Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Ship Review - Rising Star by Agent Tairov

Agent Tairov is a shipbuilder who has come from being a footnote in Moo Spykers' early ships (she helped code the Leviathan) to the centre stage of the starship market in a remarkably short time, and in the process has raised the bar in many ways for what people expect from a large moving starship. Rising Star features all of her trademark gadgets (jump drive, Panopticon sim scanner, teleporter) but is the first ship in her range where the texturing has really come together. Amazing though the Atlas and Panther carriers were, the texturing always felt a little cartoony. The Rising Star, however, is understated, sleek red curves with nothing more than subtle shadowing for details over most of the hull, and the interior...the interior is beautifully decked out in a Japanese theme, with shoji doors, wood and rice paper walls, and oriental decor. The effect is to give the ship a unified feel, and at the same time make it stand out from the crowd. This is not just a starship, this is a home, a yacht in space. The furniture is nothing exciting, but neither is it bad, it is just functional and does the job nicely, blending in well. It has a hot tub, too...

The build of the ship is good, with only some minor texture flicker around the airlock doors from the outside; it's all in line from stem to stern, and there is no prim wastage; Agent builds simply, using megaprims and sculpts, and this saves prims in the long run and creates simple, elegant shapes. Rising Star is very retro, looking for all the world like a ship out of the original Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon series, with fins and engines. Granted, it is inspired by the Outlaw Star from the anime series, but Agent has plumped out that design to make it spacious inside.

Scriptwise, a sim's script meter barely flickers when you rez a Rising Star; the flight scripts generate almost no lag whatsoever, and the other scripts in the ship have all been trimmed to take as little of your sim's precious processor time as possible. The downside of this is that, in motion, the flight script is a little clunky looking, and lacking in fine control, but at least the ship's bits all end up in the right place when you stop flying it. The flight system in Agent's ships (from the Panther onwards) also feature 'Acro' mode - an alternative flight mode that allows you to pitch and roll the ship, so you can in effect fly it nose down through a sim - this is a wonderfully novel answer to the limitations on lateral space in a SL sim for a large spacecraft to maneuver in. Levelling up after diving and rolling and climbing can be a nightmare, but thoughtfuly Agent provides you with a button on the pilot console labelled 'Level' which resets the ship back to zero rotation.

The FTL works well, though there seems to be a slight glitch with the fighter docking system - most of the time a docked ship jumps with the ship, but every so often it will get left behind and, oddly, eventually catch you up as you fly around. Jumping across sim borders is also fraught with peril, and I wouldn't recommend it unless you're playing in a sim where the owner won't mind finding 500 prims of spacecraft bits under the ground. It works most of the time, but fails spectacularly enough that it's not recommended. Not Agent's fault, I hasten to add, SL lag seems to be the issue.

The Panopticon radar is Agent's finely scripted sim scanner that launches a probe that travels through set points throughout a sim and builds up a picture of who is present, their position and their movement on the 3D map. The ship is also shown, as is the ground, for reference. This is a great idea, and once you've detected avatars, you can send them messages from the ship, offer to teleport them aboard and send out a beam, teleport down to them, set them as a target for weapons fire should they stray too close; all in all, a well thought out system. About the only niggle is that it is a bit fiddly to figure out and the probes don't always derezz themselves when they are done. Tiny flies in an otherwise perfect ointment.

This is the first of Agent's ships to feature her T-Rezzer system, a scene rezzer that allows detailed scenes to be stored for later use, keeping the basic prim count of the ship low in use, an idea started by Smith Fizz, and later developed to include almost the whole interior of the ship by Podwangler Zapedzki. In Rising Star you have choices of a research lab, a throne room, two offices, lounge, conference room, medical bay, bedroom and a briefing room. None of the scenes rezzed are quite as polished (or, conversely, as damaging to the prim count) as Smith Fizz's furniture sets, but they are very serviceable nonetheless. My only gripe with them is that there are not more things to actually do in most of the scenes; the lab scene looks interesting and has control panels next to what look like two reactors, but it would be nice for example to have had those buttons mapped to turn the reactors on or off, or generate a sound effect. The infirmary is better and has a working medical scanner and medical computer that gives out random notecards to diagnose people; no bacta tanks though, I'm afraid, Star Wars fans. The office scenes, bedroom and lounge sit well with the Japanese theme of the rest of the interior, and I just love the idea of a ship with a throne room.

