Friday, July 31, 2009

More Blue Mars – The official roll-out dates (and some musings)

Posted by Bettina Tizzy

I don’t think anyone expects it to be a Second Life® killer – hundreds of thousands of avatars have too much invested there in friendships, land, content and businesses already - but Blue Mars is the first solid contender to enter the skirmish for dominance in the user-generated content category of virtual worlds. And yes, I did just say user-generated content, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

Jim Sink, vice president of Hawaii-based Avatar Reality, the company that owns Blue Mars, shared with me last night that they plan on rolling out their first registrations to the “many, many thousands of players” on their waiting list on Monday, August 3, and open Beta for all is scheduled for August 31st. So this is it.

I reported on most known aspects of the coming free-to-play platform in depth three months ago but I’ve been giving it a great deal of thought since then. It has already won me over on several counts:

  • Gorgeous and photorealistic graphics thanks to the ultimate game engine available today: CryEngine 2.
  • Serious control over what enters your City. Three little words: No Flying Penises. Likewise unwanted scripts, “prims,” and inappropriately (or offensively) dressed avatars. These safety features and checks are boons to businesses, educators, event organizers, Role-Playing Games and advertisers.
  • Deep control over your content. Since every item that is imported into Blue Mars gets an encrypted and dated watermark, IP dangers to creators such as copybot dissipate dramatically.
  • Scalable to thousands of simultaneous users per region. - Can’t attend that Coldplay concert that’s taking place 3,000 miles away? Why not hear and see them stream live into Blue Mars?
  • Marketers will be keen on the fact that player activity can be tracked and reported on in real-time.
  • Using a CAD program plus Blue Mars’ import tool, you can bring in your 3D assets… an intriguing opportunity for anyone who wants to demo objects, large or small.
  • A simplified and easy-to-use interface in the universal language of symbols.

Musings and mumblings on USER GENERATED CONTENT

Blue Mars loses important points in areas that are critical to me, not the least of which is the fact that amateur content creators will have no place there. On the surface, quality control isn’t a bad thing, but when I consider that so many – MOST! - of the creators I most appreciate in Second Life came from non-artistic backgrounds only to discover that they could make marvelous things, I begin to mourn the loss of that particular magic. On the other hand, and to be fair, I wonder what professional artists will begin to work in virtual worlds (that I can inhabit) because of this environment.

And I’m unhappy that my Mac friends can’t join me there unless they are using Boot Camp, and I want to fly everywhere, thank you very much. No bloody waiting at virtual bus stops for me!

I’m “iffy” on what sounds like extreme homogenization. While the robust safety and marketing features appeal to me, the endless variety and idiosyncrasies that I mostly find charming in Second Life will have no place in Blue Mars. Or will they? The funny thing is, it turns out that what I dislike about Second Life is also what I like about it. The ugly content makes me value the beauty all the more. But you know what? I bet Blue Mars will have its share of yucky, or mundane and mediocre bleah stuff, too. After all, just cause it’s pro doesn’t make it pretty, does it?

And here is something I really want to share with you…

Jim spoke about user-generated content in Blue Mars last night in such a persuasive way. He asserted that ANYBODY can be a registered developer. He stressed that Blue Mars’ tools are free and so are 3D model creation tools like Blender and Google Sketchup.

Hmmm. Nowadays, many leading Second Life content creators are working off-world and importing their sculpties already. And what’s more, it’s been almost a year since I spoke with Aminom Marvin about the next big thing in virtual worlds that support content creation: 3D mesh objects. We’ve been speculating and hoping that Linden Lab will introduce them later this year. Well, it is almost “later this year” now. So how is all this different from people working off-world and importing their content into Blue Mars? And why would we moan and groan about an environment that actually protects creators’ intellectual property in ways that Second Life is technologically incapable of? I have so very much to think about.

I’m thinking… I just may have to have a foot in both worlds. THREE LIVES. Oh boy.


Lauren said...

Well, it sounds to me as if Blue Mars will not include me. As beautiful as it will be, it will be controlled by corporations and shows like LaurenLive will not find much of a home there. Also, from what I understand, not only will MAC users be excluded (which means a lot of artists) but also those who don't have significant graphic cards etc. However, from your review (and this is just an impression Bettina) it sounds like a 'big brother' product. Hope I'm wrong

Mister Crap said...

The communications system/engine is the SL-killer, not the graphics engine.

As for amateur/professional content development, all it takes is a few Thinkerer, NMC and Rezzable analogs on Blue Mars. Go back to the patron/sponsor post here by LP.

