(Not) Rocket Science In Kerbal Space Program

By Craig Pearson on May 24th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

My first EVA didn't go so well.
There is nothing wrong in not being very good at Kerbal Space Program. Being bad at it is a state almost everyone will be in for a very long time indeed. Join me in admitting how tough it is. The elite rocketmen will sneeringly deride your honesty, saying: “It’s not rocket science”, but then you can point to the tube of metal and fuel that you’ve spent hours preparing, and then point to the sky, and it’ll dawn on them that it definitely is rocket science, and that everyone is in fact laughing at them.

Anyway, I’ve spent the day playing KSP and I’m not very good at it.

Your mission in KSP is to build a rocket capable of escaping the planet Kerbin’s orbit and exploring the solar system. But KSP’s tutorial only imparts odd chunks of knowledge. You’ll be able to build a basic ship that’s able to touch orbit, but it won’t land. You’ll be told how to manoeuvre a craft from orbit into another planet or moon’s gravitational grasp, but you won’t know what all the various parts do in the vehicle assembly building. It’s one of those games where the tutorial is well-meaning, but leaves you confused and disoriented when you try to apply what it taught you, because it only covers the basics. And that’s sort of the point.

This part of the game is interested only in getting the Kerbalnaut into orbit, and all that takes is a command pod, a rocket, and some fuel. They’re all clicked easily into place in the vehicle assembly building, a sort of shop and ship-builder in one. It reminds me of Spore’s Creature Creator. No safety precautions are taken, of coursem but then the tutorial doesn’t have to look at the smiling face of Jebediah Kerman in the bottom corner of the screen. I did. I built the tutorial ship and launched it, jabbing at the surprisingly simple controls: throttle and various directional prods that aren’t much more complicated than an FPS. I was with Jebediah all the way, the pair of us grinned as we thrust through the atmosphere and into the edge of space, his smile mirrored in the slice of Kerbin that poked up from the bottom of the screen. We were one as we watched the blue day peel away and the stars wink into place.

The orbit wasn’t quite enough to keep the ship ‘up’, though: it slowly tilted towards the ground, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. All the while the idiot Kerbalnaut was still emoting happily at me. I stabbed at my keyboard (and reminded myself for the millionth time that I had Stickykeys enabled). I swiveled the craft, hoping that the additional forces would knock him unconscious. Nothing worked, and he grinned all the way to his death.

RIP, Jebediah Kerman. You were one of the good ones. I vowed then to never risk another Kerbalnaut.

KSP really requires a second monitor. Right now I have the controls wiki, and this video series open on mine.

I could hug you, Wernher Von Kerman. It’s a bit out-of-date, but the basics of the game remain the same. Along with the command pod, rocket, and fuel, all I needed was an Advanced S.A.S. module to enable flight control, a decoupler to uncouple the command pod, and a parachute. I took off, we hit orbit, I hit “space” and the pod split from the fuel tank, and as it plummeted back to the surface the parachute popped open and slowed the drop. Why the tutorial doesn’t go that extra few steps is bizarre, but the above series honestly took me from scared to cautiously optimistic. I felt more Tom Hanks in Apollo 13 than Tom Hanks in The ‘Burbs.

Believe it or not, but I consider that wonky, looping flight path a success

So it gave me the confidence to take on an orbital transfer to the Mün. This is where I figured I’d mess up, because it involves understanding complicated flight paths, but Kerbal had me covered. In space a press of ‘M’ will pop-up a map of the solar system. It’s a functional overview that allows you to control the craft while looking at the bigger picture. That’s a huge boost, as it enables the player to predict their orbit. Maneuvering up here is functionally the same as the on the planet: you can thrust, and control the yaw and tilt of the craft. But unlike in the atmosphere, you’ll need to counter every move with an opposite thrust to arrest the movement.

It’s not like Elite, where moving from the planet to the moon is a case of pointing the craft at it and speeding up. Kerbal requires you to swap orbits, increasing the ellipse around Kerbin until you get close enough to the Mün for its gravity to capture the craft. That involves a few considerations: your prograde and retrograde vectors, which basically means where your velocity is taking you and where the opposite of that would be. They’re marked on the craft’s navball. You’ll mostly use these to alter your apoapsis and parapsis, the highest and lowest points of your orbit. Confusingly, in order to raise the apoapsis you’ll need to thrust towards the prograde vector while at the parapsis.

It’s one of those concepts that becomes second-nature when you’ve had a shot at it, but sounds horrendous when written down. Don’t panic. It’s just terminology, and the instruments in the craft are there to help. The Advanced SAS is really handy in this case, enabling you to aim the craft knowing that if things get a bit too spinny, all you need to do is hit “T” and it’ll stabilise.

You should take further comfort in the knowledge that I, yes me, made it to Mün orbit. It took a few goes, because once again the tutorial fumbled a required nugged of information (it told me to aim at the moon, but didn’t really explain the best way to do so), but I eventually managed to align all those elements and burn the craft out to Mün orbit. I watched as the ellipses changed, and instead of immediately circling my home planet, I was in the grip of its child. I celebrated as a NASA technician would, before noticing I was zooming past it: I’d forgotten to slow down. But that wasn’t the end. There was no script at that moment. Just me and everything I’d learned. I swung the craft around and burned fast and hard. I hadn’t pushed too far off course, and achingly crept back into position. I was in orbit.

What now? I still have to learn how to land, which my brain tells me I should have known before I got into the ship, and I expect the tutorial to only show me 50% of that, so instead I’m going to watch more of Wernher Von Kerman’s series before even attempting it. There’s a lot more to KSP than I first realised. It seems like the solar system is persistent, so it’s possible to leave ‘bases’ on planets and return to them. This is exciting and frightening: I’m not sure I can be a fully functional human being and know what Kerbal’s capable of.

But now I need some help. Any must-have mods, or a mod-manager? I’m thinking higher-res textures and a camera helper for taking screenshots, and something that might help automate a few systems. The community site doesn’t really have a helpful tag system, and search has failed me. Is any of what I want possible? I don’t want to add new ships or big old hunks of equipment until I’m comfortable, but if there’s a ‘must-have’, I’ll absolutely toss it on my equipment pile.

