Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Kerbal Space Program

I haven't played video games since the days of GTA3 on PS2. After weeks of boredom I bought myself a computer specifically to play a very niche, 5+ year old game. Kerbal Space Program is about space exploration. The characters looks funny and childish and there are lots of silly jokes in it. Despite that it's a deeply technical and difficult game. You have to design rockets and spaceships (from a large collection of parts which stick together like lego) and fly them to other celestial bodies. The game doesn't place any limitations on your designs or flight profiles except for actual physics. Gravitational and aerodynamic forces are modelled accurately.  Physical and thermal stress and deformation of all the parts are modelled. The orbital mechanics is accurate and difficult.

Yesterday for example I was at a moon and realized that I had no idea how to initiate a transfer back to the planet because I was on a polar orbit (the plane was normal to the moon's orbit). The answers seem to be 1) wait ¼ of a month 2) spend a huge amount of Δv on inclination changes 3) if the gravity is low enough escape northwards and start from there.

https://xkcd.com/1356/

My favourite thing about the game is what's called "emergent narrative". The designers didn't have script writers, and they never wrote any story lines for me to enjoy, but I find myself with a fascinating challenge that just emerged from the lower levels of simulation. I was in upper atmosphere doing about 3km/s when I discovered a design flaw with my vehicle. The strong experiment storage vessel bridged the gap between the crew capsule and the spent fuel tank that I was trying to eject. The explosive bolts had fired but the bottom half of my rocket was still tied on. When everyone survived and the experiments were recovered it felt like a real achievement.

Richard "Hohmann Transfer" B

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