Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Interview with Tiffany Nahinu of Avatar Reality

Avatar Reality HQ, 55 Merchant St, Honolulu
Courtesy of Scott Sharick

Tiffany Nahinu is the latest recruit to the Avatar Reality Community team.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, and if you are not from Hawaii, can you say how you ended up there.

TN: I was born and raised on Oahu and was pulled in to the concepts of virtual online world creation earlier this year. I just find working for Avatar Reality to be an amazing opportunity! ... And in the next beta update I’ll probably change the way my avatar looks so I’ll keep ya posted on that.

Q: As one of the latest recruits to the Blue Mars team, can you tell me how all that came about?

TN: One name. Glenn Sanders. He stood at the welcome portal greeting everyone… but I was engaged in another conversation with a few other avatars about computer specs. We had been chit-chatting about how we first heard about Blue Mars and I mentioned my involvement with a summer school class at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa. The summer school class is a long story, but cutting to the chase, I had mentioned a few names and I guess Glenn followed up on that lead. A couple of days later I get an email from him asking if I’d like to work for Avatar Reality!

Q: What is your job title, and what responsibilities have you been given?

TN: (lol) yeah, they had to make something up for me . . . Community Development Associate. My responsibilities are to assist Glenn in monitoring the Blue Mars Client Forum, Facebook page, Blue Mars Blog and do in-world Q&A. It’s a part time gig that I’m really stoked about! Glenn is pretty much GLUED to answering questions, taking phone calls (sometimes skyping 3 people at once), relaying information to and from everyone within the company . . . my presence within AR makes it a little easier for Glenn to focus on the top priority issues (and it’s a growing list!)

Q: What did you know about Blue Mars before joining them?

TN: Jim Sink came to the School of Architecture at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa in early February this year to talk about Blue Mars and Avatar Reality. That was where I was first learned about them . . . So up until that fateful day in February, I hadn’t heard of them at all.

Q: What is the working environment like at Avatar Reality? (mad/businesslike; relaxed/frenetic; smooth/chaotic; needs more women, the sandwiches could be better, etc)

TN: I’ve got to be honest with you - the office is very casual and I’m only there one day a week. I’d like to think there’s chaos but I’ve only been working for them about two weeks. The office is conscientious about their energy consumption and runs some pretty cool task lights . . .

Avatar Reality Office

Q: What strengths do you think you will bring to your position?

TN: Mediation hopefully! Because of my involvement with that summer school class mentioned earlier, I can definitely relate to the developers who are creating content. You’re probably going to be reading about this later in a press release . . . but I was auditing the summer school class whose main project was to replicate the Soswaewon Garden in South Korea. I worked with the instructor Kris Palagi and the students to import their models and specific data to the Blue Mars version of the Sandbox 2 Editor. So I have firsthand experience with working with all the tools and necessary plug-ins. . . my weapon of choice happens to be 3d Studio Max 9 and 2010 when it comes to modeling.

Q: Do you go in world much? (and if so, when, and what do you do?)

TN: I try to be in-world at least an hour a day to meet and greet people, answer basic questions, answer not so basic questions. Some days it’s really packed and on others it’s slow.

Q: Have you been a resident of any other Virtual Worlds before coming to Blue Mars?

TN: If you count the 34 minutes and some odd seconds I was in Second Life . . . yes.

Q: You have probably seen a lot of wish lists presented in the Blue Mars forums. If you could wave a magic wand, which are the top three wishes would you grant?

TN: The top three wishes huh? . . .

  1. Chat bubbles organized NUMERO UNO!!
  2. Pet bots or companion bots
  3. Free health-care! … wait … wrong world, ummm, I would give people the option to continuously run around or jump extremely far. (Mass transit systems have to be made by City Developers)

Q: Do you go with the comments in the forum that Blue (boy) Mars (war) and the Blue Mars symbol (male) are way too masculine, and might put off some females from joining?

TN: No, and I think it’s hilarious.

