Kerbal Space Program is a game developed by Squad, an independent studio based in Mexico. I first discovered the game when I watched a youtube video on it back in late 2012, I subsequently purchased the game via its website as I love space exploration and Iím also an avid amateur astronomer. The basic premise of the game is that youíre given a sandbox star system coupled with a wide array of space ship parts to play around with and build ships, put them in orbit, take them to the moon (or Mun as itís called in KSP), insert them into orbit around other planets or even build space planes and space stations!
The game simulates orbital mechanics really well and all objects, with the exception of celestial objects, follow Newtonian dynamics wonderfully. Thrust and aerodynamic forces are accurately modelled for the most part, although the latter leaves a little to be desired at times. Planets have their own mass and therefore gravitational pull, atmospheres of varying densities and heights, all of which affect the drag of wings and parachutes. The simulation is fairly robust and as such, allows one to pull off real life manoeuvres like aerobraking, gravitational assists and Hohmann transfers (check Wikipedia for a description of these if needed).
All of the planets in the game are analogues of the planets in our own solar system, so thereís an analogue of Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter and even two dwarf planets. The planets are around 1/10 the scale of their real world counterparts and have a somewhat similar surface gravity for the most part. For example: Earth requires a velocity of 9.5 km/s to get into orbit, kerbin (Their home planet) only requires 4.5 km/s. This implies that the densities of these planets are very high, unrealistically high in fact, but thatís just an interesting aside as it doesnít really matter.
All of this makes for a very interesting and rewarding experience if you can get over the initial difficulty curve, and it really is difficult if you donít have a basic understanding of orbital mechanics. Iíve learnt so much from this game, I can easily get into orbit, land on the Mun and all of the planets as well as docking with space stations and building them in orbit. Iíve even had to mount rescue missions to the Mun in order to pick up stranded astronauts, whoís space ship hit the ground a little hard and ended up breaking. Iíve done all there is to do for the most part, so Iíve moved on to more ambitious ideas, like building a carrier that can hold several small spacecraft and is even capable of interplanetary travel. Itís fucking awesome!
The latest update adds the basics of what will eventually become the career mode, at the moment itís quite rudimentary and doesnít have budgets or missions to accomplish, although these will be added later on this year. What it does have right now is a research centre and a technology tree which allows you to unlock new rocket parts by gaining science. Science is treated like a resource and is gained by performing various scientific experiments, including temperature readings, atmospheric pressure readouts, a mobile processing lab, soil samples etc. Once you gather the data there are a couple of things you can do with it, you can transmit it via a radio transmitter which incurs a penalty to the amount of science you gather, ranging from 20% to 70% depending on the type of data. The second way is to plan for a return mission and bring the spacecraft home so that the data can be extracted directly, this method incurs no such penalty but is harder to pull off. Thatís all the career mode consists of at the moment, so I canít really say much more.
The only thing that seems to be a little lacklustre in this game is the graphics, theyíre not the worst Iíve seen but theyíre far from the best. The planet textures donít look very good from orbit and on occasion the shadows will randomly start to flicker. These are only minor issues though and as the great Jim Sterling once said ďArt direction trumps graphic fidelityĒ and the art direction is fantastic, even comical at times. Itís almost cartoony and works really well, in the bottom right corner of the screen youíre presented with a thumbnail image of the Kerbals on board and they will seemingly react to whatís going on. They portray several emotions ranging from excited to terrified, unless itís Jebediah Kerman, in which case heíll be smiling the entire time, no matter the situation. Careering into the moon at several hundred metres a second? Heíll be smiling right up until the point when heís vaporised upon impact. Crazy bastard!
This kind of game wouldnít be possible under the traditional publishing model, imagine if Squad would have pitched this idea to EA, Activision or Ubisoft, they would have been laughed at. Yet, this game is one of the most compelling and interesting titles Iíve ever had the pleasure of playing and Iíve already spent over 700 hours on it. The game also has a fantastic modding community with hundreds, maybe even thousands of mods available to download. These range from new parts to a more realistic aerodynamic drag model and even realistic re-entry mods, the latter of which makes re-entry much more challenging as you need to enter the atmosphere at a certain angle to avoid burning up, just like real life.
So, upon conclusion I can highly recommend this game to anyone whoís interested in space, astronomy and science. Please keep in mind, that this game is in beta and as such is not complete, but itís sandbox mode is and once the career mode has been fleshed out it will be finished.
ē Sandbox solar system and seemingly endless possibilities
ē Accurate Newtonian physics
ē Wonderful †art direction
ē Very rewarding
ē Aerobraking and gravitational assists are really cool
ē Space, itís really fucking cool. Around 4 degrees Kelvin actually!
ē Steep learning curve
ē Planet textures could be better
ē Occasional sound and graphical glitches
ē Can be boring during those long journeys to the outer reaches of the star system
This is my first ever blog entry, constructive criticism is welcome.