Kerbal Space Program is a game about a green humanoid species known as the Kerbals, as they start a space program. Superficially similar to Orbiter, the difference between the two has been likened to the difference between making to-scale miniatures for architectural design and playing with LEGO bricks with rocket fuel in them, which you then hurl with glee at your sister. In its current state the game is little more than a sandbox. You're set loose upon a space center complete with a vehicle assembly building and a launch pad, a bin full of rocket parts, ground personnel composed entirely of yes-men who build and wheel onto the launch pad anything you design no matter how crazy it is, and some astronauts to crew your creations. The number of parts has risen dramatically in recent releases, and the community is already cranking out fanmade addons at an impressive pace on top of that.Its official website and download location is here, and a trailer for the game can be found here. Starting with 0.19, it's also available on Steam.
This game contains examples of the following:
Aerith and Bob: Somewhat odd example - all the Kerbonauts have names that sound fairly Middle American, but anyone who is not an orange suit has a name randomly generated from a list of prefixes and suffixes. So alongside Jeb, Bill, and Bob may sit Melzer, Bardrin, or Billy-Bobfred.
After Action Report: Many players like to share accounts of their most recent or most memorable accomplishments. The Mission Reports section of the official forums is set up explicitly for this. People also like to assemble collections of screenshots into captioned Imgur albums and share them as brief Machinomics.
Alien Sea: Eve, whose oceans are purple and at least partly made out of rocket fuel.note According to tentative development plans, when resource extraction is to be implemented, players will be able to gather propellium from Eve's oceans in addition to water.
Alien Sky: Eve again, with a thick, heavy purple sky. Laythe also counts; from some angles it looks a lot like you could be on Kerbin until you turn around and see a massive gas giant hanging in the sky about where the sun ought to be.
Alleged Car: Rovers are a bit... unstable at the moment, sometimes shaking themselves apart or exploding with little reason. Of course, when rockets are rarely of much higher quality...
Artistic License - Physics: The game is generally pretty good about using real physics, but that makes the few places where it goes off of it stick out more. Mainly, this is due to engine limitations,note (specifically the Unity3D engine which means some things are inaccessible to even the programmers) some of which the developers hope to improve in future updates. One common example is the way the game models air resistance, which is vastly simplified from a realistic model.note (in current Kerbal physics, everything adds drag in direct proportion to its mass, regardless of shape, which means that some structural surfaces which would normally be added to substantially reduce drag at a small increase in mass actually increase drag)
Artistic License - Nuclear Physics: The LV-N Atomic Rocket Engine, a nuclear fission engine with poor thrust but extremely high efficiency in a vacuum, runs off of the same liquid fuel / oxidizer mix as any other liquid fuel engine. This is acknowledged in a comment in the item's config file, saying that it would be too much trouble to make two separate kinds of fuel sources just to support this one engine at the present time, and the engine was given low thrust for gameplay reasons so as to stop it from being the best engine for every situation.
Art-Style Dissonance: Don't let the cartoonish proportions of the kerbonauts or their rockets fool you; the game is deceptively difficult if you don't already know a little bit about how actual rocketry works.
Ascended Fanon: The developers frequent the forums and some of the more popular mods (and mod authors) have been added to the game in one form or the other. The previous page image was a piece of fan art that the devs liked so much they made it the loading screen.
Ascended Meme: The new loading screen roll references a few that are popular on the forums, such as "Adding K to Every Word."
Awesome but Impractical: There's nothing preventing you from making a rocket far larger than one you really need to complete the mission.
The ion engine. The most fuel efficient engine in the game by far, but it's expensive (cost is displayed even if money is not implemented as of 0.22), uses a lot of electricity, and has a very low thrust output (despite still being several times more powerful than real-life ion engines). As a result, the burn time needed to get anywhere interesting can take hours, and you can only accelerate time up to 4x when engines are on.
Base on Wheels: At its most basic level, you could just slap some large rover wheels onto a Hitchhiker Storage Container and call that a base. Anything more elaborate depends on your imagination and engineering and piloting skills.
