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Kerbal Space Program

Though some predicted they’d be dead by now, flight simulations continue to thrive in various forms. Kerbal Space Program (kerbalspace, which costs $27, puts the gamer in charge of the space program for the fictional Earth-like planet Kerbal, whose inhabitants resemble humans. Despite its whimsical setting, this game is quite serious about its physics.

Note that Kerbal is currently still in development; it’s becoming common for some games to acquire funding by giving fans early access. In its current state, Kerbal is sort of a sandbox where players can experiment with creating different kinds of spacecraft to explore the Kerbal universe. There are some scenarios, with general spacecraft-building goals, but as yet the sim lacks a true overriding objective or mission framework.

There are disadvantages to playing with a work in progress: Documentation and tutorials are either sparse or incomplete, the game engine isn’t optimized yet and at times suffers from slow performance, graphics are more functional than beautiful and there may be bugs. Kerbal’s interface is not difficult to use, yet familiarizing yourself with it takes time, as the game isn’t very intuitive. It has been in development for years, and it’s not known when it will be complete.

Still, some players may find the sandbox too charming to ignore. Kerbal offers an impressive array of command modules, fuel boosters, engines and fuselage parts for rocketry enthusiasts. The player community might indeed be Kerbal’s best feature. Dozens of user-made modifications and extras are available for free download. Those who are more interested in terrestrial aviation will be happy to hear the physics engine supports atmospheric flight, and some very creative users have even submitted airplanes and helicopters for use at the site hosting user content, kerbal The game’s underlying premise seems to be “If you can dream it you can build it,” an inspiring sentiment. Kerbal Space Program’s popularity and the creativity of its user base indicate that the model pioneered by the venerable Microsoft Flight Simulator isn’t dead just yet.


Originally published in the May 2014 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.