It’s time we talk about THE FUTURE. I don’t mean hoverboards and self-tying sneakers (2015, we’re counting on you), I mean the future of Kerbal Space Program.
The next update will mark a big milestone for us at Squad, as it is the last update focused on Career Mode. After the next release, Kerbal Space Program will reach an internal milestone we call “Scope Complete”.
Let me back up a little here and explain what Scope Complete means, it means KSP now has all the features we considered vital to be in the game that HarvesteR came up with so many years ago. It doesn’t mean the game has everything we want it to have, it means it has everything we considered necessary for it to be Kerbal Space Program. It means everything the game is supposed to have exists, even if only in a minimal form.
Scope completion means that every big system that the game needed is there, some closer to completion than others, of course, but they’re all there. So, what’s next then? This is the good news: After Scope Completion, development focus shifts towards completing those unfinished features, balancing and adding some smaller stuff. No more groundwork, no more laying down infrastructure. We’ve finished building the kitchen, it’s time for us to start cooking.
As soon as the next update is released, KSP will enter a new phase of development, which for want of a better term, we’re calling ‘Beta’. Beta development is going to be a new stage for the project, and that also means our development workflow will change, and by consequence, this will have an effect on the releases. There shouldn’t be any huge updates that we have to build for months on end and still have to release with barely more than enough content to showcase the system.
Beta means we’ll be focusing on creating content, on using the tools we’ve built. It means a different approach to selecting which features go in, since we won’t be constrained by the development constraints of one feature requiring another. Priorities should level out, which means the things we consider important should also match what everyone considers important. Beta essentially means we’ll be working a lot more on stability, usability, performance, balance, aesthetics, all the while still throwing in little and some not-so-little things we hope you will enjoy.
To make this clear to everyone, we’ve decided to not call the next release version 0.26, as convention would have it. Instead once the update is out, we’ll be officially in Beta, so we’re calling the next release version 0.90.0 (zero-ninety-zero).
There’s a ton of things we’re constantly discussing internally regarding what exactly we’ll add during Beta, but I figure we should at least tell you about the first two things we really want to add to the game before we can call it anything close to ready:
Overhauled Aerodynamics - The current system has been fantastic at… existing, really. It can’t be beat at ‘being a system that exists and works within KSP’, but we can do better. We’ve been a long time planning a major overhaul to make it more realistic, reliable, predictable, and hopefully a lot less arcane.
Deep Space Refueling - We’re aware there is one big end-game mechanic missing in the game: Being able to refuel a vessel once you’re out in Space. This is what we originally set out to achieve with the old Resource Mining plan and saw ourselves running into a very tedious dead-end. The Resources system was flawed because it overcomplicated accomplishing a basic need: To be able to find something out in space which can be used to fill up the tanks again. That’s the essence of it, and we don’t need 40+ single-purpose parts and 9 different resources to do it. In fact, all that complexity was going to be very effective at making sure most attempts to build a refueling outpost would fail. We are now planning a new, more elegant system, which hopefully will add a new, fun element of gameplay, as well as the massive boost to continuity this feature implies.
Here is also a (not so) small FAQ with some answers we imagine you’ll probably be wanting to ask about:
Q: You’re not pulling the plug on KSP, are you?
A: Of course not! We still have a long way to go. We just want to let everyone know we’re going to reach a new stage of development soon.
Q: I won’t consider KSP complete until Feature X is implemented!
A: That’s not a question. However, if you asked everyone which features they would like to see in KSP, you’d get different answers from just about everybody. We all have our wishlist of ideas and features we’d like to see, us devs included. The fact is, we must be very level-headed here with what we want to do, and what we can in fact achieve in the time we have. That’s not to say of course, we aren’t planning to tackle the biggests requests from our community. Just remember that all features are judged in a big-picture perspective, and how it affects the game experience for everyone, and sometimes even what would seem like fun ideas are going to fall outside the scope of the game, or just be plain too much to take on. Time and Manpower is our main limiting resource now, and that must be spent wisely, pursuing the goals that will add the most enjoyment for everyone.
Q: What about the features you “promised” on the Wiki’s Planned Feature List?
A: That list is maintained by the community, and doesn’t imply any promise on our part. In fact, the best thing to do about that list is disregard it. We did implement a significant portion of it, in any case, but let me go ahead and quote the very first lines on that page:
This list is not an official road-map for KSP. It is maintained by the community, and has no direct relation to what may or may not be included in the final product.
Q: Can you give us an official list of planned features for 1.0 then?
A: Not without a time machine. Seriously though, any lists we publish can only result in leaving people disappointed. The problem here is that no amount of disclaimers and notices will keep everyone from taking every feature on a list as a commitment from us. We don’t want to commit to anything we’re not sure about ourselves, so if we do have to leave something out, we should be only ones to be disappointed. It’s not great, we know, but it’s for the best.
Q: Are you going to make KSP more realistic?
A: That depends. Does that added realism make KSP more fun? The key point to keep in mind here is that KSP is a game first, a simulator second. We want to add realism in places where we feel those additions will make the game more enjoyable, but we aren’t just going to add realism features just for the sake of being realistic.
Q: How long until 1.0 now, then?
A: That’s a very good question, but I’m afraid it’s kind of the same as asking ‘when is the next release coming?’. We can’t give you a release date, because chances are high we’ll end up changing it afterwards. Knowing in advance will only lead to disappointment.
Q: And after 1.0 comes out, is that the end?
