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Kerbal Space Program

Kerbal Space Program is the game of choice for people who are smarter than us

By John Teti • June 19, 2013

When your day job is to fire stuff into space, it must be hard to find entertainment that excites you. The Penny Arcade Report’s Andrew Groen discovered that the engineers at our nation’s leading rocket lab have a simple solution: They play a game where you pretend to fire stuff into space. “NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab is obsessed with a certain game, and I bet you can guess what it is,” Groen writes, although he might be losing a few of those bets, because I did not guess that the JPL geniuses are into Kerbal Space Program.

Kerbal is a sandbox game where you manage a space program and construct rockets to launch a bunch of sallow Ed Grimley clones into the great unknown. Douglas Ellison, a digital animation producer at JPL, told Groen that Kerbal gives real-life rocket scientists a place where they can muck around:

“Some of the engineering principles are very sound within KSP, but you can go just a little bit crazy. Everyone who works in and around the fields of science and engineering has a thousand crazy ideas they’ve thought of but would never try in real life. KSP is a place where maybe, in Kerbal’s unique way, you can give them a try.”

Go ahead and read the whole article. PA Report is a quality joint; they’re not going to let you down.

Crashed Lander

Kerbal is for anyone to play, not just fancy space boffins, and it has an active community of players who build and share mods for the game. But perhaps you like your space exploration to be dumbed down even more. Maybe Crashed Lander, the subject of a recent Sawbuck Gamer review, is more your speed. This game takes the process of building a spacecraft out of your hands, but you still have to fly the darn thing.

Hedgehog Launch

You have dumber choices. How about Hedgehog Launch, in which you simply have to hurl a rodent into the stratosphere? This post is going up 20 minutes late because I got hooked on Hedgehog Launch.

Planet Punch

But wait! We can go even dumber. There’s Planet Punch, a game where your goal is simply to beat the crap out of space.

Still not stupid enough? Oh, fine.

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10 Responses to “Kerbal Space Program is the game of choice for people who are smarter than us”

  1. duwease says:

    I felt like I had something to say, but then I just had to play Don’t Shit Your Pants for nostalgia’s sake, and it cleared it right out of my head.  Some might call that stupidity, but some call it Zen.

  2. Roswulf says:

     Damn you Teti, the last thing my productivity needs is a reminder of the existence of Hedgehog Launch!

    • Fluka says:

      *Wastes an hour on Hedgehog Launch…*

      Waaaaait a second…Armor Games?  *Wikis*


  3. HobbesMkii says:

    I just want to post here about how amazing Kerbal is. I have a BA in writing, so my understanding of physics and motion and math is at best “hazy.” To date, my crowning achievement has been to accidentally put a (very large) liquid fuel tank into orbit around the Sun. My goal is to put an unmanned rover on the Moon’s (“Mun” in the game) surface, which so far isn’t working too well for me because I can’t figure out how to match my orbit to cross the moon’s. 

    But I have yet to feel like the game is frustratingly difficult or a waste of time.

    • WL14 says:

      I’m so happy someone else has played this game! Although it sounds like you’ve advanced further than I have… my goal right now is to dock stuff in orbit. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, I didn’t know that I didn’t know how to do this. And that’s why I love Kerbal.

      • HobbesMkii says:

         Oh, I knew that would result in me crashing two ships together (if I didn’t just miss completely), so I skipped over that because there’s a tutorial on getting to the Mun. However, I can’t replicate it very well.

    • DevinC says:

      The most recent version makes it very easy to match your orbit to the Mun’s; the tutorials tell you how to match axial inclination, and the feature where you can plan a burn will show you the results long before you commit to it.  

      In previous versions, I had no great difficulty landing on the Mun, but my most recent game claimed the lives of three Kerbals before I made it to the Mun and back.  (One successfully landed, looked around, climbed back in the capsule…whereupon I hit the space bar to launch, and instead detached the capsule from the engine, dooming him to a cold, lonely death.)  

  4. The_Helmaroc_King says:

    When I read the title, I was hoping it referred to Lunar Lander.

    I have fond memories of that game. There’s a “Space & Science Centre” in my city that has all kinds of interactive exhibits, but they also had a Lunar Lander arcade cabinet that they had modified so people could play for free. I don’t know if they still have it, but it was a surprisingly memorable distraction among everything else, and I suppose it was a decent way to demonstrate physics.

    I also wrote a basic clone of the game in high school with Java. Good times.

    • Marozeph says:

      I always associate “drifting in space” with Solar Jetman, mostly because it was the second game i played on my NES as a kid (the first obviously being Super Mario Bros).

      And while i never played the original Lunar Lander, i played the minigame-clone in The Dig quite a bit.

  5. EmperorNortonI says:

    Anyone interested in the crunchy board game version of Kerbal Space Progrma, check out High Frontier. It’s really good.