The first mission I tried to build in Kerbal Space Program’s upcoming Making History expansion resulted in spectacular failure. Somewhere along the way I forgot to link the success condition to the rest of the mission, so even though I’d rescued the stranded Kerbal I’d stuck on the Mun (i.e. Kerbal’s Moon) the game’s logic didn’t realize I’d finished and I was stuck in orbit wondering what I forgot for a solid 20 minutes or more. I guess that’s just the life of a budding rocket scientist-turned mission architect.
Kerbal Space Program’s first and only DLC Expansion, Making History, is out this week for $15 and aims to bring some impressive new updates to the insanely popular years-old PC game. For those unaware, KSP is an extremely realistic (other than the little Kerbal alien guys) rocket simulation experience in which you take control of a budding space program. You’ll need to understand actual rocket science, physics, and orbital dynamics to play it well. The core Kerbal is awash with tons of missions and scenarios to play out, as well as an extremely active modding community, that keeps it from ever getting too old.
The Making History expansion has two main features: a highly-detailed Mission Builder and a History Pack that lets you relive important space-based moments in history. My hands-on only focused on the Mission Builder.
When you open it up for the very first time it’s a bit intimidating. All of the conditions you select are laid out visually, sort of like Unreal Engine’s blueprint feature, if you’ve ever played around that. It’s known as a “visual scripting” interface and is designed to be drag-and-drop friendly so you don’t actually need to write or understand a single line of code to get started making stuff. Stylistically it looks a bit like the tech upgrade trees in the base Kerbal’s Science mode.
Custom missions in KSP can take on pretty much any form you want. You just go through and set specific objectives (like reaching 1,000km altitude, or maintaining orbit around a planet) or constraints (like completing things in 10 in-game days or limiting the use of certain items). You can even get super granular with it all and have, for example, the engine fail once the player is halfway to their destination, or even create branching missions that change and evolve based on player decisions.
There’s a lot of narrative potential here. The Mission Builder effectively turns KSP into a development platform for custom space-based narratives where the only limitation is the creator’s imagination. Elon Musk should love it.
When I was testing things out, I slapped together a pretty simple scenario in just a few minutes that had a Kerbal NPC tell the player to lift off, go to the Mun, land, plant a flag, then fly back and land on Kerbin. Simple enough for any experienced pilot, right? After spending a few hours with the builder and seeing how its logic works, I can easily see how quickly it could expand to include so many more objectives, conditions, and crisis scenarios. For example, I could make the player’s engine fail on the return trip, requiring an EVA repair mid-flight back.
Despite the simplicity of the drag-and-drop interface though, it was incredibly overwhelming at first. There are some basic tutorial features built-in, but it was a real chore to figure out exactly what each piece does in the builder. I’m expecting only the most seasoned content creators will really use it and most will just download Community levels instead.
In addition to the Making History expansion, KSP was also recently updated to version 1.4, which brings with it a whole slew of other (free) enhancements. For starters, the game’s been ported to a much newer and nicer version of Unity, which means improved particle effects and better textures. When you’re building out your vessel, there’s also a bunch of new parts to pick from that are modeled after actual real-world crafts from around the world.
All of this is going to be a bit of a sticking point for a lot of dedicated players. The upgrade to version 1.4, as of now, renders pretty much all older mods unplayable — which could be a dealbreaker for some. Regardless, the development team at Squad has stated their commitment to the modding community and the Mission Builder should be viewed as a major boon with regard to how much easier crafting custom content will now be. It’s only a matter of time before the community crafts intricate and detailed recreations of famous space films with detailed dialog and crisis situations.
David Jagneaux is a contributor to IGN. Talk games with him on Twitter at @David_Jagneaux.