I need to thank Tipa over at WestKarana for calling my attention to this one.
Kerbal Space Program is a rocket simulation. In the demo version I’m playing, you build rockets by stacking stages together, then shoot them into space. Your goal? Well you make your own goals, really. My first goal is just to see how high I can get and still land safely. Rockets basically ‘snap together’ in the Assembly Plant — that part of the game is purely intellectual. But once you lift off you can try to pilot your ship, which I found out wasn’t all that easy:
That rocket had an SAS system (a computer-operated stabilization system) but I forgot to activate it. /facepalm I tried a few more times with that design and did better but didn’t get out of the atmosphere, so I decided to bulk things up a bit:
This rocket has a triple solid engine first stage, a single solid engine second stage, and then a liquid fuel third stage. I flew with the SAS system on but during the initial flight you can see the fins on my rocket starting to move; it was almost too much thrust, I think. At any point you can hit the space bar to detach a stage. Solid boosters are fire and forget but the liquid fuel engine has a throttle. You can see fuel levels going down at the bottom left of the screen.
A lot of gamers will watch these videos and be bored. That’s ok, this is definitely a niche product. You can fast forward a bit through the dull parts and you’ll want to do so. You can also see that I started playing with the camera as my attention drifted.
I’m not sure what the full (paid for) game adds; it’s listed as still in active development and I’m going to watch the site to see if that’s true before I spend money. I’ve been burned by buying ‘alpha’ software recently and it has me a little gunshy.
But if you’re a space/rocket nerd, there’s not much else like this on the market and you have to at least snag the demo and give it a go.