Q: When Glenn is out to lunch, go to his desk, third drawer down on the right, that Memo concerning the next client release date: what does it say?

TN: I would but Glenn doesn’t have any filing cabinets! He’s a digital dude. LOL!

Q: Are there any plans to merge the developer and player forums?

TN: No, because they need to remain separate so members don’t have to wade through technical posts, and dev’s don’t have to wade thru posts about how masculine the Blue Mars logo is … ;)

Q: What is the largest number of concurrent avatars that have been seen in any one City in Blue mars so far in the beta?

TN: I’m not privy to that information.

Q: Tell me three things about Blue Mars I probably don't know?

  1. If you have a dedicated number pad on your keyboard and you tap the 1 key near water in the New Venice world, these random blue balls emerge out of nowhere and bounce all over the place. No one else can see them (except you) and the blue balls go away when you exit from New Venice. Fun right?
  2. REALLY good mentors (volunteers) will be able to live in a GORGEOUS 4 story house in beach city (after it’s all been set up of course)
  3. . . . . that’s all I can divulge for the moment Rock ;)
Thanks Tiffany

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Interview with Corey Evans of GridRock City

A native of Montreal, Canada, Corey Evans is foremost a father and husband. His passion for 3d games and virtual worlds began to take shape in Second Life where he had his own business. He is expanding his 3d content and hosting services into Blue Mars in the form of 'GridRock City' a virtual environment for creative people to collaborate on virtual world / casual gaming experiences.

Q: How long have you been involved in virtual worlds, Corey?
CE: Well I started out in Second Life where I had a business selling sculpted prims. While I was in Second Life I met some amazing, creative people, and one of those, Gypsy Paz teamed up with me to explore a concept we had for the emerging Opensim. We ran our own Opensim, which we called Gridrock (derived partly from my name reversed, yeroc > yroc > Gridrock). However, problems with the lack of currency support in Opensim, and concerns over the Hypergrid, led us to look for alternatives. At one point we looked at the Exit Reality VRML plug-in, which you could say was phase 2 of Gridrock.

Another amazing person I came across was Romsey Homewood, and we collaborated together on a sci-fi project called Nebula West, which was exhibited in the Second Life 6th Anniversary celebrations.

Nebula West

All along I had been evaluating other virtual world platforms, such as Vast Parks, until finally, around April 2009, I heard about Blue Mars via a Google search for virtual worlds, and reading more about it in an SLU forum post. I signed up for the City Developer program, downloaded the City Editor and loaded up Taki. That was the defining moment for me. I had always been a fan of Crysis, but Taki demonstrated that the leap from gaming engine to virtual world engine was indeed possible, and the CryEngine2 was probably the best gaming engine out there.

Gypsy was heading in another direction at this time, so along with Romsey I teamed up with Luna Bliss, another SL resident who has a garden business there, and who mentored me in my early days in SL, and we started to plan Gridrock City on the Blue Mars platform. Luna now takes care of the business side of Gridrock City and is also our City designer.

We also have a fourth member of our team, Iain, who you may know from his alphaklata-marsdev Blue Mars blog, who concentrates on the architectural aspects of Gridrock City.

Q: So what kind of City will Gridrock City be?
CE: Well at first I toyed with the idea of being normal, corporate, but someone introduced me to the story of Nikola Tesla. This hidden genius, this truly great man, standing behind the curtains while others such as Marconi and Edison stole the limelight. This story gave me inspiration for the theme for Gridrock City.

The City will have four Blocks, which will be divided into Guilds. Each Guild will be dedicated to a particular craft, and the Tailors' Guild will be the first, headed by a Guild Steward, and Romsey will fill that first role. Other Guilds are yet to be finalised, but an Authors' Guild is likely. Each Guild Steward will have shared ownership of the Block, and will champion that particular Guild skill.

Q: What is the future Schedule for Gridrock City?
CE: Well I hope to get Gridrock City included in the next major build of the Blue Mars client, and I hope to have Block developers included in that build.

