Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why I Will Never Be a Martian

Written 14 September, 2010

Why I will Never Be a Martian


Holy Moley!!! Hamlet Au Goes Insane!

The subtitle is caged from The Bot Zone blogpost which addresses well-known journalist Hamlet (Wagner James) Au's announcement that he's picking up his marbles and moving to another virtual world.

Hamlet hasn't exactly abandoned Second Life (or New World Notes), but he pretty much announced he's applied for citizenship in Blue Mars.

Hamlet cites Blue Mars developer Avatar Reality's promise that Blue Mars will eventually run properly on low-power devices like iPods and netbooks via cloud computing, already-in-use COLLADA-compatible meshes, a well-developed content creation system, and high-level management types who come from a gaming background as the reason for his defection from Second Life.

Did I say defection? I meant to say emigration.

Hamlet's fifth point-- compatability with Macs-- is specious, as getting Blue Mars to run on an Apple requires some under-the-dash tweaking.

As soon as the Blue Mars open beta was available (after more than a year, Blue Mars is still in beta), Sweetie and I created accounts and went exploring (read about it here and here. We found a world with solid houses (no insides), few avatars (which is still the case), and crappy movement and camera controls. Some of the scenery was breathtaking, but  Blue Mars was a static and we thought user-unfriendly world.

By static, I mean STATIC. Not only was everything deathly still; the scenery was unmodifiable except by upload by landowners.

There were no instant messaging or groups, and chat was by creepy cartoon bubbles. Moving from one region to another required a restart of the program. The ability to modify avatars was limited to Barbie-and-Ken mode. There will apparently be no fat or short avies on Blue Mars.

Some of the above limitations (camera control, communications) are amenable to modification and already there are improvements-- but our main problem with Blue Mars is unlikely to ever change.

And here it is in a nutshell: Blue Mars is, in our opinion, a world created to allow a small number of highly financed people to sell virtual content to the rest of us.

The existence of parallel consumer and content creator accounts was proof, so far as Sweetie and I were concerned, that Blue Mars was never meant to be our world.

For months now we've been getting two versions of the Blue Mars newsletters-- one for developers, and one for those of us expected to buy the goods of those developers. The most frequent topic is avatar enhancements and fashion for human-style avatars; there's very much an oh, boy, new clothing! tone.

There is no in-world content creation in Blue Mars. Objects must be made in expensive mesh programs or the hard-to-learn Blender. This sets a very high bar, ensuring only those with extensive CGI experience can make create content. The rest of us will be free to work hard for a year or so so we, too can make clothing.

There are no prims on Blue Mars; maybe the colonizers got hungry and ate them on the long voyage from Earth. The world, unlike Second Life, is unchangeable. It's not possible to move things from one place to another, or alter them in any way, or add new objects or delete existing ones-- except by uploading the entire region from a hard drive. Imagine that!

It's crystal clear that your role, and mine, on Blue Mars, is to create a consumer account and buy stuff. It's the same sort of oppressive only-the-big-boys-and-girls can play corporate model that causes so much misery in the real world. We are free to buy things and play dress-up. We're not expected to exercise our creativity. We're not expected to create our own spaces. We're not free to play our part in the world in which we're expected to live-- unless we can jump the considerable hurdle and create our own meshes.

When the Blue Mars beta opened, it was possible to buy a small area-- an outpost-- which would host five or so avatars for just $30 USD a month. Now outposts are "sold out" (a bizarre concept in a virtual environment in which anything can be duplicated instantly in any quantity). This leave the cheapest area one can buy for one's own costing $750 USD to set up and $275 USD a month, with a maximum avatar limit of 50. This is roughly the cost of a sim in Second Life.

Those who choke at that price are free to rent a block-- which sounds roughly equivalent to renting land from Anshe Chung in Second Life. A "city developer" sets the limits and without a doubt tells rents what they may and may not do.

Yep,another way for the corporate leaches to suck the rest of us dry.

No amount of CryEngine graphics, meshes, or cloud computing will make a static world compelling. No amount of razzle-dazzle can equal a world in which anything can change in any way at any time. Consequently, Blue Mars may become a nice place to play paper dolls or play pay-for games, but it's hardly a place where anyone can reasonably live. Unless they want to just be a virtual yuppie.

Not long ago, in his blog, Hamlet captured Second Life perfectly. It's too far back to reasonably find, so I can't paste his words here, but he nailed the adsurdity and creativity and spontaneity of SL.

If you read this, Hamlet, I ask you to go take a look at those words and tell me how they could possibly ever apply to Blue Mars.


Brinda said...

I'm happy to see that some one else saw exactly the same things I did in Blue Mars...I tried, I really did, it's not for me.
If that platform had come out in say year 2000 it might have been able to say, "Latest and Greatest".
Today it looks more like and exotic, well painted, glittery wagon....it's still a wagon next to the latest exotic cars.
I remember when *Pong* was the latest and greatest!

Hamlet Au said...

Chey, you make a lot of good points. I'll address the Mac issue soon on my blog and the Blue Mars blog soon. I can definitely say the user experience is changing fairly quickly, so you may want to check it out in the next few months. Far as comparisons to Second Life, to me it's not an either/or. SL does great things that Blue Mars can't do, and vice versa. That said, here's some things worth thinking about:

- Second Life isn't growing measurably. Yes, all the anarchy and freeform creativity is awesome, but for whatever reason, it's not attracting new users in large numbers.
- Dynamic prim-based creation is great, but has limitations. Meshes are difficult to learn, as you say, but because Linden is introducing them into SL, they'll probably become standard in the next year anyway. And while I love prims as a creative tool, it's difficult for creators skilled in prims to transfer their skills to real world jobs building 3D content. Or for that matter, to save and own their content on their computer.
- Most of Second Life is static too. The most popular locations in SL rarely change, certainly not on a dynamic basis. The sandboxe sims are great fun, but they probably account for less than 5% of the total user activity.

Ultimately I'd like to see the market for SL and Blue Mars grow much much bigger than it is, and see a healthy interaction between them, and the rest of the Internet.

Cheyenne Palisades said...

Thanks, Hamlet, for your comment.

You're certainly right about Second Life-- and for that matter, Blue Mars-- to attract significant numbers of people. Hopefully better management will put SL back into a growth phase, and hopefully BM will get more users also. But I wonder if any virtual world will appeal to the great unwashed. I think the Facebook/Farmville mentality is about five years away from appreciating 3-D worlds. Most people just don't seem to get it.

Whether they use prims or sculpties or meshes, to engage minds virtual worlds must empower all of us. SL to date has done that, and I think it will even after meshes.

I hope your expectations for BM are exceeded.