Thursday, July 14, 2011

Shoe Report Card for N-Core (2011)

[I am gratefully syndicated by iheartsl, Metavirtual, and Virtual Fashion Feed.  If you’re not getting all of your Second Life Fashion news from those sources, you should probably rethink that decision.]
NCore Caresse - Red
Roughly 3 years ago N-Core was a virtual unknown that had quietly appeared with a handful of sculpted shoes.  The team at N-Core worked quickly, slowly and fastidiously driving nails into the self-made coffin of Stiletto Moody with quality heels that ooze sex appeal like nobody’s business.  Since they first appeared, N-Core has progressed dramatically, in every facet of business and content creation.  Today, N-Core alone can be seen as an accurate gauge of what speaks to the mainstream in Second Life, boasting an in-world group that includes an excess of 34,000 loyal, active residents.  You’d be hard pressed to go anywhere in Second Life and not see a pair of N-Core shoes on someone’s feet.  N-Core’s indisputable dominance in the world of Second Life shoes, in terms of sheer numbers of customers and sales, earns them a spot on the list.  Having a great product with outstanding customer support just bolsters that position and ensures they’ll remain power players for a long time to come.  That being said, one of the most recent releases from N-Core, Caresse, is on the chopping block.
When I saw Caresse, it was love at first sight.  The design unequivocally says, "summer is almost here and I'm going to make sure you get all hot and bothered."  Most notably, the Caresse design successfully eliminated one of the design flaws present in earlier offerings from N-Core.  Caresse features, among other things, a new foot that has a very sexy, very pronounced arch [that looks natural.]  Earlier N-Core shoes were slightly problematic for me in that the foot arch, between toe and heel, seemed to be almost at a 90-degree angle and struck me not only as unrealistic, but a factor that would limit future shoe designs since such a pronounced arch would make it incredibly difficult to implement any platform or substantial base beneath the toes and ball of the foot.  But I believe they've hit the nail on the head with the foot used in the case of Caresse - a more realistic foot that manages to fit into an exceptionally high stiletto for an overall shoe that oozes all of the sex appeal that that has made N-Core one of the biggest names in shoes today.
Caresse, like other N-Core shoes, requires that you adjust your LOD settings via the advanced menu to prevent "sculpty shrink" from a distance.  I consider this standard operating procedure for anyone that is serious about enjoying Second Life, so it does not diminish the value of the shoes for me.  Presumably, all of the women I see wearing N-Core shoes and the 30,000+ N-Core group members feel the same.
Overall, Caresse is an exceptional shoe and not only one of the finest shoes to come out of N-Core, but one of the best shoes released in Second Life this year.  Notwithstanding the foregoing, there are several components of the shoe that leave something to be desired.
The beauty of sculpted feet is having beautiful, sexy, cute toes.  And while I do place N-Core in my personal top 5 cobblers in sl, I'm really looking for N-Core to make me some toes that compete with those that I consider the very best.  Although these are new toes are a dramatic improvement over past releases from N-Core, I still feel like the toes and toe nails are too rounded and uniform overall.  I also feel like these toes lack the appearance of some realistic tension where the tips of the toes meet the portion of the shoe that rests under them, as you would naturally see when a woman wears high heels.  But I have every confidence in the hard-working, N-Core team and believe that it's only a matter of time before N-Core is producing some of the finest toes on the grid.
But my largest criticism of this shoe involves the textures.  And while I see this particular shoe as a huge jump forward for N-Core in terms of textures, I think there's substantial room for improvement.  The wood platform base passes muster for the most part, but undoubtedly the wood grain could look significantly more convincing.  In a handful of places on the shoe, the wood grain looks akin to plastic or another synthetic material.  More importantly, the textures on the main part of the shoe run afoul of the "identifiable texture" test - which means that I'm unable to definitively tell you what fabric or material is being used when I look at the shoe.  The faint lines and slight color variation in the straps on the top of the shoe suggest that we're working with a satin, but I don't see enough variation in the texture to pull off satin successfully.  And I definitely don't see a convincing  suede or a leather here, but it would seem that the relative rigidity of a leather would be required to form some of the more structured parts of this shoe, specifically the portion of the shoe covering the toes and the adornment above that. 