Help me reach the stars, people.

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104 Comments »

  1. nimzy says:

    MechJeb.

    Decried by purists, it makes the game a little easier to handle.

    • talon03 says:

      The Apollo astronauts didn’t have to freehand it to the moon, Don’t be a masochist and think that you do.

      • Brun says:

        This. And as I mention below, there are plenty of things that MechJeb cannot do – rendezvous and docking is a great example. While it can align your orbital inclinations it cannot automatically perform burns to bring you closer to your target, those must be done manually (although it can provide steering assistance with Smart A.S.S.). Similarly, docking has to be performed by hand, although the information MechJeb provides on your relative velocities (along with Smart A.S.S.’ attitude control functionality) makes the process considerably easier. Landing is another example, and while MechJeb provides automatic landing functions, I don’t particularly trust them, and I know for a fact that a skilled human pilot can land designs that MechJeb will refuse to (insisting that they have insufficient fuel and/or thrust).

        It’s nice to learn the basics on manual, but once you’ve mastered them and want to start working on major projects or missions, doing everything by hand means that you have to be extra careful about everything, overengineer your spacecraft to account for human error, and generally expect everything to take quite a long time.

        • Leaufai says:

          The newest version (2.0.8) can do that now though.

          • SDIR says:

            I’d say Download MechJeb and Engineer Redux initially as a learning tool, but try to switch to all manual when you get the hang of it. I find that that way, you can just play the game stock and within hours of a new update, instead of waiting for the mods to come out.

          • majorcornwallace says:

            Everyone needs to make their own choice but for me MechJeb (especially now that it’s v.2+) is the bomb. It still makes errors but it’s features are getting really slick. Makes the headaches of flight more manageable and actually makes learning what’s going on easier (IMO). I definitely don’t feel I’ve missed out on anything after using it.

            I also mod like a madman. Mostly just new objects to build with. Style is as fun for me as anything so building interest and hard-to-fly ships is pretty much my game.

            Kerbal Space Port has gotten minor usability upgrades. I recommend it.

            That said, I run stock on my Linux laptop so I can avoid upgrade woes and keep abreast of what the game developers themselves are doing.

        • Redkid says:

          I find it’s the other way around if you’re a good pilot. I often have to overengineer ships to account for MechJebs errors, and it takes way longer to let MechJeb do something. That said it is a great addon once you’re tired of the basics, it does however make your achivements lesser.

          • jweytfdyebe says:

            But you don’t need to mess around with advanced operations for a Mun landing, only stages, and once again, it’s ALPHA, you should fully expect a tutorial on advanced controls to be made, and I would be surprised if they didn’t at least slightly refine the interface.
            http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmoGLK9a_eg

          • majorcornwallace says:

            As of MechJeb 2+ the level of wasteful errors for certain maneuvers (and for landings!!!!!) is much better.

      • Gap Gen says:

        It could be interesting to have a game that’s all managing a side in the space race, and automating the actual flight paths. Then you get to solve crises when the onboard computer fails and it all goes Apollo 13. You could choose either the US or USSR, and if you choose the latter you get less funding but you aren’t penalised if your cosmonauts don’t make it back.

      • Continuity says:

        The Apollo astronauts also weren’t Kerbals. This is the Kerbal space program, not NASA.

    • JavJav says:

      The thing about MechJeb is you can pretty much do all it does by using the in game Maneuver Node system. Heck, the current version of MJ relies heavily on them to do most of what the earlier versions did.

      Docking with it is unreliable just out of all the monopropellant it wastes continuously, it doesn’t provide much more stability than what you get with the vanilla ASAS and it really doesn’t liftoff much better than what you could do on your own. I’d say the only operation it can still reliably perform better than a human pilot is spot on landings.

      • Scythe says:

        While most of what mechjeb does can be done better manually, the fact that you don’t have to do the same damned things over and over again when using it makes it attractive. It does all the boring heavy lifting so you can focus on the interesting stuff. A newbie should learn how to do it all manually, by all means, but once it’s no longer a challenge it becomes boring.

  2. BobbyDylan says:

    What an addictive game. It’s absorbed hours of my time, and I’ve only ever landed on the mun once, never to return.

  3. Capt. Eduardo del Mango says:

    By far the best tutorial videos out there are those by Scott Manley – he’s got a really good grasp of all the astrophysics and a knack for explaining it thoroughly but simply. If you give those a go through you’ll be set for literally anything KSP can throw at you.

    MechJeb’s great and it is slightly silly to have a space ‘sim’ which is so reluctant to give you the numbers, but I’d advise against it starting out – after all, where’s the fun if you’re going to let somebody else fly it?

    Oh, and check out the unofficial RPS KSP group Rock, Paper, Splashdown. There’s a ‘shared save’ being used on DropBox which is as close as we’re getting to multiplayer for the foreseeable future.

    • chaomodus says:

      I cannot recommend enough Scott Manley’s amazing videos on the subject. He has extensive astronomical knowledge and his videos are extremely amusing and informative.

      As far as mod packs, mechjeb as mentioned, if only for the orbital information readouts (for hardcorers), but it makes busywork like launching and matching orbits and such much more straight forward (which is especially nice if you’re building a space station or something) – it basically lets you concentrate more on the engineering and mission planning side of your program rather than on turning your ship prograde and burning for 9.8 seconds. CrewManifest is useful for moving your kerbanauts around. Kerbal Alarm Clock is very nice if you’ve got several missions running (or just some you can time acellerate without worrying about missing your maneuver). I’m a big fan of the Soviet Pack because it has some neat useful parts (I especially like the Progress decouplers). KSPX is a neat set of parts, lots of useful structural and aerodynamic parts, the author of which is now working for Squad.

    • JavJav says:

      I have to second this, mr. Manley is not only a great source of information and ideas about this particular game, but he’s also really REALLY fun to watch.