Upstairs the ship has an oddly empty area that is devoid of rezzers - looks like Agent thought about having another rezzer here but instead opted for empty space and a couple of small bars at either side. Strangely, considering the polish of teh rest of the ship, this feels like she forgot something. Forward of this is the bridge, with space for the pilot (the ship is group pilotable, like all of Agent's ships), a comms officer, drop pod and teleport controller, and a tactical officer, with a strange flotation tank that, I guess, must be for the wealthy captain to flot in whilst giving their orders to the crew! The aft of this deck leads to two doors which open onto a pair of mirroring oriental themed private suites with their own colour themes; one is mostly greens and darker wood, the other blues and black wood. They give a nice sense of space and privacy here, ideal quarters for the crew.

Downstairs, and going back from the rezzer area and the airlocks are another pair of doors, one on either side; one leads to the aforementioned hot tub and bathroom suite, the other to a third bedroom, considerably smaller than the ones above; one can only assume that one of the crew is not as worthy as the rest! This room is decked out in the same beech / red Japanese theme as the rest of the interior. At the very aft of this deck is the hangar, where you can rezz Agent's trademark drop pods. These are a design weakpoint; they really do just look like flying dumpsters. In a ship so elegant and well designed, it might be worth her while redesigning them with her newfound skills and confidence. In the hangar, it would also have been nice to have seen a landing pad with her excellent (if sometimes twitchy) docking script so that shuttles could land here, dock, and then move along with the ship when it starts moving off.

Downstairs again is a space that I guess you could call engineering - there seems to be some fuel tanks, and an engine control panel, but otherwise it's empty - cargo storage space, I can only assume, which would be necessary on a ship this size. Nicely, the interior of this deck forgoes the oriental sophistication of the habitation decks and is instead quite functional and 'techy'. This is the place where the captain never goes.

Overall, although there are some minor flaws, Rising Star is a stunning ship, and one that has placed her slap bang in the middle of the starship home market and in direct competition with Smith Fizz. Smith might be able to make nicer furniture, but so far Agent has the edge on scripting and gadgetry. Time for the competition to up their game, perhaps?

Build Quality - 85%
Excellent throughout, Agent is a meticulous builder, every piece of the ship is smoothly joined and positioned with mathematical precision. The only bug is the flickering texture around the airlock on the outside, which seems like an odd bug to have missed, but given the solid quality and excellent use of prims on a ship this size, she can be forgiven for it. The dumpster design of the drop pod though is somewhat less forgivable. Marks off for that one!

Scripting - 95%
This really is Agent's forte, and it shows. From the clever Panopticon scanner, through the amazingly low lag and versatile flight scripts, to the T-Rezzer, this is a ship that certainly won't crash a sim when you rezz it. In fact, you'll barely even notice it's there. This is how ships should be scripted, and it's nice to see that she is clearly selling the script system to others, as I've noticed that Podwangler Zapedzki's last few big ships have all been advertised with Agent Tairov's flight system. This is no bad thing.

RPability - 85%
Like Smith Fizz on the Gunn, Agent has tried to have it both ways with the use of the rezzer, and managed to successfully blend a big and stylish skybox with some serious RP possibilities. The infirmary with it's notecard giver, the office space, the throne room, all of this goes towards making the Rising Star a damned good ship to run an RP from.

Gizmos - 95%
This ship has gizmos in spades. FTL drive? Check. Sim scanner? Check? Transporter beams, drop pods, chat spy probes, sim probes, targetable weapons? Check. It will take you a while to read through the manual, but it's worth it to explore what this ship can offer.

Value For Money - 95%
If this had been a Moo Spyker ship, it would likely have clocked in at about L$4000. If it were a Smith Fizz, it would have been about L$3500. Agent has set the price at a ridiculously low 2500, and has recently dropped it to L$2000, a far fairer and more affordable price point that most people could either afford without too much worry, or believably save up for. At L$3500, this ship would have been pretty good value. At L$2000 it's a steal.

