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.