Friday, 18 December 2009

More Goodies from Blue Mars

Member MyPage
Today sees the launch of the member MyPage. The link is here.

From this screen you can (some are still to be activated):
  • Change your User account email address.
  • Change your User account password.
  • Buy inworld currency, the BLU.
  • See a list of friends in your Friends List and their online status.
  • Download the latest Blue Mars Client and patches.
In addition, you also get access to your Inventory, that includes
  • An image of the item
  • Its name
  • Category of item
  • Type of Item
  • Description
  • Date of Acquisition
You can also change your Avatar first and last names, how you want them to be displayed, change your avatar face, or reset it completely, change the gender (some clothes may no longer be used, so use with care).

More to be added, keep checking in....
Thursday, 17 December 2009

Blue Mars New Release: The Main Details

The new Blue Mars release is now much smaller, at around 320MB compared with the previous download size of 1.3GB. This is mainly due to no longer bundling Cities in the download. See the City Browser section below for further details.

City Browser
The new City Browser lists all cities that you currently have on your HD and lists all the other cities available on the AR servers. Selecting a city in the browser will now download it in the background. The time to download will depend on your broadband speed. City file sizes will typically be in the 200MB - 500MB range. You must restart Blue Mars to be able to visit any City you have downloaded.

New Cities
The new Blue Mars release comes with two new Cities to explore, an update to an existing City, and a new bowling game.

Desmond Shang, well known in Second Life with his Caledon Victoriana sim, has established a colony now on Blue Mars, and named it Caledonia.

There is a very nice article on this new venture at the Prim Perfect website, and Desmond has created his own website for Caledonia that is well worth checking out.

Desmond has not stopped there, as he says on his website:
If Victorian Caledonia isn't quite your cup of tea, check out Pavonis, a tropical archipelago under the same management but with large islands available for development, not subject to Caledonia's 19th century thematic restrictions.

Grid Rock City
In addition to the two new Cities, Grid Rock City has a new look. Several new buildings and other interesting developments, such as a Twitter interface, so check it out!

Beach City

There is a new Aloha Golf Clubhouse, and if you click on a golfbag you are teleported to the Golf Course.

Also new is a bowling game.

Blue Mars Client
The new client has a number of new features and improvements:
  • Improved Communications Panel
  • Purchased items go into Inventory
  • Clicking the ground to walk no longer makes a sound
  • New icon set

The first icon takes you back to the City Browser to select another destination to teleport to. The second icon brings up the screen resolution and graphics rendering quality preferences. The third (?) icon takes you to the flash tutorials, while the last icon Exits Blue Mars.
    New and Improved Websites
    There are now new websites for Blue Mars: > >

    Updated developer tools (editors)
    All the Wiki pages for Item, Cloth, Shop and Furniture Editors have been updated, with new examples on how to create cloth and furniture.

    All Editors will now display version number, build type, and build date on the window title bars, and you can also see this information in the Editors' splash windows and About windows.

    Right-clicking on the Bluemars.exe file and viewing the Properties should now show the same version information.

    Blue Mars City Editor
    The City Editor is now available to everyone though the Dev MyPage. City developers can now:
    • Load block layer files and export pak files.
    • Upload pak (CTY) files to Avatar Reality through Dev MyPage.
    • Upload pak (CTY) files to Avatar Reality through FTP
    • Set an area that requires an item.
    • Define a block
    Flash functionality
    • ARFlashEntity makes it easy to incorporate Flash anywhere in Blue Mars.
    • Just drag and drop the entity to create a resizable panel, type the URL, then hit the Enter key.
    How-to included on the wiki.
      Blue Mars Block Editor
      • Block Developers can now use Flowgraph.
      Blue Mars Shop Editor
      Shop owners can now:
      • Create custom Shop interiors in the Shop Editor.
      • Set Shelves on leased Shop through Dev MyPage.

      Blue Mars Furniture Editor
      • Developers can create furniture items and upload them for QA approval through MyPage, in the same way as in the Item and Cloth Editors.
      New Female Avatar Mesh
      Updated female avatar face and body mesh included in this release:
      • Beautifully-formed
      • Better animation
      • Optimized for skin texture matching


      Pricing information
      Expected tomorrow, 18th December. Check this page.

      User MyPage ( )
      This will enable you to:
      • Change your User account email address.
      • Change your User account password.
      • See a list of friends in your Friends List and their online status.
      • Download the latest Blue Mars Client and patches.
      Edit Avatar feature:
      • Change your avatar's first and last name.
      • Choose how you want your avatar's name to be displayed in the chatbox in Blue Mars (hiding both avatar names will show your User ID).
      • Reset Face: Reset your avatar's face to default, while keeping customized cosmetics, animation and clothing intact.
      • Reset Avatar: Reset your avatar's face, cosmetics animation, and gender to a default state. You will then be able to change your avatar's gender.

