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!