Run your own space program (into the ground)

Kerbal Space Program lets you design rockets and spacecraft for putting little green men on a moon.
Kerbal Space Program lets you design rockets and spacecraft for putting little green men on a moon.

WHEN Ed Harris pulled on his vest at the beginning of Apollo 13, something stirred in my brain.

I wanted to work for NASA.

I wanted to send missions to the moon.

Later I discovered maths and effort were involved in that plan, so I ditched it in favour of playing computer games.

It turns out those two paths have now merged, with Kerbal Space Program letting you design rockets and spacecraft for putting little green men on a distant planet's moon.

Unlike most space simulations, Kerbal forces you to deal with a much more realistic set of physics. You can't just slap engines together, point up and go.

No, you need to design your craft as if a royal commission was waiting if you stuff it up.

Piloting is also treated with respect.

Most games use "fluid dynamics" to represent space, making spacecraft move more like submarines than they would if faced with real orbital or zero-gravity physics.

Learn what delta-v, apoapsis and thrust vector mean or you'll send your little green astronauts to the grave rather than glory.

The learning curve is offset somewhat by other players who've uploaded tutorial videos to YouTube and saved you hours or days of trial-and-error.

The end-game for Kerbal is amazing.

Build a space program with multitudes of satellites in orbit, deep-space refuelling depots servicing kerballed missions to distant planets or roam around on alien worlds while your intrepid green explorers stare in awe. The only thing missing here is a control room of little green people jumping and cheering whenever a mission doesn't explode.

Kerbal Space Program is hard, not as pretty as it could be, and sometimes frustrating, but if you've ever wished you were Neil Armstrong or Chris Hadfield or Major Tom, go get this game and play it to death.

Reviewer's Mission Log Excerpt:

Kerbal log: In hindsight, the Icarus Program was heavy-handed to the point of insane. The earlier but better-designed Daedalus Program was reinstated using the lessons learned from Icarus.

Kerbal log: After the loss of Bill Kerman, the commission found that nothing had in fact been learned from the Icarus Program.

Kerbal Log: The Daedalus 9 was shelved in favour of the earlier Daedelus 7 design after investigations into the Bill Kerman death found too many faults to pinpoint a single cause of the accident.

Kerbal log: Once Tomnie Kerman had been recovered from the wreckage of the Daedalus 7, serious questions were asked about the fitness of Mission Commander Kieran Salsone to run the program.

Kerbal log: Despite several reports recommending otherwise, Tomnie Kerman agreed to pilot the Daedalus 5 craft designed by his father, Jebediah. Tomnie, currently conducting experiments from orbit, will receive a medal of bravery for his quick thinking in correcting mission orders that would have seen his craft once again plummet to the ground.

Kerbal log: Mission Commander Salsone has been arrested and shot.

Topics:  games and gadgets

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