Steam Sale Recommendation: FTL

I’ve been losing GW2 play time to two roguelike games picked up from the ongoing Steam sale.

First up is FTL: Faster Than Light.

Ironic story: I’d waited for months for FTL to go on 75% off to try it out as it didn’t look that appealing on first glance. The whole spaceship system looked so alien and complex, and the graphics nothing spectacular.

GOG got there first with the 75% off offer and I nabbed the DRM-free version. Played it, found it quite enjoyable and worth $2.50. And now Steam comes up with their 75% offer with trading cards but no Steam-linked achievements. After agonizing for a while, the deciding factor was the soundtrack version and I decided to pick it up…again. After all, I’d only unlocked a quarter of the available ships and was still getting considerable play value out of it.

Is FTL worth $5?

I’d say yes, now, but one has to play it to figure out if one likes it.

In truth, FTL doesn’t have much roguelike resemblance, save for the fact that “normal” mode is harder than one would expect, occasionally arbitrary and that dying and restarting new games is all part of the grand plan.

The closest thing I can link FTL’s basic gameplay to, is a real-time strategy game, or RTS.

Except it’s not entirely real-time and has combat more similar to the old Baldur’s Gate games of yore.

There is a lot of spacebar-pause stop-and-start to give time to think, and to reallocate your orders to crew and weapons as best befits the current situation (which can change in a second.) The mouse is used to select crew and order them to move from room to room, with keyboard shortcuts an option.

The symbols are new and strange at first, but a few playthroughs will quickly get you understanding which represents the various spaceship subsystems – the shields, the weapons, the engines, the oxygen supply and so on. Further playthroughs will increase one’s familarity with what types of weapons opposing ships are carrying and how best to prioritize disabling or destroying the other spacecraft as needed.

The overarcing goal is to move your ship from place to place in the galaxy, having a bunch of random encounters and leveling up one’s systems and weaponry by means of the currency of “scrap,” staying just one step ahead of the pursuing rebel fleet which prevents one from staying too long in any one place, while preparing and buffing up for the final boss fight of the Rebel Flagship at the last stage.

There is some emergent narrative that could occur, but not too much, in my opinion. A well played game means most or all of your crew stays alive and enemy ships are swiftly demolished. If you get to a stage where your last crewmember bravely puts out all the fires on board, repairs everything and takes the helm and manages to limp from encounter to encounter, chances are more likely that something will wreck you, or that you won’t have accumulated enough scrap to survive the endgame, rather than you making it to an encounter which replenishes your crew and recovering well enough to defeat the final boss. It -could- happen, but not that likely.

Of course, at the moment I’m primarily playing it on Easy. The joys of a game that allows you to adjust difficulty to one’s preferences. I find the encounters less arbitrarily unfair that way. And it’s easier to unlock the variety of spaceships FTL offers to play around with.

The beginning ship, the Kestrel, is a good general all-rounder ship for learning the game with. Its starter crew of humans has no particular strengths, but no particular alien weaknesses either. Piling on the lasers and the shielding tends to give a good run, though one might not complete the game if one hasn’t planned on a specific strategy to defeat the final flagship and built for it.

In this demonstration game, I’m running a ship I’ve been itching to play since I unlocked it, a Mantis ship.

The Mantis are preying mantis-like aliens whom you might be able to guess, specialize in hand-to-hand combat. They are fast, but they repair poorly.

Their ship starts off with no sensors, which leaves one a bit blind, and a weak basic one shot laser. However, they do begin with a teleporter, which dictates their initial engagement playstyle to be very different from the norm. The boarding party strategy of killing all the crew was something I was dying to try out, as it yields more scrap than simply pummeling the ship and blowing it up like most other ships would.

mantisstart

This is one of the earlier engagements. I’d lucked into an encounter that gave me a second Engi crewmember (Engi are robotic lifeforms which are doubly good at repairs, but poor fighters, and often serve as slaves aboard Mantis ships, from what I gathered via the game lore.)

