Kerbal Space Program: It *IS* Rocket Science (Sort of) for Space Tycoons

Join the space race and hurl brave but stupid Kerbals into the unknown for the betterment of all Kerbalkind. A first look at the space exploration sandbox quietly building momentum.

Thanks to mankind's ultimate pissing contest between NASA and the Soviet Space Program, every boy* since the 1960s grew up with space rockets in the blood.

The days of childhood ambition to be a train driver were over, astronaut/cosmonaut was where it was at (well, until Jedis, but that's a space jam of a different flavour; let's not get into the Freudian replacement of phallic trains for rockets for light sabres).

Kerbal Space Program takes those dreams of orbiting the Earth, landing on the Moon and exploring the solar system and makes them a (virtual) reality with a comical twist; the small steps and giant leaps are being made by the adorably fat-headed Kerbal race who live on the Earth-like planet Kerbin which is orbited by "the Mun". Beyond that they have the entire Kerbol system with over a dozen celestial bodies to explore.

Exploring or Exploding, It's All Progress

The titular space program is facilitated with a simple drag-and-drop Lego-like construction mechanic which balances authenticity and accessibility very well.

The player can quickly plug together a command module, a fuel tank and some booster rockets. Within minutes an unsuspecting Kerbal will be strapped on top of tonnes of explosives built by a clueless idiot (well, certainly in my case).  

The comical tendency for everything to go wrong and explode spectacularly makes the whole experience quite dramatic and entertaining.

After numerous attempts to reach orbit see various launch-pad cartwheels, spaceport divebombs and premature splashdowns, the sheer joy of reaching the inky blackness of space is euphoric (that's not what the picture below led to though, as you can probably tell).

However, achieving a stable orbit and/or non-fatal spacewalks is another thing entirely, let alone reaching The Mun.

Features Recently Bolted On

Even though my early attempts to join the space with the demo version have met with limited success, the recent full-version release of a tycoon career mode certainly has me intrigued. New features include:

  • Career Mode is now open! Although still very much under development, you can now start new Career saves.
  • Added the Research & Development Facility to the Space Center.
  • R&D allows players to unlock parts (and later other stuff) by researching nodes on the Tech Tree (In Career Mode).
  • You can now collect surface samples while on EVA, and process them to do Science.
  • Added new scientific parts, like the Materials Bay and the Mystery Goo™ Canister (probably best explained in this entertaining video). Also added experiments to many existing parts.
  • Nose Cones now actually help with improving stability during atmospheric flight.
  • It is now possible to recover a flight after landing/splashdown on Kerbin without going through the Tracking Station. Look above the Altimeter.
  • Celestial Bodies now support Biome Maps, which are used to create different conditions for experiments.

Full v0.22 patch notes can be viewed here and the video below gives a visual overview. 

Kerbal Space Program is currently in an alpha state and the latest release (v0.22) is far from feature complete or bug free (although in this case, having slightly unpredictable software almost adds to the rivets-and-duct-tape charm).

The free demo and full alpha version ($22.99/£17.99/€21.99) are available on Steam or direct from the Kerbal Space Program website.

*possibly girls too. I'm not being exclusive, I'm just making sweeping generalisations for the sake of a nice opening paragraph m'kay?

Featured Columnist

Broken paramedic and coffee-drinking Englishman whose favourite dumb animal is an oxymoron. After over a decade of humping and dumping the fat and the dead, my lower spine did things normally reserved for Rubik's cubes, bringing my career as a medical clinician to an unexpectedly early end. Fortunately, my real passion is in writing and given that I'm now highly qualified in the art of sitting down, I have the time to pursue it. Having blogged about video games (well, mostly EVE Online) for years, I hope to channel my enjoyment of wordcraft and my hobby of gaming into one handy new career that doesn't involve other people's vomit.

Published Oct. 23rd 2013

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