Overall - 91%
A superb ship at an astounding price. If you have the money and are into your starships, it shouldn't even be one you think about, just buy it. Stylish and useable, packed with kewl gadgets and superb scripting, this one puts Agent on the map, and is a must-have for any serious starship collector.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Fighter Review - Rapier by Neocrypter Rojyo

Neocrypter Rojyo is one of the lesser known shipbuilder / scripters, which is a shame as his scriptwork is very classy indeed. His range of physical fighters and shuttles is pretty consistent, although his colour schemes do tend to be a bit too dark to see the detailing of. The Rapier continues this very dark theme, though it is beautifully shaped, using more sculpts than his previous fighters. unusually, the landing gear consists of a force field that projects below the ship when it is parked, shimmering slightly as the texture runs across it. The oversized cannons either side of the nose look like they can do some serious damage, and the overall shape is one of repressed energy, like a cat just before it pounces.

The ship flies using Neo's own flight script, a beautifully developed dual mode script that switches between mouselook flight and non-mouselook flight by detecting whether or not you are actually in mouselook at the time. The advanced mode has a novel feature, mapping the left and right arrow keys to rolling the ship rather than strafing - as his script has no vertical attractor to right the ship when it's off kilter, this comes in very handy, though it does feel a bit touchy - perhaps it could be done to be dialled down in sensitivity a little. Cleverly, he has also put in a 'dead zone' in the middle of the screen where you can move the mouse in mouselook and it will not do anything until you reach the edge of the 'dead zone'. Very handy, as it's notoriously difficult to get a mouselook ship to stay still when you're actually in mouselook with older scripts. It's worth noting that the flight system is 360 degrees, too, so another bonus.

The combat system selection has the old stalwarts CCC and PCS built in, but I was a little disappointed not to see VICE support; looks to me like VICE is rapidly becoming one of the more popular combat systems, and with good reason. Hopefully Neo will go back and put VICE compatibility into it at some point - he does have a good track record for updating his older ships. In combat, the guns are armed and the balls of animated plasma that the cannons spew are beautiful, carrying on the slick presentation of his work on this ship.

Build Quality - 80% - Beautiful sculpts, excellent design, the only flies in the ointment are the too-dark textures that don't let us see the prettiness of this slick and original design. If not for those, this would have scored considerably higher.

Scripting - 93% - Can't really fault the scripting here, Neocrypter has done a superb job on this flight script. It is clever, works nicely and feels good to fly. My only suggestion would be to dial down the sensitivity of the roll maneuver, but thath really is all. The ship is a well-scripted treat.

RPability - 85% - What bounty hunter or rogue pilot wouldn't want to be seen with a rare and new exotic fighter ship? Combat systems give you the ability to duke it out with other pilots, though it would have been nice to see an implementation of VICE here.

Gizmos - 85% - Guns that require arming and disarming, missiles that do the same, funky forcefield landing gear, moving artificial horizon ball; all that's missing here is a jump drive.

Value For Money - 80% - At L$800 it's not the cheapest fighter on the market. But it is one of the prettiest, if you don't mind the dark texturing. The sheer joy of flying it however is worth overlooking thaht small detail. After all, you don't look at the damned thing whilst you're flying it...

Overall - 85% - An excellent little fighter craft, well-scripted, nice to fly, with big guns and a combat system...some minor gripes keep it out of the 90's but still a fighter I would heartily recommend!

Starship Review - SF Labs "The Gunn"

They don't come much bigger than The Gunn. Apart from one or two others, of course, such as Moo Spyker's ridiculously over the top, yet highly entertaining Prometheus, the Gunn has for some time been seen as the starship to aspire to; clocking in for a long time at L$8000, and recently reduced to L$6999, it's not cheap, and at 875 prims without any scenes rezzed, it's also safe to say that unless you own your own sim, or know someone who does, you'll be sorely limited as to where you can rezz it. This all adds to the air of exclusivity of this giant black space limousine. From the outside, the Gunn is just over half a sim long at 130m, and does indeed look somewhat like a giant rifle; the lines of the fore section in particular echo a squatter version of James Cameron's ever popular Sulaco from Aliens; long, rectangular with rounded off corners and a huge array of weaponry jutting out from the underside, the Gunn looks like it means business. The bridge is a bulging blister on the top of the middle of the vessel, and the aft consists largely of the huge engines and the hangar, which boasts its own landing pad and opening roof to allow larger ships to land inside.

