Did you ever watch October Sky and think gee, that could have been me? The fantastic story of Homer Hickam, a coal miner’s son who used his brain to escape becoming a second generation coal miner by learning how to build rockets and eventually managed to get a job doing the same for NASA? Or perhaps you have a tiny mad scientist inside you raging to get out and wreck havoc in the real world? Or maybe you just think about building rockets and seeing what they’ll do when you press the big red button? Whatever the case, I’ve got good news! The Kerbal Space Program is looking for a few good rocket scientists, but they’ll settle for you!
Developed by Squad Inc, Kerbal Space Program is fairly simple to get into but impossible to ever put away and forget. It helps if you have a basic understanding of how NASA got to the moon, but really half of the fun to be found in this game is in discovering things for yourself. The place to start is in the Vehicular Assembly building. Once there you are presented with a vast empty hangar on the right and a menu of parts on the left. Much like a box of Lego you will soon find yourself putting pieces together. You can put any number of parts together, but it helps at first to imagine what you think of when you watch stock footage of the Apollo rockets launching. A capsule up at the top, a fuel tank and an engine. Add wings if you like, and then put a gantry on it to make sure its secure when you are ready to shoot it into space. Then once you’ve named your rocket and saved it, its off to the launchpad. It can be that easy to build your first rocket.
Of course, it’s not that simple. A three piece rocket can get you off the planet but you have to know what you’re doing, what the rules of the game are. First off, you gotta press the big button – in this case the space bar. Why? Because you want to go to space don’t you? The Kerbals, the freakish little green dudes who are attempting to achieve spaceflight, live on a planet that resembles Earth but is in fact quite a bit smaller. The gravity isn’t quite as strong nor is the atmosphere as thick. This means you can get off planet with a rocket much easier on Kerbin than you ever would on Earth.
It’s best to approach KSP with a list of goals in mind. Your first goal might be to get a rocket that doesn’t explode on the launch pad. Your second goal might be to actually see it launch. Your third goal might be to remember to put a parachute on the capsule, and so on. Many of these initial goals might be met in one mission, or you might find the going tougher than expected. The joy of Kerbal Space is not just in the success but also in the catastrophic failure, seeing what happens when you forget things like parachutes or wings, or stage de-couplers. Of cours,e once the failed attempt has been swept off the launch pad it’s back to the assembly building to incorporate the lessons learned.
Getting off the planet is just the first step in a long list of things that can be accomplished in the game. You will learn how to put a Kerbal into stable orbit around Kerbin, then you can learn how to perform an orbital rendezvous and dock with a second orbiter. You can then learn how to create a space station using the techniques learned docking and rendezvousing. You can also choose to skip building space stations and fly to the planets in the Kerbin Solar System. Closest would be Mun, Kerbin’s moon, but other planetary bodies are there waiting for you to boldly go to, such as Eve and Jool.
Graphically the game suffers from being independently developed. While it’s not ugly by any means, they have focused more on getting the game working than on making it look pretty, and I can live with that. The graphics are part of the game’s cartoonish charm. I think that’s why the Kerbals work so well too: they aren’t humans. Instead they are almost Simpsons characters in space suits, with huge foreheads and buggy eyes. Another problem with the game is it can be resource intensive, if you’re not careful. Every part you add to a rocket has to be calculated by the game when in flight, so if you launch some monstrosity be prepared for the game to bring your super gaming PC to its knees. There are ways around this, ways of keeping the part count down, it just comes with experience – well, experience and surfing the net watching videos of how others manage to do things.
The audio isn’t really all that fantastic either, but in this case there’s not a whole lot of things they could do. Rockets sound like rockets, loud and proud. The music can get a little bit tedious but that’s why they give you music faders in the menu. That’s really all there is to the audio. You’ll hear rockets, explosions, wind and water when you splash down.
The game isn’t complete. Instead it’s been released as is and updated every so often. The most recent release added a roster of Kerbals that you can manage, or not, depending on how you play. There is no career mode as of now, but in the future the goal is to have you use the Kerbals at your disposal to learn how to get into orbit and accomplish goals to unlock new parts for your rockets. We’ll see how that goes, but for now there is a fantastic group of modders who are big into this game and who have been adding things to the game that they feel is missing. One mod in particular is MechJeb, which basically takes much of the thinking out of the Rocket Science. This can be a very good thing, because while the game is simplified it’s still rocket science.
I’ve spent close to 40 hours with this game since I got it, and I’m not even close to landing on the outer planets. If all you want to do is build stuff and watch it explode the game will certainly let you do that. Rockets, space planes, jet planes, rovers, drag racers, whatever your mind can think up it might just be possible to build and use in KSP.
Short Attention Span Summary:
This is a sandbox in the truest sense of the word. Whatever you can build you can launch. The feeling of accomplishment you get when you succeed in completing whatever mission you set out to achieve is extraordinary. People at NASA enjoy playing it. If you’ve ever watched From the Earth to the Moon and thought it would be funnier with little green dudes, this here is the game for you.