Friday, 26 February 2010

Blue Mars and the Fusion Render Cloud

Fusion Render Cloud
Rewind back to
just over a year ago AMD President and Chief Executive Officer Dirk Meyer and OTOY Chief Executive Officer Jules Urbach unveiled a plan to revolutionize the deployment, development and delivery of HD content through the “AMD Fusion Render Cloud”, a massively-parallel supercomputer. The announcement took place during AMD’s Industry Insider Series keynote at the Las Vegas Hilton Theater, where AMD was joined on stage by industry luminaries such as Lucasfilm, Dell, HP and Electronic Arts.

AMD has a long track record in the supercomputing world. Seven out of 10 of the world’s fastest machines, including the fastest two computers on the planet, are powered by AMD hardware
said Meyer.

Today, AMD is pleased to announce a new kind of supercomputer unlike any other ever built. It is being designed to break the one petaFLOPS barrier, and to process a million compute threads across more than 1,000 graphics processors. We anticipate it to be the fastest graphics supercomputer ever. And it will be powered by OTOY’s software for a singular purpose: to make HD cloud computing a reality. We plan to have this system ready by the second half of 2009.

The system is being designed to enable content providers to deliver video games, PC applications and other graphically-intensive applications through the Internet “cloud” to virtually any type of mobile device with a web browser without making the device rapidly deplete battery life or struggle to process the content. The AMD Fusion Render Cloud will transform movie and gaming experiences through server-side rendering – which stores visually rich content in a compute cloud, compresses it, and streams it in real-time over a wireless or broadband connection to a variety of devices such as smart phones, set-top boxes and ultra-thin notebooks. By delivering remotely rendered content to devices that are unable to store and process HD content due to such constraints as device size, battery capacity, and processing power, HD cloud computing represents the capability to bring HD entertainment to mobile users virtually anywhere.

The AMD Fusion Render Cloud will also enable remote real-time rendering of film and visual effects graphics on an unprecedented scale. Gaming companies can use the AMD Fusion Render Cloud for developing and deploying next-generation game content, to serve up virtual world games with unlimited photo-realistic detail, and take advantage of new delivery channels as open and diverse as the web itself.

Hosted on AMD’s powerful new AMD Fusion Render platform, OTOY’s revolutionary software has given birth to the world’s first practical, scalable graphics supercomputer capable of true server-side HD cloud rendering. The AMD Fusion Render Cloud will allow directors like Robert Rodriguez of Troublemaker Studios to break through existing CPU-only and graphics processor-only render bottlenecks which have imposed limitations on the creation of true eye-definition assets,

said Charlie Boswell, Director of Digital Media and Entertainment, AMD.
Imagine playing the most visually intensive first person shooter game at the highest image quality settings on your cell phone without ever having to download and install the software, or use up valuable storage space or battery life with compute-intensive tasks. Those are just some of the experiences that AMD and OTOY plan to make possible with HD cloud computing of visually rich entertainment content.
By fusing industry-leading CPU technology with computationally dense, massively parallel graphics processors, the AMD Fusion Render Cloud can rival the world’s most powerful industrial computing devices, but require just a fraction of the floor space, power envelope and cost associated with many of today’s leading supercomputers,” said Jules Urbach, Chief Executive Officer, OTOY. “Combined with the power of OTOY’s revolutionary and flexible software platform, the AMD Fusion Render Cloud can transform the entertainment industry and remove the technical barriers between consumers and first-rate content experiences.

The AMD Fusion Render Cloud will be powered by AMD-optimized hardware including the AMD Phenom™ II processors, AMD 790 chipsets and ATI Radeon™ HD 4870 graphics processors, for unprecedented compute density and power efficiency. The AMD Fusion Render Cloud is an excellent example of AMD’s Fusion strategy, combining its partners’ dreams with AMD innovation, to bring powerful technologies to mainstream markets through the combined power of graphics processors and CPUs in a single platform.

So, is the Fusion Render Cloud ready for production? I took a look at the OTOY website, but there is currently only one word there at the moment ... Soon.

Just one tantalising word on the OTOY Website


Fast Forward to
this past week, when Jim Sink of Avatar Reality, the creators of the Blue Mars Virtual World platform, addressed the Virtual Edge 2010 conference at the Santa Clara Convention Center.
Jim said
The problem people have with deploying virtual world applications, particularly in business and education environments, is that they have a choice - between capability and compatibility. Games such as Crysis or World of Warcraft, look good, but require high-end hardware, and up-to-date drivers. Or they could make something really simple that is Flash-based for example. In Blue Mars we wanted to create something that was as flexible as possible, so if you wanted it in an application or you wanted to run it in a browser, that is not the compromise that you needed to make… So we wanted to create something to lower the barrier to entry and allow people to create things that are very beautiful, graphically, beyond anything you would see on an XBox 360 or  Playstation 3, and put it on ANY device and make it really easy to use.
Blue Mars currently has two ways in which you can bring your current web-based content directly into a Virtual World. We have native renderers for flash and web content and so if it runs in a web browser it runs in Blue Mars.
Fortunately AMD and a software company called OTOY have partnered together to create something called the Fusion Cloud Server. And what this allows us to do is to take a high-end 3d application like Blue Mars, render it in the cloud, and deliver it to any device that is capable of web-based video, the quality scales with the amount of bandwidth that you have. So, just like Youtube when you click on 'Play' and it plays, that is how it works for a HD 3D environment.

Jim also mentioned that they may have a production version of the web renderer on their April 1st release.

All this is amazing news indeed. But just how good is this new Fusion Render Cloud? Maybe this Jules World customer video will give us a clue:






Many naysayers have complained that Blue Mars will only run on high-end equipment, and if they struggle to run Second Life on their rig how can they be expected to run Blue Mars?

Others have said they are Mac or Linux users, and to wake them up when Blue Mars is available on their platforms.

Well guys, get ready for a wake-up call.

Rock

A Closer Look at Unity


Back in early November 2009 I reported on the free version of Unity that had been launched, and renamed from the Indie version to simply Unity. Today I will take a closer look at both versions and what they can do.

