“Kerbal Space Program” is the kind of game one’s never finished playing. Its ends always feel open to negotiation. It is a purer form of game play. Rather than a ritualistic capitulation to an unchanging condition, it creates a system of wonderment within an ever-expanding boundary of possibilities. Even the game’s susceptibility to bugs and its ungainly interfaces belie a wild expansiveness, technical byproducts of a thing attempting to do things no one planned for it to do.
Despite the hugely complicated theories underpinning your creations much of the game’s design decisions remain surprisingly intuitive. You don’t need to have studied applied physics to make reasonable decisions on rocket design: a paper plane and an understanding that the heavier something is the more thrust it needs to take off will do.
There is an element of edutainment to Kerbal Space Program (it’s endorsed by both NASA and Elon Musk) but it still works extremely well as a straight video game, to the point where its closest comparison is probably Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts. It still needs better tutorials and a more accessible introduction to sandbox mode, where the real fun is to be had, but clearly this is a game that is going to continue to evolve, and will probably never be truly ‘finished’.
Kerbal Space Program provides something for everyone: players who will never see a return voyage from “the Mun,” and those who delve into special resource gathering, landing, docking, and crew-out-of-ship activities. If you are a creative type who loves to fool around with physics, you’ll probably love Kerbal Space Program. If you’re just looking to create unbelievable, ridiculous rockets with an impractical number of fuel pods, you can still have plenty of fun. Whatever your level of engagement, you can enjoy shooting these little green Smurfs into space – or into the nearby scenery.