Failure to Launch: My Tales With Kerbal Space Program

Shooting For The Moon

Kerbal Space Program is smarter than I am. Recently launching on current generation consoles, the critically acclaimed space flight simulation title from developer Squad, has finally made its way to other platforms following its PC release last April. It’s a project that’s had my attention for some time, which is why I was thrilled to finally boot it up on PS4. At a glance, Kerbal Space Program is massively intimidating. Crawling with intricate menus, sprawling customization, and complicated controls, you’d be forgiven if Kerbal provoked an instant headache. It’s an experience that immediately challenged my gaming comfort zone, forcing me to take a step back and learn at a different speed than I’m typically used to. Transporting myself into a different mindset was initially frustrating, for Kerbal’s console port can feel mechanically obtuse and poorly explained within extremely important sections. Yet, for better or worse it’s all part of the experience. Figuring out things on my own made finding success all the more sweet, even if the process to get there was lined with ruts of stressful failure.

In many ways Kerbal Space Program doesn’t hold your hand, but it’s not for a lack of trying, rather a nuanced respect for your intellect. This approach culminated into multiple fits of discouraging frustration, yet at the same time made even the slightest of accomplishments feel like I’d done the impossible. Kerbal thrives in structuring its premise around reaching seemingly unattainable goals. However, within this steep feedback loop, Squad’s space exploration simulator boosts itself into a realm of satisfaction made visible only by fierce dedication. I’ve spent hours failing, struggling to breakthrough the atmosphere with my latest interstellar designs while trying to save the lives of the crew onboard as everything fell apart in a fiery mess. Once letting the fact sink in that failure is indeed part of the experience, Kerbal Space Program takes on a whole new degree of complexity. After all, the galaxy isn’t going to explore itself.Failure to Launch - My Tales With Kerbal Space Program (Braxton-Haugen) Image 1Kerbal encourages diving into the minutia of space exploration, pulling no stops when it comes to fleshing out the simulation aspects of the package. When constructing a new aircraft in assembly, or managing resources and money in career mode, the effort to convey an authentic feeling space program is apparent. From the management aspects prior to lift off, to the eventual execution of surviving once having escaped the atmosphere, there’s always something to monitor and account for. Simply stated, Kerbal is centered around building, tweaking, and shooting rockets into space, but upon further glance it’s so much more.

One decision elicits two dozen more, snowballing until you’re left managing a ship with multiple stages and interstellar features that require every bit of your attention. Kerbal will no doubt keep you busy, demanding your constant awareness and expecting preparedness come time to preform. Facing this realization was initially overwhelming, causing me to want to throw in the towel before even leaving the atmosphere; Kerbal isn’t necessarily great at easing you into its first few hours. I was often left confused and irritated when tinkering with ship construction and attempting to launch my creation into the stars. While some of the vexing factors can be attributed to Kerbal’s lack of hand-holding, a fair share rests in the overly complicated and poorly explained control scheme on consoles. The fine-tuned nature of a mouse and keyboard are missed here, with obtuse and frequently janky gamepad substitutes lessening the enjoyment of the experience. Fortunately, I was able to come to grips and competently manage my operation before all was lost. This allowed me to focus on my goal to reach Mun, planet Kerbin’s closest moon.Failure to Launch - My Tales With Kerbal Space Program (Braxton-Haugen) Image 3Built off the principle of learning, Kerbal Space Program should immediately be put in schools. Though extremely complex, the potential to spark one’s inspiration to reach toward the stars is endless. I honestly learned more about space escapades and the logic they abide by in my few evenings with this game, than I did in an entire course of astronomy class. Thanks to a minimal–if not underwhelming–art direction, Kerbal is capable to run on lower spec PCs, making it an easier transition to the classroom. That said, the technical fidelity of the game running on PS4 isn’t impressive by any stretch of the imagination. Suffering from visually rough textures and occasional colossal frame rate drops, Kerbal can undermine its greatness with basic technical mistakes. However, for what Kerbal Space Program lacks in presentation, it quickly makes up for in depth. This doesn’t excuse its sporadicly poor performance, but the sheer amount of options is enough to pallet the more underwhelming moments. There’s a special experience to lose yourself within Kerbal Space Program. Smartly structured around logic and science, Kerbal takes on the task of making learning fun, and while it occasionally stumbles, those who persevere past its annoyances are in for a treat.Failure to Launch - My Tales With Kerbal Space Program (Braxton-Haugen) Image 2There’s something incredibly thoughtful fueling Kerbal Space Program and it took me dozens of failed launch attempts to realize what it was: Passion. Kerbal is a labor of love for one of humanity’s proudest accomplishments and every crevice of the project wears that message with pride. There’s an entire galaxy to be explored within Kerbal’s solar system and I haven’t even come close to being able to competently touch down on a planet with my ship still intact. However, I’ve gotten gradually better, learning from my mistakes and working the relevant data into my redesigns. What you put into Kerbal Space Program is what you get out of it, be it a frustratingly dispiriting feeling or a jubilantly inspired tone.

I spent my first few hours within the career mode discouraged and lost, and while some of that blame should rest on the obtuse controls of the console port, most of it lies on my on shoulders for not opening myself up to learn. It takes time and persistence to round Kerbal’s intelligent, if not incredibly steep learning curve. Many hours await me before I can even come close to calling myself  proficient, but the milestones thus far have been so rewarding, I feel as if I’ve caught the bug. Until then, I’ll continue to shoot for the Mun and land among the scattered wreckage of yet another explorative venture gone awry. And I’m okay with that.

Connect with me on Twitter and let me know your thoughts on Kerbal Space Program. Find me @BraxHaugen.


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Braxton Haugen Written by:

Greetings friends! Welcome to my website. My name is Braxton Haugen. I’ve spent the last 4 years creating videos, writing, and podcasting about video games and culture. My goal as a creator is to give viewers a personal, substantive perspective on the gaming industry and beyond.