I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to spend time using various pre-release versions of the upcoming Firestorm release over the last few weeks. I’m not about to launch into a pre-emptive review of the viewer here – that wouldn’t be fair on Jessica or the team; however, what I will say is that it is pretty fabulous. While there is more to be done before it is officially released, considering the state of play around a month ago, the team have pulled off one or two minor miracles.
One of the reasons I’ve been hungry to take Firestorm for a bit of a drive is because the snapshot tiling bug fix didn’t make it into the last release, so I’ve been limited to taking snaps at no greater than my screen’s resolution (1440×900) when using the viewer. The upcoming release does have the fix (albeit with the usual caveats in that the fix itself is not perfect), and I’m now in happy bunny land when it comes to taking snaps as I explore the wilds and not-so-wilds of Second Life.
I opted to try out higher-resolution snapping with a visit to Micky Woodget’s Sheepville , an open / residential homestead which is yet another treasure of Second Life.
Here, nestled amidst tall mountains and surrounded by water, is a tranquil village where the locals are quietly content with hanging out the washing, fishing from the end of a pier or sweeping the pavement. Birds, rabbits, duck, swans and deer can befound in the open spaces and on the waters of the lake and pond, and visitors are offered the opportunity to rent a log cabin for their home. All watched over by a little stone chapel high on a hill.
When visiting the region, one is free to roam along paths, climb hills, cross bridges, visit the chapel, enjoy a little fishing or simply sit be a campfire and watch the world go by. For the adventurous there are boats to row, balloon rides, gliding (in a vintage 1930s glider!) and hang gliding. For the photographer, there are scenes to be found at every turn or path and track, and Sheepville naturally leans itself to a wide variety of windlight settings.
Windlight is another reason I like using Firestorm. The choice of pre-sets from people across the grid is comprehensive – moreso with this upcoming release, which includes several of Vincent Nacon’s sky presets which give the windlight fiddlers even more to play with. I believe the release, once it is formally made, will include Vincent’s sky maps as well, for even greater depth, but I confess this is not something I’ve investigated.
Of course, the other thing which makes Firestorm attractive for photography is the inclusion of William Weaver’s fabulous Phototools floater. Having just about all the necessary settings available within the viewer which are suitable for machinima and photography is an absolute boon, particularly if, like me, you don’t go in for much in the way of post-processing. Phototools is obviously available right now in Firestorm, so if you’ve not tried the floater, you can.
If you do, Sheepville is an excellent place to try-out the floater. Just follow the paths and see what you discover and have a play with the settings. For those of a more romantic leaning, there is a little stone dance floor near the village, and a wooden gazebo out over the water on one side of the region which also offers dances; there are also numerous places to simply sit and hold hands and talk…
And if a visit does tire you out, drop into the village pub and refresh yourself with a drink or perhaps a plate of fish and chips – the landlord tells me the fish are all caught fresh and potatoes locally grown. If you’d prefer to eat outdoors, the bakery offers a range of breads and other goodies to help keep hunger at bay.
I’ve had remarkably few problems running the most recent pre-release version of Firestorm; while I haven’t explored all the options and updates by a long shot, I’ve enjoyed poking and prodding it and joining-in with a little bit of the testing.
Of course, my experience doesn’t mean the viewer is ready for release – and shouldn’t in any way be taken as suggesting it is. I’m not a member of the core Firestorm team, and they’re the people who know best. But considering a month ago I couldn’t actually start any of the pre-release versions without them crashing on me but I’ve recently been using the pre-release versions as my default viewer, it’s fair to say I’m looking forward to a formal release once it does come along.
And as to Sheepville – well, if you do opt to pay a visit, don’t be surprised if you find me admiring the view from the stone bridge, or sitting in a corner of the pub nibbling on a chip or three!