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Xavven

Career Mode Progression and Game Design Analysis

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1. Why not put contracts in the tech tree, so if you go for "rocketry" you also (apart from the actual parts) unlock contracts about mun and minmus. Or if you go for "flight" you unlock contracts about surveys. That way it would be clear to a player what you are expected to do with that research node and at the same time keep the list of contracts clean from contracts you can't really complete. (the unlocking contracts should be shown as a thumbnail before you unlock the node, just as parts are today. Maybe the node would actually be called "moon explorations".) this might also make it easier balancing the tech tree. "When you unlock this node, all the parts should be there for you to make it to the mun."

This is such a sensible idea that I'm surprised I've never heard it mentioned before (maybe others here have). That makes all kinds of sense in terms of gameplay, leading new players through challenges that are directly correlated to the technology choices they've made. And it also makes some "realism" (ie. intuitive) sense in that the first thing an engineer is going to do with a new technology in hand is to dream up all the things that they can, in theory, do with that technology.

And of course many contracts could have dependencies linked to a variety of node combinations. For example a lot of the initial record-breaking goals make just as much sense with rockets as aircraft.

I still think you'd have to fix the tech tree itself significantly to provide much more granularity of selecting your approach, and much less arbitrary linking of unrelated parts, as well as really thinking through what parts depend on others to make sense. But that done, your contract approach could be pretty interesting.

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This is such a sensible idea that I'm surprised I've never heard it mentioned before (maybe others here have). That makes all kinds of sense in terms of gameplay, leading new players through challenges that are directly correlated to the technology choices they've made. And it also makes some "realism" (ie. intuitive) sense in that the first thing an engineer is going to do with a new technology in hand is to dream up all the things that they can, in theory, do with that technology.

And of course many contracts could have dependencies linked to a variety of node combinations. For example a lot of the initial record-breaking goals make just as much sense with rockets as aircraft.

I still think you'd have to fix the tech tree itself significantly to provide much more granularity of selecting your approach, and much less arbitrary linking of unrelated parts, as well as really thinking through what parts depend on others to make sense. But that done, your contract approach could be pretty interesting.

I think the problem is that you don't necessarily need those parts to do the contract. Its easy enough to do surveys with surborbital rockets; you can land on the moon without legs or a ladder (use the truss pieces for legs and your jetpack to reach the hatch).

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Great analysis. I'm playing on moderate but running into similar problems that you have. In contrast to moderate/hard in 0.90, science is the limiting resource now instead of funds.

Making orbit is tough without upgrades. You either need lots of really small fuel tanks (why did they have to put FL-T400 in the 45 node now?), which needs an upgraded VAB, or a cluster of SRBs, which are heavy and inefficient, which needs an upgraded launchpad. Luckily the speed and altitude records got me a hefty bit of cash at the start, which I used for these upgrades. My first orbital rocket used a Flea SRB as the final stage (stupid, I know, but I needed that orbit contract and I rescued the guy later when I got the EVA upgrade, I used his jetpack to push his pod back to suborbital).

Mun is a similar difficulty wall but not because of upgrades, because of science. Before you get to the Mun, there isn't enough science on Kerbin to use to unlock the 90 science nodes. Though as you said, these nodes are very useful for Mun landing. I had to use a very aerodynamically inefficient rocket to do the job. But, that first mission did get me some 600 science, which got me into most of the 90 science nodes, and I think it will get easier from here. I did have the astronaut complex and research tier 1 upgrades by then, using money from satellite contracts, so I was able to get many EVA reports and a surface sample.

My suggestion for improving contracts to reflect the player's progression is:

Only offer contracts for a body if the initial exploration contract is complete (the one that asks you to orbit and land and transmit science from both places)

Only offer rescue and tourism contracts for a body if at least 3 kerbals have been there.

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So you get tons of tourist contracts. TONS. You've done a few orbital missions, and now tourists are half the options. Then the rescues. You have world record altitude, but so does someone else, apparently. There is no sense to the entire contract system at all. 3d parties want "science" or station missions, your own program has none, and other programs are losing more astronauts than you have sent to space.