Good luck, and thanks very much Corey.
CE: You're welcome.

Further information on Gridrock City, and a teaser trailer, is available on the official website.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Has Opensim gone off the MonoRails?

The folks over at Opensim have been developing their code for more than two years now (it will be in its third year in January 2010), and it is still very much in the alpha software phase.

One of the reasons for this lengthy alpha phase is due in no small part to all the extra work in creating cross-platform code (Opensim is available in Windows and Linux versions, and can be run on Macs using the Mono package for OS X)

Unfortunately, further delays are likely due to ongoing problems with Mono. One of the core developers at Opensim, Melanie, made this post in the Opensim Developers Mailing List:

after discovering a bug in the 2.0.1 version of mono, which causes frequent crashing of regions, we have taken the step to bump the minimum required mono version to 2.4.2+.

This has become necessary because the bug is rather difficult to isolate and therefore impossible to work around reliably.

We do understand that this may cause difficulties for some people, who have been relying on packaged binary versions of Mono. Version 2.4.2 is recent enough to have no binary packages, so it will be necessary to build Mono from source. However, we feel it is unavoidable at this time, as we can't recommend or endorse a Mono version that we know to contain a showstopper bug.

On the upside, 2.4.2 has much better performance and stability, compared to 2.0.1.

However, Nebadon Izumi, who operates the OSGrid, the largest Opensim grid, had this to say in response:

I hate to say this, but there is absolutly no safe or stable version of mono from my perspective, it doesnt matter what version of mono OSgrid is running, our plazas are crashing all day long, we are lucky to get 30 minutes in a region that has people in it.. for well over a month now our Speedbuilds and Primwords games on Sunday and our Tuesday Meetings have been absolutely terrible. I honestly dont think it matters what version of mono your running, they are all quite terrible in terms of providing any kind of stability or performance. So i have to -1 this bump theory, I dont think its valid honestly. Can you be more specfic about the bug and why you dont think its present in later versions of mono? and maybe you can explain why our Windows based regions can run for weeks at a time, while our Mono plazas cant even seem to run a full hour?

So for now it appears that the Linux version of Opensim has gone off the MonoRails, let's hope it gets back on track before too long.


Full thread here (Mono Minimum Version Bump, 28th Sept 2009)
Saturday, 26 September 2009

A New Patch, and More to Come

Click to Enlarge

A new patch has been issued for Blue Mars, 4910.5, which adds a floor and trees for the welcome area, and fixes a bug so new clothes are now displayed in the female avatar inventory, plus other bug fixes. There are also butterflies flying around now too, which gave me an idea for a bit of mischief, as the caption picture shows :)

A new Blue Mars platform and developer tools are being finalised right now, and Blue Martians are being advised to watch the Blue Mars Online website and keep an eye on the Blue Mars Twitter for the release date, which could be this week!

We also had some further clarifications this week from Glenn Sanders, on the BM Vision:

Cities will be places where the City dev set the overall design, then they lease space to a Block dev.

Block devs will lease space from City devs. Then the Block devs will lease space to shops, residences for members, gateways to game devs, buildings to clubs, gardens, museums, theatres for screening movies (making sure they have the rights to share the movie content), auditoriums for live or recorded music concerts, etc. Game levels will be a separate ‘instance’ from the City level. But a city could provide a portal to a game.

Here are some projects underway or being planned, based on discussions with developers in-world and via email, forums, chat, etc:

  • Numerous themed cities, ranging from historic regions hundreds of years old, to cities set 1000 years in the future.
  • Several types of racing games.
  • Exhibits based on real life tombs, museums, historic cities.
  • Interactive art exhibits.
  • Various types of vehicles.
  • Clothing of all sorts.
  • Avatar skins.
  • Avatar hair.
  • Avatar shapes.
  • A.I. bots for shops, tour guides, FAQs, and more.
  • Houses, apartments, condominiums, hotels.
  • Themed environments designed to provide a unique experience or mood.
  • A building set on Phobos, one of the moons of Mars.
  • A building made from clouds.
  • An underwater building with a sea life attraction.
  • Numerous avatar animations and interactions.
  • Various local and international school projects.
  • Simulations and lessons that will bring together students from several nations.

