Kerbal Space Program
|Kerbal Space Program|
|Programmer(s)||Marco Salcedo, Jesus Montaño|
|Release date(s)||June 24, 2011 (alpha 0.7.3)
July 17, 2014 (latest, alpha 0.24: First Contract)
|Genre(s)||Space flight simulator|
|Mode(s)||Single-player sandbox, single-player career mode|
Kerbal Space Program (commonly abbreviated to KSP) is a spaceflight simulator developed by Squad currently in public alpha development for release on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. The first public version was released on June 24, 2011, and is currently sold on the online official KSP Store, and since March 20, 2013, through Steam's early access program, where it reached the top 3 best sold games. Updates have been continuously released. KSP has large support for game mods and a large community to create them, which developed shortly after the game's start. Notable members of the space industry have taken an interest in the game.
The player controls a nascent space program operated by Kerbals, a race of small green humanoids, who have constructed a fully furnished and functional spaceport (known as the Kerbal Space Center, or KSC) on their homeworld Kerbin, similar to Earth.
Kerbals are generally shown as funny cartoon-like little green men, sometimes lacking common sense, resulting in an endless stream of flight volunteers with no care for safety procedures, but they have shown to be able to construct very-well-made spacecraft parts and perform experiments in the lab.
Gameplay consists of constructing rockets and spaceplanes out of a provided set of components and launching them from the in-game space center's launch pad or runway, then going on to complete their desired mission assuming no catastrophic failure.
Because of all the different things a player needs to monitor and the difficulty of grasping orbital mechanics, the game has a steep learning curve.
Missions (although entirely player-set) generally involve, from simplest to most complex, achieving orbit, landing on the Mün/Minmus, (both moons of Kerbin) landing on other planets, capturing asteroids, and creating spacestations and bases.
In the Vehicle Assembly Building and Spaceplane Hangar, many intricate designs can be constructed using the wide selection of engines, fuel tanks, wings, and structural parts, with options for symmetry, viewing the center of mass, lift, and thrust, choosing a crew roster, (if manned) and creating shortcuts for keys and buttons in the game's in-flight GUI. Possible designs range from massive multi-stage rockets to aerodynamic SSTO craft. To prevent craft failures, players need to worry about weight, thrust, stability, and structural integrity. Players can also create aircraft and rudimentary boats.
Vehicles can be equipped with solar panels, RCS thrusters, wheels, and other miscellaneous components for the player's needs. Once launched, spacecraft can be navigated to other celestial bodies and landed for surface operations, assuming they have enough Delta-v. Multiple craft can also be docked in orbit to construct space stations and interplanetary tugs without using huge rockets.
Players can manage the spaceport's Kerbal astronaut roster, hired from the Astronaut Complex. They all share the same surname "Kerman." Players can choose personnel to assign to seats. In space or on land, Kerbals can exit the spacecraft safely to perform an extra-vehicular activity, (EVA) usually to gain Science or plant a flag.
In the Tracking Station, it is possible to see celestial bodies and craft in-flight when the player is not focusing on the craft. With the Asteroid Redirect Mission, the Tracking Station can track discovered unknown objects (asteroids) and find out their trajectory for a mission to capture asteroids. The longer an asteroid is tracked, the more accurate its trajectory is.
Hired astronauts are ranked (as of version .23.5) by two factors: courage and stupidity. Kerbals all have randomly generated names with pseudo-randomly generated stats (except for the three starting crew whose names and stats are fixed), with a 10% chance of having the badass ("badS") flag. There are over 11,000 unique Kerbal names that can be generated.
Once a spacecraft is built, it is placed on the launchpad or the runway and is ready for launch. Players control a spacecraft in all three dimensions with little assistance other than a stability system to keep a rocket pointed at a certain direction. If the rocket has enough thrust and delta-v, it is possible to reach orbit. In flight, to visualize the player's trajectory, the player must switch into map mode, which shows the orbit or trajectory of the current craft, and the current position of other spacecraft and planetary bodies.
