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am I really the only one confused by this? - Printable Version

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am I really the only one confused by this? - John Antkowiak - 2014-05-25

Hi! I'm a new user with next to no prior CAD experience, but with some ESRI GIS map-making background. I can see that LDraw uses a powerful and versatile suite of tools - very impressive!

However... ummm... it's my technical manual writing experience behind this question...

From where I stand now, at the bottom of a huge learning curve, I have to point out the huge pot-hole awaiting first-time users right out of the gate. By walking you through it instead of just blurting it out, I hope someone who's in a position to make an improvement will see why it might be helpful to do that.

I opened the Help page to get familiar with the environment. I intended to open the program to follow along. Here's what the Introduction section says about that:

"When you run LDView, it will open its main window and immediately present you with an open file dialog (assuming you didn't specify a file as part of the launch process). Select the LDraw .ldr, .dat, or .mpd file you want to view."

These forums and the first build tutorials are equally silent on the same critical (dare I say obvious?) detail. Being a first-time user, I have no .ldr, .dat, or .mpd files to select. There are of course the three .ldr files in the LDraw directory:


But since I don't know and can't guess what those files are for, I doubt they're meant to be monkeyed with by inexperienced users. So the $64,000 question is:

How does one create a new project file?

And, FYI, the place to explain this to new users is the same place to explain the difference between the file extensions - the Introduction section of the Help page (or, somewhere up front in whatever place new users are meant to start learning). I've since gotten the answer on this forum, but it would be courteous not to make new users hunt for it...

Anyway, thanks! I'm excited to see my design coming to life : )

Re: am I really the only one confused by this? - Willy Tschager - 2014-05-25

Could you please be a little more precise and link to the help page you've opened? Anyway, since you've got a "technical manual writing experience" we would welcome your helping hand to shape the pages.


Re: am I really the only one confused by this? - John Antkowiak - 2014-05-26

Thanks for taking on my question, Willy. After spending about 3 and a half more hours trying to create a file, my error hit me. (I almost said, "like a ton of bricks" lol)

I was starting with LDView, not MLCad. The Help file I referred to is the .html Help page for LDView. So I read that Introduction again to figure out why I didn't pick up on the mistake sooner. I discovered a few organizational quirks I'd recommend rethinking if it's worth making any changes at all. (But they're entirely my opinions. There's no absolute right/wrong way to do this...)

I think the problem began with "What is LDraw?" (http://www.ldraw.org/article/104.html)

Please don't take this as undue criticism; it's not easy to clarify a situation as confusing as the one described in the first few paragraphs. My humble suggestions are, in no particular order:

1) Rethink telling the uninitiated (in only the third sentence, no less!) that they're going to find this confusing.

2) Refer to the tools in the suite (the "system") in a consistent manner. For example, the page says "To overcome the limitation of the original DOS program several 3rd party editors have been created. MLCad is the most popular of our 3rd party editors..." And only a few sentences later, "POV-Ray is the ONLY non-LDraw program of the bunch."

These contradicting statements leave a reader wondering, "So what's LDraw and what isn't?" Because, at least in the corporate world, the phrase "our 3rd party editors" makes little sense. If it's "ours," then it's not "3rd party" - "we" have no control over what 3rd parties do. But if POV-Ray is really the ONLY non-LDraw (read, "3rd party") product... and around we go again.

That's asking a bit much of raw beginners to sort out. The reasons for being left to one's own devices in choosing an editor are probably well beyond the average newbie's scope of interest. Is that a fair assumption?

3) Strike the whole discussion of other commercial animation platforms; it's a huge "What are you talking about?" for people who don't know before they start that they want to animate the models they make. Uncertainty begets confusion.

4) "SR 3D Builder is a LDraw-based CAD editor with special features for LEGO Technic models and a extremely fast real-time rendering engine." The implication is, if I were a Technic guy I'd want this editor instead of MLDraw; but MLDraw comes with the download and SR 3D Builder doesn't - nor is it even mentioned again. Information like this (i.e., of only passing interest) is better suited to a more clearly separate discussion.

5) "LDView is primarily a viewer program that does also convert your LDraw model file (.ldr or .mpd) into a POV-Ray file (.pov)." But... I can already view the model in the editor and, according to this paragraph, MLCad exports directly to POV-Ray anyhow. Why do I need LDView at all? Being the only product named "LD" makes me think it's vital...

In short, if you're really writing for beginners, then "simplify" is the manual writer's best watchword.

Now... if LDraw were a company, now's the time I'd ask you for a job (lol). But if you're in need of any volunteers to help with this end of the product, I might be able to offer something... There's more where that came from.

Thanks again, Willy : )

Re: am I really the only one confused by this? - Willy Tschager - 2014-05-26

Hi John,

many thanks for your deep insight. As we are a:


we are always in a desperate need for helping hands. Feel completely free to rip apart the "Get started" page and return it in a better shape or any other page you feel needs sanding.


Re: am I really the only one confused by this? - John Antkowiak - 2014-05-28

Thanks, Willy. I might just take a crack at that. But the thing is, I'd kind of have to be in constant touch with someone on the Standards Committee and/or a content manager (preferably both). I'll have a steady stream of very technical, and undoubtedly very mundane, questions to make sure anything I submit is factually correct the first time. That in turn helps ensure far less time needed from your volunteer staff to edit and second-guess and scrub and rewrite my work before it goes online.

Essentially I'm recommending a Quality Assurance approach where I do the assurance, rather than a Quality Control approach where your already-responsibility-laden volunteers need to do the control.

And, being brand new to the LDraw community, there's a lot I don't know about what you all take for granted...

If there's anyone willing to take that on with me, it would be a pleasure to do what I can.

John : )

Re: am I really the only one confused by this? - Philippe Hurbain - 2014-05-28

A good documentation would be very apprecated indeed!
I guess that the best solution is to post your questions here, we'll try to answer the best as we can...