KSP player learning curve

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I'm doing a project for school about the educational merits of KSP, and I was wondering: how do players usually expand their knowledge and  expertise, and which missions do people usually do in sequence? I've already gone through this process, but I honestly don't remember what I did to get into actually playing the game instead of fooling around...

Plus, I'm trying to link KSP player expansion to IRL rocket science history.

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Obligatory XKCD mention:

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For me it was pretty simple.  Once I wanted to go to the Mun and farther I realized petty quickly I'd need to be able to calculate dV unless I wanted to over engineer (and over spend once money became a thing) everything.  So I looked up dV on this forum to find the equations and examples.  Then I go look up dV on Wekipedia, NASA etc. to see how doing it in KSP compares to real life.  And from there it just keeps happening, I run into some obstacle. look up the KSP solution and compare it to real life and so on--like Hohmann transfers (and usually having done it the KSP way sets you up for understanding how it works in real life even though things may be simpler in KSP).  It's also nice for bushing up on mathematics skills that I've let get a tad rusty.

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I built the smallest rocket that would fly, then on successive flights I added parts and stages to see what worked and what didn't.

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1 hour ago, Dragonwarp said:

Pics of what?

And are you talking about the learning curve of game mechanics or orbital mechanics?

You can follow the progression by researching the game's own evolution.  Even without map view, orbit planner, or any clue how, people tried to reach orbit.  Some had to discover this meant going sideways, not just up.  The navball and velocity indicators were the only tools we had, and everyone who wanted to orbit quickly learned what prograde, retrograde, apostasis and peristasis were (we could not see apostasis/peristasis in-game, but could measure them by watching the altitude indicator).

Following that was a long drought while we waited for the mun to be implemented.  We wanted a mun so badly that someone modded in a huge chunk of concrete and people competed to see who'd be the first one to put this "moon" in orbit.  The modder never expected anyone to succeed, but of course, someone did...

Once the real mun was added, this forum quickly established rules-of-thumb for getting on a vector to the moon, and players faced their next big challenge:  Landing.  Just stopping dead in orbit would work on Kerbin but is wasteful somewhere parachutes don't work.  And the the difference between orbital and surface velocity was suddenly important.  Didn't have to worry about orbital rotation until then!

And after landing, my primitive craft couldn't leave!  It didn't have enough delta-V.  How much fuel is how much delta-V and how much is needed to get to the mun, then back?  You could just keep building bigger, and lots of us did, but the smarter ones built small, ran the numbers, and made the round trip with craft of surprisingly small size.

Then docking was added to the game, and more navball features for intercepts.  This was similar to surface mode, and switched to the same way, except the target was moving.  This was about when the orbit planner was added if I recall.

So that's the progression I learned, anyway.

Edited by Corona688

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2 hours ago, Dragonwarp said:

but I honestly don't remember what I did to get into actually playing the game instead of fooling around

Fooling around is what taught me the most. Forget missions and contracts, nothing takes you to school quite like setting yourself a crazy goal and belligerently setting out to achieve it (although this approach may result in severe sleep deprivation). I don't rate missions/contracts as a learning tool, in fact I've found them rather stunting.

I would play in standbox, pick an RL mission (Apollo 11 is a good one) and attempt to recreate it. At first purely based on aesthetics; what did the RL rocket look like? what key parts/features did it have? and build to that. Then attempt to fly it, fail, contemplate why it failed and tweak the design, repeat. I think the trial and error approach is a great analogy to the RL process.

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Best way to learn the game is to go outside the game.  Contracts won't teach you anything.  Game won't show you any numbers.  Tutorials might be better at this point.  Let's face it.  Most people don't check out tutorials unless they're built into a campaign.  Personally, I learned from YouTubers.

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I started with career mode ... mountains of 'could be improved' have been written about it, but, throwing a new player into Sandbox with 100's of parts is quite daunting. Career mode gives you some basic parts, and as you gradually unlock parts (another mountain of comments about tech tree here) you expand your understanding of their interactions.

