Monday, 5 April 2010

Ship Review - Barracuda, by Agent Tairov

See it at Xstreet!

Where Rising Star was a yacht, a mansion in space with luxury and an opulent Oriental interior, Agent's next outing saw her moving into a different area. The Barracuda is a big freighter, not enormous, but definitely chunky, with a large, multi-storey fore that houses the crew quarters, an insectile midsection that can rezz a pair of bulky cargo containers, and an aft that is purely a drive section with no interior. Access is granted through the hatches to either side of the midsection which have rezzable docking tubes for easy access from a station or other ship.

Inside the midsection you see two floor hatches and a pair of T-rezzer units on the wall. From here you can choose which of the cargo modules you want to rezz, and there is indeed a wide range to choose from; refugee transport (complete with crate furniture and graffiti), large, opulent bedroom with a similar style of Oriental decor to the interior of the Rising Star, a small hangar, and a meeting room. For modding purposes there is also an empty container to fill with whatever you like. All of the scenes suffer slightly from their vertical construction and access through the roof, but they are superb roleplaying tools nonetheless. The furniture within is up to Agent's usual standard; useable, functional and attractive, if not bleeding edge fashionable, and much use is made of sculpties to keep detail high and prim count low. This counts for a lot, and allows the ship fully rezzed to scrape in at just over 800 prims despite cramming in a lot of small details. The texturing is consistent, if a little plain and slightly cartoony on the interior, with similar textures to the Panther interior. They are clean and neat however and, let's face it, this is a freighter, not a yacht. Utility is the name of the game here. The exterior is every bit as nicely textured as the Rising Star, with plain colours shaded neatly from one panel to the next and without awkward detailing.

Moving forward into the fore section, we walk straight onto the bridge, which is dominated by one pilot seat that is at the end of a single suspended walkway. Previous Agent Tairov ships have had multiple crew seats, but Barracuda has just one pilot seat, with access to all of the stations to hand, and it is only on the other decks that we find other seating for the crew. From what I can gather, Agent was one of the first shipbuilders to start putting in stations that other crewmembers could control, and to lose that functionality on the Barracuda is definitely a step backwards from my perspective. Interactivity fo other crewmembers can make or break an rp situation that involves action or flight, and here the pilot is a bit too far removed from everyone else to be a part of it. This is a personal niggle, however, and might not worry everyone. From the bridge there is a ramp down to the next level, which seems to serve a curious mish-mash of purposes; there is a Panopticon sim scanner rezzer in the fore, a galley in the middle with a food replicator (very handy), and in the starboard 'bulge' are some chairs, like a casual lounge area. To get further down in the ship we need to take the elevator, and we end up in another area that seems to not be entirely sure what it's purpose is. There is a desk with an animated scanner screen (I think this ship marks the first time I ever saw brota Kornfeld's excellent and now ominpresent animated screens), a reactor core (which turns out to be a rezzed scene that you can replace with a medical area or a pair of office chairs), and in the fore is what looks like an office desk. Agent's excellent shipboard teleport system is also present on this deck. Heading all the way to the bottom on the elevator, we come across the final deck, which has Japanese-style sleeping pods along one side, a large semicircular lounge in the fore, and a locker room setup in the starboard bulge that can be swapped out with the rezzer to make a brig (although, unusually, the shower door does not derezz and remains to the side of the brig, creating access to a small and completely useless space). On this deck also can be found the escape pod, which is rezzed by clicking on the platform, and it will plummet to the surface in the event that your ship is in serious trouble.

My impression of the interior of the Barracuda's living area threw me, as it all seems a little jumbled and not quite sure what it wants to be, which is a surprise after the superbly compartmentalised interiors of Agents' previous ships. She seems to have crammed a lot of stuff into the space, and not all of it into perhaps the right space. The curious and spurious shower door that remains when the brig is rezzed also seems like an uncharacteristic oversight. However, this aside it has some good roleplay space for a fair sized crew, and is certainly very distinctive both inside and out.

In terms of scripting, Agent pulls her usual tricks out of the bag with Barracuda; superb flight system that is low lag (if slightly clunky-looking in action) and boasts full 360 degree movement, including rolling and pitching; awesome Panopticon sim radar that scans the whole sim and then keeps track of people's locations, and allows you to teleport them aboard if you want to; useful teleport system that allows ship to surface beaming, and can be used to beam people aboard if needed; jump drive that allows the whole ship to leap to another set of co-ordinates in the sim; a series of probes including a chat spy. But where Agent has excellend herself is in the addition of the database for the crew. The Barracuda can be fed a list of names and ranks to assign those names to allow the crew access to different functions. This takes a little setting up, and the manual is a tad daunting on the subject, but it is a whole new level of access control over the usual owner/group options found in the past. Oddly there is a weapons console, despite there being no weapons - it does mention a future upgrade with weapons in the manual, but the Barracuda has been out now for some time and the weapons haven't yet materialised.

The sheer joy of the acro flight mode is always entertaining for noth crew and pilot alike, so the Barracuda scores highly here, but although it is generally a superb and good-looking ship, it does seem to be a little confused in its layout, have some odd little quirks, such as the forgotten weapons and the shower door in the brig. Despite these things, however, Barracuda is still a great vessel for roleplay, and the database system for crew access certainly raises the bar for detail in this area.

Build Quality - 80%
As usual, Agent's build is simple yet elegant, creating an interesting and unusual shape for the body that is compact and very distinctive. The underslung cargo pods are an interesting idea, if they can be a little fiddly to get into and out of. The living area seems to be a little jumbled up, and I'm still not convinced about the lone pilot up on his or her lonely bridge. The odd shower door is something of an anomaly and seems to have been almost forgotten about when designing the brig scene.

Scripting - 95%
Again, I almost can't fault Agent's scripting, the usual excellent quality of the flight script, teleport, escape pods, Panopticon and the rest of the gadgets is also supplemented by the new database access system which is a real innovation, and certainly a step up from having to go round every door on a ship and add users to the access list. However, I'd rather like to see some sound effects in there. The hum of the power core or the distant rumble of the engines would be a great addition. I'm nitpicking here, but it's a good point and one that can help with roleplay immersion too.

RPability - 85%
What it loses from the unusual choices made for the living areas and the awkward access to the pods, it gains from the database system. This is a ship that truly allows your crew to feel like they have a rank in your ship, and therefore a place. The gadgets help immerse your troupe in the sci-fi environment. As mentioned above, sound effects would be a nice addition too .

Gizmos - 90%
Whilst this ship has most of the gadgetry of the Rising Star, it lacks weapons (despite there being a console for them), but adds in to the equation the database system. Panopticon is always fun, and the teleport system, probe launcher and escape pods are great fun to play with.

Value For Money - 92%
Like the Rising Star before it, the Barracuda is perfectly poised in terms of the bang you get for your buck. L$2300 places it around the same price range as Podwangler's excellent range of freighters, with which it shares Agent's flight system.

Overall - 88%
Despite not being quite as brilliant as Rising Star, the Barracuda is still a superb freighter that maintains Agent's position as one of Second Life's foremost shipbuilders. The Barracuda is a superb base for roleplaying; it flies beautifully; it doesn't lag out a sim with its scripting; and it looks excellent and distinctive. There are some minor criticisms, but don't let them put you off - overall the Barracuda is a damned fine ship.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Ship Review - Mercury Shuttlepod, by Podwangler Zapedzki

See it at XstreetSL (bear in mind this is the old version, the update will be released in the next few days I am assured)

Podwangler has, as we have seen, moved into the shipbuilding scene very quickly, and perhaps unusually, unlinke most of his competitors, does not specialise in either large ships (llike Smith Fizz or Agent Tairov) or small, physical ships (such as Priest Varun or Cunningham Capalini). Instead he offers a range of sizes, from one-man physical fighters, through multi-person physical shuttles, all the way up to the large multipart ships at the top of his range. I picked the Mercury as it is most likely the shuttle I have seen more often than any other out in the wild. It's a blocky affair on first examination, consisting of a box that tapers up to the top and down to the bottom slightly, with landing gear and an engine/wing arrangement at the back. Odd-looking, and yet slightly cute and, more importantly, very compact. Upon opening the door (which neatly splits, with the bottom half becoming the ramp and the top half swivelling up above your head) you see that this tiny ship has a deceptive amount of space, with seating for a pilot, copilot and two passengers, and headroom enough to allow most non-ridiculous-giant avatars to stand upright. This is quite a nice idea as it allows you to stop the ship up at a good altitude and stand up without being unceremoniously catapulted out of the ship and into a 2000m plunge. For roleplay scenarios, this is an invaluable feature. The size of it is also very handy as the Mercury, I found, will fit inside many larger ships' cargo bays and hangars, making it a superb extra for a roleplayer who needs something to zip back and forth to the surface in.

