May 16 2014

Three Month Update

Things are still rolling. I continue to have a blast playing KSP and thus the story goes on. Currently things are scheduled as far out as the second full week of August, which is awesome because now I can really take my time to craft up some cool things for the story. For instance, later developments have led me to go back and re-rewrite some earlier tweets to make an event in late May better tie in to an event in early July. I can also put lots of time into various composite picture experiments, some of which you can see here (note these are not images that are in any way related to the KSA story, just experiments). The follower count for @KSA_MissionCtrl continues to slowly rise and is almost past 200. I’ve lost a few but the overall trend is upwards. I haven’t managed to have the same success on Reddit as my initial post featuring the loss of Cmdr Jeb, but posting mission reports there via Imgur does trickle in a few followers and one redditor said he follows me exclusively on there.

So, what do I want to talk about this month….


I’ve finally upgraded to 0.23.5 this month and with it came the asteroids. Lots and lots of asteroids. But the mechanics are lacking – for example you can track asteroids but there’s no way to get hit by an asteroid you’re not tracking. You can have up to 7 unknown objects that you can choose to track at any time, but until you take action on them they just sit there and how do you decide which ones to “find” by tracking them? So I did a lot of thinking and came up with this:

asteroids_t.JPGSo here is the process to explain the picture:
  1. There are 5 sheets, each representing a single week of days. Each day is drawn as a box and every sheet has days in different boxes of different sizes in different locations
  2. There are 50 coins – 7 for each day and 1 extra (for good luck? I dunno, I liked an even 50). Coins are just randomly grabbed out of my coin bank. The amount of 7 per day isn’t because there are 7 days in a week but because 7 is the max number of unknown objects you can see in the Tracking Station
  3. I get a random order in which to use these sheets
  4. For each sheet, I toss coins into the box 7 at a time (8 for the last toss) from various angles and spreads
  5. I then note what days have a coin inside them or over the line of their box – the number of coins in/overlapping a box is the number of asteroids that will be “found” and tracked that day of the week
  6. I then repeat step 4 – these re for all the asteroids that are not found each day of the week. I’ll come back to that later

I almost went too far down the rabbit hole and attempted to attribute the type of coin to the class of asteroid, and the proximity to the center of the box to the signal strength of the asteroid… but I decided to just leave that up to the game.

All asteroids that are “found” are tracked in the Tracking Center and added to a spreadsheet I keep that lets me keep better tabs on all the space rocks floating around out there. What asteroid is set to come within 1Mm of Kerbin? I can sort the fields and find out in a jiffy. What asteroid is set to enter Kerbin’s SOI this week? Again, easy to know.

All asteroids that are “not found” are also tracked in the Tracking Center so that they have persistence in the game, but they go in a separate page on my spreadsheet. These are rocks that can have an impact on the story but are never mentioned until they are “found” or end up impacting the planet. Each “unfound” asteroid gets assigned a random number from 1-100 (if I get more than 100, it’ll be 1-200 and so on). Every day I can find a new asteroid, instead of just going into the Tracking Center and tracking a new unknown object, first I have some random numbers spit out by the generator I linked to earlier. So if 5 new asteroids are found today, I get 5 random numbers. If any of those numbers match an “unfound” asteroid already being tracked, that asteroid goes into the “found” page and counts towards the 5 I’m supposed to find today. Any remaining are then tracked in the Tracking Station.

If all of that was hard to understand (probably) just have a look at my spreadsheet (slightly spoilerish I guess?). The whole idea is now I have a means of slowly building up my catalog of asteroids as the game progresses and also gives me a good source of “unknown” objects that can impact Kerbin and cause some sort of upset in the story people won’t see coming. Now, that being said I’m still sticking to what I wrote last month in regards to high-level plot points. There is a 4th page in the spreadsheet for asteroids on impact trajectories with Kerbin I wish to ignore. So when I see them in the game I know they don’t mean anything, I just let them impact and be removed from the save file. So no, there won’t be a random Class D impact event.

Now here’s the kicker – I just followed and was followed back and retweeted by the @B612Foundation, which is our real-world program for detecting NEOs (Near-Earth Objects). In my story, the Asteroid Tracking Network will be launched in late July to track NKOs (Near-Kerbin Objects). I had also planned to eventually do a mission similar to B612’s Sentinel Space Telescope (sorta like this video) – at which point I would put a multiplier into effect for asteroids found.

