Storyspace 2, by Eastgate Systems, Inc.
Posted: 3-November-2001

4 out of 5 Mice

Vendor: Eastgate Systems, Inc. Type: COMMERCIAL

Reviewer: Earl Bruch Class: PRODUCTIVITY

PowerMac System Review On
Beige Power Macintosh G3 233MHz Desktop with 4 GB & 9GB external SCSI HD, MacOS 9.1, ATI 2MB RAM graphics card and 128 MB RAM with virtual memory off.

System Requirements
Power Macintosh, 8MB RAM, MacOS 8.5 or later, and enough hard drive space for application with associated files and your work.

Introduction
Eastgate Systems, Inc. has developed an intuitive layout application for imaginative people who needed to delineate original ideas or new concepts in a portable digital format. The portable format that a user can publish, edit and view is converted from Storyspace 2 for Macintosh's proprietary document format using the application's HTML conversion utilities. The collection of newly created HTML documents with associated multimedia file can be viewed on HTML browsers with the necessary browser specific multimedia plug-ins. While the application allows the user to convert Storyspace 2 for Macintosh documents with special formatting into HTML documents, there are certain limitations with HTML that impede a full conversion. Adding certain features from the Storyspace 2 for Macintosh document to the HTML document would require knowledge of a browser supported scripting language such as JavaScript, VBScript or PERL to do advanced searching of the converted HTML documents or different types of progression checks throughout the user's web session.

Overview
Although Storyspace 2 for Macintosh's HTML publishing facilities are a salient part of the program; the additional functionality available for use in the Storyspace 2 for Macintosh's documents, such as the four visual views, document searching and other interface objects, empowers users during the design and refinement process. There are four view windows that the user can manipulate to express their ideas and concepts without be bogged down by editing HTML code or related formatting issues in some Visual HTML editors. The Chart View has a vertical tree representation of the storyspace's object hierarchical structure. Similarities exist between the Chart View and the Tree Map View since both contain the same object information is represented in a Venn Diagram. Both of these windows allow the user to change associations and re-structure by dragging and dropping different objects.

While Storyspace 2 for Macintosh users can get a graphical overview of the document structure and complete some restructuring, the Map View window is the main object concept design area. Layout design and editing should primarily be done in the Map View window by dragging and dropping supported multimedia files and clicking on design buttons in the toolbox. Finally, the text outline view is helpful in checking document structure before publishing the HTML documents.

Depending on the implementation of the file formatting, the documents can be distributed with the Storyspace 2 Reader application or as a HTML site with associated image (converted to JPEG format), and supported movie and sound files.

When creating a new document, users have an adequate toolbox to aid in the design of new objects. The toolbox consists of the following: writing space tool (creates objects), arrow tool, note tool, navigation tool, link tool and scale tool.

Toolbox Features

  • Writing Space tool: Creates a new writing space (objects) in a view window.
  • Arrow tool: Allows user to move and rearrange Storyspaces (objects) in a view window.
  • Note tool: Links text to a selected writing space in a view window.
  • Navigation tool: Allows user to follow a Storyspace document link pathway in a view.
  • Link tool: Links one writing space or other object to another in a view window.
  • Scale tool: Resizes spaces (objects) in a view window

Operation
The Storyspace 2 for Macintosh user organizes and expresses their ideas and concepts by selecting tools from toolbox and coherently assembling and restructuring the hierarchy in the different views. The developers have made the GUI simple and with drag and drop technology for linking sound, movie or image files into the Storyspace 2 document. Linking documents and checking for progression through the document before allowing access to other sections of the document with guard fields makes this layout system great for developing simple databases, simulators, interactive/alternate ending stories, tutorials and exams. While in the Storyspace 2 Map View with workspaces added, users can add and manipulate links with direction arrows and the association's name will be displayed on the arrow line.

When I decided to publish HTML documents, I found out that the view images are not available to the user. I used the operating system's screen capture function and edited the image in a photo editing program to get images of different views. The guard fields are not converted from and embedded into the resulting HTML documents with the use of a scripting language. Using scripting languages to restrict access in this situation would be a powerful feature for this tool. Also, the toolbox navigation tools are a timesaving feature for previewing the Storyspace document flow before saving or publishing to HTML.

I had a vast array of tools available for designing and navigating the hierarchical structures. The toolbox has a compass to move around in the writing spaces by the location of the Storyspace object with respect to the direction of the compass arrow. While the compass tool has expanded on the navigation tool functionality, the tunnel tool provides a simplified link management by processing a link after the destination is known to the views to ensure no broken links.

Conclusion
Storyspace 2 for Macintosh is an extremely powerful and intuitive application for novice to expert level users to implement in completing their complex tasks. If users have had experience with design of software/hardware, writing stories or technical papers or developed hierarchical charting, then the learning curve will be small. I have used tools Object Oriented/UML applications like Rational Rose and web editors such as Macromedia's DreamWeaver, which have more functionality but can be hundreds of dollars more than Storyspace 2 for Macintosh. The learning curve for those products is much greater and could require more abstract knowledge and training then that required for use of Storyspace 2 for Macintosh. Users are not burdened with learning HTML tags, coding a scripting language, debugging the code and testing the HTML documents when working in this environment.

By concentrating on only creating generic HTML pages, the user is allowed to focus on refining the concept or idea without implementation distractions. The Storyspace 2 for Macintosh HTML conversion utility ensures file compatibility with any web browser on any platform, as long as the browser has the correct browser multimedia plug-ins for sounds and movies. Key functionality is missing from the HTML generated documents, but can be added later by the user through an outside editor.

With this key functionality missing, I might be able to justify a $295.00 purchase of this program for a one-machine license fee under certain circumstances. Although it is tens of thousands of dollars less than Rational Rose for software/hardware design, this program could be an entry-level tool for software or engineering designers. When a task such as creating a web site or multimedia presentation for a customer is suggested, I would require a tool with more flexibility and functionality. This is not an application that I would suggest to expert level web site designers or developers. It's great for the novice users and those who do not have a need or want to learn HTML coding.

While novices can transmit their work to other technical and non-technical readers by HTML file format or the proprietary Storyspace 2 file format, the Storyspace 2 Reader is required for reading the Storyspace 2 file on the Mac or PC Operating System. With the free Storyspace 2 reader, people reading the documents can only edit the documents if they have the commercial version of the software. That limitation could cause problems if the user has changed the directory structures.

Recently, I had to create a dataflow diagram and this application would have simplified the documentation process of the systems behaviors. Against my will, I had to use Microsoft PowerPoint to finish my document. The text outline function and other viewing windows are far superior to the elementary outline capabilities of PowerPoint. I am pleased with Storyspace's operation and memory management, while I expect the addition of more functionality in later releases. Storyscape works on the net and the development process will be enhanced once certain conversion boundaries are broken and the toolbox is expanded.

Pros

  • Drag and Drop functionality with external multimedia
  • Small application size and good memory management
  • HTML conversion of Storyspace documents
  • Adequate Toolbox
  • A lot of software documentation
  • Web site with useful information and software user experiences with their Storyspace creations
  • Free Storyspace reader with commercial version so users can distribute the reader with their Storyspace documents

Cons

  • Some Storyspace functionality is lost during the HTML conversion.


Overall Rating

4 out of 5 Mice