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Shacknews Close-Up: Scott Manley, the Astronogamer

For this week's Shacknews Close-Up, we profile Scott Manley (a.k.a. The Astronogamer) and take a look at his YouTube channel, which blends together the gaming and real-world science of games like Kerbal Space Program, Star Citizen, Elite: Dangerous, and more.


Welcome to Shacknews Close-Up, a new feature dedicated to spotlighting some of the up-and-coming faces of new media in video games. Join us as we get to know some of the people behind YouTube and Twitch content creators that dive into various channels of video games, be they informative, artistic, or otherwise.

Editor's note: While this edition of Shacknews Close-Up was prepared in advance, Scott Manley has since had some troubles with his streaming channel, regarding a streaming key issue. A full recap of that ugly ordeal can be found here. Manley has since contacted Shacknews to inform us that the situation has been resolved and he is currently reaching out to YouTube to discuss the situation. He issues a friendly reminder to any up-and-coming content creators to never reveal your streaming key, because even an accidental reveal can have some terrible consequences.

Video games have proven a capacity to not only entertain the masses, but when done right, they also have the ability to educate. The best games tow the line between a wildly fun experience and an educational excursion. That's especially been the case in recent years when it comes to games that takes players out into space.

Today's Shacknews Close-Up profiles Scott Manley, better known to his fans as the Astronogamer. He takes a sector of games and breaks them down as both gaming excellence and scientific brilliance. In particular, Mr. Manley has been a big fan of Kerbal Space Program and developer Squad's ability to entertain and educate its user base. Shacknews recently had the opportunity to speak to the Astronogamer about his ventures into the world of KSP, as well as his other video game space travels.

Shacknews: Take a moment to talk about your channel. What's it about and what made you want to start making videos?

Scott Manley, the Astronogamer: Mostly I'm known for playing spaceship games and talking about science, sometimes I do science themed games like Kerbal Space Program or Spacechem and combine the experience, sometimes I do pure science content and others I'll just play interesting games because I enjoy them. I played through Papers Please with a fake Artsotskan accent. My first really successful video was a scientific visualization of asteroid discoveries over the last few decades, and the success of that catalyzed me into working on more content.

Shacknews: Your channel's mission statement is blending video games and science. What games have allowed you to do that?

Manley: Kerbal Space program is the obvious example, it provides so numerous opportunities to teach physics, engineering and even astronomy. Even if I was building something ridiculous like a rocket powered lawn chair I can talk about real space history, yes , NASA did in fact spend a lot of time researching the potential of a rocket powered chair. Elite: Dangerous has a procedurally generated universe and when exploring you'll encounter things like Brown Dwarfs, White Dwarfs, T-Tauri stars and other classes of objects which I inevitably end up discussing as a way to fill time. Truthfully, game development is a very technical process and it's quite easy to find something educational to discuss in almost any title. With Crusader Kings, there's lots of room for history, EVE Online has had me talking about Economics, TIS-100 let me relate stories of vintage computer hardware.

Shacknews: You've been exploring mods for Kerbal Space Program for quite a while. Which mods, in particular, do you feel have helped make the game not just more fun, but also more educational?

Manley: Well, I'd start out with Kerbal Engineer, not because it really makes it more fun, but it provides a lot of useful information which would otherwise require a bit of number crunching that rapidly becomes un-fun. KerbalEdu is a professionally developed mod that tries to bring KSP into the classroom, the company that developed that is better known for its MindecraftEdu program. But the more educational mods are the ones which actually make the game harder by introducing more bits of rocket science, things like Realism Overhaul, which among other things removes the ability to finely tune the throttle of your engines, limits the number of times the engines can light and also models fuel flow inside the tanks. In real life, getting fuel out of a tank in Zero-G is a surprisingly complicated problem.

Shacknews: How do you feel you've progressed as a Kerbal Space Program player? And how has that helped you become a better content creator?

Manley: Beyond simply developing better keyboard skills, the real growth within the confines of KSP is in handling the building and construction of vehicles, there's plenty of lesser known controls available when building rockets which can be huge time savers. Understanding how the part tree can be manipulated lets me do things like converting an existing craft into a sub-assembly, so I can build formations.

And then there's savefile editing. Sometimes I need to make a quick demo for something and I can just edit the save file to put something in the right location, or in other cases I need to hand edit the save to fix some problem with a mod. That's amazingly useful and time saving.