Vanity Features (Including Nail Polish, Toe Rings, et. al.):
All the customary bells and whistles are on the HUD - a toe ring that changes colors or can be entirely removed, an on/off option for a gloss coating over the shoe material, an on/off option for shoe sounds, and an option to hide or show invisiprims on the shoes.  The user can choose from 27 different nail polishes, though the nail polish options are one of N-Core's weaker points.  The nail polishes available definitely pass as nail polish, but there's a lot of room for progress in this department at N-Core.
NCore Caresse HUD - Options
But N-Core scores a 10 in this category because of the countless options available to customize these shoes via the HUD.  At the outset, I will point out that any and all customization can be done via the Caresse HUD - even with the fat pack.  I absolutely cannot stand purchasing a shoe fat pack only to have 12 different pairs of the same shoe in my inventory (or 24 different objects, if you're worried about inventory bloat.)  With Caresse, I simply have to deal with a single pair of shoes and a HUD.  I can change everything about the shoes from the HUD.  I sincerely hope this becomes standard practice for cobblers on the grid sooner rather than later.
But there's way more to write home about Caresse!  (You didn't think N-Core scored a 10 in this category just because they lightened the load on my inventory, did you?)  Caresse is a miracle in that it's (almost) infinitely customizable.  Almost every part of the shoe has been divided into its' very own subsection and can each be changed to one of [at least] 6 different colors via the HUD.  The larger parts of the shoe, (the heel, lace tops, and main shoe) can each be changed one of [at least] 14 different colors (on the shoe fatback.)  (If you purchase Caresse in a single color, only some of these options are available, and you cannot change the color of the main part(s) of the shoe.)  I didn't do very well in math, but I know enough to know that's a whole lot of different options when it comes to deciding how you want your shoe to look.  But N-Core didn't stop there with Caresse.  Nope, they went above and beyond - basically making Caresse four different shoes (in one.)  If you look under the options menu on the Caresse HUD you'll see options A, B, C, and D at the top next to "Style."  Each of these options changes the look of the lace tops of the heel - giving you everything from looking strapped up to the ankle with two buckles to no top laces at all, and two additional choices between all or nothing.  That's a huge bonus for those of us that love to endlessly customize our avatar appearances and it adds a ton of value to the shoe overall!
NCore Caresse - Options
Finally, N-Core has a fabulous color palette, featuring vivid colors for those of us that prefer bold colors.  Over the years, I've always loved the bright, bold colors that are part and parcel of the N-Core empire.  My N-Core closet is definitely where I look when I need a big splash of color - which is more often than not.  As a personal aside, I will say that I have missed the orange/mango color that has been missing from the N-Core color palette as of late and I sincerely hope it will make a return soon.
Functionality (Including Skin Matching, Stocking or Sock Compatibility, Resize, et. al.):
If anything is lacking at N-Core, it is most certainly NOT the scripts used in the shoes and the functionality associated with those scripts.  N-Core has kept pace with the premier scripting coming out of places like SLink at every turn.  N-Core shoes use a single, passive script per shoe that responds to the incredibly well-developed HUD - which translates to less lag and absolutely no active scripts in my shoes when I'm not using the HUD (and no hideous blue pop-up menus coming from my shoes at random.)  The user-friendly N-Core HUD performs all necessary functions, like controlling the shoe size and color, skin color, the presence of invisiprims, and the use of stockings or socks.  The HUD allows the user to manipulate the exact look of his or her shoe quickly and effectively.
Resize - The resize function works quickly and effectively.  More importantly, it meets the increasingly high standards being set by many of the major players in the shoe game, like SLink and LeLutka.  Specifically, the size, location, and rotation of the shoe components are embedded or hard-wired into the shoe scripts so that any changes can quickly be undone with the "reset" button and it's virtually impossible to screw up resizing your shoes.
Skin Matching - In addition to arriving with a number of lists that detail the exact RGB values for some of the most popular skins, Caresse is equipped with 12 skin bases and a corresponding RGB color palette to allow the end-user to get a perfect match.  I have never had a problem getting my N-Core feet to perfectly match whatever skin I'm wearing.
NCore Caresse HUD - Skin
Stockings and Socks - Caresse far exceeded my expectations with the options available for the end-user to wear a variety of stockings or socks with the heels (rather than just showing a bare prim foot.)  The easy-to-use HUD allows you to pick from a wide array of options in this department - from tintable bobby socks with a ruffle to fishnet pantyhose, and pantyhose with or without a back seam and reinforced toes to tintable knee socks.  You simply have to put on your chosen pantyhose or knee socks and select the appropriate base texture from the HUD to go with whatever you're trying to match and use the RGB color palette to get an exact match.  N-Core is currently the ONLY cobbler on the grid providing an option for anyone wanting to wear fishnet pantyhose.  The fishnets provided with your shoe purchase match the texture on the HUD seamlessly and stand up to most fishnets sold on the grid.  And though I strongly feel that the appearance of the toes under the fishnet stocking could be improved, there's something to be said for N-Core being the sole provider of this option.  I'm hoping to see a tintable fishnet stocking option out of N-Core in the near future.
NCore Caresse HUD - Stocking
NCore Caresse w Stockings
NCore Caresse w Stockings w Seam
NCore Caresse w Bobby Socks
And though I'm not one to regularly wear knee-socks with my high heels, I was pleasantly surprised to find a variety of options available in this department.  I was especially pleased to find knee socks with my purchase that stand up to anything else that I've got in my closet and that are 100% modifiable/tintable, allowing me to wear whatever color of socks I want with my shoes.  And I will point out that though I rarely wear knee socks with my heels, this is absolutely critical if you're going to offer this option with your shoes.  It's incredibly unhelpful and limiting to have shoes that feature a sock option that corresponds, in color, only to those handful of socks sold along with the shoes (that are NOT modifiable/tintable.)
NCore Caresse w Socks

