Kerbal Space Program im Test - I’m in spaaaaaace!

Author: Jonas Gössling
Date: 2015-05-05 16:15:00
In the Kerbal Space Program test, we are fulfilling our dream of flying to the moon. However, this is more difficult than expected, because behind the cute look hides a tough, but extremely motivating simulation.

Jebediah Kerman is a little green nub, an astronaut on top of that and has a recurring nightmare. Every morning the inhabitant of the planet Kerbin runs to work, gets into his rocket and takes off. Only to explode a few kilometers above the ground with its flying pedestal. All he wants to do is stand on the moon one day.

Explosive start

Anyone who thinks that they can simply cobble together a rocket in the Kerbal Space Program and then jet through the vastness of space will quickly be taught better. Because even if the look with the little green men is rather friendly and funny, the actual game is a lifetime devouring, because it is extremely motivating complexity monster.

When we assemble and test a rocket for the first time, for example, the structure blows up very quickly, and in an explosive sense. We're always trying new constructs, but everyone quickly gives up, and poor Jebediah is on board every time a disaster flight takes place.

Nine tutorials that bring us closer to the roughest processes in the space program provide a remedy. We should use it urgently, because the Kerbal Space Program is extremely demanding . Here we get to know the three different game levels.

The head of a missile launch center has to do more than build a spaceship and catapult it into the air. We take care of the construction of various flying objects, navigation in space and research and expansion of our station.

Building has to be learned

Various tabs with different components are available to us in the hangar menu. But we can't just glue pieces together at random. At the beginning there is always a space capsule including astronauts. The simplest way to build a missile is to mount a fuel tank and engine under the cockpit. This is easy and intuitive thanks to drag & drop and clearly visible green connection points.

When building, however, we always have to pay attention to the center of gravity of the structure, otherwise it cannot be checked later. Anyone who thinks "Then I'll just staple a lot of tanks and drives one behind the other!", We have to slow down. Because the game also thinks about the calculation of the mass and many tanks mean a lot of weight. This in turn results in more difficult navigation and higher fuel loads.

That's why we learn to appreciate the advantage of multi-stage missiles early on. Solid propulsion systems, i.e. propulsion systems without a separate tank, shoot our rocket through the atmosphere at full speed, liquid propulsion systems bring us into a stable orbit and transport us through space.

We can and should decouple each of these stages later. In this way we use less fuel and can steer better. With over 220 individual parts, the kit is extensive and very versatile . Here alone we spend hours creating the best rocket.

Above the clouds

When we are satisfied with our creation and have thought of everything, we shoot it and the little astronaut Jebediah into the sky and beyond. The correct entry into an orbit around the planet has to be learned. Flying against the planet's rotation is not a good idea. It's a shame that this transition from start to orbit the planet is hardly discussed in the tutorials.

So at first we don't even realize what the hell we're doing wrong all the time. Once we have got the hang of it and have arrived in space, the second phase begins. We have to make sure that we don't just drift into the infinite vastness of space. So we take advantage of Kerbin's gravity. We are maneuvering our spaceship into an even orbit. This way our boat doesn't get lost and doesn't use any more fuel.

A navigation display helps us out for such actions. The round instrument always shows in which direction we have to align ourselves in order to enlarge, reduce, lengthen, shorten, raise or lower our orbit. If we then accelerate, our flight route changes.

At first all of this takes a lot of getting used to and is sedate. After all, if necessary, we add the SAS (Stability Augmentation System), a flight aid that automatically corrects minor errors and makes everyday life easier for us.

Maneuvers in space

Only when we have mastered navigation through space can we embark on a long journey. The first big target is of course the moon , or Mun, as it is called in the Kerbal Space Program. To achieve that, we have to change our source of gravity. So we set up a maneuver by clicking on the orbit. A circle including all direction vectors appears.