Before deciding whether to purchase Unity Pro you can download the free Unity which comes with a 30 day trial of Unity Pro included (after the 30 day period is up the software simply reverts to the free level of functionality). The main differences between Unity and Unity Pro are that with Unity you do not have real-time shadows, and with Unity Pro you do not have any splashscreens or watermarks. A detailed comparison of the differences between the two versions is on the Unity License page. Unity, with the 30 day trial of Unity Pro can be downloaded from the Unity download page.

Companies that have a turnover in excess of US$100,000 per annum must use Unity Pro. When using either Unity or Unity Pro no permissions are necessary to launch commercial products built with the software. However, they would take a dim view if someone took all the included asset bundles and resold them with a new name on them as if they were their own. No royalties are payable with either version.


Editor
Unity Editor
Unity features a fully integrated editor, which is tightly integrated with the game engine.At any time the game under development (and for 'game' also read 'virtual world' development) can be Played, paused or Stopped from within the Editor. Customisation is very flexible through the use of Editor-specific scripts, and layout arrangements. All assets and objects within the Editor use visual drag-and-drop, so it is a breeze to get your scenes up and running very quickly. Complex game objects can be designated as 'Prefabs' allowing them to be easily deployed throughout the game or at runtime. Any changes to the original Prefab is then propagated to all its clones.


Graphics
Unity currently uses Nvidia's PhysX for its physics engine, and this is included in Unity.

Amazing Graphics
The graphics pipeline in Unity is highly optimised, so that both DirectX and OpenGL will run blazingly fast. Rendering is sorted to minimize state changes, taking lights and shadows into account. On good hardware, Unity can render millions of polygons/sec.

Assets
Unity can import 3D models, textures, bones, and animations from almost all 3D applications, including 3dsMax, Maya, 3D Studio Max, Cheetah 3D, Cinema 4D, Blender, Carrara, Lightwave, XSI 5.x, and meshes and textures from Sketchup Pro and Wings 3D. For images, Photoshop .psd and .tiff formats are imported with layers automatically flattened. Non-layered JPEG, PNG, GIF, BMP, TGA, IFF, PICT and many other image formats are also supported. Ogg video and audio are natively supported, but MOV, AVI, ASF, MPG, MPEG, and MP4 video files can also be used, and are recoded by Unity with a configurable bitrate. Audio formats such as AIFF, WAV and MP3 are also supported, and are stored uncompressed (great for high-quality sound effects).

Deployment
Unity supports one-click deployment to either MAC OSX or Windows 2000/XP/Vista/7. All Unity games can be played using a standard web-browser including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and most Mozilla-based browsers, after installing a Unity Web Player Plug-in. The plug-in is small at around 3 MB, and auto-installs without a browser restart.


Terrains
Unity provides great terrain tools to create all terrain types. An impressive range of foliage types can be painted directly into the scene, and with lightmaps showing the effects of all directional lights a realistic feel to a scene can be easily achieved.
Beautiful Terrains Can be easily Created

Scripting
Unity supports JavaScript, C#, and a version of Python called Boo. All three can use the underlying .NET libraries which support databases, regular expressions, XML, file access and networking, and the logic runs on the Open Source Mono platform.

Networking
Unity has full network support via it's built in Raknet-based multiplayer networking system as well as c# socket support with which Unity can talk to any back-end software you want.

The most popular being Smartfox Server and Exitgames Neutron/Photon services. Smartfox Server already has an existing Unity based API, meaning you can actually get up and running in a networked, multiplayer environment. The API is right here:

Asset Bundles and other Resources
Dressing Room
Unity has a unique Locomotion System which allows avatars to move realistically, for example, walking up stairs intelligently. Keyframed and MOCAP animations can be imported, but then Unity adjusts the bones in the legs to ensure that walking on uneven ground looks natural.
Examples projects are available to use on the Resource pages, including one nice Character Customisation project, called Dressing Room, that comes in one zip file, and includes all the source code! Have a look at the demo here to see it in action.

Unity comes complete with a tropical island demo, but other projects can be downloaded from the Resources page, including: 3rd Person Shooter, Shadow demo, Character Animation, and Networking capabilities.

What are you waiting for? Go get it!

Rock
Wednesday, 24 February 2010

First Impressions of the SL Viewer 2

The first thing I noticed was that after launching the new Viewer it took a full 5 minutes before anything happened! Just a black window. It did eventually load.

On logging in I found myself where I had logged out from, and I was now a cloud, and it took around 15 minutes for me to rezz as my avatar. The other scenery took around 10-15 minutes to rezz, and sculpties took another 5 minutes oin top of that. It appears it was completely redoing the cache. Pity it could not use the Viewer 1.23 cache.
BM Toolbar
Viewer 2 Side-toolbar icons




One of the first things I noticed was the similarity in the side-toolbar icons with those used in Blue Mars. Do these look similar to you?

A couple of things I did like were the new tattoo layer, separate from the skin, and the Alpha Masks, which mean no more wearing invisiprims to hide body parts (to create aliens, dragons, furries etc).

You also do not have to tpe 'Worn' in the Inventory search box to display everything you wearing, there is now a simple Current Outfit folder in your Inventory to show everything you are wearing.

The navigation bar is nice, and you can go back to where you teleported from at a click, and also get up your teleport history (not so much of an innovation this one, as MystiTool users have had this functionality for years).

I was not happy to see the new location for the World Map and the MiniMap, as these are now accessed via the top menu, World > Mini-Map or World > World Map. Which puts them a further click away, and I feel this is a mistake, given that these are two of the most commonly used functions in the UI. Similarly, File Upload is commonly used, but now is several clicks away, hidden in the Inventory menu bar.

HTML on a prim is excellent. A real competitor for the Blue Mars flash on a prim. Glad to see the competition DO watch now what each other is doing!

I found a bug with streaming audio. The sim I was on had streaming audio, and I wanted it off so i could concentrate. In the audio options I unchecked the allow Streaming Audio checkbox, but it continued to play. Only by setting the Streaming Audio volume control to minimum could I get rid of the sound.

