple TV at my parents’ house two weekends ago, AirPlay is a point of interest for me.

I think the Twitter integration is an odd piece, given Twitter’s recent spats with third party client developers – but we’ll see what it turns into and enables developers for.


A little over a year ago, I wrote off MobileMe:

if you’re going to provide core internet services, consider the price differential between you and your strongest competitor. If it’s a little, you only need to be a little better…$100 a year for what feels like a worse product than what’s available for free? Your business model is screwed. Start over, do better.

With that in mind, iCloud leaves me in a state that I can only describe as *meh*.

Undoubtedly Apple has nailed the price point – the majority of the service is free, and the things that do cost extra, like iTunes Match, appear reasonable in cost (without full details). MobileMe users, especially those that just renewed, may be taking a hit but I’m guessing they won’t complain about free going forward.

But the “service” itself is an amalgamation, just like most every version of MobileMe was. The iTunes version of iCloud is that you can redownload your music now, and auto-push it to your devices. That’s neat, but that’s not any particular cloud implementation for the redownloads – that’s just a licensing renegotiation that Apple finally got around to. The app re-downloads piece is even less than that – it’s just an extra screen within the App Store that they turned on as the keynote was ending.

Photo Stream seems suspiciously like the way my Sidekick used to automatically float photos up to T-Mobile’s servers. iCloud Mail is just rebranded MobileMe Mail. And so on. What’s missing is something that, like a good rug, ties the whole thing together. Maybe there are some great overlaps between the services, ones that will become more obvious as the thing grows closer to production. But from here, it just looks like nine services that happen to all be branded together – and that doesn’t strike me as very “Apple”.