Friday, 21 August 2009

Blue Mars Public Beta and other News

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Yesterday I had a chance to speak to Jim Sink of Avatar Reality, concerning the planned Public Beta on the 31st August, and other issues.

1. New Venice has recently been added to the cities available during beta. How many cities do you think will be available at the start of the open public beta?

JS: On the first days of the open beta, we’ll probably just have the ones that are available now. We should have a few more available in September. The big new release is the totally revised interface and some additional developer tools.

2. It would be impractical to continue Destination Island with its destination boards, especially when the number of cities starts to rise. What plans does AR have for replacing Destination island?

JS: You’re absolutely right; the destination island won’t scale. The destination island is going to be replaced by a places browser that will allow users to download different cities and eventually monitor events and new content. We’ll be rolling that in over the next few weeks. It works a bit like Steam.

3. How long does AR expect the public beta to last for?

JS: It’s hard to say. It will depend on how fast we can squash bugs and how fast they come up.

4. Is a new client envisaged for the public beta?

JS: Yes. Loads of updates are in works for the client.

5. As many people who will be joining the public beta will be coming simply for a looksee, and bearing in mind the importance of first impressions (as I am sure they will write about their experience in forums and blogs), and as a great many SL residents prize their avatar look above all else, are there any plans to introduce more avatar shapes/hair/clothes to choose from during the public beta, and maybe even some non-human avatars, (demons, dragons, furries, etc, just to show that they are possible)?

JS: We know how important character customization is to many people. The Blue Mars community is already working on some fantastic new fashions using our free Cloth Editor. Later this year, we’ll be introducing a Physique and Mask system to allow developers to create new body shapes and faces for their avatars. We won’t be changing the underlying skeleton at this time to preserve animation compatibility. Speaking of animation, we’ll also be introducing an animation editor later this year for developers who want to create new animations for their avatars.

6. Will commerce be tested during the public beta?

JS: Yes. We’ll be giving away Blue Mars Dollars as a test for people to use to purchase content and rent residences. When we officially launch the currency after we are satisfied with the test, we will reset the currency accounts and launch the online purchase process.

7. Mac users are crying. However, BM can be used on a Mac machine if it ran an emulator such as Bootcamp. Does AR plan to actively support a bridge (such as Bootcamp)?

JS: Blue Mars already works through Boot Camp. Technically, you can even run Blue Mars through an emulator like Parallels but the performance is very slow. We’re anxious to support a OSX client but Crytek hasn’t offered a Cryengine license for the Mac. Until there is a decent install base of Macs with dedicated 3D hardware, it’s unlikely that they will make the investment to port the engine.

8. Can cities be zoned or parcelled so different rules can exist depending on which zone/parcel an avatar is in?

JS: Cities can be zoned into Blocks and you can create access rules for events and residences. Content rules are citywide.

9. SL have now released a roadmap which includes the introduction of several features that are inherent in BM, such as mesh imports, created with 'Industry Standard Tools' (reference) and Flash-based applications (reference). Does this surprise you?

JS: It’s hard to say exactly what they’re up to based on the links you sent me but I’m not at all surprised that they are working to support more common 3D assets and to improve their multimedia capabilities.

10. Are there any other items of news/developments you wish to share Jim?

JS: Not at this time but we’ll have plenty announcements soon. I’ll keep you posted.