Tuesday, 28 April 2009

More Blue Mars Info

Jim Sink of Avatar-Reality has kindly clarified a few more questions:

1. Who will be able to upload content into Blue Mars?
a) The City developer?
b) The tenant of the city developer, who has a store and wants to stock it?
c) The tenant of the city developer, who has rented a home in Blue Mars and wants to upload a few pieces of furniture that they have made?

JS: A. Yes. B. Yes. C. Yes, eventually (we're still working on this part.)

2. Will non-human avatars be supported?

JS: Not natively by Avatar Reality. However, City Developers can create any type of avatar they choose. For now, the universal avatar that can move from city to city needs to be based on the default rig and model.

3. I have had a few enquiries from people who are already running various flavours of Crysis, and have the SandBox 2, and the CryMod SDK, and are comfortable creating with those tools. What benefit, if any, would there be to those people to apply for and download the Blue Mars SDK?

JS: The Sandbox is a great start. We've added new features to the sandbox including camera control and multiplayer functionality for games. Also, the SDK environment includes import tools for Max and Maya along with additional documentation.

4. Does the decision on whether to allow teleporting or flying rest finally with the city developer?

JS: Our default control scheme doesn't support flying at this time. For now, that functionality will need to be managed by the city developer. We haven't settled on a specific transportation policy. I can say that we are commited to working with developers on policies that meet their needs.

Thanks very much Jim.

JS: My pleasure.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

FreeRealms and Sparkle IM

FreeRealms is a new family-friendly Virtual World, being developed by Sony. It will be free to download and play, and is currently in beta test.

FreeRealms offer exploration, combat, building, housing, pet-raising, mini-games and social interaction to appeal to as wide a variety of users as possible.

How FreeRealms and Sony's Home on the PS3 are related, if at all, is still unclear.

Demo video here.

Sparkle IM

You can now use your iPhone or iPod Touch to stay in touch with either Second Life or any of the OpenSim grids.

Genkii have launched Sparkle IM, an application for the iPhone/iPod that allows you to send and receive IMs, online or offline, chat, send tp requests, and accept Friends requests. Further details and a video on the Genkii website.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The GadgetShow Live!

I've just got back from the GadgetShow Live! at the NEC, Birmingham, 17th-19th April.

The show was something of a disappointment for me, particularly with the absence of so many gaming and Virtual World companies from the Games Hall.

Electronic Arts did attend, and their booth was well attended. They had a nice little attraction whereby a short 1 min video of attendees (smiling, walking and jumping) could be used within games to make the central character in those games appear to be the attendee. Kids loved that!

There were a number of companies promoting software to rival Microsoft's Surface 2. I really liked the offering from HP, and LG were showing next-generation phones that will incorporate this multi-touch software - Apple, take note!

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Interview with Jim Sink of Avatar-Reality

Jim Sink, is Vice President of Business Development at Avatar-Reality, the company behind the forthcoming virtual world, Blue Mars. Avatar-Reality is based in Honolulu, Hawaii, and currently employs a staff of 24, and growing.

Jim Sink began his career in the interactive entertainment industry at Foundation9 designing games for Sega, Hudson, Nokia, and Eidos. Following his work as a game designer, Jim managed business development and partner acquisition at Microsoft’s Xbox Live service. Jim joined Avatar Reality in 2008 to lead their business development efforts.

1. How will Blue Mars work? Will there be user-created content, user-created terrain, in-world economy?

JS: Absolutely. There will be two types of account: end-user accounts, and developer-accounts. For end-users the client will be free, and there will be no fees for entering Blue Mars, however, some cities or areas may be subscription-only areas.

For developers, the Software Development Kit (SDK) will be free, and content will be generated outside of Blue Mars, then uploaded into it, rather than creating within Blue Mars.

2. Who do you see as your main competition? Second Life? Entropia?

JS: We feel that Blue Mars, with its unique qualities, will be catering to a unique market, and so we don’t see ourselves competing directly with any of the other Virtual Worlds. There will be some, of course, but as we see the population of Virtual Worlds rising dramatically over the next ten years, there is enough growth there for all the main players.

3. What will be the hardware requirements for Blue Mars?

JS: We recently put together a US$400 home PC the other day, and Blue Mars ran fine on it. I would say that the most important requirement is that the PC should have a dedicated graphics card, as opposed to an integrated graphics chip. Most cards on the market today over 100$ are fine. Blue Mars will run on Vista or XP, and will use DirectX. Of course, the better the graphics card and the more memory you have, the better the experience will be. There are no plans right now to launch either a Mac or Linux version.

