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Kerbal Space Program

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By Mokman27-06-2013
Bis18marck70 (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)
Kerbal Space Program

The Defence

Developer:
Squad
Publisher:
Squad
Genre:
Puzzle, Simulator
Release Date:
TBA

The Prosecution

CPU:
Intel Core i3
AMD equivalent
VGA:
Nvidia GeForce 8800
AMD equivalent
RAM:
4 GB
HDD:
2 GB
DirectX:
9.0c

It sounds like the sort of game concept one would get at 3am in the morning, after drinks and sitting upside-down on a couch wearing a fuzzy pink hat. "What if we had gamers be...rocket scientists...and let's make it a hardcore space simulator. With physics. Except...let's replace the astronauts with funny green cartoon-people. What do we call it? Ah, of course. The Kerbal Space Program." And thus KSP was born. And really, something like this had to happen at some point. After all, who did not have childhood dreams in which one would launch rockets to the moon, repair satellites and explore the stars?

So, after playing quite a lot of KSP, what do I think? Well, to cut a long story short, it's not exactly what I expected. It's absolutely brilliant.

Notice how your three astronauts are floating freely, trapped in space? Expect to see that a lot.

Notice how your three astronauts are floating freely, trapped in space? Expect to see that a lot.

KSP is a game not only about being in charge of a space program a la NASA, but also designing and piloting the various spacecraft that one cobbles together. You have a few facilities, in which you build rockets - praying against all hope that it lasts at least to the stratosphere before exploding catastrophically - a launch pad, where you then launch your mad creations into space and, in the off-chance you are successful, a space centre where you track your object's orbit. You have the chance to control the activities related to the spacecraft itself, occasionally sending your astronauts scurrying about the rocket's surface, sometimes accidentally letting go, leading to desperate attempts to get back on board. Or you can just watch the hilarious sight of your astronauts veering off course and possibly landing in the Indian Ocean.

The first thing you notice about Kerbal Space Program (KSP) is the obvious juxtaposition of the seriousness of rocket science, replete with concepts of mass distribution, centre of gravity, aerodynamics simulations, against its obviously silly theme, with hilarious texts for the various rocket parts, comedic green astronauts and a camera that records their funny faces as they blast off. Those mostly turn into visages of pure terror...if they don't blow up first.

When I first started, I attempted being serious, crafting a sensibly named rocket I christened "Ambition", which featured a full suite of safety and (suspiciously named) monitoring equipment. With pride I surveyed my constructed endeavour, confident that it would go perfectly. Then came the time for my disastrous first blast-off; or it would have been had my rocket even succeeded in leaving the launch pad. Instead, my ramshackle rocket practically fell apart, its cockpit comically toppling off the top of the rocket to smash into the fuselage, resulting in a tremendous explosion that spewed rocket parts everywhere. So, utter and total failure.

75% of your rocket launches.

75% of your rocket launches.

Faced with such overwhelming evidence, I erroneously concluded that this game was bollocks when it came to proper science and I should just strap any old thing together and hope for the best. This then led to the first half of my time spent in KSP basically screwing around, building funny-looking rockets destined for tragic explosions. Catastrophic failure piled upon catastrophic failure and though my rockets succeeded getting further and further into the sky, none of them stayed up there, blowing up at the first separation stage, crashing back onto the launch pad, or just by tumbling out of the sky thanks to a lack of fuel. Names began getting ridiculous in a rapidly escalating fashion, in tandem with my growing frustration and desperation. Soon my rocket garage was filled with great projects such as the Titanic Mk2, the Rubbish Mk4 and the Desperation Mk5. Until, something miraculous happened. One succeeded - the Desperation Mk6. The feeling of success as I watched the trajectory coalesce from the red of an imminent crash to the blue of a stable orbit, the huge wave of relief followed by the giddy heights of success...few games have ever brought me to this level of emotion.

