Little Green Men and Wobbly Kraken: Why I Love Kerbal Space Program

Thoughts Gaming Technology

Here’s a game which allows you to just muck around with rockets and things. It’s wonderful, and I’ve sunk more time into this game than Skyrim. Here’s why.

Kerbal Space Program is a brilliant game from indie developer Squad. In it, you design, build and fly rockets and space planes. It’s currently in a public beta and has gained somewhat of a cult following, and for good reason. It’s an absolute classic. Honestly, this game has more replay value than anything I’ve played in a long time. It approaches Minecraft levels of sand-box freedom, while making you giggle and the sheer preposterousness of your creations. It has a good dose of humour thrown in for good measure. I absolutely love it.

I’ve ranted before, on this blog, about the frustrations of being a gamer in a gaming world obsessed with violence and endless sequels to bad stories. It’s so refreshing to find a game which just lets you play. And, if you explore the Kerbal Space Program community, that’s exactly what you’ll find: people just playing, tinkering, building ultra-realistic recreations of Apollo-style moon missions, or seeing what happens if you strap twenty solid rocket boosters together and add wings. You can play this however you like. In the couple of weeks I’ve owned this game, I’ve successfully landed an un-manned spacecraft on the moon, built a fully operational space station (no, not that sort), and tried, unsuccessfully, to build a space shuttle replica (asymmetric vehicles, it turns out, are really hard), as well as countless planes, rockets, orbiters, and rovers.

One of the best features of this game is the way that it handles the difficulty and the realism of space-flight. It strikes a very good balance between realism and fun. Getting into orbit the first time is hard, but very rewarding. Getting two spaceships docked together is harder, but even more rewarding. Getting to other planets requires thought and planning, but not too much. Importantly, the game allows you to set your own difficulty levels. There is no re-entry heating, for example, but that doesn’t stop you from giving yourself the challenge of building a craft which could survive it. Nothing is so hard that you are tempted to give up, and the game shies away from the punishing levels of difficulty that you’ll find in hardcore simulators like Orbiter. When you do manage something tricky like landing on the Moon, you feel a genuine sense of accomplishment because you didn’t do it by following some pre-defined path through an on-rails storyline, you did it by learning from others, trying things out, tinkering, and making mistakes. Just like real life.

If this sounds like it might be up your alley, please go and have a look at some videos, and check out the Kerbal Space Program sub-reddit. You’ll find people sharing a genuine enthusiasm for this game and what they achieve within it. If you like it, please do go and buy the game (it’s just hit Steam). I can’t tell you how important it is that we have games like this in the world.