One Mantis, Kietzkin, has been assigned to pilot the ship. You might call him the captain. This enables the ship to evade (as long as engines are also operational) and charges up the FTL drive during combat, so that one can jump out if the situation is really going bad. I’d have preferred a non-Mantis pilot, as Mantis make really good boarders and his improved hand-to-hand fighting is wasted here, but beggars can’t choosers.

One Engi each has been put to work in the engine room and the shields. The engine room worker increases the ship’s evade chance, currently at 20%, which lets it dodge enemy fire (lasers, missiles, you name it). I’ve learned that improving evade chance can actually help survival more than rushing shields, as missiles can go straight through shields. The shield room Engi enables my shields to recharge at a quicker pace, which does help deflect enemy laser fire too.

Normally, the recommended strategy for early game is to target and disable the enemy’s weapons as quickly as possible. This allows you to pummel them into submission at leisure as they can’t fight back and damage your ship while their weapons are down.

My basic laser has been deactivated, as the enemy ship has a one dot shield. My basic laser only fires one blast, doing 1 damage, so the shield would just suck it up and likely recharge before my laser can fire again.

Instead, I enabled the other weapon, a Smart Bomb, which consumes a missile for ammo. This does no hull damage, but can do 2 damage to systems. And targeted it on the enemy ship’s weapons, prepared to knock it out to mitigate some damage coming my ship’s way.

Meanwhile, my real weapon, the Mantis boarding party pair, have teleported across into the piloting room. In theory, this should disrupt the enemy pilot, and if the ship plays by the same rules, their evade chance should be lowered as the pilot is now occupied battling my Mantis. Whatever. I really just want them skewered on my Mantis’ claws.

Monitoring their health is tense, as my level 1 teleporter is still recharging and I can’t bring them back for healing if things go wrong. At least only two crew can enter at a time in this small room, and they have no Medlab (First Aid symbol) to heal up. Upgrading the teleporter to a level 2 for faster cooldown is a major priority once enough scrap is accumulated.

mantisstart2

A minute later, the smart bomb has hit and damaged one of the ship’s weapons (which is now retracted), leaving only a beam weapon that cannot pierce my shields. I’d killed off the two thankfully human crew in the pilot’s room, and teleported my Mantis back for healing. The newly healed Mantis have then beamed back to catch the last crew member, struggling to operate or repair his weapon system. He doesn’t last long and the spoils of victory are soon ours.

autoscout

Each ship encounter can be different, with valuable things to know either learned from prior games and good observation skills or reading a wiki/guide voraciously. Here, we face an auto-scout ship. These tend to be fast, unmanned, evasive buggers from prior experience, and this one has a cloaking system (the eye symbol) which prevents my weapons from locking on and charging up (this tend to help them both evade shots if cloaked, and delay us for their weapons to charge.)

But the most important thing to know about an auto-scout, is that it has no oxygen. All the rooms are an airless hazard. Not only does this make setting them on fire very difficult (without oxygen, the fires go out – this is an important firefighting strat for one’s own ships too,) chucking a boarding party over there would be an invitation to suicide – especially since the ship may cloak at a bad moment and prevent my teleporter working to bring out my crew.

Luckily, this ship in the early game has no shielding either. So my mantis boarding party chill out in the healing room, presumably having themselves a party drinking whatever passes for ethanol for them, while I dink around with my one shot laser and eat up its hull one dot at a time.

I -could- have chucked a mantis in the weapons room to increase the rate of recharge of the laser, but I’d deactivated the ship’s weapons very rapidly so I was perfectly safe now as I just needed to keep hitting the same area to keep it unrepaired and causing hull damage. Auto-scout goes boom, and I drink in the scrap it leaves behind.

moreresistance

Other battles are dicier. This ship has an attacking drone, which combined with its weapons system, managed to set my oxygen room on fire. This is, naturally, not good, and steadily depletes the ship’s oxygen – as evidenced by the rooms steadily turning pinker. Below a certain point, the rooms become striped and an asphyxiation hazard. My Shields Engi has been hastily yanked off the shields for firefighting and repair duty.

