Kerbal Space Program Review

By: Armaan Khan

Is it still cool to dream about being an astronaut? Space seems so passé these days but, man, when I was a kid it was the tops. I would watch the shuttle launches on TV and dream about one day going up into the black myself. I never did quite get there, but it’s okay now because indie developer Squad has produced Kerbal Space Program to fill that void in my dreams. KSP puts you in charge of the space program for the planet Kerbin and while it’s far from complete (the current version is 0.13), it already provides hours of fun with the promise of more as updates are released.

The Dream Of Yesterday

There are no hard objectives in Kerbal Space Program. Once you’ve been shown the ropes on how to build, launch, and fly a rocket, you’re left on your own to do whatever you want. Your options are fairly limited, however. Currently you can try to get into space, achieve a stable orbit, and return to base without killing your three astronauts. If you install some of the available mods, you can also attempt to visit the moon, but there’s not much else to do besides that. This might seem like a bad thing, but the joy of KSP is in actually managing to pull these feats off. They’re not as easy as they sound.

It all starts with assembling a rocket. You pick the command module, then pack fuel tanks, thrusters, decouplers (to build multi-stage launch systems), and various other components beneath it. The pieces snap to each other like LEGOs, so building feels natural and intuitive, more like playing with a model toy than fumbling with a computer program. Once the rocket is assembled, you can take it out to the launchpad and fire it off with a tap of the spacebar. If your rocket is set up with multiple stages (and it should be, otherwise it’ll be a very short flight), successive presses of the spacebar will activate the stages in the order you laid them out in during assembly.

You have full control over flight, using WASD by default, but that can be fully mapped to your preference. The input configuration deserves a ton of praise, because it is incredibly robust. Not only can you have two separate sets of key/button configurations, you can also configure every single axis on your flightstick with the ability adjust deadzones and sensitivities for each one individually. If that weren’t awesome enough, the game will autodetect your axes, so you don’t need to know if your flightstick’s throttle is axis 4 or axis 6 to get it to work. It’s refreshing to see such comprehensive controller support in a modern-day game.

Is The Hope Of Today

Once you start launching rockets, you’ll realize just how complex the task of getting into space is. The game uses real physics for flight, so if your craft is not balanced properly, it will go spinning out of control. If you don’t have enough engines to reach escape velocity, you won’t be able to break out of the atmosphere. But, if you put too many engines on, you might become too heavy to lift off. There are a million little issues that you have to deal with, and the only way to figure them out is to keep on trying, failing, learning, and trying again. And it’s not the pointless artificial learning of other hard games (I’m looking at you, roguelikes), you’ll actually come away from Kerbal Space Program with a greater knowledge of spaceflight, orbital mechanics, and the issues involved in it.

I couldn’t help but feel a constant sense of wonder while playing. It almost felt as if I was really participating in the early days of space travel, where no one knows the best way to get a man into space and back and the only way to figure it out was to try. The limited component options for rocket building contributed to that “first steps” feeling, because you’re stuck with building Saturn-style rockets. You’ll have to work with what you’re given, whether or not it’s the best tools for the job, and hope they succeed.

And, boy, when you do finally make it out into space, in a stable orbit, you can’t help but feel you’ve actually accomplished something. I actually held my breath the first time I saw my craft breaking out of the atmosphere to be embraced by the black of space. It was awe-inspiring, and I have never felt that way playing a game, ever.

And Reality Of Tomorrow

It’s an experience that’s going to get better with time, too, because the developers are actively adding new content. KSP is eventually going to feature management options allowing you to expand the program’s facilities with more buildings, the means to hire/train astronauts, as well as the ability to research better equipment and components. You’ll be able to travel to other planets in the system, build bases there (as well as in space), and carry out structured missions. Squad’s even going to add cities to the surface of Kerbal, to give it that lived-in feeling. All these additions will make this great game even better.

Conclusion – Is It Worth The Money?

Of course, whether or not you actually find Kerbal Space Program as awesome as I do depends entirely on how much you like the subject matter. If your interest in space exploration starts and stops with teaching female aliens about the human concept called “love,” then you probably won’t find much to enjoy here. But if you, like me, watched those space shuttle launches with wide-eyed wonder (or wish you did), then you owe it to yourself to check Kerbal Space Program out. It’s currently $7, but that price will go up as more content is added, so the earlier you get in on it, the better value it becomes.

Kerbal Space Program Technical Summary:

  • Time Played – 3 hours
  • Widescreen Support – Yes
  • 5.1 Audio – No
  • Bugs – None
  • DRM – None
  • Control Scheme – Keyboard/Mouse, Joystick, Gamepad
  • System Specs  – Intel Core2 Quad @ 2.6 GHz, 4GB RAM, Radeon HD 4800
  • Game Acquisition Method – 0.13 Release
  • Availability – Official Website
  • Demo – Yes

7 thoughts on “Kerbal Space Program Review

    • To be honest, once you get the configurations set up, both work equally well, so it all comes down to which you’re more used to.

      That said, I went back to using the keyboard and mouse after a while, because I found it better for the subtle course corrections that make up the majority of the flight time.

  1. Good review, I was also instantly hooked on this little game.

    I should add though, the moon isnt a modded add-on at all, its in the most recent vanilla version of the game and was a major and very exciting update to the game.
    The only mod’s we’re seeing at the moment are for custom parts, which are in a large abundance at the moment because of Squad’s support in making the game open to modders (at least as far as custom parts go at this stage)

    You can make it to the moon with vanilla KSP though, a good challenge 🙂

  2. This is honestly a painful review to read. There are a number of glaring errors that really make me think twice about the author’s credibility. The game, at the time of this review, allows for a full visit to the moon and a return with only preloaded components. Also, the author does not know a whole heck of a lot about orbital mechanics, yet still throws out words that would make anybody with even the most remote knowledge of basic principals cringe.

    Regardless of the author’s skill, the game is a wonderful break from work. To those of you who have not yet tried out this little jewel, I strongly recommend giving it a few hours.

  3. Good review; thanks! I too enjoy KSP after a hard day at work.

    I re-mapped the default WASD Pitch/Yaw input keys to be the regular Arrow keys (which used to control the the Camera view):
    In settings.cfg:
    PITCH_DOWN = JoystickButton1, DownArrow
    PITCH_UP = JoystickButton3, UpArrow
    YAW_LEFT = JoystickButton0, LeftArrow
    YAW_RIGHT = JoystickButton2, RightArrow
    CAMERA_ORBIT_UP = None, None
    CAMERA_ORBIT_DOWN = None, None
    CAMERA_ORBIT_LEFT = None, None

    I find I do not need Camera view keys, because the right-mouse-button also does that.

    A few thoughts for upcoming versions:
    1) modify the underlying math to approximate actual n-body gravity (even an approximation would be better than the existing unrealistic one-body-at-a-time gravity being used).
    2) eliminate the “are you sure?” prompt when exiting, and in other operations like that which just take too many clicks.
    3) in addition to the saved name, add a thumbnail image to your VAB inventory of rockets).

    KSP is a great program, and I share the sense of wonder of the author of this review.

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