The new ratings (previously PG, Mature and Adult) are now General, Moderate and Adult. I did chuckle at some of the suggestions from the SL Forum, where SuezanneC Baskerville suggested Mild and Spicy, while Veritable Quandrykerville suggested something akin to the Chinese Restaurant ratings, but using 1 raised eyebrow up to 5 raised eyebrows!!

All in all, I approve of Viewer 2, I like its style and modern look. As for functionality it is certainly improved, though with a few bugs, but hey, it is in beta don't forget, so LL will be looking for plenty of feedback from the user community, and set up a forum just for this topic.

Give it a spin.

Rock

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

New Browser for Second Life

Robert Scoble of Building43 released today a very interesting interview with Mark Kingdon of Second Life with a look at the new Second Life viewer.



In addition Second Life issued the following blog post detailing this new release:



Viewer 2 Beta Has Arrived
Today, we're excited to announce the launch of Viewer 2 Beta, the next generation of Second Life viewers -- combining an easy browser-like experience with
shared media capabilities -- providing what we believe is the best experience yet for accessing Second Life, and a new option to choose from among Viewer 1.23 and other Third Party Viewers. We looked carefully at the experience design of other successful social media and technology platforms--such as the web browser, Facebook, the iPhone, Twitter, etc.--and the key elements that enabled them to reach mass adoption. You'll see much of that thinking baked into new Viewer 2 experience design. Our primary goal was to create a more consumer-friendly viewer--an imperative to bring in a new wave of Second Life Residents. After all, more people in Second Life means that there will be more amazing content, more customers to purchase virtual goods, a thriving economy, more friends and communities, and we can do even more to improve the experience. All very good things for all of us.

Viewer 2 Introduces a More Intuitive User Experience
Viewer 2 has all of the capabilities of Viewer 1.23 and more; it has just been reorganized into a more intuitive user experience. In fact, it's chock full of cool features. Once you learn your way around, you'll definitely appreciate:

  • A browser-like navigation bar with forward and back buttons. You can even save favorites and review your teleport history.
  • A sliding right-hand panel that surfaces the most frequently-used features and makes managing your profile, contacts, groups, landmarks, inventory, and appearance easy.
  • Improved Search, powered by Google Search Appliance technology , makes it easier to find friends, places, and cool stuff to buy.
  • A superior alternative to invisiprims for non-human avatars. In Viewer 2, a new wearable type, called Alpha Masks, allow you to "mask out" parts of your base avatar to make entire body parts disappear.
  • And, you'll enjoy the new contextual help to help you acclimate to the new viewer experience.
Those are just a few highlights. There's much more! We'll be going into more depth on many of these features in future blog posts.
Viewer 2 Brings the Web Into Second Life

Yes, you heard that right. Shared Media™, a standard capability in Viewer 2, makes sharing standard Web-based media and content in Second Life easy, and enables content creators to make more compelling, interactive experiences. Content creators can now place Web pages, video, Flash content, and other web media, onto any surface in Second Life. We expect that Shared Media will inspire a creative renaissance in Second Life as Residents explore more immersive and integrated inworld experiences and business opportunities such as gaming or theaters. And, for enterprises using Second Life as a work environment, Shared Media allows everyone to more effectively collaborate and share documents. We'll be publishing a blog post tomorrow focused on Shared Media--so keep your eyes peeled for that.


It's the Little Things, Too
While much of the focus on the new viewer will be on the design and marquee features like Shared Media and Search,  there are lots of little improvements that should be sources of delight. Customization. Favorites. Inspectors. The right-hand panel. The notifications tray. The clickable names and SLurls in notifications. Icons for Residents. Outfits. Recent conversations. The notifications well. Clickable URLs. Selecting SLurls in the navigation tool bar. Global audio controls. Quick access to your audio preferences. Improved performance on the map. And, view controls with presets for over the shoulder and "What am I wearing?"

And a Lot Under the Hood Search and the Home panel
are web content. That means that we can continue to make updates to the content, design and interactions without forcing you to download a new version of the viewer. We believe that this will make a big difference for new users, because the content in that panel will help users discover the richness and depth of Second Life. Since it's web content, some of our recent acquisitions in the web space may soon be making an appearance--watch this space. We also focused on performance and stability. In fact, we believe this the most stable beta that we've ever released.

But, it's Still BetaAnd that's why we're putting it into your hands now. So, put it through its paces, stress test it, and give us your feedback in the Viewer 2 Forum.

Getting StartedViewer 2 is different enough from Viewer 1.23 and a few minutes perusing the Quickstart Guide will save you the frustration of "How do I do this?" or "Where is that?" Contextual support also available now within the viewer itself. If you're chomping at the bit to get going, then here are a few "high nails" that can help you get up-and-running quickly in Viewer 2.
A couple of features you may be looking for:

  • Camera Controls: Located on the Bottom Bar, labeled "View."
  • Voice Controls: The "Speak" button is now located right next to the nearby text chat entry field. Sound preferences can be set by clicking Me > Preferences in the menus at the top, then clicking the Sound tab.
  • Moving Around: Located on the Bottom Bar, labeled "Move."
  • Teleporting: You can teleport a number of ways:
    • Double-click a Landmark in the Places Panel in the Side Bar.
    • Type a Region or Landmark name in the location field in the Top Bar and hit enter.
    • Paste a SLurl into the location field and hit enter.

A few handy tasks:

  • Sharing Inventory: To share Inventory, start a Conversation (IM) with the person you to share an item. Click the "Share" button in the Conversation window which pops open the Inventory side panel. Then, drag the Inventory item over to the Conversation.
  • Pay L$ to Someone: There are two quick ways to do this: A) Right click on the person, then select "Pay" from the context menu. B) Click "Pay" in the Conversation window. The "Pay Resident" floater will appear. Choose the amount you wish to pay and then click "Pay."