I could also have ventilated the room by opening up a sequence of doors leading to the outside vacuum of space, but I was a little reluctant to do that with this ship’s layout as it would mean making three rooms an airless hazard just to reach the O2 room, and get in the way of the healing/teleporter access route. And with O2 down, the rooms would be hard to resupply with air. (One could open out all the other doors and hope the remaining ship’s oxygen vents into the rooms, but it just seemed a scary prospect.) So I decided to keep shuttling the Engi back and forth between the medlab and the room aflame and make him operate a fire extinguisher instead.

At the same time, a furious battle is raging on the other ship’s bridge between my half wounded boarding party and a new crew member who has rushed in to take the fallen captain’s position. Their ship’s weapons have been destroyed for the moment, but they are also desperately charging up their FTL drive to escape. Meanwhile, I’m desperately scanning my ship for ideas on how to prevent this, because if they successfully fire it up, they’ll take off WITH my boarding party.

Either the piloting system or the engines have to be damaged to delay this. Do I let my mantis duke it out with the crewman and hope he’s the last crew on board (which would end the encounter?) Will they have time to damage the piloting room after killing the crewman, if there is more crew around? Do I teleport the mantis back and let the ship go? Do I spend another missile ammo and use the smart bomb, which is halfway charged, and aim it at either pilot or engine and hope it hits?

Choices like this are the meat of FTL gameplay.

mantisvsmantis

In this later fight, Mantis goes against Mantis in one of the most drawn out, unwilling to back down conflicts ever. They send a boarding party. I send a boarding party. They have a healing room. I have a healing room.

They have a battery of weapons, including a very annoying missile – and no worries about conserving ammo for a final fight, that has set my shields on fire and is tearing my hull apart from hits. I’ve upgraded my dinky one shot laser to one that produces three laser shots in succession, except I don’t have enough system power yet to operate it, my teleporter, my medbay and my shields all at the same time, and power has to be shunted from one system to another in a frenzy of juggling. (Thank you, pause key.)

I could have jumped out long ago, but this was a matter of Mantis warrior pride here. So I let my ship soak up hull damage from the onslaught while I painstakingly worked on slaughtering their crew while keeping their medbay disabled or destroyed. A bunch of missiles were spent in the process, making this an exceedingly costly action.

In this final cleanup, the Rock member of the boarding party has been co-opted into firefighting duty with the poor Shield Engi, as she’s immune to fire. My mantis have teleported back, knowing they’ve won. And I’m holding back on destroying their hull, which I could, if I just started up my laser…

goodbyecruelworld

…because I was waiting for the final humiliation, and an achievement I had yet to obtain before this. Death by Asphyxiation.

There was a lot of repair work to be done after, and frankly, it would have been far wiser to just jump out and leave the ship behind as I’m not sure I came out ahead in scrap after that, but well… choices.

endgame

Successfully getting over the early game hump made the Mantis cruiser a ship to be feared by the end though. I picked up a scrap recovery arm, which combined with nearly always boarding ships and killing crew, and easy mode increased scrap rewards, left one superbly upgraded ship by the end of it.

Mastering the final boss fight takes a bit of trial-and-error (and/or reading up on the cheese strategies via the forums.)

Here, I use the standard tactic most use (having been blown up many times prior to using it.)

Basically, send in boarding parties to take out all the isolated crew on the weapons but one. The laser is usually left as its three shots have to go past shields, evading, cloaking, etc before damaging your ship. I tend to prioritize the missile weapon first because I HATE missiles going right through my shields. I also don’t think the beam weapon is much of a threat, as long as one’s shields are up, but it’s safer to take down in case a subsequent lucky Power Surge breaks up your shield and the beam weapon then decides to cut through your ship.

The isolated crew member is left so that the ship does not go onto Automatic AI mode, which allows it to self-repair its systems.

Then slaughter the rest of the crew in the middle, which does involve a bit of a scrap, and being able to keep them from healing up.

With no crew left to resist, destroy the ship’s shields from within, remove thyselves, and then take out the rest of its hull.

