Playing FTL

I haven’t been putting in the time necessary for May’s #1gam, but I have been playing a few games which means I’m writing another Playing article. This one is about FTL (Faster Than Light) and in a minor way about Risk of Rain but more generally rougelikes and procedural death games.

FTL is a game in space where you manage a ship and its crew and attempt to get across eight sectors while being chased by a rebel fleet. You fight other ships, upgrade and repair your ship with limited resources, and manage your crew in semi-real-time battles (you can pause as often and whenever you like). Each system in each sector has a random(ish) event that occurs sometimes requiring a decision on how to proceed, but generally ship battles are the order of the day. If (and when) you die, you collect a high score, maybe unlock a thing or two like a new ship or ship variant and go back to the beginning of the game. Risk of Rain is a more action-y platformer with lots of random equipment to collect, but a similar play, die, collect high score, unlock stuff, start over pattern.

Why am I playing FTL (again)?

The influence of one of my friends is the reason I have been playing FTL again. He was playing it next to me while I worked on May’s game (what little I’ve done so far) a couple weekends ago. I had played and enjoyed FTL when it first released but I got tired of the randomness killing me. Or at least that was what I blamed for my deaths and lack of success at the time. In playing the game again, I’ve learned that the randomness is only partially to blame and that it is certainly not the main reason for my difficulties.

After a slow re-install due to connections issues I was back in the game. As I jumped from system to system hitting the random events, I was asking (or pestering) my friend about the choices he would make in the various situations I found myself in. Before I continue; he has completed the game a number of times while I have yet to survive to the last sector. I was hoping for some insight or to have my mistakes pointed out to me so I could figure out where I went wrong.

Oh, it was me all along!

It turns out that he did not really have a different strategy for dealing with the events that I came across. In one way this seemed un-helpful to my struggle but it was also assuring because it meant it was me that was the problem and not the randomness I encountered. What I did find out was that he had some general goals for the end of certain sectors, like having a certain shielding level, crew count, a way to deal with shields, etc. This seemed notionally helpful to me and so I stopped asking about each situation and just played the game.

Too Risky

After one particularly successful run that ended in ruin and disappointment in sector 6, I immediately regretted engaging with the optional enemy ship that destroyed me. Why did I start that fight?! I realized I was not properly adjusting my risk assessment as I was playing. That ship and the crew and events I had come across were valuable to me and not worth the risk at that point in the game. In general, I was taking on fights with too few hull points or with a ship I wasn’t prepared to lose as if I was still in sector 1. I also was not paying enough attention to the clues about the enemy ship strength that the game was providing and generally wasn’t adapting my choices enough as I was playing through the various sectors.

Then I read this article on Gamasutra about Rouge-likes and PDL games which discusses the successes and unique aspects of these types of games. I won’t say genre because I agree with the statements in the article about the game format being outside a particular genre and as more of a game design architecture. Suffice to say that one line in the article fit right in with my self analysis regarding risk assessment and that made me happy to read. I’ve since thought about these types of games a bit and had a few thoughts to share.

Final Thoughts

I was playing the game from moment to moment instead of taking a step back and analyzing what I should be doing according to my goals and experience. Speaking of goals, having a plan heading into the game is important but it shouldn’t be set in stone. A flexible plan allows you to take advantage of the rare lucky event and handle the consequences of an unlucky one. Each play through is a chance to test your knowledge about the systems of the game with a bit of randomness to keep things interesting. Ultimately the meta-strategy and the random sequence of events that create a memorable story to share with friends are the things that would maintain my long-term interest.

Playing Dokapon Kingdom

Over the last couple years I’ve gotten to sporadically sink some time into a game called Dokapon Kingdom on the Wii (it was also released on the PS2). A rough estimate shows that I have at least 150 hours to date in this game (and it could be more like 250+). This game has some hilarious moments, but it all depends on getting people together on the same TV in the same room. Dokapon Kingdom combines role-playing elements into a board game that is both cooperative and competitive and supports up to four players. There is a class based hierarchy (with three to start), four key stats, turn based battles, quests, items, magic, and equipment all within the context of a board game approximately shaped like the continents of Earth with a ridiculous King who “really needs” your help.

