The July 2017 round of Collabor88 marked the first foray of well-known and well-regarded SL shoe brand Reign (stylised as REIGN.-) into vehicles. Now, I’m not particularly known for using – much less reviewing – SL vehicles, as I’ve always found them to be rather terrible to use, so this post is a foray into what could be considered uncharted blogging territory for me.
Why do I find using vehicles in SL terrible? First of all, the fact that driving and flight simulation controllers (steering wheels, pedals, flight sticks, throttles, rudder pedals and the like) have never really been integrated with any SL viewer cripples them w.r.t. their feel. Like it or not, they all feel like a driving or flying arcade game converted for an old home computer whose only gaming controller is its keyboard. Think Out Run on a PC.
Second, region crossings are always subject to the vagaries of inter-region handshakes and data transfers, and the amount of data that needs to be transferred depends on the travelling avatars’ texture, mesh, sculpt, prim and script load. This, in turn, causes all sorts of problems, including camera problems that can ruin your experience. I don’t even want to know what effect the abolition of net neutrality will have, but if you start having even worse region crossing problems, thank the morons and the neo-fascists who voted for Trump.
Third, the depth and realism of the simulation has always sucked compared to proper simulators like X-Plane. Fourth, there’s just too much unauthorised and unlicensed content on the SL market; far too many vehicle vendors in SL have taken, without authorisation or licensing, meshes from third parties, thrown their own scripts in, and that’s it. I can understand that a scripter may not be good with Blender, Maya or what have you. In this case, it’s always better to cooperate with a 3D artist who will create the necessary meshes and optimise them accordingly.
Finally, as is the case with far too many things in SL, because of the antediluvian and outdated default camera offsets, the vehicles are at least 20% larger than they are in RL, and, in many cases, they are no-mod.
Enter the Summer Roadtrip Droptop
So, the only use I’ve ever had for SL vehicles is to place them somewhere as decor. Of course, if a vehicle is no-mod, it’s useless even as a prop. At any rate, when I saw the Summer Roadtrip Droptop, I thought it’d be a good idea to give it a shot. After all, it’s not particularly expensive; it’ll set you back less than one US dollar. Even in today’s crappy RL economy, that’s not a prohibitively high price.
It has a cute and nostalgic design that harks back to the recipe of small, spartan, cheap, rear-engined cars of the 1950s and 1960s that were offered by the likes of Fiat, Gutbrod, NSU, Renault and others, without really copying any particular original design; instead, it incorporates – rather successfully – influences from many different brands. Refreshingly enough, it’s also not oversized at all. In fact, its size is realistic and pretty much true to what was the norm in those days. Plus, you get four cars in the package, each with its own colour scheme.
There are many nice details all over the car. For instance, the spartan interior that resembles the one of the original Fiat 500, the small whitewall tyres, the luggage rack on top of the rear bonnet, the (uncomfortable-looking) wicker seats; only the cup holders seem out of place and out of era.
The menu is relatively intuitive to use. I found myself needing less than five minutes of clicking around to get going, and didn’t even bother much with the instructional notecard. The driving experience is typical of an SL car, with the steering being somewhat more precise than what I’ve seen in other designs. Also, it’s obvious that the designer understands we use vehicles as props in SL, so several poses are included (I used a separate poseball from the “Live Free” set by Le Poppycock for the post’s opening photo, though).
So, is everything great with this car? Well, you’re certainly getting a generally well thought-out product at a great price. However, everything has drawbacks, and this car is no exception. Several of these drawbacks stem from simple misunderstanding and others stem from the designer’s own workflow.
As I mentioned, you get four cars, each with its own colour scheme. I would much prefer it if you were given the option to use a HUD or a submenu structure to choose the bodywork and interior textures you wanted. Second, it’s a pity that the car doesn’t take advantage of normal and specular textures. Even blank 32×32 textures, with the appropriate values entered, would have worked wonders for the bodywork, the brightwork, the lights and the windscreen. I guess you could do this yourself, but I’m afraid you’ll have to hold your horses. The textures are grouped in a rather odd manner. For instance, the tyre and wheel combination has one texture. Therefore, you cannot just choose the hubcap, apply a blank texture as its specular and enter the glossiness and environment values you think would work best, as this would also affect the rubber, which would be unrealistic. The luggage rack’s texture is grouped with the suitcase. The bodywork textures aren’t grouped together. Finally, I’m not impressed by the headlamps; they are not perfectly convincing.
It would have been much more helpful if the textures were grouped as follows: bodywork & dashboard; brightwork; headlamps and indicators; other lights; seats and suitcase; door cards; tail lamps; windscreen; tyres; mechanical parts. That way, the designer or the buyer would find it easy to use materials in order to achieve the desired effect for the various parts of the car. Another gripe is the choice of colour for the mechanicals under the floorpan. Generally, these are painted black in almost all cars I’ve seen. Here, they’re almost white. It’s not hard to rectify – after all, the car is copy/mod. But I can easily see how the grouping issue can make things a bit difficult.
There’s one glaring issue with the mesh of the car. No, it doesn’t have to do with its geometry or what have you: the mesh is pretty much perfect, but the issue lies elsewhere. While its bodywork makes it perfectly clear that it’s a rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive car, we see its drivetrain follows the front engine/rear-wheel-drive layout. This is rather undesirable discrepancy, which can become apparent from certain angles. Furthermore, I’d have liked it a lot more if the headlamps were textured better and functioned as projectors when lit. Also, it’d have been great if the doors opened, but that’d be perhaps nit-picking, especially given the price.
Don’t let the drawbacks I mentioned discourage you. It’s a good product. It looks good, it’s cute, it does the vintage thing well, it avoids potential trademark and/or design patent infringements very successfully, it’s copy/mod, and, despite the texture grouping issue I’ve mentioned earlier, an advanced builder can do a bit of work to tweak its looks and make it even more realistic for photographic work. And you can use it both as a decently-handling vehicle and as a prop. Did I mention it’s cheap? And now, I’ll leave you all with a more provocative photo I’ve taken using it as a prop.