4. One of the key benefits of OpenSimulator is that it can be operated in standalone mode, which may appeal to a variety of companies and organisations that want a Second Life-like environment, but not connected physically, or by association, to Second Life. Second Life has responded by announcing a firewalled standalone version to be launched later this year. Does Avatar-Reality have any plans for a standalone version of Blue Mars?

JS: We have no plans at present to launch a standalone version of Blue Mars.

5. Avatar-Reality promised on their original website a cutting edge avatar rendering engine. Has this been finalised yet?

JS: Yes. Although Blue Mars is based on the CryEngine2, we have made a lot of extensions to it, which includ the avatar rendering, facial features, hair, etc.

6. In SL the unit of land is the Region, 256x256m. Will Blue have a ‘unit of land’, and if so, what will it be?

JS: No. Land masses can be 2Km by 2Km or more. There will be a minimum size, but that has not been finalised yet. However, land size is not what will drive the pricing structure. We will use the concept of ‘capacity’. For example, if you want sufficient capacity for 1,600 concurrent users, the price will be X. The more capacity you buy the cheaper will be the ‘per concurrent user’ price. Unlike other Virtual Worlds, such as Second Life, you really will be able to host a concert in Blue Mars attended by several thousand avatars!

7. Will it be possible to upload all media into Blue Mars, textures, sound, animations, video?

JS: Yes. Video will be handled using Scaleform, a flash compatible middleware package that we use for all our UI.

8. Blue Mars is based on CryTek’s CryEngine2. Now that CryTek have announced CryEngine3, will that effect Blue Mars? Does Avatar-Reality plan to keep pace with CryTek’s development?

JS: The CryEngine3 is more of a compatibility release for consoles than a major upgrade in features or performance. We work closely with CryTek, and if they bring out enhancements to their engines that we feel is of benefit, then of course we will implement them.

9. What methods of communication will be available in Blue Mars?

JS: Initially there will be chat, public and private. Voice will be optional, and interfaces to social networks, such as Twitter are in the pipeline.

10. What is the current schedule for the testing and roll-out of Blue Mars?

JS: We plan to go beta with the Client in June 2009. The development kit is available now for developers, and in the next day or two we plan to release a preview editor tool, which can be downloaded directly from the website, which will give users and developers a feel for how their content will look in Blue Mars. Both the development kit and the preview editor are WYSIWYG.

11. Tell me some things about Blue Mars I don’t know.

JS: We’ve worked hard to create an ecosystem where content developers can thrive. From robust content management tools, a centralized item registration database that helps prevent unauthorized copying, and a secure integrated transaction system, the Blue Mars platform lets content developers focus on creation rather than security and billing overhead.

We will appeal to those seeking social interaction, commercial opportunities, gaming, and educators.

Many thanks Jim.

JS: You are most welcome.
Sunday, 12 April 2009

Second Life Standalone and OnLive

Second Life behind the Firewall
Mark Kingdon, the CEO of Linden Lab, dropped a hint last October that LL were working on a stand-alone, behind the firewall version of Second Life.

Recently, LL confirmed via their blog that the standalone version of Second Life is currently in the alpha phase, and they plan to take it into a limited closed beta phase this summer with general availability later in the year.

This has got to impact the efforts of the OpenSimulator community, as one of the key benefits that OpenSimulator was going to provide was the ability for corporations and educational establishments to have their own SL-like region/grid, but not connected to the SL grid, (SL being tarnished as it has been by salacious stories in the tabloid media), and have a sanitized, independent region/grid that was fully under their own control.

Of course, OpenSimulator will still have the benefit of being free, but when server costs and maintenance costs are taken into account it will be interesting to see just how big or narrow the gap is when LL finally announce their standalone fees.

OnLive was announced in March at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco. Heading up OnLive as CEO is Steve Perlman, whose inventions include QuickTime and WebTV.

So, what is OnLive?

OnLive aims to provide, via a cloud gaming service, game data in fractions of a second, so even high-end games can be played on low-end computers.

I was never more astounded in avatar generation when I saw Emily, in the Image Metrics Tech Demo, but now see this example of Perlman's genius brought to life by Geni4 (pronounced Jennifer) on the Mova website (look for the Geni4 videos).

Using the latest techniques in video compression, OnLive works by hosting the high-end games, then compressing and streaming them to the home PC with almost no latency or losses.

OnLive have already teamed with major games providers, such as Electronic Arts, Epic Games, and Warner Bros.

Full story here.