Beautiful Void: Only one planet in the whole system has (debatably) intelligent life although there is evidence for it on others , and even that planet is mostly empty aside from your Space Center and a few other locations of note (as of 0.22). Some particularly enterprising modders are working to make the place feel more lived-in, literally.
The Big Board: Both the Tracking Station and the in-flight map view allow you to see statistics on the various bodies in the Kerbol system and monitor the progress of your active flights.
Bilingual Bonus: The Kerbal language is Spanish, played backwards and sped up.
Camera Perspective Switch: If your rocket has a manned cockpit, you can switch to a Kerbal's-eye-view camera and experience the ride from the inside.
Captain Crash: Building your own vehicles is one thing, landing them is another. Mun Landings, for instance, often end in the vehicle tipping over and falling to pieces, leaving the Kerbonauts stranded until help arrives (or backup help when the help befalls the same fate).
Colbert Bump: Sips of the Yogscast posted a video about KSP. Minutes later, the server hosting KSP's website and forums imploded.
Construction Is Awesome: The game's primary appeal is that it lets you design, build, and fly your own spacecraft, space stations, and surface bases, including the possibility of assembling them part by part in orbit or on another planet's surface. See also Design-It-Yourself Equipment.
Context-Sensitive Button : Docking Mode allows you to use the normal rotation keys for RCS translation maneuvers, although it isn't strictly necessary as you can also translate from the main keyboard configuration using different keys. You can also define custom action groups when designing a vehicle, so that you can, for instance, press one key to extend all of your solar panels at once instead of having to do it one-by-one.
Convection Schmonvection: Averted while in the atmosphere. "Clustered" engines can overheat more quickly in thicker atmosphere due to better convection, while in a vacuum they run "cooler" due to most of the heat being thrust away from the craft with no air to transfer it back.
Conveniently Close Planet: Averted, even taking into account the Space Compression. Even getting to the Mun is a challenge for the newest of new players, and traveling to other planets requires quite a bit of planning and forethought — even more so if you plan on going home.
Critical Existence Failure: Your Flight Log may tell you that parts take damage from engine exhaust, but this damage seems to have no effect on their performance at all until they're destroyed outright.
Death Is a Slap on the Wrist: Selectively averted with the 0.21 update, which allows you to enable permanent deaths for your pilots. You have to hire all of your astronauts, and when they're dead, they're gone for good. Previous versions of the game did play the trope straight, however, and you still can if you leave the option disabled (which is the default).
Design-It-Yourself Equipment: The full game comes with a small selection of prebuilt designs, but if you want to do anything really impressive, you'll have to design and build your own rockets, probes, satellites, etc.
Diminishing Returns for Balance: The amount of scientific benefit you get from performing the same experiment multiple times in the same environment slowly decreases until you end up getting nothing out of it at all. This is supposed to encourage players to send craft to many different environments, both around Kerbin and elsewhere in the system.
Disaster Dominoes: Any accident that doesn't involve your rocket crashing into the ground wholesale usually involves these, and even that is often only the last domino in a chain of design and piloting mistakes.
Drives Like Crazy: Several of the multi-ton cargo and utility vehicles in the Spaceplane Hangar are apparently driven by speed-obsessed maniacs, including at least one who loves to drift in circles around much larger vehicles and another who nearly causes a three-car pileup by trying to thread between two moving vehicles.
Earn Your Fun: Figuring out how to build a rocket that will actually achieve orbit, let alone go places, can be a challenge for new players. But this is a game that rewards persistence and a willingness to endure failure, and gives experienced players a universe of possibilities.
Easily Detachable Robot Parts: With clever use of docking ports and probe cores, you can create completely autonomous spacecraft from modular components that can operate independently of the main craft as well.
Easy Logistics: Individual craft have limited fuel and electricity, but as of 0.22, your space program as a whole has effectively unlimited resources.
Easter Egg: "Anomalies" scattered across the surface of Kerbin, Mun, and other bodies.
