Kerbal Space Program Review
I've seen many space films—Armaggedon, Deep Impact, Apollo 13—and they've all taught me one thing: space travel isn't easy. Something inevitably goes wrong, whether it's during the launch, refueling at the space station, a mechanical issue with the craft, or a problem with re-entry. I've always wondered what it would be like to go to space, so after hearing about Kerbal Space Program, a space flight simulation game, I thought "Here’s my change to do it the easy way." Nope.
It's not rocket science…or is it?
The first thing you’ll notice about KSP is how incredibly complex it is. To begin with, you must design your own space craft. The tutorial eases you through the ins and outs of building one with lots of cool features, but the bare essentials are a command module and an engine. There are different types of command modules, and engines come in various shapes, sizes, and fuel types. Initially I opted for the simplest approach—give it engines—lots of them. But I discovered quickly that the key to a good craft is more than the engines. You can attach various modules to the craft to make it more stable, as well as wings, struts, fuel tanks, wheels (if you want to go for a horizontal launch), and parachutes (to help the command module land safely). You can also get decouplers to create stages for your craft’s flight. For example, once an engine has run out of fuel the decoupler will eject it from the body of the ship, allowing another set of engines to start-up. There’s a lot of customization, and modding is also available, so the possibilities are endless. Whether you want to build a rocket that will take you to the furthest reaches of the solar system, or a tiny probe to map the Mun, KSP gives you a great deal of freedom. However, it can take a lot of fine tuning to get your craft ready for flying, and even then a small problem can lead to catastrophe for your Kerbals.
How do I fly this thing?!?
If you thought building a craft was complicated, wait until you get to the launch screen. This is the moment when you'll launch your craft into the ocean, the ground, or ideally, space. If you fail to lift off at all, it will simply explode on the launch pad. There's an array of controls which, to the average person, will seem completely incomprehensible. The most important control is a blue circle at the bottom of the screen, near the middle. This represents the direction you're heading and tilts as your craft does. The gauge on the left shows the throttle, and on the right is the amount of G force. You can also see whether you have RCS and SAS enabled. I have no idea what they do, but I assume they're good things, so I keep them on pretty much the whole time by pressing R and T. The various stages of your craft are shown on the left, and the top middle display shows your altitude. There's a lot you need to take into consideration in order to properly fly a craft in KSP, but for your first few attempts it's best to keep it simple. Enable SAS and RCS, then press and hold space-bar. Hopefully, your craft's engines have kicked in, and hopefully it's gaining altitude and not exploding into a millions of pieces. Although to be honest, watching your engines breaking away from the body of your craft and ping off in all directions is phenomenally entertaining. Failure isn't always a bad thing!
Click the image to view game screenshots
That said, failure can get very frustrating very quickly. One of the main problems with KSP is that it is largely a trial-and-error game. You could spend a great deal of time revising and tweaking your craft, only to find the smallest change spells doom for the whole thing. You also have to do a lot of searching through the various parts available to find the right one to fit the job. There are a lot of engine parts offered, for example, and they all come in different shapes and sizes. Yet to the non-astronauts among us, most of the technical jargon means absolutely nothing. All I'm looking for is an engine that will throw a load of smoke and fire everywhere and make my craft fly; is that too much to ask for?!? During one of my first attempts, I picked an engine that didn’t do any of that, but instead caused my rocket to flop around and explode! You can strap as many rockets onto your craft as you want, but that doesn't guarantee a safe journey or that you'll even be able to achieve an orbit around the planet. For a game that’s supposed to be about space exploration, actually getting into space in the first place can be a disheartening experience. With that said, once you get a handle on the game and achieve your first orbit, the rest is a walk in the park.
Where to go from here
I recommend watching or reading tutorials online that tell you how to achieve orbit, as there are various stages of flight that you need to understand before you can start sending your first Kerbals to the Mun and, eventually, other planets. You'll probably kill off a lot of them in the process, but don't feel guilty. They knew the risks when they signed up for the mission. After all, they're Kerbals; they're born for this sort of thing. You will have a great sense of accomplishment when you land your first craft successfully on the Mun without it blowing up, and then return the craft and the Kerbal to the planet safely. But that's not all there is to this game, as beyond your planet's 2 moons there are 6 additional planets to explore, complete with their own moons as well! For less than £20 (at the time of writing), KSP is a great way to relax, explore the wonders of the solar system, and send little smiling people to their untimely deaths.