2013 IGF Finalists: Excellence in Design

Wondering what the most promising indie games might be? Have no fear. Each day this week we are covering a different category of IGF finalists and why they deserve to be played.

If you ask a self-professed gamer what the most important thing they look for in a game is, chances are the answer you will get is “good game design.” While that’s not entirely true at best and an outright falsehood at worst, it underlies what gaming culture wants to value above all else. Rather than holding up graphics or narrative or technical accomplishments as the important part of a game, we want to believe that the most important thing in a game is how it plays. After all, games are meant to be played. Naturally, the finalists for Excellence in Design are some of the best and brightest in fun and thoughtful game design.

FTL: Faster Than Light

FTL is a game that has defied expectations. It is a breakout indie hit on par with other classics like Super Meat Boy and Castle Crashers, and the wide appeal despite punishing mechanics and permanent consequences for failure just goes to show that there is always room for difficult games. It’s abundantly clear why FTL received the design nomination: It is a very addictive and entertaining game, and there’s nothing quite like it out there. Much to my disappointment. You would think that starship simulation akin to Star Trek would be more popular!

Here’s the breakdown, in case you missed our article on the best indie games of 2012. FTL follows a ship of woefully outmatched Federation officers as they flee an advancing rebel fleet. As the poor saps move through each sector they must contend with aliens, rebel scouts, disasters, and other events beyond their control. Their goal is simple: reach the main Federation base and tell them the main weakness of the rebel fleet. It’s an interesting concept, mostly due to the fact that you are not a rebel. Instead of attempting to overthrow the existing order, you are attempting to preserve it.

FTL absolutely shines when it comes to design. You must put your crewmembers in various decks of the ship and use their manual labor to assist your efforts. Manning the shield, for example, increases how fast it charges, while manning the engines decreases your chance of getting hit. It’s pretty simple, but toss it things like component damage, fires, hull breaches, and boarders, and things get complicated very quickly. To keep things moving and engaging, the developers used the random event mechanic from games like Strange Adventures In Infinite Space or Flotilla. These events often tie directly into the well-being of your ship and its crew. For example, you can use a rock-person to put out a fire on a space station in order to help the inhabitants without risking your more fragile crew. All of these aspects – time-sensitive escape, crew management, and random events – come together to make a game that makes you feel like the most badass space captain around. Even if you accidentally space your entire crew. You can get FTL: Faster Than Light from Steam.

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