Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Blue Mars Developer Guidebook

While the most visible faces of the Avatar-Reality team have been working on the Blue Mars Client, providing more and more functionality, squashing bugs, arranging Meet & Greets, gathering feedback etc, other teams have been busy creating the developer tools, and providing detailed manuals for their use on the Blue Mars wiki pages.

The Wiki team is led by Scott Matsuda, the CSR, QA, and QC Manager at Avatar Reality Inc.

The Getting Started section of the Developer Guidebook explains the different types of developer in Blue Mars:

The Item Editor
Made specifically to have everything an Item Creator needs

Sandbox Item Editor is a 3D geometry model viewer and material editor for Blue Mars Project. The primary purpose of this tool is to convert 3D models in Collada format into a Blue Mars internal data format, examine the results visually and edit material properties of converted models as desired. Sandbox Item Editor uses CryENGINE2 for rendering; thus, it displays objects exactly as they will appear in the game. The manual provides a detailed description of its menu commands and special functions.

Note: in some images and documents, linked to this page, the Item Editor is also called Sandbox Viewer, which is the old name of this tool.

The Cloth Editor
Created specifically to have everything a Clothing Creator needs

The Cloth Editor is a tool for creating wearable assets: clothes, hairstyles, shoes, jewelry and other items, that can be attached to an avatar.

The Shop Editor
Created specifically for developers who are creating shops in Blue Mars.

This Editor is currently under construction.

The Block Editor
Created specifically for developers who are developing Blocks, a subset of a City.

The Block Developer leases a Block from the City Developer to develop Shops and to create Residential housing on it. The Block Developer may choose to lease out their Shops to Item Developers and Housing to Residents, or decide to develop the entire Block by themselves. The Blue Mars Sandbox: Block Editor is the 3D software editor that enables the Block Developer to place their Shops and Residences on their Block. Block developers may also design limited Flow Graphs. Lastly, the Block Developer may place vegetation in the Block, but only as brushes.

Also under construction, but is filling up fast.

The City Editor
Created specifically for developers whom are creating entire cities.

The City Developer leases their City from Avatar Reality, then creates Blocks which can be leased to Block Developers.

Also under construction, but filling up nicely. 

The Shop, Block and City Editor pages all require a login to view their pages, and only are only available to registered city developers.

Other sections of the Wiki will be introduced in future posts.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

New Blue Mars Release Part 2/2

The new Blue Mars client has a few more tricks up its sleeve.

The login screen now has buttons to link to the Tutorials pages, and for retrieving a lost password.

 Another change is the Clothing Inventory. At first I thought they had forgotton to add a 'Cancel' button, but that little arrow on the left side of the Inventory window closes it.

I could be mistaken, but it also appears that the list of Animations and Gestures has been increased significantly. I certainly don't remember a Fart animation before!

I now have a pic of that missing texture I mentioned in Part 1. Here it is:

I also noticed a strange alpha problem. You see that archway that my shadow is pointing towards? Well, if I swing my camera around (using right-mouse button down, and dragging the mouse), so it looks our from inside that archway, then not only do the boat, railings, water, and other objects disappear, but I do too! In the third screenshot you can see my name-tag is still there, and my shadow, but not me!

This is what the camera 'should' see:

This is what it actually sees:

So, what else is there lurking under the bonnet of this new release?
  • Avatar draw distance has been doubled.
  • Room customization UI has been changed.
I also referred in the first Part to the Preferences button, and how you can change the Client window resolution. The new supported resolutions are:
  • 1920 x 1080
  • 1600 x 900
  • 1440 x 810
  • 1280 x 720 (Default)
  • 1024 x 576
 The developers have had a MyPage for some time, but now all Players will get their own MyPage. Players can log into the Player MyPage to purchase BLU and manage their profile information, avatar, items and Residences.

In this release:
  • Edit your account email and password.
  • Edit your avatar name.
  • Choose how you want your avatar name to be displayed in Blue Mars (first and last name, first name only, last name only, hide all).
  • Reset your avatar's face.
  • Reset your avatar data (including the face, cosmetics, clothing, and animation).
  • View a list of your friends and their online status.
  • Download the latest Blue Mars Player Client.
 Coming soon:
  • Buy BLU!
  • Click to see friends' profiles.
  • Message your friends. 
  • Manage your Residences (pay rent, register your friends as guests).

I shall post the link to MyPage as soon as the server is back up.

Have fun

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

New Blue Mars Release Part 1/2

Today saw a new release of both the Blue Mars server and client (version 0.0.5664.4). The first surprising thing about this new client release was the size. At 1.3Gb it is not any bigger than previous versions, despite including two extra cities, GridRock City and Soswaewon Garden. I will attempt to find out how this was achieved and report in an edit to this blog piece.