A similar boarding party tactic is used for the next two stages. With the inclusion of deactivating the drone control system early on in stage 2 so that the incoming combat drones don’t do too much damage to your ship, and keeping a level 1 cloak on standby to evade the Power Surge drones in stage 2 or the all direction laser shot in stage 3. Fire the cloak only when you see the Power Surge weapons pop up, so that it can hopefully recharge by the next Power Surge.

In truth, with 55% evade and 4 dot shields, I purposefully left the cloaking off once or twice and found the gritty little ship soaked it just fine. I kind of envision this small, nimble elite craft flying circles around the big Rebel Flagship, while its commando crew beamed in to recreate an Aliens scenario.

wesaluteyou

To Captain Kletzkin, the intrepid duo of Lana the Rock and Magne the Mantis aka the first boarding party, Aisha and Jorlack aka first ship defenders, team repairers and secondary boarding party, Fleischy the super-safe and super snug Engi running the engines for beautiful evasion, Banks the human weapons banks master, and Elnubnub the forever put-upon firefighter, shield operator and all-around repair guy…

…we salute you.

And if you’ve read all this way and haven’t bought FTL yet, don’t be an idiot like me and just go straight to the dev’s website, where you can buy it for the current sale price ($2.50 for the next 7 hours, and probably $4.99 till the end of the Steam sale – both very reasonable prices) where you can get both DRM-free and Steam versions for the price of one.

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Steam Linux Sale: Two Weird Gems

Steam’s currently having a celebratory sale for Linux-playable games.

Of course, since all the Linux games are also playable on PC, it just means I get to trawl the collection and go bargain-hunting.

I want to highlight two gems that may be less obvious than things like FTL at 50% (still waiting for 75%, yarrr.)

Eversion

Hitting little brick blocks with one's head? Check.
Bright and shiny colors? Jumping on little moving sprites to defeat them. Hitting little brick blocks with one’s head? I’m surprised it’s not Mario!

I’ve owned this for quite a while and rarely see it on sale. It’s going for two bucks, which I think is the perfect price point for the six or so hours you may get out of it (if you chase all the achievements.)

And even if you don’t complete the game, it’s worth two bucks to see the neat genre twist involved. (Assuming you are at least vaguely familiar with the platforming tropes of Super Mario Brothers – else it may possibly be lost on you.)

Suffice to say, things stay only bright and cheerful and kiddy and bright and bouncy for so long.

It’s like The Terrible Secret of Animal Crossing for platformers, which by the way, is also a great read if you’re into dark and creepypasta stuff.

Fair warning: You have to be okay with the frustrations of platforming games – rehearsing pixel perfect jumps and getting one’s timing -just- right may be an issue in certain parts. And dying and being sent back to the start or the nearest checkpoint if you miss. Over and over if you’re having an off day.

I know I personally have trouble with getting the hang of the timing when just starting out, but get it down after a while. There is also one notorious spot in particular that causes immense rage and failure for quite a number of people – including me, and led to staring at video guides and trying it 30x and still failing. I got past it eventually and seeing the ending(s) and experiencing the whole game was worth it.

There’s a less graphically attractive free version floating about the web too, but I think for two bucks, it’s worth spoiling yourself with the full-featured version. The 8-bit style music’s pretty fun and fitting too.

Magical Diary

magdiary

No, seriously, WHAT?

I know I’ve mentioned that I have a soft spot for cheesy casual games before, but this didn’t look like anything I’d be remotely interested in at first.

I don’t have a huge allergy to anime style cartoon graphics, but this game’s images are a touch on the amateurish side in places. Some characters look good/okay, and some look really strange to my eye.

Purely on principle alone, I don’t think I’d mind dating sims or visual novels but honestly have had very little experience with either genre.

(The closest to a dating sim I’ve ever gotten is an ADRIFT text/graphic adventure game called The PK Girl, submitted for the 2002 Interactive Fiction competition, which I found I quite enjoyed. It’s received some criticism for portraying things in a sexist light, but I was mostly more intrigued by the branching possibilities, multiple endings and ability to develop relationships with characters in an IF game, using a language that wasn’t Inform/Z-Code.

