According to Jim Sink - recently promoted to CEO of Avatar Reality – the company will be taking its Open Beta of the 3D immersive virtual world and platform Blue Mars public on Wednesday, September 2 at 12:01am HST (Hawaiian Standard Time). The first weighty contender to Second Life® in the user-generated content category of virtual worlds, delivering dazzlingly realistic graphics and unprecedented physics, has been in Private Beta for less than a month, and open only to registered developers since June.
Jim shared that he’s been impressed with the number of people registering, and expects that the new features packaged in the significant update they are rolling out with the Open Beta will come as a pleasant surprise to those who have already participated. Moreover, he revealed that all Private Beta testers had been locked at the highest performance settings, but that the new version will soon allow for each user to make adjustments to their resolution.
To prepare for the Open Beta, Blue Mars will be shutting its servers down Monday, August 31, at 10am HST during which time the budding virtual world will be offline and their websites unavailable for several hours. All charter members who participated in the Private Beta – save registered developers – will have to register again on or after September 2. However, charter members will be able to log in immediately after registering, whereas all others will have to sign up and wait to receive an invite, unless, that is, they have a friend in Blue Mars. Each participant in the Private Beta will have the ability to invite up to 3 friends who will be given immediate access – after registration - via the charter member’s “my page,” on the Blue Mars website.
I spent a few hours exploring Blue Mars and also spoke with several Private Beta participants who often commented on the sparse interface – which apparently will change dramatically in the new version – and limited features, but always ended with, “but it’s so beautiful.” It most certainly is that. I’ve been lusting after the visual ecstasy afforded by CryTek’s game engine CryEngine 2 since I first laid eyes on it, but had no interest in playing the games that use it until now. For me, it will have to be a virtual world where user-generated content is enabled or nothing at all. The debate on this last point is heating up and it remains to be seen whether Second Life’s content creators will adapt to the Blue Mars’ off-world creation model, versus SL’s prims that empower even amateurs to build and manifest their creativity in Second Life.
Some folks like Rock Vacirca believe they will and others like Phaylen Fairchild think it's not possible. I'm still on the fence.
Aussie digital media consultant Skribe Forti has been cranking out video tutorials about Blue Mars
Jim’s most recent tweet informs us that he “just finished installing the new build of Blue Mars on my iMac,” and when I asked him about it, he said it was running “great,” and that "Just because CryEngine doesn’t run on OS X doesn’t mean that it’s a big deal to dual boot using Boot Camp,” Apple's free software that can boot Windows on your Mac natively.
That Blue Mars will deliver spectacular fidelity, physics and scalability that 6 year old Second Life might not ever be able to attain unless it's rebuilt from the ground up is not under discussion, but I can’t help but wonder if it will be able to catch up to the amazing content and growing user-base that SL’s residents have come to expect, along with the attending friendships and social, educational and business experiences.
Either way, I am welcoming Blue Mars with open arms. While I applaud the efforts of the open source OpenSim community and want to encourage them to move forward, I will never have enough options, and Blue Mars is exactly that: A very viable option.
July 31, 2009: More Blue Mars – The official roll-out dates (and some musings)
April 15, 2009: New answers and more questions regarding the upcoming virtual world Blue Mars