The game can be played in two different gamemodes that are selected when the player starts a new game: sandbox mode and career mode. In sandbox mode, players are free to attempt any mission for which they can construct a suitable vehicle, with no punishments for failure (except the temporary death of Kerbals who died during a mission) and using entirely user-assigned missions.
In career mode, the initial selection of parts is limited, with the more advanced parts unlocked via "Science," in the Research and Development building, gained by performing various scientific experiments on Kerbin and throughout the solar system. Career mode is partially designed to ease new players into the game and prevent them getting overwhelmed. Science gained on a mission needs to be received by the space port. This can be done by transmissions via antennas in the game, or recovery by a craft landing back on Kerbin. In order to limit the size and expanse of rockets, several currencies have been added to career mode.
Historical spacecraft can be recreated and their accomplishments mimicked, such as the Apollo program, the Mars Science Laboratory rover, or the International Space Station. Players may also install mods which can implement destinations, rocket parts, and goals for the game, such as mining for resources or incrementally deploying an interplanetary communication network.
Game development remains ongoing and the studio, Squad, have promised that in the future new features will be added, such as damage due to air compression in reentry, and a system for creating reusable spacecraft.
Kerbal Space Program contains varying celestial bodies to land and perform experiments on. The star system contains five major planets, two dwarf planets, (as stated by the developers.) and nine natural satellites. (as of version 23.5) Because there are no asteroid belts yet, although there are asteroids, according to the IAU's definition of a planet, one of the two dwarf planets in the game are not dwarf planets as they do not have a neighborhood of asteroids in similar orbits.
All the planets and dwarf planets orbit around a yellow star, named Kerbol by the KSP community. Because of the game's dwarfed planetary (and solar) size, the Sun in the game is too small to have fusion undergoing in its core assuming real-life astrophysics. Fans of the game often call the star Kerbol, after Kerbals, though no official name has been given.
The planetary bodies are as follows, from the closest to the Sun to the farthest.
- Moho, the in-game analogue for Mercury and the closest planet to the Sun.
- Eve, the purple-colored analogue for Venus with one natural satellite. It is the body with the thickest atmosphere and largest celestial body in the game that is solid. In addition, Eve has expansive oceans of unknown composition.
- Gilly, the moon of Eve, and a presumed captured asteroid. It is the smallest celestial body in the game other than the asteroids part of the 23.5 update, and the smallest object to have a gravitational field.
- Kerbin, the home planet of the Kerbals. Has an oxygen atmosphere and supports liquid water on its surface. This analogue for Earth has many of the same biomes, including polar ice caps, rivers, mountains and deserts.
- Mun, also known as Mün, the main moon of Kerbin and an analogue for the Moon of Earth. The Mun is the closest body to Kerbin and often the first body other than Kerbin that new players to the game land on.
- Minmus, the second smaller moon of Kerbin and a possible comet nucleus. Minmus is another easy target for new players to land on. It features large seemingly frozen lake beds, which along with it's size challenge the theory that it is a captured comet nucleus.
- Duna, in-game analogue for Mars is red, with canyons and expansive polar ice caps. It has one moon, called Ike.
- Ike, the moon of Duna in a synchronous orbit, is relatively large compared to Duna. It does not represent either Phobos or Deimos but is more similar to the Mun in size. In orbit around Ike there is the "Magic boulder" that has a monolith on it's surface as a reference to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey (film).
- Dres, a dwarf planet and analogue for Ceres is a small, gray body with no moons. The surface features a massive canyon, the deepest in the Kerbol system.
- Jool, a vibrant green gas giant and analogue for Jupiter, has five moons, three of which are in resonances similar to the Galilean moons
- Laythe, the inner-most moon of Jool. Has an oxygen atmosphere and supports water on its surface. It has no direct real-world analogue, but forms a resonance just like Ganymede, Europa, and Io. Based on orbits, Laythe is the analog of Io, although the near-opposite of it based on its atmosphere, surface, and temperature. Its surface is almost entirely covered with oceans, though it has some sizable island chains.
