Kerbal Space Program: Campaign Mode

By Shamus Posted Thursday Apr 18, 2013

Filed under: Game Design 92 comments

A great deal of the fun in KSP comes from iterative building. If you looked far enough back in its family tree, you might find a grandpa or great-uncle named The Incredible Machine. You build a thing, press go, watch it fail, and repeat until you’ve perfected your design. My best moments with the game happened when I hit launch and had the entire rocket fly in seven different directions, obliterating my intrepid Kerbanauts and leaving a huge mess for the cleanup crew.

You can find this kind of play in Angry Birds, Portal, and even some Tower Defense games. You’re not intended to succeed on the first try, and there’s just as much fun in developing a new design as finally seeing it work.

This is in sandbox mode. The game will eventually have a campaign mode of some sort, and I can’t help but wonder what that will look like and how it will work. Right now you have access to all parts and can build as many exploding rockets as you like without penalty. You can fly to any planet you want, as long as you can figure out how to design a rocket capable of making the trip. There’s no external reward or recognition for accomplishing anything.

It’s natural to look at this open system and want to add some direction to it, but if you do it the obvious way you might kill the fun of the game. I realize that there is no lower form of game commentary than armchair game design, but I ask that you’ll indulge me a bit of rambling analysis. Also, I haven’t read anything by the developers regarding their plans. I’m not trying to out-guess them or make demands, I just thought this was an interesting design problem and I wanted to talk about it.

The Problem


The most obvious way to make this into a game is by adding an economy. The player will somehow get money and they will spend the money building rockets. There’s already a cost value built into rocket parts in the game, suggesting that this is what they have planned.

I hope they do not do this.

The problem is that this would make the systems of the game run directly counter to the fun of the game. We saw this in Dishonored, where the game castigated you for using the most interesting powers. Combat powers were fun, varied, exciting, and if you used them you’d get the Bad Ending. An unspoken message of this sort of setup is “if you’re having fun, you’re doing it wrong”. If the player has to pay for every rocket part, then landing-pad detonations aren’t a hilarious mishap, they’re a ruinously expensive setback.

This will fundamentally kill the playful experimentation of shipbuilding. Instead of launching a ship to see if it works, you’ll be obliged to check and double-check your work to avoid mistakes. You will be avoiding one of the most entertaining aspects of the game. Instead of fast iteration, you’ll be forced to engage in slow analysis. When they have a mishap they won’t laugh because the command module went up a hundred meters, fell off and smacked into the explosive fuel tanks, they’ll curse because now they can’t afford to make another rocket and they’re going to have to do whatever it is you’ll do to make more money in this game. The player will be mandated to engage in focused, low-risk play.


The game could easily (inevitably, in fact) end up in killjoy situations where the player has sunk a fortune into a voyage only to find they’re just a bit over-weight and under-prepared once they’re a long ways into it. Instead of scrapping their design and making a better one, the economics will push them into overcoming the obstacle with tedious save-scumming because the financial loss would be too severe.

This sort of system wouldn’t ruin the game, but it’s not usually a good idea to purposefully introduce tension between what’s fun and what’s required. No matter how you look at it, charging for mistakes would drive players away from the things that make sandbox mode so rewarding. Yes, players could get around this by just playing sandbox mode, but that doesn’t really fix the problem. Most players will naturally gravitate towards structured play first, so they’ll be learning the game under punishing conditions.

In any case, there’s another way we could handle this…

Part Unlocking


I propose that instead of paying for each individual rocket and component with money, that we pay to unlock specific parts. Once you pay to fabricate or develop the Rockomax Mark 55 Radial Mount Liquid Engine, you can place as many of them as you like on as many Kerbal-murdering fireworks as you like, and the only cost is the time you spend making it happen.

If we really need some sort of in-game justification for this, we could assume that you’re paying SCIENCE POINTS! to unlock parts, but the rockets themselves are paid for by the Kerbal taxpayers. It could even be a running joke in the game to keep track of how many billion $Kerbux of taxpayer money you’ve wasted. (A running tally of crashes, fatalities, and taxpayer spending would be a nice touch.)

Doing things this way lets the player start off with a simple, straightforward list of parts. They can ease into the game by building orbiters that will teach them the basics without them needing to wade through 7 pages of exotic and esoteric gizmos. As they progress, they can choose which parts to unlock using the SCIENCE POINTS they’ve acquired. By doing this they can focus on unmanned or manned spaceflight, deciding if they want to go for reach (paying cursory visits to lots of far places) or depth (by building up bases or stations in one or two places.)

The penalty for building a rocket that doesn’t get the job done is that you’ll have to try again. Removing the direct financial penalty doesn’t make the game easier (because you still need to accomplish the goal) but it makes the iterative learning playful instead of painful.

Technology Growth


Since we’re a thousand words into this and you’re still humoring me, let’s put another suggestion on the dry-erase board: The ability to earn SCIENCE POINTS by completing goals and the ability to spend those SP improving your technology.

You might have a few branches of technology where you can improve your metallurgy, construction, chemistry, solar cells, etc, etc. Put points into these to make your ships lighter, stronger, more energy efficient, etc.

See, the problem you want to avoid is the proliferation of parts. If their progress is entirely part-driven, then once they unlock the Rockomax Mark 70 they’ll never have a reason to go back to the Mark 55. The designers would have to script more parts, the modelers have to design more, and the player would have more to scroll through. This is a lot more work and it doesn’t make the game more fun. (Plus, it makes re-using and sharing ship designs a pain. If Josh sends me his early-game rocket, I’ll have to pull off all the outdated parts and replace them with the upgraded versions.)

Instead, I suggest keeping the part list as it is in sandbox mode: Each part is situational and every part has a use. There’s a time and place for the poodle and a time for the mainsail, and there isn’t a more advanced part that supersedes them both. Instead of acquiring better parts, you’ll acquire technology that makes your existing parts perform better overall.

Early in the game your ships will be heavier, less efficient, and more fragile. Near the endgame your ships will be lighter, more fuel efficient, more durable, even though they’re using the same basic parts. The sandbox mode we’re already used to would probably represent the mid-point on this spectrum. When you’re starting a new game you’ll barely be able to put a satellite in orbit. Late in the game things like manned round-trip voyages to the Mà¼n should be trivial.