As for visual novels, Analogue: A Hate Story is about the closest I’ve gotten around to trying so far. Not bad if it’s on sale too, by the way.)

More of a buzzkill is the fact that it’s set in a magical school, and your protagonist is a magical student that has been raised as a Muggle (redacted for copyright reasons), unaware of her destiny until approximately high school age.

Your default character’s name starts out as Mary Sue (until you change it in haste.)

And you’ll even have a cheerful and helpful female professor as your ally, while there’s this sour-faced lanky, evil professor whom you smash into early on, whose life purpose appears to be making yours miserable.

*resists urge to puke at Harry Potter overdose*

sappy

For $25, or even for $15, I’ll never buy such a thing.

But you know, Rock, Paper, Shotgun has reviewed the game and been somewhat positive about it, and it’s now on 75% sale on Steam, making it a much more palatable $3.75…

… and there’s even a free demo.

Welp, the demo did its job really well on me.

I gritted my teeth through the initial overdose of sweet sappy cheesiness, smiled tolerantly at the most obvious tall, dark and arguably handsome stranger who showed up as the most likely potential boyfriend for my character, and to my surprise, found myself getting into the flow of the story, experimenting with various twists and turns and options, suspecting there was significant branching narrative potential here, and most of all, wanting the story to continue when I reached the end of the demo.

That is how you sell a game.

What I’m most impressed by is the multitude of scenes and occurrences that the writer(s) have concocted for the setting. No shortage of writer’s block here. Global school events occur over the course of the term. Vacations come and go. You’ll have the opportunity to develop relationships (not necessarily solely romantic ones) with a plethora of characters. Conflict and drama pop up everywhere, sometimes when you’re least expecting it. Time passes. Things change.

And ultimately, you do feel like you’re living the student life of the protagonist you’ve designed, and that there’s room to try another kind of protagonist for another replay at the very least.

What I would recommend is to at least give this game a chance. Don’t immediately judge it by its appearance. Download the demo to try it out – it will give you a good idea of whether you might like this style of game/visual novel at all.

I also apparently suck at magical exams and indirect, clever solutions, hitting on potential solutions a touch too late. Next game, I swear I'm making a sporty and physically inclined, direct magic flame-throwing protagonist instead.
I also apparently suck at magical exams and indirect, clever solutions, hitting on potential solutions a touch too late. This has earned me numerous detentions and demerits. Next game, I swear I’m making a sporty and physically inclined, direct magic flame-throwing protagonist instead.

Where I Attain the Opportunity to Demonstrate Immoderate Verbosity (Bookworm Adventures Deluxe)

This was the game that sat on my shoulder like a devilish imp, prompting me to finally pick up the entire Popcap bundle during a seasonal sale, despite already having played Plants Vs Zombies, the main popular anchor of a pack stuffed with a lot of other cheaper, cheesier, mainstream-y casual games.

After playing the demo, I just couldn’t get over how goddamn FUN it was.

And how much I wanted to keep playing until I completed the game.

In Bookworm Adventures Deluxe, you guide the main protagonist Lex the Bookworm on his epic quest to save the day and rescue the girl.

If you can get over the cartoony graphics and initial cheesiness, you’ll find that they hide a pretty exciting hybrid between an RPG and Boggle.

Yes, all game mechanics become more fun when we put an RPG wrapper around it. (We can talk about Puzzle Quest (bejeweled+RPG) and Defenders Quest (tower defence+RPG) another time, cos I have those games too.)

It’s crazy, but it works. You make words out of the letters on the grid given to you, and the longer your word, the more damage your excessive grandiloquence does to your opponent.

Given how fond I am of playing with vocabulary, this is a match made in heaven.

And the game is anything but easy.

It starts off simple, and you can get away with making three or four letter words to swiftly beat up the initial opponents, who clock in at about 3-4 hearts. In the earlier chapters, your amusement may derive more from seeing what non-kid-like words the game’s dictionary will let you get away with.

No, the F word doesn’t work. Oh well. Sex does!

Or how long a word you can spell.

Or how ironically appropriate the word is.

