Tuesday November 5th saw the release of Black Dragon 2.3.7 Maintenance 2, the second release for the viewer in as many weeks, the previous being (wait for it) 2.3.6 Maintenance 1. Since it’s been another two months since I last looked at Black Dragon, which is still officially in its Alpha phase of development, I decided the arrival of 2.3.7 was as good a reason as any to take another peek at what Niran has been up to.
And it is actually rather a lot, with each of the iterations of Black Dragon appearing since 2.3.1 both building on the basic LL v3.x look and feel while adding-in both more TPV features and Niran’s own unique take on the viewer’s appearance and layout.
- Version 2.3.2 saw the inclusion of a host of CHUI, NORSPEC (materials), Cocoa updates, bug fixes and maintenance updates from Linden Lab, together with the return of Tofu Buzzard’s screen space reflections and a lot of general clean-up
- Version 2.3.3 was to include further LL code updates and fixes, some updates to Niran’s Machinima Sidebar, and further rendering / graphics tweaks
- Version 2.3.5 saw the re-introduction of RLVa, complete with a dedicated Preferences tab.
As noted above, both release 2.3.6 and 2.3.7 are classified as “maintenance” releases, planned by Niran to further enhance the work started in version 2.3.4, which introduced the first phase of overhauling the Preferences floater. Given this, what follows is intended to be an overview of the most recent updates to Black Dragon, with a particular focus on the Preferences work, rather than an in-depth review.
With Niran’s Viewer, Niran opted to go for a fairly radical overhaul of the Preferences options, presenting them as an overlay, rather than within a floating panel. It was a novel approach, and one which, while making better use of screen space, could also be disconcerting to users coming to it the first time, particularly when trying to find settings, etc. In the re-working of Black Dragon, he’s gone for something less radical and potentially less unsettling to users familiar with the “traditional” approach to the Preferences floater, but which still offers an interesting take on how Preferences can be presented.
The first noticeable change is that Niran has used headings to split the various Preferences tabs into definable sections. The result is a layout which tends to be more logically ordered and which the eye tends to follow more easily.
The other obvious change is that rather than using additional sub-tabs within a given section of Preferences, Niran has opted to use a slider on the right of the given tab, allowing users to scroll up and down through options in order to display them. It’s an interesting approach to take, and one that is certainly as valid as the use of sub-tabs; however, having to scroll through an extensive list of options such as with the Display tab perhaps isn’t quite as efficient as being able to see tabbed headings at-a-glance in order to switch between them.
There are other touches as well which set Black Dragon apart in terms of Preferences presentation. Within the Display tab (Graphics), for example, Niran opts to use drop-down option lists rather than sliders for various settings. This is again a carry-over from Niran’s Viewer, and whether one likes it or not is liable to be a matter of personal taste. To me, being able to set the rendering quality for something like in-world objects to a value between Low and Ultra feels more intuitively user-friendly than adjusting a slider to an arbitrary point somewhere between 1 and 4, or 0 and 1, or 16 through 120.
An additional nice touch in the Display tab is the use of a [default] option alongside those sliders which are still used. This, will reset a slider to its default value – useful for novice users who may twiddle with sliders and end up with an odd outlook on the world (it’s probably also worth pointing out that the default settings for drop-down lists is indicated by an asterisk).
Other Nips and Tucks
The last few releases have also seen Niran:
- Tweak a number of the tabs in the People floater to make them a little more compact without them becoming difficult to read
- Improve the presentation of pop-up toasts in the top right corner of the viewer window
- Inclusion of the SLShare to Facebook capability and the return of the pie menu
- Other LL improvements, such as particle blocking and the AMD “hot fix” for crashes related to the most recent Catalyst driver updates, etc.
- Add the ability to derender objects, avatars and fullbrights
- Integration of Qarl’s prim alignment tool into the build floater.
As always, for a complete list of changes and updates, please refer to the change log which accompanies each release, and which can be found on Niran’s blog.
Where the development of Niran’s viewer was somewhat unpredictable at time, with the UI presentation and features frequently prone to re-design or being rebuilt and then torn down, Black Dragon is undergoing a more restrained, focused development.
As much as I admired Niran’s willingness to push at the envelope of UI presentation and the look and feel of the viewer, I have to say I also think the approach being taken with Black Dragon is actually far more beneficial. It is allowing Niran to build the viewer in a manner which he can offer a viewer with a something of an individual approach to the UI layout while avoiding the inevitable issues arising from having a UI that is so unique it makes things like code merges a proverbial pain in the posterior or which can actually turn-off potential users simply because it is so very different to other offerings.
Performance-wise, I found Black Dragon to be right up there alongside recent LL releases, offering more than adequate FPS rates on my PC when all the bells and whistles are checked and enabled (e.g. FPS running at between 40-50 at ground level on my home region with at least 2 other avatars present, using my usual viewer settings and ALM + ambient occlusion + shadows all enabled).
For my part, I like the direction Black Dragon is moving in, and that Niran is presenting users with a solid alternative to other offerings out there; one which people can quickly get familiar with and use but which still allows him to present his own style of viewer UI. Kudos to him for doing so.