It feels slapdash.

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I think that the biggest problem is the massive brick wall of frustration that is the Tier 1 launchpad and the Tier 1 VAB, combined, (if I recall correctly) amounting to around 600,000 funds in Hard mode to upgrade, when the best-paying contract I've been given yet that I've been able to complete has been around 10k or 30k. I'm not limited in tech, I could make it to the Mun with my funds available for sure, I've got all the skills to make it there... but I can't. Because with the technology available, I simply cannot make a rocket less than 30 parts or the ridiculous 18 ton limit, that can make it much further than an orbit 300 kilometers x 80 kilometers.

But it's progress everywhere else. :)

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Excellent OP and some nice ideas in this thread.

Maybe tie building upgrades to 'milestones' and give them as reward, i don't know, make orbit -> get 1st tracking upgrade with some popupwindow and a short explanation for newer players.

As tip for early surveys and lacking ladders .. the kerbals can climb now :wink:

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I think that the biggest problem is the massive brick wall of frustration that is the Tier 1 launchpad and the Tier 1 VAB, combined, (if I recall correctly) amounting to around 600,000 funds in Hard mode to upgrade, when the best-paying contract I've been given yet that I've been able to complete has been around 10k or 30k.

Of all the problems with 1.0, this is the one I'm okay with. That's what the gate slider is for! Normal, Easy, or Hard... efficiency is the entire purpose of these difficulties right now. There is no purpose for the difficulty ratings other than these particular concerns.

If it's "grindy" at a certain level for you (and, yes, it certainly is for both of us at hard!) then it needs to be dropped back. Complaining about gains when the level control sliders give you choices is not the purpose of this discussion. The discussion, and I sincerely hope the result of the megamind, is about how progression should move forward. Not WHEN you can move forward, that's the different discussion. But WHEN you can, what CAN you do with intelligence and proper components.

"A poor craftsman blames his tools." Bugger on that. I did an 18t Mun Landing with no upgrades in 0.90.0. I figured it out. Who cares? This isn't about what WE can do, the people who populate this forum and understand how the game works and what's changed.

This is about the poor souls who said "Hey, they're done mucking around and it's finally ready for the rest of us! Let's dive in!"... and those folks finding out the layout is equivalent to a checkerboard previously setup by a 5 year old.

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Of all the problems with 1.0, this is the one I'm okay with. That's what the gate slider is for! Normal, Easy, or Hard... efficiency is the entire purpose of these difficulties right now. There is no purpose for the difficulty ratings other than these particular concerns.

If it's "grindy" at a certain level for you (and, yes, it certainly is for both of us at hard!) then it needs to be dropped back. Complaining about gains when the level control sliders give you choices is not the purpose of this discussion. The discussion, and I sincerely hope the result of the megamind, is about how progression should move forward. Not WHEN you can move forward, that's the different discussion. But WHEN you can, what CAN you do with intelligence and proper components.

The ability for the end user to tweak custom settings does not mean that all balance concerns should go out the window, and it is very much a part of a discussion on progression. As you point out, this isn't about experienced people who know what needs tweaking, this is about the people who pick up the game fresh, click right on through with Normal difficulty, and run into annoyance right out of the gate. This is just as much of an issue as the mess in the current tech tree.

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Any other career mode players kinda bummed that all the resource extraction stuff is waaaay at the end of the tech tree?

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Any other career mode players kinda bummed that all the resource extraction stuff is waaaay at the end of the tech tree?

Resource extraction? Heck, I'll be happy when I finally get my first ladder!

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Here are some of my version 1.0 observations and suggestions with regards to Career mode on "Hard", default "hard" settings. My conclusion is that there are a few minor tweaks that can be made that will have a large positive effect on the progressive challenge of career mode, and smooth out some of the difficulty spikes. I will say that I should probably try this out on "Normal" difficulty to compare and see if I encounter the same difficulty spikes. Counterbalancing that is the fact that I'm already an expert player, so I may not see difficulty spikes on the lower difficulties whereas a new player might. Not sure what to say other than to compare notes with the community (you guys!)