As part of the server updates one important change is that the registration of new player accounts is now automatic (rather than by the previous manual email notification system) so now when new applicants register, they will get access immediately.

So, what did this new client release include?

Well, there are two new Cities: Gridrock City and Soswaewon Garden. The Blue Mars Tweet said that there would be three, the missing one being Small Islands (maybe disappeared due to global warming?). More on the two new cities later.

As far as the UI is concerned, a number of changes have been made:

Avatar Names over the heads of avatars. It appears that it is the ID that that appears here (take user name, remove spaces, convert to lowercase). If you right click an avatar you get their ID followed by their User name. It would have been more preferable to have the User name over the avatar's head. One Blue Martian was complaining that his Password was over his head!

    A Preference option, which allows you to choose the Screen Resolution and Rendering (graphics) Quality.

    Several Blue Martians had problems following trying out the Screen Resolution settings. Once they had selected a resolution, and if it was not the right one, they could no longer click on any of the on-screen buttons, not even the Preferences button to change the Resolution back again. This neccessitated edits to the game.cfg file to get things back again, but as they had no idea what the settings for screen height and width  were prior to their experiment with the Preferences, they had to try several trial and error settings.

        The Bubble Chat window has had the automatic scrolling and last line visibility problems fixed

        Avatar head customization is now available in-world in the Welcome Area. where you can choose the style, shape, ethnicity and hair of your avatar. Unfortunately it is confusingly called Face Customization, when there is also a Face icon that does something completely different (it is more of a cosmetics editor. One of these two functions needs to be renamed, and I would suggest changing Face Customization to Avatar Customization.

          The destination jewel that appears when you click the ground is now dark blue instead of light blue (why?)

          The two new cities posed something of a problem for me:

          In the Soswaewon Garden I found that moving outside of a very small area was just about impossible. Clicking the ground ahead had no effect outside of this area, and steep slopes hemmed you in on several sides, as did undergrowth. I must try harder.

          In Gridrock City  I was lagged out completely. My fps fell from 18fps in the Welcome Area, and 15fps in Venezia, to 1.5fps or less in Gridrock City in several areas. Others did not have similar problems, so I guess it is down to my PC specs.

          GridRock City (click to enlarge, and notice the fps reading)

          The last noticeable thing about the UI is the Log-Off screen, which now has a Twitter link and recent Twitter posts. Unfortunately you cannot click on the 'Yes' button to confirm your log-out until the Twitter has completed its retrieval, which meant I had to wait a further minute before I could confirm my log-out. It would be much better for the Yes/No buttons to be immeditaely available, and not have to wait until the Twitter posts are retrieved.

          Currently MyPage is not available, so I will report on this when it returns, and on any other information from the Release Notes, which are expected later today.

          That is it so far, more functionality, but more bugs, but hey, that's Beta!


          Saturday, 17 October 2009


          I thought I would share a little about what I am doing in Blue Mars.

          My City is based on the Valles Marineris, that huge gash across the face of Mars.

          The Valles Marineris

          Following the terraforming of Mars the Valles Marineris would be completely submerged, being a massive depression. Close up images of the VM from orbiting probes show that the terrain is very similar to a natural feature we have on earth, the Grand Canyon.

           The Grand Canyon

          It was quite easy to get the heightfield data for the Grand Canyon from the US Geological Survey, and import that into the Blue Mars Sandbox to form my terrain. I then set the sea height so that the highest part of the plateaus surrounding the canyons were about 15m beneath the sea level, so there are some shallows, but also some gorges which are 150m below sea-level.

          Into the cliff faces of the canyons and gorges are being built Volexes, these are caves, tunnels, caverns etc that can be built directly into the terrain. Some of the caves have a way in and a way out, some go for miles then result in a dead-end, and in some of the caves there is some company!

          The idea behind this City is that it will be an attraction for those who like adventure both on the surface of the sea, and beneath it.

          The build will consist of four blocks, each a mini-city, rising from the sea-bed on huge towers that will have marinas at sea-level, underwater viewing galleries, and glass-domed elevators riding in the flutes of the tower's column. Residencies will be at various heights up the column, each served by its own private elevator, and the main part of the city will be at the top level, where stores and entertainment venues will be present. The elevators also go all the way down to the ocean floor, opening into domed airlocks, where a resident can enter his submersible, open the external locks to flood the dome, then ride out to explore the canyons of the Valles Marineris.

          The marinas will have all manner of craft, from tall sailing ships, to schooners, yachts, power boats, and jet-skis, some old-world, some futuristic. We are also looking into programming the sea, to give various wave heights, including storm and typhoon systems (that really will sink your boat if you get in the way of them).

          The Valles Marineris is almost entirely Ocean, with just a few scattered islands. The names of the mini-cities give the clue to their actual location within the VM, i.e. Tithonium, Melas, Ophir and Eos, and we do plan in a later release to include maps.

