This is a look at the PRE-RELEASE of the Viewer 2-based Phoenix Firestorm Viewer. As such, certain things should be borne in mind both if you are reading this piece and / or using the software:
- This is not intended as a comprehensive review OR comparison with Viewer 2.x OR an in-depth investigation of bugs, etc. Rather it is an initial look at Firestorm. More details examinations will come as the Viewer stabilises and more features / functions are implemented
- If you are trying out the pre-release for yourself, please make sure you have joined the Support Group for it, and have watched the introductory video
- Please don’t expect this review to be a comprehensive list of bugs (see above) or for the software to work *perfectly*.
Download and Installation
I use a PC, and so downloaded the Windows version of the pre-release, which installed smoothly into its own dedicated folders, well away from Phoenix .818 (my primary Viewer). This installer quoted around 116Mb of disk space being required for the Viewer – but as with Phoenix, it ended up grabbing 217Mb of space, far more than the 92Mb required by Viewer 2 or the 198Mb used by Kirstenlee’s S21. Nevertheless, the installation was fast and smooth, and finished with an option to start Firestorm directly.
As a precaution, I’d cleared cache beforehand, and so hit YES to fire-up Firestorm from the prompt. May not have been necessary, but did so all the same.
On starting, got a new splash screen which again – wisely – hammers home the point that this is a pre-release, and as such will not contain absolutely every function one might expect of a Viewer, nor will it always work as anticipated…
Give the status of the software, writing a blow-by-blow review at this point in time is relatively pointless; anyway, Jessica’s intro video pretty much lays out what the user needs to know in accessing Firestorm. Clearly, given it is based on Viewer 2.x, Firestorm is going to have elements that people aren’t going to like – context menus rather than pie menus; the revised camera and movement controls, etc. Some of these the Phoenix team have tried to address, others they haven’t – and nor should they be expected to. This *is* a new Viewer, based on new software – as such, things are going to change and – frankly – people should show some willing and be prepared to change as well, rather than harping on about X not being Y, and how much they like Y in Viewer 1.2x….
- Clean UI
- Much tidier Sidebar
- No Sidebar mini-tabs on down the right of the screen (unless you want them)
- Persistent Sidebar tab behaviour – unlock and move a specific tab (say, Inventory) – it will remember where it was last displayed on your screen and re-open there (rather than back in the Sidebar), just like Viewer 1.2x menus
- Buttons to Sidebar now contained in the Toolbar, and can be independently turned off / on
- Chat bar in Toolbar can be resized
- Ability to remove chat “headings” so that chat resembles 1.2x (date stamp and name, no little icon as per Viewer 2.x)
- Improved Viewer 2.x Navigation Bar and new options in the LAND heading at the top of the Viewer Window
- Improved skin options (with more to come)
- Google translation tool retained (moved to the CHAT tab of Preferences and appears as an icon in IM tabs)
- RLV/a support
- Double-click teleports, etc.
- Nearby chat window now includes a chat entry box AND has vertical IM tabs by default
The (Currently) Missing (that I use)
- No client-side AO
- No Radar tool
- No real privacy options
- No ability to click on the LAND information at the top of the Viewer window and bring up ABOUT LAND
- No MU poses or auto-complete
- No build enhancements in terms of highlighting prims, changing the default appearance of new prims, etc.
- No client tag colours
- Display Names are not displayed if chat headers are turned off in Preferences
- Flexibility of use with MY OUTFITS
- Had initial issues with the CONTACTS list in the Chat window:
- Not all friends appeared on first logging
- Options in FRIENDS list (see when you’re online, locate you on the Map, etc.), did not carry over from settings made in 1.2x. Some Friends lost the ability to locate me on the Map, others that did not have that privilege under 1.2x did in Firestorm, etc. I was also unable to change the options at all
- Both issues were cleared by a couple of relogs
- Scrolling up in Group chat caused incoming IMs to appear to “overwrite” text I was scrolling through – this was persistent through several log-ins and tests
- Some people have reported crashing when editing their shape or outfit – although I haven’t encountered this
- Not all the skins work – Jessica warns that there might be issues with some of the Starlight skins, and I found that some skins wouldn’t display LAND information at the top of the Viewer windows (e.g. MetaHarper Modern)
- Disabling the teleport screen doesn’t actually work at present
For a pre-release, Firestorm, already offers a lot for those who don’t like Viewer 2.x, although I personally find the default UI skin as depressing as Viewer 2 (something I resolved by switching to MetaHarper Modern). I don’t view the Viewer 2 likeness as a problem: Firestorm is based on Snowstorm and as Kirstenlee has shown, it only takes a little forethought to make the UI unobtrusive and functional. Plus, I actually like things like the Navigation Bar in Viewer 2.
