I have been playing Kerbal Space Program a lot. It's a rare case of a game I have actually gone back to after having given up on (possibly rage-quitted), and that was mostly because my first attempts at the game didn't really go well. And by the sounds of it, that is perfectly normal for KSP.
The game is hard. Your first impression of the game is that it is a kid's game. The kerbals are cute. Big eyes, bigger heads, stubby limbs. They wear space suits, and those suits are 50% helmet. They can't even walk properly. They have no business going to space.
And their awkwardness is matched by your soon to be evident uselessness at rocketry. The game is completely lacking in any hand-holding whatsoever, which in itself is refreshing in an era where FPS games have tutorials that start with how to move forward-backward, left-right, and jump. KSP gives you a bunch of rocket parts which you slap together to make something fly. Your only limit is (in-game) physics. And it gives you no clear goals after you've built the thing either. What you do after you launch is up to you, although generally, it is going to end badly for the kerbals.
Other than giving you space ship parts, the doesn't give you much in the way of tools. A map of the solar system, a navigation ball and a gauge of how much fuel you have left in the tanks. The rest you have to work out yourself. (Or google it.)
Just building a rocket that works without breaking apart when you launch takes a while, getting something to fly comes down to trial and error. Many kerbals will die. The next step is putting that rocket into an orbit. That is going to be hard. First you have to have built a rocket with enough fuel to do it. You're going to need stages, Apollo-style perhaps. Which means a big rocket. It's going to be heavy, and that means more fuel to burn and more thrust needed.
"Send me up a drink."
And naturally it is going to break apart almost immediately. More kerbals will die. More struts, more weight. Launch again. And again. And again. At this point I kind of gave up the game.
I never actually managed to get a kerbal into anything like an orbit. (Except maybe after the first bounce.) They generally ended up as craters. This isn't really very fun. I uninstalled the game.
Then one bored day on youtube I stumbled on a random video of some guy trying to build the space station from a Matt Damon movie in the game. I realised that isn't not actually impossible to do shit. The game just doesn't help you out in anyway.
So I downloaded the latest version of KSP, and set myself the task of actually trying to land some kerbals on something other than their own heads. I read a couple of wiki tutorials and found half the problem was that I knew nothing about rockets or rocket science. I mean it is just a game, but it is rocket science. The lite version. Mostly, it comes down to launching something with plenty of fuel and thrust (and structural integrity) and following the right path to orbit. And when it comes to flying to another planet (or more likely just one of the moons), you have to remember things are still moving while you are trying to get to them. You have to aim to where they will be and light the wick and, with some luck, gravity will do the rest.
I set my sights on the moon as a target. It's the closest, and you can see it when you launch. I figured just launch and aim ahead of it in it's orbit and cross fingers for an orbital capture. I built a massive multi-stage rocket; it was way too top heavy but I stuck with it because it was like that for stylistic reasons. It required about four stages alone just for the ascent to orbit. It's seven massive rockets strapped together, with an overly complicated fuel cross-flow design that hopefully meant I had enough thrust to launch that much fuel. It's seven enormous engines, and sequential fuel links meant that the outer tanks drained dry in a certain order, and they were dropped when those engines flamed out. It is the same concept used by the (real) rockets built by the guy who created Paypal - a payment method only slightly less unsavoury than a wristie in the back of a Greyhound bus - and if he can do it, I reckon I probably can too. Not that I came up with this idea myself, god no, I stole the idea from a youtube video narrated by a kid with a Yorkshire accent. (Or somefinka like that.)
Getting the staging correct to drop the right rockets at the right time and not having the whole thing tip over took a while, but it worked. My stupidly heavy lander was causing problems too, it kept breaking off from the remaining sections of ascent stage before and sending the whole thing into a death spiral in the upper atmosphere. Rather than take the considered approach and go with a lander of more reasonable mass, I went with more struts, a lot more. The problem was solved.
With the rocket finally holding together, I actually managed to get a transfer to the moon on my first attempt, essentially just burning the rocket until the map showed an interaction. Pure luck, presumably. I circularised a 15km orbit around the moon. Detached my lander and burned retrograde. My lander had three engines on struts out from the core of the ship, as I said before, purely for stylistic reasons. It had plenty of thrust so slowing down wasn't a problem. Trying to orientate the thing wasn't so easy as it the controls were all over the place. There might be some option somewhere that makes your controls match the navball, but I don't know of it. So my landing was extremely squirrelly. I'd come close to the ground, realise I was moving sideways way too fast and try correct that by rotating. Except I would rotate the wrong direction and make the whole thing worse. I'd then burn the rockets to get away from the ground and try again at eliminating the sideways motion. It took me about four approaches at the ground before I finally landed. I had used a lot of fuel.
After planting the flag, I launched. Fuel was very low, despite my lander having plenty of rockets it didn't carry much fuel. It was a stylistic decision. Just burning to lunar orbit entirely depleted my fuel. I tried multiple times (thank Christ for quicksave) to get close to the transfer stage as it was still loaded with fuel. The transfer stage, luckily, had a drone attached so I could fly it to meet my lander in orbit. And my lander had RCS to make docking possible. Except, it really isn't. Just getting the two ships next to each other was a mission and a half. Getting the ships to dock was not going to happen. I am was just far to rubbish at docking. I launched another rocket with the hopes to come along side and pick up the crew and return them to their home planet, but the game crashed and corrupted the save game. It was a bit anti-climatic, really.
So my mission went entirely wrong, and was probably going to keep going wrong if the game crashing out hadn't ended it. Here is the thing though, really this is the genius of the game. You will generally find that your best laid plans just don't work the way you wanted, or you'll miss time your transfer burn, or a part on your ship will break. This forces you to to recalibrate missions on the fly or abandon the primary goal of the mission and try get the kerbals home Apollo 13-style. (Although in truth, there is nothing to just stop you just restarting.) Generally, though, I find I try to save the little bastards as best I can. I try, anyway. It is properly fun to do, its also fucking hard.
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