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This suggestion takes inspiration from several discussions about terrain and wheels etc. and more recently something I suggested on the thread about the tier 1 runway.  So it's more of a collection of ideas from different sources brought together than a radical new concept.

Ok...  How about assigning a couple of 'variables' to each biome to give variations in surface properties.

The FIRST I will call 'Texture' (as I can't think of a better name yet) and it essentially describes the general surface make up of the biome and is primarily descriptive using terms like...

Rock or Ice to indicate expose solid stone or Ice surfaces.

Fine Dust, Loose Sand, Gravel etc to indicate different grades of loose surfaces.

Firm Sand, Compacted Soil etc could indicate firmer, but not solid surfaces.

Grass, Rough Grass, Scrubland etc to indicate different types of vegetation ground cover

Etc, etc,

So, for example 'Ice' would be used for Kerbin or Duna polar regions, Loose Sand could represent the desert.

Each one of these categories will come with a constant 'modifier' that effectively adjusts the friction property of landing gear and wheels etc so can be used to vary how 'grippy or slidey' the surface is overall.

 

The SECOND I will call 'Roughness', (think of this as a bit like invisible ground scatter) and this is a measure how bumpy or uneven the surface is and would be used to indicate things like rocks, holes or soft patches on the surface that would be too small to be represented graphically, that may present a risk when traversing the surface.

This would add a random modifier to the 'wheel stress' multiplied by speed, to that crossing moderately rough terrain at low speeds is not particularly risky, but go faster and the risk increases in proportion.

 

Both of these could be used in any combination, depending on the biome, to give a wide variety of different surface qualities.  Soft Sand with lots of biggish rocks, fine dust with no significant imperfections etc.

Both of these properties could be discoverable by transmitting a 'surface survey' or EVA report from the biome. this would then mean that by landing a probe at a prospective landing site you could get a 'heads up' as to what type of landing gear or wheels you will need when you next go and explore, or whether it is likely to be a safe landing area or not.  In other words, proper science that gives useful information for future missions, and a (hopefully) relatively easy way to give different qualities and risks to otherwise very similar surfaces.

 

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You should include such a roughness/friction only if you aim to make the surface of the planets more realistic - and that would almost certainly mean that you'd make take-off and landing outside the KSC (and maybe a few other spots) extremely difficult.

As we all know especially Earth-like planets with vegetation are rather difficult to land on: any horizontal landing is likely a crash landing unless you have a runway, and real-world vertical landings can be problematic too due to rocks or trees/forests. So, to me the question is not whether this can be implemented, but whether it would improve gameplay?

I'd say this would be a nice mod to provide experienced players with a new challenge, but should not be implemented directly into the stock game to keep the game playable for newbies. My fear would be that the learning curve becomes even more steep if this is part of the stock game.

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The roughness factor could allow landing legs nearly anywhere flat, frankly as a nod to gameplay. For vertical landing, you'd need to be able to steer around things, so the hazards would have to be visible. Realistically, it's easy to tell where you can land a "real" spaceplane---its the thing with lines painted on it.

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Well yes, the basic idea was to make it more realistic, in that landing anywhere on unprepared ground is riskier than on a prepared surface, more so if you are on unfamiliar territory.   If you intend to do that then design and fly accordingly. 

I don't anticipate a huge jump between the runway and the grass at KSC for example.  But enough of a difference to strongly encourage landing on the runway, and the bigger the plane and the faster it lands the riskier it becomes.

I don't envisage the 'roughness' representing big boulders etc (that's in the realms of terrain scatter with collision meshes), but more surface unevennesses and lumps and bumps upto the size of maybe a breeze block, big enough to wreck your day if you are being careless, but not so big as to punish everything.

Things of that size could be possibly  be implied by the terrain image used to some degree. 

As @tater said vertical landings would be hardly affected, if at all.

NASA studied the moon looking for suitable sites before they went to get an idea if what the surface was like, but they still didn't know exactly what to expect at any given site until they landed.  They had to design and plan the mission accordingly. 

The KSPedia should explain how it works anyway,  and it's not unreasonable that the Kerbals also would know the values for most of Kerbin, if not all of it, to let players see how it works.  But essentially it should be fairly intuitive, if the ground looks like it might be a bit rough take more care.

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