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.