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!