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In Kerbal Space Program creator’s new game you can crash airplanes without going broke

Felipe ‘HarvesteR’ Falanghe on his upcoming RC plane game, Balsa

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

The creator of Kerbal Space Program, the spacefaring sandbox and high-end rocketry design toolkit, has a new project. It’s called Balsa Model Flight Simulator, and it will allow you to build and fly your own remote control (RC) aircraft on PC and in virtual reality. The ambitious project began after a lifetime as a fanboy of powered human flight, and one embarrassingly expensive mishap.

“Not very long ago I got myself my first drone,” Felipe Falanghe told Polygon in a phone interview last week. “I took it out and it was a pretty much perfect day and place for flying it. I was having a good time and playing around with it when I heard the a little battery alert come on.”

You can probably guess where this anecdote is going. Just as Felanghe brought his pricey little toy down for a landing it disconnected from the control unit, drifted into an obstruction, and drowned itself.

“It just drifts off with the wind and crashes into the only obstacle in a 200-meter radius, and plops down into the only water in a three-mile radius,” Felanghe said. He declined to say how much money he lost on the minor disaster.

“I love flight simulators,” he said, “but it turns out I’m a bad pilot.”

It was that experience in part that contributed inspiration for Balsa, which will let players design and build a flying model airplane from scratch in virtual reality. They’ll choose from a kit of parts, not unlike those offered in Kerbal Space Program, but with a hefty set of tools to modify each component in detail. For instance, you’ll be able to adjust the size and shape of every wing, and then experience the aerodynamic changes it makes to your craft in flight.

An early pre-alpha screenshot for Balsa, showing how the engines are wired up to the battery and various control surfaces. Image: Floating Origin Studios/The Irregular Corporation

Felanghe says that his two-man team has been working on the game for several years already, and that it will launch into Steam’s Early Access program. Of course, Kerbal Space Program was in early access long before early access was even a thing. It sat there unfinished — with a very healthy player base, mind you, but unfinished nonetheless — for the better part of four years. Felanghe says he hopes to move a bit more quickly to a final, 1.0 version than last time.

“It’s kind of a difficult question to even think about right now,” he said. “Now early access is much more of an established thing, and with that comes a much higher barrier to entry as well. I think that the threshold [among consumers] for what passes as an acceptable early access release these days is very different from what it was, for instance, with KSP.”

Unlike next year’s Microsoft Flight Simulator, Balsa will feature light combat elements. You’ll be able to shoot at other planes with a paintball gun in multiplayer, for instance. Also, when you crash the screen won’t fade to black as it does in Microsoft’s upcoming flight sim. Instead, a full physics system will take over, splattering bits of wood all over the landscape.

You can find out more about Balsa at the game’s official website.