When I started working on Kerbal Space Program, I was handed the task to bring Kerbals to life. The biggest challenge has been converting a bunch of polygons and textures into believable characters that can exist in their own Universe and laws. Kerbals needed to be more than expendable beings inside a sandbox space simulator. After a couple of years in the process, the task of bringing Kerbal girls into the game happened. The design production of the Kerbal girls has been a process of several months of work, of gathering feedback, brainstorming ideas and talk to the guys inside the team and special members of our community. Throughout the road I found some obstacles and design problems that needed to be overcome, which will get explained on this post, to the extent of creating: Valentina Kerman, the most badass Kerbonaut inside Kerbal Space Program.
How to design the perfect Kerbal female?
It all began with an idea at the office. How do we make it happen? What are the social implications of having female Kerbals in the game? How are the Kerbals going to feel, experience and display it? How will they be portrayed? How to translate all the challenges, questions and concepts into one single character?
Kerbals are well known to our community, they have their own names, their own backstory, even after the names run through a name generator. Our community has given them stories, backgrounds, adventures, recorded ours and ours of gameplay with Kerbals visiting all the planets of the known Kerbal Universe. What’s the best way to add a new idea into that already expanding world?
One small step before the launch
After talking with the Lead Developer Felipe Falanghe, the producer Miguel Piña and the executive producers Ezequiel Ayarza and Adrian Goya, I thumbnailed some ideas of what the Kerbals should look like. The early drafts and concepts look significantly different than the actual model, but from the beginning we had some solid ideas to what paths we were taking. Female kerbals have slightly different proportions than men, human anatomy was taken as a starting point and modified to meet the needs of our universe. Kerbals have very specific proportions, they have noticeable anatomical limitations and need creative ways to solve their day-to-day problems.
What makes a Kerbal female?
From the beginning we knew that the whole concept of the “Female Kerbal” had to be in the details. Slightly longer arms, but smaller trunks. Heads rounded, against the square heads of the male counterparts. Bigger eyes but smaller mouths. But the first problem happened: what to do with the hair? Kerbal Astronauts have a generic military haircut, but they could have different hairstyles, and colors in other sections of the game. We have played most with that idea on the extended universe of Kerbal Space Program. The YouTube animations have different hairstyles and colors, Kerbalizer has a broad range of styles and wigs. But the core experience is the game. What kind of generic hair should female Kerbal Astronauts have?
If you do a quick search with the keywords: female astronauts and look at the list Wikipedia has to offer, you will find that every single one of them as a different hairstyle (as we all humans do). So the first source for references was extremely broad. Next thing to try was different hairstyles and colors. They looked good. But what do we do about the other Kerbals that are already in the game? Should we give them haircuts too?
Our new Kerbals started to have distinctive look and feel, and they could happen inside our Universe. At this point in development, I knew what the body of the female Kerbals was going to be like. The hair was its own problem.
Kerbal girls started to look more like young boys than female Kerbals
One of the first 3d models that I made looked more like a young Kerbal boy, than a female version of the Kerbals. The smaller size, the rounded face, could match the description of a young version of the male Kerbals. Even after doing some research, there was a missing link to make it work. I tried the idea of using a buzzcut for the girls, just like the guys, but that just pushed the young boy concept even further.
It was to that point that talking with the lead developer and producers that they should all have ponytails, and somehow show it inside the helmet, so that they look generic and Kerbal enough.
The ponytail wasn’t generic enough, and they felt more than copies of the same models, than different Kerbals with the same haircut. I changed the texture of the hair to the final version of the Kerbal girls found in the game today.
There was one extra detail that I added to the design that helped further the design and concept. Eyelashes. They shouldn’t be extremely toon, but be consistent with the design. A small line surrounding the upper part of the eyes did the trick. We knew we had the base of the female Kerbals inside the game, and that we all liked the design and final result.
The most badass Kerbonaut in the game
Valentina Kerman was presented to the community as one of the main characters of the game. She had the special orange suit all veterans inside the game have. And the most important characteristic, she is an intertextuality for Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to fly in space. After overcoming all the challenges that the design exposed, Val felt like an already member of the Kerbal Universe. She become, as stated at the beginning of the post, more than polygons and textures. Our community quickly adopted her, she starred in fanart of the game as well as the most important missions of YouTubers. Valentina Kerman is, and will always be, the most badass Kerbonaut inside Kerbal Space Program.