Starting then on, I began to play seriously once more. My rocket designs finally included the necessary fuel to weight ratios, safety parachutes actually featured in the final stage cockpits, and I realized what all those extra buttons were for. The amount of satellites in the sky began to increase exponentially and finally, the time came for the final challenge. Success Mk VI was the destined one, the one to land on the moon. I perched it on the launch pad, gleaming in its potential...and it promptly fell apart as the fuselage crashed right into the booster. Going back to the drawing board, I realized the problem was a loose connector between the two parts, one that had led to the loss of four lives. No biggie. Fixing the slight problem, Mk VII was rushed to the launch pad, ignoring all security checks and finally...blast-off!

Success Mk VI spiralled into the sky past the satellites into territory no small green-skinned Kerbal had gone before. Massive forces demanding constant course corrections lest the rocket be directed back to earth, and into deep space, where the stars twinkled and the sky darkened. I imagined the astronauts inside the satellites waving to their brave compatriots as they penetrated the darkness of space. It was slow going until I saw it, the Mun, filling up the screen as it grew bigger. Landing thrusters initiated and for a few brief panicky minutes my lander somersaulted wildly in the air until my R boosters caught up with the spin. It landed. Feelings of accomplishment accompanied the surge of adrenaline, which were immediately followed by a hilarious realization as I took the first few steps on the moon - I had forgotten to add a way to bring them back. I'll think about it next time, I guess.

You can make your astronaut let go and watch him slowly burn up in the atmosphere. But you won't. Will you?

You can make your astronaut let go and watch him slowly burn up in the atmosphere. But you won't. Will you?

KSP features a huge array of parts, planets, stars, tools and factors, but ultimately, it doesn't appeal to everyone for one simple reason - most of the fun is self-generated. There are no distinct missions as of yet thanks to an unimplemented career mode, it is essentially purely a workshop or sandbox where one may utilize wide variety of tools to achieve self-set goals. Thus, it may not appeal to gamers focused more on objectives but would instead appeal to gamers concentrating more on role-playing and exploration, or perhaps those who can internalize their own goals.

The graphics are simple but work well enough. The blocky, cartoony feel adds to the humour though it sometimes detract from the more serious moments, such as when the joyous awe of first entering space is slightly marred by the look of absolute pants-wetting terror in the left corner of the UI, thanks to my astronauts. The UI itself is very well done, with authentic-looking instruments creating a sense of immersion. Coupled the ability to switch to the internal views, and even the viewpoints of the astronauts themselves, it manages to convey a sense of actually being there, immersion done well with a limited set of tools. The music is nothing to write home about, but the audio is amazing. The heady roar of the first-stage boosters tearing through the atmosphere, the hiss and puffs of the small boosters as the lander precariously positions itself for touchdown, the clanks of stages separating all add to the feeling that one is experiencing an actual NASA operation in film or at times, even in person.

But the best news of all is that the game is not yet complete. There is still much more promised, expansions and additions, more tools to play around with and more chances for catastrophic failures...or perhaps even unexpected success. The idea of a career mode in this game would be a welcome one, as it does get tiring after a while pottering about without a goal - but keep in mind that this is a long, long while that I'm talking about.

Yes, I know that's not the direction the rocket is supposed to go.

Yes, I know that's not the direction the rocket is supposed to go.

KSP will not appeal to everybody for a very distinct reason - it finds its own niche and proceeds to settle in comfortably. It is built for gamers of a certain mindset, those who enjoy a sandbox, who want to be given their own tools in a bewildering array of factors and be set loose, but built for those who also value the need for a good theme. Ultimately, this quirky, addictive and surprisingly emotional game may not have captured my brain fully, as most simulations do - but it has captured my heart. And that is a feat not many games have achieved. Especially unfinished ones.

Comments (24)
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Posts: 3290

Fun game is fun *sage nod*

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Posts: 267

Well, fun little game about rockets can be interesting for a physics grad student :)

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Posts: 3290

Yeah, that's the one I was talking about. I don't know how communication came into the conversation (irony) though. I was talking only about the transference effect. The way it was described said that, at the moment of destruction, the second particle (A in your example) immediately takes on the exact same properties ie instantaneous 'teleportation'. Though duplication and destruction (duplistruction?) would be a more accurate description. I didn't go into great detail because I, honestly, didn't expect anyone to have even the modicum of knowledge I have on the subject. So, yeah, I was guilty of simplifying :p

Plus, I can only go off what I know. Until presented with counter evidence. Who'd a thunk a fun little game about rockets would have sparked such an academically advanced discussion?