These improvements don’t need to be big. I assume we’re not going to have a endgame where you’re using Star Trek level technology. But even something reasonable like a 25% improvement across all systems can change the game in a big way. In late game when you’re designing a rocket that weighs 25% less, can endure 25% more stress, needs 25% less fuel to generate the same thrust, with engines that can output power 25% faster, and batteries that can hold 25% more power, you’re going to have a massive increase in what you can accomplish and how far you can go. This lets us give the player meaningful rewards that don’t break the semi-realistic tone of the mechanics. (No warp drives or antimatter engines or whatever.)

Wrapping Up


I really love this game and I’m hoping we get a campaign mode that allows for the fun of failure instead of punishing us for it. If I know game developers, the KSP team probably already has their own vision for the campaign mode and they don’t need me scribbling all over their design docs. But I offer this design as a conversation-starter and food for thought.


From The Archives:

92 thoughts on “Kerbal Space Program: Campaign Mode

  1. Bropocalypse says:

    I love speculating on game mechanics.

    Perhaps, if something like “Science Points” were to be used, you could earn them through data collected on missions and by probes(which I think you actually alluded to). Probes, specifically, could give a trickle of these SP over time. The advantage to this is that it gives the player a reason to do things other than manned missions. Speaking personally, I’m a “go big or go home” sort of player. In my mind, it’s a waste of time to bother with the small fry when it’s more challenging(and so, more fun) to try and put a three-kerbal crew on Duna. For that reason, I like the tech tree idea.

    Perhaps the game could reward the player for doing more on a single mission as well. If I launch a single rocket that puts three probes into separate orbits, for example, it could give a multiplicative bonus for all of them(not a huge one, perhaps a fractional boost). You’d be rewarded for doing science with style. Similarly, perhaps building a manned space station would give more and more points based on how many crew members it can support, giving you a reason to build it up.

    As you say, it’s not much fun for the player to be punished for things that are virtually out of their control. Unless you’re already a master of Kerbalnautics you’re going to have a lot of crashes and death and horror. So, I don’t think it’d be feasible to LOSE Science Points in any capacity. But, perhaps certain things will earn you less than you otherwise might get. Leaving a Kerbal rocketing out of the solar system with no way of getting back would look bad, certainly. Perhaps missions that this happens wouldn’t earn you much science at all. Until, that is, you unlock a mad scientist type character whose function is to give better bonuses to amusingly deadly experiments.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      Yes! Very cool idea!
      Expanding on this a little, how about if there are “science” points sitting around in deposits all over the solar system. Some can be collected just by getting a (functional) command unit into the vacinity, say by getting into orbit. Others could only be collected using specific sensors, or even live Kerbnauts. Then you have to transmit this Science back to base somehow. Sending it via antenna would be lossy, but bringing the probe back would result in 100% recovery. That way players are rewarded for exploring, carrying lots of sensors, and bringing stuff back (but not required to bring it back). Then the science can be used to unlock either parts or improvements as Shamus suggests.

      1. Tony Kebell says:

        Well, I’m all for the Idea of Science points but I’d like to see some context, presentation can do oh-so much for a game.

        For example nods to NASA and their accomplishments, references to the cold war space-race (maybe even Kerbo-Russians, to actually have a space race against, literally, there’s some SCIENCE POINTS tm. race the red rocket to them!) I feel like there needs to be more on the planet than the Space Center you take off from.

        I’m also imagining Lego “insert property here” style mimed cut-scenes of John. F. Kerbal sending you, as you’re on your way to the Mun foe the first time!

      2. Mintskittle says:

        I can’t find it right now, but there is/was a diagram of a rather extensive resource extraction and refining flow chart that would be added later, so I don’t think you would be able to go out and “mine science,” but it could still be integrated, say, by collecting one of said resources, and setting aside some portion of it for research, thus generating science points.

        As for data transmission, maybe different modules for modifying speed and amount of transfer. Say a basic antenna transmits 1 science every 5 minutes, and there’s a large and heavy section module that adds 1 science every transmit cycle, and a small radial attachment that decreases cycle time by 10 seconds. Transmission doesn’t occur without either line of sight to Kermin or a relay satellite in orbit.

      3. Fleaman says:

        Oh yeah, it should absolutely be a feedback loop: Go to space to get SCIENCE, use SCIENCE to go to more space.

        I feel it’s important that there be next to nothing in the game that does NOT grant you SCIENCE. Launch unmanned rocket into orbit? 100 SCIENCE. Launch man into sun? 10000 SCIENCE. Eject man from immobile rocket on launch pad? 5 SCIENCE. You could make them like achievements and collectible fetch quests, and have this huge board that fills up with the different objectives you discover and your progress to completing them. The guiding objective behind the game could be stated as “get all the SCIENCE”.

        1. scowdich says:

          I love this idea. It’s like the achievement system in Minecraft, where most of the achievements are for goals that progress you in the game, rather than “punch 1,000 trees”. Most people that play KSP probably don’t need an extrinsic motivator to put a probe around Ike, but if you get 15,000 SCIENCE for it? Even better.

        2. Astrolounge says:

          And then have Cave Johnson narrate about what you’ve “accomplished”.

  2. Dusk says:

    If they’ve included a cost on each part, it looks like there will be a parts-buying mechanic one way or another… but what would you think if it was a case of giving you a fixed budget-per-rocket? If the rocket explodes then you get to try again on the same budget you just had, plus whatever lesson your hilarious catastrophe taught you.

    This becomes “linear” really easily: Achieve goal (A), and your budget-per-rocket increases from $X to $Y! It also means that there’d be no added “power level” of parts (re: your tech growth above) and no added restriction on parts other than the expensive/exotic bits being less-than-practical to buy at the start (though players could always try to build a rocket with as FEW bits as possible to squeeze early use out of the weirder gizmos?).

    (Full Disclaimer: I have zero actual contact with Kerbal Space Program other than your blog posts /podcast comments plus a quick look at their home page – though KSP does look pretty awesome.)

    1. shpelley says:

      Rats! Beaten to it.

