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AstroSynthesis v3.0
Publisher: NBOS Software
by Constantine T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 10/07/2012 19:50:02
Summary: Astrosynthesis (AS) is a good product for the basic user, but users who want to use its more advanced functions will be let down by a lack of support.

Review: From what I have seen on the NBOS forums, there are two types of user for AS: Basic users are those who just want software that allows them to make a 3D starmap at the click of a button, and then tweak the results to their liking. Advanced users are those who want to delve more deeply into the scripting and customisation side of the program, or import their own starmaps for their own settings into the program to tweak and develop. The basic users are most likely to just want to use the program a couple of times to generate their setting and then not really need it anymore, whereas the advanced users are more likely to be using the program for lengthier projects and will be making use of the scripting and advanced output settings.

The "Basic users" will find that this program is pretty decent. The 136 page manual is fairly complete and well-written and helpful in this regard, and the creation settings are reasonably customisable. However, once the universe is created then a fair bit of work may be required to tweak it to the user's needs (e.g. the author has a strange definition of "hospitable planet" which amounts to "an environment that won't instantly kill you" rather than a world that is remotely "hospitable" by any normal definition of the word), and some of the astronomical information in the glossary is not accurate. But overall if you are a basic user then you shouldn't have too many issues using the program if you read through the manual. It is likely however that basic users would have to do a fair bit of 'post processing' of the results in a spreadsheet program to get it to really match what they want for their settings.

Advanced users, however, will have a lot of problems in getting AS to do what they want it to do. I consider myself an "advanced user", having used AS3 to make realistic maps of the stars near Sol for my Stellar Mapping page at http://evildrganymede.net/rpgs/stellar-mapping/ , and to attempt to update the Near Star Map in 2300 AD ( http://evildrganymede.net/2012/02/13/stellar-mapping-2300ad--
near-star-map/ ). The scripting functionality ("AstroScript") is potentially very powerful and can grant the ability to make custom plugins that let the user find distances between stars, create custom displays (e.g. different route for different empires), change the distance that labels are viewed at depending on world parameters, or even create a new method of world generation. Other more advanced functions are the ability to import stars from csv files, and output 2D star maps. Pretty much everything on my stellar mapping/2300AD pages has been created using the Astrosynthesis' more advanced features.

The problem is that there is little to no support available for these more advanced aspects of the program. Astroscript is a variation of VBScript, so if you have some experience with that (or basic programming) then you may be able to figure out how to write a script or plugin to get it to do what you want. However, the API documentation is pretty much useless. It is little more than a bare framework, with most of the terms and functions lacking any explanation or examples beyond what type of variable they are. Additionally, the NBOS forums are pretty useless for support on this matter since the program's author is not interested in explaining how to use functions or in filling in the gaps in the documentation. As such, the user is left to figure out for himself how to use these functions... and more often than not will be unsuccessful. The sad part is that there isn't enough of a userbase on the forums to help out other users either, because the poor API documentation and lack of "official" support drives most advanced users away.

It's unfortunate because Astrosynthesis is a program with a very specific purpose that has the potential to be really useful for those who want to create 3D starmaps - but the lack of support is likely to frustrate those who buy it for that purpose. The market for this program is pretty small, so one would think that NBOS would be interested in supporting the people who pay $35 for AS3 to use the advanced features that are advertised - but that support is not forthcoming (which is very disappointing given the cost of the product). As such, people who are interested in using the more advanced features of the program will currently have to be prepared to face an uphill struggle to get the program to do what they want it to do, and should be prepared for little help (and should be prepared for the possibility that despite their efforts they just won't be able to use the program for their purposes at all).

So is the program useful for advanced users? Yes... but only to an extent. The advanced user is likely to have to lower their expectations of what the program can give them though. Despite the great potential of this program, the lack of support forces me to give this product a low mark (2 stars out of 5) for advanced users. For Basic users I would probably rate this 3 stars out of 5.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
AstroSynthesis v3.0
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CORE Command Player's Handbook Deluxe Edition
Publisher: Dream Pod 9
by Constantine T.
Date Added: 06/29/2005 17:40:35
The CC Players Handbook Deluxe Edition is nothing more than the original Players Handbook plus the Armory supplement literally cut and pasted into one of the chapters. Despite the few months between the release of the original CC corebook and the Deluxe version, no attempt was made to include corrections, clarifications or errata in the Deluxe version (despite the fact that the updated SilCore Deluxe rulebook did get that treatement) The only thing going for it is that it's cheaper than buying the softback corebook and the Armory supplement.

As such, CC Deluxe does absolutely nothing to address any of the issues and problems from the original CC book. All it does is give you a load more guns and a few ships.