      Even More
      • Buy Blue Mars currency (BLU) to purchase items and rent Residences.
      • Inventory page will show items you purchased with your BLU.
      • Room page will show Residences you are renting, and a Guest List where you can give your friends access to your Residence.
      • Message page to send and receive messages to and from your friends.

        Wednesday, 16 December 2009

        Blue Mars: The Biggest Release Yet!

        Today sees the start of a series of Blue Mars releases that promise to be the biggest yet. Of course, not everything that people want from Blue Mars will be included, that will have to wait for future releases (that is the nature of this beta period), so I intend to concentrate in these articles on what is included.  Do check back often over the next few days.

        New Wiki

        Blue Mars has now opened its wiki to all, including the previously off-limits City Editor sections, so no password is now required to access the City Editor information.

        The Wiki is now also a true wiki, where everyone, developers and users alike can contribute. Initially, everyone can create 'draft' pages, and after review will be posted by the wiki admins.

        Blue Mars Wiki
        Sunday, 13 December 2009

        Diary: 13th December, 2009

        Blue Mars News
        A new release is expected on the 15th or 16th December, and it promises to introduce a lot more content and a revamp to the UI. Also expected are a release of pricing info, a new website, and updated wiki and FAQ.

        The T-shirts and apartments for volunteers, along with a volunteer training guide, are also expected this coming week.

        The differences between the Blue Mars City Editor and the Crysis Sandbox has also been added to the Wiki now. The current state of compatibility is as follows:

        UDK Tests
        The final outcome of the tests were that it was very difficult to introduce real-time content into UDK-developed Virtual Worlds without access to the sourcecode. Consequently, these tests have now been brought to a close.

        Avatar to go on General Release this Week

        Following the incredible premiere of Avatar at the Odeon, Leicester Square, London on the 10th December, the mega-movie is about to go global this week.

        I plan to take in the movie in one of the specially made 3D movie theatres, perhaps the largest 3D movie screen there is, in Dubai next weekend.

        Tuesday, 8 December 2009

        Opensource/Free Virtual World Platforms - Part 2/2

        Continuing this summary of currently available Virtual World platforms and engines, my final five are among the lesser-known, but do check them out.

        Alice is an innovative 3D programming environment that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. Alice is a freely available teaching tool designed to be a student's first exposure to object-oriented programming. It allows students to learn fundamental programming concepts in the context of creating animated movies and simple video games. In Alice, 3-D objects (e.g., people, animals, and vehicles) populate a virtual world and students create a program to animate the objects.

        NeL is a toolkit for the development of massively online universes. It provides the base technologies and a set of development methodologies for the development of both client and server code.

        NeL contains the following libraries:
        • Miscellaneous library
        • 3D engine
        • Network engine
        • Sound engine
        • Collision engine (PACS)
        • Form management (Georges)
        • Landscape management (LIGO)
        • Logic engine
        NeL works on Windows, Linux and Mac under the GNU General Public License.

         The OpenSceneGraph is an open source high performance 3D graphics toolkit, used by application developers in fields such as visual simulation, games, virtual reality, scientific visualization and modelling. Written entirely in Standard C++ and OpenGL it runs on all Windows platforms, OSX, GNU/Linux, IRIX, Solaris, HP-Ux, AIX and FreeBSD operating systems. The OpenSceneGraph is now well established as the world leading scene graph technology, used widely in the vis-sim, space, scientific, oil-gas, games and virtual reality industries.

        Solipsis  is a French R&D project (ANR-RIAM) leaded by Orange Labs, funded by ANR and Media & Networks cluster of Brittany, launched in January 2007 and based on prior works dating from 2000. Five partners are involved:
        • IRISA - Peer-to-peer networks & distributed systems
        • Archivideo - Auto generation of 3D models & declarative method
        • Artefacto - Avatars, contents & enhanced 3D modelling tools
        • Rennes 2 University - Sociology of Community
        • Orange Labs - Navigator, node and a bit of everything

        Solipsis aims to create a public, massively-shared and user-generated unbound digital universe, sustained by a dedicated Peer-to-Peer protocol, with a modern day rendering engine and some great and accessible 3D modelling tools. In other words: a decentralized Metaverse platform. 