But Where is My ?
We tried to balance the needs of existing Residents with the general consumer, and made some dfficult choices like replacing pie menus with context list menus -- a broadly used design feature in most consumer software. If some of these changes are important to you, then the good news is that you still have choice.


The Choice is Yours
We celebrate and encourage viewer choice. When it ships in its final form, Viewer 2 will become the primary viewer, included in the registration flow for all new Second Life Residents, but there are many other third-party viewers based on Snowglobe, our open source viewer, that are designed for Residents that have specialized needs and requirements. Viewer 1.23 will continue to be available for the foreseeable future and we will continue to support it as long as it makes sense.
A Word about Third-Party ViewersWe're also announcing the Viewer Directory and the Policy on Third-Party Viewers. The Viewer Directory is a list of third-party viewers for Residents with specialized interests or viewing needs, such as languages that we do not support or additional navigation and accessibility features. To apply to add a viewer to the Viewer Directory, the software developer must be a Resident in good standing, and self-certify that the viewer complies with the Policy on Third-Party Viewers, which prohibits griefing, fraud, theft of passwords, and infringement of intellectual property.
It is important to note that we will not tolerate malicious viewers that violate our policies. Enough said on that topic. To learn more about our announcement, read today's blog post on the new directory and policy.

Snowglobe, our open source viewer program, will release later today. Snowglobe 2 is based on the Viewer 2 Beta code base. If you're a third-party developer interested in Snowglobe 2, visit our wiki page where you will find information and the downloads.

Resources to Help You Learn Viewer 2

And, if something breaks or you're really stuck, then contact Support and we're happy to help.
This is Only the Beginning and We Want Your Feedback
We're excited about what you'll experience today and we're only at the beginning. There's so much more that we'll be adding to Viewer 2 in the coming months. And, one of the most exciting things for folks at Linden, is that the Viewer 2 code base will enable us to improve the product at a much faster pace than ever before. So, that's where you come in. We need to hear from you! Participate in the Viewer 2 Forum and share your experience and suggest future enhancements. And, if you find a bug, then please log it in PJIRA. Then, go tell your friends! If you Twitter, then use the #SLViewer2 hash tag.


So, go download Viewer 2 here and try it out. We hope you like it.

Rock
Monday, 22 February 2010

Making Money out of Virtual Worlds

Introduction
Virtual Worlds with an inworld economy, and an inworld currency that can be converted in and out of real world dollars, such as Second Life,  have proved very popular with their residents, as they allow the budding entrepreneur to make a modest real life income, and in a few cases quite a substantial income, from the leasing of virtual land, and the creation and selling of virtual goods, textures, animations, and scripts, etc.  Even more opportunities are on the horizon with newer, more exciting worlds, such as Blue Mars, due to come online later in 2010.

Some people have taken the OpenSim platform and used it to create their own commercial Virtual World, such as OpenLife, Meta7, and Inworldz, etc, and are able to compete strongly on price for virtual land with Second Life. Others have taken to designing and creating regions for corporate customers within an existing Virtual World, or use OpenSim to create a ring-fenced solution.

Virtual World Contracts
In addition to the above there also exists even more lucrative opportunities. Various institutions, larger corporations, local government and national government departments and the military have started issuing RFQs and RFPs (Requests for Quotations/Proposals) for Virtual World solutions.

Here are some examples of such RFQs and RFPs, issued over the last 18 months:

NATO, HQ Supreme Allied Commander Transformation
RFP-ACT-SACT-010-09, Aug 06, 2009
Allied Command Transformation is investigating technologies that could be used to augment or replace existing technologies for education and training of NATO staff. One of the investigative streams is in virtual worlds. This statement of work seeks contractor support for building and maintaining a virtual world to carry out this investigation.

US Department of the Air Force

Office: Air Education and Training Command
FA3002-08-R-004, Sep 03, 2008
The AETC Contracting Squadron at Randolph AFB intends to award a contract for the purchase of 3D on-line environment software (including all necessary plug-ins to field Mybase) and user training as described in the Statement of Need (SON). 

Department of Agriculture
Office: Office of Procurement and Property Management

AG-3142-S-10-0012, Nov 25, 2009
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Office of the Chief Information Officer (USDA OCIO) plans to issue a solicitation to procure virtual world (VW) software technology. While there are Government organizations currently utilizing virtual worlds (VW) technology, significant challenges remain related to cross-agency accessibility, security, scalability, and interoperability.

For virtual worlds to be a viable option for widespread government use, the Government is seeking offerors who can demonstrate that the virtual worlds solution(s) can satisfactorily resolve these and other cross-agency issues. 


Alliance Library System
Request for Qualifications,
May 6, 2009
Project Coordinator for HIV/Aids Project (Karuna)

The Alliance Library System is requesting RFQs from qualified firms or individuals with Masters of Library Science Degrees, experience with medical/consumer health information, an up-to-date awareness of consumer health resources, and experience in the virtual world of Second Life managing events and creating displays to coordinate the HIV/AIDS Grant Project (Karuna).



Many more opportunities exist, from the use of Virtual Worlds for simulators, for training and educational puposes, for virtual meeting venues for companies wishing to reduce their travel budget and their carbon footprint, and various other uses.


How do you find these opportunities? Well, Google is your friend. I use the Advanced Search option, and set the fields as follows:

All these words: Virtual
One or More of these Words: RFQ OR RFP OR quotation  OR proposal
Date, usage rights, numeric range, and more: Date - set to past week or past month, and check weekly/monthly as required

Good luck


Rock

Friday, 19 February 2010

Blue Mars Roadmap: First Stop

Just barely ten days after announcing their roadmap for the future of Blue Mars, Avatar Reality have come good with several of their promised improvements and new features for the SDK, Website and Client. Here is a run-down on the latest release:

DEVELOPER UPDATES

Websites:

Updated Developer MyPage ( https://dev.bluemars.com/MyPage/ ) features (COMING MARCH 1, 2010)
  • The entire site has been optimized to open and run significantly faster.
  • Properties > City > Leased Cities > [Add Block] command: Instead of manually entering Block Name, uses the Current attribute in level_editor.xml as Block name to be added to database.
  • Properties > City > Blocks > [Re-Upload .BLD file] command added:  Allows re-uploading of .BLD file for selected Block, as long as it is NOT leased out or being used by yourself.
  • "Allow Sublease" checkbox added to the following tabs:
    • City > Properties > Leased Cities: [Add Block] dialogue
    • City > Properties > Blocks: [Edit Properties] dialogue
    • When the box is checked, the selected Block becomes subleaseable--meaning the Block owner can lease out Shops and Residences on this Block to other developers/users.  If the box is not checked, the Block is not subleaseable, meaning the Block Owner can only build Shops and Residences on this Block for their own use (note: There is no "Use By Myself" command for leased Residences yet--that will be coming soon). This sublease permission can be set when adding Blocks to your City ("Add Block"), or it can be changed after you've created a Block ("Edit Properties") ONLY if there are no existing 3rd party tenants in your Block.  If you have tenants (other than yourself) in your Block, you would need to run the "Evict Tenant" command first before changing the "Allow Sublease" status.
  • If you don't have any leased Blocks, the Properties > Block tab will not be active.
  • Change in itemdata.zip file size check:  When uploading an itemdata.zip file, the current file size limit is 512KB.  EXCEPTION: When uploading Shop or Residence interior files (Category: Interior), the itemdata.zip size limit is 2MB.
  • Home > Account Info now shows "Company Code" under "Name". If you bought a City, it will show your company code (the code you chose when you signed up for a city to uniquely identify yourself or company - up to 6 capital letters).
  • Home > Account Info > [Edit Account Info]: "Edit Company Logo" feature added. You can now upload thumbnail images of your company logo (NOTE: Change will be reflected immediately if you upload an image file with a different filename, but if you re-upload an image file with the same filename, it may take a few minutes before the change is reflected.)
  • Administer > Company Members > [Add New Member]: Address, Phone, OS, Graphic Card, and CG Tool fields have been deleted from the [Add New Member] dialogue.
  • Administer > Company Members > [Add New Member]: Displays an error message if you try to register an email address that is already registered as a Blue Mars Developer.
  • Administer > Billing History: Displays various financial activity information.
  • [Vendor] menu no longer appears in the [Upload Content] window except for City Developers who have multiple vendor codes.
SDK Editors

 Body Editor NEW!
  • Import custom shapes.
  • Import custom skins.
  • Test custom shapes, skin, clothing, and animations.
  • No upload functionality (coming soon).
Shop Editor
  • Clone instances of decorations.
  • Control for camera speed.
  • Enable saving of work in progress.


BLUE MARS CLIENT

Websites:
  • Updated User MyPage ( https://member.bluemars.com/MyPage/ ) features:
  • MESSAGE tab is now enabled: Exchange messages between your Blue Mars friends.
  • FRIENDS tab update
    • "SEARCH MEMBERS" button: Search for people on Blue Mars by their Avatar Names or User ID, and send them Friend requests (which will show up on their User MyPage).
    • "REMOVE" command in the Friends List will remove the selected User from your Friends List.
    • "Waiting List" shows pending Friend requests that you have sent to other Users.
    • "Request List" shows pending Friend requests you have received from other Users.
New Cities and City Updates:
  • Shade City by eFrontier now has a Shop!  Purchasable T-shirts will be available on the second floor of Shade City.
  • Welcome Area 2010 has been added. (The old welcome area has been retired).
  • AR_Shelter has been added.  This is a minimalist level to be used as a meeting area in case there are problems with the new welcome area.
  • VSE_TERC has been added.
New Places Browser
New Features and Feature Updates:
  • Avatar names are now displayed above the avatar instead of the avatar ID.
    • If you change your Avatar Name display option in the User MyPage, it will now be reflected in the overhead avatar name display as well as the chat box.
  • New and updated City data can now be downloaded directly from the Places Browser--no need to install City patches.
  • User interface update
    • New look for the Place Browser!
    • Refresh button in the Places Browser allows you to enter your downloaded City (except New Venice) without having to close and reopen Blue Mars. 
    • The Camera icon has now  menu tray. The clothes, face, animation and settings icons are displayed by clicking on the arrow icon.



    • The ? icon now opens the Blue Mars tutorial Website.
    • Right-clicking avatar profile in the Client shows the Avatar Name as well as User ID.

User Name above Head, Right-Click to get User ID


  • Settings update
    • New Click Sound option in the Settings menu will let you turn the pointer sound on or off (default: Off).
Walking Sound On/Off


    • New Display Name option will let you hide the overhead Avatar Name display of the avatars around you (to hide your avatar's overhead name from others, use the Edit Avatar window in your User MyPage).

Avatar Names On/Off


Bug Fixes:
  • Bowling matchmaking fixed
  • Golf matchmaking fixed
  • Non-ASCII avatar names should now be displayed correctly regardless of the locale setting.

What would you like to see in the next release?

Rock

    Monday, 15 February 2010

    Interactive Whiteboards and Virtual Worlds

    Touch-screens
    Touch-screen PCs have been around for over 30 years now! I used a Hewlett Packard 150 touch-screen PC, based on the 8088, back in the mid 1980s. However, things have moved on rapidly since then, and with the advent of Microsoft's multitouch Surface, Apple's iPad, and various Interactive Whiteboards, it would not be long before the direct manipulation of 3D objects in 3D Virtual Worlds was a possibility.


    Microsoft Surface

    Edusim
    Moves to combine Interactive Whiteboards with the manipulation of 3D objects in 3D Virtual Worlds were actually started back in 2007. It was then that the Edusim project was started at the Greenbush Education Service Center in Southeast Kansas, as an effort to bring an engaging 3D experience to the classroom interactive whiteboard.

    Based on a slimmed-down version of Open Cobalt Edusim is a 3D multi-user virtual world platform and authoring toolkit, and coupled with the latest developments in interactive whiteboards the project aims to:

    engage student through "immersive touch" by leveraging 3D virtual environments on the interactive surface or classroom interactive whiteboard.