    2. Bropocalypse says:

      I can see no reason why there couldn’t be both budgeting systems in there. You can use points to upgrade parts and have to stay within an arbitrary per-mission monetary budget as well.

      1. Dusk says:

        Sure, they’re certainly compatible. Maybe even add some controversy by having different groups lobbying you to build rockets – one offers more cash but the other more SP and you can’t take both? Could get pretty creative with it.

    3. Josef says:

      It’s weird Shamus did not mention that while mentioning Angry Birds and TIM (which have similar mechanics) in the first two paragraphs.

      Space Race could be fun as a campaign. You would have a competing nation (AI controlled or ghost of other player’s progress downloaded via Internet) and you would take turns (1 launch = 1 turn) to see who reaches certain goals first. The game would track achievements and would award points to the nation that would have the first stable orbit, first man on the Mà¼n etc…

    4. Vagrant says:

      +1 to this.
      Also it seems like a lot of people were thinking along these lines. I think a budget would be most fun for me, because it gives structure and leaves room for letting you feel clever by beating the system.

      1. Kian says:

        Adding to the budget system, the budget needn’t be a hard limit even, but more more of a suggestion. After all, government programs always run over budget. Succeeding under budget would reward you full points, with a bonus for extraordinary success and diminishing rewards for going over budget.

  3. shpelley says:

    Another option, leveraging the “prices” they have built in is the campaign provides you with a list of objectives, having a “budget” and attempting to complete the objectives within the budget. You could limit the parts they have access to so they can see what parts are good for what tasks etc. and it would leverage their unit prices.

    This would still encourage the “build it, try it, boom!” game play you like while providing structure to it as a whole.

    1. Mintskittle says:

      I believe there is also a quantity number attached to each part, though for sandbox mode it’s locked at 999, so maybe there will be a parts budget, too, like you can only use two solid rocket boosters per rocket, or only one large fuel tank.

    2. Dave B. says:

      And you could allow them to earn “Science Points” for completing missions, with bonuses for bringing it in under budget. Then you spend those points to unlock new parts or upgrades.

    3. Zak McKracken says:

      That’s pretty much what I would have done, I think.
      That and of course infinite retries for every mission (each of which gets the same budget)
      Another way to incorporate the monetary aspect is that you get some sort of reward for getting a man on the mà¼n, but you’re getting more if you manage to do it for less money. And then there could be competitions on the net for who can fly a certain mission for the smallest amount of money, or several missions, or statistics about how much the ships you crashed would have cost and so on.

  4. Simon Dufour says:

    I’ve been thinking on how they can turn this sandbox game into a tycoon-like without removing the “fun”. I’m pretty sure they currently realize the value of the sandbox experience. Adding “achievements” of some kind would be a nice start. Some prizes for doing various tasks like landing on a moon or simply orbiting for the first time.

    Anyway.. great post. I like the science points ideas. They could add upgrades to the main base and do “projects” that’d be like quests. Things like “Deliver 1 ton of construction components on the Mà¼n base”. It’d add challenges you can complete and the result could be a colony. They could add this as an optional story-path that’d involve the various aspects of the game. Damn.. there’s so much possibilities. The Kerban are way too cute and their trailers are way to awesome to not include cutscenes. lol

  5. Abnaxis says:

    I really, really like your “here’s how many dollars of taxpayer money you’ve wasted!” idea. On the other hand, I chose to become an engineer IRL precisely because I enjoy finding ways to squeeze as much as I can out of a limited number of resources, even in the face of failures, and any game that scratches that itch appeals to me.

    I think the best thing would be to use your idea for the default play mode, and add budgetary concerns through a “hardcore” mode. That way people who just want to play with shiny rockets can have fun, and the people who want to try and head a successful NASA program can have fun too.

    Though to be honest, if they only include one or the other mode it will likely be a matter of days before modders create the mode that’s lacking…

  6. GragSmash says:

    I really want to see what sandbox multiplayer will look like.

    Presumably it will turn into various players trying to aim rockets at one another’s space stations.


    1. McNutcase says:

      Cue huge numbers of “How did I miss?” posts from people who have trouble wrapping their heads around orbital mechanics as applied to missiles.

      I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around the fact that within a few kilometres, orbital mechanics don’t really matter and you can just pretend like you’re in free space, while outside that fuzzy bubble of naive ease, you have to do things backwards to get close. I got a bit more of a handle on it bringing my Mun lander back to rendezvous with Kerbyut 2, since I managed to make my Kerbin intercept at about the worst time possible and had to use a big chunk of eccentricity to get into the bubble… turns out, I needed about 3.5km/s of delta-V to make a Kerbin orbit rendezvous. Next Mun lander design will have a Kerbin TWR of greater than 1, and a crapton of parachutes.

  7. DGM says:

    >> “It could even be a running joke in the game to keep track of how many billion $Kerbux of taxpayer money you've wasted. (A running tally of crashes, fatalities, and taxpayer spending would be a nice touch.)”

    This might border on injecting politics into the discussion, but I think you could actually use a budget to encourage dangerous experimentation if you engage in a bit of political parody.

    Here’s the thing: governments like to deal with failing programs by throwing more taxpayer money at the problem. So what if your budget increased based on how disastrously a mission failed? Players would be motivated to set up creative disasters as well as serious missions, since the former would get them the money they needed for the latter.

    EDIT: This could be combined with your “science points” idea by awarding those for proper achievements like getting into orbit. The silly stuff gets you money, the serious accomplishments get you new tech.

    1. Hitchmeister says:

      Well, you have your budget determined by how “excited” the average tax paying Kerbal is about the space program. Sure, successful ambitious missions are good, but sometimes a big fiery explosion can create just as much excitement.

      Think about it. Once NASA put a man on the Moon, what was the most exciting Apollo mission? (Hint: it’s the only real one they made a movie about.)

      1. RTBones says:

        Apollo 17 – the last (even though further hardware was ALREADY built) because it was the first to have an actual scientist on board instead of an all-military crew.

