Kerbal Space Program, if you don’t already know, is a game where you are given a bunch of parts and you put them together in a hanger to build a rocket which you shoot into orbit and stuff. (Actually if you don’t know what Kerbal Space Program is and you read this comic, I don’t know who you are.) The game is fairly straightforward: try to build a rocket that can get into orbit without exploding or turning upside down and smashing into the world of Kerbin. The Kerbalnauts are little green cylinder-head people whom my wife calls “Girs.” They are funny. The game has a very humorous, cartoony feel, but make no mistake– this is a game about rocket science.
Whenever your craft is in motion, a trajectory is plotted on the map in front of it, and you click on this trajectory to plan manuvers, which you do by dragging vectors around (no calculator necessary!) until you are going where you want to. The game translates these vectors into instructions to turn towards a heading (a bit like a quest marker) and then fire your engine for a certain amount of time. When you are done, check to see how well your new trajectory matches the plotted one, repeat as necessary to get into orbit, orbit other bodies in the solar system, etc.
Prior to the most recent update, the game was a sandbox, a toy, and I didn’t have much interest in it. It just felt like a lot of work to sort through the extensive bin of parts and put together something that functioned. With the most recent update, which includes career mode, it really started making sense to me as a game. In career mode you start out with a handful of parts and you begin doing some basic test flights. This accumulates “science” for you, which is a currency you spend to unlock technologies in the R&D wing, which gives you access to more parts, so you can build better rockets, etc. For example, you get a little bit of science by taking simple weather readings in different parts of the Kerbin atmosphere, but you get lots of science by landing on the Moon and bringing back rocks! This neat mechanic forces you to learn what all the parts actually do in a gradual way.
There are a few mods for it that you really need to use if you’re not already. I hate to push mods for a game that is still in development, you know, give the guys a chance and all, but they add some features to the game that really improve it. Some of them I expect will be included in the “vanilla” version. (Also, installing mods is just a matter of dropping them into the right folder and then initializing the game.)
Kerbal Alarm Clock – This is so necessary if you are doing anything more advanced than a Kerbin orbit. You’ve missed that manuver node that was eight and a half hours away because you time-warped right through it, right? Not anymore– set an alarm for the manuver and up the time acceleration. Alarm Clock will automatically step down the warp as the time approaches and pop up with a message at a default of t-1 minute, giving you plenty of time to go to the right ship, etc. Also it addresses what is currently an oversight in design– when you switch between ships, planned manuever nodes are lost, but the Alarm Clock stores nodes when you set an alarm, and when the alarm goes off there is a helpful button that brings the saved node back up. Set alarms for as many nodes and ships as you need!
Crew Manifest – Sometimes you want to have better control over your crew than the vanilla UI provides. Maybe you want to have an cockpit attached to a probe core so that you can rescue stranded Kerbals. Maybe you want docking ports to do more than just shuttle fuel around. With a click, Crew Manifest brings up a window showing all the crew and all the parts they are currently assigned to, so you can kick a Kerbal out of your rescue vessel without having to EVA him on the launch pad and let him fall to his death and knock off parts on his way down, or move from through a docking ring into a different cockpit without having him EVA at all.
Procedural Fairings and Ferram Aerospace Research (FAR) – You know how with modern rocket launches, there’s generally a little white egg on top of the rocket? This is an aerodynamic container that protects the satellite or whatever while keeping all the intricate and non-aerodynamic parts from dragging the rocket down in the atmosphere. When the rocket gets out of the atmosphere, this shell is split into pieces and jettisoned so that the satellite inside can be deployed. “Procedural Fairings” allows you to make these containers on selected parts of your rocket, and they look sexy. They change shape to accommodate their contents, and it’s great. Combined with Ferram Aerospace Research, which is an overhaul of the aerodynamics in KSP, the fairings actually function, meaning they make the rocket more aerodynamic. This will save you A LOT of fuel. (I am consuming 1/3 less fuel in the process of going to orbit. For the same design, I was jettisoning my bottom stage at around 2 km altitute, and now I am jettisoning it at around 20km.) FAR also incorporates a lot of crazy changes to the way that planes work, and there’s a little tab which you can click to open up a giant menu in flight that as far as I can tell has no other purpose than to shit numbers all over the screen, but this is not required. (I am sure actual engineers would understand all of these numbers. Not me.)
These next mods are pretty cool and you should think about trying them because together they can make some wonderful looking and functioning Munbases.
Kethane – This adds a new dimension to the game by seeding planets and moons with the “Kethane” resource, which can be refined into the various resources you need. There are new parts to go along with this, of course, from the scanner that allows you to prospect from orbit, to the refinery that makes rocket fuel, to the generator that burns kethane to supply electricity. What else can you use Kethane for? I’m glad you asked!
Orbital Construction (Redux) – You can use Kethane to make “Rocket Parts” with his mod (although that is not the only way to get them.) What are rocket parts? Rocket parts are a generic resource like rocket fuel or electricity that can be shifted around in different tanks. Similarly, when you get ready to launch a ship, “rocket parts” containers fill up just fuel tanks do. “But Squid,” you ask, “what the hell good are rocket parts” well I’ll tell you. There are a couple of special rocket parts– one is a “space port designator” and the other is a “space port identifier.” Basically ship out there in the world that has a “space port designator” attached to it will function like a space port. Any ship which you put a “space port identifier” on will open a dialogue when you go to the launch pad, and this will allow you to build that ship at a space port, provided you have the necessary “rocket parts” stored on that “space port.” You still have to lug the considerably heavy cans of “rocket parts” to the station where stuff will be built, but the ability to construct complex ships in orbit rather than building pieces and then shooting them up into orbit to be linked by the somewhat elastic docking rings is a major benefit.
Aviation Lights – Pretty straightforward. Nothing too major. Out of the box, there are two lights you can put on your ship, but this mod adds different colored lights which you can set to flash and strobe and all kinds of nice stuff reminiscent of airplanes at night. This one isn’t a must
That’s all I’ve got. I will post some good examples of the above mods in use later. (Now you know why the comic is so slow in coming.)