Blue Mars is a 3D massively multiplayer virtual world platform currently in open beta. It falls in the general category of social virtual worlds allowing user-created content.
Blue Mars was inspired by a vision of the future when the power to terraform whole worlds is within our grasp. The name Blue Mars represents possibility and hope.
Despite the title and the fact that Mars has been terraformed, the game has nothing to do with the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson.
Platform and Technology
The platform being developed by Hawaii-based Avatar Reality allows 3rd parties to create virtual worlds, MMOG games, simulations, shops, businesses, entertainment venues, clothing, custom avatars, furniture, virtual homes, and other items. It consists of four main parts: the client software, the Sandbox Editor SDK suite, the website, and the host servers.
The client software is a free download, and includes the “Welcome Area”, face editing area, default avatars, clothing and animations. Additional cities to visit are optional downloads via a “Places Browser”. New cities and updates to existing ones are offered as downloads when they become available.
The editor suite is a free download after upgrading to a developer account. It currently consists of nine editors with specialized purposes (Animation, Block, Body, City, Cloth, Furniture, Interior, Item, and Shop), a developer version of the client software for testing, and reference and sample data.
Both the client software and Editor suite utilize the CryEngine 2 rendering engine originally developed by Crytek. The video game Crysis also runs on CryEngine 2. The graphics engine is being modified by Avatar Reality, and features not part of a combat game but needed for a virtual world are being added. Content can be created on many 3rd party 3D and graphics programs so long as they can output a COLLADA interchange file format 3D model or TIFF or Direct Draw Surface image formats. They are then converted to CryEngine native .cgf and .dds formats as needed via the provided development tools.
The website provides account registration, access to player inventory and friends lists, and member and developer forums.
The host servers deliver city data files, individual item and avatar files, and player interaction and updates when logged in. Currently in the demonstration stage is a “Fusion Render Cloud” system with remote rendering for devices without adequate graphics cards, and without the need for a client download and installation.
Avatars can freely move around in locations known as “cities”, and interact with scripted objects and other avatars. Each location may have custom features added by the city designer for entertainment, game, shopping, business or other uses.
- Account Settings: Custom display names, friends list, and groups.
- Avatar Customization: Custom clothing, hair, body shape, and skins can be applied. In world face editing and makeup.
- Communication: Local text and voice chat, and text private messages.
- External Links: Adobe Flash integration with client, outbound and inbound URL links.
- Money System: Internal “Blue Mars Dollars” are used for shopping and rentals. They can be bought with real money, earned within Blue Mars, and cashed out by developers via PayPal.
- City Specifications: Maximum dimensions are 16x16x8 km playable volume per city, with 8×8 km terrain map. Maximum file size 1 GB of unique compressed data, with 64K placed objects, and 16K rendered objects and 4K active scripted objects at any one time. Maximum numbers of concurrent avatars, rented land blocks, and shops depends on hosting price plan.
June 2009 – Avatar Reality started closed beta testing
September 2, 2009 – Reached “open beta” status, with version 0.5822.
December 17, 2009 – version 0.6589 of the beta software was released. This version added a “places browser”, which allows selective downloading of city data, and Flash functionality within the player client. At the same time the website was revamped, new cities opened, and pricing was announced for city hosting.
February 18, 2010 – version 0.7470 was released. This version added a “Body Editor” to create custom Avatars.
April 5, 2010 – version 0.8237 was released. This version added custom hair creation, and improved chat features in the client software. The “world” at this point consists of 15 visitable cities with a small number of activities and working shops.
July 1, 2010 to Current version – Details of changes can be found on the Blue Mars Developer Wiki Release Notes Page
The development roadmap plans release of more features incrementally on roughly a six week cycle.
As of November 2010, there are approximately 3500 registered users on their beta forums, and approximately 330 developers who are creating cities, games 3D environments, and individual items for Blue Mars. Most of these developers are individuals, small groups or indie game developers. Developer registration is free as is the developer kit, although some external 3D graphics software may require purchase.