I’ve also got a great mini-story arc that will start at the end of this month and eventually explain why, after untold mellenia of calm skies, Kerbin is suddenly under attack by what appears to be a huge cloud of rocky debris. The explanation has ties to the old Planet X theory, and is also based on the vacuum-cleaner effect of Jupiter – but in reverse obviously!

Post-Production Process

How do I turn a mission into a series of tweets? Well, first as I mentioned before there is Gremln, which lets me schedule tweets. So I begin with pre-launch tweets up to the point of lift off. I may decide, while writing the tweets, that I want to throw in a delay or cancellation – something I can’t really do if I’ve already flown the mission and locked in the timeline. Once the tweets are in place and I have the launch time decided, then I load up the game and warp ahead as needed to launch at that time. I use Fraps to record the entire launch sequence because things are too busy during that time to take any sort of notes. Because Fraps can produce a pretty huge uncompressed video file I stop recording either shortly after I reach main-engine cut off if there are several minutes to apoapsis or after establishing orbit if the time between MECO and apoapsis is under 2-3 minutes. From this point on I use the wonderful Notepad mod to make notes on things that happen during the mission. The new ship log feature is amazing, before that I was manually putting MET into my notes. Since the release of 0.23.5 I have also been using the Alt+F5 feature for custom quicksaves at each major leg in the mission.

Once the mission is over, I use the video, flight logs and quicksaves (mainly to go back for photos as needed) to construct the tweet timeline that follows the mission progress. Deciding what to tweet and when is a process all in itself – the only thing I can say is that less is always more and people can generally do a good job of “filling in the blanks” with their own imaginations. Also, pictures are worth a thousand words but just dumping images into the stream doesn’t always work – the images should be more than just random eye candy.

Speaking of images, I use my own server to host them so I can schedule a tweet with links to them but not have that link be accessible anywhere until the tweet goes live. Even if I created a private album on Imgur, I would still need to remember to set pictures public as needed. With my own server I can just upload them, link them and they’ll pop up when they need to – of course I then have to copy them over to Imgur but that is not something that is time-critical

New Twitter Profile

So twitter did their facebook-alike profile upgrade this past month and I hopped on the new wagon with the KSA account. It does look good and I do like the ability to pin a tweet, which is something I do for when launch details are announced. However I didn’t realize until I went to compile my next mission report that I could no longer view the tweets in the nice concise format anymore. They were all huge text boxes and it just made me cringe to have to post a stream of tweets that large. Thankfully I realized that you could still get the old tweet format when you’re viewing tweets of people you follow, so I used my old @dsimkora account, unfollowed everyone but KSA and had the nice concise timeline format back to edit into my mission reports. Phew!

Adventures in Persistence.sfs Editing

As missions have grown more complex and I’ve begun doing more atmospheric aircraft missions, I’ve gotten pretty intimate with my save file. The best example is using an aircraft to drop science pods around Kerbin to perform ground experiments without having to land a whole craft there. Problem is, when you drop a probe off an aircraft the probe unloads after you fly 5km away. So I would have to fly and drop the pods and take a screenshot when I did so. Then, afterwards I would take the VESSEL structure of the probe, and insert it into my save file with the Lat/Lon and height data provided by VOID from the screenshot. Then I could perform the science.

Note that before doing this I actually flew a mission in a test version of my game, dropped the pod and then switched to it so the aircraft unloaded but I could watch and see that the pod would actually land okay on the ground. After doing this once, I could safely assume all pods dropped would make it to the ground okay. If I modified the pod in anyway I would do another test drop.

Editing Editing Editing

I can’t stress enough the importance of editing. Always. All my scheduled tweets are listed in chronological order (Date/time then tweet) in a simple text file so I can read them and make sure that something I tweet about in July doesn’t go against something I tweet in June. Or that a character I said was on leave for two weeks comes back in a week. I’m always making little tweaks here and there in the timeline to make things flow better or tie-in better. Some events have been rewritten entirely when I stumble across some cool real-life space fact or event on the web I can reference somehow in the story. At least once a week I read through the entire timeline to make sure everything is consistent – currently there are 858 tweets yet to be published!

I should probably stop now, although there’s more I’d like to cover. Maybe next month. Right now I need to finish the timeline for my last mission, which was actually 3 missions overlapping each other on the same day! Things are getting complicated and thus the challenge is greater. I like that.

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