By Alec Meer on September 19th, 2012 at 4:00 pm.
FTL: Faster Than Light is the spaceship management/roguelike hybrid that everyone in the world is playing right now, living and reliving endless numbers of doomed space crusades, disastrous journeys and euphoric tales. There are eight million stories in the naked universe. This will be just one of them.
These are the voyages of the starship Moggy, crewed by a brave band of humans and aliens named after cats that I have known. This was an egregious mistake, as seeing my childhood pets burned, asphyxiated and lasered to death almost immediately proved traumatic. Still, we exist not merely within a universe, but a multiverse. One crew of feline-named space travellers might meet their tragic doom, but perhaps, in a parallel existence, another band of desperate starfarers might just have succeeded… (Of course they didn’t. This is FTL. But the multiverse does at least allow for the story to be told anew).
Ripley, to the cockpit! Tacky*, to the engineroom! Bonz, you’re on shields!
We’re in an Engi ship, a squareish hulk that lacks any raw firepower but does carry a shield-bypassing Ion Blast that causes no damage but can temporarily deactivate an enemy system, (hopefully) leaving my expendable attack auto-drone to dish out the real damage. It’s a complicated and risky system, sacrificing fine control but it does leave me able to disable enemy shields and a little more freed up to manage my crew and any emergencies on my ship.
OK team, you ready for this? It’s a long haul across unfriendly space to the welcoming territories of the Federation, to which we must deliver vital information, and we’ll be harassed by murderous rebels, sinister aliens, solar flares and meteor storms all the way. But we can do it, right? Right? Don’t answer that. Just… Jump.
Jump straight into the waiting lasers of a Rebel Auto-Assault ship. Typical. Still, it was always going to happen, there was no point in building up a false sense of confidence. Let slip the dogs of poorly-armed war.
Immediate, devastating disaster. Something in this system we’ve jumped to has deactivated half of our engine power. I can’t turn on the Ion Blast or release a drone. I’m dead in the water. Unless… grimly, I turn off all power to engines and the medbay. It leaves us unable to evade enemy attack and unable to heal injured crew, but it frees up just enough in the tank to power a drone. I pray to all the gods I don’t believe in. Jesus, Allah, Odin, Ganesh, help me.
It’s no good. The drone can take down the enemy’s shield with a single shot, but by the time my little auto-bot’s reloaded it’s weapon, the shield’s back up. I can cause any hull damage. I need my Ion Blast in the fight too. There’s no way. Well, there’s one way. But it’s suicide.
Shields off. Air supply off. Ion Blast on. Enemy shield generator disable, but only for a couple of seconds. A couple of seconds in which our fate hangs in desperate balance. I can’t tell the drone which enemy system to target, even though I desperately need it to let loose a few rounds at the shield so it stays down for longer, so I can turn off my Ion Blast and turn life support back on while the drone then whittles away at the enemy hull. Little drone, hear my call. Hear my fear.
Do you know what that bright red ‘S’ means?
It means a miracle.
Another miracle follows, as the drone’s next shot takes out the enemy’s weapons. I’m actually coming back from this – I’d honestly believed that by now I’d be a smouldering wreck, humiliatingly disintegrating a pitiful single jump from where I began. So long as the enemy doesn’t manage to repair its shields in a hurry, my drone should destroy the rest of its hulls within three more shots. This will take around 15 seconds. This will take a lifetime. I closed my eyes, and in a state of tension so high I felt physical pain, I waited.
When I opened my eyes again, it was all over.
It’s hard enough to believe we’re alive, let alone that we’re alive with no hull damage and no crew lost. Oxygen levels are down at 20% but recharging fast, and I’m carry a little extra fuel and scrap from the downed Rebel. There’s not enough to upgrade my ship, but hell, we’re alive. That’s the greatest post-battle loot of all. Now, let’s get out of this energy-sapping hellhole.
We leap to the next system, where we find… Oh God, what will we find? We found nothing. I breathe heavily, in heartfelt relief. Then I grunt in annoyance. No enemies means no danger, but it also means no loot – no fuel, no scrap, no drone parts. Coming here, at the expense of precious fuel, means I have less, not more, and that could prove deadly. Nothing to be done though. Hit the button, navigator Ripley.