Good early game

The first 30 minutes of gameplay seems to guide the player well, and gives the player enough money to be able to experiment and fail. This is because of the huge money influx from all the World First altitude, distance, and speed records. The Flea booster might need its thrust toned down a bit, though. I launch with 20% thrust to achieve around a 1.5 TWR on my first couple of crafts. 100% thrust yields 11 g of acceleration (too much for a beginner's first launch).

It is reasonably easy to unlock the set of 15-20 science nodes of General Rocketry, Stability, and Survivability. Game progression up to this point seems well thought out, and smooth. Once the aforementioned nodes were unlocked, however, I encountered the first difficulty spike.

The first difficulty spike

The next logical step at this point is to achieve a stable orbit, but this is best achieved with the Terrier engine in your upper stage, which is unfortunately locked away in a 45 science tier.

During beta, the old tech tree had the LV-909 in the 15 science "Survivability" node, which facilitated the player making orbit at this stage of the career progression. Instead, I found I had to use 6 FL-T200 fuel tanks on a Swivel engine as the upper stage, which is not efficient at all when the player has such a light payload in early game (usually just a Mk1 Command Pod and a parachute). While I could make it work (as an experienced player), it was a harder design challenge during a point in the game where you want the challenges to be gentle on a new player. Admittedly, I am playing this on "Hard" so what should I expect? Duh, right? I will say however that the old tech tree had the LV-909 in the right place whereas I don't believe the new tree does.

This is also about the time where tourism contracts are appearing, but the Mk1 Inline Cockpit is also sealed away in a 45 science node. Stacking two Mk1 Command Pods on top of one another just looks completely silly.

This is also about the time where Kerbin survey contracts are appearing, but the Aviation node is sealed away at 45 science, too. What's worse, some of these contracts want surface reports, which requires precision landing. Planes are harder to design than rockets, and a new player probably cannot precision land an early plane on rough terrain. Not good contracts for a beginner to take.

No, at this point in the progression, the game should probably be nudging a newbie player in the direction of getting comfortable with making orbit and getting a Mun flyby down, followed by a Mun orbit. This is where the second problem arises:

The Mun difficulty spike

There are three, maybe four key tools that a newbie needs to achieve an early-game Mun flyby successfully:

  1. The Terrier engine in the upper stage
  2. One launchpad upgrade
  3. Patched conics
  4. Maneuver nodes

Unfortunately, the player does not quite have all of these things by the time the Mun is the next target. Ironically, it is the expert player that is able to overcome an early Mun mission because s/he has memorized the correct phase angle to begin burning prograde, already knows how burning prograde will affect the shape of the orbit, and can eyeball a Mun intercept without patched conics. AND the expert player further has memorized when to burn retrograde for Mun orbital insertion, and when to burn prograde again to leave Mun's SOI retrograde with respect to Kerbin in order to successfully return. This, at a time when a newbie player needs to learn these valuable skills. As an expert player, I managed to handle this Mun flyby, but I immediately recognized the problem with this game design:

When you teach someone to ride a bike, you put the training wheels on first, and then take them off once the learner has gained sufficient skill. I have found KSP to be doing this backwards -- without patched conics and maneuver nodes it's like trying to learn how to ride a regular bike with no hands first, and once you have mastered that you get the handlebars and training wheels.

No, the building upgrades should instead act as GATES that the player must unlock before seeking greater challenges, and those gates must be timed with the player's progression. Here's what I suggest: patched conics and maneuver nodes should be immediately available in the tier 0 buildings, but only work in the Kerbin system. In order to get patched conics in the neighboring systems of Eve and Duna, the tracking station and mission control must be upgraded. There's even a good excuse to explain this: the tier 0 radar dishes on the tracking station aren't sensitive enough to work at long ranges, and upgrading them gets you patched conics farther out in the system.

Tech tree logical progression suggestions

Parts seem to be a little bit too scattered at the moment. For example, the Rockomax Brand Decoupler (2.5m decoupler) is under "General Construction", the Poodle and Skipper are in "Heavy Rocketry" without any 2.5m fuel tanks at all, and the 2.5m fuel tanks are in Fuel Systems. The problem with this is that parts from three different nodes all must be used in concert, or else none of them are individually useful at all.