      As per plugins, I’d say that while MechJeb is a small wonder of engineering, it may spoil new players out of the fun of learning the dynamics of space faring. If you really need an extra touch of in game help (and why wouldn’t you) I would rather recommend Kerbal Engineer (can also be found at kerbal spaceport dot com). Engineer basically gives all the usefull ortibal readouts MechJeb does without supplying a functional autopilot, so perhaps it will result in less of a temptation to cheat out of the learning curve. Ultimately, the KSP wiki is your FRIEND, and it’s impressively kept up to date in most of what you will need. Browse the youtubes for ideas on rocket building and keep an finger on the pulse of the game’s Forums, since they are full of really helpfull users and much friendlier tutorials.

      Ultimately, I feel the need to point out: the most apparent First Order Optimal Strategy in KSP once you’ve mastered basic take off and orbit, consists of building one efficient lifter model that will carry the rest of your designs. In the current version, most users will end up with some variation of the “Asparragus lifter”, which you can google to find out. More exotic crafts will need different rocket arrays and lots of extra planning, but that basic design will suffice to carry pretty much anything you’ll ever need for a bona fide colonization project.

      Fly safe, guys.

    • Liudeius says:

      I’m still trying to deorbit the Mun.

  4. Brun says:

    If you’re having trouble with control, I highly recommend the MechJeb (“Mechanical Jebediah”) mod. It’s a highly functional autopilot that can perform the more mundane aspects of spaceflight automatically and with a high degree of precision. It doesn’t cover everything (rendezvous and docking, along with landing, still take a considerable amount of work), but once you start doing a lot of launches such as for an orbital construction project like a space station it can really reduce the amount of stress from having to maintain near-perfect manual control over a series of launches.

    And no, contrary to what some members of the community will tell you, it’s *not* cheating. The guys that were doing this in the 1960′s had plenty of computer assistance, they rarely had to fly on manual control unless something went very wrong.

    • phelix says:

      As a matter of fact, in the Gemini rocket program in the ’60s pretty much everything was automated, but the pilots felt uncomfortable placing their lives in the hands of computers, and eventually the rocket designers decided to place (non-functional) joysticks in the cockpits to give the pilots a sense of control.

      • Brun says:

        en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gemini_8

        The Gemini crews had some manner of manual control, although I don’t know if it was through joysticks. It’s basically what saved the lives of the Gemini 8 astronauts when one of their orbital maneuvering thrusters got stuck on.

        EDIT: I actually think you’re thinking of Mercury. Gemini was designed for rendezvous and docking, and this had considerably greater orbital maneuverability than the Mercury capsules.

    • Muzman says:

      This is the sort of game where I think people should at least try without aids. Saying the astronauts didn’t have to pilot the ship might be true, but they didn’t have to build it either. And you do.
      I only say this because this game gave me a new appreciation for what those people had to figure out back then (even just watching other people struggle with the game actually) and why you can say “it’s not exactly rocket science” about everything. It’d be a pity to lose that experience to handholding stuff just so you can get to the cool bits..

      • Brun says:

        If I were building my own rocket the *very first things* on the parts list would be a Flight Control Computer (in KSP, this is the stock ASAS module) and an Autopilot (MechJeb). I don’t trust my rather mediocre piloting skills to successfully fly a rocket in a way that doesn’t end in fiery death.

        It’s very telling that there was such a heavy emphasis on automation by the engineers that designed the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle. That’s really an important point – the push for automation really came from the designers and engineers, NOT from the astronauts (as others have said, being fighter pilots, most of them didn’t really trust computers to fly their air/spacecraft). Manual spaceflight is *extremely* taxing and the workload can overburden even the most crack team of fearless test pilots. NASA understood this and an enormous amount of engineering effort was put into reducing that pilot workload.

        That said, KSP is great in that it gives you the option. If you know you’re a crappy pilot and would rather spend time designing highly efficient rockets, then MechJeb not only provides a way of actually getting those rockets into orbit reliably, but it eliminates bad piloting as a variable when gauging the pros/cons of a particular design. If you’d rather spend your time learning how to be an ace pilot, you can download *.craft files from the SpacePort or the forums and learn to fly those.

        • Muzman says:

          Don’t become an ace pilot unless you want to. But try and fly the stuff at least a couple of times. It tells you things about stresses and failures etc etc that add to the overall experience.

          • Cinek says:

            Maybe, but it’s still immersion breaker when you realize that this game is intentionally crippled to make whole process more tedious and difficult than it ever was.

          • Muzman says:

            Crippled how? Someone somewhere had to work this stuff out the hard way. Maybe if you could develop an auto pilot after a certain number of flights or something that would make sense (getting a bit Civ-ish though I guess)

          • Cinek says:

            Muzman – the first space probe, Sputnik, already worked on auto-pilot (kinda… obviously it was much more primitive than the auto-pilot in modern planes which can do pretty much everything including tons of in-flight corrections for atmospheric conditions and flight parameters) – noone piloted it. So the whole idea that you need to do crap ton of tests in order to get the auto-pilot is ridiculous to start with. It’s a bigger challenge to design a single segment of a rocket than an auto-pilot capable of guiding said rocket onto the orbit.

          • Muzman says:

            Who said anything about a crap ton? And who cares what reality was? Who ever built an auto pilot knew a few things about flying a rocket. Most players probably don’t, I’m guessing. Call me crazy.
            I’m telling you, it’s a worthwhile little experience trying it yourself.

          • Morzak says:

            @Muzman the UI of the game is severly crippled if you don’t use KER or MechJeb. Yeah eyeballing inclination is fun, having to calculate the semi major axis, not beeing able to se PE/AP unless you mouse over them in map mode. I could go on with missing instrumentation, but those are some of the most tedious things. I’d say KER is enough but MJ 2.0 has such a nice GUI and the custom windows are very nice. And Smart A.S.S. and letting him executed nodes is nice if I feel lazy.

            The docking autopilot for me is relatively dependeble if you have about 5 times the normally needed RCS fuel on board. Letting MJ launch is also something I do often because I know that the launcher works well and I don’t need to squeeze the last bit of Delta V out.

            Just do a no mods and no nodes, apollo style Mun mission once a month or so to prove to yourself that the piloting is still there.

          • Muzman says:

            I haven’t said anything about being against auto-pilots and mods. You guys are arguing with some purist who ain’t here.