To get inside you have to fly up to the ports on the sides of the midsection, or to the hangar bay at the aft. The decor is definitely a cut above Smith Fizz's previous ships; clearly he has started to get a handle on texturing with the Gunn and subsequent releases - his earlier ships did tend to look somewhat blank both inside and out, and while the exterior of the Gunn is mostly devoid of texturing detail, the interior has some nice interior wall textures, and in the fore section, a nice wooden floor panel look on both decks. The main lounge area on the upper deck is spacious and could contentedly house a small party if you wanted to invite everyone over for some dancing. The scene rezzer here caters for a mix of sci-fi functionality and skybox comfort; there is a lounge scene with some nice, futuristic looking furniture; a kitchen and dining area; a military scene that resembles an operations centre like Battlestar Galactica's CIC complete with four gun turrets; and a sickbay scene complete with the now ubiquitous Star Wars-esque healing tubes - it may not be bacta, but it looks suspiciously like it.

Downstairs in the fore section, past the escape pods, is another spacious room - not as large as the one on the deck above it, but this one is themed more like a bedroom, with two sleeping sets - a sci-fi themed bunks and captain's apartment, and a more skybox-esque lavish bedroom with a mini lounge and a hot tub. The office scene is exactly what it says, except that the back wall is false and leads to a star-filled meditation chamber - stress relief for the busy Second Life exec, clearly. The final scene is a conference room, quite handy for the Gunn's sci-fi role as an important ship. I can easily imagine a captain and delegates gathering round it to determine the future of the sector.

Leaving the fore, and wandering through the midsection, you get a sense that Smith Fizz does like a sense of space in his ships; the midsection hallway is huge, both high and wide. The pedant in me can't help but see this as wasted space, maybe some room for crew quarters perhaps? The aft section is dominated by the big hangar, big enough to handle most physical fliers for sure. Up above the hangar is a flight control console that overlooks the bay through a large window. A lift takes you down to the hangar itself, and that's really about all there is to be said - it's a large open space with opening doors in the ceiling and an opening door at the back for smaller ships.

Back through the midsection to the stairs, and up we go to the bridge. The bridge Is very stylish, stepped upwards towards the pilot's console and with blue light accents everywhere. Here can be found the flight computer and the alert controller. The alert controller basically sounds an alarm if anyone who isn't on the access list comes close. It isn't an actual security feature as it doesn't eject people, it just bleeps. You can activate the alert manually, but in all honesty if you're in the fore or hangar, you won't hear it. A system of alert repeaters throughout the ship might have been a good inclusion here. Out aft is a ramp that leads to the top deck of the ship, the landing pad that doubles as the upper hangar doors, and up front is the pilot's view.

The ships computer I found to be somwhat odd - to trigger the various weapons and functions, you have to type in fairly unwieldy phrases in open chat; firstly, if I'm in combat, I don't want to have to stop and type "fire large cannon" every time I want to open fire; secondly, I don't want everybody on my bridge having to listen to me say "fire large cannon" every time I want to open fire. The implementation on this is a disappointing let down. A HUD system, or a system with shorter activation phrases ("lc" might be fine for 'large cannon', for example) fired off over an easy to remember channel, like 1 or 2, would be much more elegant.

The combat system itself was added as an afterthought, and as such is temperamental and inconsistent - sometimes it works with other SF Labs ships; sometimes it doesn't. It uses spectacular if laggy particle effects, but is not in the slightest bit compatible with other combat systems out there - even a collision based system like VICE would have been useful to try to integrate into any capital ship combat setup, but it seems that Smith has gone his own way with it. Seems to me that it needs a lot more beta testing before it gets pasted into a general release like this.