The sculpts on the wings, engine and landing gear are effective, and the engines themselves give off an unusual green glow when activated. In flight, this ship uses a familiar hovermode flight script, which although I can't be sure, I think is a modification of a freebie script. It doesn't use mouselook and therefore won't intimidate those who don't enjoy or can't fly mouselook ships, and it also boasts a non-mouselook flight mode with diving and rolling. It's a simple script, but it is smooth and effective, and easy to use. After the fun autoswitching modes offered by Cunningham Capalini and Neocrypter Rojyo, it seems a little no-frills, and it seems odd as Podwangler uses Neo's scripts for many of his fighters. I did ask him about this, and his response was that he only puts the mouselook switching script in shuttles that have weapons and therefore need to be aimed carefully. He is also very conscious that not everyone likes mouselook flight, and is therefore offering this as an alternative. As he rightly points out, his Talon variant is, basically, a Mercury with the mouselook flight, a gun turret and a missile launcher, so I guess if you want this ship with that script, you have the choice, which is fair enough. Freebie though it is, I did have a blast in the flight mode, looping round asteroids and invariably smashing into them. It's clearly been heavily tweaked and so produces a controllable and easy-to-learn system.

In other scripts the Mercury has retracting landing gear, engine particles, the rather neat opening door (complete with nice, meaty mechanical sound effect), an FTL drive with a neat rezzing jump effect and particles, and the VICE combat system so you can get shot down. Podwangler did pass me the latest upgrade that will be released by the time this review is finished, I guess, so I'll cover the new updates too; in-sim comms radio to communicate with any other Zapezki Shipyards shuttle or ship in the same sim; lockable pilot seat that can be opened to group or open mode, and also locks the doors; and sculpted one-piece seats instead of the two-piece seats in the current version. Also featured are some rather tasty sculpted controls courtesy of that superb ssculpter Ifrit Skytower. This is a serious step up from the original Mercury, and the whole ship feels that bit more finished. There is a price - after his Easter sale the price will be going up to 500L, but even at this price it's fair. There are very few other decent shuttlecraft that are a) this small, b) this well-featured and c) this...cute. Yes, cute. It still looks oddly blocky, but then it's a utility ship, built to move people and fit in small cargo bays. I've seen considerably worse out there and for far more money, too.

In conclusion, and especially with the upgrades, this is a great little shuttle that is fun to fly, ideal for roleplay, and fits in most hangars. The fact that you can fit three friends in it with you is a major bonus. And all of this for only 500L - within most people's range. Recommended.

Build Quality - 75%
It's a fairly basic build, but executed well enough. Good use of sculpts for the engine section, seats, controls and landing gear, and a neat opening door, and reasonable, workmanlike texturing. Not the best design I've seen, but usable and inoffensive.

Scripting - 85%
As usual, Podwangler uses other people's flight scripts, but everything else is his own, and he has tweaked the flight script considerably it seems as well. The communicator works nicely, the ship locking system also locks the radio, which is a nice touch and stops people spamming the airwaves with it when you leave it parked up, and the hatch doors open and close slowly and smoothly. On top of it all, the ship is very low-lag, so it's not going to kill a homestead. Nicely polished.

RPability - 87%
Between the radio, the passenger capacity, the addition of VICE, the small and compact size, and the fact that you don't get thrown out of the ship if you dare to stand up, this is a fine ship for roleplaying. It's modifiable, allowing people to personalise it as much as they want to.

Gizmos - 85%
There is more than enough here to satisfy most people; a combat system, a comms system, lockable doors and pilot seat, FTL drive, dual flight modes. It's a great deal of fun, and has a good number of gadgets for the low price, all of which seem well-scripted and work effectively without lagging out a sim.

Value For Money - 90%
At it's old price of 350, this shuttle was a bargain, nay, a silly price for such a ship. Now, with the updates and the new price of 500L, it's still a bargain, and possibly still a silly price. Seriously, although you can get prettier shuttles out there, and you can get better specced shuttles, there aren't many of both at this price or cheaper.

Overall - 84%
In summary, this is a great little ship. It's compact size and ability to carry three passengers as well as the pilot make it great for most people, and its' rp value is enormous. Ship to surface shuttle? No problem. General runabout? It'll do that too. Maintenance pod? You got it. The combination of gadgets, useability and low price mean that it's hard not to recommend this ship. A great place to start, and as much as most will ever need!

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Ship Review - Hypnoville Marauder by Cunningham Capalini

See it on XstreetSL!

Hypnoville is a well-known and widely seen brand name across Second life's sci-fi sims, most commonly associated with interestingly designed UFO craft but over the last year or two has also been filling his range out with more varied fighters and shuttlecraft. The designs are very distinctive and make excellent and quite imaginative use of curves to keep the lines looking fluid and neat. The Marauder in particular has a very appealing design - it is, essentially, a huge engine with cannons and a cockpit. The large snout gives an immediate feeling of speed and raw power, the stubby wings reinforce the high speed purpose of the ship. Despite no obvious use of sculpties, the ship manages to look slick and detailed. The texturing is also low-key and nicely detailed. Only the silvered cockpit canopy looks slightly out of place - I'd replace that with some custom alpha texture at some point.

The flight system, wants for nothing when it comes to customisability. I hate to use a cliche, but there's something for pretty much everyone here, and you can mix and match modes and controls to suit. The flight system on this ship has to be about the most in-depth in terms of pilot options that I have ever seen. Even I was somewhat bewildered by choice. The thing is that you will never use all of the flight modes, so my advice is find a setup that works for you and you only ever need to learn to fly it in that mode. It has mouselook with strafe, mouselook with roll, mouselook with fast roll, hover mode, three different, more realistic flight modes, you can bring into play smartfly modes (technically the same thing that Neocrypter's flight script does; when in mouselook it is a mouselook controlled ship; pull out of mouselook and the hover mode is initiated), you can switch from the default throttle controlled setting to an impulse alternative for movement, and then set the speed at which the impulse setting will propel you and the ship. There are three camera modes to suit your tastes as well. On top of all of that, it boasts not one, not two, but four fully implemented combat systems. We have the old stalwart CCC, then there is the upstart and increasingly popular VICE system, TCS (which seems to be somehow incorporated into VICE I believe these days), and finally HVS, a basic hit points system that works with the missiles. Weaponry is also well catered for, with forward firing twin cannons on the nose (a great mount for accuracy), missiles, bombs, and floating mines. This is an impressive payload of weaponry in anyone's books. I'd suggest that the only thing missing is homing missiles, but frankly that would be like sitting in a Rolls Royce and complaining that the champagne in the back wasn't expensive enough. This loadout is more than adequate for most people.

Similarly the ship has a wide variety of customisations in other areas, such as the camera position, the cockpit transparency, and gadgets like a jump drive, a scanner that will lock onto a nearby target and give you their location whilst pointing the compass at them. This is all useful stuff that comes in handy in a dogfight. If I have to be critical (and I should, it is a review) the jump drive is a little tricky to use as you have to enter co-ordinates in a menu, which takes time. I guess it's more realistic, but after being used to the systems used by Agent, Neo and Podwangler I'm used to just typing stuff in and being wherever I'm going - fast. For roleplay, however, it kind of makes sense that you'd have to pull in and stop to program in co-ordinates into a navicomp, and it can add a real sense of urgency as you input the co-ordinates whilst those damned pirates are searching the asteroid field for you...

