On Wednesday August 21st, NiranV Dean officially confirmed that Niran’s Viewer is now depreciated (or as he put it, “Dead”).
He first announced plans to end the viewer’s life in May 2013, when he also announced its successor, Black Dragon. Since that time, he has been working on the replacement viewer, producing a number of beta releases along the way, the latest being version 2.3.1, which appeared on August 23rd.
As I’ve not covered Black Dragon to date, I decided to take a quick look and provide a mini-overview – not a full review, just and overview of the viewer and some of the work Niran has been carrying out.
Download and Installation
The download weighs-in around the same file-size as the official viewer. As with Niran’s Viewer, this isn’t an installer per se, but rather a self-extracting archive which will install the viewer files in the required folder, but which will not generate a Start menu entry, desktop shortcut, etc. You’ll need to do that yourself (not that it’s particularly taxing).
Splash Screen and Logging-in
Black Dragon’s splash / login screen is very similar to that used with Niran’s Viewer. Instead of the usual Destination Guide, etc., options found with the official viewer and a number of V3-style TPVs. Instead, users are treated to one of Niran’s music videos.
If the viewer has been installed for the first time, or is a completely clean install, the Create Account / Continue pop-up options will be displayed as per most V3-style viewers.
On logging-in, anyone who has used Niran’s Viewer will get a further feeling of familiarity – by default, Black Dragon has its toolbar buttons ranged at the top of the screen, and has a number of other Niran’s-like UI elements, including the vertical menu list, now called Dragon.
I confess, I’ve always liked this approach to the menus. Training the hand to use it doesn’t take long, and it offers a relatively tidy and compact means of having the menus available.
Preferences, Floaters and Panels
One thing that has always bugged Niran (and myself to a certain degree) is the amount of “white space” (or “wasted space”, as Niran calls it!) some of the viewer’s floaters and panels have. While there is an understandable need to consider all levels of eyesight and readability, some of the viewer 3 panels do seem to have an over-abundance of blank space in them which could perhaps be better utilised. Black Dragon goes some way to reversing this; several of the floaters have been tided-up such that they do take-up less screen real estate, offering a more compact display.
However, Niran hasn’t (perhaps wisely) gone to some of the extremes seen in his older viewer, at least for the time being. Frankly, I hope he doesn’t. While a degree of tidy-up in floaters is welcome, I did feel that some of the large-scale redesign of evidenced in various floaters in Niran’s Viewer actually left a lot to be desired. A reduction in “wasted space” didn’t always correspond to an improvement in usability.
Materials and Build Floater
One of the new Lindeny shiny bits to appear in Black Dragon is materials processing, and it is an area where Niran has taken a slightly different direction to the official viewer, offering-up a completely re-worked Texture tab for the application of maps.
How one responds to this updated layout is obviously a matter of personal choice. I actually like the fact that all three maps have their own pickers, but I also feel that in making room for them, the rest of the tab has ended up looking a tad bit busy and untidy. However, it’s important to remember that this is still a beta viewer, and Niran himself is still playing with things and tweaking things right across the UI; so what is here today may well be smarter and cleaner with the next release.
The Machinima Sidebar
Black Dragon has Niran’s Machinima sidebar; use F1 to display / hide it, or Dragon > My Useful Features > Machinima Sidebar. The offers several groups of debug & preferences settings those into photography and video will find handy – lighting options, shadows, ambient occlusion, DoF, camera settings, and so on. It’s a nice addition, but does suffer from something of the annoyance people had with the original Viewer 2 Sidebar: it shunts things to the left as it opens. Granted, the Machinima Sidebar isn’t as violent as the old Viewer 2 Sidebar, in that it only shoves the toolbar buttons and any open panels to the left rather than elbowing the entire world view aside, but it is still a tad unsettling. Hopefully it’ll properly overlay things in the future.
Niran has always like to play and tweak the viewer’s graphics capabilities, something which did make his older viewer popular with many. Some of that work has continued with Black Dragon, with enhanced graphics options being included in recent releases (2.3.0 and 2.3.1), several of which are pulled from the latest RC materials viewer from LL. In the release notes for 2.3.0, he lists the various tweaks as:
Snapshots up to 16.384*16.384, Deferred Rendering underwater, fully functional Depth of Field underwater, optional Depth of Field while building to build with Depth of Field in mind and/or prepare the scene better for Depth of Field, Tone Mapping and Color Correction, fully functional Post Process Glow (again).
His Animation Time Factor has also been carried over from Niran’s Viewer, which allows the playback speed of an animation to be adjusted by the user. This was apparently a popular feature in Niran’s Viewer, and is demonstrated in the video below.
General Thoughts and Feedback
Again, this isn’t intended to be an in-depth review of Black Dragon, just an overview of the viewer in the broadest terms; some of what is there from Niran’s Viewer, some of the new bits, and some thoughts on my part. I leave it up to the reader to delve deeper, either by looking at the viewer or by looking over the various release and project notes.
Those Niran’s users who were worried about what the depreciation of that viewer might mean should relax. There is a lot here which is definitely “Niran’s-esque” and should help people feel at home. Things like the approach to menus, the additional inventory copy / paste icons, etc., as well as the graphics tweaks.
At the same time, this viewer is much more familiar to V3 in feel. There are no radically-altered floaters, etc., which may encourage people looking for an alternative viewer to give it a go. It has everything expected of a “current” viewer, including SSA support, materials and even the dreaded (or not) CHUI. In fact, this is where starting over with a viewer design may work in Niran’s favour, depending on his long-term plans and interest in developing a mainstream viewer.
One of the aspects of Niran’s Viewer which perhaps weighed against it in some respects was that it may have been a little too experimental, and as a result some of the more radical floater layout changes didn’t sit well with some users who gave it a try. Similarly, the overall direction of the viewer was a tad unpredictable, with lots of sudden rebuilds and changes, with features taken apart, rebuilt, taken apart and re-rebuilt. As such, sailing a little closer to the viewer 3 wind and tweaking things, rather than constantly radically overhauling them, might serve Black Dragon better.
In terms of performance, Black Dragon runs well on my new PC, albeit very slightly slower when in ALM and with shadows and ambient occlusion enabled than either the official viewer Firestorm. I assume this is due to the additional tweaks Niran has made which is putting a small amount of extra load on my GPU. As the FPS difference is only a matter of 10 or so (and still leaving me in the 40-50 fps zone when visiting Scribbled Hearts), I’m not complaining.
It would have been nice to test Black Dragon on my old PC, which – being honest – the later versions of Niran’s Viewer tended to slaughter when running in ALM (or Lighting and Shadows as it was then) with ambient occlusion and shadows enabled. I’d have got a reasonable-ish comparison then; but c’est la vie.
Bearing in mind this is only a beta and there is more to be done (including, I gather, re-enabling RLVa), those looking for an alternative viewer shouldn’t find it that difficult to get to grips with compared to other V3-style viewers, and may find – and others did with Niran’s Viewer – that there are some nice touches and wrinkles with the viewer which make it fun to use.