- Vall, the analogue for Europa and in a resonance with Laythe and Tylo. Vall is considered to have oceans of liquid water beneath its surface.
- Tylo, the analogue for Ganymede and the largest moon and celestial body without an atmosphere in the game, with surface gravity similar to that of Kerbin's. It is in an orbital resonance with Laythe and Vall. It is a mystery as to why Tylo hasn't accumulated an atmosphere.
- Bop, similar to Gilly is presumed to be a captured asteroid. There is no real-world analogue to Bop, though several satellites of Jupiter are similar in size.
- Pol, the smallest of the five natural satellites of Jool and the outermost. Second-smallest celestial body in the game. The terrain is very irregular and the planet may be named Pol due to its similarities to a pollen grain's shape and colour. There is no real-world analogue to Pol.
- Eeloo, a dwarf planet, outermost planet of KSP's solar system, and analogue for Pluto, although it lacks moons. It also lacks the scattering of surface rocks that most other planets/moons have.
There are many Easter eggs and references scattered throughout the Kerbol system, the most common of which are black monoliths scattered on the surfaces of many of the celestial bodies.
- On Vall there is a Stonehenge-like construct that consists of rectangular prisms and square-based pyramids.
- On Dres there is a giant ravine that is over 7km deep at the lowest point.
- On duna there is a rock shaped like the face of a kerbal, a mysterious pyramid-like hill that emits an SSTV signal, and the camera of the NASA Curiosity Rover buried under the surface at the coordinates of Curiosity's landing site on Mars.
- Around Ike orbits a small asteroid called the Magic Boulder with a monolith on it's surface and glowing green surface features.
- On the Mun there are rock arches scattered across the surface.
- On Kerbin there is a smiley face on the seafloor just south of the Kerbal Space Center
- On Moho there are deep holes at both of the poles nicknamed "Moholes" and are most likely a reference to the infamous Project Mohole
- there are also several smiley faces hidden on/in certain rocket parts.
The game has been praised for its realistic representation of orbital mechanics. Every object in the game except the celestial bodies themselves are under the control of a Newtonian dynamics simulation. Rocket thrust and aerodynamic forces are applied accurately to a vehicle's frame based on the positions in which the force-generating elements are mounted. The strength of the joints connecting parts together is finite and vehicles can be torn apart by excessive or inappropriately directed forces.
Some planets have atmospheres of varying heights and densities, affecting the efficiency of wings and parachutes and causing drag during flight. The simulations are accurate enough that real-world techniques such as Hohmann transfers and aerobraking are viable methods of navigating the solar system. Centrifugal force is modeled and players have created torus stations which exhibit measurable artificial gravity and can be traversed by wheeled rovers. The game simulates trajectories and orbits using patched conic approximation instead of a full n-body simulation, and thus does not support Lagrange points and halo orbits. According to the developers, full n-body physics would require the entire physics engine to be rewritten.
Notable inaccuracies include the perfect reliability of equipment (equipment generally only fails with excessive force) and the lack of life-support consumables. Kerbals can survive indefinitely in space either in a capsule or a space suit. This simplifies orbital rendezvous by making it practical to wait multiple orbits until a desirable alignment is reached. Also, Kerbals have extremely capable EVA suits with 600 m/s of Δv. This is 24 times the capability of NASA's manned maneuvering unit, sufficient to reach orbit from (or even land on, return to orbit from, and rendezvous with a spacecraft orbiting around) small moons, and allows EVA transfer between markedly different orbits.
The celestial bodies in the Kerbal solar system are about 1/10 the radius of their real-universe equivalents yet have comparable surface gravity, implying that they have unrealistically high densities. This change to scale makes many tasks considerably easier. For example, a surface to low-Kerbin-orbit launch requires a delta-v of about 4.5 km/s, compared to 9.5 km/s for a low-Earth-orbit launch. In particular, because of the game also having unrealistically efficient and flexible (in terms of speed and altitude) turbojet engines, this means it is much easier to make a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle using jet engines to accelerate a vehicle to orbital speed on only a small fraction of its mass in jet fuel, then give a tiny boost with rockets to reach orbit, whereas in real life, a highly efficient but powerful and lightweight scramjet would be necessary to do the same with several times the amount of fuel.
