Blasting off with the Kerbal Space Program

Simon Copley and Christian Greer 7 February 2014

Kerbal Space Program (KSP) is a great indie game – still under development but very much playable. You control the space 
program of small (hilarious) green men on ‘Earth’. This is an ‘open world’ game, but we think it should really be described as ‘open solar system’.To review this game, we obviously had to complete a proper space mission. With the recent hype about the 
‘Curiosity’ rover, there was only one place we would go: Mars!

After a few false starts, Chris’s first piloting attempt failed at 15,000m when the ship broke in half, something we would prefer to call “rapid unplanned disassembly”. We hastily made modifications and broke into orbit. In real life the Mars trip would take about 8 months but as the game is on a smaller scale it took us only 54 days. Luckily the time warp option meant we waited 5 minutes.

We had originally planned to use parachutes to descend, but this led to our lander ripping itself apart before smashing into the surface. A quick reload and our next attempt (using rockets to slow us down further) was more successful and we were soon making the first steps on a new world!

Everyone knows the first thing you do when you land on a celestial body is plant your country’s flag. We made do with our college flag. (Don’t be jealous.) Inspired by NASA’s Curiosity we also brought some rovers along. Soon it was time to head home. We docked together with our booster tank in orbit, flew home, re-entering the atmosphere and were soon safely landed.

Criticism of this game is hard to give but here’s some to make this a balanced review. Firstly, unless you have some physics knowledge it will take you a while to get going. Secondly, you might be a little disturbed by how little your astronauts value their own safety as they unquestioningly climb into every explosion-prone contraption you create. Finally, as the game is in alpha, it isn’t fully optimised, so those of us without top-of-the range computers will find it difficult to fly huge rockets without exploding catastrophically. But even without a computer capable of high-end graphics this game is still capable of wowing you with the raw beauty of space. Additionally, for those who want to go further, there is a community dedicated to modding this game, producing everything from different parts to alternative solar systems to explore.

The impact of KSP has been stellar, with it being adapted for use in American classrooms for teaching physics and even NASA has committed to producing a mission pack for the game. So this game really is seen as a way to engage the public, something critical for creating support for further space exploration.

You can buy it on Steam for £19.99, or download a great demo from the KSP website