A: Nope. There’s still going to be a lot to be done even after that, but when we hit 1.0, KSP will be coming out of Early Access. Our main focus during the Beta phase will be to improve the overall playing experience of the game as much as possible. Once we’re outside the Early Access umbrella, KSP will have to stand on its own as-is, and not rely on upcoming features and perceived potential affecting players’ opinions. That’s not to say we rely on that now (or have ever), but that’s an unavoidable side-effect of being in Early Access. People will fill in the gaps with imagined features, and no real addition can hope to live up to everyone’s hopes and expectations. We can only try our best to have a solid game when release time comes.
Q: What’s coming after 1.0 then?
A: Now we’re getting way ahead of ourselves. Let’s wind this back to the near future.
Q: What about Multiplayer?
A: Multiplayer is something we’ve been working on for quite a while, but it still has a long way to go before it’s ready. MP is planned for after 1.0. So that’s still coming, but let’s take this one step at a time.
Q: Does the term Beta really apply here?
A: Not in the strictest sense, but then again, there isn’t a term that would better describe what we are planning. Beta is the period in software development when all planned capabilities are implemented, and dev focus is centered on polish and bugfixing. Yes, we do that already in experimentals, but we’re going to be doing it in a wider scope during Beta phase. For an update’s QA and Experimental periods, testing is focused mostly on the new features being added. Beta means taking a step back, and seeing all areas of the game under equal focus for testing and improvement. We know there are several bugs we haven’t fixed yet. This is the time to make those fixes and assure the game is working as well as possible. The term Beta is definitely fitting here.
Q: Does that mean we’re going to have access to Experimental releases?
A: No. We’re still going to go through the same branch-testing->QA->Experimentals system as we have always done. I’m just saying we’re going to work on the game under a wider perspective, more focused on the overall experience than on any single feature. This could translate to more ‘diversified’ changelogs on each release.
Q: Are ‘Beta’ updates going to be released quicker?
A: We hope so, but we can’t make any promises. We have tried shortening updates once before, and became aware of how the QA and experimental phases don’t really scale in proportion to the shorter update, so the result was that we spent more time testing, and less time developing, which needless to say, wasn’t very efficient. We’ll have to find our stride again for Beta, just as we did during Alpha.
Q: Are updates going to be released in a regular interval?
A: Most likely not. Imposing such a strict process on us would either cause features to be rushed to make a release, or some releases having very few features on them. Probably both. The plan is to play it by ear, and do a release when we feel we have something worth releasing.
Q: I’m still concerned this means you’re going to abandon KSP.
A: We know, and this is why we’re doing this announcement now. We want to give everyone as much early notice as possible about what’s coming up, so nobody runs into any surprises. We’re not even in Beta yet actually. There’s still the next update to go, and after that, a period of Beta updates until 1.0, and even after that, we still have more stuff planned. So worry not, we’re going to be at it for quite a while.
Q: Are you going to add more whatever-it-is-you-want-added?
A: We want to add as much content as we can during Beta, but time is the main limiting factor, and development manpower is finite. We’ll have to make choices through the Beta period about what we want to add, against how much time and effort that will take, compared to adding something else instead in the same span of time. As always, we’ll be weighing the gains of adding some piece of content versus another, and choosing the ones we feel will have the best effect in improving the game overall.
Of course, some areas are obviously short on content at the moment (Contracts and Biomes come to mind). Those are going to be highest on our lists as they’re the least developed sets of content at the moment. The logic behind reaching for Feature-Completion and 1.0 is very similar to the logic we used to reach for Scope Completion. We focus on the area of least development. The good news now is that the area of least development is always going to be something we already have in the game, and the lack of content there is likely noticed by everyone already.
Q: Are you going to integrate “Mod X” into the game? (a.k.a. Q:How can I get my mod integrated into stock?)
A: This depends on several factors. First of all, we have to ask ourselves: Is this mod doing something we wanted to do ourselves already? Some mods, awesome though they are, aren’t part of what we have planned for KSP, and that’s fine. That’s why we support modding in the first place, but it also means a mod isn’t going to be auto-added just because it’s cool.
Second of all, if we do find a mod that does exactly what we wanted to do ourselves, and it’s done well, follows the style of the game, all that stuff, then we get in touch with the author, and we get the conversation rolling from there. There isn’t a system for adding a mod into the game. That said, we very well might find mods that do stuff we wanted to do, and we wouldn’t want to reinvent the wheel if we can avoid it.
A: Being in version 0.25 now, don’t you have 75 updates left to do before 1.0?
Q: Eek, no! Thankfully, version numbers don’t work that way. The minor version (as the ‘n’ in v0.n.0 is called), isn’t a decimal fraction of the major version. There isn’t a pre-established convention in the software industry on how to increment version numbers, so each studio tends to do it in their own way. We’ve been relatively consistent with our versioning scheme, adding 1 to the minor version on each new update, and a 1 to the revision number when we release hotfixes and small patches. So the answer here is, there won’t be 75 updates between 0.25 and 1.0 in the same way we don’t have to release 10 revisions to go from 0.24.0 to 0.25.0.
A: How is ‘release 26’ going to be identified as Beta then?
Q: We’re going to call our first Beta version KSP v0.90.0 (zero-ninety-zero, or oh-ninety-oh if you live across the pond), to make it clear to everyone that KSP is nearing a state of completion. Of course, that doesn’t mean we plan to do exactly 10 Beta patches to reach 1.0. It could be more, it could be less, we can’t tell. If we run past 0.99. the next version could be 0.100.0, or we could change the system a bit, and increment the revision numbers instead, depending on how much we feel a release has added. In a way, Beta updates really are more like revision patches actually. We’ll keep announcing new releases as we have always done in any case, so just hang around the community and you’ll never miss a release.
We want to thank you from the bottom of our heart for supporting our crazy project all the way from the earliest alphas builds up to Scope Completion, and we hope you’ll stick with us from here through Beta and up to the long-awaited 1.0
The KSP Development Team, and everyone at Squad.