Why I Love Kerbal Space Program

kerbal

It’s not something I’ve often admitted to in writing, but I am a gamer. Much as I’d prefer to spend my time ostentatiously lolling about with a copy of The Master & Margarita, or loudly boasting to strangers about my unpublished novel, invariably when I want to relax I end up playing games. I grew up playing FPS’seses, violent adventures where your eyes and crudely rendered right arm sway the tide of a WW2 battle, or smelt demons on the surface of Mars, or cut the throats of wickedly brown people in the Maldivian jungle. All in the service of ever more realistic murder. Sadly, in recent years, the growth of the industry has made FPSadingdongs all too popular.

With the rusting of gears brought on by my bloated thirties I’ve become too jaded to indulge in these increasingly ‘cinematic’ adventures, and become more interested in Open World Games – where an enormous, traversable landscape generates the illusion of youth, vitality and freedom. More recently, bored even of endless sterile landscapes populated by wax faced cliches with enormous cleavages, I’ve been drawn towards the pleasingly elitist genre of indie games. As with movies and music, out of the septic pool of the mainstream has crawled an evolving community of next generation hips. Enviable teams of young neoliberals, depicted in documentaries like the bravely self produced Indie Game The Movie, striving to produce something unique and inspiring. Doubtless the best of these efforts, since it’s the most profitable, is Minecraft, a sort of open world survivalist simulator, where starting off with nothing but your bare hands, you go on to mine ore, craft tools, build structures and even create machines, all from first principles. This is a sophisticated metaphor I don’t have time to go into here. Readily modifiable, Minecraft has gained enormous popularity, selling several tens of millions of units, despite being the work of a humble team of untrained Aryans.

Other worthy indie titles include ‘Sleep is Death‘, Jason Rohrer’s audacious storytelling experiment, Eufloria, a beautifully organic real time strategy game, and Jenova Chen’s ‘Journey’, a dream like hero’s tale in the ruins of a mysterious desert world. If you haven’t gamed in a few years, you’ve missed the tremendous flowering of creative potential that’s come with the maturation of a new medium. You’re also probably doing things in the outside place, with your beautiful flesh friends, so stop reading this and get back there, you filthy privilege hippy. When done well, games, especially indie games, offer tremendous creative expression, reducing the barriers to entry to the creation of interactive art, allowing the player to create objects and experiences that can usually be shared with anyone.

Recently I’ve become hooked on another game, rapidly developing an online following, but so far thankfully invisible to the unwashed hoards. Kerbal Space Program has a simple premise, build a spacecraft and try to fly it to the ‘Mun’. You’re equipped with a few basic parts, and many more are available via the numerous ‘mods‘ fans have made for the game. The twist is that the physics model has been developed with an obsessive attention to accuracy. Although Kerbal Kerbin, the planet your brave little explorers are located on, is much smaller than earth, getting off it is no easy task. Attaining a stable orbit requires patience, experimentation, and some grasp of orbital dynamics. Within the fairly strict bounds of the game there are numerous possibilities for creative experimentation, as there is no one right way to build a ship, fly it, or make it to the ‘Mun’. The game is currently in active development, with lunar landers, missions, additional craft parts, and perhaps even additional planets to come in future update. I’d recommend trying the demo. Check out some screens, tweaks and tips below.

How to Improve The Framerate / Performance of Kerbal Space Programme

I have loyal wonderful, please don’t break, please don’t break, and completely irreplaceable iMac desktop which is nearing it’s 4th year of life. Never the fastest gaming rig it struggles to run the resource hog that is KSP. Never the less I’ve found a few tweaks that make the game completely playable, and might help others with older ‘rigs’.

1. Open the settings.cfg file. It’s in the folder where you installed Kerbal. Drop it into notepad or similar.
2. Change MAX_VESSELS_BUDGET to a lower number, like say 50.
3. Change SIMULATE_IN_BACKGROUND to False.
4. Change ANTI_ALIASING to 1
5. Change TEXTURE_QUALITY to 1
6. Change LIGHT_QUALITY to 0
7. Change SHADOWS_QUALITY to 0

Save and run Kerbal Space Programme. Hopefully you’ll find it much more playable. Simulate in background is the real resource hog, so change that one first if you’re looking for the best performance trade off.

