Kerbal Space Program Will Take Away My Income and My Family
June 24, 2015
An amazing thing happened the other day -- a Steam game left Early Access and did a full release. I've never seen this happen and I'm frankly unsure of how to act in my life and social circles now. Mostly because this was sort of an unprecedented event, and also because I picked up the game in question and it's steadily ruining my life. In fact, Kerbal Space Program is probably the most satisfying game I've played in several years. Possibly since the first time I picked up the original Rome: Total War way back when it was released. Due to this fact, I'm getting increasingly less satisfaction from every-day events like earning income and being around loved ones.
What's so great about KSP, you ask? Well, I'll tell you!
Kerbal Space Program is produced by indie developer Squad, and allows you take control of your very own space program. That may seem obvious, but the depth of immersion is more than your brain can infer just from reading this. Way more. The game comes with three different modes to choose from: Career, Science, and Sandbox. From what I'm reading, most people go with Sandbox right from the start. But I went with Career, so othat I could mess around with the initial settings and parts offerings and really figure out what I was doing. Turns out that's pretty important. KSP is a real-life NASA training program in video game form (it's not really a NASA training program, but good lord almighty, maybe it should be).
Career mode is actually a bit too complex for starters. Not only to you have to build and manage rockets, you have to deal with budgetary constraints and administrative actions as well. I decided to switch to Science mode pretty quickly, which is much more my speed. It gets rid of the financial part of the game completely, and lets you focus on building and exploring, while progressively unlocking new parts and technologies with the science points you gain.
KSP is a game where you start out by building progressively larger penises.
The space center at your disposal comes with a variety of buildings that perform different functions. The most important is the VAB, or Vehicle Assembly Building. Other buildings include an astronaut facility for acquiring new hires, a tracking station, an R&D complex for researching tech, a hangar for building airplanes (and eventually space planes), mission control, a runway, and the launch pad. Each of these can be upgraded in Career mode for added functionality.
Building a rocket is hard. Really, really hard. Building a rocket that can escape the atmosphere of planet Kerbin and perform an orbital insertion is even harder. Then there's like, the entirety of space to explore after that, and figuring out the right parts to use to do that is damn near impossible at first. It takes a loooooooot of experimenting to get off the ground, let alone into the depths of cold, unfeeling space. Needless to say, KSP is not a casual game.
And everyone will die. A lot. But honestly it doesn't really matter. You can explode those litte green guys and gals overr and over if you have to. At the end of a failed mission, you get the option to revert back to launch or all the way back to the Vehicle Assembly Building to tweak your rocket design. It feels a little like cheating at first, but after you start to realize how many times you're about to embark on Challenger-style disasters, you get over it. If you didn't have the option to revert to launch, everyone in the entire game would die, and you'd be bankrupt from hiring new astronauts. I have a theory that Squad created the little green Kerbals specifically so that you wouldn't have to watch people repeatedly explode in nasty ways.
KSP is a ROI sort of game. You get what you put in. If you decide to go back to school to obtain a masters in astrophysics, for example, you'll probably get a lot more out of the game than someone who's resigned to just wing it. There's a certain working knowledge of physics required, or at least an ability to learn new skills relating to orbital maneuvering, and the memorization of key terms like apoapsis and periapsis. Without this knowledge, you'll surely die. Without it, you'll almost certainly die anyway. But it'll be much more fun, and you'll achieve a great deal more before the fiery explosion whisks your hopes and dreams straight to hell.
There's a whole lot of figuring out to do in Kerbal Space Program. For this reason, the game lends itself well to my play style. I like decoding seemingly impossible obstacles, and overcoming huge disadvantages (such as not being the head of a major space program in real life). If you are a scientist, entreprenuer, or just someone who finds satisfaction from struggling to understand how to optimize thrust-to-weight ratios, then this game is your jam. If you're the type of person who's easily frustrated by not getting it right the first time, or the millionth time, then KSP is not for you.
So far, with over zillions of launches and just as many casualties, my respect for NASA has grown exponentially. Most of us take space exploration for granted. And sure, KSP is a game, but it helps to put things in perspective. There are a myriad of things that can go awry during a mission. The fact that NASA gets it right much more often than not is actually incredible.
Overall, I'd give KSP an 8.5 out of 10. The niche knowledge base required and the lack of organized guidance makes a successful mission to deep space much less likely to succeed than perhaps it should be. The fun factor is dependant on your ability too trial-and-error your way to providence, but without proper instruction, you might be trying a lot harder than you anticipate. However, the ecstasy you feel upon regularizing an orbit or studying soil samples on the moon makes all that effort worth it pretty immediately. Returning all of your Kerbals safely to the planet's surface after flinging them out to almost certain doom is pretty cool too.
You can pick up Kerbal Space Program on Amazon, or, of course, on Steam. Make sure to keep an eye out for sales though. I nabbed it during the official launch sale at a nice discount. Both Amazon and Steam have frequent sales on games.