Kerbal Space Program, or KSP for short, has become something of a sleeper hit over the past four years. It’s a spaceflight simulator which takes the physics of spaceflight really seriously, but plays the consequences for laughs, and it’s been heavily refined since its 2011 public launch, picking up steam after it was added to Steam in 2013.
It’s just recently left Early Access on Steam, meaning it’s effectively a ‘finished product’ now, though many Steam games still receive substantial updates. KSP itself charts the history of a space program on an imaginary world populated not by humans but by Kerbals, the green and ultra-resilient inhabitants of the planet Kerbin.
Still, while the astronauts can take more punishment than our own, physics works much the same way in the game as it does in real life, and as the player gets used to assembling their spacecraft from the pre-made components available in game, they learn a little about how spaceflight really works, going from explosive accidents on launch through unstable trajectories to, finally, perhaps, being able to put a Kerbal on one of their moons. (Which, as a side note, is the best I’ve ever done. I remain hopeful for a return trip one day, though.)
You’ll learn to juggle thrust, fuel, and a dozen other factors to achieve the spaceflight you want as you get better. You can even try to recreate major moments in our own history of spaceflight, and to make things even better, the game supports mods really well, and that sleeper hit status means there’s a very strong mod community.
The game has three modes. Playing in Career mode, you can attempt to model the progress of a group like NASA, juggling funding issues, training, and research as you develop new technologies, unlocking better and better components with which to take to the skies. This is arguably the most restrictive mode, and also the most immersive for my money.
In Science mode, dealing with funding issues and so forth is removed or simplified, but research must still be performed to unlock all the spaceship parts. It forms a mid-range, and is a good way to get used to the game with restrictions before moving on to Career mode.
Most like a ‘fool around with rockets’ experience is Sandbox mode, where all bets are off and where people often set themselves challenges to build very strange vehicles, or even just build something they know will destroy itself so that they can watch and enjoy.
And options continue to develop; last year, they released an expansion pack dealing with asteroids that had been developed with NASA support.
Kerbal Space Program is amazing fun for the aspiring astronaut and for the casual gamer alike. I recommend giving it a try. After all, it’s only rocket science.