Trajectory: Squad Explain Kerbal Space Program

By Jim Rossignol on December 18th, 2012 at 1:00 pm.


There’s something wonderful about Kerbal Space Program, the sandbox game where you try to lob a race of cute aliens into their own space age. It’s the kind of thing that only gets made by a very specific type of developer, with a very specific sort of love for what they are making. That developer is called Squad, and we had a few questions for them.


RPS: Who are you guys and what do you do?

Mike: You have before you Felipe (aka HarvesteR), KSP’s lead developer, Mike (aka Mu), KSP’s game & tools developer and finally Chad (aka C7), KSP’s technical artist. We all work for Squad, a game dev studio based in Mexico City.

RPS: Can you explain, for those who have not played it, exactly what Kerbal Space Program is?

Mike: At its heart, Kerbal Space Program is a game about creating your own space program from scratch. You construct spacecraft and launch them off into the cosmos, attempting to further the science and achievements of Kerbalkind. That or explode spectacularly on takeoff.

The game features a complete space flight simulation, where you can seamlessly go from the planet’s surface up into orbit, and from there into deep space, all driven by a physics engine that simulates actual orbital mechanics, and in which every part you place on your ship has an effect on how it will fly… or crash. Proper planning and experimentation through trial-and-error are key to succeed, as with an actual space program. Only here, your Kerbals are perfectly ok with being strapped to an untested contraption filled with rocket fuel. It’s health and safety gone elsewhere.

You are free to explore this little universe, provided, of course, you can construct a ship that will take you there. The game’s scale is about 1:10 to real life so Kerbin, KSP’s Earth, has a 620km radius, it’s really quite a big place! There are also 15 other planetary bodies in the solar system of varying sizes.

Also, there is a strong community behind the game and the core mechanics and parts can be modified or replaced. New code and parts can be added and there is certainly a lot of great stuff constantly coming out of the community.


RPS: How did you come to be making it?

Mike: Squad was originally a marketing company working on interactive installations and events, like product launches, displays, booths and such, however our true passion was in making games and so we ploughed time and effort into KSP’s development. Since starting the project, the company has expanded considerably and has taken on a very international flavour with team members coming from three continents.

Felipe: I started at Squad as a developer, working on those installations for marketing events and such. While the projects themselves were pretty interesting, what I really wanted to do was work on games. When I pitched the idea to Adrian and Ezequiel and they said ‘let’s do it’, it was an incredible opportunity.

Mike: I actually got my job on KSP after finding out about the game on Rock Paper Shotgun last year. Saw the game on RPS and then played the demo a few times. Decided it was definatly my kinda game, headed to the jobs page and sent them an email. Never looked back!

Chad: I got started with KSP as a modder in the community. I worked on a modification pack that added aircraft and spaceplanes to the game. The team at Squad really enjoyed my work and they offered to hire me to develop for them full time. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

RPS: Have you been surprised by the enthusiasm of your community for the game? What do you attribute that to?

Mike: The game has certainly been very successful and has really shown us how much people value the type of experience. Exploring vast worlds in outer space is the current/next frontier for the human race and I think people really connect with that idea. There is a lot of fun to be had in experimenting and constructing wild and wacky spacecraft and attempting to get them to new and exciting places.

Also the ability to make custom mods and use other people’s has expanded the game in directions we wouldn’t have dreamt of. There is a lot of capability in the engine and even more to come in the future.

Chad: I’m constantly surprised by the amazing things our community comes up with. They’re very passionate about their creations, whether they’re building ships or making interesting modifications to the stock game. I would attribute that to our efforts to support modding from the ground up. The fantastic modding support is what originally inspired me to create mods for the game.

RPS: What have been the toughest challenges of making a game like this? And what lessons have these taught you that you pass on to other aspiring indies?

Felipe: There were several challenges we faced as KSP’s development progressed. At first, the main concern was that we really had no idea what the reaction from the players would be like when we first published the game. Now it seems obvious, but at the time, we didn’t know if the orbital mechanics would be too complex and too high an entry barrier into the game… We just didn’t know how people would receive the game, and whether the ideas behind the game concept would come across. That was a period where we were really unsure of how things would turn out, and it was a pretty tough time.

Later, after the game was published, we (thankfully) got a response from the players that wasn’t just what we hoped it would be, it far exceeded it. Then, the biggest challenge was (and still is) to develop something that lived up to what players expect from the project.

I think if there’s one thing new developers need to be ready for, is that your audience can be brutally uhm… honest about your game. If they don’t like something, they will make sure you hear it. It’s never easy to hear negative feedback about your work, especially in the case of indies, who more often than not pour their hearts and souls into their projects, so I think it’s the one thing new devs need to be ready for, because it can get very intense sometimes.

I have to say though, I love our community. I think we are very very lucky to have a community that is so friendly, we actually get to be active on our own forums, help players out, and be amazed at the stuff they come up with. That’s a privilege very few dev studios get to enjoy.

RPS: What’s the future for KSP? Do you have plans for other games?

