Using the Lego Digital Designer


5 Aug 2011
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Bring on the bricks
The application is available on LEGO's website with a simple download-hit 'install' and you're ready to let your inner artist loose. The start screen itself couldn't have been simpler; it starts by giving you a choice of what type of LEGO you would want to build.

There are usual blocks, Technic models and Mindstorm robots to choose from. Once the decision is made, the builders asks if you want to build a model from a catalogue provided with the app, or if you want to 'Free Build'. While the former bombards you with a set of run of the mill models, it's the 'free build' option that really holds the juice. Click on that and the 3-D grid roles itself, helping you decide, where and how you would want to start your work. Although this is like working on industry worthy design software, it simplifies the process by removing all unnecessary options.

You get the experience of working on CAD software with a view that can be rotated around three axes. You can rotate individual blocks, and of course join them with a resounding click. Thankfully, the builder removes the monotony of design software, by simply providing all the types of blocks on the left side of the screen, and giving you a handy set of options on the right.

This is software which means it has definite advantages. Instead of re-building anything, a clone tool lets you choose multiple blocks and recreate them without any effort. Another selection tool lets you choose all blocks that are connected to each other so you don't have to keep clicking blocks to remove or replace them. The best part is that this application retains all of the standard Windows shortcuts, so your 'Ctrl +' fingers can easy cut, copy, paste, open a new file, go through old models. This way, you won't need to strain your brains with a whole new lexicon of commands.

Another brick in the wall

Once the 'workspace' opens you can get down to building. The left hand toolbox carries all the type of bricks in the LEGO universe. Since shifting through all of these would take supercomputer years to figure out, these have been divided into sub categories. With a click you can select standard 2X2 rectangular bricks, tyres, train tracks, and yes, you can also build your own LEGO person. The selection automatically creates the brick on the grid, so that you can place it in whichever manner you want. Things get even simpler after that. You just need to drag each block over the last one, to connect or fit them. Yet there are a few problems. Since the structure is 3-D and your screen isn't rotating the model to place certain pieces can be troublesome. The application has a tendency to connect the selected brick with whichever part of the model it sees first. This can get frustrating. The only plausible/easy way out of this is to zoom out of the building area, rotate the model till you see it at the required angle, zoom back in and then place the piece.
This seems like a problem in creating any of the first models. Once you get familiar with the application, things become as easy as the real bricks. The strictly-for-computer-tools also make life a little easier. The left hand tool box gives you all the things you did with your hands, but can't do with a keyboard. As mentioned earlier, a clone tool lets you speedily recreate a part of the model without having to piece it again. A selection tool lets you move multiple bricks without taking each one and moving them one by one. Most importantly, a hinge tool lets you rotate all the movable parts of your model so that you can see their movement as it would happen in real life. This is particularly fun when you're building a gear intensive model from the Technique series.

Brickbats for the block head

What happens when you've already created your masterpiece? Thankfully, you need not avenge your last model for components for your next use. In fact, once you've created multiple models, you can put them all onto a common grid; build an entire city, railway system, airport, spaceport, whatever your heart desires. And it doesn't stop there.

Once the hard work is done, you can start enjoying the model. 'View Mode' lets you see your model against a number of exotic locations. Built a hummer? See what it would look like in a desert. Create a chopper and see how it whooshes in the skies and yes there is also a whole screen full of stars-perfect to show off your latest rendition of star trek. While this is fun, the screen shot option in the builder doesn't let you capture the model and the background-all you get is the blocks.

Once the ogling is done, the builder can also be used to create a step-by-step guide of your creation. Like a flash movie, 0the 'building guide mode' shows you exactly how to build the model, minus all the erroneous steps and embarrassing moments you may have had.

The guide mode also lets you select the mode you would want to re create your model in. Building, vehicles and technics all have different first steps, and the application stresses on that. Yet this is Web 2.0, and LEGO isn't far behind. Each of the three different types of models, 'Factory' for normal blocks, 'Creator' for technics and 'Mindstorms' for robots, come with online options.

You can upload your creation onto the Internet for every one to see and even order the bricks and get them delivered to your house, for a fee. The best ones make it to LEGO's Web gallery cementing you as one of the most revered nerds of all time. You can also convert your model into an HTML guide, which gives all the building steps and is very simple to share.

But what next? You've created a city, showed it off to the entire Internet, got a formal plaque into nerd-dom, ordered the bricks in real life, now what? Well like all true LEGO fans know, every builder has a secret fantasy to smash his creation into the little blocks it's built of. While doing this in real life is quite painful, in the builder it's hilarious. A small icon lets you bomb your creation. With a single click your masterpieces gets blasted into little pieces that tumble all over the screen. Thankfully they come back together. Go build and do show us your models!

Source : Chip magazine.
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