Rafael Calonzo Jr.

Developer Insights #5 – KSP2 Tutorial Animations

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Posted (edited)
Figure-1.png

Figure 1: A still from the KSP2 tutorial, "What is an Orbit?" 

 

Hello! My name is Rafael Calonzo Jr., and I am the Senior 2D Animator on Kerbal Space Program 2. You may be wondering — as I did when they first approached me for this role — why would a realistic space travel simulation need two-dimensional animation?

Let’s go back to a weekday morning in 2013. Nate Simpson (KSP2 Creative Director) and I are working on an ill-fated mobile title. He mentions how tired he is from playing some game into the early morning hours and — as proof — sends me a link to a forum post featuring his very complicated (yet still plausibly realistic) spaceship. It was gathering ample praise from the other forum dwellers.

I poke around the site as he continues to rave about the game’s unyielding faithfulness to real science and technology. I nod politely and promise to give it a try, but in my head I have already decided that some nerdy pastimes are too impenetrable, even for nerds like me.

Four years and several jobs later, Nate inquires whether I’d like to join him on a new project that is basically his “dream game.” As he starts describing it to me, I interject that it sounds like that game he was obsessed with years ago that, full disclosure, I never actually tried.

As you can guess, he confirmed that yes, that was the game, the new project was its TOP SECRET sequel, and actually it’s fine that I didn’t play it because now could I help  make tutorials for people like myself?

Tutorials? Nobody LOVES tutorials. They are the vegetables Mom makes you eat before you get any dessert. It doesn’t matter how essential those vitamins are or how fancy the veggies are dressed up, you just want to choke them down (or slyly spit them into a napkin) so you can get to the chocolate cake.

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Figure 2: It’s not rocket science (yes, it is)

But from our very earliest meetings, we wondered how we could  recapture that cohort of players who tried the original KSP but would give up before they got to experience the real “magic” of the game. However, to actually progress that far, they’d need to — NO BIG DEAL — learn a little bit of rocket science. What could we do to keep those players engaged, while stealthily imparting the skills and knowledge they’d need to really flourish?

Eventually the question became: Is it possible to make tutorials that … sneak veggies into the dessert? Could we make instructional media that was approachable, with lessons that would creep into your head without you realizing? What would those tutorials look, sound, and feel like?

We spent some time reflecting on what types of instruction managed to survive in our brains since childhood. Like most Gen-X kids raised by television, we could count to twelve before kindergarten because that pinball machine from “Sesame Street” looked cool and had a soundtrack that slapped. We can still sing about how bills and conjunctions function because of “Schoolhouse Rock.” We’ve won half the battles by knowing how to pet strange dogs and not hide in old refrigerators thanks to “GI Joe” PSAs. And as adults we binged dozens of Kurzgesagt explainer videos like the colorful, addictive-yet-informative fun-size candy that they are.

Our super-unscientific findings: WORDS + MOVING DRAWINGS =  IDEAS STICK TO BRAIN GOOD.

Some of the concepts we experimented with in pre-production had mixed success. You could tell we watched and rewatched the classic music video for “Remind Me” by Royksopp (still so good!), whose “Airline Safety Brochure” style was fun but a bit labor-intensive. Especially when I tried to portray actual vessels and parts from our game. And unfortunately the strokes around everything were prone to making weird seams on the characters.

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Figure 3: Please turn off all personal electronic devices and 12 point outer strokes, Jeb

At different points of pre-production, we even considered making the tutorials pre-rendered 3D, real-time 3D, or real-time 2D puppets. Eventually we settled on a flat, pre-rendered 2D style that would be easier on production and (hopefully) more legible for the player.

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Figure 4: Goodbye outer strokes, hello outer space

Pre-production was also the perfect time to refine the content of the tutorials before we made any final assets. Each completed tutorial script was run through a text-to-speech utility to create “Robo-talkies” of the narration. Then I would draw dozens of corresponding storyboards and combine them with the Robo-talkies into an “animatic.” This picture book-style rough cut of the video gives enough of a sense of the visuals and timing that I can share it with the team.

