The Past, Present, and Future of Kerbal Space Program – Part 1

Kerbal Space Program is a fascinating game. In its current state, it’s a game without objectives, without a story, and without context. You simply create a spacecraft, attempt to launch it up into space, hope it doesn’t crash and burn in a blaze of glory, and then explore outer space.

But what’s even more fascinating than the actual game is the story of how Kerbal Space Program came to be. It’s a story about how a young aspiring game developer took a childhood memory and transformed it into one of the most impressive applications of real world physics and sciences ever seen in a video game.

It all started with a game. Ironically (or perhaps not), it was a game without objectives or context. The young Felipe Falanghe would take fireworks, strap tin foil men to their “cockpits,” and blast them toward the stars. The brave tin men that sacrificed their lives for the sake of science were dubbed Kerbals by Falanghe and his friends.

It was something that stuck with Falanghe all throughout college and into his job at a company called Squad.

While Falanghe majored in game design in school, Squad wasn’t in the business of game development. The company actually focused on interactive marketing, though many of its projects were very game-like.

After working for Squad on their interactive marketing projects for a while, one day, Falanghe decided to tell his bosses about his true passion: making video games.

“They completely blew me away when they said, ‘Okay, well, if you present us a project, we’ll go ahead with it,” Falanghe told Game Front at PAX Prime 2013. “So I wrote a design doc for KSP, and it was really for a much less ambitious game back then, but I pitched them the idea and they said, ‘Go ahead.’ I spent the next six months in complete disbelief.”

So, Falanghe started work on making a video game based on the game that he used to play as a teenager — a game that involved taking little creatures known as Kerbals, and blasting them off into space. However, it was unknown at the time how long Squad would be able to fund KSP, which led to the company deciding that the game would be developed in cycles lasting three weeks each, and at the end of each cycle, the game needed to be in some sort of complete and presentable form.

“The first version was very very simple. It was nothing but a flat plane with a rocket that you could put together with a couple of placeholder parts,” Falanghe said. “There was no solar system. If you missed the plane coming back down, it would just keep falling indefinitely.”

With each new cycle, Falanghe would just keep on adding more and more until, seven months later, Kerbal Space Program was finally ready for its first public release.

Getting community feedback after releasing KSP to the public turned out to be a blessing for the game, especially because Falanghe wasn’t sure whether one feature, the orbital gameplay, should actually be a part of the game.

“When we first released, it was still kind of an open question,” he said. “That was one case where feedback from the community was really infinitely useful, because not only did they like orbital mechanics, but they wanted more.”

Listening to community feedback also provided Falanghe with another great asset. New talent to work with. In part 2 of our Kerbal Space Program feature, we’ll talk about how one fan’s mod, not only ended up as part of an official update to Kerbal Space Program, but also wound up getting him a job at Squad as a developer.

Don’t miss the rest of our PAX Prime 2013 coverage all weekend and next week!

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