Mission: Space Exploration

Last night, after some recommendations from David and James I finally started up a game of Kerbal Space Program. The game is a sandbox rocket-ship simulator. As it is new and still in development the game is a little rough, the tutorials are not all there and there is a propensity to just be dropped into a world of rocket building of which you have very little understanding. That said, I had a rare moment of pure elation and excitement I rarely experience from a video game  and I wanted to write about it quickly.

I started the game and jumped right into sandbox mode. I didn’t understand the controls but I fumbled my way through and combined some number of parts into what I imagined would be a functional rocket. I was very wrong. This thing tipped over on the launch pad and exploded just before I ejected the pod with the astronauts who rolled away lamely. I tried this a few more times before I sighed and decided I needed to use the tutorial. I did two of the tutorials: Flight and Construction. I passed on space controls because I didn’t really expect plan A to work, so, I figured I’d sort that when I got that far.

After the tutorials I had a couple more rockets explode on the ground before I finally built a small rocket that managed to climb somewhere around 12k meters before running out of fuel and dropping like a rock. The tutorials were okay over-all but, they didn’t explain how to do anything better than a single engine rocket. I then built what I will call the mach 1. My first multi-engine rocket that worked. This thing was not pretty but, it got me up somewhere around 10k meters before the inevitable death of my pilots (we lost so many good astronauts last night).

Now it is about 11:30, I knew I had to be up at 6am for work but dang-it, I was determined and I have learned when a game makes you determined it is doing something right — go with that experience. So, I revamped my rocket, more fuel, more fins for control — better, stronger, faster. The mach 2 was ready for flight. I launched the rocket and everything looked great, great stability, plenty of fuel and finally I broke into earths atmosphere. I was doing it! At the moment where you cross the threshold from atmosphere to low orbit your view shifts. The stars come into view in bright focus, soft music begins to grow, the noise of the engines is gone and it was a moment of emotional happiness I look for in every game. I crave those moments where a game makes me really feel something, comradery, friendship, joy or even the bad emotions are okay because nothing is worse than walking away from a game saying “It was okay” and feeling like the last hour was just ‘blah.’

I was in space, I saw the stars before me, a universe of exploration — never-mind I was totally out of gas — the music had rolled in and I shivered with delight. It came from figuring something out, it came from my imagination of what people feel when they really make it into orbit it came from my human desire to achieve something through hard work that takes you somewhere unknown; and all of this in a simulation.

A real emotional experience. I was elated.

And then my rocket fell back to the earth because apparently you don’t just hang out in low orbit. Oh well, more work to do and you better believe I will do it and you should too. Go get Kerbal Space Program, have that moment and enjoy it. They are hard to come by.

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