A Rebel Cruiser is waiting for us. Seemed to know we were coming, even, as our engine is 50% disabled upon arrival. That I can deal with, though – it hampers evasive manoeuvres, but at least both Ion Blast and drone are in the game, and without having to turn off the stuff that keeps us alive to do it. This time, the universe is on my side.
Oh no it bloody isn’t. The enemy beams one of its crew aboard my ship, where it immediately starts trashing our oxygen supply. Oi, you sods, we need that stuff to breathe.
Engineer Tacky, you’re up: you might be happiest with a spanner, but unlike the rest of my crew you’re a human, which means you hit harder than the Engi raider they’ve sent over.
The oxygen’s out before Tacky’s even reached the invader, but maybe, just maybe there’s enough time for me to employ my traditional combat tactic – Ion Blast the enemy shield, let the drone do the rest – before my catfolk asphyxiate. Nervously, I send Bonz to the oxygen supply room too, as being an Engi herself she can fix the damage faster than Tacky can once the fight’s over. This means there’s no one to fix my shields or engine if they take a hit, though. I toy with sending RIpley over to shields, but decide it’s better to keep her at the helm, so at least I can jump out of here if things get really desperate.
The crew excel themselves. Tacky emerges victorious from the fight just as Bonz arrives to start fixing the air supply, while my drone makes short work of the enemy shield, guns and engine respectively. The onboard air’s gone down to dangerous levels but Bonz is on the case. We’ve taken some minor hull damage, but otherwise all is well. I send Tacky to get healed up in sickbay while I pick through the Rebel debris. I’ve got just enough scrap for one upgrade. Shields? Scanners that will let me observe the movements of enemy crew? Nah: remembering our near-disastrous first fight, I add a little capacity to the reactor, creating a little more spare juice in the tank.
Which was probably a mistake, given I’m one jump from a Store, which might have sold me all manner of vital goodies. So instead, I gamble on investigating a nearby distress beacon. In the best of all possible worlds, it’ll be lost souls who shower us with fuel, scrap, parts and crew members. This is not the best of all possible worlds. Far, far, far from it. So I brace my self for
Oh. No it isn’t. Maybe I should stop being such a pessimist. We’re hailed by friendly a space station in the middle of an asteroid field, suffering from a broken targeting system so they can’t laser away any hurtling spacerocks that get too close. Bless ‘em, they’re even in even more dire straits than I am. It’d be rude not to lend a hand.
I send in my Engi crew to fix their systems, and they reward me with a frankly pitiful amount of resources. Ah well, every little helps. Let’s get out of here.
Oh Christ, not another Rebel ship. Wait, this one’s friendly. Ish. It’s a black market trader, offering us weapons we can’t afford. We could flee, or… Well, it is technically our enemy. I hate to be all pre-revision Han vs Greedo here, but I really, really need some scrap to spend on upgrades. Crew, it’s battle stations again. This’ll be a cakewalk.
Oof. No it won’t I should have been even more like Han:
I got cocky. Now we’ve taken 50% hull damage, and engines, shields and door control all need emergency fixing. Plus the black market ship dropped peanuts. This was a huge mistake on my part. If this crew had any sense in their heads, they’d mutiny. Instead, they just mutely get on with repairing the damage. The Hull can’t be fixed unless I find a store, but the only store I know of is now surrounded by the vast Rebel fleet that forever pursue me.
Onwards, then. It’s the only way.
Exhausted and bruised, still repairing damage, we find ourselves at the exit point from this system. Strange new worlds await. I’m no galactic explorer, mind – there’s a more pressing reason to forge ahead into the unknown. The indefatigable Rebel fleet is only three jumps behind us at this point, so I should press on, to whatever lies on the other side of this jump. Grimly, I look back, back to where I can no longer go, because it’s swathed in the blood red that means the Rebels have occupied it, or will do within moments. So many unexplored jumps, so many possible sources of supplies and even new crew members. I’ve made it this far, but I have nothing to show for it other than gaping holes in my hull and a minute upgrade to my reactor. Fuel is waning. The enemies ahead will be tougher. This is a fool’s crusade.
Then again, everyone’s still alive. That, really, was always the best case scenario. Two, three lucky jumps could change everything. Make it so.
To be continued!
*Blame my Dad for that name. God only knows what he was thinking.