    The results are amazing. Take a look at this video showing Edusim in action.


    Edusim running on a Smartboard

    Interactive Whiteboards
    Edusim has been successfully tested on the following Interactive Whiteboards:


    Activeboard


    Interwrite


    Polyvision



    Mimio


    eBeam

    Kids have never had it so good!

    Rock

    Diary: 15th February 2010

    Arggghhh!.

    After working all weekend getting my blog template exactly how I wanted it, and really liking the result once I applied it, I then found that virtually every post and article I have written would have to be reformatted for the new template.

    This is because all the graphics do not resize themselves to the change in width of the new template, so text now flows around them, and headings, image captions, bulleted lists etc, are now all out of alignment.

    The lesson to be learnt from this, is that you can change the 'look' of a template with new colours, new header and background images etc., but if you want to change the dimensions, particularly the width of a template, then be prepared for a lot of re-editing.

    I have now reverted to the original template, and I will now wait until the Easter break, when I have more time for editing, before having a go at my new template again.

    So, back to normal service. Look out for an imminent exciting new article on Interactive Whiteboards and Virtual Worlds!

    Rock
    Saturday, 13 February 2010

    Diary: 13th February 2010

    Blog Maintenance
    I have been spending the last couple of days creating a custom template for Chapter & Metaverse. The free templates you get with Blogger are not very awe-inspiring, and other 3rd party templates did not do what I wanted either.

    I always found that Blogger templates were quite narrow, and with the standard configuration being 2 or 3 column layouts, with things such as My Profile, Links, Archives etc in the side columns, leaving the main column even narrower still for blog posts, and left looking something like a newspaper column.

    There are single column templates available, and I tried all these, but the problem then occurs of where to put My Profile, Links, Archives etc. If you place them at the end then it can be a long scroll to get to these frequently used gadgets. I thought the answer would be simple, just have a header with a menu bar or tabs underneath, and place the My Profile, Links, Archives etc. behind menu buttons or tabbed pages. Alas, Blogger does not permit this directly, so some clever workarounds are necessary.

    Another problem with Blogger is that if you use a custom header image, with the name of your blog in that image Blogger still insists on overlaying the image with the name of the blog. It will not allow you to have a blank field in the Blog Title when in Header Edit mode. Again, a neat workaround enables the Blog Title to be hidden.

    So I invested in some commercial software to design my own Blogger template, Artisteer,  and I am just getting to the stage where the termplate is looking, and behaving, as I want it. Just a few more tweaks...

    I hope to have the new suit of clothes for Chapter & Metaverse ready by tomorrow, Sunday 14th February, so please bear with me.

    New Blue Mars SDK, 2010-2-12
    Avatar Reality announced another updated SDK yesterday. Full details in the Forum post.

    Happy Valentines to all,

    Rock
    Wednesday, 10 February 2010

    Role Play Worlds



    I like to see myself as a hitch hiker travelling in the free Metaverse looking for grids to visit and things to see. Well, I spoke to Rock and we both agreed that I should set off and take a look at some role play worlds since that is the back ground I come from. So I hitched a ride on a passing metabeam and materialized in the world of Gor.

    I arrived at the Gor Grid only to find it is now called Role Play Worlds. I landed in the reception region that was apparently still under construction and, with no links available, I resorted to using the map to try to find some life. I teleported to another sim and found it also under construction and at this point I was beginning to feel I might be wasting my time but I am glad I decided to barge in on two avatars way off in the distance because this was going to turn out to be better than my first impressions were having me believe. One of the two ladies I accosted turned out to be a builder busily doing her work, I had come across Breezy Kanto who welcomed me and gave me an LM to the Gor reception building on the same sim. Seems I had chosen the right place quite accidentally since I could have gone to any of the 100+ regions on the grid which, surprisingly, did show more life than you might expect from a large OpenSim grid.

    I found myself in a gothic chamber and I followed the circular walls to a door and entered another chamber.  This one had Gorean information notices informing me of the castes I could chose from to begin my role play. There was a free combat meter available too which I was obliged to wear if I intended to continue. The RPX meter controls what happens to you in world, your health and such and in the next chamber I came to I found the walls lined with assorted weaponry that could be taken free and used to interact with the meter. In other words, these weapons could be used to kill or capture me!

    Finally, I left the building and found myself in a market offering both freebies and paid items. There was plenty on offer too but I couldn't buy anything of course. I no local currency. I saw some notices though that said you can pay for your goods in Second Life and have them delivered in RPW. When finally, I got to meet the owner I would learn that RPW is laid out as a number of role play worlds as the name states and the world of Gor is the main one. There is a main reception area and another for each world. You will get all the help you need at the receptions as I did and on leaving the reception you are treated to a themed market where you can prepare and clothe your avatar with plenty of freebies.

    Now, I confess, I had already been to the Gor grid once before some while back and had skinned up and dressed in freebies so I was respectable which is just as well because the one thing I hate is landing as a Ruthed avatar. I can't find the freebies quick enough. Yeah, I am vain.

    Well, I was wandering about pretty aimlessly until I came full circle back to the reception building to find Breezy and the other woman, Tessa Mureaux. I decided to question Breezy about the grid and she called the leader and had him TP in to talk to me. This was Aramil Ewing. one time leader and founder of the Askari Mercenaries in SL Gor. He told me that this all started out as a hobby when he and friends decided to setup their own Opensim grid. They chose to run a role play based on Gor because that is what they all enjoyed in Second Life but in Opensim they felt they could manage it better and more by the book so to speak which loosely means they make rules and laws based on common events found in the Gorean novels - all 27 of them. Aramil explained, "All of us, well the 90% of the users here has been on SL. I was a role play gamer even before I joined SL, when D&D was done in pen and paper, as well a deoria. Our aim is to develop a planned world, thinking of a true MMORPG."

    Aramil called me over to a large map of Gor which is taken from the web and most Goreans accept as a true representation of their world. The map was overlaid by a numbered grid and Aramil said, "We choose that one because the names of the cities are on it and kind of more by books. Still there are some SL add-ons like Midgard, but was a good one to start with. Each rectangle you see there is a sim location so we use it as guide to know where and how to terraform and build the sim located in a defined spot.

