IAE WEST, PART TWO – In Hindsight
Hello once again, folks.
We’re at the close of the IAE for another year, and most of the wheeling and dealing has been finished up. My own fleet, not surprisingly, didn’t chance much – Anvil’s Arrow was tempting, but the potential of the 300 series’ rework left my garage, and my faith in Origin Jumpworks, intact. The rest of my ambitions were completed as well – Hyde Customs traded in its Cutlass, leaving me without an iteration of the only Drake craft I genuinely like, but plans must move forward, and Hyde Customs’ Constellation fleet is complete, as are the insurance improvements on all my other craft. As for the expo itself, let’s talk about the manufacturers of the second half of the show, and then sum it all up.
Drake really dropped the ball at the expo, this year. After the teases offered by Anvil of its quickly-expanding line and the smash-hit visit of an Idris frigate, there was a bit of speculation about Drake – they’ve had a good year, too, after all, what with the general acceptance of their “everyman fleet” angle over claims of their focus on sales to pirates. There were hopes that a Vulture mockup might make an arrival, or that a prototype Kraken, as was seen at Lorville just before the Expo, might be on public display. But in the end, Drake’s floor felt bare – With a Caterpillar’s open doors showing only cargo modules and only a pair of Cutlass Blacks flanking it, its was possibly the emptiest floor of the show, with only a line of brightly-colored Dragonflies to really draw attention. In a year with such a turnaround for the down-and-dirty shipbuilder, though, I can’t really say this is a loss. Staying out of the spotlight, for once, seems to have done Drake good. Expectations are high for the new vessels they’ve announced, and being hard at work on their image didn’t seem to actually make the quiet showing weaker.
ALIENS & IMPORTS
Between Esperia and AopoA, not much was really expected in the way of news. The announcement of the San’tok-yai was met with restrained enthusiasm, as news of its leak and speculation on what it might be had been simmering for a while. As per usual, AopoA’s medium fighter certainly seemed to be a love-or-hate vessel, though I personally think its odd, bunny-eared stance makes it look more adorable than any combat ship really should be. Although it was described as a rival for the Sabre (and thus likely the Hornets as well), it remains to be seen whether the San’tok-yai will be a true contender against them, or just stripped of its new X’ian laser weapons so they can be added to something else. As for Esperia, they had less to show off – the usual Vanduul monsters to tempt wealthy bullies, and the usual lack of any information whatsoever about their remake of the Prowler. There was no showing of banu ships, either, despite word that the Defender could be on its way sooner rather than later. Perhaps the banu might find the idea of an expo like the IAE distasteful. After all, it amounts to sitting around the slomaddon with no intent to barter a deal of any kind.
The export floor definitely made up for a lack of content with fined appearance, though – Xi’an and Vanduul ships on display all held together a red-and-black color scheme quite effectively. The smaller floor, with no “big boy” offering to dominate the back area, meant less empty space like was evident for Drake.
I can’t really say that anyone was impressed or surprised about anything on the floor of the MISC pavilion this year – it’s been a remarkably average and quiet one for the plodding workhorse of the six big UEE shipbuilders. Freelancer sales have held strong, and the popularity of the Prospector seems to have skyrocketed, as its no-frills prosperity has certainly found its stride. Even the advertisement shots for the Expo itself showed a multicolored Lancer variant that didn’t make it onto the showroom floor, though – they were entirely absent, despite being very close on the road ahead. The fact that there was hardly any discussion at all around the variant models of the struggling Reliant line at all seems … foreboding, at best. About the most talked-about thing on MISC’s floor were the trio of Razors off to the side. They haven’t been the breakthrough MISC was looking for, though, barely enough to distract from the setbacks that plagued the development of the latest model of the Hull C.
MISC, though, really hasn’t come into its own yet at all. The Hull series are its bread and butter, and most of them wouldn’t really be impressive or noteworthy, unless they managed to cram a D or E into a hangar. Of their other offerings, the Starfarer will have to do for now – the grand modularity of the Endeavor platform will have to wait another year, at least.
Consolidated Outland was perhaps the biggest winner of the “underdog” division, this year. Despite a limited lineup up ships with a blend of expensive niche performance and marginal aesthetic appeal, CNOU’s been talked about as one of a “Big Seven” of ship manufacturers. The new year’s revamped Mustangs certainly made an impression: the Gamma remains a hidden gem, the budget racer’s dream and the most speed you can get in a ship on a budget. The Beta’s interior has been cleaned up a lot but remains functional, and the Delta … still exists, which I suppose is a victory in itself.
CNOU wasn’t the only manufacturer that made a splash. Tumbril was the only brand name of the entire show to attempt any kind of pinache or personality in their display, with their four Cyclone models all pleasingly topping a rugged faux-desert landscape. These have seen a lot of comment and enthusiasm in the last year, too – all of the models are now available, and they’ve easily usurped the RSI Ursa as the land vehicles of choice.
The “underdog” day was deceptively unimpressive, though. Between the revamped Mustangs and the full line of Cyclones, it represents the largest collection of newly-offered vehicle models presented on any day – and they’re all operable. On top of that, there’s the distinct possibility that the newly-termed “Big Seven” may become a “Big Eight” within a year or two – Crusader Industries’ renewed push of the Hercules Starlifter in both civilian and military markets was met with quite a lot of praise, and their new Mercury might well be the most talked-about vessel of the year.
In retrospect, it was a nice eight days, although – not surprisingly, the really fun stuff was stacked towards the front. This year, though, we’ve seen the rapid development of the starship market as a whole – cargo transport and industry in space are firmly in the hands of the everyman, and the Verse represents opportunity possibly more than it has since space exploration’s golden age. This was a big year, with development at an ever-increasing pace. It eclipsed the year before it, that much is clear – and next year is set to explode, if the pace of development keeps up. Here’s hoping everything proceeds on track.
I’ll see you out there.