The flight itself is lots of fun, whether you use the mouseroll or mouseturn settings, the more realistic flightmodes I've never been sold on when I've used them but that's down to personal tastes - I guarantee there are pilots out there who will lap those modes up. The flying is smooth, and in smart mode the switching between hover and mouselook modes is relatively painless - perhaps not quite as fast as Neo's script, but if I'm honest, I hardly noticed the difference. It was only after repeated testing that I could say for sure that Neo's was swifter at making the switch. The ship responds smoothly, is nimble and light, and fast. I found it reasonably easy to hit targets whilst flying with both cannons and missiles. The mines are a genius idea and are a great way to discourage pursuit for rp. I did have a small issue with the bombs exploding almost as soon as I'd dropped them, however, but I suspect that's a small issue. I understand from conversations with other builders that this is an easy to rectify issue, and judging by how fast Cunningham Capalini responded to a small problem I had with the controls, I expect that it will be fixed in short order. There were, however, no sounds for the firing cannons. This was an unexpected omission, and despite that fact that you can't hear guns in space, there would still likely be some sound inside the ship as the shock of firing travels through the frame.

All in all, this is a thoroughly excellent and well-specified ship at an excellent price. It's packed with gadgets, exceptionally customisable, and well put together in terms of both scripts and build. It is a superb fighter that I can heartily recommend, both for rp and for dogfighting. Very impressive!

Build Quality - 85%
Nicely put together and textured, being unobtrusive and understated without being bland, and with superb use of normal shaped prims to make a very stylised, slightly retro-looking fighter. If I have to point out flaws, the lack of landing gear makes it look odd when landed, and the lack of a texture on the canopy seems out of place by the rest of the excellnet body. But these are small points - Cunningham has the rest of the ingredients right.

Scripting - 90%
There's a lot going on there, with 4 combat systems and more customisability options than a BMW M5, and the Marauder carries them off without a strain. The flight is fast and responsive, the jump drive does what it says on the tin, the weapons work just fine. To have so much crammed into a ship is great, and to have it all work so nicely is even better. Despite the loadout of scripts, the sim barely flickered as I switched modes and flew around, so it's not going to lock up your homestead if someone brings one around for tea. Good stuff, and very competently executed. Apart from the slightly clunky implementation of the jump drive, it's almost perfect, but even there I can see good rp uses for that. The lack of sound effects on the cannons however is disappointing. I like to hear my guns spewing forth fiery death. Though that could be just me.

RPability - 85%
There are so many customisability options and gadgets that make this such a great rp vehicle. Mines, scanners, jump drives, moddability, and the ability to make it easy to fly for anyone makes up for it in spades. A good-looking ship to be seen in, and a deadly one to be fighting in. I can see a lot of bounty hunter types buying these for the sheer intimidation factor that the silhouette will inspire.

Gizmos - 95%
I honestly have never seen a small ship so far that is so filled with gadgets and options. 4 combat systems, 3 cam modes, more flight modes (and tweakable) than you can shake a stick at...This is certainly one of the strongest points of a strong ship. The scanner / compass is a useful idea and absolutely a godsend in a dogfight where you can easily be disorientated and lose track of your target in the chaos.

Value For Money - 90%
At a mere 500L$, the Marauder is cheaper than almost anything else out there, and is better specced than most. I'd say that bewteen them Podwangler Zapedzki and Cunningham Capalini are redefining the price point for quality small ships, and the Marauder in particular certainly wins hands down in terms of toys and options. At this price point there is simply very little reason not to get one.

Overall - 90%
A beautifully made, well-scripted ship, overflowing with options, flight modes, gadgets and style, fun to fly and to fight with and with a bagful of weapons to play with, that is available at a very reasonable price that should make it an essential purchase for anyone who loves fighters. Very highly recommended!

My bad - the original version I was sent for review was not modifiable, I just didn't think to check when Cunningham sent me on the updated version for the flight tests. I've just played with it and found that it is indeed modifiable! In my shamefaced way I've gone and remarked it accordingly. I apologise for having a complete 'buh' moment.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Ship Review - C3 Warhawk Glider, by Cube Inada

See it at Xstreet!

C3 is one of those brands that seems ubiquitous in Second Life., and yet you never actually see being used outside his stores When I first joined and started looking for spaceships, Cube's bases seemed the ones that cropped up most often, and at first I found myself looking at these ships. The bigger ones always seemed far too expensive for me, and the smaller ones were still pretty pricy, so I never bothered, but finally I decided to see what they were like and took the plunge with one of his newer ships, the Warhawk. As far as I can tell, this ship came out at some point over the last 12 months because I don't recall ever seeing it on his vendors before that.

The first thing that strikes you about it when you rezz it is that you feel like you've seen it before somewhere. The forward-swept, slightly downturned wings, the engines slung underneath. It vaguely resembles a squat F302 from Stargate, and more closely looks like Podwangler's Lightning fighter (itself a ship from the Warhammer 40000 universe). The differences in the build are obvious, however. The landing gear is nothing more than three rectangular blocks, the engine is another block, the engine pods are simple toruses, and the only real areas that don't resemble a Lego model are the wings. It would appear that Cube relies on texturing to do his detailing work, but in fact it's a combination of texturing and build that does this; judicious use of sculpts, for instance, would go a long way towards making this look neater. And ditch those awful, gaudy textures. Something more subdued and less visually busy would look far better; as it stands, the textures don't match up where prims join, which, given the detailing on them, makes it look decidedly noobish in quality, which is disappointing.

Nonetheless, the shape is still one of the nicest looking shapes he's done, it just could have been done better. In terms of gadgets and gizmos, the ship comes with a HUD that seems to be little more than an AV scanner that also serves as a missile targeter. And the ship flies, in either hover mode (keyboard controlled) or glider mode (also keyboard). And you can turn in phantom. Errr, and that's it. The landing gear don't retract, the canopy doesn't open, there is a single gun on the front, but it doesn't actually work, and just in case you didn't spot it a sentence or two ago, it isn't mouselook. A fighter. That isn't mouselook. You kinda have to ask yourself, what's the point of that? The flight system works smoothly enough with a loosely connected chase cam following you around, and of course you can fly in mouselook if you want, but without a mouselook control system it's a sitting duck as a fighter. It moves soooo sloooooowly, amiably ambling around a sim with all the haste of a tired tortoise who's feeling a bit down. Anyone worth their salt in any other fighter will blow you apart in seconds. Except they won't because Cube hasn't put a combat system in it. Oh, it fires homing missiles, but they do absolutely no damage at all to any combat meters I could test, only causing Linden Damage with the Kill missile - and if you're on a Linden Damage enabled sim, you likely won't last long enough to fire one off what with the sluggish speed and all. As a fighter, this makes a good shuttle. But even as a shuttle it has its' issues. It has room for only one passenger, so it's not exactly a space taxi, and without a decent turn of speed or a jump drive, flying from the top of a sim down to the bottom would take you a fair amount of time.

I can't really fault what little scripting is there; the flight script performs it's duties well, and the homing missile system works, insofar as homing in on avatars goes, but it needs more. A lot more. As this is one of his most recent ships, I have to ask myself if he is even looking at the competition that's out there. His shop on Station Alpha is only a couple of doors down from Neocrypter Rojyo's Galactic Shipyards, purveyor of some of the finest fighters in Second Life. Round the corner is a Zapedzki Shipyards outlet, whose fighters are superb little ships that clock in at half of the price of this, look better, and fly better. And round the other corner he's faced with sculpty master Ifrit Skytower whose almost fully sculpted ships are definitely turning heads. And across the road from him, the new Krone Industries, who only have two ships out at last count, but both of which make huge use of sculpts to improve the overall look. With competition so close, and so readily observable, it seems Cube needs to get out into this market more and take a good look around, because he's still making ships that would have been merely OK four years ago. In this day and age, they are very poor.

Build Quality - 25%
The texturing is mismatched, gaudy, in places actually ugly. Very basic homemade textures that are overbright and underwhelming. The build is similarly basic, with the design actually using boxes as main pieces of the hull, and with more boxes for landing gear. I'd maybe expect to see something like this as a first or maybe second effort from a noob to building; from someone who's been building ships for years, it just shows a distinct lack of effort or care. Just because a ship doesn't use sculpties doesn't mean it has to be ugly - check out the A'den Starfighter by Priest Varun, which boasts one of the sexiest shapes I've seen, or Thundercracker Bandit's V-Wing, which similarly uses no sculpts yet manages to be a good looking little ship with a good use of detailed textures. This is unimaginative and spoils an otherwise pleasant (if unoriginal) design.