Are you starting to get the picture?

This, this is what we want to create… a platform and tool set that the developer and member communities want. One that will enable amazing projects that just aren’t possible today.

And to do so securely, with scalability and great visual fidelity, now and into the future.

I hope to get an interview with one these City Devs in the next few days.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Blue Mars: Features in the Works

Stickney Crater on Phobos (Photo: NASA)

I thought I would put a little collection of snippets from conversations and forum posts from Avatar Reality staff members together to get an idea of the planned features that are currently in the works.

Welcome Area
The welcome area/staging area/destination island (no fixed name as yet) needs to be improved, and Glenn Sanders has indicated that some improvements are in the pipeline, with a floor (instead of walking on the surface of a sea) and trees. Glenn also mentioned that some devs were building candidates for the welcome area. I can say a little more about this, as I am one of the devs involved.

We are currently building an Acclimatisation Facility comprising a huge tower, with corridors leading off of three levels to hubs. Each hub is in a different language, and the information presented on video screens will start with the basics of movement, camera use, making friends, chatting and IMs, then moving on to more advanced topics such as building, creating clothing and hair, scripting etc. The Facility is being built on a replica of Phobos, the first moon of Mars, with the ability to let visitors leave the Facility in moon buggies and explore the surface of Phobos, driving in and out of the craters, including the famous Stickney Crater. The sky will show Mars going through various phases of terraforming, from 0% to 100% over the course of a day.

Glenn Sanders wrote (22 Sep 2009):
Based on what you and the rest of the community has been asking for, we are prioritizing:
  • Display of many kinds of media, including streaming
  • Voice
  • Access control
  • We have heard from many people that they want cameras restricted for privacy and business.
  • Instant messaging
  • Avatar names
  • Friends list
  • Improved UI. There likely will be a consistent UI throughout Blue Mars, unless a City dev wants to override it for a game, or specific design reason
I hope any camera restrictions will not be platform wide. It would be much more preferable to let the City developers have control over any camera restrictions, as I can think of many city developments (especially non-residential cities, where privacy is not an issue) where unrestricted cameras would be a huge benefit, such as in exhibition cities, where the ability to fly your camera quickly over all the exhibition areas for a quick check-out before deciding which areas are of the most interest.

I do hope they test avatar names over the head first. I am concerned that in crowded venues such as concerts, the mass of avatar names would look awful and really detract from the atmosphere.

If it does look awful under test when they put several hundred avatars in close proximity, then I would suggest having the avatar name over a head appear only briefly (say 10 seconds) when someone appears in a scene for the first time, and their name can be found again by either a mouse roll-over of the avatar, or on right-click.

Glenn Sanders wrote (22 Sep 2009):
The concurrency is definitely there. We are doing tests that exceed what we originally claimed for concurrency/ 98% of rendering and data handling is done locally. Our server just streams a minimal set of data about the position of avatars and moveable objects. The rest is done on your pc. So we can handle many concurrent users without lag.
I would still like to know the current peak concurrency that has been seen within any city since the open beta began, under 'real' conditions (i.e. real accounts rather than bot tests).

Tiffany Nahinu wrote (22 Sep 2009):
The exchange rate between the Blue Mars Currency (during the closed beta this currency was called the BLU) and US dollars is still a work in progress.

Chat Bubbles
Tiffany Nahinu wrote (22 Sep 2009):
Chat bubbles, yes, being worked on definitely.

I hope they are not just tinkering with the colours or transparency. Chat bubbles need to be confined to the annals of Blue Mars folklore.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Displaying your Blue Mars Statistics

Click to enlarge

If you need to check your current Frames per Second, or which version of DirectX your card is using, or your current location, etc you need to enable your Statistics.

