AtomP Updates: Kerbal Space Program (Beta) [SQUAD]

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Tom Hooper aka Atomp

It’s been approximately 9 months since I last covered KSP (Kerbal Space Program), and in that time the game has developed significantly enough that I felt compelled to do an update. The KSP updates have been fairly consistent and the game is still in development, so why choose this moment to write a review?   Well, the recent 1.22 update added the ‘game’ element to what was up to this point an outstanding sandbox. This new Career Mode is based around creating craft in order to explore, which in turn unlocks science points to be spent in the technology tree, unlocking more advanced parts.

The career method of presenting the player with a limited part set to begin with has been implemented brilliantly, with maybe a few small balance issues. The system forces efficient design through pushing the player to tackle problems using only the research path that they’ve managed to unlock. Whereas before the aim in the sandbox was determined purely by player ambition and creativity, now it is driven by a need to apply ambition and creativity to exploring.    Personally, I enjoyed the sandbox a great deal and spent a reasonable time playing with a variety of designs.  However the career mode almost has it completely beat. The challenge of creating a craft and planning a mission from just the parts unlocked gives real focus to the gameplay and pushes the player beyond their comfort zone. I personally made more progress in my first two sessions of career mode than I did in all of my playing around in sandbox. In that time, I managed to develop a series of early manned missions, a variety of unmanned probes, an unmanned lunar lander and eventually a manned lunar lander. Thanks to a failed experimental lunar lander running out of fuel in high Kerbin orbit, I also have a medium range kerbal rescue vehicle and a medium range craft recovery/de-orbit vehicle. Currently, I’m planning further manned missions to the Mün in order to gather more data and samples. The is just the way that I decided to play and unlock; there’s still the space-plane elements which I haven’t touched. Much if not all of the drive to produce these varied missions types has come from the extra little push that the research system provides over just sandbox experimentation.

The career mode is not finished and I believe that it could use some tweaking.  Certain research categories may need switching up and I’m somewhat apprehensive as to the seriously weak value of longer term installations and stations. The manner in which research is gathered means that eventually the value of any research in a certain situation degrades to nothing.  While this forces the player to explore further, it also invalidates vehicles like space stations. These are minor balance issues, though, and generally do not significantly impact the game in a negative way.

There will no doubt be far more development on this game mode as time progresses.  For example, the biome system that has been integrated to vary up research results and yield is currently only applicable to Kerbin and the Mün, but will be expanded to the rest of the solar system. Overall the manner in which research is gathered and transmitted or brought back is very very cool and the guys at SQUAD have done a fantastic job of building the game into KSP.

Another area of the game that has seen improvement is the VAB and space-plane hanger, which seems to be a little less twitchy and now includes the option to use ‘sub-assemblies’. This is an easy and intuitive system where entire chunks of prepared spacecraft can be dragged and dropped into the parts inventory and then reused at will, much like any other part.  Got a favourite lifter design that you like to use for those big heavy payloads? –just drag, drop and clip it onto whatever heavy payload you like. The construction process is not entirely glitch free, but the progress on it has been significant and it is for the most part a pleasure to use.  The controls have been tightened significantly, making precision control nicer and the autopilot less prone to wanting to tear spacecraft apart like an angry kitten with toilet paper.

Visually the game has retained much of what makes it unique, with the graphics tightened and polished. The game looks great and the options that are available make the entire experience very scalable to hardware limitations. When ramped up, the game often has some very pretty moments; the combination of the fantastic lighting system, crisp textures and great models produces some real screenshot moments, amplified by the post-card effect. The sound and music design match the aesthetic in being well composed and implemented, with the timing of music to fill the silence of space is a nice example.  It reminds me of the brilliant sound module developed for Orbiter by Dansteph. The music especially strikes me as the kind of sound you’ll listen to for hours and then recognize nostalgically when you happen to hear it somewhere years down the line.

Progress on compatibility has made significant progress since my last review.   The game will now run natively on Windows, Mac and Linux with all working through Steam or independently.  I couldn’t be happier about this, and huge props to the developers for this cross-platform support.  It’s pretty great that you no longer have to pay the Windows-tax or sell you soul to Apple in order to play KSP.   Hardware requirements are reasonable; a mid-range PC should get a smooth play experience.   The minimum requirements on Steam require a Core 2 Duo, 2GB RAM and a Shader Model 3 compatible card and whilst this is probably plausible, it’s certainly the bare minimum.  In its current state, the physics calculations on very complex craft (those with a high part count) can make even a reasonable system chug a little so on that minimum spec it would be playable with the caveat of the occasional FPS trough.

In conclusion, I can and will absolutely recommend KSP wholeheartedly.  If you already own it, but had a bit of a hiatus, then go back to it!  Seriously, it’s just getting better all the time.  If you don’t own the game then I recommend you check it out.  Look for some Youtube videos and then seriously consider purchasing it.  KSP is available from Steam for $29.10 (approx £17.99) and from the KSP website for $23.00 (approx £14.23).  It’s worth noting that the two purchases are not ownership cross-compatible and that the Steam purchase will only provide a Steam copy and the store purchase will only provide a stand-alone copy and no Steam key.

KSP on Steam

KSP Store

KSP Website

KSP  Website FAQ (For answers to questions regarding Steam/Store purchasing)

**Bonus Link!** KSP Youtube Page (They have the best release trailers)

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