Instead, I suggest thinking about what the player might be trying to achieve and grouping those parts together. For example, "the player's objective is to begin using 2.5m rockets" so the first node contains the Skipper, a 2.5m fuel tank, a 2.5m decoupler, and a 1.25m -> 2.5m adapter. The Poodle can be locked away in the next node, and the Mainsail in the next. Actually, Squad did a great job with the Aviation node in following this line of thinking, as well as the resource scanning and ISRU progression at the end of the tree.

Proper progression is most important in the early game when the player's options are limited, however. You can get away with some poor progression later on in the tech tree because by then, the player has plenty of different contracts to choose from and complete. Early to mid game, though? Whew... No, this is where it needs to be MOST polished.

Another example of poor tech tree placement is the Micro Landing Gear in the Survivability node. At that stage of the career, all of the engines the player has are physically too long, and the micro landing gear doesn't reach past the bell nozzle! I'm better off using makeshift girder landing legs, but this is not something a new player would be expected to try. Instead, they are given a counter-intuitive part.

Another example is the science lab being grouped with extendable ladders. These are in no way related from a player intent point of view.

Okay, enough tech tree bashing. Let's get back to contracts.

Rescue contracts

In order to pull off a successful Rescue from Orbit contract, the player needs:

  1. Maneuver nodes
  2. A lot of delta-v to execute rendezvous, which requires...
  3. An upgraded VAB

The first rescue contract I accepted was in a high orbit (almost at Mun level) and was inclined. This meant I needed not only 3,500 delta-v to get to LKO, but also another 2,400 to correct the orbital plane and execute the rendezvous (I tried my best to launch into the right plane from the get go but still was off by 5 degrees) . Now I'm no slouch -- I've got a manned Eve return and Jool-5 under my belt, but I honestly can't eyeball an orbital rendezvous with a ship without maneuver nodes.

In addition, early game is tough because you have limited parts to work with. If I need more delta-v in early game, I can't just bring out the big guns (Skipper to Mainsail to Rhino (KR-2L), etc.) like I usually do. Instead, I have to use clusters of Reliants (LV-T30). This means more engines, more tanks, more radial decouplers, more nosecones, and struts to keep the radial bits stable. I quickly run into the VAB part limit.

My suggestion is to wait until later to start offering rescue contracts. Perhaps the player also needs a cheaper VAB upgrade to bump the part count restriction up a little, as the first upgrade is both too expensive and too much of a step in allowed size and part count -- we need an intermediate step between them.

Okay, this is already getting too long, so I'll stop here. What do you think? Have you noticed anything similar? Or do you think I'm just on "Hard" and should shaddap about it? :)

Originally I would say i saw you're point of view 100%. Now after a 2nd day of KSP (on career hard) I'm sorta digging it more. I managed to do a pretty extreme orbital rescue, without an upgraded VAB and no maneuver nodes unlocked yet :). This was pretty hard (for an experienced player) but not impossible! At this point my perspective sorta shifted. Yes the buildings are grindy to unlock BUT career mode is actually "HARD" now... I have to really be careful with launches, and my space program can be put into the red if i don't managed funds wisely. I need to very carefully pick my next tech, which items i want to unlock, and REALLY think hard in terms of which facility upgrade i need to do next, because facilities are not cheap! I'm also VERY protective about my Kerbal pool, losing a scientist early on has caused me no end of pain, and motivated me to attempt more orbital rescues in hopes of rescuing one!

Perhaps i'll flip back after another day ;) Hang in there, give it some more time! I've done a return to the mun, and saving pennies still to upgrade the VAB and trying to rescue me a scientist. This is a LOT slower than hard mode in .90 and older, but try to take it as an ongoing journey, don't worry about maxing the tech tree in a weekend like you used to :D

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Excellent post, thanks.

Alot of the replies are pointing out that playing the game in career mode is possible for an experienced player and to keep trying yada yada. Thats not the point. The point is, this game should be accessible and doable by new players. And its really not at the moment.

