The latest update of the award winning Kerbal Space Program adds a great deal of features to an already great game – we take a look at these additions and how they will force players to adapt.
We’ve previously covered Kerbal Space Program some time ago, and I apologise for missing the 0.23 update in Autumn last year that added a structured research tree to the game. The addition of Science to the game, where you earned Science points for running experiments in different areas of the stellar bodies in the Kerbol star system was a big update on all that had come before it. Players would have to earn the more advanced parts to make more difficult and involved missions possible instead of having everything available from the start as in Sandbox mode. Similarly, I missed the 0.23.5 update, that added some new parts and the ability to land on randomly-generated asteroids.
Kerbal Space Program 0.24 – Whats new?
The 0.24 update builds on 0.23 & 0.23.5 with the addition of a dedicated Career mode. The Career mode combines the Science tree with the limitations of running your own space exploration program – rockets now have a construction cost (A nondescript currency called “Funds”), so you cannot simply launch rocket after rocket until you get it right – you need to carefully consider your rockets construction.
You can now also receive Contracts of varying types – you might need to test a piece of new technology under specific circumstances, or rather more general milestones like escaping the atmosphere, your first orbital flight or exploring the Mun. Successfully completed contracts carry bonuses in the form of increasing funds, more Science points to unlock the technology tree and Reputation points, more of which allow better Contracts to become available.
If Career mode isn’t your thing, you can still simply do anything you want without restriction in Sandbox mode, or work towards advanced parts in Science mode.
Impact of new mechanics
I’ve played the new update a fair bit this weekend and in general I really like the new approach given by Career mode. I do think that there are areas for improvement, though. Don’t think simply because I say that that the game suddenly isn’t fun any more, but the new career mode does have some little things that are maybe not quite so straightforward as previous incarnations of Kerbal Space Program.
1 – Risk vs Reward balance on Contracts
Number one on my list are some of the members of the new contract system.The large milestone contracts have an appropriate amount of reward for the risk. These milestones are things like getting a craft to large bodies like the Mun, Minmus or Duna. Technology testing contracts, though, are either startlingly easy or frustratingly difficult. The easy ones are super easy (test this equipment while sat still on Kerbin) and the frustrating ones are so frustrating (“test this engine in the atmosphere in a 50m/s speed window at 30-33km height on a suborbital trajectory”) they are easily ignored for the tiny amount of Funds and Reputation you acquire as a consequence. Its really easy to simply ignore these equipment test contracts and focus on the milestone contracts simply because they are generally easier and pay out a whole lot more.
2 – Rewards dont appear to be increased when completing the more difficult option.
A fairly common contract is “Collect or transmit Science data from <planet/moon>”. As far as I can tell, you get the same reward from the contract regardless of whether you do the easy option of transmitting or the more difficult option of retrieving it. I know that you can get a bonus for retrieving the science for the first time you run the experiment, but these contracts are open to exploitation. There’s nothing (yet) to stop you from simply parking a spacecraft in orbit around a moon or planet with a transmitter and simple science experiment to easily farm that contract when it gets reissued periodically. An easy fix to this would be specifying a different type of experiment each time and from a different area of the planet or moon being investigated.
3 – Missed opportunity for Rover or Robotic Probe contracts
Something that I think the authors missed out on was making a class of contracts to distinguish between manned and unmanned exploration of bodies, or successfully landing a rover of some description onto a body.These could bridge the gap between sending a Kerbonaut to the Mun or Minmus and then to Duna; and acts as a similar parallel to the NASA space program having sent lots of rovers to Mars to find out about it first before we send a person there.
Overall I remain a massive fan of the Kerbal Space Program series and these things I’ve highlighted above dont really detract from the fun of the game – you’ll still have a hilarious time trying to iron out the problems in your design and create some truly monstrous craft if you choose to do so, while being subtly educated on the science of space mechanics in the process.