Kerbal Space Program

Kerbal Space Program

KSP has been a game I’ve been playing on and off since I joined the beta back in March 2012. Since then KSP has been through many changes, with the game being released back in May 2015. You can pick up the free demo here. It was through KSP that I stumbled upon the YouTuber Scott Manley whose videos helped me understand orbital mechanics and I also have to pay thanks to Robbaz as it was his Viking Space Program videos that introduced me to KSP initially. Yes KSP is a game, but the likes of NASA and the ESA have taken notice and formed working partnerships with the Mexican developers of KSP. Elon Musk of SpaceX fame, amongst others, has also name dropped KSP publicly. Many schools have been provided with free copies of the game to help teach students about space flight, orbital mechanics and gravity.

One of my proudest moments in KSP, landing, without exploding, on Duna.

One of my proudest moments in KSP, landing, without exploding, on Duna.

Within the game there is a lot of humour, and at first glance this combined with the little green men and women you have at your disposal gives the impression that this is a light weight comedic title. Hidden behind this is a complex game using very accurate physics. The Kerbal system has five planets and two dwarf planets with nine moons orbiting around these. It does look similar to the Sol system with Moho representing Mercury, Eve for Venus, Kerbin for Earth, Duna for Mars, Dres for the dwarf planet Ceres, Jool for Jupiter and Eeloo for the dwarf planet Pluto.

Thanks to KSP I now know what Δv (pronounced delta-vee ) means and how it is calculated. I’d heard of escape velocity before, now I understand what it means. I understand what pro-grade and retro-grade actions are and worst of all I now struggle to watch any movie in which ships perform orbital manoeuvres.

A basic rocket built in KSP

A basic rocket built in KSP

This is because a lot of orbital mechanics is counter-intuitive and makes little sense until you delve into it and understand the physics behind it. Whereas in movies and TV shows they make it work the way you would think it should work.

You have the choice of several different games modes, one of them being a sandbox mode where you have access to all the modular parts and the other being a career mode where you start with a small budget and limited access to parts. Both modes come with pre-built vehicles you can use, and amend, although the fun in KSP comes from making your own rockets and airplanes. One of the hardest challenges I have faced is making a space plane. That is an aircraft that takes off and goes into orbit only to be able to fly back down and land at your space centre. The career aspect of KSP brings in a varied and challenging side to the game. Rather than just setting your own goals you can take out contracts to perform experiments or reach set goals within certain parameters and within a set budget. These tasks range from the simple act of reaching space to more complex missions involving trips to multiple celestial bodies in one go.

Another fun part of KSP is being able to make funky (I used that word liberally here) designs to see if you can get them into a stable orbit. Starting with simple rockets like the one of the right to learn the basics you can then start working on more advances rockets with specialist missions in mind. These can be from landing a probe on a distant body to creating your own lunar rover for a Kerbal to drive around the Mun (Kerbal’s moon).

In the sandbox world you have access to all the parts and an unlimited budget to play with. Some of my fondest moments playing KSP was the first time I landed on the Mun and returned home and building a space station out of multiple launches. Rendezvousing two objects in orbit around a planet is not an easy task and requires a lot of knowledge, skill and patience.  The header for this article was created by docking five different ships together in orbit and took me around a week of playing to achieve. Was it worth it? Yes!

Squad are also working on the multiplayer side of KSP, although you can get mods that allow you do this right now.

A poor attempt at a TIE fighter.

A poor attempt of mine at recreating a TIE fighter in KSP.

Some fun, if not challenging designs  I have tried are a Tie-Fighter, which I was happy to get into a stable orbit, a mock frigate/cruiser and a giant stompy death robot (which I was surprisingly got into orbit).

The KSP community also runs challenges on the official forums and a weekly challenge on Reddit which adds a lot more longevity to the game. There is also a strong modding community within KSP, a community that Squad (the developers) are keen to communicate with and have incorporated their mods/ideas into KSP by working with the mod creator(s).
So if you are a budding rocket scientist, a fan of physics or just want to strap little green aliens to rockets and watch them explode KSP could be the game for you.

To MechJeb or not to MechJeb that is the question…

Paul Thompson has been an avid computer gamer since his father brought home an ZX81. He was also indoctrinated into PnP role playing with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness RPG by Erick Wujcik. Paul is thankful that you read his article and would like to invite you to follow him on twitter @BosieWylde as well as the NerdGoblin facebook and twitter @thenerdgoblin .

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