        The debate has raged for years as to whether or not we should have stopped improving the Saturn launch system for a reusable craft. Politics of the day dictated a reusable craft. The problem was that it was never used the way the design was INTENDED to be used (some studies proposed up to 55 flights a year; the most Shuttle ever managed was 9) – which in the end, made disposable rockets much cheaper. The Space Shuttle program was sold on the promise of cost amortization – spreading program costs over lots of launches. The problem was that in several cases, complex systems required much more thorough maintenance than was planned for. The Achilles Heel of the Shuttle, though, were the thermal protection tiles. 35000 of them on each orbiter – all of which had to be examined BY HAND prior to any launch.

        1. Hitchmeister says:

          I would definitely agree that Apollo 17 should be considered the most significant for the reason you pointed out. I’m just not sure that caught the public’s imagination as much as it should have.

  8. Factoid says:

    I hope that the economy bits DO make it into the game, but not in a way the discourages you from building crazy, bizzare stuff. The game should track how much you’re spending, but not actually limit you from exceeding your budget. What space program ever came in under budget after all?

    1. RTBones says:

      The Apollo program…though it is hard to go over budget when you essentially have a blank check. Go space race! :) (Sorry, had to do it.)

      Of course, shrinking NASA budgets eventually caused the Saturn V contract to be held to its original 15. One was eventually used for Skylab, which cancelled Apollo XX. Competing for funding with Space Shuttle, NERVA, and what was supposed to be a planetary grand tour using unmanned probes to visit outer planets meant that two complete Saturn Vs were never used. Note that this grand tour was ALSO cancelled for funding reasons, though a lot of what it was going to do was later done by Voyager.

  9. SteveDJ says:

    Excellent article – though haven’t tried the game yet.

    Just one problem I see if all you are unlocking is “Technology Growth”. During the early game, as you have pointed out, you have many launch failures while experimenting with different parts, etc. But once you master those basics, unlocking better tech just means better rockets.

    On the other hand, unlocking better parts means back to more experimenting, failed launches, (and more FUN) while you experiment with and learn the tricks of that new part.

    Oh, and typo (last paragraph of “Problem” section): Instead of launching a ship to se*t* if it works

    (edit: What? No underline code? :( )

  10. Jeff says:

    I feel the only structure needed would be a set objective and a per-rocket budget.

    Fail as much as you like, the purpose is to reach the objective with a rocket that costs that amount.

    The cost of your failures should obviously be tracked by the game because it’d be funny.

  11. Noah says:

    Speaking of punishing: is the full version of the game better about telling you what to do?

    I downloaded the demo, and it took me (no kidding) over ten minutes to figure out that all the on-screen controls do nothing interesting and I was expected to experiment with hitting keys to do anything useful.

    Some kind of, like, prompt to indicate that the interface here occurs using the keyboard, and maybe even what keys do something interesting would help a lot.

    It doesn’t help that, for instance, the results of the W/A/S/D controls are not terribly obvious if you have the camera tilted.

    Basically, I had to play the demo with the wiki open beside it, and after half an hour of “no clue what’s going on” followed by ten minutes of trying to understand why the liquid fuel tanks never fired on the rocket and the solid fuel tanks couldn’t make it go up, I gave up.

    So when you say your first hour of gameplay was really educational… I envy that, but the demo *really* doesn’t make me want to put another hour in to find out.

    1. cerapa says:


      There’s a tutorial.

      Like right below “Start new game”. The “Training”.

    2. Mike says:

      Definitely go through the tutorial. I guess I’m spoiled by games having integrated tutorials or at least being a bit more intuitive so I did the same thing you did at first. Went straight into the game and had no idea what to do. Actually couldn’t even figure out how to cancel back to the menu so had to close the game and reopen to get back to the menu. After having gone through the tutorial levels though it was much MUCH more obvious. Just wish there were a big sign saying “No really, you want to do the tutorial first!” or something :)

    3. Paul Spooner says:

      Yeah, It would really help to add a mouse-over prompt for the hotkey to activate any given system.

      That said, the first thing I did (before playing, or even downloading the game) was read through the list of controls. Twice. I don’t know about anyone else, but knowing what inputs are expected from me is a big part of knowing if I’ll enjoy the game or not. There are only a few buttons that are critical, but yes, the game doesn’t go out of its way to inform you about them.

    4. LunaticFringe says:

      As a general rule you actually shouldn’t be using the physical representation of your rocket to determine where you’re going, especially since W/A/S/D controls the rocket like, well a rocket. Using the navball is far more accurate and easier. Simple guideline for launch:

      Space activates stages, which are shown on the side as numbers. Whenever you hit space the next group activates, whether it be a decoupler, engine, or parachute. You have to arrange your engines and other systems into stages in order for your rocket to function properly, the game doesn’t do it for you. Shift and Ctrl are the throttle, but that’s really the only thing I could come up with for your engine problem.

      Once you’re at least 30 km up, begin to make a slight turn so your heading is on a slight 90 degree angle on the navball. This is a gravity turn, it uses gravity to help you speed up and achieve orbit. Some people actually do a very small gravity turn just after launch, but you need a stable rocket. Continue to slightly move your rocket along the 90 degree as you move upward. On the larger map you should be able to see how this affects where you’re going (namely, if you do it correctly you should be making a perfect equatorial orbit). The trick with orbiting is that you need to be going specific speeds depending on the altitude (namely, the higher up you are, the slower you can move but still get into orbit). Experiment a little and see what you’re comfortable with.

      If that fails, Scott Manley’s Kerbal Space Program 101 videos on youtube. A space program game explained by a Scottish astrophysicist.

  12. X2-Eliah says:

    In this sort of game, I’d say that the truly only necessity for any sort of ‘campaign’ would be achievements.
    No, wait, hear me out
    I don’t mean the stupid grindey types. By achievements, I merely mean to have them as incentives to direct players towards certain goals, and let them go wild thereafter. A simple achievement system, with some directionality (e.g. first – go orbit the moon! //subsections – Land on the Moon! Bring a piece of the moon back!//; go orbit the local sun! //subsections – go orbit the local sun without burning up this time! LAND ON THE SUN! Now land IN the sun! BRING A PIECE OF THE SUN BACK!//; and so on and so forth).
    This way you have a very robust system for directing the players and giving them the purpose of playing the game towards something, it is meta enough that you can afford all sorts of jokes, and all kinds of difficulty types in these, and you have access to metrics that may be utilized in some good way (find what people want by numbers, not by vocal minorities screeching on forums), and yet, (and this is the good part), you don’t have any stupid restrictions on the player during this ‘campaign’ – they still have all the resources and tech types and all potential to take risks and let their imagination direct what they make. This is, in essence, the good thing about a campaign – various goals to direct the player -, without the downsides of a campaign – “noob players don’t get to use anything or do anything and eff you if you even crash at all, loser”.