As for Lauren's concerns, there are always simple workarounds for "busking" in public places on any platform. "Go to Lauren Live, click on the icon to BlogTalkRadio, and come to this spot." Not as elegant as SL Voice events, but in time such busking/flashcrowding will become simple on the platform as clever and devious minds start to play.


nimil said...

i was signed up for the beta for blue mars but could never use it because it was windows vista only and the only pc that can run it runs xp. pity... but definitely not a second life killer.

FeelingDoingFranny said...

this sounds so nice, but once again, as a Mac person, I can't go. I meet so many Apple users in SL, it's hard to imagine that this is the way it is.
So, not a SL killer, by a longshot.

radar said...

Not having anything but Vista support is not good, but I suspect in time that will pass. In 10 years, Microsoft will be just another option anyway, so don't get too bent out of shape about it.

As for developers, I think Jim's telling the truth, I am a blue mars registered developer. I don't think this is going to stop people from making content in Blue Mars. I think they just want to know who is doing what.

Time will tell. I don't think it's going to be as limited as people fear.

And btw, *HAS* LL ever given any indication they are working on mesh object import for SL? I don't believe they are, because I've never seen it mentioned. They seem content to let blue mars, realXtend, etc, blow right past them on this one.

MaggieL said...

The platform, from what I can see, is highly MSFT-centric; in fact Jim Sink is a former MSFT BizDev guy.

If that does represent a threat to SL and OpenSim, the threat may lurk in the fact that both SL and already have a huge stealth dependence on software IP vulnerable to MSFT patent threats; specifically Mono and .Net.

If MSFT should wake up some morning and decide that Blue Mars (client requires DirectX, of course) should live and SL should die, things could get very ugly very quickly.

sororNishi said...

I am also registered as a developer, but can't do anything til I buy a new computer, which may happen, of course, one day.
I would, like you Betty, be sad to lose the amateurish builds that enrich SL so much and am not sure that the clean, perfect society is one I would value as much. very true that major corps. will love this sort of anal control of content... but that doesn't appeal as mush as the alternative scenario which involves me using SL as a hub and flitting from grid to grid exploring what other amateurs are doing with thousands of cheap prims at their disposal.
Major corporations tend to produce safe and sterilised products...long live the amateurs!!!!

Bettina Tizzy said...

Despite all my concerns, I WANT Blue Mars to be wildly successful. I understand your allegiances to Second Life because it is where you currently have everything, as do I, but I have not forgotten how frickin pissed off I was with Linden Lab in October - not even one year ago - when they announced that that were going to increase prices on an 8 1/2 month old product by 67% and there WASN'T ANYTHING I COULD DO ABOUT IT. I tried so many Opensims but they weren't ready for me. I want some options, people. I don't EVER want to be in the position again where I cannot flip Linden Lab the bird and go somewhere else and be happy. I don't want YOU to be in that position either. Remember when you were paying $75 for your Openspaces? Remember?????? What are we paying now? And yes, they grandly grandfathered the middle prices but I am *still ANGRY.* And I'm not paying the $75 I was originally promised.

@Lauren - I have heard of Mac users who have logged into the private Beta. It is not that Blue Mars is excluding Mac users, it is that their game engine, CryEngine 2, isn't built for Macs. In addition, they have tested Blue Mars on $500 PCs (an not just Vista - I loathe Vista!) and report that it worked fine. Now, Lauren, dear friend, I know you well enough to realize that if some serious fun is going on in Blue Mars, you would buy a PC to join in. Moreover, I can imagine Lauren Live shows for much larger audiences on Blue Mars.

I do want to address your concerns about their real-time analyses capabilities of player activity. As Jim pointed out in my previous interview, it will be up to the developer of each City to determine how they use that information. BUT BUT BUT... Lauren, by using the Internet... that 2.0 Web thing, you are already being tracked and giving all that information to thousands upon thousands of companies. I'm not concerned about that as much as you are.

@Crap - Tell me more.

@nimil and @Feeling and @radar - Yes, you can use Blue Mars on XP and other MFST OS'. It is not exclusive to Vista. NOPE. As I explained back in April: "Despite rumors to the contrary and in regards to performance, the company stated that most 3D cards on the market today will be able to run Blue Mars, and that even ATI 4850 cards that go for about $120 after rebates can “deliver a strong performance.”

@radar - I don't know what the status is on 3D mesh objects in SL. Anyone know?

@Maggie - Fascinating and scary thought.

Bettina Tizzy said...

@Soror, you must have been commenting at the same time :)

I'm old enough to remember how much fun BBSing was before AOLers came and mediocratized the web-world. Early adopters deal with innumerable problems but also reap priceless rewards. Second Life's creation model is an extremely fun one, though it may be riddled with problems. Problems like copybotting, for instance. My shoulders are sopping wet from the tears of Second Life's content creators who have been ripped off over and over again.