Felipe: We have many ideas for the future of KSP. In fact, now that we’re finally getting the game to a point where the sandbox aspects of it are reaching a state of completion of sorts, we are able to work on some very fun features, building over the tools we’ve been creating up until now. Our plans for the next updates aren’t quite set yet however, so I can’t tell you what’s coming next, but what I can say is that there are very fun times ahead.

About other games, definitely. Squad itself is dedicated to becoming a pure games studio in the future. I think all of us have ideas for games we’d like to play, and some of those sound very cool. There isn’t much of a schedule yet for other projects after KSP, but we definitely have some plans we’re eager to put in motion.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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53 Comments »

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  1. Didden says:

    Bought this earlier in the year. It is a lot of fun and look forward to seeing it develop. Tons of potential.

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  2. psaldorn says:

    Time to pull Ol’ Jebediah out of retirement.

    • tungstenHead says:

      Retirement or the cloning vats?

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        Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        There’s a difference?

        • Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

          0.15 had the runway and aircraft, 0.16 introduced EVAs, 0.17 had all the new planets, and 0.18 may as well be KSP 2. KSP’s improving and adding features extremely quickly – if Jeb’s been ‘in retirement’ for more than a few months he might not recognise things when he gets out.

  3. Network Crayon says:

    Only played the demo, but its captivating.

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    Chaz says:

    One of those games I keep meaning to try out. Looks like it could be a lot of fun experimenting with different designs, presuming it’s not overly complex or requiring of a maths degree.

    • Arclight says:

      It’s pretty straight forward. All you need to know you can figure out by doing and perhaps perusing their forum a bit. Good community, helpfull guides, no worries.

      I haven’t once touched a calculator for this game. It might help remove some of the trial and error, but watching a rocket turn into a fireball is half the fun. ;)

      • Dominic White says:

        Bah! Bah, I say! Looking stuff up is not the Kerbal way. Improvise, refine, laugh as your mis-assembled rocket explodes on the launchpad or only the bottom half of it leaves the atmosphere and try again!

    • simonh says:

      Thankfully, all the maths are done for you – you get lines predicting how your orbit will go and whether your path will intercept the Mun (Moon) etc. They’ve done a terrific job allowing you to learn by trial-and-error and just get a feel for it, without making the actual simulation simplified. It can still be tricky getting your head around some of the weird effects of orbital mechanics, but that’s part of the fun of exploration (for instance, if you’re in an orbit around Kerbal and thrust forward, you will actually slow down, because it will take you to a higher orbit).

      • LionsPhil says:

        Bah, back in the 0.8 days we got into stable orbits and back home again in one piece with nothing but the stars, a velocity gauge, and the attitude meter to guide us.

    • Inacio says:

      It’s not very hard at all. You won’t start playing and visit every celestial body in 15 minutes, but it’s very fun and mods make the replayability even higher.

      That, and the (relatively) frequent updates.

    • Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

      Some people think KSP is about going “So I need a delta-V of 2.45km/sec, so a radial burn of 15.5sec within 5 degrees of the periapsis should mean I make contact at…” And it isn’t. It does a great job of hiding a lot of the numbers and representing things visually, and KSP’s solar system is small enough (the earth analogue, Kerbin, is I think roughly the size of earth’s moon) that you don’t have to get everything bang on to get anywhere.

      What you will find yourself doing is floating a million miles from anything in space, the planet you left and the one you’re flying towards both indistinguishable specks in the sky, alone in a black void, and going “Right, so which way is ‘east’?” It’s getting your head around the concept of navigating through space, not playing with a spreadsheet. And it’s a really interesting set of concepts to get hold of – you’ll certainly want to go back and re-watch Apollo 13.

      If anyone’s thinking about KSP but is a bit daunted by it, there’s an RPS KSP group, Rock, Paper, Splashdown, which has several Kerbalnauts from the RPS Steam chat – MFToast, Jon “Moose” Tetrino, myself and others – who’re happy to offer advice on getting to grips with KSP. There’s also a shared save file in the works that’ll let us co-operate on projects, but there’s no requirement to get involved in that if you don’t want to.

      I’m sure KSP isn’t for everyone, but so long as you like the idea of constructing rockets/space stations/landers, you will enjoy it. The interface still has occasional glitches, but conceptually it’s excellently implemented. It’s just a shame that there’s no manual, but then again Rock, Paper, Splashdown is happy to help there.

      Edit – doesn’t seem to want to let me include the group link… http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/forums/showthread.php?7148-Rock-Paper-Splashdown-an-RPS-Kerbal-Space-Program-group

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      Chaz says:

      Cheers for that, it’s a bit hard to know sometimes when looking at these things how simulationy they are if you catch my drift. As in will it require mega nerd levels of understanding about the subject or will it take a more everyman approach.

      Anyway good to hear it won’t actually require a degree in physics, demo downloads and will try out soon as I love the idea of sending rockets I’ve designed into space.

      • LionsPhil says:

        KSP is very much the Calvin-and-Hobbes kind of approach of BUILD A ROCKET by getting a carboard box and nailing some fireworks to it, then steering it roughly spacewards as it careers wildly in what you hope is a mostly upward direction.