Scripting - 10%
There is very little going on here. A bugged (and sluggish and non-mouselook) flight script chugs along adequately (unless you decide to use the mouselook view in which case it glitches and sends the ship into a slow sideways drift and spin), and the rockets aim at people and hit them - but then do nothing. The lack of thought that has gone into the scripting is staggering. A fighter that isn't scripted to fly in mouselook? Which has a gun, but it isn't scripted for use? Which has missiles that fire, but then do nothing other than a light push? No combat system, no retracting gear, no sliding canopy, no engine sounds or effects, no jump drive... When you consider what you get on Neocrypter's fighters for around the same price, the diffreence is even more pronounced. And Podwangler manages to cram more and more into his ships for less than L$500 every time I look.

RPability - 30%
So you can fit a friend in it, but seeing as you can't dogfight in it, it's not much good as a fighter. The boxy build and texturing make it ugly enough that you won't be parking it next to a Dollwife Pink or Ifrit Skytower ship anytime soon. The slow speed means that you'll be last to the party up at 4000m. I can't find anything here apart from carrying a passenger that would recommend it as a rp vehicle.

Gizmos - 20%
It comes with an AV scanner HUD and homing missiles. Oh, and a two mode flight script that can turn the ship phantom. Aaaaand that's all, folks.

Value For Money - 10%
At L$600 I would expect a fighter that looked half decent and had a mouselook control, a combat system and missiles that worked in a combat system. Hell, even if it just sprays explosive prims when it lands so that you can do damage to DCS and the like. This, however, is very poor value for money when you compare it against the competition. You can get prettier, more fully featured ships from Galactic Shipyards, Hypnoville, Zapedzki Shipyards and A'den Technologies for the same price or cheaper.

Overall - 21%
I just can't bring this score up. Normally there are mitigating factors that can save the day with every ship I've reviewed so far, but I can't here. There just isn't anything that would make me say "..but if you're OK with this then you can still do that" It has no saving grace. It's vague prettiness from afar fades on closer inspection, and that was the only reason I was tempted to buy in the first place. I now understand why I never see C3 ships in use outside of Cube Inada's own shops. If they are all this kind of quality, it's because they're pretty bad. Sorry Cube, I think you need to look at the competition and perhaps not feel afraid to work with them a little - I've seen Ifrit Skytower and Podwangler sculpties on many ships, seen Neo's flight scripts in other people's ships...clearly these things are available to all from these people's stores, and you need to perhaps examine what makes your competition so popular and start doing the same thing.

After a few days I came back to this for some reason, and found that my above review was slightly inaccurate. I stated above that the flight script serves its purpose well. I did not realise that switching between mouselook view and back out to cam view would cause the script to sieze up and constantly propel you sideways whilst turning the ship uncontrollably. This error was repeated every time I did this for seven consecutive attempts, and can only be put down to a flaw in the flight script. The original 20% scripting rating takes another hit down to 10% due to a major bug in the one system that a spaceship needs - the ability to fly...

Monday, 15 March 2010

Xstreet links to the reviewed ships

As suggested (and I think it's a good idea) here are the links to the ships on XstreetSL that I've reviewed so far.

Rising Star (Agent Tairov)
Rapier R-1 (Neocrypter Rojyo)
The Gunn (Smith Fizz)
Alexander Modular Freighter (Podwangler Zapedzki)
A'den Starfighter (Priest Varun)
Corellian Starhawk (Sharina Applemoor)
BA-5 V-Wing (Thundercracker Bandit)
The XGP-15A II (Moo Spyker) does not appear to be listed on Xstreet at the moment, but I will update this link if and when it does appear.

And coming up in review over the next few weeks...

Agent Tairov shifts freight with the Barracuda,
Smith Fizz gets sculptified with The Element,
Podwangler Zapedzki provides a taxi service with the Mercury Shuttlepod,
and we check out Cunningham Capalini's Hypnoville Aerospace Marauder!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Ship Review - BA-5 V-Wing, by Thundercracker Bandit

I'm not normally a huge fan of Star Wars themed stuff, probably because it was one of the first things that sci-fi fans started building as soon as they came to Second Life. I've seen so many Star Wars fighters that I became jaded with them pretty quickly. Until someone showed me this. It's beautifully textured, with a level of detail and thought that just doesn't seem to be present on many other Star Wars ships, has a very useful HUD control system for controlling the landing gear, canopy, wings and speed, and is quite possibly the most fun to fly I've had for a long time.

The build quality is excellent, the V-wing's fold-out wingtip blades swivel into position when you arm the cannons in a most satisfying way, and the cockpit slides open smoothly. The landing gear are a little basic, and could perhaps do to be updated with some sculpties, but by and large, the build here is faultless. It's also tiny; this thing will fit neatly into any hangar with the greatest of ease. My only gripe with the build is that it is no mod, thus preventing you from retexturing or adding in things like Agent Tairov's docking script to allow the fighter to move along with the carrier when docked.

What scripting there is thoroughly excellent. Despite the lack of VICE or CCC, it does still carry the VCS combat system (which features shields and hit points) which makes dogfighting other Star Wars fighters a really fun possibility. It's a shame it didn't include something more universal, but then I guess Star Wars rpers will only really be dogfighting with other Star Wars rpers, so Thundercracker is playing to his audience and can be forgiven. The HUD is clear and easy to use, and the flight script is exhilarating; fast, responsive, exciting, the remapping of the left and right keys to roll the ship out of mouselook is a nice touch, and using Page Up and Page Down to dive and climb means that, if you want to, you can actually fly this ship pretty much without the mouse for landing. I wouldn't recommend it at the higher speeds though - at speed setting 4, you will be hard pressed to do anything other than hang on grimly and hope that you can make the turn before you end up smeared on that asteroid's - oh, too late. Like Neocrypter's excellent flight script, this one has a roll-and-turn mouselook function - moving the mouse a little to the side starts the ship turning that way, moving it further to the side initiates a roll. It's tricky to master, but very effective. If you can find a low lag sim, this, at high speeds, is possibly one of the most exciting ships I've flown. Takes a few minutes to acclimatise yourself to the controls, but once you do, you'll outfly anyone. The only bad point is a tendency to spin out when pointing straight up - I believe that is a problem with the vertical attractor and by dialling it down a little can be solved. There isn't a lot there scriptwise, but you don't feel left wanting. I'd say it's about right.

The sound effects and cannon shots are solid and fun, the medium-pitched whine of the engines is very Star Wars and adds to the effect no end when you are scooting through asteroids in search of your target, or on the run from bandits. All adds to the immersiveness.

The price on this ship is probably the most jaw-dropping part of the whole experience, and after the astoundingly fun flight experience, that's saying something. 100L. That's all. Just 100L for one of the best-flying ships out there. Thundercracker Bandit, you could probably times that by 5 and people would still buy this ship, because it is fantastic.

In summary, I think the only major criticism I can draw here is that the ship is obviously Star Wars and being no mod, isn't editable to make it look less Star Wars. As such it limits rp use to Star Wars rp, and that is a shame. I'd love to use this ship in more general sci-fi roleplay. But if you are a Star Wars rper, or just someone who like flying cool and exciting ships, then buy this. For 100L it's pocket money prices, and there really is no excuse not to have one!

Build Quality - 85%
Superb build, detailed, yet cleverly simplistic. Manages to look sexy without using any sculpts whatsoever. Nice shape, excellent and effective texturing. The best V-Wing I've seen so far.

Scripting - 80%
Neatly scripted HUD and tremendously fun flight script that I haven't encountered anywhere else, plus the combat system which seems implemented well, and gives a good Star Wars combat experience complete with falling deflector shields. Lots of fun with a few friends!

RPability - 70%
Loses points for not being moddable and therefore limiting it's appeal to Star Wars roleplayers, but if you are a Star Wars roleplayer, throw away your shoddy X-Wings and TIE fighters right now, this is probably the nicest looking fighter to be seen in.

Gizmos - 40%
Not much here beyond an opening canopy, alpha landing gear and folding wings, though the HUD is a nice feature and makes it easy to control. The way the ship automatically heads for a landing when you drop the gear is a nice touch. Otherwise this is a gadget-free zone.

Value For Money - 98%
Seriously, at 100L for such a high quality little fighter? He might as well be giving it away. Unless you are starving and can't afford food (in which case, what are you doing on Second Life at all?) there is absolutely no excuse not to have one of these cracking little ships. It's cheap, but it isn't cheap, if you get what I mean.

