Thursday, January 2, 2014

3 days with...Kerbal Space Program!

First stop on my Steam Library

When I first started up Kerbal Space Program, I was greeted at the menu by a Kerbal trapped on the "Mun" with his space capsule in the distance tipped and half-buried in the Mun dust. I should have known that this was foreshadowing at it's best in video games.
I must have stranded 8 Kerbals on the Mun before I landed a capsule properly. I can only imagine they were playing cards and hopping around low-gravity waiting for rescue. It never came.
It's moments like this that KSP is all about.

It was through their sacrifice, sitting alone quietly above the heavens, that allowed me to experience one of the most unique and truly rewarding games that is currently in early-access on steam. I happened upon the game after a massive update, and got to experience a newly implemented Career Mode during version 0.24. This game has been a great pleasure to play, and just as frustrating at times during the last 3 days.

I began attempting to build Kerbal spacecraft with no real knowledge of rocketry or planetary travel, and the physics involved in them. After about 25 hours worth of solid play, I have armed myself with a rudamentary knowledge of physics when dealing with rockets, and the proper structure of a staged interstellar rocket. Not to mention some of the vernacular common to NASA engineers.

Seeing as how most modern video games are for mindless pleasure and not for education, having a fun game that makes me seek out knowledge outside of the game, is truly unique. That's right, I willingly shut this game down to learn about rocketry, staging, and physics so I could start it up again and make better rockets. That's not even to mention getting into making space planes, which is exponentially more complex (read: Aerodynamics are a B#$%&).

Jebediah might have gone for a spacewalk a bit too soon after launch.

The game doesn't give defined goals, or specific markers. It has a tech tree and instead of having waypoints or markers to beat, it lets you go and rewards you for trying newer and crazier things every time you launch. It's things like this that make you want to try traveling to the two moons of Kerbal, or to the next nearest planet for a science mission. The rewards are increased for the distance the target is from Kerbin (your home planet) and whether or not you can make it back or get stranded in space.

The game is still in Beta, and from the moment you start playing it's clear that there is still some major work to be done on the part of the developers. This doesn't mean that there isn't plenty of fun to be had at the expense of some little green men attempting ot reach for the stars. Moments of rapture and greivance are aplenty when playing KSP. At many times it may have you feeling emontionally drained when that last flight to Duna (Kerbins version of Mars) went horribly awry and you need to spend the next 30 minutes aligning a rescue craft for your Kerbal who is now lost in space.

Finally made it! Unfortunately this Kerbal didn't quite make it back

I have had a blast (see what I did there?) playing this game, and I can say with some amount of confidence that anyone who enjoys simulators, or games requiring creativity and critical thinking, will love this game. I know I did, and even my 2 year old son loved watching the rockets fall to pieces in the atmosphere as I launched Kerbal after Kerbal out of orbit. Props to Squad for making a game that made me a better person, and entertained me lots.

Next time: I explore the world of Skyrim with 70+ Steam Workshop mods involved and all DLC. I have experience with the vanilla version, so I'm excited.

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