Sunday, 7 February 2010

Digital DNA

Beautiful rainbow over the falls

One of the new cities added to the Blue Mars portfolio last week was Digital DNA, created by Angela Talamasca. This is the first city in Blue Mars to use the Voxel-created cave system in the terrain, and the first to use rainbows.

Intrigued by both its beauty and its unusual name I managed to catch up with Angela using Avatars United, to find out more about her first offering.

Interview with Angela Talamasca

Q. Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, were you in other virtual worlds before Blue Mars?

I have worked in the technology industry for three decades and have been following the development of virtual worlds for years [Angela's background is in Electrical/Electronic engineering, chip design, and crime scene analysis!]. My passion is artifical intelligence. Some years ago, I wrote a conversational AI that was debuted in dot net, but I was unhappy with the outcome, because it wasn't really intelligent. So, I ended up returning to school to study psychology and how we learn. AI is still definitely my primary focus but I am having fun playing catch up where graphics are concerned.

Beach scene made more realistic by the use of natural birds

Q. Do you have any Crysis Sandbox experience, or did you learn the Blue Mars editors from scratch?

I have no experience with cryengine. In fact, the first time I had actually heard of Cryengine was from the Blue Mars announcement, as I am not an FPS gamer. The short answer? Yes, I am definitely learning the Blue Mars editors from scratch.

Q.  Was it all trial and error, or did you get any help from any of the other devs in Blue Mars?

This build was a mix of trial and error, lots of Google searches, watching "how to" Youtube videos, and of course, lots of help from the other Blue Mars developers.

You never know what lies around the next bend

Q. What do you think about the current level of tools and documentation for the Blue Mars editors?

I have mixed feelings about the tools. However it is important to recall, my background is on the hardware / coding side, as opposed to graphics. That being said, the tools are not intuitive for beginners and the lack of documentation is horrendous. The latter would be, by far, my biggest gripe. In that I end up spending a huge amount of time that could be better used for the build.

Q. Where did you get your idea from for Digital DNA? And how did you arrive at the name?

I would love to give you a catchy reason but in honesty, I chose it due to the real life crime scene recreations I was doing in SL, and it sort of stuck. [And the fireflies?] I created the fireflies because I kept getting lost. [What? In your own city?] Sad to say, yes. The fireflies were like a sort of Hansel and Gretel crumb idea so I wouldn't get lost so often. But don't pass on that tip! [Yeah, right :)]

There must be more to this toadstool than meets the eye...

Q. How long did the work take you from starting out with Digital DNA to get it ready for upload?

About a month. I downloaded the tools on the 18th of December and submitted the build on the 18th of January.

Q. Have you been surprised by all the positive feedback you have received?

In a way, yes. Simply because there's not really much to do. Nothing interactive, etcetera. And, in a way, no. While it is far from perfect at this point, I am very pleased with the way it is shaping up.

Q. What are the three most important things you would like to see introduced into the Blue Mars client?

Only three? [chuckle].

Okay, I would say avatar modification would be at the top of the list. Or at the very least, more choices. The very first thing people want to do when they enter a virtual world is to change their appearance.

The scale of this development is breathtaking

Second in line would be search. I have friends who are using Blue Mars but unless I am here at the same time they are, there is no way to friend them, or to find them, much less keep in contact with them via this platform.

Which brings up the third thing. Communication. Open, friend, and group chats that extend beyond a single city. As well as logging and instant messaging. Voice would be great too, at some point.

Q. And the three most important things missing from the SDK?

Definitely a TOD trigger for the flowgraph editor, which comes standard with the Crysis cryengine.

There are also a number of items they provide in the basic sandbox that are missing textures. So, I would say they should either get rid of them, or provide the textures.

And finally, but certainly not least, is documentation. In fact, the lack documentation is by far the biggest frustration I have with respect to learning these tools. And while the Crymod portal has a variety of documents, tips, and even tutorial videos, those do not always apply to the Blue Mars implementation of that product.

Amazingly realistic cave system created with Voxels

Q. What are your future plans for Digital DNA?

I am really not sure yet, though it will have something to do with solving puzzles. Currently you really need to be able to fly to take in all of Digital DNA, but I am not just going to give that ability away, it will have to be earned! [can't wait!]

Thanks very much Angela

You're welcome : )