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Quoted from the Atomic Rockets website "Seal of Approval" page:

Educational

What amazes me is how this addictive little game teaches the players how to think about astronautics intuitively. You may not know the equations, but you'll soon learn to know at a gut level what will work, what will not, and what is sort of risky.

This is very important for science fiction writers who want their astronautics to be accurate. Trying to cram space flight facts into your head probably will not work very well. If one instead just plays KSP for a while, you will instinctively know what will and will not work. That is, you'll know it fast enough so it will not interfere with you creating the plot or otherwise derailing your creative process. You will also learn such useful facts as the bare minimum of spacecraft pilot controls consists of only a throttle, rotation/translation controls, a NavBall, and a solar system map. If you perform some orbit to orbit maneuvers, you will learn why astrogators are so obsessive about the accuracy of their chronometers. Mistiming your transfer burns can have serious consequences.

A player named GreatBeast666 wrote how after playing the game for a while and creating more and more complicated rockets, he suddenly came to notice the need for a fuel-station in space. Now here on my website, I have mentioned the need for orbital propellant depots. However, trying to teach somebody a concept by talking at them will often result in their eyes glazing over and the concept will just ricochet off their brain. Discovering the concept on their own results in knowledge they will never forget. The need for orbital depots is nowhere mentioned in the game, it is an emergent behaviour that results from accurately simulating the real-life problems faced by real-life rocket designers.

In orbital mechanics, it is a standard fact that "change of plane" maneuvers take a very large amount of delta v to perform, and most mission planners try to avoid them whenever possible to conserve fuel. Most students immediately forget that fact because it is boring. However, I read the lamentations of a KSP player. He had managed to get a Kerbal in a rocket into a polar orbit, then ran out of propellant. When it came to mounting a rescue mission, he suddenly found out the hard way that it was very very difficult designing a rocket capable of rescuing the Kerbal. Rockets launch into equitorial orbits, you need a change-of-plane to move into a polar orbit. The student has forgotten about the expense of change-of-plane maneuvers, because they never need that fact. But for the KSP player, having one's Kerbal trapped in orbit as one struggles trying to make a rescue rocket with enough delta V will sear the facts into your memory forever.﻿

Kerbal mod-makers are also either inspired by NASA solutions or independently invent the same solutions because KSP presents them with identical problems. I have written about the advantages of in-situ resource utilization, a mod-maker named Majiir created the Kethane mod, which brings such resources to the game. NASA worked on the concept of a Wet workshop, which is the idea of using a spent rocket stage as a makeshift space station. KSP developer NovaSilisko is working on a mod to bring this useful idea into the game.

A father named Nikolai had been inspired by this Atomic Rocket website to try to make basics of rocket science understandable to kids (modest cough, he was impressed by this website's conversational and engaging writing style). He had tried teaching classes but they were less than successful due to lack of proper tools. And then he discovered KSP. It worked beyond his wildest dreams.

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1 hour ago, klgraham1013 said:

Game won't show you any numbers.

The game gives you all of the numbers, it just doesn't do the maths for you.

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10 hours ago, Norcalplanner said:

Quoted from the Atomic Rockets website "Seal of Approval" page:Educational

Rockets launch into equatorial orbits, you need a change-of-plane to move into a polar orbit.

No reason you can't launch straight into a polar orbit.  The space shuttle was specced for polar orbit and can't have carried enough fuel for a 90 degree plane change.  It takes a bit more fuel since you don't benefit from the earth's rotation, but nowhere near as much as a large plane change.

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19 hours ago, Corona688 said:

Pics of what?﻿

And are you talking about the learning curve of game mechanics or orbital mechanics?﻿

Just pics of the events.

The learning curve of the orbital mechanics, rocketry, and just general realism.

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Half of what KSP is teaches you orbital mechanics through trial and error. The other half is it simply engages your brain to be interesting in those mechanics, so you'll go and look it up yourself. Honestly, the mission system in game doesn't do much of use.

Probably the most interesting moment I've ever had in KSP was when it allowed me to understand a physics concept that had eluded my understanding for years: gyroscopic precision. Playing around and getting to understand orbits I suddenly and intuitively realized how gyroscopic motion works. And after multiple attempts to understand it in other fashions had completely failed, suddenly understanding it was a legitimate adrenaline rush.