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Figure 5: A storyboard from a scene I was really looking forward to animating, but it didn’t make the cut. Get well soon forever, Buzz.

The completed storyboards and animatics for all 32 tutorial scripts added up to 47 minutes of animation — half an animated feature! Which is kind of a lot for one guy (me) to produce and more importantly, way too much for the players to sit through. So we redistributed the content, making skill-based lessons into interactive sequences, while reserving the animations for scientific concepts.

Figure-6-1024x576.png

Figure 6: We heard you liked planes in your rocket game

Once we had our scope dialed in, we conscripted a ragtag production team to bring the videos to life. My fellow “Rafael” at Squad, Rafael Gonzalez, and a selection of other talented artists cranked out the cartoonified planets, backgrounds, and vessels in record time. Tom Witte and Cisco Martinez, two colleagues of mine from the CD-ROM Wars who’ve since graduated to the motion graphic world, lent their multitude of animation super-powers and made my life so much easier.

Figure-7-1024x576.png

Figure 7: Dream, build, fly… into the ground

As much as we enjoy making these things, we know that nobody buys this game to sit and watch cartoons. They want to fly things and blow them up! Our sincere hope is that they’ll watch enough of these to know *why* their things blew up.

And as the saying goes: Knowing is half the tutorial. KAY-ESS-PEEEEEEEEE…

Edited by Rafael Calonzo Jr.
Formatting fixes

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I've done surface missions to all the terrestrial planets in KSP, and I'm still going to watch all the tutorials for KSP2. These look great!

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Posted (edited)

Well glad to see the updates! If you don't mind a question (you don't have to answer), you have 32 tutorial scripts? I can think of some simple ones like getting to orbit and how to land on a planet but what about later in the game? Are the tutorials only focused on the beginners or are some dedicated to say... interstellar travel? 

18 minutes ago, Delta Space said:

I've done surface missions to all the terrestrial planets in KSP, and I'm still going to watch all the tutorials for KSP2. These look great!

I totally agree too!

Edited by The Doodling Astronaut

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I think everyone is going to see them whether it's intented or not. 

I really like the format for the tutorials, it would be easier to follow than the videos from YouTube. They also look better

 

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I like vegetables. 

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1 hour ago, Rafael Calonzo Jr. said:
(...) Once we had our scope dialed in, we conscripted a ragtag production team to bring the videos to life. My fellow “Rafael” at Squad, Rafael Gonzalez, and a selection of other talented artists cranked out the cartoonified planets, backgrounds, and vessels in record time. (...)

I'm surprised nobody jumped on this. Maybe it's an incidental but to me it seems that Squad is at least remotely involved in KSP2 development, which I think is good.

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41 minutes ago, Vanamonde said:

I like vegetables. 

I was definitely one of those kids that would steal chopped up veggies as dinner was being prepared.

Also the tutorials are looking great, the art style really suits the tone of the game and I think they will be great for new players.

2 hours ago, Rafael Calonzo Jr. said:
(...) But from our very earliest meetings, we wondered how we could  recapture that cohort of players who tried the original KSP but would give up before they got to experience the real “magic” of the game. However, to actually progress that far, they’d need to — NO BIG DEAL — learn a little bit of rocket science. (...)

I think one of my favorite things about KSP is how just by playing around with rockets you can really get an intuitive feel for the basics of orbital mechanics (how orbits work and how to change their "shape"), but without some initial guidance it can be hard to get that far. Tutorials like this could be a great way to help guide new players on their journey of rocket science knowledge without being too intrusive to player creativity. I have never been a big fan of tutorials because they usually have too much hand holding, which can limit your creative thinking for the game by giving you preconceived notions of the "right" thing to do. Allowing players to feel the game out for themselves, with some subtle guidance, is one of the most important things for a sandbox game like this, and I think these animations will be a great new addition to the game!