    1. Vagrant says:

      I read each and every one of those achievements in Cave Johnson’s voice. I think his Kerbal doppelganger might be the founder of the KSP.

      1. Mintskittle says:

        Greetings friend, I’m Cave Johnson, CEO of Aperture Science. You might know us as a vital participant in the 1968 senate hearings on missing astronauts.

        The bean counters told me we literally could not afford to buy seven dollars worth of mun rocks, much less seventy million. Bought ’em anyway.

    2. Nathan says:

      That sounds like something that could live just fine in a sandbox mode. Unless you’re suggesting that there’s an ordering to the campaign achievements. Then it’s just a series of goals, which does seem like a fine campaign to me.

      1. X2-Eliah says:

        Pretty much, yes. Ordered goals that are linked into achievement system of whatever platform the game is on (e.g. steam).

  13. Cybron says:

    I’d question the need for a campaign mode sort of thing.

    The addition of goals to Minecraft didn’t really add much, for instance.

    1. Halceon says:

      It’s not about goals as much as it is about having a structured “you should probably try to first make a stable orbit, before you go for Eve”

  14. decius says:

    I think a very small modification to part unlocking is in order: Once you unlock a part, you can place ONE of them on each rocket; paying the cost again lets you place two, then four, then eight, up to some arbitrary limit.

    1. Asimech says:

      With parts that are not directly better than others, but for different purpose, it wouldn’t serve so much as a challenge as a source of irritation.

      With parts that are directly better/worse it would result in what Shamus called “the proliferation of parts” (unwieldy lists of parts) and would encourage meta-gaming by not buying extras at certain levels to save Science Points for later parts since the older ones will be outdated at some point.

      I don’t really see much purpose beyond gamification for its own sake in doing that.

  15. Paul Spooner says:

    On the “about” page we have:
    *Take on Missions to attract interest in your Space Program. Or use the Mission Planner to create your own missions.
    *Manage your Space Program. Hire astronauts, train them, research and improve parts.
    *Build Space Stations, and surface bases on other worlds.

    So, it looks like you’re on track as far as part unlocking and improvement goes. I’m not sure what “attract interest” is going to look like, but I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

    1. X2-Eliah says:

      Hm. Alas, attracting interest to me sounds way too close to an economy system where public interest in the space program governs the yearly funding/budget…

  16. rofltehcat says:

    What about some “USA vs USSR”-mode? Be the first to get a satellite into orbit that does little more than beep from time to time! Be the first to send a kerbal-cat into space and get it back alive! Be the first Kerbalnaut on the mà¼n… you get the idea.

    It could be combined with some of the other suggestions in the blog post and the comments. Maybe a bit with randomized/limited tech available? For example, you’d lack rotational stabilizers (or whatever they are called) so you have to rig something else up from other parts if you want to reach the target very soon.
    Then maybe add a checklist/partial success system that evaluates your failures. What did go wrong this time? The Kerbalnauts burned to death but the satellite stayed somewhat intact? Partial success! Presented in a humorous way, they could even give you a little help from your kerbal specialists like Wernher von Kermann!
    Plus you could learn from the failures of the other nations or even make fun of them!

    Overall, I hope the campaign will be presented with a lot of humour and focus on lending a hand because some of the things that are theoretically possible in sandbox mode are still insanely hard.

    1. Fleaman says:

      The K.R.B.L. has announced today the successful launch of a spacecraft containing a dog into the sun! They are also pleased to announce the finalization of plans to launch a second dog into the sun to make sure the first one wasn’t a fluke.

  17. RTBones says:

    Going against something I said in a post a few days ago, I downloaded the demo – much to the chagrin of my time. The game is fun and addicting, much the way Minecraft was and is.

    However, I do hope they are careful if they add some sort of economy to this. One of the wonderful things about the game is that you can build a rocket, and if it blows up, build another one. If you start adding budgets and economy to this, you’ll end up making very few rockets and the ones you do make you’ll be extra cautious with. Most of us deal with being extra cautious with money on a daily basis. I think it would take a lot of the fun out of the game.

  18. TheAngryMongoose says:

    Maybe it’s because you mentioned TIM, but the first system I thought of was like, well… TIM. A series of missions where you have limited parts and/or budgets, plus perhaps some other constrains, and a goal. You start of with a tutorial style levels, designed to get you into Sandbox (the real point of TIM as far as I was concerned)(Build something that reaches a certain height without exploding using just rockets and stablizers, don’t worry about weight limits), leading on to extremely difficult later missions (Get to the moon and back, with this much money, these parts to choose from, no deaths, at least this much payload space etc…) for seasoned players looking for a specific challenge.

  19. Geoff says:

    My assumption on the cost of parts wasn’t that they would drive some form of economy, but to be used as a measurement in rocket building. IE: You might have a mission / challenge to build a rocket that lands on the moon and returns to earth for less than $250,000 (or whatever).

    1. Fleaman says:

      Sounds like Roller Coaster Tycoon.

      ROCKET SCIENCE TYCOON! – Like that part where you just built overpowered shuttle loop roller coasters to launch passengers into the sea, only very much more so!

  20. Similar to the “budget” system mentioned above, the idea I immediately thought of when seeing there was a price for the components is that you could have a series of different scenarios, and rather than being limited to a budget, you’d have some sort of scoring system for each scenario.

    The score could depend on how little money you spend on the rocket that completes the goal. You’d be encouraged to complete the goal with the most useless heap of junk possible.

    I’m thinking of the score system that puzzle games like Spacechem and Cogs use, if people are familiar with those – different scores for different types of achievement, where rocket cost would be one of them.