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Originally I would say i saw you're point of view 100%. Now after a 2nd day of KSP (on career hard) I'm sorta digging it more. I managed to do a pretty extreme orbital rescue, without an upgraded VAB and no maneuver nodes unlocked yet :). This was pretty hard (for an experienced player) but not impossible! At this point my perspective sorta shifted. Yes the buildings are grindy to unlock BUT career mode is actually "HARD" now... I have to really be careful with launches, and my space program can be put into the red if i don't managed funds wisely. I need to very carefully pick my next tech, which items i want to unlock, and REALLY think hard in terms of which facility upgrade i need to do next, because facilities are not cheap! I'm also VERY protective about my Kerbal pool, losing a scientist early on has caused me no end of pain, and motivated me to attempt more orbital rescues in hopes of rescuing one!

Perhaps i'll flip back after another day ;) Hang in there, give it some more time! I've done a return to the mun, and saving pennies still to upgrade the VAB and trying to rescue me a scientist. This is a LOT slower than hard mode in .90 and older, but try to take it as an ongoing journey, don't worry about maxing the tech tree in a weekend like you used to :D

Excellent post, thanks.

Alot of the replies are pointing out that playing the game in career mode is possible for an experienced player and to keep trying yada yada. Thats not the point. The point is, this game should be accessible and doable by new players. And its really not at the moment.

Yup, that's my opinion as well at this point. I'm not worried about me or the old hands at this. I'm worried about the newbies and their frustration levels in the early game.

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I'm playing around with the Fund Penalties slider at the moment (which also set the building costs), to see if having a half-decent career mode is as simple as that. There are more fundamental problems here that can't be so easily fixed, but the changes to Career mode meant that I basically gave up on KSP 0.90, and I don't want to do that again.

I think the first VAB upgrade is 450,000 on Hard career (200%), so the slider minimum would be 22,500 (10%). It seems to make sense for the upgrade costs to be roughly in line with a rocket launch of similar level - so that's about 100,000 for a Mun trip, or 50% on the slider. I could see the argument with having a Hard career with 100% funds penalty as well, or even 10% and basically removing the upgrade mechanic altogether (except where money is especially tight - as with buying parts) - I'm testing this extreme now.

This will also make the Funds penalty for abandoning missions easier, but that's a relatively minor thing, and you still take the 200% Reputation hit for vaporising a bus-load of tourists.

You can argue that "Hard is supposed to be Hard", but it seems like the building upgrade costs are what creates the grind (since you need to create an arbitrary amount of money to progress), and grinding is not what Space programs are about, at least in the romantic ideal. Progress in space seems to have a narrative that's full of Hail Mary passes and last-minute saves, triumph and disaster - Werner Von Braun's plans for spreading into the solar system, Apollo 8, 2001: A Space Odyssey... these aren't repetitive actions with incremental achievement, these are the brave and the bold throwing caution to the wind to conquer the unknown.

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Grinding is a thing in KSP because the only mechanism to secure funds is the contract process. A budget system would allow for more concentration on "space program," and less on the grind.

1. Make time a thing. I suggest a Minmus month (50 kerbin days, I'll call it a "Minmonth") as a basic budget unit. Add a "warp to next fiscal month" next to the warp to morning button.

2. Have the "space program" missions (explore and many other science or base missions) come with all funds in advance, but paid per Minmonth. So you take a 30 Minmonth contract to Explore the Mun, and the 300k budget is paid 10k per month. You can take commercial contracts to boost funds as per now, or you can warp a few months if need be (say to get funds to upgrade a facility).

This would change the dynamic from grinding contracts to selecting a goal, then working towards it.

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Not really sure why people feel they need the terrier to get to orbit or even to the Mun, sure it's a bit better on fuel and lighter but it's not strictly required.

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Grinding is a thing in KSP because the only mechanism to secure funds is the contract process. A budget system would allow for more concentration on "space program," and less on the grind.

