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.