Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Visit to Blue Mars

Written 17 January, 2010

A Visit to Blue Mars

Yesterday Sweetie, having heard the new world Blue Mars was in open beta, wanted to visit.

I think it's the new home of the evil donut empire," she said. "I'm certain they're no longer on the Second Life grid."

We visited the Blue Mars website and opened accounts in our SL names (well, almost; we had to run our first and last names together). Five minutes later, we were logged in.

The various cities (regions) of Blue Mars are static; they must be downloaded to the hard drive before you can visit them (I suspect any change to a city will require a new download when you log in, what a pain!). Downloading is doubly annoying because after waiting you must quit and restart the world.

There were about a dozen cities from which to choose. We selected the Caledonian region of Blue Mars. Caledonia is the brainchild of Caledon owner Desmond Shang, who has clearly invested heavilily in Blue Mars. I think he's mad.

We downloaded the files, quit Blue Mars, restarted the program, clicked on Caledonia, and were in world.

Chey looking at Caledonia. The houses are mesh-based and there is nothing inside them.

People have marveled about Blue Mars' graphics; I found them only marginally better than the more sophisticated areas of Second Life. I was, however, impressed, with the size of Caledonia; it covered as much area as perhaps nine Second Life sims.

There's not much one can do in Blue Mars. We walked around a lot (after we learned how; it was a challenge) and looked at stuff with another new Blue Marsian named ruruwat. Several crashes later we left Caledonia and visited a few other cities.

Chey and Sweetie talking to ruru, who has disappeared from our screens.
Note my chat box has been pushed off the left side of the screen.
I was finally able, by gaming the game, to fix it.

Another Blue Mars city. Notice the horrible
terrain texture tiling. Arrgh! My eyes!

There wasn't much to do besides walk. We could interact with one another in a rudimentary way, chatting and doing simple animations from a pop-out menu that covered half my screen. We were able to friend one another, and, at the welcome area, we could sit in chairs.

Chat appeared in pop-ups above our avatars' heads, and also in a chat history box. My box was off the screen, so I had a hard time "hearing" what Sweetie and ruru were saying; I had to turn and face them and move close before the chat bubbles faded. I missed a lot of the chat because all but the rightmost letters of chat were pushed off my screen.

Moving about was a nightmare. We moved by clicking at the ground; our avatars then ran or (if the destination was distant) ran to the resulting blue area.

Chey and Sweetie going for a jog.

For some reason the camera didn't follow the turning of our avies. It made for clunky locomotion, let me tell you! Turning the avi was accomplished with the left and right arrow keys; turning the cam required the use of the right mouse button.
The camera could be zoomed, but only in a rudimentary fashion. There were just four levels of zoom, and they had to be selected from a menu that sometimes took all of five seconds to respond. Half the time my avi would walk to the spot corresponding to the camera icon.

Flight is possible in one Blue Mars city, but we didn't go to the flight areas.

We were able to customize our avis to some extent, but the ability to change was limited to hair, skin color, makeup, and facial features. There seems to be no ability to make avis shorter, taller, fatter, thinner, younger, or older, or to change in the hundreds of ways possible in Second Life.

What was most remakable about Blue Mars was all the things it lacked. Communication was limited to chat, which seemed to work throughout the cities. Imagine hearing the hundreds of avatars Blue Mars is supposed to be able to host, all at once. Argh! My ears!

There were no groups, no IM capability, no ability to teleport, no remote camming, and no build tools (building is done off world by approved content developers, and all builds must be approved by Blue Mars personnel). There was no map, no search capabilities, no ability to report or otherwise deal with griefers, no easy way to reach friends.

Blue Mars is in early beta. Not surprisingly, we crashed quite a bit and saw a lot of visual glitches. Many essential features (IMs, groups, map, teleports. a cam that follows avis) are no doubt in development and will eventually appear in the client.

If you visit, be sure NOT to adjust the graphics settings! I did, and the program became unusuable. I was able to recover only because Sweetie, supersleuth that she is, found instructions for fixing graphics problems (C:\Documents and Settings\[YOUR NAME]\My Documents\My Games\Blue Mars). There you'll find a file named game.cfg. Close Blue Mars, delete this file, and restart, and you should recover.

By editing game.cfg with Notepad, I was able to change the height and width so Blue Mars fit close to the sides of my rightmost monitor. r_Height = 73 and 1r_Width = 1425 worked for me.

Blue Mars has been described as a Second Life killer. It's not. I'll soon talk about what it is and is not.

For now, however, let me just say my brief foray into Blue Mars was far from compelling. Despite its much-vaunted graphics engine-- shows little promise as a virtual world. As a place to play games it should fare well.


Miyo Darcy said...

Absolutly fair article.. at the moment there is nothing positiv to say about bluemars. I dont see any future there.

celestial elf said...

Great article really good to read an unbiased and objective review....

Thought you might like my machinima on Copyright useage of these VR worlds...

Cheyenne Palisades said...

Really good video! And that was perfect music for the background!