Kerbal Space Program actually boasts a bit of rocket science in its gameplay. Denise Kuan interviews developer Squad to discuss the finer points
Kerbal Space Program is the most difficult game I have ever played, and will probably ever play in my life. Why? Because you actually have to understand rocket science to successfully send your kerbal astronauts into space. Maybe the day I finally send my kerbals into orbit, without forgetting a parachute or blowing them up, will be the day I get a call from NASA? Well, even if NASA never contacts me about joining its space program, I have learned more about rocket propulsion and orbital physics from Kerbal Space Program than any of my science classes in high school.
Game developers aren’t rushing to create games about building rockets based on scientific fact, so I was curious as to why Felipe Falanghe and Chad Jenkins of KSP developer Squad wanted to make Kerbal Space Program. I got the chance to sit down with the two during PAX Prime, and learned that Kerbal Space Program has been a game ten years in the making. As a teen, Felipe used to physically build tiny model rockets manned by creatures he had invented called the kerbals. His early interest in rocket science led to the development of Kerbal Space Program. Felipe had always envisioned them to be green, with large heads and bulgy eyes. In fact, these cute beings were part of the reason I bought it. Surprisingly, neither Felipe nor Chad are actually rocket scientists, but they did a lot of research to make this game as accurate as possible.
Having played Kerbal Space Program during its alpha test phase, I ended up reading a lot about rocket science, something I wasn’t interested in before. Kerbal Space Program was also one of the first games I started streaming on TwitchTV, and our chat window was bombarded with viewers arguing over which part to build next or which engine was better. My experiences streaming Kerbal Space Program became some of my most memorable, despite blowing up my kerbals almost every time. I still send them to their doom these days, but now I quit the mission before the explosion actually happens. Prior to playing Kerbal Space Program, I did not know anything about rocket science, but my newfound knowledge gained from my gameplay and research allowed me to build better rockets. Successfully launching a rocket into space and having it orbit around Kerbin is one of the most satisfying feelings I’ve experienced while playing a game.
Due to the fact that Kerbal Space Program is actually based on real science, I wanted to know how Felipe and Chad would keep their game current with ever-changing technology. In fact, I actually read about a new single-stage-to-orbit rocket right before my interview with Chad and Felipe so I could ask them about this. A Research and Development Center where you can go on expeditions to salvage equipment and expand your current selection of rocket parts was something they were working on. How much you salvage and how detailed you were in your expedition affects the quality and quantity of the new parts you decide to research. Being able to build any type of rocket you want, conduct experiments and create an extensive space program gives Kerbal Space Program lasting power as a sim game.
I also asked Felipe if teachers had ever thought about using the game in their classrooms to educate students about rocket science and space. Felipe said they had heard of one science teacher who had incorporated Kerbal Space Program into his curriculum. If I had been able to play Kerbal Space Program during my science classes, I would probably have actually paid attention in class and better retained the acquired knowledge. Instead of memorizing terms, you are actually building rockets. You really do learn through your failures but being able to experiment with what kind of rockets you can build for different types of missions is rewarding when you do succeed.
It’s an exciting time for this growing game. Kerbal Space Program hosted its first tournament at PAX Prime. Individuals completed missions quickly and successfully in order to win each round. Unless the mission was to kill your entire crew immediately after launch, I would never be able to compete. The developer also recently launched Kerbal Squadcast on TwitchTV, a dedicated channel for Kerbal Space Program. Check it out if you’d like to learn more about the game. Additionally, if you’d like to see me send my unfortunate kerbal crew into space multiple times, you can watch at our own TwitchTV channel.
Kerbal Space Program is still under development for PC, but interested gamers can purchase it at the KSP website or through Steam Early Access. The space sim is ‘sandbox complete’ and is being continuously updated as development continues.