  21. Wedge says:

    I actually think the idea of a fixed-economy campaign mode would be really cool–with the caveat that it’s NOT meant for beginners, but is more of an advanced “challenge mode” for people who are already very familiar with the gameplay. This is very dependent on how you frame it, though: your point that new players tend to gravitate towards structured play modes is a good one, Shamus, and it’d be a mistake for them to make a mode like that targeted towards beginners.

  22. Nano Proksee says:

    Yes to all you say.

    Unlocking parts gradually seems to be the way to go, when I saw all the parts in the full version I didn’t knew what the hell to do.

    And objectives are really needed to, I’m afraid of getting tired of this game once I finish my current projects (a couple of space stations).

    Is what I call “The Minecraft Effect”, if you don’t incentive yourself by settings crazy goals the game isn’t going to do it for you.

    Also, though I love the game, rendezvous and docking are one of the most stressful things I have done in a videogame. Imagine the same stress but with monetary risk. D:

  23. Nathan says:

    What I’d really like to see in sandbox mode is more numbers. I don’t want to be constrained in how much money I can spend, but I do want to know how much I’m spending. I want stats per-mission and for the program as a whole, as well as average mission cost. It would give incentive to put parachutes on booster stages and reuse them, without punishing failure. Science points could be similarly useful in sandbox mode. Maybe I get them by putting sensors in space and communicating their data back to the space center. That seems to be the way things are headed. Anyway, it’d be cool to just have those and a $/(science point second) ratio to maximize and compare with my friends.

    Also, have I cursed you yet for telling me about this thing? I stayed up until 4 AM just playing the demo before I bought it.

  24. Mephane says:

    I am firmly against overall passive upgrades, unless the current sandbox mode represents the top end (everything unlocked) and in campaign mode you work your way towards it. But even then I find it a bad idea, because all these differences (especially when switching between sandbox and campaign, or different campaign safegames) would make it hard to get a good intuitive feeling of what works, what doesn’t. For example, when I build a rocket now from scratch I usually have a feeling whether this gets me barely into orbit or could send a craft to the Mun and back. But when every statistic can vary by 25% between game modes, safegames, or simply early and late game, that feeling can be quite misleading.

    What I suppose the part values are, are costs per part used, but! Without the meta-economy. Instead, a mission may be “Land a probe on the Mun, intact, with sufficient power for science experiment XYZ. You have 3 billion Kerbux of funds for this endeavour.” Basically just a limit how much your setup is allowed to cost, but hilarious destruction does not deduct the money from your account.

    Similar setups work very well in many different types of games, and it would both serve the experimental, jovial trial&error nature of the game as well as nudge players towards trying something outside of their habits; like building an ultra-light rocket just able to launch a satellite into orbit, instead of pulling out that tried&proven contraption that could send you to Jool and back.

    It would add a type of challenge (now that I can reach Eve, can I reach it with only these few parts?) that also worked very well in the aforementioned incredible-machine-type games.

    1. Shamus says:

      I like the fixed budget approach too, although it introduces an interesting question:

      What about space stations?

      If the game gives me $3bn budget, I think we’re agreed that I’m allowed to launch as many $3bn rockets as I like until I complete the mission. But what if I make a $3bn space station, and stick it in orbit with fuel? Now on my next attempt I’ll make another $3bn rocket, dock with the station, and refuel.

      Is this an exploit? Or is it a clever trick? Should the game be balanced assuming the player will do this, or should the player be restricted to one active mission at a time to prevent this?

      Interesting questions. There are a lot of different ways you could go with this.

      1. Usually_Insane says:

        once you have a space station you have unlocked a goal, then next time you do something, that goal is unlocked and drifting in the upper atmo, so you can now build upon that particular milestone. If you ever decide to build a cooler space station, you just relock that particular goal and space station goal slot no. 1 is empty again…

        my .2$

      2. Mephane says:

        Well, I say let people have that freedom. If someone manages to put up a space station packed with fuel tanks to refill spacecraft, more power to them. This might even go under the label of self-balancing gameplay, wouldn’t it? Like in an RPG where players may gain some levels with unrelated activities and then go back to the main quest when they have gotten stronger and thus made the quest easier, in KSP people could do preparations to help the real missions in campaign mode.

      3. Kalil says:

        One way to go, here, (I like the idea of a ‘fixed budget’) is to not tie the budget to a mission or anything. Instead, completing achievements and objectives increases your ‘deployable resources’, in the persistent world you play within. So if you have a $3 billion budget, and you deploy $1.5 billion of space station, you’ll be limited to $1.5 billion for your rockets until you *cough* deorbit the station.

        1. Vagrant says:

          This seems like the most sensible way to do it. It does bring up the question of whether the world will be persistent or reset on a mission to mission basis though.

      4. Nidokoenig says:

        There was an idea upthread of you being given a budget, and how much “¼SCIENCE”¼ you get is determined by how over or under budget you are. So basically, the smarter your plan, the more science you get. Using that system, any and all exploits that aren’t game balance shattering are fair game, anything that comes under the rubric of Use Brain On Problem is smartness that should be rewarded.
        Sure, you’d need to balance it so that attaching a rocket to your way under budget space station to do the next mission essentially for free didn’t give infinite “¼SCIENCE”¼, but it’s a cool enough trick to warrant a shitload. Same for grabbing excess fuel from the last mission, especially when matching orbits for docking is such a hard manoeuvre(In real life anyway, haven’t played the game).

  25. Jarenth says:

    When Josh sends you his early-game rocket design, you throw that sucker in the trash. It’s a Josh rocket. If you do build it, launch it and watch it rain hundreds of flaming chunks on your command center, you’ve forfeited all right to complain.

    In the current alpha version, each save game/profile you make has the option of being either ‘sandbox’ or ‘campaign’, with the latter obviously disabled; this seems to imply that even with the addition of a campaign mode, the sandbox mode won’t really go anywhere. That said, I do dig both your ideas and the various ideas in this comment thread, like the increasing-budget-per-successful mission one.

    1. Mintskittle says:

      I imagine a Josh rocket would be something like this:

      1. GragSmash says:

        That thing looks evil. EEEVILL

        Like, seriously I think you’d have to rebuild the launch pad after sending up one of those.

      2. Trix2000 says:

        And I thought my rocket was bad…

    2. Jakale says:

      Aw, c’mon. Maybe he just wants to give you a show and experience all the joy.

