Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Kerbal Space Program: The Silly Side of Rocket Science

A couple weeks ago, Squad released an update to their amusing space sim, Kerbal Space Program. The version .22 update added a career mode feature, which has been directly responsible for a lot of my wasted time over the past couple weeks.

For those who are unfamiliar, KSP is an indie game in open alpha development that allows the player to build rockets to fly little green men (who are likely some genetic variant of the minions from Despicable Me) around a made up solar system. Here's the thing, though... unlike any other space game I've played, KSP uses extremely realistic orbital mechanics. Which makes it both compelling for a space geek like me, but also really hard to get the hang of.
 
First Kerbal on the Mun
Up until this recent update, the game has been a sort of sandbox spacecraft builder. You built rockets from an unlimited supply of parts and sent them off to who-knows-where with an unlimited supply of little green men at the controls.

The new career mode is only different from the sandbox spacecraft builder in that your starting parts are limited. Unlocking the parts in the tech tree requires that you fly missions and run science experiments along the way. This earns you science points, which you can use to unlock new tech. That's it... no specific missions, no storyline. Just a tech tree tempting the player with its forbidden rockety fruit.

Probe landing on Eve (the in-game equivalent of Venus)
Seriously though, career mode was a major game changer for me. When the game was a simple sandbox, I'd fire it up from time to time, maybe put a rocket in orbit, or try to dock two spacecraft together, but that was about it. Now, I find myself dreaming up missions, doodling spacecraft, even calculating delta V by hand! The fact that repeat missions produce diminishing returns on science only encourages this behavior. If I am going to get the whole tech tree unlocked, I need to explore new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no Kerbal has gone before.

Orbiter around Jool (in-game equivalent of Jupiter)
 

1 comment:

  1. I like it! I played Microsoft's Space Simulator years ago and found it insanely boring without any kind of interactivity. This sounds a lot more fun Geoff.

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