The key differences with Sandbox mode are that the new Research and Development facility is open with science activities yielding Science points and descriptive "flavor text", but the player can build vessels with only parts from the nodes they've unlocked thus far in the technology tree. Career mode progresses by performing activities yielding Science points to "research" and unlock currently locked nodes.
Every game starts with the Start node unlocked already. All buildings are available (R&D is closed in Sandbox), although the Spaceplane Hangar may not be very important until unlocking tier four node Flight Control to get the first cockpit or at least Stability in tier three for the first winglet.
For unlocking the first nodes, a quick exploration of the nearby terrain suffices. Even with Start technology players can easily take advantage of the fact that the Kerbal Space Center contains three special surface-only biomes to quickly boost into the tech tree. Regular biomes outside KSC include opportunities for science while your vessel is flying or even orbiting, when you get there.
Your first rockets could basically go anywhere in the vicinity of Kerbin, especially with techniques like explosive decoupling. But usually the first rockets will barely, if even, exit the atmosphere. However, landing in a different biome increases opportunities for science by providing the chance to repeat science activities in new situations.
There are three science activities that can be done from the start:
Crew and EVA Reports only return science the first time performed in a situation, so visiting the same biome multiple times without having new scientific instruments on board isn't productive. Surface Samples can still be repeated up to six times, but each time which diminishing results, making it more rewarding to land in unvisited biomes.
Later nodes will be difficult at best without visiting other celestial bodies. Kerbin's moons Mun and Minmus are especially primary targets for the middle game as they can be reached quickly and easily. Both also feature biomes, greatly increasing the amount of science that can be done.
To accelerate the amount of science returned, it's wise to unlock nodes offering new science modules. With these it is possible to gain even more science to compensate for the fact that technology tree nodes become increasingly expensive.
Possible future features
Money and Stock
- The Career mode will add limited money, with parts costing the amount shown.
- There will be a limited amount of parts in stock. It has been said that if the parts land safely, they can be reused.
- It is planned that if a part of KSC is damaged, repairing it will cost money.
During a development chat, one of the devs said that things have to be "discovered" with a telescope or probe to find out information about it. For example, if a craft were going to Jool, and looked in Map View, it would look like a giant green sphere unless a probe had already been send there with cameras and scientific instruments. Cameras will be added to the game in a further update.
- “Asteroid Redirect Mission - The FAQ” by Rowsdower released on March 14th