Emergent Gameplay: Quite a few people find ways to have fun with the game without launching rockets into space at all, or by finding unusual uses for game parts. Geofley'sCove, a fully aquatic base on Laythe, is one of the less outlandish examples.
Enormous Engine: The obvious result of sticking 2-meter diameter engines on 1-meter diameter fuselages or fuel tanks.
Epic Fail: Half the fun of the game is watching your carefully crafted creations explode, go way off-course, or slam into Kerbin at hundreds of miles per hour.
Explosive Overclocking: Cramming too many engines too close to one another and firing them all at full throttle is guaranteed to make them overheat rapidly. Let them get too hot, and all those engines will explode spectacularly.
Explosion Propulsion: While this is arguably true of any liquid or solid fuel rocket (no Orion Drives in the unmodded game, yet) some players find creative uses for rocket exhaust:
One common design Fan Nicknamed the "Mass Relay" is created by attaching two powerful rockets facing opposite each other designed to go to full throttle immediately as a pair. Each rocket cancels the trust of the other, but any object placed in front of one of the nozzles will be launched away at high speed. This is often used as a feature of space stations to move small masses without needing to have their own propulsion.
Fearless Fool: A common fan interpretation of Jebediah Kerman's personality.
Flanderization: According to the development staff, the attitude implied by, among other things, the use of the word "kerbal" as a synonym for "ridiculous and impractical" is a result of the fandom taking one aspect of the Kerbals' approach to rocket science and blowing it totally out of proportion. To quote this development blog post:
Bac9: Overall, I'm convinced the obsession with disasters and perception of Kerbals as worthless engineers only caring about explosions is destructive for the game. KSP deserves much more than being a glorified disaster simulator where rockets falling apart and crews being killed is the prime entertainment and the only expected result.
A sandcastle on the Mun can sometimes be seen in the background.
The service trucks added in 0.21 to the VAB and SPH drive around, but you will occasionally see the trucks drifting.
Game-Breaking Bug: If you attach your engines directly to the large orange fuel tank, it has a nasty habit of causing said engines to overheat much faster than normal. Fortunately this can be fixed by adding a smaller fuel tank to the bottom and taping it up with struts, or by using two normal fuel tanks that are half the size together.
Trying to make a new jetpack design with the new external seats? Bye-bye, Kerbin!
When RCS thrusters were first added, they were programmed to have more thrust when they were closer to the ships center of mass. Since there wasn't any cap on this, having an RCS thruster dead on the center of mass would give it infinite thrust, crashing the game.
Guide Dang It: One of the game's few flaws is that (as of yet) there is little in-game documentation of how most things work. You'll have to learn either by a lot of trial and error, by reading up on and applying actual rocket science, or by watching tutorial videos on YouTube.
The Hard Hat: Kerbonaut helmets are apparently hard enough to survive impacts that would otherwise kill the wearer.
Hitbox Dissonance: In older versions of the game, a few of the buildings at the Kerbal Space Center had some wonky collision meshes, such as the SPH being about 10 meters taller than it actually appeared to be.
House Rules: In lieu of a proper campaign mode, some users have created and shared their own systems for handling funds and tracking pilot stats as a Self-Imposed Challenge.
In-Universe Game Clock: "Internal Game Clock" variety. Time normally passes in real time and is recorded in Earth minutes, hours, days, and years. Thankfully, as some missions could take a very, very long time in real-time, there are options for time acceleration. Each planet and moon has its own day-night cycle determined by its motion within the solar system, which is important when planning landings or using solar-powered probes.
Jet Pack: Every Kerbonaut has an EVA pack to prevent him from floating away from his vessel. It only works as a traditional jet pack on low gravity bodies, though on the smallest objects, it is possible to achieve orbit. it has 20x the fuel of a real life jetpack.
Lens Flare: You can see the effect whenever your camera is pointed towards the sun.