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Well, it teaches you some of the major obstacles that the real space pioneers faced, and in some cases still do face.

I'm constantly amazed at the mistakes I make, and thrilled when I realize that real spacecraft and missions have done exactly what I did wrong.

I've shown a few friends a couple of launches and they are routinely surprised at how complex of an idea attaining an orbit is. These are people with advanced degree's that just never thought about this stuff. The difference between getting to space (sub-orbital) and staying in space (orbital), as well as seeing and perhaps understanding for the first time exactly what Geostationary orbit consists of. Don't get me started on relative speeds and docking.

Physics theory in general become far more accessible after spending time playing this game.

Relating real world analogs to game, or theory.

The usefulness of the complex maths. This alone should have educators interested in KSP. The usefulness of Excel spread sheets in handling the data.

As useful as orbital mechanics are in daily life, this game teaches you important basics of some very complex ideas.

The fact finding and resource searching that all KSP players eventually need to do to overcome obstacles in the game. Like what you are doing now by finding this forum and asking questions.

I would also add the exposure to an online community of people who are supportive and helpful, and not the typical online crowd.

I expect that most educators would be excited to see this game, once they realised the potential for inducing the joy of learning.

Cheers!

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16 hours ago, Kek-tus said:

From your graph I see that you were learning rapidly at first but something happened to make you forgetful and you actually started losing knowledge at a great pace. Then recently you must have discovered time travel which in an of itself increased your knowledge of the subject immensely. You travelled back almost to the beginning forgetting stuff along the way.  You obviously knew your weaknesses because as you started your education again back in the forward time stream you learned a lot and this must have made you go back in time again and cover parts you had missed. At last, thanks to a dodgy quantum capacitor and some cases where you clearly didn't know if you were coming or going, you ended up a genius. Well done!

Can I borrow your machine? Only I have a bunch of betting slips that aren't any good because, silly me, I bought the wrong ones. I'd really like to rectify that mistake.

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3 hours ago, Daveroski said:

From your graph I see that you were learning rapidly at first but something happened to make you forgetful and you actually started losing knowledge at a great pace. Then recently you must have discovered time travel which in an of itself increased your knowledge of the subject immensely. You travelled back almost to the beginning forgetting stuff along the way.  You obviously knew your weaknesses because as you started your education again back in the forward time stream you learned a lot and this must have made you go back in time again and cover parts you had missed. At last, thanks to a dodgy quantum capacitor and some cases where you clearly didn't know if you were coming or going, you ended up a genius. Well done!

Can I borrow your machine? Only I have a bunch of betting slips that aren't any good because, silly me, I bought the wrong ones. I'd really like to rectify that mistake.

I lost it in the middle of my paperwork, sorry

Edited by Kek-tus

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I started with orbit, then I went for landings on the Mun and Minmus, and then went and got the full game and messed around with space shuttles a lot. With those I figured out what an efficient gravity turn is like, docking came surprisingly easily, and I think I know almost by feel if a plane will be stable or not. Things that used to barely make orbit can now take 150+ tons to LKO or can take a rokomax 64 to escape velocity before using up the EFT. Still trying to get around to a minimum Δv mission by design instead of one mission that just happened to end up that way.

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I happen to be a high school physics teacher, and I have thought long and hard about KSP. It could definitely teach senior students a lot about mechanics. The orbital parts is pretty much a given, but one learns a lot about inertial systems and Newtons laws when docking, in a quite intuitive way. The problem I face is that our school is bring your own device, and copyright management would be a royal nightmare. And most students have potatoes that would melt if KSP looked at them. Or Macs.

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I started with the 1.0.0 demo.  Built a rocket.  Flew Jeb a few tens of kilometers up.  Built a bigger rocket, flew Jeb into space -- but lacked the dV to get to orbit.  Looked up on the Internet how to get to orbit in the demo; built a rocket with a lot of those small tanks and actually got Jeb into orbit and back again.