Overall - 88%
The flight system might throw people at first, and the lack of moddability to make it a little less Star Wars-y loses it a few points - if the moddability was addressed, this would be into the 90's - but this is a beautifully put together little fighter that is a joy to fly, with a unique flight system and weapons and combat systems that work nicely, and it's an absolute steal. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Ship Review - A'den Starfighter, by Priest Varun

I've seen this fighter on Xstreet for quite some time, and always been quite attracted by the small, compact dimensions, the slick shape and the features list - it has a cloaking device, mouselook flight, phantom and physical modes, missiles, and a turret-aimed cannon that allows you to hit stuff more easily as the turret will still fire the way you're looking even if the ship hasn't caught up yet. When I finally found his store in Center of Gravity, I decided to take the plunge and treat myself to one, and I've been flying it around for a few hours so far. Enough to get to know it and post a review!

The overall appearance of the ship is good; the shape is curvy and nicely textured; some good use of the torus shape has gone into this build to give it a shape that manages to avoid the rather blocky look of many non-sculpted physical fliers. The huge twin engines in particular do look exceedingly cool and powerful given the relatively small footprint of the ship. The stubby wings are fanned out in a vague X-shape, but not in any way that makes you think of an X-Wing. They are more reminiscent of small fins. The textures used are dark and discreet, and manage to avoid making the ship look too gaudy.

Climbing aboard prompts a 'Welcome, pilot' sound effect that is not too loud or overblown, and so far has not become irritating. The controls laid out in the manual are fairly standard for a mouselook flier; the usual WASD layout for strafing, acceleration and backing up, left mouse for firing the main gun. In this case I was intrigued by the addition of a rocket launcher and a bomb dropper., a cloaking device and a hit point system. With the gloss of the ship's build impressing me so far, I was expecting great things. With a roar, the engines fire into life with some funky blue glows flaring from the back, and we're off. Pretty quickly it becomes apparent that the A'den Starfighter uses the fairly standard Hammerhead flight script, which is a nice, fast and competent freebie flight script, but which also has one or two limitations. For one, it is locked to the camera, which means that it can suffer the dreaded 'mouselook wobble' (you try to hold it steady, by staring straight ahead, but the ship just rocks left and right repeatedly around you) and it can't do 360 degree flight - a must in this day and age. To make the best use of the vertical space of a sim, the ability to point the nose straight up or straight down is an absolute essential feature, and it did make flying the Starfighter a little frustrating. The main gun works fine, and I especially like the addition of a turret. I hit my targets very easily with this little feature, and I think it's something we should see a lot more of in other ships.

I was very disappointed to find that the bomb dropper and missile launcher are, like the Hammerhead flight script, lifted straight out of the freebie ZX4 attack chopper. Only the explosion effects have been altered, which I think is a massive missed opportunity to put in some fun and new toys. There is apparently a seeker missile mode which according to the manual causes the missiles to home in on the nearest in range avatar - I got the message saying that the seekers were active, but the missiles didn't deviate from a straight line or look any different to the regular missiles, and at no point did my willing target get hit by a seeking missile, so I would have to question whether this function actually works properly. The ZX4 missiles and bombs aren't really compatible with much else other than pure collision based systems, so forget causing damage to DCS2 or RCS or anything else with the bombs. They're for show only. I've seen other weapons scripts that create blast areas that do cause damage to the aforementioned systems - something like that would be a far better and more useable bet. The ship does not come supplied with any combat systems other than an always-on custom collicion based script that blows the ship up when it reaches 0% - it would be nice to see the inclusion of a more universal system such as CCC or VICE, because otherwise you're going to have some frustrating dogfights.

The cloaking system is simple enough, and does exactly what it says on the tin, turning the whole ship's alpha to 0 and rendering it completely invisible. The pilot will need to wear some kind of invisiprim however, otherwise they will be apparent as just floating around... The phantom option is also welcome, just in case you end up getting stuck on a piece of scenery after a big lag hit. There is a radar system included, though in a physical flier, anything that uses lag-inducing sensors should be a big no-no. Useful for locating your opponent, but be aware that it will add to a sim's overall script time when it's in use.

The ship is pretty, which helps matters some, but at this price it is a little frustrating to find freebie flight scripts and freebie weapons and gun turret systems, with not a great deal of alteration from their original, freebie, form. It makes the whole thing feel a little overpriced. For the same price Neocrypter Rojyo's Galactic Shipyards does the Rapier, which I reviewed earlier, which is fully sculpted, boasts a superb 360 degree flight script that also boasts a hover mode which is perfect for landing, has several different combat systems on board, and has custom effects for the plasma weapons. Likewise, Podwangler Zapedzki's range of fighters also feature Neocrypter's excellent script, have full VICE compatibility, and many of them are every bit as pretty as this - and they sell for around 250L, which is frankly a steal. Up against this sort of competition, Priest Varun will need to seriously reconsider his feature set or his price - 800L for a pretty ship used to be quite fair, but the bar has been raised in terms of script quality and price point.

Build Quality - 87%
Despite using no sculpts, Priest Varun has made a ship that looks desirable, deadly and professional all at once. The texturing is superb, the rounded shapes sexy, and the overall shape positively drips menace with its multiple fins and huge engines. It's a damned fine build. My only gripe is a lack of landing gear - the price you pay I guess for not using sculpts to keep prims low.

Scripting - 30%
I have to be honest on this one. There aren't really many original pieces of scripting here - despite Priest being credited as the creator of the flight script, this flies identically to other ships that use the (free) Hammerhead script - I'd be very surprised if it wasn't just a cut and paste derivative with one or two very minor tweaks. The VAS physical collision system is a nice inclusion, as are the cloaking device and phantom mode, but the fact that most of the scripts used here are freebies does sting a little when taken into account with the asking price.

RPabilty - 75%
I have to say that this would be a very cool ship to arrive at a landing pad in, it's deadly shape speaks volumes about its owner, and the fact that it has main guns that can cause damage to most physical collision based personal combat systems makes it quite useful for ground attacks - providing you don't try to use the missiles or bomb dropper - but the lack of a more universal combat system than the proprietary VAS system will limit your dogfighting unless you have friends with other A'den Starfighters. Not a bad ship for rp though, where looks can be everything.

Gizmos - 70%
The ship has gizmos coming out of its ears; missiles, bombs, cloaking device, collision system, radar, phantom mode - however it's a shame that the bombs and missiles aren't more useable, that the seeking missile system doesn't seem to work properly, and that there is no standardised combat system aboard. As it is, it is great, but flawed.

Value For Money - 35%
Priest needs to check out the competition - Neocrypter Rojyo's range of fighters is also exceedingly pretty, fly beautifully, and come featured with multiple combat systems. Dollwife Pink sells some very good-looking ships with a 360 degree flight script and VICE straight out of the box for half this price. Podwangler Zapedzki shows that you can keep prices low, and come out with some seriously desirable ships (his Thunderbolt and Lightning fighters in particular are gorgeous designs) that fly like a dream for a fraction of the price. In fact, at the A'den Starfighter's asking price of 800L, you could buy two of Podwangler's fighters and a shuttlecraft. This is the market that Priest is facing in 2010, and as I said earlier, the bar has been raised in terms of value for money.

Overall - 75%
Bumped up on the virtue of its good looks, the A'den Starfighter is starting to show it's age a little in terms of value and features; 800L might have been a fair price for a pretty ship powered by freebies in the past, but the last few months have seen the small starship market really getting busy with some equally good-looking ships powered by better and more up-to-date flight systems. I was full of hope for this ship, as the looks had me sold, but found myself more than a little disappointed. It still feels good to land it where people can see it however - the hot looks of this ship still haven't worn off yet! In summary, superb build, but flawed scripts and maybe a tad over-reaching on the price.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Ship Review: Corellian Starhawk by Sharina Applemoor

Sharina Applemoor has been releasing ships for about a year or two, many smaller physical vessels and a few bigger, single linkset starships, which are mostly themed around the Star Wars universe. Despite this, for the most part they are quite easily used in any sci-fi setting as freighters, bounty hunter ships, or personal transports. The Corellian Starhawk is one of the few that does actively look like a Star Wars ship on account of the Millenium Falcon-esque cockpit. Size-wise, it is just a tad under 40m long, with the cockpit at the very fore of the ship, and the rear dominated by the engineering section. The fore and aft sections are joined in the middle by a semi-circular thorax. The overall aesthetic is very Star Wars, the rear end being in particular extremely reminiscent of a Corellian Corvette (the very first ship we see fleeing the Star Destroyer at the start of A New Hope). A sturdy, large landing gear holds the ship off the ground, and steep ramps lead the way into the ship's interior. The smoke emanating from the front landing gear bay is a nice touch, giving the ship a dynamic quality when it is sitting on a landing pad.