If we pull and press on them, we see a dashed circle that simulates the new route in advance. Such maneuvers are always best started at the lowest point or at the highest point of your own orbit. Depending on whether you want to let it grow or shrink. We enlarge our trajectory until it crosses that of the moon.

A fade-in tells us whether we will hit the huge body at all, because it keeps moving. If necessary, we can move our maneuver as far as necessary with a simple click. A time limit then shows us when exactly we should accelerate.

So that we don't wait forever, we can fast forward the time at the push of a button. Very pleasant. Even if the displays and different colors of the directions and flight routes cause confusion in the beginning, they help very well later with the overview in the endless space.

On approach for landing

If we have arrived in the gravitational field of the moon, we can land our spaceship there too. To do this, we either put ourselves on a direct course of confrontation or stabilize ourselves in a new orbit around the body. Either way, the key word for a successful landing is loss of speed. If we come down too quickly, our capsule will shatter.

With enough fuel and an engine we counteract the force of attraction, bring our ship to a standstill on the surface without any problems and fulfill Jebediah's dream. Admittedly, that sounds simpler on paper than it is in the game. But with a little sure instinct and a little familiarization time, this will also work. This last step is a real challenge, depending on the planet or body.

On the Mun (or other planet) we then hop over the surface with the astronaut himself and fall all over the place. We encounter such slapstick inserts again and again and loosen up the simulation. We also have to land on Kerbin every now and then. If we approach our home planet too quickly and our ship is not well protected against the friction of the atmosphere, it will overheat and explode.

It's a shame that this important aspect is not adequately explained in the tutorials either. But why all the flying? In the first of three game modes, she has no specific goal. In sandbox mode we build freely with all available materials and fly wherever we want. And just building and navigating a rocket is a lot of fun once you have internalized the complex mechanics.

Career before sandpit

However, the most exciting part of the Kerbal Space Program is in career mode. This is where research and commissions are added to the previous game elements. For example, we equip our ships with scientific equipment and collect samples from space and other planets. This gives us points that we invest in a research tree to unlock new components.

Because, unlike in sandbox mode, only part of the kit is accessible here. We'll unlock the rest gradually. We don't just collect samples, we also do all kinds of jobs for which we also receive points, additional money and recognition. For example, we test a specific component in space.

This is how we get to ever more high-profile missions and slowly upgrade our missile system. Because there is always something to do and we are always rewarded for our actions, a spiral of addiction arises here that is second to none. Only the recognition system seems badly set up, especially at the beginning, because you have to be very stupid to achieve a negative value.

Science and community maintenance

The sense of the science mode, however, does not really want to open up to us. Here, as in the career, we gradually unlock the research tree and thus new components. However, the mode does without the expansion of the station, the missions and the recognition system. While we can still do without the latter, we miss the orders extremely.

In your career, they pleasantly loosen up everyday construction and flying, so we usually don't make sense here. If we just want to build with no goals, there is still sandbox mode. This intermediate stage between the two successful modes therefore seems superfluous. However, six individually selectable scenarios are a welcome addition.

Although they do not offer anything new in terms of content, they put us directly in special missions. For example, we practice a landing on the moon in this way. The mod and community friendliness is also exemplary . With a click in the main menu, the game directs us to discussion forums or to a page with all modifications.

Educational adventures

Finally, a couple of words on the technical side. If you were angry, you would simply say that Kerbal Space Program is visually a letdown: muddy textures, few details and lots of lifeless planets. But that's not entirely true. Because the background music is always appropriate and behind this facade is an extremely accurate physics simulation that is responsible for the mostly real behavior of the rockets.

Although it is not completely realistic, most of the game elements can be transferred almost one to one into reality. So with this simulation we're not just playing an astronaut. We acquire real, if here and there simplified knowledge about space travel. Budding rocket scientists can also work their way deeper into the game by calculating orbits and flight routes mathematically correct.

The basis for this can be found on the Kerbal Space Program's own Wikipedia page on Kerbal Space Program. The title even manages the balancing act between fun and aspiration. You have to get that done first.