    I replied, asking, "That is a lot of sims. Do you really believe you can create them all?"

    "Yes," he answered, "we already have several ones. Of course is something that will not be filled in the short term."

    I fired back, "It will take a lot of people to populate such a vast area. Do you think you can get that many people to come here?"

    "We have a group there (in SL)," he said, "The Gor Grid, and recently Role Play Worlds, mostly to keep informed the interested users about the progress but the same community spread the word and invite users to RPW."

    So, my understanding from the conversation was that there is considerable inter-grid travel between RPW and SL and, while I noticed there were about 14 people actually on the grid at the time of my visit, it was clear that the numbers fluctuate considerably at the moment but there are times the numbers rise sharply so this is due in no small part, I think, to their maintaining strong links and contacts in SL. It also accrued to me that this may well be the pattern for RPG and other gaming ideas, people will maintain strong links with SL while they build their grids. In deed, I can imagine a gradual exodus of Second lifers finding their way to the free Metaverse via role playing connections. Some may chose to grid-hop and play in both worlds while the numbers who stay permanently will depend on how Opensim develops and the advantages to be gained. Certainly, there seemed no lack of enthusiasm on the part of Aramil to create a world that would give the Gorean community, at least, what they might be looking for and not finding in Second Life.

    Aramil offered me a tour and with three others in tow we set off and on a walkabout crossing sim borders, climbing hills and visiting camps and outposts. Along the way I asked, "tell me. Are people role playing?"

    He answered, "lot of them are building but always there is time for rp."

    "Building has taken up much energy..." said Jet Racer, who had been tagging along with us, "but there has certainly been roleplay."

    At this point I asked about the slaves, whom Goreans call Kajira, "Do you get many Kajira coming over from SL?"

    Aramil laughed and said, "Yes, the major population are Kajira and you can see this by the polls on the web site."

    Next we came to a port with a dock and several ships moored up. "Ok, this is another thing in our grid," said Armail in his slightly broken English as he stepped onto the dock. "Some (of these) ships that tp you to exclusive points on mainland like one to the north, the other to the vosk region, the other to the south and from there you need to travel. What we plan is to block intersim teleports once the grid is more filled so in rp you actually need to travel and that encourage rp. People will travel by foot, (fly) tarns and (sail)ships, once vehicles work properly on opensim, etc."

    "Will that confuse people first time they arrive?" I asked.

    "When people arrive, they will land in a General Welcome Area that is on the build and they will find the info needed there and from there to each world welcome area so before they reach mainland (the rp continent) they will have all the info and tools."

    "Try to board the ship." he told me, "and choose mainland in the menu. Each one of them take you to a far away area of the continent. The idea is in time have ships drived by users to transport them along the world."

    He turned now and headed off up a path with the rest of us following and after a long trek uphill we arrived at Black Stone town and here Aramil informed me that a major aspect of their RP would involve taking and holding locations such as this one.

    Aramil explained, "One feature of rpw are the fight to keep sims. This town is one of them so any group can take over the place and keep it while they are able to defend it. Imagine yourself as a free woman of this town and the admin and the guards are defeated by another group, so you will be now under a new admin, and it is up to you how to rp that scenario. This is the way to encourage more realistic role play."

    We set off again and Aramil pointed, saying, "ok if we follow that path. You will cross all the northern lands to the west and will find a path through the forest to the south we going west to the crossroad but to walk the mainland will take a lot (of time) and one thing we are tying to keep is to make the terraform the most natural and realistic possible so we are going down a mountain and you will be actually going down, and you will experience that all grid wide."

    We had arrived at Tovaldsland and I was informed this is another sim to keep if you fight for it. Armail then said we can go on to the city of Ar now and to get the picture of Ar in the mind I recalled reading the book, Tarnsman of Gor in which Ar is described as the leading city of Gor and famed for it's many cylindrical towers.


    And sure enough I beheld the towering cylinders rising above the city. Breezy proudly explained the amount of work going into the city's construction.

    "It covers 9 sims," she said, "It will be most glorious."

    I could certainly tell heart and soul were going into this work as I took to the air and flew over the city. I landed on a platform and took a look at the designs on huge post prims. On the ground stood a large model of the city too and I looked around at the city and couldn't help being just a little awe struck.

    I loved the city yet I found myself regretting I had not come to the Gor Grid sooner. I would have seen the old city of Ar and the pictures Breezy gave me reminded me of Fritz Lang's Metropolis. It had suspended walkways high up in the mist spanning between the towers and the colours were not so bright. It had the feel of Steam punk, slightly Victorian yet modern and I could imagine the great Tarn war birds flying over and landing on the tower perches.

    I have posted more images of old Ar here.

    Shortly after I arrived at the arena and was treated to a show of arms by Aramil, Jet and Tessa. This prompted me to ask about their combat meter, the RPX system. Aramil filled me in...

    "ok, when we start, we was thinking on use some of the meters that users was used to, so Qapla offer himself to bring it to RPW and develop with us a system we has been working on paper since the beginning. But his schedule is kind of busy, and was delaying us, so we decide to give priority to it and develop it in our own (time). So BlueWall Slade, start to code what we had on plans and create a starting meter, and that is what RPX is atm."



    He continued, "now Rpx is not going to be like the meters the users are used on SL, given the fact that we can manipulate the servers and merge it with the platform itself. Lot of things will be managed by the meter, not just combat."



    I now asked if they supported the basic idea of a hypergrid with connecting worlds. "aye we do, that's the future of the virtual worlds" he replied, and went on, "We have plans for some Sims to be HG so people can come to rp from any grid they reside. You should see how we are building the continent, so you can have a better idea of the concept we are managing for Gor, and the future worlds. Several good things are on develop and will be release soon, and we know for sure, the community will love it."

    Gor in Second Life is noted for it's inter-sim raids, stealing of slaves and trading.  I though how fantastic it would be if there was raiding from one grid to another and I'm sure it will happen because I already know that there are start-up Gorean sims elsewhere across the hypergrid.