          • Morzak says:

            I was more responding what is crippled about the UI if you don’t user KER or MJ.
            And I agree that flying hands on will help you a lot, because most of the issues I see from people are related to not understanding Inertia and having no clue about Orbital mechanics.
            IMO you don’t need to do the math or anything like that but you need an understanding of how it works, people that just start using MJ will probably never understand why it does something the way it does it.

        • Kerbal_Rocketry says:

          I’m a big mechjeb advocate but have recently found it much more fun to fly hands on. Did an Apollo style (the full deal with the LCM and LDM having to be docked and even having the LDM leave behind the landing legs! also did the same moon/mun descent profile but I do that anyway for landing) mission and had more fun than when I normally have letting mechjeb fly.

          The people saying that using mechjeb is “wrong” or “cheating” aren’t being honest at all. While it can take away some fun it’s very useful for launch-intensive tasks like space-station construction or if you just want the info panels.

  5. phelix says:

    Kerbal Space Port is the official mod repository. You can find the following rather helpful mods there:

    KW Rocketry pack (tons of well-made and beautiful rocket parts).
    B9 Aerospace pack (tons of well-made and beautiful spaceplane parts).
    MechJeb (basically a multifunctional autopilot)
    Kerbal Engineer Redux (displays helpful stuff in the editor like total mass, stage-specific thrust, thrust-to-weight ratio, etc)

    For helpful tutorials, Scott Manley on Youtube is your friend.

    Sorry for no clicky links, I’m terrible with formatting.

    And yes, KSP is quite possibly the best sandbox game I’ve ever played.

  6. communisthamster says:

    http://forum.kerbalspaceprogram.com/showthread.php/25241-0-19-1-B9-Aerospace-Pack-R2-5-New-pods-IVAs-fuselage-systems-structures

    This guy made an outrageously high quality mod (a part pack) and got hired. The KSP dev team has hired a few modders in the past as well.

  7. PleasingFungus says:

    With regards to mods, there’s nothing that’s essential to the game. Quite a lot of things that are nice to have once you’ve gotten your feet on the Mun and feel like you have a decent grasp on the basics of the game, but for where you are, I wouldn’t really recommend adding anything.

    Possibly except a mod for screenshots; I believe I’ve seen people using the “Lazor Docking Camera” to set up nice screenshots, but there might be something better out there. Not sure. Might be worth asking this guy what he used?

    That said, here’s a long list of mods:

    Must-have mods: “MechJeb” is very popular, and allows you to automate essentially the entire process of flight. It’s recommended for once you get the hang of things & want to skip past the early bits automatically.

    “Protractor” is also pretty popular; it’s useful for getting from planet to planet efficiently.

    “Ferram Aerospace” is an attempt to fix KSP’s wonky plane physics. I’ve heard rumors that it might be a bit buggy itself, though? Still probably worth a shot if you want to play with planes.

    “Kethane” is a mod that adds a resource-surveying & gathering system: orbit a planet, find patches of kethane, land & mine it & turn it into fuel. It’s something of an attempt to add more direction to KSP, & is popular enough that the devs are planning to add something similar in the full game in the near future.

    There’s a “quantum struts” mod that adds connectors you can use to help stabilize multi-part, in-orbit-assembled interplanetary vessels.

    Hope some of that helps!

  8. Valvarexart says:

    I’m guessing that KSP is not the new watercooler…

  9. Eddiestrike says:

    I keep promising myself I’ll learn how to play KSP. It really loosk like something I’d enjoy, but I cant make the leap…..

    • Rikard Peterson says:

      Try taking one small step…

    • Liudeius says:

      Play with the demo first, even if you have purchased the main game.
      The demo has all the pieces to land on Mun, if you play the full game first, the massive number of extra pieces will just confuse you.

      Also, take it in steps. First launch a simple rocket and land it, no orbit, then go for a full orbit around Kerbal, and only after you can do that should you go to Mun.

    • Cinek says:

      I don’t get this game to be honest.

      Sounds like one of these games which are difficult only because:
      A) noone bothered with good tutorial
      B) controls and UI are designed intentionally to cripple player abilitiy to control his units.
      Where’s fun in that? More like something that’s broken by design.

      • Liudeius says:

        Not really.

        I just did the tutorials to evaluate them (I learned to play without tutorials or tutorial videos before they even existed), and those tutorials are very good. The only standard procedure they don’t go over is maneuvering nodes, but they are clearly still in early stages because the game is still ALPHA. They aren’t complete, the one for actually landing on the Mun still hasn’t been made because the game is still ALPHA.

        It’s pretty easy to find out how to launch a rocket with just a little experimentation in the demo. Making it to the Mun is a bit harder without a tutorial, but they now do provide one which can teach you basic flight very quickly. (In 0.20.0 at least I’m not sure if the tutorials in 0.18.1, the demo, are different.)

        Controls and UI aren’t “crippling” either, they just require spending a bit of time to get a basic understanding. There is a meter for thrust power, a navigation sphere, an altimeter, a velocity readout, and a few resource gauges. That’s no more nor less than you need.
        You do need to learn how to use them, but it’s supposed to be a simulator after all, you need to actually pay attention to the tutorial or experiment. Jumping in and expecting perfect understanding is foolhardy unless you are a rocket scientist.

        I presume you say the controls are crippling because of inertia or not enough control devices. If you make a big ship, it’s going to be slower to control than a small ship, and you need some form of control (an engine with “thrust vectoring”, RCS thrusters, fins, or adequate SAS). I just launched a two stage rocket/lander which flew perfectly to the Mun with only thrust vectoring and an A-SAS (auto-stabilizer) with no other control surfaces (it didn’t have enough fuel to make it back because it’s actually part of a three stage rocket). If I had made a massive tower of fuel tanks instead, it would have been much harder to control.
        The WASDQE set up is a bit difficult to start off with if you are trying to control visually rather than with the Nav-Sphere, but once again, you need neither more nor less for basic flight.

        The one thing I will agree with you on is complex controls. Currently you need to map stages and advanced operations manually for each rocket you make (automatic stages are usually wrong for any but the most basic rocket), and the interface is quite slow to use.
        But you don’t need to mess around with advanced operations for a Mun landing, only stages, and once again, it’s ALPHA, you should fully expect a tutorial on advanced controls to be made, and I would be surprised if they didn’t at least slightly refine the interface.