Made of Explodium: Rockets have a habit of blowing up on occasion, usually during stack separation or when insecurely radial-mounted pieces "wobble". Justified by most of a rocket's volume being fuel containers which in turn hold most of the rocket's mass... mass that is itself a two-part combustive compound designed to explode preferably slowly and in a controlled manner. Pretty much Every Rocket Is A Pinto.
Every single part, regardless of function, will explode when it hits the ground with enough force.
The Many Deaths of You: Blowing up in liftoff, drifting into the void of space to starve or freeze to death, spinning madly on the launch pad, hurling yourself into the sun - there's no end to the creative ways these guys can perish.
Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: 5.5. While the game uses realistic Earth technology and Newtonian physics, it is also meant to be accessible to the average joe and used as a teaching tool, which softens it up a bit. Think of it as being able to fly really cool model rockets that can land on other planets.
Nerves of Steel: Jebediah Kerman almost never loses his cool. If you can get him to crack, the odds are good that your spacecraft is already doomed.
Nintendo Hard: While the newer navigation tools have made travel outside of Kerbin orbit much easier the game is still harsh and unforgiving.
While building finely balanced, efficient rockets and sending them to other worlds may not be particularly easy, this pales in comparison to trying to build a Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO) space plane and docking with your orbiting space station. Seriously, try it!
No OSHA Compliance: Parachutes, landing gear, or anything to insure the survival of your Kerbals are entirely optional. It is even possible to make rockets that face down.
No Plot? No Problem!: There's no real story or backstory to the game aside from player fanon. There's just you, your space program, a ton of rocket parts, a solar system filled with planets and moons, and an endless supply of eager would-be rocket jockeys.
Oh Crap: Bill & Bob Kerman always look worried whenever the spacecraft is doing anything other than holding still. All characters do this if something explodes. If Jebediah ever stops grinning... see above.
With the addition of other Kerbonauts, it has been revealed that each one has a personality based on certain modifiers, which in turn determines how brave or cowardly each one is. One of these modifiers is if the Kerbal is trained as a pilot or not (either yes or no). If he is a pilot, he will be mostly happy. If not, he will scream his pants off.
Bob will always look terrified. He'll only calm down if the craft is confirmably drifting back to the surface slowly via parachute or has come to a complete, safe stop.
Outside Ride: Kerbonauts can ride on the outside of rockets by holding onto ladders, but they don't have especially strong grip (so be careful if you try it yourself). Version .20 added seats; see Rocket Ride.
Promoted Fanboy: Kurtjmac of Far Lands Or Bust has spoken with the developers and then added a Kurt Kerman in his honor.
They also gave his Kerbonauts little 3D glasses like the ones his Minecraft avatar has.
Former mod-makers NovaSilisko, C7, and ClariaLyrae are all developers now.
There's also a Scott Kerman in the game, named after Scott Manley, a former astronomer who demonstrated real astrodynamics within the game.
Quicksand Box: The game can be unforgiving sometimes, but fortunately there are a wealth of videos and forum threads out there to help, and there's plenty of fun in trying to figure out what gets out of atmo without ripping itself apart.
Reality Ensues: You may spend hours recreating a ship from your favorite sci-fi story only to find that it flies like a brick in the air or spins uselessly in zero-g... or tears itself apart while trying to fly.
Also, sure you can build a nice Global Airship to visit all the cool easter egg landmarks around Kerbin. You also have to take the time to sit around and fly it yourself, plus land it without crashing.
There is a steep valley on the Mun that was added in one of the patches. Naturally when this was discovered, the first thing the fanbase did was fly there to recreate the Death Star run. This turned out to be much less exciting with real world physics (and without enemy gunfire, as well). All you need to do is create a low enough orbit to pass through the canyon, cut engines, and gently thrust away from the walls.
Refining Resources: One planned future feature is the ability to harvest raw materials on other planets and refine them into useful things such as rocket fuel. Until then, there are mods that simulate this on a basic level, such as the kethane mod.
Rocket Ride: 0.20 introduced official support for seats, mainly intended for rovers. Of course, sticking one to the side of a large rocket and launching it into the stratosphere was one of the first things a lot of users did.
Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: The developers avert this but the use of this trope in media has caused some confusion among players less familiar with actual astronomical scales. Even among those familiar with space flight don't always remember exactly how big space really is. For instance, some have suggested ignoring time acceleration (ie being able to increase the speed of the game) and instead allow the program to run essentially in the background to allow for realistic flight during extended missions. Even acknowledging that a single mission would very well be months long, they don't seem to realize that most of that time would be spent doing... nothing.
The distances are less than they would actually be, but that's due to the Space Compression. The scales for Kerbin/Mun/sun are roughly the same as for Earth/Moon/Sun accounting for it.
Self-Imposed Challenge: Making ridiculous rockets, making manned ballistic missiles, making space shuttle equivalents, spacecraft that look like specific patterns, achieving orbit, reaching relativistic speeds, getting a huge and completely pointless concrete cube into orbit, landing on the moons of Kerbin, landing on other planets, landing on the sun, flying to the North Pole, flying to the other Space Center, etc.
Simulation Game: It's not on the same realism level as Orbiter, but it's realistic enough to be a great way to learn basic orbital mechanics.
Single-Biome Planet: Kerbin up to version 0.17 is mostly grassland, with the exception of the poles, which are icy. 0.18 and above have rivers and deserts. Also, the Mün, Minmus, as well as many of the planets and moons are all this, although it is justified by the fact that many lack an atmosphere, or are based off real world single biome planets, like Duna being an analogue of Mars.
Starting with 0.22, different regions of Kerbin are now assigned to different biomes, and visiting different biomes will allow you to gather additional research data. Time will tell if this system will be applied to the other bodies as well.
Removed as of 0.16, but hopefully we'll see a return.
Soft Water: Averted. A hard splashdown can outright destroy a spacecraft and its unlucky passengers.
Space Compression: To cut down orbit times and prevent the game from becoming astronomically boring, Kerbin is a mere 1200km in diameter. Jool, the gas giant, is roughly the size of Earth. The orbits of planets and moons are similarly scaled down.
Not counting certain glitches or the Space Kraken, of course...
Space Friction: Averted; spacecraft obey Newtonian physics and will slow down only under power or when passing through an atmosphere. Objects that achieve escape velocity from the star will fly away into the infinite void.
Space Is Noisy: Even in the depths of space, you can still hear rockets and explosions.
Partially justified in that most of those explosions happen either in-atmosphere or when you're still attached to the thing blowing up/making noise, giving the sound a medium on which to propagate to your ears.
Struts For Everything: For the moment, the best solution to any problem involving the rocket coming apart is simply "Add more struts." This may change when the atmospheric drag model is overhauled in future versions.
Subsystem Damage: Each individual rocket part has its own parameters, including heat and impact tolerances. With a little luck, you can even save your crews from crashes that will destroy the rest of the vehicle.
Suspend Save: While your game autosaves periodically to prevent blatant Save Scumming (not that it really needs to at this stage), there's also a single-use quicksave feature that allows you to save at various points during a mission so that you don't have to launch an entirely new rocket if your current one suddenly becomes a million-dollar lawn dart.
The scientific thermometer is totally not a store-bought model, and admitting that it is voids its warranty.
Taken to extremes with the Not-Rockomax Mini Node, which is so obviously not a miniaturized version of an already-existing part that the (in-universe) manufacturers helpfully point out the complete lack of a resemblance in the name.
Tech Tree: A feature of the game added in the .22 update. Kerbonauts and probes can now gather science in flight in Career mode, which you can use to research technology to gather more parts.
More particularly, any aircraft on Eve actually flies more easily than it does on Kerbin thanks to Eve's atmosphere being five times thicker, which makes even improbable designs workable. Especially since any such craft cannot functionally use jet engines due to the atmosphere lacking oxygen with which to power their internal combustion, and it must use other methods of thrust.
Tim Taylor Technology: Fan lore is that almost any problem you have with a rocket can be solved with "MOAR BOOSTERS!!"
