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Sunday, September 25, 2022

KSP: A game for aspiring aerospace engineers

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Most of us probably wanted to be an astronaut in our kindergarten years but never actually knew how to be one. As a kid, it was always my dream to travel beyond the skies and witness the cosmic beauty of our universe. Yet, I’ve always wondered: how did humans actually go to space? How did we land on the Moon? Then I discovered this game back in 2013 and finally got my answers.

Kerbal Space Program, developed and released by Squad back in 2011, turns out to be one of my longest playtime in my game library as of this writing. The game lets you design rockets for kerbonauts and take them to other celestial bodies to do scientific experiments. As you get more science points from each mission, you can unlock more parts to improve your rocket designs and that’s where the endless possibilities begin.

The game simulates a solar system akin to ours, with each planet having a unique name and appearance. There are a total of 17 celestial bodies you can explore (including the planet you start in) with one gas giant and several moons. Of course, there can be several challenges to deal with such as the amount of resources in your spacecraft, especially fuel. Depending whether you want your kerbonauts to return home after a long stressful mission, you would ought to make sure you have enough fuel left. That is, if you’re a player compassionate for your kerbals.

The game also offers three game modes. A sandbox mode, for players who just want to mess around with rockets and unleash their creativity with no limits. A science mode, for players who prefer to progress through the game without considering funds. Lastly, a career mode, for players that wants a challenge similar to real life where budget and reputation should be considered, adding a sort of management aspect to the space program of the player. In addition, the player can tweak the difficulty settings (if it’s too easy or difficult) to suit their gameplay experience.

Landed on the Mun, a kerbonaut gazes upon Kerbin, his home planet. (In game screenshot)

With this game, I was able to practically understand the importance of gravity and how we utilize it to travel in space. Back then, I thought going to the Moon meant going straight towards it. No, you have to orbit the Earth first, and execute a burn fast enough that the initial orbit would extend to the Moon. Basically, achieving an orbit around Earth is a vital step to travelling to other celestial bodies. Kerbal Space Program effectively demonstrates this mechanic.

In my 300 hours of playtime in career mode, there is no doubt to say that I’ve learned a LOT in this game; be it a complicated physics lesson or a vital life lesson. I can never watch sci-fi films the same way again knowing what makes sense and what does not. KSP could take a lot of your time with its’ steep learning curve. In my experience, I only got my rocket to orbit Kerbin (analogous to Earth) 10 hours in. To add to that, I only got to properly land on the Mun after about 40 hours of playtime. With each session I play, I can say that it’s all worth it.

I ultimately felt I was leading my own space program. From designing each rocket, making sure every step along the mission would be successful, and most importantly, learning and overcoming my failures. There are hilarious instances where I accidentally stranded a kerbonaut on the Mun and have to send a rescue mission for that kerbonaut, but then I end up having to rescue those two kerbonauts due to human error while landing. It’s one of those moments where I truly appreciate the challenge and beauty of Kerbal Space Program.

A kerbonaut with his mining ship on the Mun. (In game screenshot)

The excitement of having to pilot your designed rocket, the thrill of making sure your kerbonauts survive, and the stress of rescuing them after their near death experience. Whether you successfully rescue them or not, it will always boil down to the pure feeling of fulfillment and a sense of pride once you’ve done it because even if you failed, it’s an opportunity to learn more about how it should be done. There’s also the right amount of balance between the realism and ridiculosity in the game, but again, it depends on how you play it. You can intend to fail, or attempt to succeed.

So far, I have yet to establish bases on the Mun and explore the Munar surface with a rover. Maybe I would do a probe flyby to other planets. Mine the Mun of its’ resources. Who knows? It’s a game of endless possibilities [PxxxT], and the goals are up to you. In my game, I’ve installed addons to better immerse myself in the game, with visual mods to make the game look more beautiful, and other realism mods to add more challenges. There’s a vast amount of addons you can install to this game to suit your playstyle.

I highly recommend this game to those people who are interested in space exploration, and to those who want to pursue a degree in aerospace or aeronautical engineering. No doubt, this game will fuel your interests and help you learn some concepts about aviation and orbital mechanics. In general, you would be able to learn physics. As others have said, it has definitely helped them with their school grades. You might watch some YouTube videos here and there, with the possibility of losing interest because of the complexity, but I assure you, once you’ve figured it out, there’s nothing that will stop you from playing this game. The best part is, you can have fun playing while you are learning. Did I mention that you can create airplanes here, too?

Kerbal Space Program is widely available for PC, Mac and consoles.

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