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Posts: 267

@StuntmanLT, as far as science goes, discussion is important. Authority doesn't make the idea right.

@Bobfish, I've read some books by Brian Greene, and he tries to explain interesting things from modern theoretical physics in a way that laymen could understand. He may have omitted some details about quantum teleportation in a show aimed at general public, or he has mentioned it, but it was hard to understand and remember.

The reason why it doesn't work as FTL communication channel is the nature of quantum states and their measurement. Particles can be in a superposition of different base states, but during measurement you will measure only some base state with some probability, not the superposition itself. You don't know what exactly you will measure before you measure the state of the particle.

In the pair of entangled particles, when you measure one particle, the quantum state of other particle of the pair will change immediately. However, even if you measure the second particle in the same way, you won't be guaranteed the same result. Only when you send the results of first measurement to the second location (at speed of light or lower), you can adjust the measurement of the second particle. We find the difference between the measurements of two entangled particles, compared to random ones only after comparing the measurements, each measurement by itself doesn't seem like anything out of ordinary.

The interesting part of quantum teleportation, is the fact that it allows us to losslessly transfer quantum state from one particle to another. When we measure some particle, we get only partial information about it quantum state, while modifying it at the same time. Thus we can't measure the same particle multiple times to get full information. If we want to send quantum information from one place to another, we could send the particle itself, but in many circumstances that may be too unreliable. The quantum teleportation allows to send the quantum information without the particle. If we have an entangled pair of particles (A and B), we can make a measurement of A with the particle C that contains our quantum information, which will change the state of A, C and B (original information in C is destroyed). Then we get some classical results of measurement that we can send via a standard channel to B, to adjust its measurement in a way that will generate the copy of the particle C with the same quantum information. The fact that original particle changes its state, and we get only one copy (essentially teleporting C to a new location at less than the speed of light) is called the no-copy theorem. You can't copy the quantum information, only transfer it. It is very important to quantum computers and quantum encryption.

Wikipedia has a good page about it as well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quantum_Teleportation . It includes the formalism as well, which is hard to understand without some background in quantum mechanics (and still hard for most physics undergrads even after several QM courses). I checked some latest experimental articles on the topic, and all those mention only the transfer of the quantum state, no claims about FTL communication.

P.S. On a related note, some terminology in physics can be very counter-intuitive without detailed knowledge. F.e. there is Gravitomagnetism, which may sound like the effect magnets have on the gravity. However it is called like that because Maxwell equations for electromagnetism and Eisteins field equations for the gravity are quite similar. Gravitomagnetism is the study of effects that are caused be gravitation equations similar to the ones that handle magnetism in Maxwell equations.

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Posts: 3290

@Stuntman: I didn't know that. That's awesome!

@NAG: It wasn't in the media per se. There was a Nova documentary series hosted by Doctor Brian Greene that mentioned it, and I'm absolutely certain that Doctor Alex Fillipenko, from Caltech, talked about it in one of their videos too. But I cannot, for the life of me, find the right one. I've spent this entire time looking for it (that's what took me so long) but...well, I watch a LOT of those kinda' videos so...

Anyway, do you know the experiments I'm talking about? And, if so, as a Physicist, what's your take on it?

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Posts: 1548

Hey Bob, NAG is a physicist so I wouldn't argue with him :P

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Posts: 267

No good evidence for that so far. Be careful, if you read common news sites, as they often editorialise titles and misreport the actual findings. There is no known way to transmit information instantaneously and quantum teleportation doesn't happen at FTL either.

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Posts: 3290

Actually, that seems to be proving increasingly false. There are experiments going on now that have shown not only can they transmit information, but that can be created pretty much at will. Though the power requirements are ludicrously exorbitant. They can even, I shit you not, be used for instantaneous travel between one point and another.

As long as you're no larger than an atom that is

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Posts: 267

Unfortunately, quantum entanglement cannot transmit information by itself. You can only recognise that particles are entangled after comparing their states using normal methods of communication (speed of light or slower).

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Quantum entanglement