But making videos about KSP has taught me as a content creator never to underestimate the audience. The world is full of smart people who'll frequently pick up on mistakes and talk about them. There's a human reaction to immediately disagree with people who're dissing your skills, but the correct approach is to be humble and admit your errors, respect the community. I don't think I'm the best player by a long shot, I've seen some amazing missions pulled off by dedicated pilots or perfect looking homages to spacecraft from elsewhere in sci-fi. I've learned never to feel threatened by more talented people.

Shacknews: You've also played some Star Citizen and been diving into the alpha. From the Astronogamer perspective, how do you feel that game is progressing? What have you been enjoying and are there any parts of the game you feel need to be addressed?

Manley: Star Citizen still has a long way to go to deliver the feature set that they promised, so I don't think I can offer a great deal of advice. I love the effort they put into ship designs, including multiple redesigns on some of the hulls, the rule of cool governs the design process although this is sometimes at odds with trying to simulate the flight characteristics according to physics.

With its moving engine pods the Drake Cutlass actually makes a lot of sense, but its theoretical advantages are washed away by the devs making maneuver thrusters significantly more powerful than they should be for their size. Of course, this is somewhat a moot point, because realistic physics would not allow space fighters, so every spaceship combat game is taking a big step away from reality as soon as they put fighter pilots in their lore.

My biggest complaints are with the overused visual effects like motion blur and chromatic aberration, people have been complaining about these for years and the only way to disable them is through hand editing config files or console commands. Bugs come and go between releases as devs find and fix them, but the visual filters have been the object of derision by everyone since day one.

Shacknews: Having approached games from a more academic perspective, how do you feel video games have progressed as educational tools, especially in the last five years, where we've been treated to games like KSP and Elite: Dangerous?

Manley: I think games have always provided learning experiences, and more importantly they haven't needed to try to be educational to do so. In fact, games that try to teach you things are usually very poor games. Early games on 8-bit micros were instrumental in making me interested in programming. By the time I was 11 years old, I was coding simple games in z80 machine code. To be clear, while I spent 10 years at university working my way through various astronomy degrees I ultimately ended up with an excellent day job as a software developer, my video creation takes place in the evenings after a long day coding.

With most games played on cellphones and consoles, there's a lot less people taking the step into coding, but there are still plenty of opportunities for games to be treated more as playgrounds for creativity. Minecraft is obviously a prime example of this, and I quite often find myself talking with kids who are very happy to learn more about geology or TNT because of their Minecraft experience.

I don't think that you learn a great deal of anything from games, but it does put it in a context which makes it more accessible and by extension less intimidating. Both my kids will avoid doing their homework and claim it's too hard until they actually sit down and do it. Many people doubt their own capacity for learning and I like to think my coverage of games doesn't directly teach them anything, but rather breaks down those perceived barriers to learning.

Shacknews: What advice can you offer anyone looking to get into content creation? What are some skills anyone looking to make videos should know?

Manley: Bullet points!

  • Create content that interests you, if it interests you then it'll be a whole lot easier.
  • Learn about copyright rules before you end up getting smacked with it.
  • The quality of your voice is pivotal, speak loud and clear, use the best mic you can afford and then use a compressor to keep it at a consistent volume.
  • Edit out boring bits.
  • If you're playing games you need to stand out, if it's a mainstream game then you need to have a unique angle.
  • Never get mad at more popular content creators out of jealousy. You'll just drive away potential viewers.
  • Don't make videos because you want to be famous. It's the wrong state of mind.
  • Don't do this because you expect to make money. My day job is still way better than my YouTube income.
  • By that same token, don't quit your day job or drop out of college. Money from internet fame can be fleeting.

Shacknews: You've been diving deep into KSP, Elite: Dangerous, and Star Citizen, while also making some time for Homeworld and Tharsis. What games are you looking forward to getting into in the future?

Manley: The Mandate is a crowdfunded game that I backed early on, it's a tactical space RPG with a setting that resembles pre-revolution Russia. The Long Dark is a survival sim that places you in the frozen north after a disaster triggered by a massive solar flare. I've been playing this on and off for a while, and the sandbox has grown nicely but I'm really excited for the episodic story mode which we're told is coming soon. Enemy Starfighter is a lightweight space combat sim which puts you in the role of the bad guy, the game mechanics encourage you to not just destroy other ships, but make sure you clean up all the escape pods too, also, the visual design and audio are fantastic.

Find Scott Manley's YouTube channel here.

Enjoy this feature? Join the conversation and let us know in the comments! Also, any personalities across YouTube, Twitch, Hitbox, and other content creation channels you'd like to see covered? Let us know that, too, or reach out directly on Twitter at @Ozz_Mejia and leave some suggestions.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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