  5. Turquoise Days says:

    I bought this back when it was in version 0.11, and I have to say the latest release is almost a completely new game. They’ve brought in some crucial new features such as docking and an orbital planning system that really reduces the amount of forum digging you need to do.

    The learning curve can be a touch on the steep side if you’ve never looked at orbital mechanics before, but the community has a wealth of tutorial videos and once you grasp the basics it is immeasurably rewarding (and frequently hilarious).

    One final thing I’m going to say is that the stock game is good, but with community made mods and plugins, the potential of this game expands significantly.

  6. philbot says:

    I have been playing this constantly for the last couple of months. I’m surprised they didn’t mention anything to do with it’s educational value, I have learnt so much from watching other players’ launches, and then replicating it myself, giving me a pretty solid grounding on orbital mechanics I feel.

    Building a ship and landing on the Mun (moon) would have had to been the most satisfying moments I’ve had in a game, great fun.

  7. RakeShark says:

    I do wish there was a little more humor within the details of the game. That’s to say it’s not that I don’t enjoy the emergent gameplay schadenfreude of screwing up and explosions. I always had a feeling of a Raving Rabbids type slapstick with the Kerbals.

  8. The Random One says:

    You have piqued my Curiosity, this sounds like a Challenger for my favorite space game.

  9. Eraysor says:

    Genuinely one of my favourite games of this year. I absolutely love it!

  10. Zarf says:

    I adore this game. I also greatly enjoy Scott Manley’s videos on it, which can be found on his YouTube channel. TONY PROBE!

    http://www.youtube.com/user/szyzyg

    • Armitage says:

      I would not have been able to do a rendezvous and docking of 2 spacecraft without Scott Manley’s tutorial. That was a great sense of achivement. The last update was fantastic and I can’t wait to see what Squad releases next.

    • Stuart Walton says:

      Fave moment:

      A drunken Scott Manley messing up his Mun mission when he hits the wrong key and ends up without enough fuel to get home. His final resort? Get out and push. He sends a brave kerbal EVA and uses his rocket pack to push the ship onto an intercept with the upper atmosphere.

  11. SuperNashwanPower says:

    Their heads remind me of those lime boiled sweets with chocolate centres you used to get. I WANT TO SUCK THEIR NOGGINS (noggae?)

  12. Ergates_Antius says:

    This sounds….. Awesome!

  13. gjrud says:

    You can’t talk about KSP without posting one of Danny2462 ‘s videos!
    Here, let me fix it for you: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kkeb5-u3-lY

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    phuzz says:

    I’ve been meaning to pick this up ever since I saw an article about someone mapping the Mun.
    Plus it has space AND explosions, what’s not to like?

  15. Jams O'Donnell says:

    It’s worth noting that there is a bit of RPS community KSP action, detailed in this forum thread.

  16. Pici says:

    My personal favorite video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BkzziGlbK1s

  17. DarkFarmer says:

    KSP is a tremendous game, and as somebody said above, the educational value is incredible. Before KSP I had literally no idea how space travel worked. Now, I do. It’s not as detailed as real life obviously and the scale is a factor of ten less, but you still learn the physics and engineering basics of space flight. I can’t stress enough how great this game is especially for people interested in flight simulation, space, or engineering.

  18. Leaufai says:

    Could’ve used more recent screenshot/video. Only the last video was 0.18, an update that makes the game so much more fun and also better looking.

  19. Frankenchokey says:

    I’ve had more fun and spent more time with Kerbal Space Program in the last 6 months or so since I bought it than with pretty much any other game in recent memory.

    Even though fairly complicated mechanics behind doing things successfully, it’s one of those games that really makes you want to learn how things work, and how to do them properly. Recent additions to the game have made experimentation and learning more approachable than ever.

    And if you’re like me and are still terrible at it? Well…failure has never been so much fun.

  20. HKZ says:

    I really liked the demo, but not being a rocket surgeon all my guys ended up in a fireball of doom, or hit the ground going about Mach 25. Sweet game, though.

  21. buzzmong says:

    KSP is brilliant

    I had a proper proud gaming moment recently where I managed to rendezvous a space station and a space craft in orbit and complete a sucessful docking for the first time ever after a dozen or so attempts to work out how to do it via trial and error.

    Docking is both amazingly nerve-wracking and really fun at the same time.

  22. Yglorba says:

    It looks like a cool game for the right audience (as you can tell from the glowing reviews above!), but I was hoping for something more like Deuteros: The Next Millennium. Ah well… I’m sure we’ll get a high-tech game like that eventually.

  23. Brainkite says:

    For me, the 2 greatest games for this year are DayZ and KSP

    i just loooooove that game, you learn an awfull lot while having fun and dreaming. I had instant shiver the first time i made an EVA in orbit around Moon with my small Kerbin. And then first time walking on the moon.

    You guys are really awsome at SQUAD, you made a small little tiny bit of everybody’s dream comme to life. Keep it real.

  24. flaillomanz says:

    I just love how insane you can be… there’s no limit except for the size of the VAB and SPH.
    For example, I landed a certain French landmark on the Mun.
    http://puu.sh/1BRIt.jpg
    In what other game can you do this?