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Blue Mars Open Beta

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I tend to agree with Kanomi of Tiny Dancing in her funny post about Playing Blue Mars. It’s for boys. I registered weeks ago and watched my email and the spam folder too. Still no invitation. I opened a yahoo email account using a boyish name and four days later I have my invite. That could be coincidence. …right.

Updated 10/13/2009New Blue Mars Review Stuff Here
Updated 12/17/2009Blue Mars Goes Open Beta

Getting In & Installing

First one gets an invitation to sign up via email. Once you sign up using an email, user name and avatar name a confirmation email is sent with a confirmation thing to do and a link to download the viewer (1.2 gb). Once downloaded the install checks the download is OK and then your computer for compatibility. A good graphics card and at least a dual core or equivalent with max ram is required. This takes a few minutes.

Blue Mars Open Beta

Blue Mars Install Panel

Then one has three choices of install; Recommended/Complete, Minimum – to save disk space and Custom. Custom just gives one a choice of which of the 5 preloaded areas to install. The standard Windows install options for each area are: Install on Hard Drive, Entire install on hard drive and Unavailable. The first two are the same with Entire not really working. One gets a choice of where to install the game (1.3gb). Then which program group to add it to and whether it is for the current user or all users on the workstation.

One is advised to turn off their anti-virus and close all programs in the process.

Blue Mars Open Beta

Install Blue Mars Regions

Installing and writing this review took me about an hour and half to download, screen capture and install Blue Mars. An install will take about 15 to 30 minutes. The only odd thing, it did not show up in my Vista programs as a new install, you know the highlighted menu entry.

Blue Mars Open Beta

Blue Mars Avatar Selection

Logon is via your email address and password.  One first comes to the avatar appearance section. There are three ways to change the appearance of your AV; Variation – multiple choice from premade settings, Montage – picking from premade head shape, eyes, brows, lips, hair and race and Advanced – building your AV via slider settings. Only in Montage can one select race and hair. There are currently no options to change body shape or I missed them.

Once you select a face you cannot change it for 3 weeks. What? Why?

Blue Mars Open Beta

Blue Mars Additional Avatar Customization

Once in Blue Mars everyone looks pretty much a like except for their face and still I got the feeling of being a clone. I was disappointed as the appearance editor and my appearance in world while similar were not the same. My nose is way too long… :/ and it did not look that way when I was creating my face.

Blue Mars Open Beta

Blue Mars Staging Area - Nice Hair!

Once complete you rez into a welcome area (Staging Area) with everyone else rez’ing in on top of you. Reminds me of the old Myst Uru Online link ins. At least it avoids the SL trap of being caught in the air if the previous person does not move off the link in point.

Blue Mars Open Beta

Blue Mars Animation Selection Panel

Lots people standing around probably working through the tutorials, as I was. Each is a 30 second or so video with subtitles telling you how to do things. Click on the ground to walk there. Right click and drag to pan the camera around. Click the 4 arrows icon in the bottom menu to get the camera to zoom in or go to first person. As best I can tell there is no perv cam in Blue Mars, so no way to check out the cute guy AV’s … er girl AV’s … or which am I supposed to be looking at now? Changing from girl to boy to get in can be so confusing.

There seems to be a learning mode at work in the background. Or they are down loading stuff in background and more controls seem to work. Or may be stuff has to render first. I can’t tell. But, as time passed it seems I could do more with the right-mouse camera drag thing.

There is a Blue Mars web tutorial that lets you move through it much faster. This is pretty simple and there is not many ‘basic’ choices or tools at this point. So, there is a small learning curve. There seem to only be instructions for walking/running, camera zoom and camera move. I could never get the camera to pivot around anything but my AV. The camera feels very restricted compared to SL.

There are more tools for appearance. There is one to change animations, add face hair (a guy thing) and change clothes. Not many choices in clothes but that will change.

Walking

Walking in world is slow. I miss flying. It is awkward controlling the camera after being in SL. One has to play with it and realize that good photography and machinima are not going to be easy at this stage, but it is Open Beta. As one learns to use the camera and walk there are some interesting trade-offs to how things are done in SL. One can start walking and swing the camera around and the AV can continue on course. It made exploring much easier. Also when the camera was moved behind walls as the AV walked they turn transparent. Saves lots of problems I have in SL with camera control.

Blue Mars Open Beta

New Venice, Blue Mars Link Point

If you are on a balcony and want down… find the stairs. You can’t jump. Clicking on the ground below walks you into the railing and stops. Walking up some stairs doesn’t work if they are too steep. Others seem transparent to the click-walk and clicks produce odd results. On steep stairs try clicking to the left or right sides of the stairs and walk up them like you would ski down a steep slope going side to side. Press ESC if you get really hung up. That brings up instructions for teleporting to one of 9 fixed locations (at least in New Venice it does). Walking around things is annoying. If your path between two points clips a railing your AV stops.

