Kerbals are a race of little green men with dreams of exploring space, and they’re relying on you to get them there. The brainchild of indie developer Squad, Kerbal Space Program ostensibly a space race simulator—think Nasa Tycoon without all of that pesky government oversight. The game is still under development (and has been since 2011), but $23 gets you in on the ground floor of an exciting virtual space race.
While the game has been in development for a few years, there’s still no “point” to it in the strictest sense of the term. You’re primarily tasked with building vehicles to get the Kerbals out to space. That can be as simple as strapping rockets to a command module and letting things rip, or building multi-stage contraptions for some level of refinement and control. Yesterday saw the release of version 0.20, which adds flags your Kerbals can plant on other planets, command seats to give your Kerbonauts a place to rest while they’re out on space walks, and a host of new tools to make exploring space a little more manageable.
There’s a wonderfully frustrating level of depth here. Familiarity with physics and the basics of spaceflight isn’t strictly necessary, but can go a long way towards making the Kerbals’ dream a reality (and keeping the death toll low). A simple basic ballistic rocket might get you out into the upper atmosphere, but runs the risk of teetering out of control before you’ve gained much altitude. Strap on a few wings and guidance systems and you’ve got to deal with the extra weight. But a larger engine guzzles more fuel, which means heavier fuel tanks, which means a bulkier craft that’s harder to maneuver in space—or lots of orbiting debris to clean up or avoid, should you decide to jettison the lot once you manage to achieve a stable orbit.
A number of planets revolve around Kerbol (that’s the sun), and their surfaces and moons are all ripe for exploration. You’ll need to develop flight plans, design craft that can land on planets (and ideally get your Kerbonauts home again), rovers so your explorers can explore those planets, and space stations managed by Kerbals to give your long-range craft a spot to refuel or take a breather. Or if you prefer thinking outside the box you can spend your time tinkering with the hundreds of parts and contraptions, building jet fighters, helicopters or flying aircraft carriers.
All the while you’ll be juggling fuel requirements, tracking and dealing with space debris and generally trying to keep your spacefarers alive—they aren’t too clever, but their sense of wonder is rather endearing.
The developers have grand plans: the sandbox mode will eventually be coupled with a career mode that will see you hiring and training new Kerbonauts, researching new equipment, managing your development costs and boosting the profile of your space program.
There’s also a vibrant modding community serving up countless new tools and programs to make add a bit of spice to the Kerbals’ efforts. Mods include new vehicle parts, bases you can erect to colonize other worlds, auto-piloting systems to ease some of the pain of getting your space-faring civilization started, and even asteroids, resources, and the mining equipment you’ll need to exploit them.
You can grab the game from the official site or on Steam; the $23 price tag is a discount over the price of the full game whenever it’s finally ready for release. But Kerbal Space Program isn’t for the faint of heart—I highly recommend clearing some time in your schedule and checking out the demo first.
This story, "Watch this Space: Kerbal Space Program is a blast" was originally published by TechHive.