Usability versus Features

It’s always interesting as I develop World Machine, as there are always two distinct areas to add content in:

  1. Usability. Things that make the interface cleaner, that allow you to do things quicker, that are less confusing, or that provide additional power. This makes the experience faster/better/more enjoyable for the content creator.
  2. Output Quality. Things that provide a better result. These provide a better finished product, and are the ultimate judge of what a software program can produce. Doing a neat and clean job of producing some output isn’t much use if the output itself isn’t jaw-dropping.

I’ve always tried to put in new features in each of these categories. Since I’m taking a slight break from layout mode development for a little bit now that things are nearing feature-complete in that area. It’s always good to get some breathing room and a little bit of perspective — I’ve found that you can come up with some really interesting insights that you would otherwise miss if you stayed nose to the grindstone on that feature alone. In the meantime, the things that I’ve been looking at over the last few days and am currently researching, designing, or implementing are:

  1. Tabbed Toolbars. Sort your parts toolbar by Device Function (Generator, Output, Filter..), or Data Type (IE, a page for all HF operators, a page for all RGB operators, for Parameter ops, etc). This is something that I REALLY want to implement at some point for Pro, as it cleans up the parts toolbar enormously. The number of icons is really starting to otherwise get unwieldy. Status: Researching. This is something I want to implement, but haven’t actually started mucking with yet.
  2. Overlay Output. Not an output so much as an instrument or a view, it allows you to have one heightfield provide the geometry of the output, and another HF or a RGB image for the color. So in other words, you can superimpose a mask atop the terrain to see where everything fits into it, or drape your RGB texturing coverage map atop the terrain to easily see what types of terrain have gotten placed where. What’s really cool is that this works in Layout and Explorer mode too, letting you see your entire world with, for example, texturing placement maps put atop it, is incredibly useful. Status: Nearly Complete.
  3. Tiled File Input. This device stands to provide for some terrific workflow enhancements for alot of projects. Essentially, after setting up the input file stream (SomeTileXXX_YYY.bmp or whatever it may be), the device will load tiles from disk as appropriate to create a heightfield in the current render area. This allows you to seamlessly work with extremely large worlds — not just for export, but to continuously refine them by being able to load back in your tiled output. You can assign each set of tiles to any region in world space, at which point it’s totally transparent to the WM system– you can “zoom in” on a smaller subregion that spans only a few tiles, combine multiple tile sets in any configuration in the world, etc. For those working with paged terrains, this feature along with the tiled output will be worth its weight in gold. Status: In Progress

There’s other things that are also recieving work time right now — hell, since very little of the Pro code is 100% yet except for the multithreaded building code, many things are. The above are just a smattering of the interesting features being worked on this week that will make their appearance.

Lots of exciting things are afoot.

3 thoughts on “Usability versus Features”

  1. I like the Tiled File Input idea alot… correct me if i am wrong but it sounds to me like one can freely mix smaller terrains for producing more massive continent-scale terrain details and enough variations so the terrains can change drastically from one region to another… this is combination with the Layout Shapes Tool might produce the results of which i and others may be seeking…………….

  2. yes, I had posted earlier in the ME-DEM Forums lounge what my dream terrain program would do, and Java told me to pop in over here,,,and there it is. Though my analogy toa conveyor system in which the you could build seemless tiles as the terrain is worked is much more backyard mechanic. Looks Great SeerBlue

  3. I had to pop out and compose my thoughts on this, as I am very happy to see these hints of what pro will do. Now the nudging starts, over at the ME-DEM Project we have 40, 000 .bt files of our base heightfield gridded in 100×100 pixel tiles. These are all geo-referenced in a geographic latitude and longitude projection, planar units of arc degrees, elevation units in meters. The tiles will be used to give us a base to build upon, ensuring the terrain modelled meets the available reference material.
    So, my question is, will Pro’s new tile feature support .bt import and export while retaining our geo-referencing and height span , or , if our tile goes in with x as the minimum altitude, will it come out as x minus erosion, or will we have to reset it from zero.
    Any info greatly appreciated, as Pro seems to be getting alot of the kinks out of our system before we hit them. SeerBlue

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