Choco 2.0 beta

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General info

Today we’are ready to present beta version of the “Choco 2″. Why beta? Because we need your help to give it the final push to the full release. Well, let’s start with the main changes list and go further step by step:

  • Templates can now be saved with source images – a kind of “projects” or “documents”.
  • Renewed frames, now supports: old-style Choco frames (called ‘Handy’), Freeform bezier frames, Image-based mask frames.
  • Completely renewed user interface. We kept original “one window” idea, but most of the popover windows were replaced with nice visual inplace editors. The’re described below.
  • Inner geometry (photo) editor totally renewed, more intuitive and works faster now.
  • New Path layout generator, makes new items to follow the user-defined bezier path.
  • New Single photo shuffler. Puts single photo over the scene, making individual items of the scene to represent a portion of the photo.
  • Multiply objects selection and editing added.
  • Individual properties (like frame or effect) can now be copied and pasted from item to item.
  • Resources library renewed with high-quality textures.
  • Revised rendering system with better performance.
  • About 5x faster library loading.
  • Tons of other minor fixes and improvements.

So, what exactly do we need from testers? Just to try the application out and check whether it meets the criteria of acceptable performance, good quality and interface simplicity. We’re trying to find and shoot the bugs, improve weak parts of the app, clean the interface to make it intuitive and self-explaining, and it’s exactly the areas where any help is appreciated.

New interface

It’s the main part of the update, I guess. Below is the screenshot of the main windows with a simple scene loaded:

General

As you can see, we kept the main composition, however, control buttons moved onto the status bar. Also, we have added zooming controls, so it’s now more comfortable to edit big scenes, although “autozoom” mode is turned on by default since to keep better speed and work as before.

Below is another screenshot with the photo item selected. Below the item there is attached panel with some “quick action buttons”.
Selected item

By clicking on the leftmost icon (inner geometry editor) you can see the in-place editor of the photo. You can drag the photo, zoom it and rotate to get exact part of the image show in the frame. Actually, we had an in-place editor of that kind before, but the new one seems to be much more logical and easy to use. Well, and it works faster.

This screenshot represents in-place frame editing.
Handy frame editor

Older Choco had only one frame type with a simple popover-based frame editor. We kept those editor for keyboard-baed inputs, but a in-place editor was also added. It looks better, it act faster and it’s much more intuitive to operate. Plus, we have two more rame types to operate and they’re packed onto the same editor too (with a switcher on top).
Freeform frame editor

Freeform editor image is designed to add some user-defined frames. You can edit bezier curve: add/remove points, move points and control points, change segment type (curve or straight line) and so on, it’s quite simple and mostly focused on mouse editing. Toggle button on the left changes edit tool: segment tool, point tool, erase tool, “gear” icon on the right represents popover with some extra settings.

There is no screenshot for the Mask frame since it’s the simplest one and you can only choose the maks image to “cut” the photo with.

In addition to the said and shown above, we have also kept usual context menu for items. The menu has been shortened since lots of actions are now available through the cation buttons, but some interesting items were added: “Copy frame” and “Copy Effect”. Those menu actions allows to copy individual element frame or effect onto the clipboard and paste them to any other item or item set. So, you can easily set up, let’s say, freeform frame once, copy and paste onto each other photo item on the scene with two clicks.

Generators

Even initial build of Choco had layout generators. Unfortunately, it wasn’t clear for most users how to use them, so we have re-designed those generators completely. In the bottom bar, you can see a “tiles” icon which is third from the left side, it turns on special layout generator UI. Below you can see the first generator: “Tiled” one.
Tiled layout generator

Once generator is turned on, it shows a preview. This preview isn’t 100% accurate in terms of frame scales, but it allows to achieve the main task: generate a scene in few moments. On the right side you can edit some params like row or column count, margins, each change will immediately renew the layout. In the left-top corner of the window you can see two buttons “Apply” and “Cancel”, the first one returns back to the scene, applying the new layout, second simply cancels editing, reverting to the original scene. In the middle of the window (top part) there is switcher that changed generators.

Next is a screenshot of the “Asymmetric tiles” generator:
Asymmetric layout generator

It’s another one from the original Choco, although it’s been renovated in terms of algo. With the new one you can simply define “maximum number of items” to generate and minimum possible item size. Also, there is “stopper” value that randomly keeps big photos on the scene. This set of the parameters allows to generate some interesting scene fast & easily. If you have all the params set up, but would like to re-generate the layout, use the “Renew” button place in the right-top corner.

Next is the “Board” generator.
Board layout generator

Well, another generator from the past, it takes a mask image and fills it with some items. It’s pretty simple and self-explaining, work just like before, although new UI allows you to get results faster.