CC is an ultra high-tech space opera background. Unfortunately, it's the barest framework of one. There are several major problems with it:

- very scant information about the background itself in the book. You have five *galaxies* here, and barely any info on anything at all. There's a tiny history section, a bit about the main races, a few anomalies, and that's pretty much it.

- the tech is "big" for the sake of it, and badly thought out as a result. For example, you can fire a handgun that is connected by wormhole to your ship's zero point energy reactor. By all rights, firing this means that half the planet you're on should explode. The implications and consequences of the technology are also mostly not thought out at all, and the setting itself is for the most part not even there at all. There are no maps (beyond an overview of all five galaxies), nothing to support any small scale play (which is what players are going to be doing), no thought at all for the implication of teh extremely fast FTL tech on society, not even any mentions of societies at all other than the fact that there is the CORE alliance, and the rest of the galaxies are fiefdoms and kingdoms that come and go)... in short, there is nowhere near enough material here to run a decently fleshed out universe IMO.

- Appallingly bad editing. really, the worst I've ever had the misfortune to see. In fact, I'd be surprised if this book was even shown to an editor at all. Typos and spelling mistakes about, and some sentences don't even make sense. The fact that this was not even remotely corrected in the Deluxe version is pretty appalling.

- Pretty much all of the ship stats are wrong, apparently (as in, they don't conform to the SilCore system rules, guns on them are ineffective against their intended targets etc). Again, these were not corrected in the Deluxe version.

- Inconsistent character design. You have an alien race of jellyfish that get around in robot bodies, but they use the normal silcore character design. And then you have "recorded heroes" who are AIs/uploads with robot bodies, but they're designed using the vehicle design system? (which in itself is very poorly suited for such a task)? That's just bad game design. There are other sloppy design decisions in the book too (like Quantek powers, which basically are just an excuse for characters to have obscenely powerful tech grafted into their bodies to allow them to do anything they want, again designed as vehicle parts).


The only good things about this game are the art (very nice line art. And the ship designs are very cool) and the general concept (a war against a race of sentient world destroying ships called the D'Vor, with an interesting twist in the back of the book). Unfortunately the book is extremely poorly executed - I get the impression that the initial idea was something that was scribbled on the back of an envelope that was hastily padded out to fill a few dozen instead - and very badly produced.

This game desperately needs to be scrapped and a second edition made, done with proper care and detail this time. It is the literal nadir of DP9's publications and IMO ranks as one of the most unprofessionally produced products ever produced by a major company.

Rating:
[1 of 5 Stars!]
CORE Command Player's Handbook Deluxe Edition
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Shadow Players Guide
Publisher: White Wolf
by Constantine T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 06/11/2004 00:30:56
The book: The Shadow Players Guide is an invaluable addition to any Wraith game. CH1 is a general introduction to playing Shadows and what they're after. CH2 is the Systems and Dirty Tricks chapter that not only includes new Shadow archetypes but also a host of new (and very vicious) thorns, tips on Harrowings and a top 10 of techniques for Shadowguides to use which is incredibly useful and is worth the cost of the book by itself. CH3 is an curious chapter that covers how Shadows behave in the other Dark Kingdoms - not exactly useful for every game, but an interesting read. CH4 covers Spectres and the Risen, CH5 covers the Eidolon, and CH6 is the standard series of essays on roleplaying. It's a very useful book, and I'd say it's pretty much essential for Wraith.

The PDF: Unfortunately, this was one of those books that WW decided to do as white text on black paper. While this was fair enough when it was in a printed hardcopy book, it's lethal when it's a PDF. I'd agree with the previous reviewer that a printer-friendly copy of this (and IIRC the Dark Reflections book, which was also white text on black background) would be vastly preferable here (unfortunately the security settings of the eBook prevent the reader from opening it in photoshop and inverting the pages and tweaking the contrast).

An even bigger killer is that the quality of the Ebook scan itself (at the time of writing at least) does not appear to be all that great - I can't tell what the resolution is, but I'd be very surprised if it was 300 dpi. This means that the writing is actually a bit hard to read even on screen - it's just about readable at 100% view but it's a bit fuzzy. It looks like the image compression settings are way too high - the compression blocks around the edges of the text are rather large and make it almost unreadable when viewed at 300% resolution.

So we have a double whammy here - the universal black background will kill the printer if you try to print it as is, and the text is a little difficult to read on the screen. Which is a great pity as this is a really essential book for Wraith. I can only hope that it is replaced with a higher quality, more printer-friendly scan.

So I'll give it 2/5 - I'd give it 5/5 for the material in the book, but the poor quality of the scan and the printer-unfriendliness drag down the mark. I can only hope that this can be changed at a later date.

Rating:
[2 of 5 Stars!]
Shadow Players Guide
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