Blue Mars Open Beta

New Venice - Myst Style View - Mixing Old Venice and Sci-Fi

Walking up Spiral Stairs is no fun in any world, other than RL. In Blue Mars spiral stairs teach one lots about how the AWSD keys and the camera work. The A & D keys always turn the AV to the left or right. But sometimes its left or right side of your screen, not the AV’s left or right. Other times it’s the AV’s left and right. I can’t tell what makes the difference. The S-key does not walk you backwards. It turns your AV around. W-key always walks your AV whichever way it faces. That takes some getting used to. Arrows are the same.

Sometimes the click-walk thing stops working. You are probably looking through a wall is why. Use the AWDS or arrow keys to keep moving until it clears. You can right-click drag to swing the camera clear so click-walk works again. Also there are things you think you can walk between and you can’t. The click-walk stops working those times too. Walk around.

Rock climbing seems to be out. Trying to go up anything steeper than shallow stairs is out.

Blue Mars Video Tutorials (10/2009): There are more and more video tutorials coming out for Blue Mars. The New Blue Mars Interface is a good 3:26 minute video for first time visitors. Of course YouTube will bring up a mixed list of Blue Mars related videos tutorials and reviews.

Golf Game

Blue Mars Open Beta

Blue Mars Golf Tutorial

There is a golf game. It feels very much like a game as one gets a splash screen, loses the ability to walk around and is locked into a very limited set of choices. To aim you right-click and drag. I could never find the flag until I was almost on the green. The controls are pretty obvious and you can skip the tutorial. It is surprisingly challenging.

New Venice

Blue Mars Open Beta

New Venice in Blue Mars

Blue Mars Open Beta

New Venice - Very Myst Style Build

New Venice is under construction but gorgeous. It has definite Myst style feel to the place. Think Sci-Fi and old Venice an interesting mix. Dynamic shadows are shown off well. One finds that you are restricted to walk ways. No jumping in the fountains or viewing-pools.

There are odd little map things that show you what is going on in a region. There is a quest with reward orbs one is supposed to be able to trade for valuable things. I found a working telescope and a condo with lots of nice stuff. Sail boats that work. Sailing up wind is more of a pain than it is in RL. If you get your boat in chains at least it doesn’t blow you backward. But forget sailing home.

New Venice is huge. The buildings far away get LoD down to the point they look like a back drop. One can walk over to them and they aren’t. Some were too far away to check out. So, there still might be a backdrop of two.

Waterfall

Blue Mars Open Beta

Flying in Waterfall Region of Blue Mars

This is a flying …adventure… …game may be. You see it in the trailers. You fly a little ship through floating rings. Once you get the key controls its not hard. AWSD and Ctrl (down) and Space (up) plus mouse steering. Place your little finger on the control key, thumb on the space, ring finger on A, index on D, middle on W and it works pretty well. The mouse steering is …strange… as it tends to under steer. You will need the A (slide left) & D keys (slide right) as well as the Ctrl & Space.

The waterfalls are cool. You can fly out of the main area and get to places that have to render. So you can see the base terrain and then see the textures load. These are well done professional textures.

Shade City

Blue Mars Open Beta

Shade City - Big Empty Building

As best I can tell this is just a huge empty area. Well a neat space age building and forest.

Beach City

Blue Mars Open Beta

Beach City in Blue Mars - Mall Area

This is more or less a shopping mall. It is empty except for a couple example items. Some builders were hanging out here talking about the development packages and what building and sales might be like in Blue Mars verses SL.

Blue Mars Open Beta

Beach City in Blue Mars - Developers Chating

Summary

Overall… nice… really nice. Graphics is way out there. The shadows are nice. There are no tools to see frame rates. My CPU’s were pegged most of the time. Never saw more than 6 or 7 people at a time. The avatar draw distance seems short. As I walked people were rez’ing in that obviously had been there for a time as they were talking to others. They just did not rez until I got close enough. Then they vanished as I walked past and I doubt they left or poofed.

I had to relog a couple of times. No machine lockups. I think I got a few freezes from lags. Those were only seconds. No rubber banding. No molasses. Of course no guns yet so no idea how that might work. I have no idea if they will allow combat games in Blue Mars. The avatar navigation I saw would make such games almost impossible. If they are planned then the Blue Mars people have some things they are not showing off yet.

It is worth a visit. I’m not ready to start buying land.

Update

I got a Developers SDK: Blue Mars Developer’s Tools Review
There are some more tips here for those using Blender 2.48a and up. See: blender with material and lods

Update 10/4/09

You can see performance statistics in your Blue Mars Viewer. It is pretty clunky process but it gets you numbers.

Go to your Program Files (C:\Program Files\) Find the Blue Mars folder and drill down to GAME then CONFIG. Use Notepad to create a text file named system.cfg. Type “r_displayinfo = 1” in the file and save it. Start Blue Mars and you will see stats. If you need help understanding the numbers check out Chapter & Metaverse.

To turn off stats just rename the file. Use something like xsystem.cfg or system.cfgx.

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