A spacecraft engineer’s review of Flotilla

I just picked up the latest Humble Bundle sale entirely because of the gameplay video of Flotilla. Flotilla is a terrific little gem of a game that puts players in tactical command of a small squadron of combat spacecraft, with a little irreverent stomp-around-the-galaxy exploration to frame the battles.

Screenshot from the Flotilla web site.

What it gets right

Spacecraft physics-wise

The simultaneous turn-based mechanic. I’ve written before that a realistic movie depiction of space combat would play out like a submarine movie: long periods of tension between scenes of rapid action. Flotilla only allows players to issue orders every 30 seconds, and then watch how their tactics play out – which plays right into that tension/action dynamic. It also is probably pretty close to how communications lag and astronomical distances would force a true space fleet commander to operate.

The focus on both spacecraft position and orientation. Ships have well-defined firing arcs, strong points, and weak points. These features make it essential for players to consider the 3D orientation of their spacecraft and their targets: I learned very quickly that the basic orientation control mode (in which you specify an enemy for your ship to face) was not sufficient if I wanted to get through combat unscathed. The advanced mode (which lets you specify yaw, pitch, and roll Euler rotations for each ship) let me perform much more advanced maneuvers; faking out my opponents so that they exposed their vulnerable points to me while I absorbed incoming fire with armored surfaces.


The simplified interface. The game is very clean, stylish, and accessible. It’s easy to set up complex tactics in the fully 3D environment. I also appreciate that you don’t have to keep track of a bazillion unit types and special abilities – but, at the same time, each ship class has particular strengths and weaknesses.

The combat balance. It’s possible to approach a battle with a large fleet and blast your enemies into space dust…and it’s also possible to slip in with a single destroyer and land surgical hits to wipe out a superior force. (It took a while, but about half a hour ago I took down two destroyers and four dreadnoughts with a single destroyer. I even tricked two of the dreadnoughts into colliding – that was very satisfying!)

What it gets wrong

Spacecraft physics-wise

The specifically top/front armor design. All ships have strong armor on their “tops” and “fronts,” with weak armor on their “bottoms” and “rears.” I think it’s great to have weak and strong faces, but if the engineers who designed these ships knew that they were going into space – where only the enemy’s gate is “down” – why would they make all ships the same in this regard? It would make more sense for the different ship classes to have different strong and weak faces.

Forces do not exist. There is no gravity, and no orbital motion. All battles take place in deep space. Orbital dynamics would certainly complicate the gameplay – but the cool thing about including orbits would be to add complexity to players’ tactical options. (In orbits, it’s actually easier to move in some directions than others. That’s a phenomenon that players could manipulate.) More importantly, the direction a ship’s engines are pointing has no effect on its motion. It would have been neat to see some coupling between the 3D positioning and spacecraft orientation, instead of letting vehicles slide “sideways” at the same speed that they move “forward.”


No collision warnings. The movement hint lines really need to turn red or something when you accidentally drive them through an asteroid. Or when two ships’ movements will lead them into a collision halfway through your turn. Even after I knew to look out for these situations, I still sometimes drove my own spacecraft into each other. Those are real facepalm moments!

Orientation can be tricky. While I love the abstracted spacecraft graphics because they make me feel like a fleet admiral looking at a tactical display, it’s sometimes hard to tell at a glance which spaceship faces are “up.” A little extra coloration or something would help indicate the weak and strong spots. In addition, Euler angles are not my favorite way to represent and manipulate orientations of spacecraft. I would prefer to use the same planar/vertical interface that sets 3D motion to specify the front-facing direction of my ship, and then roll the spacecraft about that axis.

What it gets hilarious

Everything about the Adventure Mode. That owl warlord will rue the day he challenged my karaoke championship!


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