Then the complexity ramps up. You win treasures that act as weapons and armor, each with their own altering mechanic. The Bow of Zyx above gives bonus damage to words using the letters X, Y and Z. A Hammer of Hephaestus obtained in a much later chapter ramps up your damage, especially if you spell metal-related words, such as iron, bronze, melt, etc.

Some equipment offers you partial or full protection from special attacks that the more advanced monsters do, such as stunning you for a turn or three while they get free attacks on you, or adding poison or debuffing your strength and so on.

(Really, we’re spelling words here, what is this talk about debuffs and status effects! That’s the RPG component at work…)

You’re limited to bringing only three treasures with you, so choose wisely for what you’ll face. Helpfully, the game will tell you beforehand what special attacks the next chapter’s enemies are fond of using, so it does involve strategy, rather than boiling down to a trial-and-error guessing game.

And yes, there are Boss Battles at the end of every chapter.

Before long, the amount of hearts the enemies have is… staggering, to say the least.

Though it doesn’t stop me from… see above.

Some monsters have the ability to destroy tiles for several turns, making them useless in terms of contributing damage. You can choose to use them up quickly and cycle in new tiles, or just leave them be and work around them. Later, enemies may even Infect certain tiles, and those can spread to adjacent tiles, encouraging the strategy of using them up as quickly as possible.

And then you get the Gem Tiles. By spelling longer words of five letters or more, you get bonus gemmed letter tiles that, when used, give -your- attacks special status effects, such as freezing the enemy for a turn, or adding poison, or debuffing the amount of damage the enemy does (very important!), in addition to buffing your total damage.

Adding to the increased sophistication is the special three-letter word immunity certain bosses sport. Yep, those simple words don’t work no more. No more “Yes” “Sit” Bat” and so on. Four or more letters to do damage, and frankly, if you stick to four letters, you’ll probably get very beat up and use lots of healing potions in the process.

Death is not excessively punishing. You lose all your accumulated potions. If you want more, then you play a few minigames that may win you some bonus potions. And you continue from where you left off.

The setting for the first book was well-chosen, the trials of Ancient Greece, so you face fairly recognizable enemies and tropes (like venturing to the Underworld, a seven-headed hydra, etc.) Being a wordy sort of game, you may also stumbled across sly puns and a easter egg or two.

*cough* *cough* If you can’t recognize the reference, we must really talk about Interactive Fiction in subsequent posts in the future. (Prolixity on purpose.)

The final boss at the end of chapter 10 is no pushover. She was the cause of my first death, and the amount of hearts she has… well, it SCROLLS down as you go through the rows and rows.

I wanted to ask if she was “jilted” but I lacked an E. Close enough. She didn’t take kindly to the inquiry.

All the previously mentioned mechanics are in full play here. You can see the status effects on both of us. The first green tile is a gem that heals me for two hearts when used. The second is an infected tile I was getting rid of as soon as possible. Using the letter Y boosts my damage, thanks to the bow I’m carrying. Look at the amount of specials she has, sheesh.

Challenge level: Not exactly a kid’s game. A smart, brainy one, maybe.

Lemme tell you, any kid who plays this game, I will have tremendous respect for. It is fiendish in how hard it pushes your vocabulary to the limit.

The ten chapters took me a Herculean three hours of rewardingly fun mental effort in a marathon sitting, and I was all ready to claim the girl as my prize after whomping Medusa.

… And then they tell me, you’re only -just- done with Book 1.

There is a Book 2. (No, no, not the sequel Bookworm Adventures Deluxe 2, though there is one. But as in, in this singular game, Bookworm Adventures Deluxe, there is not just ten chapters of Book 1, there is also a Book 2, and presumably ten more chapters?!)

And I checked the main title screen and sure enough, some other feature only unlocks after you’ve completed Book 3.

TWO MORE BOOKS in this one game? Are you telling me it gets EVEN harder from here on up? And that I have another SIX hours to go?

I decidedly to mercifully end the marathon before my back killed me, but wow, I was impressed. It’s going to last me some time yet.

Book 2: Arabian Nights, here we come.