Go to your Blue Mars, Game, Config folder, on most machines this will be at C:\Program Files\Blue Mars\Game\Config, and in there create a blank text file. Inside the text file type the single command:

r_displayinfo = 1

Then rename the text file to system.cfg

Restart your Blue Mars client, and your statistics will be available to you. To inhibit the statistics just rename your system.cfg file to you can always rename it back easily then whenever you need the info again.

So what information is provided?

First Line
CamPos: The current camera position in terms of X, Y and Z (height). If you want the current avatar position then use the camera control to get you into 1st person view first.
Angl=: Gives the orientation in X, Y, Z, of the camera.
ZN: Near Depth of Field Distance.
ZF: Far Depth of Field Distance.

Second Line
This line starts off with the current version of DirectX your graphics card is using, and whether you are operating in 32 bit or 64 bit mode.
HDR: High Dynamic Range lighting is enabled.
FSAA: Full Screen Anti-Aliasing is enabled.
Build: The current build of the Client.
Level: The name of the Level, or City that you are in.

Third Line
Tris: The number of triangles currently being rendered.
DP: The DrawPoints being processed, should be <= 3000.

Fourth Line

FPS: The average Frames per Second (higher the better). The figures in the parentheses after the FPS value is the Min and Max values.

Fifth Line
Mem: Amount of RAM the Blue Mars client is using.
LuaMem: Amount of RAM that running scripts are using.
Dlights: Number of Dynamic Lights currently rendered.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Eros LLC & Nomine vs. Linden Research Inc.

Kevin Alderman, aka Stroker Serpentine in Second Life, maker of the popular Sexgen Beds, and Shannon Grei, an individual who creates and sells clothing under the name Munchflower Zaius and the business name "Nomine" in Second Life, have begun a Class Action against Linden Research Inc., the owners of Second Life, for permitting the infringement of the Plaintiff's intellectual property rights, trademarks and copyrights, by providing to its residents the tools necessary for copying their products.

However, proving that LL are liable may not be so easy, given the Safe-Harbor provisions of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which protects the providers of on-line services from litigation providing they remove offending content once they have been notified of it. The recent Veoh decision is a case in point. However the DMCA does not afford protection against claims of trademark infringement.

This will be a very interesting case to follow.

The full court papers are on the SecondLifeHerald website.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Artificial Intelligence, or a Bad Attack of the Suzettes?

Blue Mars has in-built Artifical Intelligence (AI, for creating a range of bots), and the demo AI system currently employed in Beach City is called the AI Chatbot.

Details on the Chatbot, who Blue Mars have termed their exclusive resident 'Suzette', can be found on the Blue Mars wiki.

Upon entering Beach City yesterday I was subjected to the attentions of 12 of these Chatbots, who called themselves the 'Suzettes', and announced that I was a Rock Star and that they were going to cheer me for the next five minutes. During that time I was 'treated' to cries of 'Oh, isn't he handsome', 'I 3> you', 'Wow', 'Woo-hoo', 'Oh my', 'Oh look', and with the bots variously sitting on my table, jumping up and down and clapping in delight.

This behaviour has already incurred the displeasure of one Blue Mars beta tester, Ryan Schultz, who started a thread on the subject in the Blue Mars Beta forums, entitled 'Sexist Stereotypes in Blue Mars'.

So, apart from 'portraying women as simpering, primping bimbos', what can bots be usefully employed for? According to the wiki:-
  1. entertainment - engaging in conversation with a user
  2. assistance – providing useful information to a user
  3. education – teaching material to a user
  4. propaganda – delivering advertising to a user
  5. sales – virtual sales assistance to a user

The Chatbox technology is one of the most advanced systems available today. It can parse user input and/or perform keyword matching against it. This input is matched against relevant topic scripts to decide how to respond. The response can intermix text speech output with control over the avatar body's actions.