    At this point I wondered if they might be developing some special features. I was thinking of  RLV which is Retrained Life Viewer used with Open Collar LSL code in SL and the fact there are slaves here I thought about the restraining collar they might wear. so I asked, "Do you plan to promote a particular viewer  with special features. I am thinking perhaps RLV and Open Collar?"

    Aramil answered, "Yes Open Collar is on Role play worlds, Tessa can give you more details about it, as she has been with the developer of the collar testing it but so far i can remember, some RLV features work and others still don't. (But)  we recommend the Hippo viewer cause is pretty light, don't have prims size restriction, etc."


    Tessa Mureaux explained it all to me, "We're still modifying the scripts to get them all working and for now, we need the girls to put them on here, first in the non-script area, for attachment and adjusting.... then to a full script area to recompile the scripts and sync the database. From there, they can go on about their business as normal.  As we do more upgrades of both sims and servers, the grid itself, and the collars... then it will be a whole lot  simpler. It's matching the right code to the LSL grid for a better sync and  communication. For now, the couple animations in the collars do not work but as most of the owners were primarily wanting the leashing option to work, and some RLV functions, so we went ahead and released this rough version."

    I smiled and then decided to ask about Role Play Worlds and I put it to Aramil as almost a challenge, "I see you recently branched out to cover role play in general. Is this because Gor is not working out so well?"

    Aramil had no doubts that their Gorean venture would succeed and said, "aye, in fact we start to plan and build the vampire and fantasy world. Mostly cause the environment help us to build it quick but our goal is to manage several themes and build them planned and organized."

    "But then the question I have to ask is, with all the work involved running the grid, new releases of OpenSim and trying to manage many themes, will the Gorean part suffer?"

    "oh not at all," he insisted. "Our baby is the Gor world."


    See Role Play Worlds home page here

    Sim Pricing:
    • Slave Sim (3750 prims) =30$ setup fee + 30$ monthly tier
    • Master Sim (15000 prims) = 30$ setup fee + 100$ monthly tier
    • Slave Package (2 slave sims) = 30 $ setup fee + 50$ monthly tier
    • Peasant Package (4 slave sims) = 60$ setup + 90$ monthly tier
    • Homestone Package (1 Master sim + 8 slave sims) = 100$ setup + 300$ monthly tier
    • Merchant Package (2 Master sim + 7 slave sims) = 100$ setup + 350$ monthly tier
    As I took my leave I couldn't help feeling a fondness already for these intrepid builders of Gor. I wasn't sure about the other role play worlds they had in mind to create. I figured it was best left to another time when they had got a new theme going but none the less I was convinced they would make the best of Gor. In Second Life Gor is big but fragmented with many Sim owners imposing their own interpretation of the books which is a constant source of dissent and drama. Here in RPW there is but one rule book and one meter and, moreover, the world is laid out according the map of Gor. There is no duplication of Sims either as found in SL. You can rent one of the cities here or, if you can't afford to, then there is nothing to stop you getting together with friends and forming a clan of Panthers, Outlaws or Mercenaries and using your RP  and combat skills to capture and hold a Sim for free. That, in itself is a unique concept.

    I really believed in what they are doing and given that Linden Labs have in the past snuffed out this kind of creativity with their erratic pricing policy it was good to see people building like this, and knowing they have the chance to do it better and bigger than can be done in SL.

    I was invited back to role play and you know what? I am tempted. I think Aramil and his team are here on the free Metaverse to stay.



    Gaga Gracious
    Monday, 8 February 2010

    Blue Mars - New Features on the Horizon

    Today the Avatar Reality Community Director, Glenn Sanders announced the current roadmap for Blue Mars. He said:

    Many of our community members have requested new features and improvements to Blue Mars.  We listen closely to your concrete suggestions.  Then we incorporate as many of your ideas as possible and feasible in our roadmap strategy. In addition to suggestions from the community, we are planning a multitude of other enhancements to Blue Mars. Here's a sneak preview of a few of the items we are planning.

    UI Improvements:
    • Expanded Preferences for chat,
    • Enhanced camera movement and controls
    • Improved avatar movement
    • Avatar name will be displayed above the avatar head.
    • Right-click shows Avatar Name and UserID.
    • Move the camera control icon out to the menu tray
    Communications:
    • Clickable hyperlinks in the Chat box
    • Select and copiable text in the Chat box
    • IM - instant messaging
    Avatar Customization:
    • New, improved avatar meshes
    • Avatar Masks (new face shape and face skin for your avatar)
    • Avatar Physiques (new body and face shape and skin for your avatar)
    • Cloth editor: edit and upload Hair as an item for sale.
    • Avatar tongue model/setup
    • Mask and Physique editor
    • Avatar attachments and animation rigs
    • Animation workflow documentation
    • More sliders for the Face Customization UI
    Development Tools:
    • Avatar Editor:
      • Import custom avatar shapes and skins
      • Test the imported mesh with standard animations and clothing
      • Create displacement morphs (compared to the original mesh shape)Create normals for your custom mesh
      • Export your mesh and skin as an item for upload and for sale.
    • Allow JPG to be used for a texture to create items (the editors automatically convert it for you)
    Places Browser, Downloads:
    • Crash management for the Places Browser
    • Download Manager for the Places Browser
    • Download Manager with background download, notification, and City version checker
    • Improved download and streaming of some items.
    Developer MyPage:
    • Expanded Real Estate Page
    • Expanded dev MyPage with:
      • Billing history
      • Remember login email
      • Commands to manage tenants
    • Expanded Real Estate page:
      • Check files
    • Improved dev SDK installer with AR and NEWCO becoming optional installs
    • Upload Block, shop, and items for sale.
    Expanded User Mypage
    • user MyPage with:
      • BLU balance display
      • Enhanced Friends List
      • Messaging
    Content, Residences:
    • New City updates with a shops where you can purchase items.
    • Residences, and residence management

    Things are looking very good indeed.

    Rock