Customer Service:

Note that all N-Core shoes, including Caresse, arrive with a complete set of foolproof directions that feature additional notecards and helpful images.  Notwithstanding that fact, N-Core Head Diva and SL Resident Sweetheart, nuria Augapfel, is forever at her customer's beck and call - fielding questions day and night from customers (that have probably not read the provided directions) and ensuring that any N-Core customer is a satisfied customer.  She handles all of her customer's queries with grace, understanding, and endless patience.  I know that customer service is a top priority for N-Core, and product support means everything when you've spent your hard-earned dollars on some premium shoes for your doll.  And though it's unlikely that N-Core, having more than 30,000 members in its' customer group, needs to implement a system that benefits regular or return customers with a store credit towards a future purchase or some type of a discount, I'm always a fan of added bonuses that ultimately net more sales and increase the chances of having customers come back again and again.
Value (Quality/Price):
A pair of Caresse in a single color will run you L$795 while the fat pack goes for a cool L$5,995.  The price is certainly reasonable.  In fact, those prices are pretty good considering the sophistication of the product that you're buying.  But the shoe market right now is more competitive than ever - and that extends to prices.  So let's cut to the chase.  When I want a pair of shoes, I want the fat pack - not a single color.  (And I'd be willing to bet that most consumers running around feel the same way.  After all, what's the point of my fabulous Second Life if I can't have that uber sexy shoe in ALL of the colors?)  And fat pack purchases are good for business.   A fat pack purchase means that a single visit to your store grossed three to five times more than it would have if that same person had only purchased a single color.  But let's not forget that $5,995 is roughly $24.00 USD and the vast majority of people are putting that money into this game - rather than using money they've made in-world to "play" with.  (It's definitely something that people are giving greater thought to given the state of the US economy.)  That being said, I have found that my sweet spot for fat pack purchases is between L$2,000 and L$4,000.  I think most people would agree (and a lot more shoe fat packs would be sold if priced accordingly.)  But beyond that, consider that competition is fierce - especially in the shoe market - and some of the finest shoes on the grid are priced well within the limits of most consumers looking to buy a new fat pack of shoes.  So N-Core is rated slightly better than just passing in this category, but that has a lot more to do with the design of this shoe in particular, the incredibly large, strong customer base that N-Core has garnered over the years, and the fact that this shoe presents almost everything that the average consumer is looking for in an attractive and exceptionally easy-to-use package.

Overall Score: 55/60 or 91.67% = A-

1 comment:

colleen said...

Excellent review!! I love N-core and to be honest I wear them pretty exclusively. Thank you Shy awesome report.