The chatbot not only carries on a current conversation with you, but it stores information about you across chats, so it can sustain a relationship lasting from first encounter through to the current interaction. This same ability allows the chatbot to act as your replacement when you are off-line.

The Chatbot can carry on conversations across several hundred topics. A topic for the chatbot is a script written in CHAT-L that lets the chatbot react to questions or statements in a subject area, as well as allowing it to volunteer information on its own. Topics are independent and allow you to organize your information and responses in whatever way seems natural and convenient to you. The script of a topic can be created using a simple text editor.

Beta testers can currently test the Chatbot system by having a Chat with a bot on one of two servers, at and

Developers who wish to customise a bot for their own server are provided with a how-to, but the debugging section is still to be completed.


Saturday, 12 September 2009

Blue Mars and Adult Content

In a recent interview with Tateru Nino on the Massively website, Jim Sink, CEO of Avatar Reality, the company behind Blue Mars, had this to say on the subject of Adult content:

We don't allow securities markets, banking services, content that depicts minors or apparent minors engaged in sexual activity, or content that depicts torture.

Regarding Mature and Adult content, it certainly is a hot-button issue. As such, we're moving very carefully. Before we conclude how to proceed with mature content, we need to see how our community develops and to think carefully about how we balance the issues at hand. For now, we don't allow "mature and adult" content.

Blue Mars have only explicity excluded ageplay and torture, and we can expect those exclusions to be in the TOS.

However, on the general subject of adult or mature content, Blue Mars needs to assess the demand for this kind of content. This is what Second Life had to say about the amount of Adult content on their platform:

Based on our research, we estimate that around 2-4% of content on the mainland would be considered Adult according to our current thinking on defining that. For all of Second Life, our content research shows it is around 5%. In other words, 95% of Second Life either mature or PG.

So, should Blue Mars dispense with Adult content and keep BM family-friendly, and let those that want it hang out in SL?

There is also the problem of screening. How do you prevent a teen or pre-teen from visiting Blue Mars cities that have adult content. Should the screening be done by Avatar Reality or by the City developer? Screening has been an ongoing problem in Second Life, and is still far from foolproof.

Then Blue Mars has to think about the effect of Adult content on their major educational and scientific players. How would the Smithsonian and National Geographic and the the various schools projects feel about sharing space with the BDSM community? Can Blue Mars afford the kind of bad publicity that dogged Second Life?

And what about Mature content? Should residents of Blue Mars be banned from engaging in sexual activity within their own virtual homes? Should Blue Mars allow activity that is legal in real life and only ban that sort of activity that is illegal in real life? That sounds like a nice compromise, but then the subject of jurisdiction crops up. Illegal 'where' exactly? What is legal in one State in the US may be illegal in another (brothels in Nevada versus brothels in Salt lake City, for example), there are different ages of consent in different States too. And to what extent should Avatar Reality take into account the various laws in countries around the world where they expect many of their residents to come from?

This is a huge minefield, and I am not surprised that they are taking the cautious approach.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Interview with Richard Childers of VSE

Richard Childers, Virtual Space Entertainment founding Chief Executive, and now Executive Vice President, and Chief Creative Officer was cornered in Blue Mars earlier today, and agreed to an interview.

Inspired by Neal Stephenson's third novel, Snowcrash, and following a meeting with Henk Rogers, Richard and Henk decided that the future of Virtual Worlds was predicated on the new breed of high-definition engines, such as the CryEngine, which they had seen at the Game Developer's Conference in 2006, demonstrated by CryTek of Germany. The rest, as they say, is history, with Henk going on to form Avatar Reality and Richard forming Virtual Space Entertainment (VSE).

Originally VSE looked at forming an alliance with Sony, but eventually decided (lucky for us) to go with Avatar Reality and CryTek's CryEngine.

What was it about the CryEngine that really clinched it for you?
RC: It was the huge leap in High-Definition graphics that the CryEngine brought. Nothing had been seen remotely like it. We did load tests inside Blue Mars in the Avatar Reality labs, and getting 10,000 avatars into a single city was just awesome. It was impressive stuff.

