Digital kerbonauts made a giant leap forward in space games 10 years ago.
When the Kerbal Space Program was released on June 24, 2011, astronaut avatars taught hundreds of thousands of users the physics of space flight. Although the game was so early that the sun was only a source of light and not a real star, Kerbal allowed players to create space programs from scratch and then travel to other planets, following complex and very realistic rules.
A decade later, the space community remains huge fans of the game. NASA used Kerbal to educate a new audience about SpaceX’s Crew Dragon flights in 2020 after six years of intermittent collaboration. The European Space Agency invited players to recreate their own space missions in 2020, and also consulted Kerbal on comet physics in connection with the popular comet mission Rosetta. Several university professors act as subject matter experts to advise Kerbal on where to go next.
Connected: Kerbal Space Program 2 Launches Kerbonauts with Wild New Hairstyles and Emotions
Notable players include SpaceX founder Elon Musk, and retired astronaut Ed Lu was once brave enough to try playing the Daily Astronaut podcast. Randall Munroe, creator of the xkcd comic, worked at NASA before drawing his iconic cartoons, and once joked that he learned more about space physics from Kerbal than he did in physics lessons or even a “real job” at a space agency.
While Kerbal does not publish player counts, on the Steam gaming platform alone, on a typical recent Wednesday, nearly 4,000 players were running their Kerbonauts simultaneously – and that’s not counting platform releases for Windows, macOS, Linux, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.
You can get an idea of Kerbal’s popularity through proxies, as the Reddit channel has over 1 million subscribers, the YouTube channel has over 225,000 subscribers, and the official forum has over 200,000 members as of 2019.
The game turned out to be so popular that a sequel to Kerbal Space Program 2 is being prepared with the participation of kerbonauts with wild hairstyles and emotions. (The pandemic has postponed Kerbal Space Program 2 from 2020 to 2022.)
“We need kerbonauts to remind you that failure is actually commendable and funny, and then you should have fun blowing up your rockets – because, by the way, that’s how you learn to do more in the game.” – Nate About this Space. com said Simpson, creative director for Kerbal Space Program 2 at Intercept Games.
With Kerbal Space Program 2, the team expanded the “panic levels”, Simpson said. “For example, I think there are now four levels of panic, and it depends on how much overload they are experiencing and what mode of struggle they are in,” added Simpson. “They know when something goes wrong and it’s interesting to see how they react to it.”
“The Kerbal franchise started as a passionate project with a small team who were surprised at how quickly the space community enjoyed their work,” said Nestor Gomez Villanueva, Kerbal Production Manager at Squad, a multimedia company. The development was not without its problems as the team needed to keep up with the demands of the community, keeping up with the demands of the Unity platform on which Kerbal is built.
The first female Kerbonaut, Valentina Kerman, was born just four years after the game was released in 2011. The 2017 release included localizations for Spanish, Russian, Japanese, and Simplified Chinese. Chinese gamers also once pissed off the translation of several characters into the language, blowing up the game in 2017, according to PC Gamer.
Gomez Villanueva said that balancing the requests of all players is a challenge to this day – and that’s after several generations of visual enhancements and gameplay improvements. One of the popular requests over the years has been the fireworks launchers that players will see during their 10th anniversary celebrations.
“It was just about moving as fast as possible and catching up with the community,” said Gomez Villanueva. “I think the community grew faster than the game. We were trying to catch up to realize everything the players wanted in the game, and we haven’t stopped since then. ”
Kerbal released two major DLC extensions in 2018 and 2019, including Apollo moon’s Making History and a collection of robotic components called Breaking Ground. At the request of the players, the developers also included features such as increasing the number of planets, reading delta-V or changing the speed and (in particular, at the request of one of the first testers) installing a lamp on the work surface where you plan your missions. … The Kerbal team continues to follow social media, forums and other places where players hang out. “We are always listening,” said Gomez Villanueva.
The game is already inspiring a new generation of students to practice physics in real life, if talking to one of the developers was any indication, Kerbal lead engineer David Tregoning of Nine Entertainment Company told Space.com. Its developer had an aeronautical engineering degree from the United States and spoke with one of his former university professors.
“Some of the people attending classes at this university started studying this subject because of the Kerbal space program,” Tregoning said. “To become imbued with a passion for space in physics and science in general, [Kerbal] it’s a great product to work with because you can feel it in real life. “
While Kerbal Space Program will continue to be supported after the release of its successor, Kerbal Space Program 2 will have some features that are exclusive to the new game for now. Space colonies, according to Simpson, will be a “tipping point” that will include kerbonauts “living off the land” or using on-site resources once the settlement reaches a certain level of maturity.
“We’re posting footage of some of our colony’s modules, including some of our generators and our fuel plants,” Simpson said. “People were impressed, saying, ‘They don’t mess around.’ Potentially the biggest opportunity you get from colonies is the ability to build new vehicles in orbit, especially for interstellar travel. ”
Reflecting on the potential of skyscraper-sized interstellar ships and their associated trajectories, Simpson said the technology would be “a big, new unconquered land.” He added, “I can’t wait to see the crazy things people create with this opportunity.”
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