As you walk up the ramp, there is an exterior door that opens up when you click on it to reveal the entrance lobby, a room decked in bright grey colours, with a door to the aft that leads to the engine room, and a circular glass door to the fore that leads into the rest of the ship. The engine room is fairly basic, with two seats for engineers and some fairly clunky computer consoles - no clickable bits or animated screens, unfortunately, which is a bit disappointing when you consider the way that the market is starting to move, vitalised by the extremely RP oriented ships of Agent Tairov and Podwangler Zapedzki among others. The crew lounge is similarly basic. There is a game table on one side, and a lounge with a holoprojector on the other, and both have viewports that allow passengers to look out into space. Again, there is no interactivity here; the planet on the holoprojector changes all by itself, where an option to click on it to cycle through the planets or to turn it off would have been welcome. The texturing, like the lobby, is light grey, and quite effective, and the use of sculpted seats here offsets the blockiness of the engine room.

Moving forward, another circular door opens into a connecting corridor, at the end of which is the access to the cockpit. The control panel textures are nice, though again there are no animated screens here, and the only real concessions to interactivity here are a couple of buttons to raise and lower the landing gear. I recently had a play with an older Podwangler Zapedzki ship, the Thermopylae Freighter, and although the build was - well, the build was somewhat noobish, let's be honest - I was tickled by the operational pilot's console. If you stay in mouselook, you can operate the ship's functions from the console. Want to drop the landing gear? Hit the lever, watch the lever animate, and the landing gear drops. Want to switch flight mode? Click on the flight mode button. Want to hit the red alert? Go for it. Gadgets like that would be perfect in a ship with this kind of superior build. It would give it that extra 'oomf'.

Scriptwise, there is nothing exciting here; the flight script is the (sadly quite laggy) Multimove freebie and, er, that's it, apart from the landing gear and the doors. Even the guns haven't been scripted. The sound effects are good on the doors though, I have to admit, very clunky and great for the atmosphere. There are some glaring omissions in the scripting, however; the sit ball in the pilot seat doesn't disappear when a pilot sits on it; and the ship will quite happily fly around without you actually turning on the engines (which you activate by zooming out and clicking a ring on the back of the ship). The ship itself clocks in at 222 prims, which I thought was quite heavy for a ship with so little interior. A lot of prims have been used on the cockpit window, however, and the landing gear, but still, this seems heavy to me; with the number of excellent sculpties now coming onto the sci-fi market from such folk as Ifrit Skytower, I would certainly think that replacing some of the parts with good sculpts would help keep the prim count down. The final gripe is that the ship is no mod. This is, as far as I am concerned, sacrilege - most people on SL love to customise their ships, and to render it non moddable dooms it to carry the same old scripts, same old furniture, same old paintjob as everyone else who ever bought one.

To her credit, Sharina does say on some of her Xstreet listings, "I am not a scripter" - in which case I would say that it would definitely benefit her to get in touch with someone who is, and who has a good name in the sci-fi scene; Agent Tairov's flight scripts and Podwangler's Alexander power core scripts would turn this into a corking ship rather than an average one. Because let's be fair, it is a looker, and if it was Mod too, so that I could paint the hull a different colour, I'd be over the moon to call this my ship. The price makes it still recommendable, because 599L is really not a lot for a nice ship like this, so if you can't afford the comparatively luxurious quality of the Agent Tairov, Podwangler Zapedzki, Smith Fizz or Moo Spyker ships, this is a fine alternative.

Build Quality - 70%
Although the ship is pretty from the outside, I do see a lot of prim wastage going on in the build, and the sleek exterior is somewhat spoiled by the clunky looking interior consoles, especially in the engine room. With more use of sculpties, and a more prim-conscious approach to other areas of the ship, this would be better without spoiling the look of the thing. The texturing is mostly nice, and rarely falls down, though the engine room did like it had been decorated to a lower standard. Otherwise nice.

Scripting - 20%
I don't really see anything here beyond a freebie Multimove script and some basic door opening scripts. Oh, the engines glow when you turn them on. Um. And the landing gear disappears when you push a button. That's it though, fairly basic stuff. If Sharina teamed up with a reasonable scripter, this ship would be a little stunner, despite the prim issues - RPability can forgive many sins.

RPability - 25%
There are seats for people to sit in and wait for the pilot to fly them around, and that really is all. Making the ship No Mod kills the customisation craze that most roleplayers have for tinkering with their ship's appearance, and having nothing at all for other passengers, or even the copilot, to do kills atmosphere and leaves the other members of your troupe feeling that they are just passengers on a bus rather than crew.

Gizmos - 20%
What gizmos? The landing gear. Oh yes.

Value For Money - 90%
This is where the Corellian Starhawk starts to win back points - at 599L there simply isn't much at all around that is quite as good looking as this. Podwangler does a couple of his older ships that are uglier but more RPable, and Rez Gray has just released the beta of his Condor shuttle, which is also uglier (though it grows on you) and has more gadgets, but Sharina has this corner of the market to herself.

Overall - 60%
Saved by the price point and the general prettiness, and by the fact that there simply isn't a lot out at this compact yet spacious size, the Starhawk is something I could only really recommend to folk on a strict budget - if you were debating between this and a Barracuda - get the Barracuda. But if you balk at spending over 1000L on anything, then this could just be the ship for you.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Ship Review : XGP15A-II by Moo Spyker

Moo Spyker has been making huge starships for years; his Leviathan was one of the first ships I ever checked out when I discovered the sci-fi scene on SL, and I recall being amazed that one could own a ship so huge. The MOO Carrier and MOO Cannon similarly defined quality roleplayable SL starships for quite some time; whilst Smith Fizz was busy making, essentially, luxury apartments that could fly, Moo Spyker was making hard sci-fi ships with gun turrets and decent-sized hangars. The build was always solid, if a little ugly - but hey, there's no rule that starships have to be pretty, especially military ones. Then he found sculpties. It took a while, but the Prometheus smashed its way into everybody's life in late 2008 - everybody who had a vague interest in SL sci-fi couldn't help but hear about this huge 3000+ prim monster that could barely fit in a sim. It was a talking point, but ultimately impractical as hell; at 3000+ prims, you needed to either own a sim or know someone who owned a sim; the sheer amount of sculpted prims and textures involved meant that people on even reasonable machines were getting bogged down by client-side lag; and it's initial 10000L price tag made it unattainable for many.

Moo learned from this, and the XGP - also known as the Outlaw Star from the anime series ship on which it is based - was born. Granted, it consists of more sculpts than you can shake a stick at, and so takes a good few minutes to properly rezz on a mid-range system, but it is still under 700 prims - more than manageable - and uses Agent Tairov's superb, low-lag flight script to keep its flight gymnastics up to scratch with today's competition.

Fully rezzed, the XGP is breathtakingly gorgeous; the sleek lines and immaculate texturing have the same effect on the ship geek as a Lamborghini has on a car geek. When you go to view one, take some tissues with you to mop up the drool that will pour from your hanging mouth as you behold the XGP's sexiness. Seriously. You see this ship and want to own one. I can't fault Moo's sculpting and building techniques, they are superb.

Inside is no different. As soon as you open the airlock to enter the ship, you just know that attention has been lavished on every little detail. First of all you have to click on a panel in the hull next to the airlock hatch. The panel slides across to reveal a keypad. Click on the keypad, and the airlock door pulls inwards and then slides across to allow you in. Once inside, hit a similar keypad on the interior and watch the airlock door slide back into place, particles spray as it repressurises, and you can turn around to see the wickedly sculpted and textured interior door, which swings open with a hearty clang. You are now in the main corridor that runs the length of the ship. Directly across is the airlock on the other side of the ship; head forwards and another pair of doors await you. These are the sleeping quarters; two tiny rooms with storage lockers and two Japanese pod hotel style bunks apiece. Again, amazingly detailed sculpts and textures. Ahead is the bridge, which is unusual; a central console dominates the cockpit, and has four seats on it. At first I thought I'd made a mistake and that this was some vehicle that detaches and flies around, it looks so unusual and vaguely land-speederish.

