Thursday, 21 January 2010

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.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review! Just had this pointed my way from Agent, you have a nice, balanced review style. It's nice to see someone providing this kind of service for the SL sci-fi community, keep going :)