Saturday, September 03, 2005
Today, I decided to take a break from Plywood and tinker with another project. Well, that's not quite right. I needed an airplane prop for an upcoming strip, and decided to go ahead and make it into a fully functional vehicle. It's not perfect yet, but I'm pretty proud of how it's turning out.
I've never attempted a vehicle before, so I ended up swapping in a standard Linden airplane script for now. So there's nothing too exciting about the flight mechanics. Right now, it flies pretty well. But, like all SL aircraft, it easily goes out of control. I'm going to have to do a fair bit of tweaking (or more likely a complete gut-and-redo) to get it really workable. At this point, most of the work has gone into the actual prim model and the customization menus.
Here's an overall view from the front. As you can see, I've built yet another egg-shaped SL airplane. Because there just weren't enough of those around! Actually, that was more or less deliberate. Since it started as a prop for the webcomic, I originally wanted to make something distinctly recognizable as an SL vehicle. It then grew from there.
Here's a view from the top. As you can see, it's a small (about 6m long) single seat aircraft. The twin particle thrusters are fully customizable from a dialog menu. The starting and ending colors can be selected from 10 presets, picked at random, or even pulled from a user-defined custom color vector in a notecard. The length of the thrust flame can also be adjusted (short, medium, and long settings). This is a medium length jet, starting at yellow and fading to red. There's also a low, rumbling rocket noise sound effect. I created it by blowing into my microphone and running the resulting sound through a few random filters.
Here's a view from the underside. I've got the hover jets turned on (the bluish-white nimbus at bottom). I'm not certain how I'm going to make those work at this point. I've tried various schemes using collisions and sensors to activate the effect automatically when the craft is near the ground. So far, the results have not been dependable. I suppose I could check ground heights, but I'd also like them to activate on prim surfaces as well (like the prim-runways at Abbots). In any case, it looks pretty cool. And it's definitely more science-fiction high tech than conventional landing gear. The hover jets form two toroidal "pillows" of particles underneath the craft, and generate a crackling hum when active.
As I mentioned above, the thruster colors can be changed using a touch-activated dialog menu. The same is true for the chassis, trim, and canopy glass. Some of the combinations are pretty horrible, actually.
I'm especially proud of the cockpit. The pilot sits in a comfortable-looking leather seat, and steers by means of two tank-style steering levers. No, I don't know how one would steer a vehicle in three dimensions with such a mechanism, but the freebie Abraham Lincoln pose was too perfect to pass up. It looks like the pilot is in the process of reaching for the control panel with his left hand.
Speaking of the control panel, check out the texture. Yes, it's just a picture of an airplane cockpit, cropped and chopped to fit. But it still looks pretty convincing.
I've got the canopy open for this picture. The canopy open/close mechanism is suitably sci-fi. On touch, it simply fades out of existence. Or, more precisely, it cycles from translucent (alpha 0.5) to completely transparent (alpha 0.0). I originally had the canopy glass retracting into itself (by dimpling the cut-sphere of glass from the nose back), but when the dimpling changed, the game kept reading it as an intersection between a solid object and the pilot. So the pilot would eject every time the canopy was opened or closed. Vexing.
So, instead, the canopy fades from view. Then, once it's invisible, it quietly flips itself around (changes local rotation) out of the way. Net effect is that the canopy glass appears to disappear on demand, and reappear after 15 seconds or so (long enough to take a seat or disembark). Not exactly the effect I wanted (the shrinking window-glass effect looked better), but still pretty slick.
Anyhow, I don't know if I'm ever going to sell this. So far, the only items ever purchased from my vendor have been bought by me to test the scripts. I may just keep it for myself and save the documentation work. In any case, it felt good to just do some building for building's sake again.
Addendum, 9/5/05, 12:50pm:
Gave up on the hover jets mentioned above. The blue particle "pillow" effect looked pretty good sitting still, but it had the bad habit of filling the cockpit with fog every time I descended. So, instead, I went with rotating thrusters. In hover mode, the thrusters rotate to point downward. I think it looks cooler that way. And since they're purely cosmetic (would that motive force could be packaged in a single solid block in the real world), that's what counts.
The behavior of the craft changes in hover mode. When in conventional flight, it behaves like a reasonably responsive and forgiving jet. It banks, rolls, pitches, and yaws as one would expect. When hovering, the craft no longer banks, rolls, or pitches. It always remains upright (as shown below). Instead, it ascends and descends like a VTOL aircraft. It's also slower and easier to control for fine maneuvering. With practice, it can be landed on a dime. Nice for those sudden-death runways floating 300m in the air.
I've also added some basic camera controls, so that the pilot can either view the craft from inside the cockpit, or from a chase camera 15m behind. The frame of the craft also turns transparent (from the inside) when the pilot is in mouselook. This allows the pilot a little extra visibility underneath the craft, which is handy for landing.