        • Cinek says:

          I understand that they badge this game as an Alpha version, but it’s being SOLD for MONEY so I’d expect at least a portion of care for customer.

          “The one thing I will agree with you on is complex controls” – they are not complex. Even stupid Freespace 2 got 5 times the amount of controls available. They are UNINTUITIVE – that’s the problem. You see – Freespace 2, even though it had enormous amount of controls available for a player, it was brilliantly designed and everything felt like a glove after passing the tutorial, and than during the game – even though player more than often was overwhelmed by sheer amount of them.
          Here you can easily note it down on a sticky note – but the combination of horrible UI with horrible controls and continuous attempts of NOT to explain player what’s going on and what to do are essentially a game-breakers.

          “It’s pretty easy to find out how to launch a rocket with just a little experimentation in the demo.” – you see, that’s what f***** up in this game – I shouldn’t experiment with controls. I should know them (through tutorial or introductory missions) and they should be intuitive, consistent with other games of the genre (in this case – space/flight sim) whenever possible. If you are FORCED to experiment with controls to do even basic things – than something in the whole design of this thing is completely wrong. I should be spending my time perfecting the designs and my flight technique, not reading the key bindings or sitting on the flight deck frustrated that I can’t fire up a rocket in a perfect sequence (something that computers do automatically in a real rockets – there should be just a tools to program a sequence and delays between the events. )

          • Liudeius says:

            They do, but a good tutorial is very much a finishing polish. The game has changed significantly over the past year. Hell, even from 0.18.1 to 0.20.0 I couldn’t get one of the ships I built to work as well as before thanks to the added re-entry drag.

            They are complex. The word you are looking for is deep. Complex =/= deep. As I already said though, I agree with you that advanced controls need polish (once again, ALPHA).
            Without you giving an actual example rather than just “UI/controls is/are horrible,” I can’t really respond to what you are saying, but basic controls are perfectly fine. Press WASD to move the nav-ball to the direction you want to go. I’ll admit I had some trouble with that when starting out before the tutorials existed, but all that needs is a note that explains the nav-ball.
            The flight tutorial should really be placed before the building tutorial though. Otherwise you can’t fly what you built.

            Once again, ALPHA. I don’t know why you have so much trouble understanding this.
            There is a tutorial which tells you the controls, and it is ABSURDLY easy to launch a rocket with the demo as long as you reference a controls list (which is a bit of an issue, but once again ALPHA and there are now TUTORIALS for basic controls). If you can’t understand the tutorial, that’s you’re fault, not the game’s. It tells you all the necessary controls, and forces you to go through them one at a time.
            As I already said, yes, automatic large scale staging needs some work, but if you know what you’re doing, you can easily fix a large rocket’s staging in a minute. Maybe you should be starting with something simple like a one engine rocket first.
            And “I shouldn’t experiment with controls,” I didn’t say experiment with controls. You don’t experiment with controls, you experiment with rocket set-ups. If they did what you want and held your hand the whole way, it wouldn’t work as a game, it would just be a paint-by-number rocket builder.

            The experimentation with rockets is why I recommended the demo though, with fewer pieces, experimentation is easier.
            In the final game, you won’t play in an infinite-money, all parts unlocked sandbox, you will start with a smaller selection of parts making it easier than it already is by looking at the tutorials and playing the demo before the full game (which you should do anyway since, as you said, they are charging you money for an alpha).

            However, AGAIN this is ALPHA. In the final product there will certainly be even more polished tutorials, full missions, and a career mode.

            “In my first try I followed tutorial step by step and didn’t go anywhere.”
            Since THIS GAME IS ALPHA I don’t know which version of the tutorial you are talking about, but in the current version, nothing but your own negligence could have prevented lift off. It tells you exactly which button to press when you need to press it. (though it is a bit dry and wordy it certainly needs improvement ONCE THE GAME IS DONE and everything the tutorial covers is finalized.)

            “game very much tries NOT to explain anything.”
            You really don’t know what ALPHA means, or TUTORIAL for that matter, even if you think the tutorial is bad, it is by definition explaining something.

            I think you just have a vendetta against this game and have decided to despise it. I came into the game with no more reason to like it than you, learned how to play without tutorials, and I never had a problem with the UI, just the UI not being explained SINCE IT’S ALPHA (and now it is explained).
            Rather than blame you not liking it on the game, just accept that it’s not for you. You clearly aren’t the type who enjoys games which you play by your own volition rather than because so-and-so gave you a quest for 50 bear-asses.

      • Nogo says:

        Ignoring that it’s alpha, the tutorial teaches you everything you need to know in order to create and fly a rocket. It won’t hold your hand to the end of the solar system, but that’s kind of the point. Additionally, the game comes with several ships, rovers, planes and landers already built, so you can fly/redesign those and learn about the various systems (which are all pretty simple once you understand a few basics about what you need/want from your craft).

        I’ve never been frustrated or limited by the UI because the controls are incredibly simple. The game just plain doesn’t need a robust UI to let the player interact with the game, so the current one is more than ample.

        But really the entire challenge is designing then flying a ship and finding out where you’re falling short or overbuilding. My kerbal is surrounded by agile ships of efficient beauty that can pivot on a dime, and ones that take a freakish amount of time and fuel to do basic maneuvers while shaking horribly the entire time.

        There’s just something really engaging about making a wonky craft that barely gets to the Mun only to find out your landing legs are shorter than the rocket so the darn things tips over and blows up. Then you come back later in a sleek lander, with attached rovers, and floodlights that make everything look dramatic and it feels damn good. Or maybe you accidentally jettisoned a Kerbalnaut into orbit so you fashion a rescue craft that ends up needing a rescue itself.

        You do struggle with the game, but in a way where you’re always learning and making progress until you absolutely dominate the challenge you’re working on, so you move on to the next one and begin the hilarious process of all over again.

        • Cinek says:

          ” the tutorial teaches you everything you need to know in order to create and fly a rocket. “- point is tat: NO, it doesn’t. In my first try I followed tutorial step by step and didn’t go anywhere. Not to mention the orbit.

          Only way to play this game is by watching few hours of video tutorials online.