1. Make time a thing. I suggest a Minmus month (50 kerbin days, I'll call it a "Minmonth") as a basic budget unit. Add a "warp to next fiscal month" next to the warp to morning button.

2. Have the "space program" missions (explore and many other science or base missions) come with all funds in advance, but paid per Minmonth. So you take a 30 Minmonth contract to Explore the Mun, and the 300k budget is paid 10k per month. You can take commercial contracts to boost funds as per now, or you can warp a few months if need be (say to get funds to upgrade a facility).

This would change the dynamic from grinding contracts to selecting a goal, then working towards it.

Yes. I really like the idea of making time meaningful.

Things that could cost time (ie. you need to burn time to get them):

  • Technology developments
  • Flight time to distant objects
  • Receiving regular "budget" payments
  • Performing long-term science in space

Things that could make you want to avoid burning time:

  • Running out the time limit on contracts you've taken
  • Missing a fixed window on limited-time contracts
  • Meeting certain required per-year/quarter program goals in order to receive regular budget payments
  • Missing launch windows to distant objects

I'd love to see things like this balanced in order to give the player incentive to both run multiple missions at once, but also need to burn time in the right way in order to get things done. Burn a few years without doing anything in order to get better technology or hit a special launch window and you'll lose all your funding, but pack too many missions in quickly and you'll run out of money and have no new technology. You'll have to actually do a little bit of planning on what you're going to do when: Figure out how you're going to do your contracts for funding, and then look at what you can plan around that, like get an ambitious mission going that will generate science over a long period of time, and then do a couple of quick launches for cash or prestige over the course of a year while the long-term mission flies.

That's a space program!

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I think technology unlocks should be adapted to difficulty. Give the beginners parts that make it easier to get to each stage and give the experienced pilots a challenge.

I haven't seen the 1.0 tech tree yet but in the 0.9 tech tree and career I completed a rescue mission with no upgrades (I think) and the moon with just a couple unlocks and either one or no launchpad upgrades. It was a pain but was possible which I want on harder difficulties.

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Another issue I'd like to bring up:

Probe Cores

Early in the tech tree, the player gets access to the Stayputnik. "Great!" the player thinks. "I can use one of these for a one-way Mun shot!" The issue I've run into is that the Stayputnik apparently overheats and explodes during launch. I use the word "apparently" because there isn't actually any feedback to the player that overheating is happening. In my experience, the Stayputnik tends to just 'Pop!' around ~35k km with no warning and no re-entry effects observed.

Obviously slapping a spherical probe core on top of a rocket isn't an optimal solution, but the issue here is that the player is left with no other alternative. Protective fairings are a long way down the tech tree, and the Stayputnik won't fit inside the small storage bay that we get early on. Additionally, the game doesn't allow you to place the small nose cone on top of the Stayputnik (What's the point of that nose cone, again?).

So the two issues I see here are:

1) Inconsistent / Lack of feedback to the player with regard to part heating.

2) The tech tree presents problems which the player cannot solve with the given tools.

For what it's worth, I was able to get my probe into orbit by throttling back and using a steeper accent trajectory, but I only knew to do that from reading the forums and understanding the idiosyncrasies of the new aero model.

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I really like this ideas a lot. This could also justify a buildup time for rockets and planes in career. So it will take some days up to some months for assembling and preparing the launchsite.

This could be fun, but in case of assembling time a simlulation mode would be required, to be able to test constructions before actually lining them in for construction and mission control

Yes. I really like the idea of making time meaningful.

Things that could cost time (ie. you need to burn time to get them):

  • Technology developments
  • Flight time to distant objects
  • Receiving regular "budget" payments
  • Performing long-term science in space

Things that could make you want to avoid burning time:

  • Running out the time limit on contracts you've taken
  • Missing a fixed window on limited-time contracts
  • Meeting certain required per-year/quarter program goals in order to receive regular budget payments
  • Missing launch windows to distant objects

I'd love to see things like this balanced in order to give the player incentive to both run multiple missions at once, but also need to burn time in the right way in order to get things done. Burn a few years without doing anything in order to get better technology or hit a special launch window and you'll lose all your funding, but pack too many missions in quickly and you'll run out of money and have no new technology. You'll have to actually do a little bit of planning on what you're going to do when: Figure out how you're going to do your contracts for funding, and then look at what you can plan around that, like get an ambitious mission going that will generate science over a long period of time, and then do a couple of quick launches for cash or prestige over the course of a year while the long-term mission flies.