For those who have opted to take a personal dislike to Viewer 2.x, Firestorm is liable to draw a lot of flak: it has the aforementioned Naviggation Bar, together with the Favourites; it does use the Sidebar and has toasties. However, the Phoenix team have done an admirable job in tweaking things where necessary and presenting people with choice.
The Sidebar, for example, is a lot less intrusive: it has no little tabs down the right side of the screen (unless you want them). It uses buttons in the toolbar to access specific Sidebar tabs and these buttons can be turned off (hidden from display, both “hiding” the tabs you don’t need / use (like HOME), and freeing up space on the Toolbar). The resizing of the Sidebar improves its appearance no end, placing it on a par with the Sidebar in Kirstenlee’s S21 – and as such, it has become far less intrusive.
The persistence in windows undocked from the Sidebar is also very welcome – particularly as it is persistent between log-ins, and does much to emulate Viewer 1.2x functionality.
Phoenix have also implemented a clean-up of the movement / camera controls, again a-la Kirstenlee, and both options work well, although the camera controls are a little big. However, Firestorm includes the Viewer 2.x ability to move the camera using ALT and the arrow keys, and I’d really recommend those coming over from Viewer 1.2x to give these a go; it takes just a little practice, but once you’ve got the hang of it, rotating, panning, zooming, are all much faster than using the control pop-ups.
Of course, Firestorm implements the context menus, rather than pie menus – and these have been a cause of much drama with Viewer 2.x, with people either loving them or hating them and wanting the pie menus back. Indeed, there has already been a heated discussion on this in the Firestorm Support Group in-world. Personally, I find it comes down to horses and courses: I’m extremely comfortable with the pie menus – through repeated use more than anything naturally intuitive – but I also find the context menus exceptionally intuitive to use and – dare I say it – a lot more logical than the pie menus. As such, I’ve no objection to them in Firestorm and take the view that this is one area that people really should just bite the bullet and adapt.
I do miss the client-side AO and radar functions – but understand these are coming. As a roleplayer, I’d also like to see things like MU poses pop up as Firestorm progresses – but the lack of any of these is not a complete show-stopper to me using Firestorm.
The ability to tweak things like window transparency is also useful, although it is a shame that Firestorm has no choice but to implement the Viewer 2.x Profile layout. While this has improved somewhat from Viewer 1.2x, the layout isn’t conducive to finding information as readily as the “old” style Profile window – PICKS for example, contains both Picks and Classifieds – but in making the Profile “undockable” from the Sidebar does make looking at your own Profile a lot more bearable.
Performance-wise, and bearing in mind I have an older graphics system (nVidia 8600), Firestorm’s performance is somewhat less than that of Phoenix. In terms of frame rates, I average 43-48 fps in Phoenix on a quiet sim with graphic set to ULTRA and reflections, etc., turned on. With Firestorm, this tumbles dramatically to around 18fps. Not crippling, but certainly down to around what I’ve experienced with Kirstenlee’s S20/21. Turning on shadows crashes this down to around 9-10fps – which is actually slightly better than KLee’s S21.
The one area of Firestorm I do find irritating, and I hope it will changed if possible, is that it uses the Viewer 2.x approach to Outfits. This, frankly, is far inferior to the code developed for 1.2x TPVs. Not only does Viewer 2 force you to add every item worn to a new Outfit, it lacks the sheer flexibility of choice in wearing outfits, combining outfits and so on. Indeed, compared to the capabilities introduced into Phoenix, Imprudence, Ascent, CV, etc., the Viewer 2.x approach to Outfits is….well “pointless” is perhaps the most accurate adjective.
If there is any way to replace the existing functionality with that developed for Phoenix, I’d strongly recommend the development team do so. Otherwise, Outfits / My Outfits will largely return to the realm of obscurity.
I cannot justify the expense of a new graphics card *just* for Second Life, and so I doubt I’ll be able to run with shadows active all the time, or local lighting on deferred rendering – but the results are such that I’d really like to see everything running full-blown on a system fully capable of managing it all!
Overall, the pre-release appears relatively robust for general use. There is a lot that needs to be added to bring it to a general functional par with Phoenix, to be sure, but the Phoenix team doubtless have things in hand and there will be updates and additions between now and the dreaded data when LL block 1.2x Viewers accessing Search, and thus start bring the usefulness of such Viewers to an end.
Certainly, I intend to keep using this pre-release, unless something substantial crops up to become a show-stopper for me, or I find the convenience of MU poses, radar, etc., more enticing over on Phoenix – at least in the short term.
Kudos to Jessica and the team for a worthy start.