Thursday, 24 September 2009

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...

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