But don’t worry because he’ll give you his kingdom and his daughter if you complete his quests and along the way you can draw on your friends faces, change their hair style, rename them (whatever you’d like), or steal their stuff. In the end it is all about the money and whomever has the highest balance with the king wins. Or is it whomever pisses off their friends the most? Here’s the official trailer.

Initial Thoughts

The game was lots of fun as I was getting into my first game with three friends. Everyone was stepping all over each other trying to explore and figure the game out. The local multiplayer, the in-game player interaction, and the RPG and board game combo were all great fun. The pacing was pretty good in our first adventure, but we never finished that game. Don’t start a full story mode game and expect to finish in a day!

Later On

Turns out my wife loves this game, but maybe not the way it was expected to be played. Most of the total time I’ve spent playing this game has been with three human players and one computer player. Everyone picks on the computer and we generally keep things civil between the humans. My wife loves collecting mechanics and systems  and the game has an in-game encyclopedia so we’re on a quest to completely fill in that encyclopedia with only two items remaining. One of these is a hair style of an elephant (yes, an elephant on your head) that comes from one of a number of random events that contain a random chance of the item being attainable and the other is a sword that is a random drop from a random encounter of an enemy character who can choose to use an attack that has a chance of instantly killing you but generally just uses the regular attack. I have no idea how long it will take to complete given the layers of random, but eventually we’ll get there if my wife has anything to say about it!

Technical Thoughts

At this point the use of the random number generator is sort of getting on my nerves but there is one event in which it can be gamed a bit by knowing what’s going on. There is a chance at the start of a week in the game for an event to occur and one of these events is a memory-style card game. Each of the various pairs in the card game gives you a different type of reward (items, equipment, magic, money, etc.) and the inventory item reward can randomly be the elephant hair style item.

Well, we’ve discovered that the random number generator (RNG) and it’s current state/seed value is saved with the rest of the game data and that the computer player uses the RNG to decide what cards to flip and that there are 4 pairs total (including the one that could be the hair style) that also use the RNG. So the last two times this event has occurred we’ve reloaded repeated to try placing the roll for the item reward at as many places along the sequence of random numbers as we can by manipulating the computer behavior and the number of other pairs ahead of the roll for the item reward pair. We did get one item this way previously (the royal hair style), but no luck so far on the elephant hair style. It just hasn’t been in the cards…

Overall

The local multiplayer with friends is great if you can get the people together and the game has lots of ways for players to interact but the systems in the game are on the simpler side and can be figured out with a little digging and experimentation even without the benefit of using the internet so it won’t last forever. In the end, it was certainly worth the purchase.

“Playing” League of Legends

I need a first post…

Since I haven’t been working on my “Flea Game” in the last couple weeks I am selecting something that I find myself spending some of my free time doing. Don’t worry about the lack of explanation for the “Flea Game”, I’ll get to it soon. So this will be the first Playing post on the blog and as a category it represents posts that fill in between more productive posts where I’m actually working on a game or learning something new.

I have been following the updates for League of Legends. However, this is a “Playing” post with quotes around it because I haven’t actually been playing the game lately. In fact I haven’t played a game since the third season kicked off. But given my familiarity (playing since release), I find it pretty easy to follow changes to characters that I know, to read the “Red Tracker” (which is all about employee posts), and to learn about new champions and other additions to the game.

So what am I getting out of it if I’m not actually playing the game? For starters the game represents a very complex system of stats, positioning, items, masteries, runes, champions, and more. Systems like this attract my attention greatly, like a huge complicated puzzle with lots of moving parts. I have a sort of internal model for the game in my head and I can sort of simulate and visualize changes while reading about them. This also helps in software development because discussing changes creates ripples in the internal model and gives insight to potential pitfalls and complications. Also, the posts from the Red Tracker reveal the internal workings of a successful game developer. It sounds very much like they have an awesome group of people over there and it is entertaining and interesting to me to read about some of the office adventures being had and development decisions being made. It makes me want to apply!

That being said, I understand that reading about it (or any game) is no substitute for playing the game. I will be trying to lower the amount of reading I do and get back to actually playing the game. But most of my friends who used to play have given up on it, so I will be going solo (queue) to get back into things.

But this begs the question as will most of the Playing posts: given that I have limited free-time, and that I have a long-time desire to make games in addition to being an avid player, how much time do I divert from playing games in order to make them? Should I give them up entirely for a time in order to make better progress in development?