Heading towards the back of the ship, there are two more doors on either side. On the starboard side is a bathroom complete with lavatory, sink and shower unit. The texturing in here is particularly superb, it must be said, with a light glare from the floor tiles and excellent shadowing making an impression. On the port side is what I can only describe as a utility room, with a washing machine and some cupboards. Which makes sense, I would imagine a self-contained ship would start to stink quickly if nobody washed their clothes. The final pair of doors on either side lead into a galley on the port and a lounge on the starboard side. Both are tiny, and access to them is a little cramped, but they are still perfectly servicable.

At the very aft is the engine room, a small affair dominated by the four large, cylindrical engine cores that need to be pulled out in order to start the ship flying. A nice touch, and one that gives a ship's engineer something to do other than pretend to make repairs all the time - I've said it before, more ships need things for roleplayers to do, and things like this are exactly what I was thinking. Sound effects are superb here as you pull the cores out and ready the ship for flight.

Back in the corridor and you notice hatches in the floor and ceiling. The floor hatch opens up into a tiny storeroom; the upper hatch - well, I'm not really sure, you find a tiny space with another hatch which has hovertext saying "Click here to extend assault boat" but clicking it doesn't really do anything. I'm assuming that this is for a planned update. Likewise the hatch in the floor close to the bridge doesn't open either. This makes for a fairly limited roleplay area; one tight corridor and a handful of tiny rooms does indeed give the impression of living on a tiny, tightly packed ship, but in SL space is important to give cameras enough room to swing around behind an avatar. Here, you will only get the most out of it if you walk around in mouselook. This is a little disappointing, as the presentation and build quality of the ship is simply outstanding.

In flight, it uses a menu system to start the engines and then prepare to fly it, which takes a little getting used to, but adds a nice layer to the roleplaying. As it uses Agent Tairov's scripts, the features are fairly simple to pick up, although the functions have been hiden away in the menu system - so to change flight modes from flat to acro, or to make a jump, you need to go through the menu. I somehow prefer Agent and Podwangler's approach to making these buttons actual buttons on the bridge console so that the pilot can click them easily in flight without leaving mouselook. This gripe aside, however, the XGP flies beautifully, with simulated inertia (it doesn't just stop dead when you stop moving forward, it glides a little first), banking (doesn't do a thing in space, but it looks damned cool), and in mouselook, even the dials on the pilot's console change as the ship picks up speed or drops in altitude. There is also a handy position and rotation meter in the pilot's view, which is a very useful tool indeed. Free flight is basically Agent's Acro mode in which the ship can pitch and roll and dive and climb - an impressive looking set of maneuvers for a ship this size. The flight script is, presumably due to its exceedingly low lag nature, a little clunky looking, so the ship sections do shuffle a bit as you're flying, but this is par for the course with quality large ships these days; only Smith Fizz uses a smoother flying script, which is very laggy, and ends up with ship sections not returning to their right places after flight. I can live with shuffly movement if it means that my ship has no big holes in it when I get out of the pilot seat. The jump drive is curiously limited to just an altitude hop instead of full x,y,z co-ordinates, and furthermore works in a very different way to Agent's usual system by adding the height you type in meters on to your existing altitude rather than jumping to the altitude you type in.

The weapons systems are nice, with auto turrets being able to fire at independant targets that get too close to your shiny ship, or you can target them at objects or avatars with 96m; the missile system can likewise be targeted and is most impressive, using the targeting system from the Vortex Missile Frigate, which is a lot of fun to use. The downside is that a system like this should ideally be operated by a gunner, but all of the control falls to the owner through the HUD - there is a reference to bridge control panels, but I don't know if I'm just being dense, but I couldn't see any. This seems to be a bit of a lost opportunity to enable the crew to do something in the event of a battle, and frees up the pilot to just fly the hell out of there instead of fiddling about with the HUD and menus.

In summary, the XGP promised so much; it was by far the prettiest ship I've ever seen on SL, with some amazing texturing details both inside and out; but despite the engine room having a nice touch, the RP ability felt a little flat. The only rooms in the ship are tiny and claustrophobic; the cockpit's controls are limited to the pilot only, including the weapons. It's a shame, because with a bit more interactivity and flexibility, this would have been an absolutely amazing ship to rp in.

Build Quality - 95%
Say what you like about sculpties, nobody in the sci-fi market uses them or textures them as well as Moo Spyker. The quality of the build on the XGP is nothing short of staggering, and really does establish him as a master builder. Well constructed, and pant-wettingly pretty.

Scripting - 85%
Although he uses Agent's flight scripts, Moo has implemented them in an unusual and somewhat restrictive way, nesting the flight mode and jump controls in layers of menus. I much prefer being able to simply stay in mouselook and click a screen or button to change mode. Seriously. Makes the whole thing a lot more immersive. Having to jump out of mouselook kind of breaks the fourth wall for me and reminds me I'm still in SL instead of flying a magnificent starship through the void of space. The ship is well scripted throughout, but the implementation of the flight controls is an annoying inconvenience.

RPability - 75%
It is pretty, but a lack of interior space, seperate controls for the gunners and anything for other crew to do other than turn the engine on is a real limiter. Not a great deal of interaction going on there for roleplay, which is a damned shame because it really could have had so much more.

Gizmos - 65%
No scene rezzers, sim scanners, teleporters, just some guns and missiles that, although fun, are only operable by the pilot. It's a ship, it flies, it has a jump drive, it has kewl gunz. Apart from that, that's pretty much it. I shall await the update with the grappling arms with bated breath.

Value For Money - 65%
As Moo has just reviewed the price on the XGP and has cut the price from 7500 to 3750, I feel it's only fair to edit and revise this part of my assessment - at this price it is much more within most people's reach and is a beautiful, beautiful ship. At this price, you don't mind paying for beauty as much!

Overall - 80%
An amazing looking and beautifully constructed starship, marred by flawed controls, lack of interactivity for other crewmembers, cramped interior and a crippling pricetag. As I said in the original review, if the price was halved this would be a solid 80% - and so it is.

Ship Review : Alexander Modular Freighter by Podwangler Zapedzki

Podwangler Zapedzki is a name that was completely unknown a year ago, yet in the last few months he has turned out a frankly astonishing number of ships, both large and small, and managed to become one of the big players in the SL starship market. I had assumed that this level of output would mean that the ships were all of a fairly low standard, but a friend who had purchased some of his ships showed me round some of them and I was pleasantly surprised. I took the plunge after viewing some of his ships at his mainstore and bought an Alexander Modular Freighter. The exterior is a reasonably simple and yet elegant design, and looks good from any angle - the sculpted engines at the rear look especially good, and show some of the attention to detail that Podwangler is becoming known for in these large ships - the pipes leading from the engines go through the hull and into the corresponding tubes that emerge from the ship's engine. Nice touch. The texturing is similarly simple yet effective, with the whole ship a mottled dark grey on both the inside and outside, with strong red accents on the viewports. The living quarters are small, yet effective, and the cargo area large and spacious. This is most definitely a transport vessel - no frills.