  26. MalthusX says:

    What I’d like is just something to provide a direction, or if I do something cool to have the game acknowledge it some way. Because of this, I think acheivements are the way to go.

    Also, the acheivements should unlock things that are cool, but not things that compromise the experimental fun. Say colour changes or decals to rockets, monuments or upgrades to the Space Centre visuals, things like that.

    As for the actual cost of parts, I like of the idea of both a set rocket budget and Shamus’s idea of once having paid to unlock a part being able to use it as one likes.

  27. mdqp says:

    To everyone talking about achievements: know that they are the only feature confirmed to NEVER be part of the game, sorry to disappoint you all (I am not particularly for or against them, so I should be able to survive this shocking news ^_^).

    I am not sure how the campaign will work (I couldn’t find any specifics about that one), but even a “traditional” system would work great for me. I don’t think they’ll do something anti-fun, though:

    Simply speaking, since you have infinite attempts in the sandbox mode, it would make no sense to limit you in the career mode, it wouldn’t be more difficult, as you could build thousands of rockets to train yourself before going into the career mode. What I would like, instead, is a built-in “simulation mode”, which allows you to use simulated launches in career mode, until you are confident enough to make a real launch (basically the only difference would be that after a simulated launch, all traces of the rockets are removed from the system, and the time is reverted back to the date at the beginning of the launch).

    And then it would be just a challenge to overcome (like, achieving xyz by spending only n money, send 10 kerbals on the moon and then back on Kerbal) without hurting the sandbox-y feeling of the game.

    A campaign/career mode implies a challenge to overcome, otherwise it isn’t a campaign, after all. It could leave the choice of the challenge to the player, or maybe add some management components to the game, I don’t think they would really detract from the game.

    Maybe they will split the careers into scientist, where you just plan the rockets, and an AI drives them, and astronaut, where you just drive the beasts the programmer created for you. There are a lot of possibilities to add to the game, I am sure they’ll figure it out. :D

    1. This is exactly what I would propose. It makes sense to me. And I think it's necessary given that it's fairly clear that they plan a money-constraint system, given this planned feature: “Space center facilities can be destroyed by crash-landing onto them, and fixing them will cost money” (from

  28. Hammer Wizard says:

    I have to disagree about the rocket budgets being just a stat to track. I know that the game is really difficult at first, but that eventually passes. Your system will not reward the player once their rocket designs and orbital infrastructure start to get better and better. The system is allowing for failures that would not occur anymore, while not providing much of a reward for players that are experienced beyond a magical “x1.25” multiplier.

    I hope the budget will be a set amount that you can design, test and try and retry until you’re under budget, a gauge that you try to build under. Then the extra money you save from being under budget goes into personal coffers, where you can pull from to design and launch any sort of mission you like. So you could do a series of very under budget missions, then use that money to send up a fuel depot, so future missions can use smaller launch rockets with the promise of orbital refueling. This means that new rocket designers can retry as often as they like, but once they get better, their efficient designs will reward them the leeway to design whatever they like to make their space program even better.

  29. broken_research says:

    You might be interested in the following diagram:

    This is the basis (note: subject to change) for a resource mining system/tree. The idea being: You have a mining station on the Mà¼n. It produces and refines fuel. A transport sends the fuel up to a station (essentially a gas station) orbiting Mà¼n, where your rockets can refuel before continuing their journey towards let’s say Moho.

    Presumably you’d either use this for refueling or require the resources before being able to construct new types of rockets, like nuclear engines.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      I’ve seen this web and, on the one hand it seems really exciting, but on the other hand it is kind of foreboding. If there’s going to be this complex resource flow, then there would need to be some level of automation.

      For example, if I lift a rocket from a certain base to a certain station rendezvous a few times, the game should just let me press the “auto-complete” button, and then that trip can happen automatically. Or even set up an automatic shuttle that keeps shuttling supplies without any intervention. Trying to keep the whole complex web flowing manually would get really tedious without some kind of automation.
      And I don’t mean robojeb or some other simulated transport. I mean a level of abstraction where the engine just says “ok, X hours have passed, you spent Y fuel, and how you’re here” without simulating everything.

      1. broken_research says:

        Agreed. Basically you need an autopilot that will travel to the space station from the mining site and returns without player intervention.

  30. Keeshhound says:

    You know, they could give you unlimited operational funds and just keep track of how much you’ve spent as an amusing statistic to track, kind of like Alpha Protocol’s “Orphans Created” or “Hospital Bills” stat.

    “To date, you have spent 1,305,678,967 Kerbalbucks. The Minister of Finance breaks down into a sobbing, broken wreck whenever he hears the word ‘rocket.'”

  31. rrgg says:

    In retrospect campaign mode in this game would be something that could go wrong in a lot of ways and I can only hope the devs know what they are doing.

    One point I think you missed is this is a game that features time acceleration quite heavily and a trip to one of the outer planets can take a number of years. Would this mean that I have to trudge through 5 years of day to day operations while I’m waiting for my ship to arrive? Also, what will prevent career mode from just being sandbox mode exept you have to hold down time accelerate for a while before you have a billion dollars?

    That said I really do want to see economics a part of this game eventually since it’s such a major part of real rocket design. Having to decide “well, this engine is much more efficient, but it would probably be cheaper to just slap on some big, dirty SRBs.”
    Also the whole point of the space shuttle and spaceplanes.

    I think something like a fixed budget might work, where you can’t spend more than a certain amount every year, and any money you save doesn’t carry over into the next year. You could increase your max budget by completing certain randomly generated missions like put a satellite here, get a science package there, as well as a number of fixed achievements like first kerbal in orbit or first solar impact. Then maybe your budget could go down if too many kerbals die or you are too good at the game. Not sure.

  32. Chamomile says:

    Good news, Shamus. There is an entire genre of Flash games that are all about building some sort of contraption (usually a rocket or other flying machine, with the goal being to go some huge distance), building up money with repeated failures, and ultimately succeeding by acquiring superior parts to the parts you used to have. It’s basically exactly the game you’ve just described (buy parts once and they’re permanently unlocked, various numeric upgrades make you flat-out better at everything, etc. etc.). It’s very possible that Kerbal is planning on using that genre as the blueprint for their campaign mode.

