Header Ads

Jamie Leighton And Nestor Gomez Interview: Kerbal Space Program - Enhanced Edition

Private Division, a game publisher and subsidiary of Take-Two Interactive, recently announced that Kerbal Space Program – Enhanced Edition, already available on PS4 and Xbox One, will be making the leap to the Playstation 5 and Xbox Series X|S. The ports will be using the cutting-edge hardware and memory of these new consoles to improve the graphics, frame-rate, and overall experience of their classic sandbox space program simulator.

To commemorate Kerbal Space Program – Enhanced Edition's release on these new platforms this fall, Screen Rant reached out to Jaime Leighton and Nestor Gomez from Squad, the makers of the original Kerbal Space Program. Over the course of their interview, they shared fascinating details about the key sources of inspiration for KSP, the challenges of designing a space simulator with accurate space physics, and just why the Saturn V was such a cool rocket.

Related: Roguebook Review: Accessible Roguelike Deckbuilding

Nestor Gomez is the Head Of Production at Squad, the Mexico-based media company where Kerbal Space Program was born. Jaime Leighton is a former Kerbal Space Program mod-maker turned Freelance Lead Developer who currently works for Private Division. Both are huge fans of space travel and rocket science, a fact they re-iterated time and again as they fielded questions about the ideas, design innovations, and dreams that went into Kerbal Space Program and its many expansions.

There's an interesting juxtaposition of themes in the Kerbal Space Program games. On one hand, you've got the majesty of space flight ­– spaceships and rockets launching and soaring in a cosmic ballet. And then you've got slapstick disaster on the other hand: spaceships breaking apart, spinning out of control in the hands of pilots who panic and overdo things. Was this blend of spaceflight and slapstick mishaps a design goal from the start, or something that emerged naturally as the game came together?

Nestor Gomez: Felipe Falanghe, the creator of Kerbal Space Program, as a boy used to play with rockets. He used to strap some tinfoil figures to the rockets and send them away, so it's very clear that that was the intention since the beginning. Since the very early times, after the hard stuff was figured out, the Kerbals were added to the mix. But that was part of the original creation.

So, Kerbal Space Program initially took shape as almost a model rocket simulator?

Nestor Gomez: Well, that was his passion. That's the easiest way for someone to start interacting with rockets, or with fireworks turned into rockets. That was the early start, but the intention for the game was about space traveling.

Is this why one of the starting parts is a tiny chair you can just strap to the side of the rocket? Was that an explicit contribution on Felipe's part inspired by the tinfoil figures he used to strap to his childhood model rockets?

Nestor Gomez: I don't remember who proposed that chair. But since, in the game, you end up with all kinds of contraptions, a common chair was needed.

With the Kerbal Space Program games, designed to be consistent with the laws of physics, there's a very unique design challenge where you have to keep the science real, but you also have to keep the gameplay and interface accessible. When you were going through the development process for the first game, what were some unique challenges you ran into while trying to strike that balance?

Nestor Gomez: It is a hard balance, because dealing with the physics is not easy. People need to learn a lot of new things. But at the same time, it's something that you can learn by trial and mistake. So, we tried to make use of that as much as possible so people can learn through doing, experimenting, failing and trying again. That's part of our main loop in the game, and part of how we deal with the balance.

And also, we're not trying to underestimate the intelligence of our players. We know it's hard, but they can handle it. We just give them the tools to figure that out.

Jamie Leighton: It's a bit of a balance. And as Nestor said, the whole loop of the game and the hook that gets a lot of people is that you try and fail, try and fail. You keep experimenting and learning as you go. That's one of the unique features of the game that provides that learning experience, and the goofy Kerbals who keep failing over and over.

And then you get that great sense of accomplishment from the game - especially for the player who's tried and failed several times, and then it works. You get that sense of accomplishment that's unique about Kerbal Space Program.

But on the other hand, there's a lot of tools that we've added throughout 10 years that contribute to helping the player understand some of the intricacies of orbital mechanics and physics and so on. We do think about what can we add to help the player as well, and throughout the years we've done that.

Was not stigmatizing failure part of the reason you made the main characters cute little green men and women with an enormous amount of durability?

Nestor Gomez: Yeah. It wouldn't be the same game if, instead of Kerbals, you had humans there. It would be a totally different game. Having the Kerbals there allows you to focus on just trying and failing without worrying too much about the Kerbals themselves, because you know they can take it.

It was part of the design that they are tough little guys that can handle everything. They're very brave, but they can also get scared. It's a very interesting mix of characteristics for the Kerbals themselves.

I've always imagined Kerbals, if they're in a pinch, can dehydrate themselves and go into hibernation. That's my personal bit of internal canon to take the sting out of messing up a launch sequence or accidentally getting a Kerbal stuck in space.

Jamie Leighton: One of the great things about the Kerbals and Kerbal Space Program, with regards to what's canon and what's folklore kind of things, is that we give the players the freedom to decide that for themselves. What are they made out of? Do they breathe? Where do they live? All these questions that keep getting asked by the community all the time, we don't answer them on purpose. Because it's what you want it to be.

[Science Disclaimer: There is, in fact, a real-life microscopic animal called the tardigrade, also known as the “Water Bear” or “Moss Piglet,” capable of surviving for extended periods in the vacuum of outer space. When exposed to extremes of temperature and low-moisture environments, the tardigrade expels moisture from its body and enters a state of deep hibernation – a trick the Kerbals from Kerbal Space Program may also know.]

Over the years, there have been many interesting game mods introducing new spaceship parts and styles of gameplay. Were you surprised by just how much creative stuff your fanbase was coming up with?

Jamie Leighton: Modding KSP is one of the core pillars of KSP. Everything that we develop, everything that we add to the game - one of our core pillars is always, "Can this be modded? Can the modders use this? How will the modders use this?" I think it's one of the features of KSP, and it's something that won't go away.