        Syzygy is a programming toolkit for writing virtual reality or other graphical applications. Syzygy applications can run on a single computer, but it is especially designed for the creation of applications to run on clusters of networked computers. Programs or instances of the same program running on different computers in the cluster communicate with one another and share data.
        Syzygy runs on Windows, Linux, MacOS X, and Irix. A cluster can be heterogeneous, i.e. you can mix different operating systems. Installation varies somewhat between operating systems.
        The Syzygy libraries themselves are written in C++.
        Sunday, 6 December 2009

        Opensource/Free Virtual World Platforms - Part 1/2

        With 2009 rapidly coming to a close, we have seen a number of changes in open-source Virtual World platforms and engines, with the noticeable departure of M.U.P.P.E.T., the arrival of Unity, and the no-show of Myst Online. This is the year-end round-up of the current state of play.

        Changes through 2009
        Visitors to the M.U.P.P.P.E.T home page are informed that the website is down for maintenance, as they get ready for the next version. However, that message has been there since at least August 2008, and neither of the two links on the home page, to the latest version of the software, and to the SIGGRAPH documentation, currently work. I think we can safely say that after more than a one year absence it is unlikely that they will return.

        The big news during 2009 was the introduction of the Unreal Development Kit (UDK) from Epic Games, although it is still to be determined if this free games engine can be utilised to support Virtual Worlds. For this reason it is not included in this current list, but it has been the subject of separate articles in this blog. Also during 2009 came the announcement that the Unity multiplatform game development tool, was to be made available for free. Unity does appear to have all the ingredients necessary to support the building of Virtual Worlds, so I have included it in the current list.

        Missing from the list is Myst Online, who made the following announcement more than a year ago:
        Cyan Worlds, Inc. has agreed to put the program code sources for Myst Online: Uru Live into open source. The code sources that will be included are the code for the client, all the servers and tools. With the source to the client and the servers, fans should be able to set up and run Myst Online: Uru Live and bring Uru community back online.
        However, there is still no sign of this being followed through.

        Current Platforms

        The Croquet Project is an international effort to promote the continued development of the Croquet open source software development kit, for creating and delivering deeply collaborative multi-user online applications. Implemented in Squeak Smalltalk, Croquet supports communication, collaboration, resource sharing, and synchronous computation among multiple users. Applications created with the Croquet Software Developer's Kit (SDK) can be used to support highly scalable collaborative data visualization, virtual learning and problem solving environments, 3D wikis, online gaming environments (MMORPGs), and privately maintained/interconnected multiuser virtual environments. Since release of the Croquet SDK in 2007, the SDK has not been under active development. All continued development of the technology has taken place under the very active Open Cobalt effort.

        Croquet is MIT licensed.

        The Metaverse Project
        The Open Source Metaverse Project, or OSMP, was a multi-participant shared virtual world online platform. This platform was free and open source software co-founded in 2004 by Hugh Perkins and Jorge Lima.

        OSMP is loosely modeled on the World Wide Web borrowing ideas from existing worlds such as Second Life, Active Worlds, and There. This project aimed to produce an open source engine for the creation of streamed 3D worlds, also making it possible to interconnect existing worlds into a single open, standards-based Metaverse.

        As of 2008, the project was no longer active. Most developers shifted focus to development of open source software compatible with Second Life, but the software is still available on SourceForge.


        OGRE (Object-Oriented Graphics Rendering Engine) is a scene-oriented, flexible 3D rendering engine (as opposed to a game engine) written in C++ designed to make it easier and intuitive for developers to produce applications utilising hardware-accelerated 3D graphics. The class library abstracts the details of using the underlying system libraries like Direct3D and OpenGL and provides an interface based on world objects and other high level classes.

        OGRE has a very active community, and was's project of the month in March 2005.[2] It has been used in some commercial games such as Ankh and Torchlight.

        Open Cobalt

        Open Cobalt is a free and open source virtual world browser and construction toolkit application for accessing, creating, publishing, and hyperlinking avatar-based multi-user virtual worlds that are accessible both on local area networks or across the Internet. It is designed to enable the deployment of secure virtual world spaces that support education, research, and the activities of virtual organizations. The Open Cobalt application is a type of 3D browser that can be used to define and access a network of interlinked 3D virtual environments in much the same way that web browsers are used to define and access web based content on web pages.


        OpenMASK (Modular Animation and Simulation Kit) is a platform for modular applications development and execution in animation, simulation and virtual reality fields.


        OpenSimulator is a 3D Application Server. It can be used to create a virtual environment (or world) which can be accessed through a variety of clients, on multiple protocols. OpenSimulator allows you to develop your environment using the technologies you feel work best - we've designed the software to be easily extendable through loadable modules to build completely custom configurations. OpenSimulator is released under a BSD License, making it both open source, and commercially friendly to embed in products.