          And game very much tries NOT to explain anything. No tooltips where you need them, tutorial’s just a load of popups (top spot on the “most lazy ways to make a tutorial” list), UI somehow reminds me the one of ARMA II – everything made in some obscure way by people who obviously never gained any knowledge on GUI design (let me guess – it’s 100% made by programmers?). It’s ridiculous.

          • bobhubba says:

            Are you a baby who would like to be spoon fed everything? Either that or you must not be very intelligent. Go find some baby toys and play with that instead.

          • Dominic White says:

            “Only way to play this game is by watching few hours of video tutorials online”

            Bullshit. Even in much earlier versions where the physics were much wonkier and you had far fewer useful components to work with, I still got stuff into space within a couple of hours of bodging around. Didn’t even have a tutorial – I just clicked until things worked.

            Are gamers these days completely unable to learn things on their own? I’m not even 30, and I feel like a grumpy old man.

          • Antonius says:

            It’s been said by more than a few people to you by now, Cinek.
            The game. It doesn’t hold your hand the whole way through. It’s a sandbox game.
            Imagine Garry’s Mod with a tutorial for every tool.

            The idea behind the game is to capture the sheer fun of experimentation and discovery.
            This can be frustrating to people of a certain mindset. I’m assuming you are not an unintelligent person, and that your leisure time is your own to spend as you will. But a lot of people enjoy KSP. I’m one of them.

            I agree the controls and tutorials don’t mesh together well, but hey. That feeling of accomplishment when you see a jettisoned Kerman achieve extra-solar orbit is quite fun! (If sadistic)

          • Morzak says:

            Yeah if you have no understanding of newtonian physics and orbital mechanics, then the game is not intuitive because you know it requires you to understand stuff like inertia and vectors. The only unintuitive thing in that regard is that the keys for Pitch are reversed (makes sense when flying spaceplanes, not so much for rockets). Freespace and all the other Space shooters/Sims or whatever you wanna call them, do not work based on physics, so you really can’t compase how they fly.

            The insturmentation is ok for basic stuff (launching, getting into orbit, to the mun), stuff like Kerbal Engineer Redux, or the Mech Jeb info windows really help, but they only help if you know what you’re doing.

      • softweir says:

        The tutorials ARE pretty feeble right now! Why? Because the game is changing too fast, and a tutorial written today will go out-of-date long before the game is finished.

        Far better to make sure the tutorial system works and leave the actual tutorials at that until much later. Then they can concentrate on writing and debugging the actual tutorials that the game will need when it sells for reals.

  10. Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    I’m going to have to finish my Mun shot soon*. My Kerbals are getting restless. No, that is not a euphemism.

  11. BloonerNL says:

    I wrote this series, should help anyone out. Both educationally and inspirationally: http://inspirationration.com/category/letsplay/kerbalspaceprogram/

  12. DarksDaemon says:

    My greatest astronaut Bob was a brave soul, after a failed dock he sacrificed himself acting as a shield between himself and the craft sending the craft back to kerbin where the other astronauts survived. Bob however was lost to the expanses of space and to this day is stuck in orbit around the sun kerbol.

    KSP is awesome.

  13. TechnicalBen says:

    Wonder full, wonderful game. Currently sending some spare fuel as I kind of used it all up on a trip to Moho. Not leaving any Kerbal behind!

    :P

  14. yithpistol says:

    One thing I must say about KSP, aside from the 90 hours this space heroin has sucked from my life, is that the community is VERY helpful. Once you get into using addons and mods so you can make helicopters and weird ion driven deep space probes you will find this game is a community game and beloved by its core players. I don’t participate too often on forums anyway, barring the odd bug report, and trying to pass on what I learned from my own mistakes. I am still learning from the mistakes of others and my self. This is a great game, and a pro-science game. Some of the wiki entries are like being back in physics class but this time you get to use all those awesome (terrifying looking equations) for something in a game. Now I could sit with a slide rule and pretend it’s the 1950s doing scratch calculations for TWR and delta-V but MechJeb (an addon/mod that is indispensible) can throw out that info for you so you can make quicker design decisions. Still, I find myself reading about craft design as much as I do designing craft.

    This is space heroin. I have a feeling when Scrumbleship gets really going it will have as much pull on the imagination as KSP (and it does such a different thing anyway that the two aren’t comparable in gameplay, only in what it triggers in ones imagination if one is a space nut like I am).

    Glad to see an article covering this alpha. We all lose Jeb someday… well maybe not all of us. I cheat and ‘end mission’ then ‘restart’ … I get attached to grinning fool. He’s immortal but doesn’t realize it. If he ever dies, I want an mod to place a Statue of Jeb at the KSP center (may do it myself!).

    • Antonius says:

      “We’re gonna need a bigger Jeb…”

    • edwardoka says:

      Never mind a Jeb statue, what I want is a Cannon Fodder-style Boot Hill with graves/memorials (including a queue of new recruits), with beacons added to the map to show where they bought it.

      R.I.P. Jools, Jops, Stoo and (IRL) RJ.

  15. WedgeJAntilles says:

    I have gotten very good at this game, but that’s because I’ve spent 183 hours playing it in the month I’ve owned it. Which is to say nothing of the time I’ve spent watching videos and reading actual papers on orbital mechanics and rocket engineering.
    I have a problem. I’m addicted to rocket science.

  16. Somerled says:

    The Kerbal Space wiki has a set of tutorials that walk you through reenacting key missions during the space race. They are absolutely amazing at teaching you all of the basic, most of the intermediate, and even some advanced tricks.

    They are required reading. I’ve taken their guidance and run with it, and now I’m about to launch my first interplanetary craft assembled at my space station: the EnKerprise.

  17. hotmaildidntwork says:

    I won’t mention MechJeb since other have (and since I avoid it myself), but one thing I might recomment knowing is that you can quicksave and quickload with F5 and F9 (respectively). That’s not really mentioned outside of the controls menu, and is quite handy as you venture farther from Kerbin.

    Speaking of which, consider landing on Minmus before the Mun. The lower gravity and kinder terrain (aim for the dark areas) actually make it much easier to land on and even return from. I got there and back with a small rocket, whereas my attempts to rescue the survivors of my only “successful” mun landing have met with universal failure.