How to Get to the ‘Mun’ in Kerbal Space Programme

You don’t need sophisticated math to get into space in KSP (but it helps). Here’s a non mathematical method I (as a dyscalculic thick) successfully use.

1. First build a very stable multi-stage rocket, one that lets you adjust pitch without tumbling end on end. You shouldn’t need any solid fuel engines, RCS boosters or RCS fuel tanks. If you’re using the demo, instead of landing gear stick some fixed wings to the bottom of your top stage to serve as gear when you land on the Mun!

2. Turn on SAS stablisation (this keeps you locked in a certain direction), default key T. Turn it off briefly any time you want to adjust direction.

3. Now launch at full thrust (shift increases thrust, ctrl decreases).

3. After a few seconds, adjust pitch east (right), so that the yellow half moon on your gimbal (the sphere at the bottom of the screen, indicating your rocket’s direction) is at the top of the blue half of the sphere (pointed directly up), but the sphere is facing ‘right’ (in line with the yellow line at the bottom of the gimbal)

4. Keep heading straight up until your first stage is almost exhausted. You should now be climbing at least 360 meters per second, measured in green at the top of your gimbal.

5. Now tilt your rocket down a little, say one quarter of the way down the gimbal.

6. Switch your view to telemetry, default key M. Much of the rest of the flight will be done in this view.

7. Now by hand adjust your rockets lateral and horizontal thrust to maximise the width of your orbit (the green line extending from your craft) until you’re in orbit, this might take some practise – it’s basically a trade off between height and width.

8. Once you’ve achieved a stable orbit – a circular telemetry around Kerbal, which doesn’t extend too far down into the atmosphere, you can start to extend it.

7. Travel to the lowest point in your orbit and aim your craft halfway down the gimbal – so that your not firing directly away from Kerbal but perpendicularly to it.

8. Fire your thrusters and watch your orbit extend outwards from Kerbal. It shouldn’t take too much thrust to extend the orbit all the way to intersect with the wider circle of the moon’s orbit.

9. Hit X to cut your engines as soon as you’ve created the orbit you want.

10. Now speed up time and shoot off towards the moon – move your mouse over the little clock in the top left of your screen and click on the arrows. Careful, if you speed time up too close to the Mun you might loose control and smack into the big guy.

11. With luck, your orbit will be in the right plane and you’ll catch the Mun. If not you can adjust the plane of your orbit by firing your engines briefly in the opposite direction to the one you want to travel in.

12. Now fly to the Mun! It might take a few orbits of Kerbal depending on where the Mun is in it’s orbit. Slow time acceleration down as you approach the Mun. With luck your orbit will shift to a green line going around the Mun.

13. Slow to real time, and fire against your orbit – marked as a yellow circle with an X through it on the gimbal.

14. Keep firing until your orbit shrinks to intersect with the Mun.

15. Now accelerate time until your within a few thousand feet (say 20,000) of Mun.

16. Now drink some jolt cola, you fucking nerd.

17. Fire your engines (at the yellow circle with no X) to slow your decent. Watch the altitude (top of screen), and speed (top of gimbal) careful. Get the speed down to about 300 meters per second.

18. Once you get into a few thousand feet of Mun, reduce your thrust further.

19. This is the hard bit. By firing against the little yellow circle on your gimbal you’ll decrease decent, hopefully to the point where you’re falling straight down (instead of shooting laterally across the surface of the Mun), once you’ve done this, just use short bursts of a small amount of thrust to slow your decent. You’ll need to be below 10 meters per second to land, but it’s very easy to smash your craft even then.

20. When you’re within a few meters of the surface and travelling very slowly, cut your engines. You’re on the Mun! Sort of.

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