Tell me about New Venice, VSE built that, right?
RC: Right, our own Blue Mars City is New Venice, an 8km x 8km virtual space which is already available to explore. We have also created the Tri-Tower, designed by Syd Mead; a Space Port, which is a space station connected to the surface of New Venice via a space elevator; and a huge underwater city where you can explore in a variety of submarines. All of this is already built, and will be released into New Venice when a regular Blue Mars population is established.

What other plans do you have for New Venice?
RC: We will add a Stadium just outside of New Venice where 100ft tall robotic dogs will race, and on October 19 we hope to launch, for National Geographic, a faithful reconstruction of the Tomb of the First Emperor of China, with its Terracotta Warriors.

So you do work for others too?
RC: Oh yes. We will be doing projects such as the Oceans Project in association with National Geographic and the Smithsonian Institute, due for launch in March of 2010, and an exhibit on human origins exploring early hominids and bio-mechanics.

We will also be creating and launching a Science Center for TERC, a non-profit educational R&D organization based in Cambridge, MA, who themselves are working with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH), the National Digital Science Library (NSDL) Resource Center, and the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH), to create a science learning community.

Other projects include work with Aramco and the Government of Saudi Arabia on virtual science labs.

So, about this wonderful condo in New Venice, I want it!
RC: Ha-ha. You will have to wait a couple of weeks, then we hope to be start renting out our condos. By then we hope Avatar Reality will have its Paypal-based economy in place and working.

When do you expect Avatar Reality to have Blue Mars ready for launch?
RC: Well I think by the 1st of 2010 is a realistic goal to shoot for.

Many thanks Richard
RC: you are welcome.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Beta testing: what is it all about?

Having spent a lot of hours now chatting with the newcomers to Blue Mars since the open-beta started, it became quickly clear that most new players had no idea what beta-testing involved.

Most of the players I met wanted to do just that, play, and were complaining about this feature or that feature not yet being available. Some wanted to set up shop immediately and start making money!

The purpose of beta-testing is to iron out the bugs and provide feedback and suggestions for improvement.

Blue Mars are taking the piecemeal approach, by adding functionality in small, controlled, chunks. The role of the beta testers is to test those new features, and report back any bugs, or make suggestions for further improvement. The BM developers will then iron out the bugs, get the platform stable, then issue an new release, with more functions to be tested, and so on until the end of beta and all planned functionality is present for launch.

For developers, bugs are reported on the Mantis bug tracking system. For players, problems can be reported in the In Game Bugs section, and general feedback in the Feedback section of the Blue Mars Online Beta Forum, and suggestions made in the Suggestions part of the forum.

It would save a lot of reporting and repeated suggestions if the Avatar Reality team published a roadmap of features that they are currently working on, and those they are going to try to implement in the future, so they are not repeatedly asked about avatar movement, camera controls, chat functionality, etc.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Blue Mars New Features

The latest Blue Mars client, released for the launch of the open beta phase, includes several new features for the beta testers to get to grips with.

Chat History
In response to beta tester feedback a new chat history window is provided, with avatar names. It appears from the screenshot that maybe bubble chat can be switched off (thank goodness if that is the case), so I cannot wait to take it for a spin when the doors reopen later today (midnight CET).

Menu Tray
A nifty looking menu tray is now provided, with animated icons, and the camera icon can be moved about. There are 4 cam zoom settings: 3rd person, half body view, head and shouders, and 1st person.

Friends List
You can now offer friendship and a new Friends List shows you which friends are currently online. This is just an interim design, and will be improved upon in a later release.

Other features include a Logout button, a Home * button to take you back to the staging area, and bikinis for the girls! What about the guys??

* Intriguingly, the Blue Mars blog states that the staging area now has 5 boards to choose from! Hope that's not a typo. I wonder what the new City is?

Edit: It is Shader City!! There is also a new apartment to take a look at, and something called a 'fur shader'.