  18. Furiosa says:

    So many people seem to recommend MechJeb for whatever reason. I would definitely suggest away from it even if anyone is having trouble flying or learning the ropes to the game. There’s nothing wrong with being bad at something, and there’s that certain achievement, that feeling of satisfaction to finally succeeding at something on your own, rather than using an autopilot that I think a lot of people discount when they suggest it, justifying it with such things as ‘Oh NASA uses autopilot, so you should too’. It’s the very foundation of this game, and wherein the challenge and experiences, successes and failures alike, lie. Sure I’ve ‘wasted time’ and endured tedium doing some things manually, but isn’t that the nature of games? Automating integral gameplay elements of other genres (like aiming in FPS, or base building in RTS, or last hitting in DotA) would be unheard of, and in this case it’s essentially the only interactive element.

    You lose a large portion of the experience by using MechJeb. And while I don’t deride anyone who simply wants to play Lego and watch space ships fly themselves you’re doing new and inexperienced players a disservice by pointing them in that direction to begin with. I wouldn’t play the game as much as I do without feeling like I actually made my space stations, ran my own rescue missions, or accidentally thrown kerbals into deep space / the sun. That’s where the fun is.

    • Amun says:

      I know right? It’s like buying a copy of Doom and saying, “What? I have to manually kill all these Imps?!”

      • Morzak says:

        Sorry if after 180+h in the game people like to automate some actions that are just not that interesting. And no pointing at the blue node that you set up does not take more skill then telling mechjeb to point to the node………

        Allthough I agree that you should learn to fly manually, maybe use KER for the information. The point beeing that an understanding of orbital mechanics will make all the advanced maneuvers way easier. I don’t use MJ for transfers they are easy enough with nodes and Protractor or ksp.olex.biz. I like MJ to do the launch of a lifter design that I already launched a dozen times, or circulizing orbits just tedious stuff that I’ve done too often. The only thing that MJ beats me consitently is landing at a Target, MJ 2 seems to be able to make absolute point landings, not funny if you select land at target, go to grab something to eat and comeback just to realize that you’re kethane miner has landed ontop of your rover…….

    • Liudeius says:

      I don’t know, ion-burns can take so long they are unreasonable to manually control in normal time. (At least when I’ve tried them)

    • abremms says:

      I use mechjeb because I like to focus on design and building, not retrying the launch every time I make the slightest mistake. I only use mechjeb for getting things into orbit, but it allows me to get much larger and more complicated payloads into orbit than my own mediocre skills would otherwise allow. I get why some see it as a crutch, it IS a crutch, but it’s an incredibly useful one for those like me who prefer to focus on other aspects of the game.

      • TechnicalBen says:

        This + NO ONE flys in space without assistance some of the time. This is Kerbal Space Program, not Torturous Space Program.

        I can dock just about anything manually. But sitting down nannying every flight in orbit or launch can get tiresome. So a bit of mechjeb now and again for constant testing or while I make a cup of tea is nice. Plus it’s also got the data read outs that are yet to be added to the game.

        Less a “play the game for you” and more a REAL assist like they use in F1 etc. Or do you think the drivers of F1 cars are too unskilled to drive without traction control?

    • Lanfranc says:

      I’d suggest doing things manually at least until you have learned how to do them, then going with Mechjeb from there on. Not just for the experience, but also because hands-on does much more to teach you what is actually going on with the physics, and that in itself will help to make you a better rocket designer.

      But yeah, once you know how things work, doing a docking manoeuvre manually for the 117th time is perhaps not all that interesting.

    • Nogo says:

      MechJeb is nice once you’ve gotten the hang of things and don’t want to bother with tedious, easy to perform maneuvers, but seriously, don’t rob yourself of the feeling you’ll get when you land on a new planet yourself, perform your first rendezvous, save a doomed ship with awesome pilot skills or pull off a beautiful launch of an unwieldy craft.

      Sure, every real life craft ever was heavily automated, but naturally the astronauts are trained to kick ass if that automation fails, so extend the same courtesy to yourself, and your Kerbalnauts, by learning to be as awesome as Gordon Cooper during his Mercury flight.

  19. abremms says:

    I’v gotten utterly hooked on KSP over the last couple weeks, even though I am terrible at it. In my game there are at this moment, seven Kerbals in three out-of-fuel vessels currently enjoying the second year of their unexpected trip outside the solar system. Never, Ever crank time warp to maximum. Ever. you will overshoot your target every time.

    Also, it’s worth noting (sorry if i missed it in the article), that KSP is very much an unfinished game. They just release 0.20 of their beta. There is a lot of game here, and it’s all surprisingly well polished, but they are still making it. It seems like they are taking the Minecraft development approach, don’t try to do it all at once, add and polish smaller bits of content chunks and sell beta access to keep things funded. Worked for Mojang, seems to be working here.

    • Nogo says:

      F5 before every maneuver, F9 when you inevitably screw it up.

      • Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

        I’m one of those no-MechJeb purists who doesn’t even quicksave. But then, I play Kerbal Space Program as an unintentional space disaster simulator.

        • Nogo says:

          I feel the same way, so I try and limit my usage of it, but it’s really obnoxious that you can lose several hours of easy but tedious maneuvers because you forgot to open your solar panels on a mission you’ve already restarted after finding out your lander was a bit crap.

  20. wonderingmonster says:

    Pedantry: it’s periapsis, not parapsis.

  21. Chris says:

    I do everything once manually, then I use Mechjeb sparingly.

    For example Mechjeb can take the tedium out of orienting your spacecraft by pointing your spacecraft at a maneuver node.

    • Fishstick says:

      Mechjeb’s SMART A.S.S. is great for that. It’s not exactly autopilot, but it makes those maneuvres like turning prograde or retrograde a lot less tedious.

  22. Trashcanman says:

    Two pages and noone mentioned the awesome Chatterer Mod? Have lots of backwinded and speeded up radio chatter from what I believe to be real Nasa and Soviet spaceflights. It’s hilarious and adds all the atmosphere you want.

    http://kerbalspaceport.com/chatterer/
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lwTR3f3YFEk

  23. MFToast says:

    It’s a game about how simple it all really is. Controls are simple, interface is simple, everything is intentionally by the seat of the pants. Once you get a hang of the basic mechanics it’s all just a matter of exploring and trying new things! Love it.