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2 hours ago, Kerbart said:

I'm surprised nobody jumped on this. Maybe it's an incidental but to me it seems that Squad is at least remotely involved in KSP2 development, which I think is good.

We have known Squad has been involved for quite some time now, that is why. 

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Posted (edited)

I haven't had the heart to tell my mum I now like veg just didn't like the way she cooked them.

Yes this style looks as remarkable as baked Brussels Sprouts

3 hours ago, Kerbart said:

I'm surprised nobody jumped on this. Maybe it's an incidental but to me it seems that Squad is at least remotely involved in KSP2 development, which I think is good.

Seemed to be a big part of the restructure there was comment that 'they now have full access to all Squads KSP assets'.

 

Edited by mattinoz

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15 hours ago, Kit The Cat said:

I think one of my favorite things about KSP is how just by playing around with rockets you can really get an intuitive feel for the basics of orbital mechanics (how orbits work and how to change their "shape"), but without some initial guidance it can be hard to get that far. Tutorials like this could be a great way to help guide new players on their journey of rocket science knowledge without being too intrusive to player creativity. I have never been a big fan of tutorials because they usually have too much hand holding, which can limit your creative thinking for the game by giving you preconceived notions of the "right" thing to do. Allowing players to feel the game out for themselves, with some subtle guidance, is one of the most important things for a sandbox game like this, and I think these animations will be a great new addition to the game!

This is an extremely important point, and sums up the whole challenge of building tutorials for this game. If we over-focus on the goal of minimizing TTM (Time To Mun) as a success criterion, we can reliably get new players up there in a couple of hours. But in doing that, we rob the player of what for many was the most gratifying moment of achievement in the game. So our goal must be to expose concepts in a way, and in an order, that provides the player with a framework within which they can still exercise their own creativity. A slower progression, earned through trial-and-error, is the Kerbal Way, and our tutorials must honor that.

It's been really challenging -- when all is said and done, I hope we get a chance to show off more of what didn't make it into the game, because Raf has done a whole lot of really beautiful work! 

17 hours ago, The Doodling Astronaut said:

Are the tutorials only focused on the beginners or are some dedicated to say... interstellar travel? 

There are tutorials for more advanced concepts, including interstellar navigation.

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1 hour ago, Nate Simpson said:

There are tutorials for more advanced concepts, including interstellar navigation.

That's great to hear. If I'm traveling at 0.1c I really don't want to miss my destination.

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If the game will have credits, there should be a section just based on all the animations that didn't make the cut.

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These look fantastic! I can't wait to go watch these! Can you share any numbers on how many tutorials you'll put in the finished product? I love the style; it feels perfect, very Kerbal!

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Posted (edited)

Looks a very approachable and friendly art style and passing on key knowledge makes a lot of sense.

There were a few concepts which took me a while to figure out and learn the coordination to do without too much thinking (thank goodness for pause and F5).

After learning how to oversteer/sum vectors to allow corrective burns in Newtonian travel IMHO the most important key skill in KSP was how to reverse! 

By which I mean, how, just as with reversing a car you have to counter steer when approaching a target in retrograde orientation which is the key skill to enable rendezvous and docking and planet surface landings which has to be done with a retrograde orientation. If you can teach people how to do that using the navball in a tute (i.e. corrective burn in retrograde orientation pushes the retrograde vector marker away, hopefully towards the target, as opposed to prograde burns which pull the vector towards the craft orientation) then I think they will be over a major hump that is hard to fathom intuitively and I imagine will have been a stumbling block for many.

Good luck! :)

Edited by boolybooly

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On 7/22/2020 at 11:08 PM, Rafael Calonzo Jr. said:
I poke around the site as he continues to rave about the game’s unyielding faithfulness to real science and technology. 