The game's aerodynamic model applies drag force to parts based on a "drag coefficient" multiplied by the part's mass (remaining mass for fuel tanks) multiplied by the air density at that altitude multiplied by the speed of the part multiplied by a constant. This results in conventionally aerodynamic designs being unaerodynamic, and most designs having unrealistic levels of drag (often by orders of magnitude for large needle-like rockets). This also means that nose cones actually add drag to a vessel. The relatively minor drag on the nose cone is added to the drag of the other parts. This drag also reduces the effects of steep reentry trajectories and high-speed flight by applying drag forces evenly distributed between the mass of the vessel (except for nose cones, which may go flying off of the front of the vessel, and parachutes, which may pull the back of it off). Lift is calculated in a similar manner and so some planes can have unrealistically far forward wings and not become aerodynamically unstable. Also, non-wing parts do not generate lift, meaning, for example, that re-entering space capsules are neutrally stable in all directions and free to rotate, whereas in reality, they are intended to point heat-shield-down. No re-entry shock heating has been implemented yet; although an effect exists to show the flames generated by re-entry, it currently is harmless to the spacecraft itself. Also the re-entry effects like heating up and the decrease of velocity stops on parts that are separated from the main space vehicle during re-entry. This could be for example the service module.
The game is currently in the alpha stage of development and is considered by the developers to only be a small approximation of the final product. New features are added regularly in updates to the game. No schedule or criteria for transition into beta or final release have been announced. KSP is written in C# and uses the Unity engine.
The game's first public release was Alpha 0.7.3 on June 24, 2011. The game has been moddable from the very early versions and has steadily become more robust. Versions 0.13.3 (March 3, 2012) and 0.18.3 (February 12, 2013) are available, in limited form, as demos; they are available at no cost, but have limited content and can not receive updates. The latest version of the game, 0.24, was released on July 18, 2014.
KSP allows support for extensive modding, allowing anything from craft parts to whole autopilot systems and changes to the game's physics to be created. All mods can be hosted on the game's official mod site, Curse.org, which can be accessed via a link in the main menu.
There are a wide variety of available mods. The most notable ones add autopilot tools, geodetic mapping systems, resource scanning and harvesting, various methods of life support for crew members, data graphing systems, communications network systems, and extensive collections of new parts. (including recreations of real and historic spacecraft, including Apollo, SLS, and the Space Shuttle) Many mods have attempted to cover aspects of the game that have not yet been developed by Squad, (such as adding re-entry heat and implementing accurate drag physics) and some mod-makers have even been hired by Squad to do in-house work due to their mod's comparatively high quality.
On January 27, 2014, it was revealed that Squad is working on an education-themed mod entitled KerbalEdu in collaboration with TeacherGaming LLC (of MinecraftEdu). It will include an improved user interface for easier data gathering and summary, pre-made lessons that focus on certain constructions, options to use the metric system, and a "robust pedagogy" that includes information outside of the game that ties into its content.
Squad has also made an Asteroid Mission Pack (update 23.5) with full support from NASA, that was released on April 1, 2014. It is based on a real-life initiative to send humans out to study asteroids.
Although the game is still in alpha, KSP is already considered a success, having over 100,000 members registered on their forums with over 5,500 active users. In the hours after its Steam release on March 20, 2013 it reached the top 5 of best sold games, as well as the best seller on Steam for Linux.
The public alpha releases have been well-received so far. Many publications and individual people have referred fondly to Kerbal Space Program and praised the game's replayability and creative aspects, including Kotaku, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, IGN, PC Gamer, Gamespy, Eurogamer, Polygon, Destructoid, and The Torch. It has also received a substantial following on Reddit with over 68,000 readers.
- List of space flight simulator games
- Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space
- Microsoft Space Simulator
- Frontier: Elite II
- Frontier: First Encounters (Elite III)
- Elite: Dangerous
- Space Shuttle Mission 2007
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