To fly, the Gunn unfortunately uses Smith's usual custom-made multimove scripts. I say unfortunately as I can see this system has several drawbacks. Firstly, it is quite laggy, which on a ship this size, is something that realy needs to be kept to a minimum. Secondly, although it confers a nice physical motion to the craft by bonding the non-physical bits to small, physical items, it does mean that every time you stop flying the ship, nothing seems to quite mesh up anymore - floors have bulges where one section meets another and hasn't settled properly, walls can sometimes have holes in them. Even the free multimove flight scripts at least lock all of the sections in place when you get out of the pilot's chair, but not so here. The lag I could live with, but to have my ship tear itself apart every time it flies? No, that's not so good. Maybe a few years ago this level of script misbehaviour would have been perfectly acceptable, but these days it's flying up against the latest version of multimove (laggy, but smooth and doesn't displace pieces), and the system devised by Agent Tairov which although moves in a very lumpy fashion, barely registers any lag at all, and which even keeps it's pieces aligned whilst the ship is not being piloted. Not mentioning the jump drive that allows her ships to leap from one end of a sim to the other. There is also Neocrypter Rojyo's forthcoming multimove scripts which sound like they will be interesting - smoother but more laggy than Agent's, and with a jump drive of their own. Big competition for Smith Fizz.

Another complaint about the Gunn is that Smith seems to have trouble keeping prims down; the staircases in the fore section of the ship, rather than being two or three piece sculpts, are made from dozens of prims and glossed over with a smooth invisiprim. Similarly with the hull there seems to be, in places, three or four prims used where one might be sufficient. I'm tempted to go through it and modify it, replacing pieces with megaprims and sculpts to see just how much weight can be saved.

These aside, however, the Gunn is still an awesome ship with an amazing sense of space inside it. It still doesn't quite know whether it wants to be a luxury skybox or a deluxe space cruiser, but happily, Smith has presented rezzable options for both eventualities. Is it worth almost L$7000? That I'm not too sure about. For this price I would expect everything to be right; flight scripts, prim weight and all.

Build quality - 75%
Smith tends to build by sight rather than by maths; investigating the build on the Gunn found the vertical midline drift by as much as half a meter in places. In some places many more prims were needed than were absolutely necessary. On the plus side, he has moved away from simply patching holes with more and more prims as he did on some of his earlier ships, and the overall design aesthetic of the ship is excellent, with a proud and menacing profile.

Scripting - 50%
The locking doors and scene rezzers are fairly coded, but the combat computers use of long and unwieldy chat commands to do simple acts like firing a weapon, and the lagginess and 'drift' of the pieces during and after flight is simply not something you can get away with in this day and age. The Combat System likewise needs a lot more beta testing than it has had, I think. It feels like a vague afterthought and as such hasn't been thought about too much.

RPability - 85%
The interior rezzed scenes strike an excellent balance between sci-fi roleplay scenes and general skybox luxury, making the Gunn, like it's rezz-scene predecessors the Jayde and Nebulous, a good choice for roleplaying in, and it's big enough to house gun battles and boarding actions too. Very good for RP.

Gizmos - 50%
Apart from the scene rezzers, flawed combat system and very basic red alert setup, the Gunn is sorely lacking in kewl gadgetz, which makes it feel somewhat dated by comparison with some of the latest ships by Agent Tairov and Podwangler Zapedzki, which have all kinds of fun features, from working reactor cores to sim-wide radar setups.

Value for Money - 60%
It's big, and it's luxurious. Compared to other, cheaper ships, it does look quite pricy. I'd say drop the price to somewhere between L$3000 and L$4000 and it would be perfect. As it is you can buy a Rising Star, an Alexander Freighter and still have change left over for a couple of Sharina Applemoor's oft overlooked Star Wars cruisers.

Overall - 75%
There's no denying that the Gunn is a big ship, and it's a good-looking ship too, which forgives a multitude of sins, which is why I've bumped up the score to 75% - it is, despite all of it's issues, a deliciously desirable ship, with some cool detailing and a selection of good scenes in the rezzers. Cheap it ain't, but if you find yourself with the spare cash...


Hi, welcome to the all-new sci-fi stuff reviews for Second Life. The sci-fi subculture in SL is small but growing and with such a bewildering array of gear, sims, spaceships, and weaponry to choose from, it can all get a bit daunting for the noob. In this blog I will be reviewing various sci-fi equipment, such as ships, weapons, and gadgets, and writing articles on the various themed sims in SL - where is best to go if you are into Star Trek, or Battlestar Galactica, for example. Hopefully it will help someone out there and make their entry into sci-fi on Second Life easier!