  24. Nats says:

    Best mods not including extra parts are:

    Mechjeb – a very good autopilot but not for anyone who likes doing things manually (like me).
    Engineer Redux – calculates the weight and power of your rocket on the fly as you design so you can tell whether you will get where you want to go and back again.
    Crew Manifest – Allows you to swap crew members around between your various crewable spaces, and most importantly remove some crew to leave space inside your rescue vehicles for stranded astronauts.
    Protractor – tells you the best time to launch a mission to another planet.

  25. adammtlx says:

    Some tips:

    1. Watch Scott Manley’s videos, but preferably only after you’ve tried whatever it is you want to do on your own at least once. This will give you a reference point and will help you better understand what he’s talking about in the videos.

    2. Do NOT use MechJeb until you feel very comfortable with manually doing whatever you plan to use it for. For example, I practiced simply getting into orbit at least fifty times before I started handing the controls over. Prematurely invoking the MechJeb magic will drastically reduce your sense of accomplishment with each milestone you reach.

    3. It’s best to simply experiment first, but eventually you’ll want to gain an understanding of delta-v and how it affects your craft-building. The default game really should have a way of viewing these numbers on your ship but it doesn’t, so you’ll need a mod (see below). MechJeb is the obvious one but I recommend staying away from it at first and using something that won’t tempt you with any “I’ll fly your ship for you” sins, like Kerbal Engineer Redux or something.

    4. At some point, go to http://www.kerbalspaceport.com and download some parts expansions, like the Stock Parts Expansion, KW Rocketry, NovaPunch, etc. Keep in mind this will cause the initial game load to go much slower. And if you’re on Mac OS X you might not want to bother. I’ve had all sorts of problems with the game freezing up on a brand-new iMac when adding more than a few dozen new parts.

    5. Download the Haystack mod. It’ll make your craft-switching life much easier. Also, I’ve found the Parts Filter mod to be indispensable once I’ve installed a lot of parts.

    6. Branch out to other mods when you feel comfortable. Some standouts: Kethane, Kerbal Attachment System, and RemoteTech.

    8. This site is extremely useful for making interplanetary flights and avoiding a lot of trial and error or having to do the transfer calculations yourself. Unless you’re into that. Which some people are.

  26. softweir says:

    Just adding my vote to all those saying:

    Mechjeb
    Engineer Redux
    Protractor.

    Make sure you have lots of time if you want to visit the outer planets, because even at 100,000x warp it takes a lot of RL minutes to get there.

  27. JeanieOwen56 says:

    Molly. even though Terry`s stori is something… last week I bought a great Ford Mustang from making $5349 thiss month and-also, ten k lass-month. it’s certainly my favourite-work I’ve had. I began this 3 months ago and pretty much immediately made minimum $70 p/h. I work through this website,, Exit35.com

  28. Staggen says:

    Please, take a look at Scott Manley, hes the best teacher about ANY space game out there :D / Hes awesome. Honestly, hes made some good tutorials about this game, and also other random stuff about it^^

    The user: http://www.youtube.com/user/szyzyg
    The Tutorial Videos: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLYu7z3I8tdEm5nyZU3a-O2ak6mBYXWPAL

    As you said, they may be outdated, but the most important stuff is the same! Hope this helped, and have a nice day^^ Cya

  29. discrider says:

    I had no trouble at all with the tutorials in KSP. I completed those missions, bunged together a whole stack of tanks rockets and decouplers (and SAS thingie) with a command pod and lander at the top and headed straight for the Mun.

    Or more or less straight to the moon. Had to improve the integrity of my rocket so it didn’t fall apart on ascent and get the staging right before I could even hit Kerbin orbit. It was a simple 3 stage rocket, and it pretty much worked right out of the box aside from a necessary 1/3 decrease to 2nd stage fuel to allow for greater ascent on the 1st stage.

    Directing my rocket into orbit was the easy part, as was the transfer to Mun orbit.
    I then realised I had my landing gear on my lander on upside down (since the lander was attached upside down to the rocket in the first place) so it promptly crashed.

    So I turned that around and sent another rocket up. Lander landed, plant flag, jump around a bit, fail to adequately ration fuel on the way back to rendezvous with the command module, fail to get Kerbal into Munar orbit with jetpack, Kerbal goes splat, command module returns home safely.

    Take same rocket to Minmus later. This time everything goes fine until I see how high 50% jetpack use gets a Kerbal. Apparently to escape velocity on Minmus. So with tentative jetpack use and matching the orbit of the Kerbal with the command module, the Kerbal gets back on board safely but without the use of the lander, and everyone gets back home safely, minus some expensive equipment (that we were going to burn off in the atmosphere anyway).

    So, I found that orbital transfers and the controls to do so were the easiest part of KSP. Prograde is going to take the other side of the orbit higher as you add velocity. Retrograde is going to do the opposite because you’re breaking. Radial directions will make your orbit more elliptical with radial in tilting it away from the direction you’re going (as you’re bringing yourself immediately closer to the planet and thus the other side a rotation and a bit away from you is going to get higher because you’re not changing your orbiting velocity much), and radial out will tilt the orbit towards where you are headed. The normal directions tilt your orbit around the planet around your current position.

    So figure where out where you want to go, use thrust vectors (and maneuvers, click on your orbit and then adjust the thrust vectors to see what such an impulse would do to your orbit) appropriately and aim ahead of your target’s position.

    The main trick is getting sufficient fuel out of Kerbin’s gravity well and into orbit in the first place. And that is where the real rocket science lies. It’s easy to get to the Mun (or Minmus). You don’t have to take much fuel out so you don’t need to plan anything. But if you want to go to another planet you’ll have to get enough fuel up above Kerbin to fight Kerbin’s orbital speed of its sun. But the more fuel you need up there, the more massive the rocket and the more fuel you need to get it up there. Which means either careful rocket staging or gravitational slingshots or orbital platforms (and requires docking), all of which are far more difficult than a Mun landing.

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