          Here is some work-in-progress on the first city, Eos:


          There is an underwater viewing gallery to enjoy the incredible sea-life, and below that the domed airlocks where the submersibles will be moored, while at the surface is the beginnings of the marina. Elevators take you up the central tower to the apartment levels, while at the top will be the main city, with its stores and entertainment venues.

          The entire structure is about 200m in height, and the total navigable sea area is 64sq kms.

          Anyone interested in leasing one of the other 3 blocks to develop an oceanic city, just let me know.

          Wednesday, 14 October 2009

          Crytek releases CryENGINE® 3

          All-in-one multiplatform development solution now available for licensees

          Frankfurt a. M. (Germany), October 14th 2009 - Crytek GmbH (“Crytek”) is excited to announce that their latest all-in-one development solution CryENGINE 3 is now available for all developers. CryENGINE 3 is the first game development platform for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, MMO, DX9/DX10 that also is truly Next-Gen-Ready - with scalable computation and graphics for all major upcoming platforms. It provides the complete game engine to create AAA quality next generation games, and includes the redesigned CryENGINE 3 Sandbox™ level editor, a production-proven, 3rd generation “What you see is what you play” (WYSIWYP) - tool designed by and for professional developers.

          CryENGINE 3 also introduces CryENGINE 3 Live Create™. It allows developers to work with a single editor, but see and play the results in real-time on PC, PS3 and Xbox360, hooked up to a single dev PC.  The engine takes care of the conversion and optimization of assets in real-time; enables instant, cross-platform changes to any part of game creation and as a result materially increases the speed, quality and significantly reduces the risk of multiplatform development.

          “With CryENGINE 3 we are releasing the best development solution available today and tomorrow. With its scalable graphics and computation it is next-gen ready and with new features like CryENGINE 3 Live Create the best choice for game developers and companies developing serious games applications alike. It is the only game engine solution that enables real-time development and can ensure teams are able to maximise their own creativity, save budget and create greater gaming experiences.” said  Cevat Yerli, CEO & President of Crytek.

          “We’re delighted to launch CryENGINE 3 and we look forward to seeing what developers achieve with our all-new technology. CryENGINE 3 isn’t just about providing our trademark highest-quality graphics and our out of the box AI and physics for the first time on consoles – it also delivers real benefits to all disciplines in games development.  Programmers will create awesome new effects and gameplay; art, design and audio teams can play as they create with the fastest, entirely real-time WYSIWYP pipeline ever, materially reducing development time and risk – even producers, project managers and suits will love CryENGINE 3!  Of course, our international team of more than 20 dedicated support staff are available right now to help our licensees make the most of CryENGINE 3; at their studio or at one of our support centres around the world.” added Carl Jones, Director of Business Development CryENGINE.

          CryENGINE® is the underlying technology for Crytek’s critically acclaimed games Far Cry, Crysis, Crysis Warhead and NC Soft’s recently released MMORPG blockbuster AION. It has already been licensed to a number of major game companies around the globe, including several recent serious games training and simulation projects.  CryENGINE®3 is the underlying technology for the highly anticipated Crysis®2.

          About Crytek GmbH
          Crytek GmbH ("Crytek") is one of the world’s leading independent development studios for interactive entertainment with its headquarters in Frankfurt am Main (Germany) and additional studios in Kiev (Ukraine), Budapest (Hungary), Sofia (Bulgaria), Seoul (South Korea) and Nottingham (UK).Crytek is dedicated to creating exceptionally high quality video games for the PC and next-generation consoles, powered by their proprietary cutting edge 3D-Game-Technology CryENGINE®. Since its foundation in 1999, Crytek created the multi-award winning PC titles Far Cry®, Crysis®, awarded best PC Game of E3 2007 and Best Technology at the 2008 Game Developers Choice Awards and Crysis Warhead®, awarded Best Graphics Technology at IGN Best of 2008 Awards.

          Crytek, Crysis, Crysis Warhead and CryENGINE are registered trademarks or trademarks of Crytek GmbH in the USA, Germany and/or other countries. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.
          Friday, 9 October 2009


          Second Life
          A defining moment for me while I was a resident of Second Life, came with my first public event, after acquiring my first Class 5 sim. The sim was a rental sim, named Hoini, themed on the 1001 Arabian Nights, and one of my  tenants had asked if she could have a marrriage ceremony/party in the sim. I agreed, and she and her partner made their plans, and drew up their guest list.

          On the arranged day, at the arranged time, the guests started to arrive. When we got to around 10 avatars in the sim, I started to notice some lag creeping into avatar movements. This got progressively worse as more guests arrived, and when we arrived at 20 avatars in the sim it was like wading in mud. At 30 avatars, movement was impossible, and we never got to 40, as the sim crashed. Of course, this ruined the day for the happy couple and their guests.