I hope that the same can be said about ksp 2, but this "cesium doped... Stuff" gives me a lot of doubt

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8 hours ago, KerikBalm said:

I hope that the same can be said about ksp 2, but this "cesium doped... Stuff" gives me a lot of doubt

I don't want to get into the metallic hydrogen debate, but given that most people on this forum are fine with OP reaction wheels, neutron-star density planets and infinitely restartable rocket engines, I'm not worried about accepting that metallic hydrogen engines work in the Kerbal universe. And the flexibility of KSP works in your favour if you're still not happy - you can always just not use those particular engines, or make a mod to remove them from the game if you want.

On topic: These tutorials look great, and I can't wait to see more KSP 2 stuff :D

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On 7/23/2020 at 4:48 PM, Nate Simpson said:

This is an extremely important point, and sums up the whole challenge of building tutorials for this game. If we over-focus on the goal of minimizing TTM (Time To Mun) as a success criterion, we can reliably get new players up there in a couple of hours. But in doing that, we rob the player of what for many was the most gratifying moment of achievement in the game. So our goal must be to expose concepts in a way, and in an order, that provides the player with a framework within which they can still exercise their own creativity. A slower progression, earned through trial-and-error, is the Kerbal Way, and our tutorials must honor that.

This is good to hear. I literally jumped out of my chair and did a little dance when I first reached orbit all those years ago.

I knew that space wasn't really up, but sideways fast. Didn't mean I knew how to do it.

Where that line between explaining a basic principle like orbits, Hohmann Transfers, etc. and detailing specific steps lies is going to be difficult and (annoyingly) subjective.

I know it might take more time, but how about a tiered tutorial system of some kind?
Players could opt to see more details (Want to Know More!?) during the lesson either by a difficulty setting chosen with the start of a new game or a 'Details' window toggle during it.

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I look forward to seeing these as the previews look great! Especially the ones focused on aircraft, as one *could* say I am an aircraft and aerodynamics aficionado.
 

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Have to say loving that each update is a change to "meet" a member of the team and see the passion you each bring.

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A modest proposal: If the Tutorials are pre-rendered 2D animations, release them early, so that we can pore over the tutorials before even getting the game. Cuts down on 'eating vegetables' time.

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On 7/24/2020 at 9:10 PM, RealKerbal3x said:

...given that most people on this forum are fine with OP reaction wheels...

There are quite a few people who are not fine with that particular point. Reaction wheels need to be hit with a nerf bat, hard. This is a place where adding realism would improve gameplay, as it is, they basically allow you to not care about making your spacecraft (or aircraft, which is really egregious) balanced. They also could be renamed control moment gyroscopes, but that's a minor gripe compared to their impact on gameplay.

I'd love to see some restrictions on engine starts, too, but honestly, given what Elon Musk is doing, in a few decades people might be surprised to learn Apollo era engines couldn't start a billion times. Restarting a rocket engine many times isn't a physical impossibility, just a matter of designing it for that (which nobody bothered with until they got the idea of using them more than once).

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Posted (edited)
43 minutes ago, Dragon01 said:

people might be surprised to learn Apollo era engines couldn't start a billion times. Restarting a rocket engine many times isn't a physical impossibility, just a matter of designing it for that (which nobody bothered with until they got the idea of using them more than once).

The service module engine was designed to light multiple times, as it was used to enter and leave lunar orbit, and for multiple mid course correction burns. 

But you have to remember, this is a game, not a simulator.   Having slightly over powered reaction wheels is a good thing for game play.  Yes, there's some who don't enjoy it, but the vast majority of KSP players aren't looking for a hardcore sim experience.  For those that are, there's a plethora of mods available for KSP and I assume there will also be for KSP2, that make the changes in a fashion they see fit.  

The devs have to design the game for the greatest number of players, not for a select few. 

Edited by Gargamel

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A typical EVA lasts for several hours irl and just up to several minutes in KSP. Also irl the crew needs to sleep every day, The realism suffers from this, too.

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