        Project Darkstar

        Project Darkstar is an open source MMOG middleware solution written in Java by the Project Darkstar team at Sun Microsystems. It is a research project currently headed by Sun Microsystems engineer Jim Waldo that was publicly released on August 30, 2007[1], and "aims to help developers and operators avoid a range of serious, yet typical, problems associated with massive scale online games, virtual worlds, and social networking applications today, including zone overloading, data corruption, and server underutilization."

        Project Wonderland

        Project Wonderland is a 100% Java and open source toolkit for creating collaborative 3D virtual worlds. Within those worlds, users can communicate with high-fidelity, immersive audio, share live desktop applications and documents and conduct real business. Wonderland is completely extensible; developers and graphic artists can extend its functionality to create entire new worlds and new features in existing worlds.

        Sirikata is an BSD licensed open source platform for games and virtual worlds. They aim to provide a set of libraries and protocols which can be used to deploy a virtual world, as well as fully featured sample implementations of services for hosting and deploying these worlds.


        Unity is a multiplatform game development tool, designed from the start to ease creation. A fully integrated professional application, Unity just happens to contain the most powerful engine this side of a million dollars, but now available for free!


        VastPark is virtual worlds technology done right. The framework is simple, distributed and extensible. It's not a single virtual world. Instead, it provides free software tools, APIs and open source libraries so you can deploy (and even monetize) your own virtual worlds and add ons for all kinds of organizations and purposes.

        vr juggler

        The VR Juggler project was started in 1997 by Dr. Carolina Cruz-Neira and a team of students at Iowa State University's Virtual Reality Applications Center. This ongoing work has produced a freely available open source, community-oriented virtual reality application development framework. VR Juggler is released under the GNU LGPL and will always be available for anyone and everyone to use free of charge.

        Wishing all my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy and propersous 2010.

        Wednesday, 2 December 2009

        UDK Investigations: Initial Results

        Acknowledgement to Epic Games and their UDK. Picture is their Copyright.

        As I mentioned in my Diary entry for the 13th November I have been involved with a small team of seven developers to establish whether the Unreal Development Kit (UDK) can be successfully used as a platform for creating standalone virtual worlds as opposed to just game modding.

        With this purpose in mind, we started off by defining what users would normally expect from a Virtual World, then we investigated those definitions to see if the UDK supported them or not, then formulated tests to demonstrate compliance.

        The definitions we used were that a Virtual World should be a virtual space, that is persistent, and where its residents can:

        • Change their environment, either with inworld or offworld building tools
        • Change their appearance, in terms of shape, skin, hair and clothing
        • Teleport from one area, or one zone, to another
        • Communicate with Chat, IMs, VoIP, Friending and Friends List
        • Fly, run, walk, jump in a smooth and intuitive manner
        • Have an economy, where virtual goods may be bought, sold and traded
        I believe those are the 'core' functions of any virtual world that hopes to be successful, and it is these core functions that need to verified and validated to determine if the UDK can indeed be used to create Virtual Worlds.

        Each of the developers took on an area from the above list to investigate, and the initial results are now in.

        Building Tools
        The UDK has no provision for inworld building (like SL), and objects are built offworld in 3d apps then uploaded. We are currently looking at a hybrid approach where there will be a low-def building toolbox within the world, using primitives similar to SL, but with the prim set extended, and with the ability to import far more detailed meshes from external 3d apps. We are encouraged by the amazing work of Gary's Mod.

        Avatar Appearance
        I don't think I have seen anything better than the one in APB, a game built on the Unreal Engine. It just shows what is possible with this awesome engine.

        We now know that a teleport system is available in the UDK, as a good example of this is in the "DM-Deck" map, where you can teleport from a low ground position to a high platform.

        We will start looking at maintaining avatar appearance and inventory across teleports next.

        Communications and Friending
        Only basic console chat is available in the UDK. In UT3 and other Unreal games, VoIP, chat, IMs, Friending etc, was achieved by their tie-up with GameSpy, which became an integrated partner. Alternatives to GameSpy, such as Raptr, and Xfire are being investigated, but also possibly an in-house solution. At the very least, Skype could be used.

        Walking, running and jumping are all included in the UDK, and the controls are what users of games expect. There is no native support for flying (as in SL) so this will need to be coded.

        There is no provision in the UDK for an inworld economy, so offworld economy models are currently being researched (similar to XStreetSL). Inworld, money can be treated as just another inventory item, and be earned, paid, spent etc as normal. If the 'rezzing' of objects inworld can be solved, then inworld stores would be feasible.