As a long time science fiction reader, model rocket hobbyist, and general science geek, I mostly understood rocketry and orbital mechanics to begin with -- even the part about how you have to decelerate to go faster in an orbit.  Or so I thought, until I started doing it in game, on a routine basis.  now I often fly rendezvous with just a single revolution of phasing orbit and a high angle intercept, having learned that the amount of dV to match velocities at intercept isn't any worse than the two orbit changes (and sometimes a plane change) to do it with an osculating maneuver.  I routinely fly suicide burns for Mun and Minmus landings, having installed a tool (Better Burn Time) that makes it possible, and when I rendezvous, that same tool makes it easy to park at closest approach, give or take a few tens of meters.

I recently learned just how much I'd learned, when I sent a Duna flyby mission with eyeballed transfer window, and no need to hang around at Duna for most of a year to let Kerbin come back into position -- I just let the return orbit dip down between Eve and Moho, and I'll have a high angle intercept with Kerbin -- and I'll be virtually out of propellant -- but Kerbin has that nice, soft, deep atmosphere to slow my Kerbals down in their tough, resilient capsule.  The first time I did a Duna flyby, it took Val four years just to get  home.  This time, it'll be under two years for the round trip.

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8 hours ago, Freshmeat said:

I happen to be a high school physics teacher, and I have thought long and hard about KSP. It could definitely teach senior students a lot about mechanics. The orbital parts is pretty much a given, but one learns a lot about inertial systems and Newtons laws when docking, in a quite intuitive way. The problem I face is that our school is bring your own device, and copyright management would be a royal nightmare. And most students have potatoes that would melt if KSP looked at them. Or Macs.

KSP is said to be mac compatible, I doubt that it has any issue any other mac faces.  Note that KSP is typically CPU limited, so a wimpy GPU is unlikely to disqualify the computer (although I'd recommend Linux users to dual boot to windows if they have the windows license).

It would take a pretty poor potato to have issues with KSP.  I know my father's old 10 year old Athlon laptop (with potato GPU) simply fails at it while my mom's more recent winbookish thing (pre-Ryzen ALU) runs fine.  Granted real winbooks (which should have windows blown off and ChromeOS or Linux put in its place) probably count as potatoes (and are likely the ones mandated by educational boards).

Unfortunately I don't think you can legally distribute either demo (expect this thread: https://forum.kerbalspaceprogram.com/index.php?/topic/173007-old-versions-of-ksp-revived-and-refound/  to be locked).  If Squad/Take Two ever gets around to updating the demo (they were *supposed* to re-release the demo for 1.3), you should be able to allow students to download that with no issues.  I understand that KSPedu (and *only* KSPedu) has DRM, likely because Squad doesn't trust schools (and concentrated potential KSP sales that schools imply).

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I'm sure my experience is atypical compared to most KSP players.  My learning of rocketry and orbital mechanics started long before there was ever a Kerbal Space Program.  I began studying those subject it in earnest as hobby starting about 1995.  So by the time I discovered KSP, I already knew how to build and fly a rocket.  I started putting stuff in orbit and flying successful missions right away.  My learning curve was just about leaning how the game worked.  There were no instructions or tutorials at that time, so I didn't know about stuff like maneuver nodes.  I had to learn that those were a thing, which I picked up mostly from YouTube videos.

Although KSP hasn't taught me all that much about orbital mechanics and rocketry that I didn't already know, I have benefitted from playing it.  KSP forced me to thing about solutions to problems I had previously considered.  It's given me some practical hands on experience that I couldn't get just from book learning.

Edited by OhioBob

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1 hour ago, wumpus said:

KSP is said to be mac compatible, I doubt that it has any issue any other mac faces.  Note that KSP is typically CPU limited, so a wimpy GPU is unlikely to disqualify the computer (although I'd recommend Linux users to dual boot to windows if they have the windows license).

I have a fairly cheap mac and KSP works.

"mac" is not the same as "ipad" of course.  It needs to be a computer, not a locked-down toy.

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I started with v18.3 in March 2013.  Initially just slapped a few rockets together and went straight up and realised that wasn't the best way to reach orbit.  So checked youtube tutorials (Scott Manley in particular) and progressed from there.

I think the in game tutorials have improved since then though.

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