Flieger, grüß' mir die Sonne, grüß' mir die Sterne und grüß' mir den Mond. Dein Leben, das ist ein Schweben, durch die Ferne, die keiner bewohnt! - Hans Albers, F.P.1 antwortet nicht (Adaptation in the 80s: Extrabreit)

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

I am a 1.0 Kerbal

It was hard to maintain my intention to play the final release of Kerbal Space Programme by restarting a new career campaign. I still feel so proud of all the ships and installations which I created in my 0.9-career. However, I have the feeling that most of them would not "fly" anymore with the latest and new aeronautic physics model. Plus, a new beginning is always also a new chance to experience new and even better things.

 - back to humble beginnings

The new career mode has become quite a tough nut to crack. I choose "moderate" difficulty, not considering myself a total newbie anymore. The first major wall I ran into was not the new aeronautic physics, but the limited availability of science points. Fullfilling contracts just don´t give a lot of points anymore, even testing contracts yield sparsely. Moreso, after the automatic initial record-breaking contracts, the mission goal were such that I just did not have the right equipment to accept and execute a lot of contracts, besides the notorious testing contracts. And the testing contracts gave just about 3 points of science each; this means I would need to do 15 contracts for one measly 45-point science node, which in turn would me give only a part of the equipment I require to get farther and higher. Soon, I discovered that the most efficient income was created by sending two tourists on a suborbital hop; I intentionally postponed the challenge to send a ship into a full orbit in order to milk this cash cow until I had a good financial cusion of about 600k credits.

- my first main money earner in early game; double tourist sub-orbital hopper

So, yeah, the first few hours felt pretty grindy and partially also absurd. One example of absurd design is my rocket with a triple stack of command cockpits, so that I was actually able to bring two tourists together with my pilot into suborbit. This rocket just looked absurd. A true 3-manned cockpit would only unlock much more later, in a 160 point tech node! Similarly, you just get a tiny fuel tank for your first liquid fuel engines, which means I had to stack about ten small fuel tanks in order to build a proper orbital rocket. A bit later down the tech tree, I could unlock the first few larger tier stuff like the "hitchhiker" passenger module, but not the proper engines and fuel tanks to lift it into orbit, which would require two more, equal expensive science levels ("tech nodes").

- about the art of improvisation (soon replaced by the above tourist hopper, which as a SSTsO is more cost efficient)

On the other hand, I found it good that you actually have to employ science equipment in order to collect science points and cannot rely anymore on fulfilling contracts. It is just not very intuitive how and where you are able to collect those science points. Also, most experiments have to be brought back to the base, because just transmitting the results via an antenna would half the yield; science points are too sparse to afford such a waste. Only crew reports can be sent by radio without a reduction of science points.

- "Fleabite"; failed attempt to use a plane with a simple jet engine to get higher than 14km, but good to go for surface missions

And then, the new aeronautic physics. It´s flipping time! I was aware that you have now to be careful to not re-enter atmosphere too fast, lest your vessel would burn to cinders. However, I was surprised that many vessels already become unstable and flip during ascend. Attribute this to a new and more realistic calculation of drag. Combine this with the now very deadly re-entry conditions, and imagine a capsule which due to wrong relation between center of mass (visualised during construction) and drag (not visualized) flips during re-entry on the opposite side of where its heatshield is... Boom!

 - some sub-orbital science gathering

To not sound too negative, I love challenges, and I finally got through this difficult starting phase. Indeed, now with some more knowledge about how and where to collect science points, I would progress now much faster. Complaining a bit about the early grind in the forums, I got some tips how and where to collect more science points, and together with a "free" powerful engine from a testing contract, I was finally able to build a larger spacecraft headed for a Mun flyby and orbit exercise, bringing along three tourists and lots of science equipment, including a scientist who can now reset that equipment for re-use and thus more science points.

Navigating a this central vessel was a tense and exciting affair. My most experienced kerbonauts, three tourists and in the end a whopping worth of 320 science points were stored in one fragile vessel. Navigating to the moon was moreless a routine I already knew from my last campaign. Having learned from that, I made sure to have enough deltaV left for a proper return. However, gravity is a bitch.

- "Bumblebee"-class spacecraft which was the first to leave Kerbin orbit and do a Mun flyby

Once I had my vessel already catapulted back from Mun orbit into Kerbal SOI, the sneaky Mun, which orbited in parallel to my course vector, snuck my vessel back into its SOI, thereby throwing my vessel severely off course. I realized it too late because I had time warp activated. With what little deltaV I had left, I tried to flatten out the totally screwed up re-entry vector to Kerbal, which was way too steep. Unsucessfully so; my re-entry speed was over 3000m/s, way too much to keep aligned retrograde (engines can take a lot of heat before melting) and the ship´s parts heated up in a manner of high and fast which commoners call explosion. Boom.

Even then I was lucky and the cockpit separated and survived, and I also spotted the still intact passenger cabin tumbling down. The cockpit is the control unit, so I could activate the remaining parachute and make my pilot come down safely. Not so with the passengers and most of the stored science points. While I also had some parachutes directly installed on the passenger cabin, it does not qualify as control unit, so I could not switch control to it and thus had to watch it tumble down into its destruction. I rarely ever felt so bad at failing in a computer game. Having moreless safely carried four Kerbals through space, to loose them all so close to coming home! No, I really had to reload this! I was so grateful that I had actually remembered to do a quicksave short after leaving Mun SOI.

The second attempt at return and re-entry worked better. I was astutely watching the course vector and reacted this time to the point where Mun did its gravity sneak attack on me. I did the re-entry via aerobraking, noting this time the much higher drag from the atmosphere than it used to be before in the beta version of the game. Even though the re-entry was relatively flat, I lost control of my retrograde position, in fact, lost control entirely overe the then tumbling ship. Fortunately, this tumbling also caused the ship to bleed off speed without that one specific side of the ship would heat up too much. It thus made it through virtually undamaged; even the externally mounted scientific equipment did survive. Hooraay! As the vessel splashed down into the sea, I almost applauded together with my Kerbalnauts. Amazing how rewarding this game can feel!

I felt this was a fitting conclusion after four tough game sessions under new and much more difficult conditions in the career mode Kerbal Space Programme. My budget sits at roughly half a million credits and I have about 400 science points, which I can use to open a good combination of 90-point and 160-point tech nodes for new and better equipment which actually works together. The future looks bright and much less grindy, and I am looking very much forward to expand on all the new stuff (especially building science space stations and mining for resources/fuel on asteroids in space).

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