Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Blue Mars Roadmap: Second Stop

Today saw the launch of another significant Blue Mars release, with important updates to the Client, MyPage, and the SDK, although I will confine this article to just the Client and MyPage.

As there were so many changes to the Client the new release was a full release, Version 0.0.8237.0, rather than a patch. So, what's new?

Well, there are no new cities in this release, but there are some changes to existing cities. The Welcome Area gets better Time of Day, so it is not as dark now (but cloud shadows still drift across the land, when there are no clouds anywhere near the sun), plus some bug fixes; and Beach City has a "recent golf games" board in the Golf shop.

The main changes are these:

Private Messaging:

  • Click on a friend's name in your Friends list to open a private chat with them.
  • Currently has full logging enabled for PM.  Your chat text will be saved in the window even when you exit the Blue Mars client.
  • Handles multiple tabs of private messages which can be closed separately.
  • Click the minimize button on chat window to close window.
  • Note: The Friends list will be scrollable in the next release of the Client.
There is an immediate bug with this new functionality. If someone sends you a PM you get no notification that they have, in order for you to respond. A little like having a phone with no ring function (how do you answer it if iit does not ring?). I then checked MyPage to see if some test PMs sent by Friends inworld showed up in the Message Inbox. They didn't.

Unfortunately,  the Friends Lists still has the bug that if you have a lot of friends, only around 22 of them can be displayed, as this next image shows:

so if you wanted to PM someone, and their name is not in the first 22 displayed names, you cannot (except through your MyPage). This needs fixing asap.

  • Mouse wheel can now be used to control the camera distance.
  • The Camera View Change button in the Menu Tray has changed. 
  • Screenshot facility (undocumented, see note, two paragraphs below))
It did seem to me that the mouse wheel did not change the camera distance smoothly. Previously if you kept clicking on the Camera icon you cycled from 10m behind the avatar to 5m behind, to 1m behind, to First Person View. It now seems to me that the mouse wheel just replicates these 4 settings, with no interpolation between the settings, giving a jerky feel to the 'zoom'. I hope this is remedied in the future, and the range is extended to much further than 10m behind the avatar. In other Virtual Worlds, such as Second Life, you can zoom the camera over the Draw Distance, which can be set quite high. I usually have mine set at 512m, so zooming out gives a broad perspective of a region or City. It should be even higher for Blue Mars, given the huge sizes of Cities compared with the regions of Second Life. At least 1Km I would recommend.

I also do not like the use of a movie camera icon now for the camera (the previous camera icon now being reserved for a future Screenshot facility. But I have found that the Screenshot facility is already working. Just press F12 while the main window has the focus, then navigate to the My Documents\My Games\BlueMars\Screenshots folder, and your screenshot will be there). I would recommend the standard magnifying glass icons for the camera zoom functions, and the camera icon for screenshots.

The Preferences (brought up by clicking the Spanner icon, or by pressing Escape when the main window has the focus) has a new look, and more settings:

Screen Resolution: Change window size. Default is 1280 x 720.
Rendering Quality: Change render quality.
Set to High for better quality, set to Low for better performance.
Display Name: On: Display your avatar's name overhead.
Off: Hide your avatar's name overhead (but others will still see it).

Pointer Click Sound: On: Play a sound when you click the ground.
Off: Do not play a sound when you click the ground.

Show Bubbles: On: Show chat bubbles.
Off: Turn off chat bubbles.
Text Size: small: 50%, medium: Default, large: 200%
Max Distance: Distance that the other avatars' chat bubbles will be visible.
0m: Only your avatar's chat bubbles are visible.

One bug already found with switching chat bubbles off, is that it also switches off the display of avatar names above the heads of nearby avatars. The QA team are aware of this and are working on a fix.


  • All Pages
    • Added proper labels to each page on browser header and tabs
    • Loading icon now appears center.
  • Message Management (Message Page)
    • Fixed issue when adding a large amount of friends when composing a message.  Should now be contained in a scrollable text area.
    • Added counter for each message folder (inbox, sent, trash).
  • Friend Management (Friends Page)
    • Added background coloring
    • Added search filtering when searching for a friend on Blue Mars
    • Able to compose a message through the Friend's list
    • Scrolling through the friend's list is now smoother (only when using mouse).
I found that searching for Friends had several bugs. When I searched for the AR staffer, Summer Studios, using 'Summer' in the avatar firstname box, I got several hits with avatars using 'Summer' as their firstname, or part of their firstname, but I also got several hits of avatars with no sign of 'Summer' anywhere in their names. I also searched for Zoomer, who is on my Friends List, but a search for 'Zoomer' produced zero results!

But hey, it is still in beta, so these bugs are what they are expecting us to report on.