          I must admit, I had been a little naive. The Second Life website had said (and it still says today), that a full private island region had a concurrent avatar limit of 100. I thought the guest list of 50 would be handled without any problem.

          I also saw in today's Opensim-dev mailing list all the excitement caused by a test in which over 50 avatars managed to get into a single region:

          In case you are missing all the excitement, this morning we were able to pile 52 people-driven avies in OSGrid's Wright Plaza under 600M of RAM, and after that sim had been up for 10 hours, with a previous peak presence of 36. This sim is running on average hardware, nothing fancy. It eventually crashed, likely due to an overly conservative lock still present somewhere. But I think we just turned an important corner on the way to 1.0

          They did not report if avatar movements were laggy as a result of this load test, but nonetheless, it is an important milestone. If they can fix the cause of the crash, all the better.

          Blue Mars
          What first really caught my eye (apart from the amazing graphics) of Blue Mars, was the claim from Avatar Reality that a single city could support thousands of avatars. This claim was backed up by Richard Childers of VSE who witnessed load tests there, who said:

          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.

          Concurrency has always been a hot topic in Virtual Worlds, so how does Blue Mars succeed where others have failed? The answer is in the way that data is presented to the client (the viewer). In Second Life and OpenSim all the data concerning the current scene (and beyond), i.e. the terrain, the objects, the avatars, and all their textures, etc. are held on central servers and is streamed to the client.

          In Blue Mars almost all the scene data is stored on the hard-drive of the user, and so does not need to be streamed. Only dynamic data (vehicle movements, new objects being introduced, and things like avatar movements) need to be streamed. This allows their servers to deliver streamed data for several thousand avatars, concurrently, in one City.

          In fact, Glenn Sanders, Community Director for Avatar Reality, enthused that due to some re-engineering work by one of their intrepid developers, the actual number of avatars that they thought could be streamed had been seriously underestimated!

          Of course, the greatest implication is for City and Block developers in Blue Mars who wish to develop venues such as crowded nightclubs, concert halls, sports stadiums, convention and conference centres, and all manner of attractions that could attract a large spectator base.

          And Next
          Blue Mars have instigated a whole series of Meet and Greet gatherings (I reported on the 1st of these previously), on a weekly basis, to continue these get-to-know-you sessions, and double as load tests (using real avatars rather than the ai test bots during lab testing) to thoroughly test the concurrency figures.

          I shall report the results as they come in.

          Saturday, 3 October 2009

          Blue Mars 1st Meet & Greet

          Back in mid-September one of the Blue Mars beta testers, Marlii, creator of the excellent The Martian Mouthpiece website, had this idea:

          Since there's a growing number of us around consistently, why don't we have a weekly meet and greet in-world? I'm thinking that we meet in different cities (like the seats in Shade City, different spots in Venezia, the hotel pool in Beach City, etc.) and someone could set up a streaming "playlist" (maybe an IMEEM playlist or something) that we can all listen to. It would be a cool way to meet the other colonists, explore the cities, and chit chat about stuff we talk about on the boards. How about it?

          The suggestion was met with great enthusiasm by the rest of the beta testers, and would also serve as a real load-test on a single City. In a subsequent post in the Blue Mars forum, the date, time and location for the first Meet & Greet was fixed:

          Date: October 4th, 2009
          Time: 8pm GMT
          Location: Shade City World Center

          The Meet & Greet was a great success, and I managed to meet many people I had only see post in the forums. At one point, in the seafront lounge area we had 42 avatars within my draw-range (of 20m currently in Blue Mars). We even had a member of the Avatar Reality Team, Tiffany, aka Summer Studio, show up, doing a sterling job of welcoming everyone and keeping the conversations going.

          I managed to either friend or chat with:

          • Briarmelle Quintessa
          • GoSpeed Racer
          • Doc Holiday
          • Phantium Longwell
          • Ubik Rayna
          • Chris Remspecher
          • Dawny Cinquetti
          • peruka
          • Dazz Anvil
          • Zetsumei Ieyashi
          • Taarna Welles Taarna Welles
          • Summer Studio
          • Cadae Jewell
          • Insomnia Sleepless
          • Esprite Xavier
          • Trayben Allegro
          • Veron Helstein
          • Reginald Beck
          • Azure Sweetwater
          • Hendrick Schroeder
          • Atashi Yue
          Two names there, peruka and Taarna Welles Taarna Welles, show that you can have just one name in Blue Mars, or even four!

          My fps dipped down to 3fps at peak, which is not bad considering I have an aged Pentium 4, others were quoting 50fps! But come Christmas.... :)

          I hope Avatar Reality can now check their logs and give us the peak concurrency figure. It should be interesting.