Both updates focus on the Build tools floater and its associated tabs, which Niran has completely overhauled and realigned in an attempt to make it a lot less cluttered-looking and easier to read, as well as adding a degree of consistency of presentation between the tabs in the floater and the types of tool options (spinners and sliders) seen in the Build floater when compared to other tool floaters in the viewer.
My personal opinion on the changes is that is that he’s largely succeeded. There is a linear tidiness to the tabs in his revised Build floater that works naturally for those used to scanning left-to-right, and top down. everything is pretty much orderly placed, and the flow through the various tabs is logical and easy to follow.
Buttons with the Black Dragon floater are more obvious / clearer – radio buttons, for example are better defined when selected, what might be slightly confusing buttons (such as the spanner for changing the group attributes) are now clearly labelled, and buttons for pop-out options like the Grid Options are also more in keeping with the style used elsewhere in the viewer.
Some of the changes are a lot more noticeable in this regard than others – as with the General and Features tabs – both of which are compared to their official viewer equivalents in the images above – and the Texture tab. The changes to the Content and Object tabs are more subtle in nature – but given they were relatively straightforward to understand, then this is in keeping with making balanced changes.
In terms of the Texture tab, Niran has also revised the map selection indicator from a radio button to a check box – again adding consistency to the use of check boxes in the floater – and has also added an individual lock option to each of the three map types.
The check boxes actually do make it easier to see which of the three maps (diffuse, normal or specular) has been selected, while the three individual locks now allow greater flexibility in how changes to repeats, offsets and rotations are applied.
For example, if you want to have them applied across all three maps, regardless of which one you have selected, just click on the icons to lock them – any change make to the offsets, etc., on one map will automatically be applied to all three, regardless of which one you are working on. If you want to change the offsets to each map independently of the others, simply unlock them (the default) – any changes made the offset, etc., spinners will only apply to the selected map. And you can also obviously have one set of rotations applied to two out of the three maps and level the third to be independently set.
The Textures tab also now makes use of sliders as well as spinners for applying Glow, Transparency (Alpha %), Glossiness and Environment to faces / objects, making it easy to apply quick changes before fine-tuning them with the spinners. It was actually two of these sliders that prompted the 18.104.22.168 release. While testing the 22.214.171.124 release for this review, I noted the Glow and Alpha % sliders were not working as expected. A quick IM to Niran, and he dived in and fixed the issue. The updates to these two sliders mark the only changes between 126.96.36.199 and 188.8.131.52.
Snapshot Floater Preview Update
The other significant update in the 184.108.40.206/7 release lies with the Unified Snapshot floater. In the 220.127.116.11 updates (which I reviewed here), Niran introduced a separate, resizeable preview panel as an alternative to the preview pane built-in to the floater. He’s now further revised the snapshot floater so that the built-in preview pane displays a high-resolution preview image, as with the alternative preview panel.
The new preview panel offers a much improved image, and further enhances an option a lot of people would like to see adopted by other viewers in some way.
Overall, the core Build tools updates in these releases – to me – do much to enhance the Build floater. As noted, some of the changes are a little more subtle than others, but overall they all work to present a far tidier set of tabs within the floater, and offer a more-or-less consistent set of control options in terms of the use of spinners, sliders, etc. One might have a small niggle with the colour swatch panels for the diffuse and specular maps perhaps not being obvious, but it’s really hard to see how else they could be presented without losing the order and layout Niran has achieved within the Texture tab.
Towards the top of this post, I pointed to these releases marking the beginning of the end of Niran’s active development of the Black Dragon viewer He’s aiming to slow things down from release 2.4.5). Since releasing the 18.104.22.168 update he has explained some of his reasons for this.
The important point to note here are the word “active” – hence my emphasis above. He’s not given up on everything within the viewer; he’s allowing himself space to refocus on other things than need attention (like that irritating thing we call “real life”) and to refresh himself. He’ll still be poking and tweaking things in the viewer in the future; it just won’t be his primary focus. And after the amount of time and effort he has poured into his viewers, frankly, he should be respected for his decision, and offered kudos for all he has offered the community.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to look forward to seeing what future updates to Black Dragon bring.