While doing some research for a presentation I may get to delivering, one day, in the far off future, I got to thinking about Truespace. I don’t fault you if you’ve never heard of it. In the history of computer 3D modelling and animation, Truespace barely registers as a footnote. I had fiddled with Povray, and some 3D features of Autocad, but Truespace was the first 3D animation program I ever used. The reason I stuck with it, and actually learned how to use the tools in Truespace can be boiled down to one word. Feedback.
If you look at the Truespace (Truespace2 to be exact) interface now, it looks archaic and maybe even a little childish. Even so, it is as friendly and easily parsed as when I fired it up around 1996. When you compare it to the abusive interface of Autocad from the same time, Truespace was probably a full decade ahead of the curve. It all boils down to feedback. If you wanted to move a model around on a flat plane, you would click the translate button, or press the associated hotkey and move your mouse. The model would move. Select rotation and move your mouse, the object would rotate. You could define the axis of motion, rotation, or scale, based on what mouse buttons you clicked and where your hand moved.
By this point you are probably wondering what the big deal is. Moving the mouse to move an object on screen is pretty much the way programs work, right? 3D graphics at the time were still barely crawling out of the text editor. The only systems that operated like I just described would cost several thousand dollars and only run on some high end proprietary hardware. Even then, programs like autocad and 3d studio, that may actually be available to the average human, were complex beyond reason. More often than not most programs would have you consider the problem, type in the values that solve the problem, and then redraw the scene to see if your changes worked. In Truespace you would click and drag. Instant Feedback.
Truespace was certainly less capable than other 3d animation software of the time, and it was quickly overshadowed by the likes of Lightwave and 3Dstudio Max, but it gave me enough of a head start that I was able to get very comfortable with more advanced software when the opportunity presented itself.
Software that provides constant, consistent feedback has always been easier for me to learn. Even when things get very arcane, like the dependency graph in Maya, if the program offers constant feedback (maya is a feedback factory) learning will come easily. Funny enough, that’s how just about all games work.