The last one: “Path” generator
Path layout generator

This is the new generator, it’s based on the bezier curve. The curve editor itself is almost 100% the same we have in the “freeform frame” editor, it’s pretty simple yet powerful. Generator allows you to define any kind of shape and make the generated items to follow the path, plus we have some rotation settings: some fixed angle, “follow the path” and special one – “follow the path while keeping head up” which means you won’t get “bottom-upped” items in the output. The last mode is turned on by default, I guess it’s suitable in most cases.

This special UI modules designed for the layouts speed up scene generation in times – preview is generated very fast and you don’t have to wait for a true scene rendering until you actually apply any changes.

Shuffles

Original Choco had a small button called “Shuffle” placed below the photos list. It was made to shake up the collage, pushing random images from the set right onto the scene, but in the newer Choco we have replaced this button with the “Shuffles modules” similar to the layout generators. Fourth icon (counting from the leftmost) in the bottom bar of the main window (it looks like a magic wand) turn on this shufflers mode.

Below you can see simple “random” shuffler:
Random shuffler

It actually does the same thing as old good “shuffle” button of the Choco 1.X. However, this time it works faster since only the preview is updated. The whole UI is very similar to the layout generators with the same switcher and control buttons on top, so (I guess) there is no need to describe it again.

Let’s take a look on the second shuffler:
Single shuffler

This one is a new shuffler, design to “overlay” a single image onto the scene. You can drag’n drop a photo from the images list onto the placeholder, after that you can move, scale and rotate the marker to place the photo exactly as you want. The preview will show you (yet again, it’s not 100% accurate in terms of frames) what parts of the image will be shown in the concrete items. No rocket science here, but it allows to create stunning things in moments!

Other changes

Actually, lots of them, but most of the things are hidden inside. We have boosted up application loading time, so now it should load fast even with a library made of thousands of templates. We have boosted the rendering and turned it onto the parallel: scene items will indicate their “being updated” state and render over time. During our test, it worked just fine, showing reasonable performance on various scenes. We have also updated lots of minor things, for instance, template saving panel now has a small checkbox “save photos” which actually turns a templates onto the document. Images binary data will be saved in the template and you’ll be able to edit your project later without arranging the photos yet again. Well, few months of work, actually, we have almost re-made this app from the ground.

What is not here yet

The translations are not ready yet, we’re only going to order them. So, “Choco 2″ is currently partially translated, presenting English/other langues mixes in different UI blocks. Fully covered are only English and Russian versions of the application. Same story with the new resources and templates: this tasks are covered partially, so don’t worry about built-in presets, they number and quality will grow. At last, I haven’t prepared normal user manual and new screencast yet, but it seems to logical, isn’t it? Both new manual and video reviews will be ready with the final 2.0 release.

What do we need

Well, we need you to test the application and share your thoughts. We are ready to polish the application further in order to make in closer to the perfect, but we need to catch the bugs, clean the UI and we need to know in general whether we are going in the right direction and your help is highly appreciated here. Just grab your copy and, once you see some part of the application behaving incorrectly or some user interface block being unclear – let us know, that simple.

However, there is important “todo” about bug reports. if you face a bug (crash or something):

  • Try to reproduce the bug few times, remember the actions you perform to make the app crash or act incorrectly.
  • Try to minimize this actions set. Probably, some of the actions don’t affect the issue at all.
  • Try to check the issue on various images (if they’re relative to image processing) and mark those images on which the issue is re-produceable.
  • If the bug is some visual artifact, make few screenshots to illustrate it.
  • If the app crashes, wait for the Mac OS crash report dialog, get the details and save the text data of the crash report onto a file.
  • When all above is done, send us a mail and don’t forget to attach all the data mentioned above: scenario to reproduce the bug, crash data, source files, screenshots.

I understand that it’s a kind of work, but without this additional and clean info bug reports are totally useless. When I don’t know was the exact issue, how does it look or how to make it happen on my tests – I can’t fix it. I will definitely sleep worse after such report, but there will be absolutely no point, so, please, do us a favor: spent few minutes to make the report clear.

Where to grab it

Well, and the main things here: the download link (app will accept usual keys from the Choco 1.x) and contact – support at candysquare dot com.

Kind Regards,
Yaro

Choco March 23rd 2013

One Response to “Choco 2.0 beta”

  1. Dirk Boersma Says:

    Wow, this looks great and promising! Keep up the good work.
    I used Posterino so far, but your app looks even more versatile.
    I am downloading it, and will try it out and send you feedback when I can.
    Thanks for sharing v.2 with us, and I hope the final product will soon be launched.

    I wish you well with it!

    Kind regards,
    Dirk

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