And yet...somehow, for a cargo ship with an austere interior and exterior, he has managed to cram in quite a lot of functionality that makes the ship seem like so much more. The bunks in the crew quarters are Japanese style 'pods' with sliding doors and their own bookshelves and TVs; they have a toilet cubicle that also has a shower unit. The bridge is full of clickable gadgets that actually do things - there is an avatar scanner, a comms unit (which I tested with a friend in his Theseus the other day and it works perfectly so long as you are both in the same sim), there is a control on the engineer's console that controls the output of the core (my favourite setting is DANGER where the core goes into overdrive, sirens wail, sparks fly, the ship gets an incredible boost of speed, but after two minutes the core explodes, leaving you adrift!) and the 'stardrive' (which boosts the ship speed and throws pretty particles out of the engine at the rear). The pilot gets the most gadgets; as his larger ships mostly use Agent Tairov's excellent flight scripts, they also feature some of the best ideas from those scripts. Hence there are buttons for flying in 'flat mode' (where Page Up and Page Down simply raise and lower the ship whilst keeping it level), 'acro mode' (which allows you to pitch and roll the ship in alarming yet incredibly fun fashion), a button to level it out after an acro session, and a jump drive that allows the ship to jump to another spot anywhere in the sim. Like Agent's ships, it can jump across sim borders, but this isn't always perfect. Where the Alexander shines is in the detail that has been put into the flight modes - when you activate 'flat mode', the main engines deactivate and instead little thrusters underneath the ship fire out, giving a wonderful feel to a landing (yes, big though it is, the Alexander has landing gear and can touch down - if you can ever find a pad big enough...) or just to hovering; switch to 'acro' mode again to fire up the main engines to drive you forward. Nice, simple touches, yet highly useful ones. Another nice feature of flight is the camera lock; this is essential for docking your ship to another vessel or landing it. Simply alt-cam out to a spot where you can watch your docking tube and the docking tube of the other ship, type 'camlock', and as you move the ship, the camera obligingly stays where it is, allowing you to fine-tune your position. The ship speed control also helps here, allowing you to enter 'maneuvering' speed for these fine, well, maneuvers.

The interesting thing about the Alexander is the way that it uses rezzers. In most ships, a rezzer is usually present to put furniture in a room. The Alexander's two fore rezzers do better than that - they add whole modules to the ship, one on either side of the long neck, and docked neatly to the two side hatches just behind the bridge. Each module is doubled up on the other side, so you can have whichever configuration of modules suits your roleplay; there is an infirmary (complete with two medical beds that close down over your character when you lay in them and start monitoring your vital signs - another nice detail), a galley, a lounge (interestingly, the port and starboard lounges are decorated differently; one has a predominantly Celtic theme, the other a Japanese theme), a sleeper module with a lot more sleeper 'pods' and another toilet and shower unit, a docking tube for mating up to other ships with, a low-prim 'tanker' unit, a customisable empty pod for you to make your own scenes with, and my favourite, a detachable, flyable shuttlepod that comes complete with its own jump drive! I have no idea how it's been scripted, but I do like the idea of being able to detach a shuttle and fly around, docking back up and flying the freighter off! It's not always perfect - for some reason, the first time I rezz a shuttle, it doesn't 'latch' to the main ship and won't move along with it, though it seems fine when I rezz it a second and subsequent times. Just one of those odd things, a quirk as it were.

These modules are all simple, but nicely put together, with nice sculpted furniture (though not too over the top or opulent - this is, after all, a freighter, not a yacht), and they work well. Scriptwise, as the ship uses Agent's scripts (which, as we saw in the Rising Star review, are incredibly low lag), the flight can look a little clunky, especially at higher speeds, but all of the parts end up in the right place at the end of a flight, and even with all of the additional power systems scripting going on in the Alexander, it barely makes a sim flicker when it's flying around. The power script is a nice touch. You can power down the core (or if you run it in DANGER mode for a couple of minutes, it explodes) and all of the ambient sounds throughout the ship stop dead, the lights go to red, and all screens flick to a 'System Offline' bluescreen with animated static. You can't pilot the ship when the core is offline, and if it goes offline whilst you are piloting it, it ejects you from the pilot seat. This is a nice touch and a definite advancement on his old Cordelia ship, which could happily fly about with the core turned off (though I am assured that there is an update in the pipeline for the Cordelia to upgrade it with the new power scripts). This is a nice touch for a couple of reasons; one, it helps create an immersive rp atmosphere without having to imagine too much, and secondly, having actual things for other crewmembers to do (like the engineer's core control console and the navigator's communicator, scanner and map) helps to avoid boredom in roleplayers who are not flying a ship - they get their own jobs to do.

The rear cargo module (the large disc section that bears a superficial resemblance to the Millenium Falcon with its offset radar dish and wonderful entrance ramp, complete with gas jets that spray out when the ramp is lowered) contains two large cargo holds, each with a rezzer of its own that contains, initially, a few boxes. The idea here is to allow modders to add their own cargo loads, or even transform the cargo holds into other things such as passenger quarters - you're only limited by your imagination and building experience. Through the cargo holds, at the very rear of the ship, is the engine room, which contains a huge, sculpted, throbbing and glowing reactor, complete with an on/off control, and a duplicate of the power settings control on the bridge. The core is a clever use of various sculpted parts, and does indeed look good, and the sound effect is also very atmospheric.

After flying the ship around, I started to realise that the camlock function is essential - I now find myself realising what a stupidly simple invention it is, and now get frustrated with other ships that do not have it. Another nice function Podwangler has put in is a lock allows anybody to access the ship or fly it, or lock it down so that only the owner can access or fly it. This is useful - it would have been nice to see a user list to allow crew in to fly it or open the doors, however. Maybe on the next update?

Podwangler often tells people that he builds his ships with rp foremost in mind, and whilst I at first scoffed at that, I now see that it's true; from the modest prim count (only about 300 with no rezzed scenes, and still under 500 with both pods rezzed with the most detailed scenes), the low lag scripting, the interactivity and the detailing, every aspect of the Alexander is geared towards good roleplay. Granted, this means that it doesn't look as stunningly pretty, as, say, Moo Spyker's XGP - but then it's a third of the price, half the prims, and has space to roleplay inside. I have to say that my opinion of Podwangler's ships has been changed by my experiences with the Alexander, - I started out doubting that anybody could come from nowhere and make so many ships and actually be any good -but I can honestly say that he deserves to be up there with Agent Tairov, Moo Spyker and Smith Fizz. God alone knows how he manages to turn them out so quickly.

Build Quality - 85%
The build quality is generally excellent, with pieces fitting together well and neatly - quite mathematically precise too, with no drift in the centre line. Although the build is simple, it's also a clever use of prims to make it look more involved than it actually is, and gets away with a far lower prim count than many similar sized ships.

Scripting - 95%
Agent's superb scripting is worthy of an excellent mark on it's own, but Podwangler must be commended for the immersive power systems on the Alexander, and the cunning use of his rezzers to add both interior and exterior detail to the ship. It's a wonderful way to make a roleplay crew feel like they are doing something other than running around after their captain and sitting about while he or she flies them away.

RPability - 95%
Podwangler's Alexander is amazingly RPable, with clickable buttons everywhere on the bridge and in the engine room - and they are things that actually do stuff, like the ability to overdrive the core and blow it. Wonderful, built in roleplay scenario right there out of the box. The detachable shuttlecraft allows you to 'visit' those sims that might not let you rez a 300 prim ship, but wouldn't frown on you bringing along a small physical flier to fly your crew in with. In terms of RPability, this might actually be the best ship I've yet seen.

Gizmos - 90%
Good marks there for the power systems, the rezzers, the shuttlepods, the scanner and the communicator, but marks off for a lack of a teleport or weapons systems - they would have been useful additions. However I can appreciate that the Alexander, as a humble freighter, might not have these functions, so I will allow for a good mark here nonetheless.

Value For Money - 90%
Podwangler must be commended for picking his price point carefully; at 2500L, it is in roughly the same price range as Agent's Rising Star, Smith Fizz's Element, and Moo Spyker's Leviathan; it is more modern and functional, not to mention easier on the prims, than the Leviathan; it is more useable and flyable than the Element (though not as suave or pretty), and is really left butting up to Agent's masterpiece of ship design - and that would be an unfair comparison - one is a freighter, the other a yacht. Both are awesome ships, and if you want to enjoy your roleplay, both come highly recommended. The Alexander is a hell of a ship, and well worth your heard-earned Lindens.

Overall - 91%
Giving the final rating for this was hard. I have no doubt that it is one of the most useable ships I have ever had the pleasure of testing, and the looks are pretty good too - basic, utilitarian, yet sleek and ruggedly good looking. It's flexible, well scripted and nicely detailed, and boasts a lot of roleplay fun. It's not too expensive, and it flies well. After rating Agent's equally brilliant Rising Star last, however, I didn't want to be singing praises again so soon - I will admit that I was expecting to give thei ship a bit of a drubbing, but after playing with it, I just can't. It's brilliant. A superb ship from Zapezki Shipyards, and a must-have for anyone interested in sci-fi roleplaying.