That said, I just want to have OPTIONS. Like a certain Southerner once said, "I'll NEVER go hungry again." - I don't want to paint myself into a virtual corner.

Godeke said...

Blue Mars appeals quite a bit to me, but I do think it is orthogonal to Second Life in many ways. Everyone who decries Copybot should realize that this level of corporate control over the platform is the trade-off one makes for security.

For some uses I find that trade-off completely acceptable. Education and business clients already have some Second Life alternatives based on The Grid, but these were bolted afterthoughts, not baked into the core concepts. For those who want to control the "user experience" Blue Mars is looking like an affordable alternative created by a like-minded company (instead of a constant uphill battle to get those features acknowledged).

For the social, role play and tinkerer user base this looks very limiting. The news that "anyone" can become a developer can mitigate that for the tinkerers, but the social networks of the social and role play groups are already firmly entrenched in SL and it will be interesting to see if it is affordable enough for hobbyist to reproduce what they do in SL.

And that last affordability may be possible if someone decides to pull an Anshe Chung and create rentals on their server with a fairly permissive terms of service.

Of course, I'm still skeptical of the "thousands" claim... I wonder what happens if all those thousands converge in a small space (which will happen with live performances and the like).

MaggieL said...

You know, for all the folks who are excited by a new rendering engine, we should be thinking about Google's O3D stuff. It's important to realize what it is *not*, of course. But I think it represents an exciting opportunity for bridging technologies.

By the same token, I want to know more about

FlipperPA mentioned it at the PANMA/Rezzable event. Apparently it extends the SL object model with arbitrary meshes, courtesy of additional code in viewer and server, of course.

Earth Primbee said...

Second Life freed me from the need for expensive graphics development software, the need for a studio to support my development, and allowed me to customize the amount of land I had so I could comfortably afford to pay for the space without an income from it.

That is huge and is partly why I promote the platform to everyone that will even listen halfway to my future speak ramblings.

So Second Life became to me "the people's game". Just about anyone can contribute their creative energy to the world. WOW! You don't have to work in the game industry to work in the game industry !!!

So at first Blue Mars put me off as I was getting the impression it was a world only for seriously experienced game designers and artists. At least in terms of creatively contributing to the world.

It will likely do very well as the scalability is extremely impressive as are the graphics.

I do not see it as a Second Life killer either. It is almost like comparing Physics with Quantum Physics. One may surpass some qualities of the other, but it so different that both can exist and indeed will need to exist.

If Blue Mars becomes the "in" place for developers to show off, Second Life will continue to be the "intro" platform. In a creative sense, like graduating from High School and going on to College. Again one does not replace the other, it only supplements it.

Now, can I see Inspire Space Park and our particle shows with 1000 people able to be there to see it or just chill to our music? YES!

Do I see myself having the time or money to lead my merry band of creators into the new blue world? Not any time soon... well maybe if we win the lotto!! :)

Kala Bijoux said...

I'm intrigued with Blue Mars for a few reasons:

1) 3D Mesh objects! Once you start playing around with a 3D program (zbrush in my case) you learn how limiting sculpties are. I'd LOVE to be able to import an entire mesh object.

2) Greater protection of objects made. Let's face it, LL sucks at protecting their content creators. Even just having a developer signup might dissuade the thieves from creating alt after alt.

My concerns:

1) The restrictions for content creators? If you sign up on their developer sign up, are you automatically in?

2) Can you import any 3d mesh or obj object? Or must it be a specific program they mention (Maya/Blender/3Ds max)? They don't mention Zbrush.

3) How are content creators getting paid? Do they have a monetary system and trading system like LL does?

I'm definitely keeping my eye on Blue Mars - especially every time I bump into the stupid sculptie limitations!!!

daicon said...

Whoever said that Blue Mars is Vista only is wrong. I run XP and it as well as all of its SDK tools run just fine.

Blue Mars has some details that need to be ironed out, but as far as how dated SL is now, as well as it's old servers, IP-protection issues, and terrible interface, I could easily see this defeating SL.

Linden Labs has chosen to focus on the financial end of SL more so than the actual users. SL lacks Direct X support and much needed updates that could improve the experience for everyone.

Blue Mars is offering the ability to allow content creators to completely fit their cities to their desires. The current builds have sample golf and gliding games that have custome UIs and controls. To me, this means that if I wanted to do something like make an FPS combat sim or an RPG sim, I could have that flexbility.

SL creators have tried such things, but they can only do so much with the weak and broken tools that Linden Labs has given them.

MaggieL said...

DirectX has no place in a multiplatform system.