Simulation-ville.

October 5th, 2007 – 6:20 pm
Tagged as: Content Master

The team had got rid of Groove (for which there were celebrations too!) however several other projects popped up for which the workload was heavy.

At this point, I started to take more of an interest in simulations. Simulations required a whole new parsing process, and without doubt was the longest of all elements to develop. The main difference between a demo and simulation was simply the fact that the user was given the opportunity to click through the demo and learn for themselves, where specific features are.

Again, we used VM Ware Virtual PC, yet this time we used an alternative feature which Adobe Captivate’s supports – taking individual screenshots of every step made. This meant for every click made with the mouse, Captivate would send a screenshot into memory and store it. However not every click would respond. Therefore, pressing F10 to manually take a screenshots was necessary.

For a simulation, we had to go through the whole step-list, making sure that every screenshot we took had the plain state of the screen showing and for any buttons clicking actions (e.g. close a window, hit an OK button etc.), we had to take additional screenshots to show the mouse over the button (as the design of the button changes) as well as a press state (as the button pushes in, when pressed).

This also applied to any other selection tools, such as combo boxes, radio buttons or tick boxes. Again, a very tedious task, given that if you missed out, it may be difficult to fill in the detail later, as a tick box, a radio button, or any method of input all have unique positions in the software you are recording and all different sizes.

Therefore, careful thought and concentration was required to ensure the screenshots were taken at the right time. It was important to ensure that several screenshots of the same state were taken numerous times (using the manual method), as Captivate was rather buggy in recognising that a screenshot was actually taken when clicking a mouse, and post-recording, one would come to realise that it didn’t record it. Again, going back to find that missing state would be a difficult task.

After capturing all the screen states, all the images were exported as .PNGs (to retain transparency). The PNGs are imported into Adobe Photoshop, where all the images become layered on top of each other. It was quite fun to see the transition from image to image as you show and hide layers. You could actually see the simulation “in action” by doing this, however, full functionality was to be added later in Adobe Flash.
At this point, I had to take out any duplicate images as a result of the F10 key being pressed multiple times.
At the same time, for each image on each layered in Photoshop, we had to cut out/delete any areas of the screenshot that didn’t change, and leave the parts that did.

This was a clever idea, as later when the simulation is built as a whole, a full screenshot will not be loaded each time – instead a simple extract from the cut up PNG would appear, demonstrating that change from the previous image. All the cut up images will sit on top of the one “bulk image” (bulk refers to a full on screenshot).

All simulations (and demonstrations) were recorded at a resolution of 800×600, regardless of the content. It was to retain consistency and platform compatibility. Therefore all PNGs were exported at the same resolution to retain position on the screen.

A process like this took a very long time – if you were lucky, up to a day. This process was completely new to me. I ended up taking a week just to record one simulation. The following week I had to edit the simulation and then I would be told how to re-construct the simulation in Flash.

As a note, I’ve noticed a pattern in a lot of media development. That is, there’s a recording phase, editing phase, synchronisation phase and finally a published phase. This seems to be a useful theme to follow when producing media content.

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