Posted Tue, Oct 29, 2013 by ricoxg
Regular Ten Ton Hammer contributor, Ricoxg, heads into the vast reaches of space to take a closer look at Kerbal Space Program. Find out what makes this indie game tick in his full report!
The last several years have seen a dramatic rise in indie games, and as we’ve seen in the case of Minecraft, many of these games release new content as it’s developed. Slowing accreting features like it was birthed from a protoplanetary disc, Kerbal Space Program is another in the growing field of fantastic games developed by a small team and released bit by tantalizing bit.
Since the guys over at Squad took the game over to Steam’s Early Access program, those updates have been arriving more quickly and with loads of goodies. The latest was the addition of a career mode to the game, using science to unlock new ship parts. Today, we’re going to take a look at how science works in KSP and explore a few tips for getting a jump start in the new update.
The addition of science and the career mode are two things that have really breathed a great deal of new life into a game that I already love playing. I was pretty excited to play around with it, until I got into the game and had no idea how any of the new features worked, and couldn’t find any information on the wiki yet to help get me started. By now, there are a few tips floating around, but there are still a lot of lost folks out there, so let me help you out a little.
Science is gained by sending reports, gathering samples, and conducting experiments and getting the results back to the Space Center. To get the results back, you can either store them in the ship to be landed back on Kerbin and then recover the vessel, or if you have enough electrical power and a transmitter, it can be sent back via radio for a percentage of the total value.
Each potential opportunity for science has a total given value. If you return with the report to the Space Center, you get 100% of the value, but broadcasting it will only give you a portion of the total. That said, you can do the activity again and rebroadcast, getting diminishing returns each time, until you’ve gotten all you can get out of it.
So now you know how to get science once you have it, but where to you get it from and how? Understanding this bit will make your life a lot easier and help keep you from getting bored turning around to do easy stuff you missed earlier. The basic idea is that experiments and reports can be done at each altitude and biome.
Currently only Kerbin and the Mun have multiple biomes as the other planets and moons are composed of only one, but I suspect that’ll be changing in future updates. Separate reports can be done on the surface, in the atmosphere, and in low orbit over each biome. Then in high orbit over a planet, moon, or even the Sun also counts as a separate location for EVAs, Crew Reports, and experiments.
Crew reports are easiest as you simply right-click the command module to bring up the options menu and select Crew Report. Either save or transmit as the situation dictates, but be aware that you can only store one Crew Report at a time. EVA Reports are similar, except that you must exit the vehicle by clicking the EVA option after mousing over one of your kerbonauts, right click the kerbal once he’s outside, and then re-enter the capsule. Samples are of course also gathered while on an EVA on the surface of a planet or moon, but you can store multiple samples in a capsule.
The more complex science comes from experiments using unlocked devices. The first you get access to is the Goo Container, which can be used in every biome and at every altitude. The next will probably be the Science Jr. lab component, but after that things get a little different. Some unlocked devices like the thermometer can only be used in low orbit, or on the surface. Knowing what works where is important when designing probes and rovers on down the line.
The amount of science you get from a report depends on two things, the size of the report, and the value of the science. The size is measured in ‘mits,’ and really matters when you’re transmitting the data back via radio. The value of the data goes up as you advance to more sophisticated experiments or progress further from Kerbin.
Now that you have an idea of how science works in the game, all you need is to get started. Here are some quick tips to get you on your way: For your first launch, just use a capsule. You’ll get a Crew Report, then EVA for another report, and step down to the launch pad for a surface sample. That results in a quick 12 science, which is enough for the first unlock and a solid jump on your second. Do the same thing for the Runway, which counts as a second biome and you’ll have enough for another unlock.
With two unlocks, you should now have a Mystery Goo Containment Unit and a Stack Decoupler. I normally put two or three Goo Containers on my capsule, so I can run the experiments in flight over a biome, upon landing in a biome, and have an extra for the launch pad, or any other biome I pass over. Aiming for points around Kerbin will get you plenty of early science and will be plenty to get you into space. The artic poles, the grasslands, the highlands, and the ocean are each some of the separate biomes on Kerbin.
Once you’ve unlocked probes, unmanned exploration of the solar system is a fantastic way to score a lot of science in a hurry. Add a few stationary solar panels around the second to last stage. That way you don’t have to deploy your larger panels until you’re ready to transmit and won’t run out of power if you forget, but you can still drop the weight once you’ve broken orbit.
There are charts for when to burn to get to various planets and moons, but I’ve always found it easier to just burn until you break Kerbin orbit, then target the desired planet, and use the encounter tool to get the burn lined up. I typically start at the apogee or perigee, depending on whether I want a lower or higher orbit (respectively) and then adjust from there for the encounter.
You don’t actually have to establish orbit to get credit for being in a zone when getting science. Just plan a pass that takes you near a planet, and as many moons as possible. Then run experiments and broadcast the results back to the Space Center as you pass from one to the next. Your map will tell you when you’re in one encounter or the next, so it’s a quick way to get high and low orbit science for multiple objects while burning less fuel.
Besides just being a blast to play, Kerbal Space Program is a great game for teachers to use in class when talking about physics or astronomy. With the new addition of the career mode and science, hopefully you’re finding a renewed interest in this incredibly addictive game. Like many indie games though, sometimes the learning curve can be a little rough on new players. If you’re new to the game, or maybe just haven’t played in a while, hopefully you’ve found this article helpful in getting your feet wet.
If you have any helpful tips of your own, be sure to post them in the comments below!