Too Dumb to Live: The numerous shorts Squad has made to advertise the game are filled with this behavior. The worst offender? One kerbonaut finds that a wrench he needs has somehow gotten into his helmet. So, he decides to take his helmet off to get it. While standing on the Mun. Which has no air. And another kerbal reacts to seeing the ownerless helmet rolling around by grabbing at his own helmet as if it might spontaneously come off.
Truth in Television: Sure NASA and the other space programs have brilliant engineers and scientists to build their spacecrafts, but sometimes things go a little Kerbal anyway. The tragedies are, of course, tragic, but those aside, here are a few more lighthearted examples:
This note◊ painted on the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft.
The Soviet N1 rocket with 30 engines on the first stage is quite Kerbal◊.
When training for the Moon landing, Neil Armstrong bailed out of the "Flying Bedstead" aircraft after losing control of it. His fellow astronauts were amazed at how unfazed he was by the incident.
Gemini 4 was America's first attempt at having two different craft rendezvous in space. Unfortunately, neither the astronauts nor the ground crew fully understood the orbital mechanics involved, and so as they tried to thrust towards the target from a higher orbit, they ended up actually speeding away from it, which is completely backwards from how things are on the Earth's surface but makes perfect sense once you realize that they were thrusting into a lower orbit by firing against their own orbital velocity, which would make them orbit faster in the long run.
The game's fandom (at least on the official forums) rejoiced on at least two occasions due to mentions from people who work in space science. The first was when Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted that he thought the game looked fun and would probably spend "far too much time" playing it if there was a Mac version. (This resulted in the until-then low-priority OSX port becoming the absolute #1 priority for the devteam!)
The second was, if anything, an even bigger reaction when, in response to a question on their blog, NASA's Curiosity Mars rover team stated that there were a number of people on the team who liked to play KSP during their free time. The unpaid endorsement by a group of REAL rocket scientists (or close enough to it for all practical purposes) set off tears of joy from the user base.
Former Astronaut Ed Lu played the game with Scott Manley, Ed's first flight crashed in less than 30 seconds, the second got into space, but not into orbit.
Unexpectedly Realistic Gameplay: See also the entry for Art Style Dissonance. While it's fairly easy to build and launch a simple rocket, actually getting that rocket into orbit or to places other than Kerbin is fairly difficult if you're more used to less realistic space simulators.
Videogame Caring Potential: Some players equip their crew capsules with not only parachutes but various other elaborate safety and/or abort systems and try to land them as close to the Kerbal Space Center as possible...
Violation of Common Sense: The best way to land a falling Kerbal? On their head. Their helmets can survive practically anything!
With this in mind, you can usually save a Kerbonaut from a doomed aircraft by simply having him step out the hatch while low enough to the ground.
Weaponized Exhaust: An (often) unintentional example of using this on yourself if you are not careful with spaceship construction. All engines have heat tolerances which, when exceeded, will damage the engine. Too many engines too close together can overheat each other at full thrust, and other parts of the spacecraft too near the exhaust might be damaged as well.
Wide Open Sandbox: In the current version of the game, money has no importance and there are no goals. 0.22 has added a rudimentary campaign with a limited selection of starting parts and the option to unlock more by researching your way up a Tech Tree, but even then there's no storyline as such, and you're free to do whatever you want within the limits of your available parts.
Yes-Man: None of the scientists, engineers, or anybody working for you bats an eye at the exploding machines of death you bring on to the launchpad.
Actually, scientists will frequently stop and look at your rockets in horror before walking away in the VAB. Regardless of how sound or unsound the design in question is.
You ALL Look Familiar: All Kerbonauts have the exact same face and haircut, as well as the last name of "Kerman." Whether they're all clones, a family of Inexplicably Identical Individuals, or just members of a very homogenous species is a matter of some fan speculation. They aren't all perfectly identical, though, as they have individualized personalities determined by different levels of Bravery and Stupidity, as well as a hidden Pilot Training (or "BadS") flag.