  33. Will says:

    No, Shamus!

    Do it more!


  34. SolkaTruesilver says:

    I think the obvious solution would be to grand Science Points based on successfully completing achievements. These achievements could be Budget-based:

    “Get me to the Moon” –> Successfully land on the moon
    “Appolo 13” –> Get to the Moon and back
    “Appolo 11” –> Get to the moon under a Budget of X
    “Better than life” –> Get to the moon under a Budget of Y (X>Y)

    etc… If you succeed on the hardest achievement in your first tries, nothing stops from unlocking multiple achievements at the same time. It’ll promote creativity and budget-control when you want to do so.

  35. atomf says:

    I agree with the others who say a Space-Race would be a perfect campaign setting. I think you should have 2 different “currencies”. One is science points, which go towards gaining upgrades and new parts. I disagree with the across the board efficiency increases because there will be ship designs that work at “maximum efficiency” but not “ordinary efficiency” with the exact same parts, and that might get confusing. You get science points by achieving some mission goals, but you also get them by failing in interesting ways…just like failure provides valuable info in real life.
    The other currency is prestige or public relations. You get more here by beating the kerbal reds to be the first to get somewhere, by planting flags on celestial bodies, and other things like that. This dictates your “budget” which controls how much and how fancy you can launch in a particular year. This should be forgiving, at least on easy mode. And anyway you can always fastforward time until next year. I love the idea of taxpayer dollars spent/blown up…even though I’m all in favor of Nasa IRL, it’s funny.

    I can think of some interesting missions to gain science and tech points. Plant flags, retrieve rocks/artefacts for science, dock with the kerbal reds for prestige points, fly near their rockets to spy on them for science points, etc.

    This is getting away from the central point of the game, but if you had 2 factions you could also have some space warfare. A “War of the worlds” scenario might make an interesting mod, considering you _never_ see representations of warfare in space with realistic physics…probably for good reason, but I’d still kind of like to mess around with it.

    1. SolkaTruesilver says:

      I have to say, the idea of deliberately trying to crash a rocket into an opponent’s orbiting space station sounds fun as heck.

  36. StephenCEI says:

    Someone needs to make sure the devs see this article.

    Also, machinima I stumbled across:
    Battle of Vulture’s Drift, something like this really needs to be part of campaign mode,

  37. megabyte says:

    Thank you for introducing me to Kerbal Space Program! I liked Minecraft, but KSP has really captured my imagination. I got my kid brother hooked on it as well.

    I have a 14 year old brother who is really smart, but doesn’t apply himself (you know, the stereo-typically stubborn teenager). I came home last weekend to visit the family (I live a couple hours away) with one goal: get him to play KSP. At first, he didn’t want to play, but I kept playing the game in front of him (and dramatically failing to make orbit more times than I care to say) until he broke down and went to install it on his computer.

  38. TheUnHidden says:

    I don’t know if you’re still playing Kerbal Space Program, but somebody had way to much time on his hand and fun with that game, trying to slam-dunk some rockets … in SPAAAAACE.
    Seriously, check it out:
    Kerbal Space Jam

  39. David K says:

    Sandbox mode will always exist in KSP. the guys producing the game come from a model rocket hobbyist background. this game is essentially a model rocket sandbox that takes it a step further than anything you can build in your own shop at home (SPAAAAAACCCCEEEEE). thats why campaign mode is only now being introduced when the game has come this far.

    i do think there will be other aspects introduced, such as having to actually take care of your kerbals in space by shipping rations or growing food in greenhouses on Mun, etc. but i somehow doubt the producers and the mod community (which is strongly supported by the producers, even inviting some modders to join the development team) will allow the most enjoyable part of the game to be removed.

  40. Tse says:

    And they finally added career mode. It consists of unlocking parts by doing science (observations by the crew, doing science experiments in space, getting samples). The bad thing about it is that initially you have no decouplers, meaning the only way to make a multi-stage rocket as your first one is blowing parts off.

    1. Nathon says:

      But blowing parts off is AWESOME. Seriously though, it takes so little science to get decouplers that you don’t even need to get to orbit.

  41. No2 says:

    Guys, by what i’m understanding they’re gonna add the monetary system BUT you can go back in time, meaning that money penalty is only if you’re fine with it but you can simply stop it by going back in time, but sort off, because of science points you’re gonna want sometime to not care of money loss and keep the valuable science points and still not go back in time, which sounds interesting.

  42. Squids117 says:

    I didn’t read the comments all the way through so I’m not sure if this is already there. If some people want to buy parts and some don’t, Squad should add something like this in one of their updates. (sorry if this looks weird I was trying to make a box out of text)

    ——————Start New Game—————–

    —–Player Name: _______ Flag:——

    —Game Mode:—O Sandbox————-
    ———————–O Career——————-

    ———-Difficulty:–O Money———————
    ——————–O [Other Option]—————
    ——————–O [Other Option]—————

    ————-The random info the always give———-
    ————–you about selected game mode———-


    To me this looks like a good idea… anyone agree???
    This is suppose to be the start new game menu.

  43. pranav135 says:

    Reading this after playing the game after career mode was implemented is uncanny. It is like the devs read this article on a random blog and thought it was a good idea and implemented exactly everything written here. I don’t know whether the ideas mentioned here were the only ways to make the game or not but reading this sure feels like either shamus saw what the devs were going to do and wrote about it or the devs saw what shamus had written and pit it in the game. Either way, it feels one stole from the other. (I know that everything mentioned here is not in the game but MOST of it is)

    1. Niriel says:

      Agreed, I had that feeling as well. I read this article before Science was introduced in the game, and was pleasantly surprised when it was.

      I am actually glad that the idea of upgrading parts didn’t make it into the game. Having the ‘same’ rocket with the ‘same’ parts behave differently is confusing. You load an old design and now you have to remove a fuel tank and limit the throttle because your engines became more efficient. Also, it makes it hard to talk with your friends: “I made it to Duna with 4 stages and these engines.”, so you do the same design and it doesn’t even leave Kerbin’s SOI. Meh.

      I’m happy with what Squad did.

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