For this experiment review, you should carry out the following steps, in order. Failure to do so will result in failure – hilarious, explosion-related failure, but failure nonetheless.
Step 1) Acquire ‘Jebediah’. Jebediah is a Kerbal: imagine a stereotypical little green man, put it in a spacesuit. The Kerbals all have their own names, but you’ll grow to love Jebediah as he’s always at the top of the list (until step 4).
Step 2) Build rockets. This is a daunting task at first, with hundreds of parts (plus many more that can be added by mods) including engines, fuel tanks, capsules, electrics, experiments, probes, and many, many more. Don’t be too worried though – just take a HUGE engine, put a HUGE fuel tank on top of it, and a crew capsule on top. It’s not rocket science, after all!
Step 3) Launch your rocket. Jebediah will be at the helm, and you can be sure that he’ll keep it in line. Hit space to fire the HUGE engine. One of three things will happen:
If you’ve done something wrong, nothing at all will happen. The rocket will sit on the launch pad, refusing to take off and silently judging you for your failure.
If you’ve gotten something slightly wrong your rocket will fly straight upwards, arc gracefully around, then propel itself into the ground. Congratulations, you’ve made progress!
If you’ve done everything right so far, the rocket will fly straight upwards long enough for you to get the hang of controlling the thing. There will be some scary moments as you realise that you have no idea how to steer this stack of high-explosive as it hurtles towards the sky, but this is by far the best-case scenario. Once you’re a few thousand metres up, you’ll realise that you hadn’t planned for this to actually work. As you run out of fuel and start plummeting back to Kerbin (Earth, but for Kerbals), you’ll begin to wish you’d added parachutes.
Step 4) Explode. Get used to this step; it’ll be happening a lot. Feel free to hold a moment of silence for Jebediah, who is officially Missing in Action.
Step 5) Acquire a new Kerbal. Inform them that sudden and unexpected natural selection is be an occupational hazard. Repeat from Step 2.
At some point, you will build a rocket that flies in a straight line and lands in one piece: this is a huge milestone and you will be chuffed to pieces, rather than exploded to pieces like all the Kerbals on your previous test flights.
And that sentence, in a nutshell, is why this game gets advice from NASA and holds its own KerbalKon. Some players never get their craft past the Moon; some make working Kerbal-replica missions of the Apollo program; others install life support and communication mods and try to fly to the outer reaches of the solar system; but either way, the simple joy of not exploding in Kerbal Space Program is the same. Many areas of the game need work, especially the in-flight physics and high-quality graphics, but the delivery of the core concept is sublime and SQUAD, the developers, do a good job of reassuring their fanbase. Available now from £29.99 for PC, Mac, Linux, PS4 and XB1, I’d say it’s absolutely worth a look for anyone with an interest in space travel or build-your-own vehicles.