That's a space program!

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Not really sure why people feel they need the terrier to get to orbit or even to the Mun, sure it's a bit better on fuel and lighter but it's not strictly required.

It's not necessary at all. A good pilot can make it to the Mun and back on spit and duct tape. It just seems odd that such significant engineering and navigation challenges are introduced so early in the career mode. Most games start off easy and get harder as you progress.

Now, there's a second school of thought of course in which challenges are exchanged as the game progresses. Let's say we make it hard to get into orbit. Once you've mastered that and brought home the science to prove it, we give you the tools to make it easy. We're cool with that because now you'll want to go to the Mun, which is what we've made hard at this point in the game. Tackled the Mun? Good. Here's some tools to make that easy from now on. Best of luck getting to Minmus. And so forth. The "Better Than Starting Manned" mod is a great example of this principle (certainly a lot tougher than what you may want to throw at a new player, but I'm talking about the principle here).

Looking at the current progression it seems that this is sort of what the devs are after, it's just not paced right and there is too little explanation in game as to how stuff works. People who don't mind perusing Youtube for a few hours should be able to figure it out but I really feel the game should introduce and explain these things. And it should do so in-game, at sensible points during the career mode using optional tutorial sessions seamlessly integrated into the game experience. It is 2015 after all ;)

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OK, here are my thoughts to this:

A newbie will probably start on Easy settings. That yields enough science by the time those "problematic" contracts showed up in your career, to unlock 1 or even 2 45 science nodes. Also enough Funds to upgrade buildings. I started a new career today with Money and Science on normal default settings, and my first launch was already suborbital. Yes, of course I am a veteran by now, and I "abused" the launch pad and runway science to unlock the first nodes without ever launching, but in all seriousness, on easy settings you'd probably be able to fail a couple of times without it impacting your progress much.

The thing is, the "hard" difficulty makes it SEEM like the tech tree makes less sense than it actually does. Hard actually does a great job in limiting you by giving you less science and funds to play with, so you don't get to unlock 2 or 3 nodes you need to have at once. The difficulty options actually work REALLY well in that regard. I am pretty sure a newbie playing on easy will not run into a difficulty wall. At least not in the way you put it. Sure, KSP has more of a learnig wall than a learning curve, we all know that, but if you have problems in career, there is still Sandbox mode to play around and try stuff until you know what you're doing.

Also, I for my part like the new tech tree a whole lot more than the old one.

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So you get tons of tourist contracts. TONS. You've done a few orbital missions, and now tourists are half the options. Then the rescues. You have world record altitude, but so does someone else, apparently. There is no sense to the entire contract system at all. 3d parties want "science" or station missions, your own program has none, and other programs are losing more astronauts than you have sent to space.

It feels slapdash.

Wow, THAT.

Plus, I've said this someplace else, but I really think the part count limit is arbitrary, feels dumb, and grinds the game unnecessarily.

VAB level limits action groups, that's good enough. Launchpad level limits ship size.

My main concern is the techtree, which as many already pointed out makes no sense.

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Science has always been grindy, career makes it moreso. I've been playing the game for quite a long time, but I've never bothered to get past about tier 3 in a "normal" career (ie, not including the single-launch-for-the-entire-tree-just-for-lulz a few versions back). I agree that there are odd choices in the tech tree progression, odd choices with the career options, odd choices with the upgrade order, and a fair number of GUI annoyances like the tiny contract window, not being able to see the exact requirements (parts/locations) in the contract building, and so on.

But in the end, even looking past all of that, it just doesn't hold my interest. It just doesn't add any fun gameplay over and above the gameplay in sandbox.

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A newbie will probably start on Easy settings.
Nobody in the history of mankind has ever started a game on Easy, especially not when there's a Normal. Not even in Touhou.
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