The (not-so) good original: And loading will take another minute or so… I think…
Lego Digital Designer is the Lego Company’s pioneering foray into the world of serious Lego design for amateurs. By that, I mean that this is really the first Lego product designed specifically to be used by a wide variety of people. While earlier programs indulged themselves in silly cityscapes and animated effects, LDD is designed specifically to be used as a Computer Aided Design system. Clearly, making such a system is proof that this old company is not headed by the mentally handicapped, because giving budding architects a chance to actually buy a bit of what they’re drawing on their computer screen puts some cash in TLC’s admittedly receding cash reserves.
The problem, however, was always in its execution. LDD 1, for example, had a good user interface, but the parts you had on hand was about equivalent to what you could actually hold in one hand. LDD 2 was better in both regards, but the parts you had didn’t make any sense; why did one have to choose between white and… loopiness?
Now, of course, LDD has gotten a new pack of Legos, and that helps out dramatically. So much so, in fact, that I’ve decided to re-review LDD 2.0.
Let’s start out with what hasn’t changed: The interface. I still get annoyed with the lag on large models, but many problems I had encountered turned out to be either my computer’s fault or bad information. To clone multiple bricks, you have to access the upper left hand corner’s “Edit” menu, click “Copy”, and then click “Paste”. I didn’t know that, and so wound up clicking furiously at the “Clone” tool in the toolbox, getting more and more irritated, until I wound up slamming my laptop’s keyboard in anger. It makes me think that Lego seriously needs to update its “Help” menu, because that issue wasn’t mentioned at all, in the Help menu, or, for that matter, anywhere in the program itself.
Anyway, the overall look is decent if nothing special. In terms of adjusting keyboard and mouse commands to your preferences, you get a few basic ways you can change the existing interface and little else. That’s not good, but at least the existing interface is decent. One can zoom in and out Hubble Telescope style using the mouse wheel, a nice touch, and by holding the right mouse key and whipping the mouse around, you can rotate around the model. Tap it and you can focus on specific pieces. Hold the left key down and you can drag parts away from their positions with ease. You can select an entire finished part of your model using thoughtfully-designed selection controls. And, the gray background, while not as beautiful or simple as the original black style, is distinctly architectural; you feel like you’re building on a sheet of Mylar.
As for the brick palette, I can honestly say that, with the latest updates, it is now, finally, possible to build things on LDD. In earlier palettes, you would have unusual colors, strange templates, and parts that were, how they say, worthless. Now, a lot of that has changed. While the palettes aren’t as obsessively detailed and complete as those on, say, LDraw, they’re suitable for most users, and that might just include hardened professionals. Unless you’re out to build something off the wall, LDD’s standard brick palette is now usable–and likeable. I feel like I have enough bricks to do the job this time around.
LDD 2.1, or LDD 2.0 with the new brick palettes, is a useful system that is extremely well made and works most of the time, assuming you know how to use it. Lego could use better manual-makers, as the “Help” file is vague and confusing, but in general this latest incarnation of Lego Digital Designer has finally matured to the point that it can be used with relatively few headaches. And with the added ability of buying bricks directly from Lego, it is safe to say that some might just be able to ditch their old copies of LeoCAD and replace them with this program. Now, if they’d just make it for Linux…