To answer your question, everything they come up with never ceases to amaze me, There's always something that the modders come up with, or even the community themselves come up with, to use and even stock things that we've added to the game - and we never thought of them. They never cease to amaze us with their creativity, the things that they can come up with and things that modders come up with and create. I think it just adds to the value of the game and the gameplay itself.

I actually started as a modder of KSP before I joined the team.

What sort of mods did you work on before joining the KSP team?

Jamie Leighton: For me, it was about extra challenges plus some functional gaps. This is another thing that's great about modding KSP: modders can quickly deliver functional pieces that they can think, and they don't have to get through all the rigor that we have to in order to make sure that it's release quality and works and everything.

I've got mods for life support, freezing Kerbals - you were talking about dehydrating before, and I have a mod that freezes them with this magical liquid that I created. I've got a life support mode, I've got a telescope mode, and so on. I've got quite a few.

There has been a surge in recent years of science fiction video game simulators inspired by KSP's example. Why do you think Kerbal Space Program's unique sub-genre of gameplay resonated with the developers of these titles?

Nestor Gomez: In my opinion, I think it was fulfilling that idea of being an astronaut. KSP 1 especially focuses on the early days of getting to the moon for the first time, and the space race, and the few years after that. I think, when talking to that niche of people, we found a group of people that didn't have the tools to recreate those fantasies.

By doing that, we found something unique to KSP: we have people of a variety of ages [in our fanbase]. You can have some small kids aged 7 to 10 playing KSP, and people that saw the first flights to the moon themselves. We are able to allow those people to recreate the fantasy, so I think that was one of the key parts of our success.

There was a spin-off of the first game called KerbalEdu, which added in a bunch of educational features designed to help kids learn physics and rocket science in the classroom. Who was behind the development of that, and do you know if something similar will be developed for Kerbal Space Program 2?

Nestor Gomez: During the development of KSP 1 and the use of this game loop of trial and error, we realized that people were already using the game as a learning tool inside the classroom. At several levels - high school, college, graduate school - that was already happening.

We had a collaboration with a company called Teacher Gaming, and they were the ones responsible for building an educational version of the game, which is focused on topics that some teachers need for different levels of education. That's how it started and, since then, we realized that education is a big part of the success of the franchise. So, there's definitely more plans around it.

Nothing yet to confirm or tell you about, but there is definitely interest in the franchise to do more with education.

As Kerbal Space Program continues to evolve and take on new forms, what do you hope gamers will take away from this franchise as a whole? What do you hope they will be inspired to do and learn?

Jamie Leighton: We constantly hear about people in the community who 10 years ago started playing Kerbal Space Program, and have built their passion around space, astrophysics, and engineering. They have gone into those fields and studied them, and now work for space agencies, engineering, and so on. Personally, for me, I like to hear those stories about how something that we've given them has affected their life so much that they've turned it into their career and their passion for space and astrophysics.

I'm a space nut, and I think most of the team are. For us, to share that passion for space and exploration of space is what it's all about. And to have fun while doing it as well; learning and having fun at the same time.

If you're all unabashedly space nuts, I'm gonna throw this curveball at you: what are your favorite real-life rockets?

Jamie Leighton: For me, it's the Saturn V, being of the vintage Apollo missions. Having gone to Florida and seen what's left of the Saturn V rockets - there was also an engine in Seattle when we were there too, so there's bits of it scattered all across the US in museums and so on - it's just amazing. The size and the scope of that program was just incredible. For me, that's the epitome.

I mean, there's new rockets today. For the SpaceX rocket, the reusability is just amazing. I just find those incredible. So, there's the big and powerful Saturn V of that era, where it was just amazing engineering that they built that thing. And then there's the advanced technology of today, with the SpaceX being able to recover and reuse [spent stages].

Nestor Gomez: To me, the Saturn V is great and amazing. It's hard to believe they managed to make it work, since it was very early technology.

But from today, I really like the Falcon Heavy. To me, that was a key moment. I remember that day very clearly at the office, working on KSP 1 but stopping for a second just to watch the landing. Just having the two boosters landing synchronously, that was an awesome moment.

Besides real-life rockets, have there been any works of fiction or nonfiction that really primed the creative pump for you while you were working on Kerbal Space Program?

Nestor Gomez: I have an answer for that one. It's not that old, but from recent years, one that has resonated to me is The Martian movie. It a great example and a great match forthe KSP theme or style, which is just trying to survive by using science in a very risky way. Using science in your favor without fearing what could go wrong. Yeah, I like The Martian a lot.

I heard the movie Stowaway had Scott Manley, a notable Kerbal Space Program community member, as a technical advisor. Do you think KSP and other games like it will be inspiring and changing the feel and aesthetic of space travel in future works of media?

Nestor Gomez: I hope so. Actually, it is a funny story, because this is as far as we know the first time KSP has been used for this purpose: for designing rocket or a vessel for use in a film. It's been used for space agencies, like in China and other countries. It's been used inside space agencies, like NASA and ESA, but never for a movie. I hope it's done more frequently.

One bad thing about being either a KSP developer or a KSP fan is that you end up noticing all the wrong things in science movies. You can't stop yelling at the screen, telling them why it is wrong; why it's not easy to just rendezvous with another station, just with your EVA jetpack. So, I hope that's the case. I hope they end up using real physics more, but it was a great surprise for us to find that out.

Kerbal Space Program – Enhanced Edition is currently available on the PS4 and Xbox One, and will be released on the PS5 and Xbox Series X|S in Fall 2021.

Next: How Starfield Connects To Films Like Interstellar & The Martian

No comments:

Powered by Blogger.