My brother has a 6th sense when it comes to finding good games. Over the course of our relationship he has pointed out a variety of electronic gems such as Worms, Mario 64, Dwarves and Minecraft. But a game he recently suggested really takes the cake.
With the exception of Mario all of the above games started out rather small and unknown, so you can see why I paid attention when he told me about his new favorite: Kerbal Space Program (KSP). It didn’t hurt that he described it as Minecraft, but with rockets.
MINECRAFT WITH ROCKETS!!!?!
Considering that I have a full time job, an active wife and child, and limited funds, it takes something special to get a hold of my attention and keep it. Let me tell you right now, KSP is that special something.
The game is simple and open-ended. You get to design a rocket, make it as crazy and complicated (or simple and straight forward), and then launch your flying death stick and try to make it to the moon and back.
You’ll find out pretty quick why not everyone works for NASA and SpaceX. It turns out that flying a rocket by hand isn’t easy. You’re also constantly distracted by the facial expressions of your three Kerbal-nauts, as they first smile with glee but switch over to terror as things go disastrously (and hilariously!) wrong.
. . . And they will go wrong.
But once you get used to flying (hint: trust your instruments and leave the Force to Luke) you’ll find yourself making orbit fairly easily. From there, you on to another celestial body; your planet has two celestial bodies in orbit of your planet and a number of other planets orbiting your star.
/Nerd Mode Engaged
For those of you interested, the game is using a classic Newtonian approximation with parabolic conic section orbits. When the rocket leaves a sphere of influence (SOI) the game merely switches gravity sinks (ex: planet 1, sun, planet 2). It’s not the most realistic simulation out there, but if I want n-body solutions, oblateness of the earth, and orbital perturbations I’ll drop $10K for Satellite Tool Kit and whatever plug-in I need and not have half as much fun. (Note: STK is a wonderful program that is an excellent tool and my love goes out to their programs and their support staff, you guys got me through senior year!)
The propulsion engine also doesn’t seem to account for atmospheric shearing forces and the joints are unnaturally strong. However realistic factors wouldn’t allow you to do a loop before hitting GEO so I forgive them.
/Nerd Mode Disengaged
I’m going to tell you all now to go to their website and download their demo. It’s a small file and insanely fun. An upgrade isn’t too costly ($18) and according to the equation for entertainment I introduced last week you’ll see it pays for itself rather quickly!
This is seriously one of the best games I’ve played in several years. I recommend it be used in Aerospace Engineering programs at universities because it will help introduce basic elements like burn times, staging, and basic orbital parameters.
Fun AND educational!
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