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Blue Mars Developer Tools

Blue Mars Block Editor

To create things in Blue Mars one must become a developer. So, how easy is it to register? No problem. How easy is it to build something in Blue Mars? Not very.

Registration

First, one registers on the Blue Mars site and gains access to the Developers’ section of the Blue Mars web site. The tools needed to build things for Blue Mars can be downloaded from within the section. The developer is getting a sub-licensed copy of CryEngine 2 MOD SDK*. Easy enough. Blue Mars is supposed to offer more control over ownership of created items. From the look of the info on your personal developer’s page it looks like that will be the case.

On my registration I used Blender as my modeling program of choice. I think any program that is capable of a Collada export is likely acceptable. You don’t have to have 3DMax or Maya to be quickly accepted, at least I did not. And this is registering not the licensing some have called it. Don’t be scared off.

Blue Mars Developer Tools

Blue Mars Download Options

There are seven possible downloads. There is The Editor, the standard Blue Mars client, the ColladaMax plugin for Max, Maya, 3DS Max and Photoshop Tiff exporter. There is a Collada exporter for Blender that works through versions 2.48 (included in basic Blender so you won’t see it as a download item) and is said to fail in version 2.49 (as of 9/09). Easy enough so far.

Installing

The install package requires agreement with two EULA’s both related to Avatar Reality’s use of CryEngine and CryEngine Tools. All rights in anything you make, called New Assets or Artwork, is yours, they explicitly say so. There are some restrictions on how one says they made the assets with CryEngine tools. One is not overly restricted by these terms. Easy enough and good so far.

The programs install in their own folder in Programs. In your Vista Programs you will have a new folder labeled Blue Mars Developer Tools. Within it you have 4 tools; Blue Mars Block Editor, Cloth Editor, Item Editor and Shop Editor. Block in this use means a block like a city block, a parcel of land.

Getting Started

The quick start guide is a wiki: Blue Mars Sandbox Item Editor Manual.  Don’t count on these to teach you much. They are a just a summary of the basic commands. They are not tutorials.

Blue Mars Developer Tools

Blue Mars Cloth Editor

All of the ‘tools’ are nice 3D rendering tools for checking models and adjusting textures made in other 3D modeling programs, i.e., 3DMax, Max, Maya, Blender and anything that can export to Collada format. It seems their primary purpose is to check work, allow detailed previewing and package for import to Blue Mars.

There is an extensive Blue Mars Tools Manual using 3DMax for the examples.

If you are from Second Life, you are probably wondering how this matches to SL’s process. I see it as similar to the sculpty creation process. One uses whatever modeling program to make the sculpty. On import to SL you get a little preview window. The Blue Mars CryEngine Tools take the place of that little preview window. They add much more than a preview. In SL one usually does all the modeling and texturing within SL except for sculpties. Here are the instructions for using 3DMax to export a cube for use in the CryTools and eventual import to Blue Mars. Not for the faint of heart. I’ll go through a similar Blender example below.

Here is the main index page of the Blue Mars Developers’ Manual. Once one looks through this it is obvious Blue Mars is catering to the professional 3D modelers. New Venice certainly has the look of professionals crafting a world. Newbies to 3D modeling are likely to be overwhelmed. This is doable but it is not easy if you are new.

If you seriously want to learn 3D modeling and texturing, this is your chance. If you want to whip out dresses for Blue Mars like you do in SL… this is going to be a problem.

Using the Tools

I’m a Blender fan and user. So, I wanted to check out that process. I’ve used Blender on and off for some time. I can make things and get the UVMaps on them, but I’m no expert on Blender or modeling. So, avoid taking my words as gospel.

Blue Mars Developer Tools

Blue Mars Hang Glider

Blue Mars Developer Tools

Blue Mars Editor and Viewer Active

The Item Editor is the tool I figure is the first shot. It’s about as intuitive as Blender. Read the quick start manual. If you have been in Blue Mars then it’s going to feel familiar. Importing the test model hang glider in the example folders works well. You can actually test it in a private Blue Mars world environment. You are actually asked to log into Blue Mars. Aaaah! My AV suddenly has black hair. Other than that all works well and there is the hang glider.

Doing some searching on Collada and Blender I find the Collada exporter 1.4 in Blender 2.48a is supposed to work. In later versions of Blender it supposedly fails. Oh darn. I was planning to upgrade for Domino’s Primstar sculpty tools for SL. That’s on hold now. But, I’m good for Blue Mars. My upgrade will have to be a separate install.

I figure I should try a simple Blender model. The default cube is hard to screw up, I’ll use that. Reading the Blue Mars Developers Forum I know something about what needs to be done to make this work. The Blender model will need to be UV Mapped. Ok, to Photoshop for a quick texture and save that as a TIFF. A TIFF is what the Blue Mars tools will need. We are going for a .dae and .tif set of files out of Blender.

I get my cube UV Mapped and do a test render in Blender. Looks ok to me. I export via Collada 1.4. I’ve got my .dae and move a copy of the .tif into the same folder.

Blue Mars Developer Tools

Expert File Conversion Panel

Now opening the Item Editor I do an import and select the .dae file. The converter opens and I use the Expert tab and do a step by step conversion. I check the result logs and all looks good. I do the load and have the prettiest little invisible cube you’ve ever not seen.

Back to the forum. Not many people there yet, but answers appear in a couple of hours. A bit of digging and I decide to do a .tif conversion from Photoshop. They have that plug-in for PS. (CryTIFPlugin.8bi) One is supposed to be able to drop that into PS’s File Formats (C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop CS3\Plug-Ins\File Formats) and have it work. Doing that just triggered an error notice that libtiff3.dll was not installed and to reinstall the application. Removing the CryTIFPlugin.8bi stops the error. There is a copy of libtiff3.dll in the folder C:\Program Files\Blue Mars Developer Tools\Bin32. Adobe usually puts their .dll files in C:\Program Files\Adobe\Adobe Photoshop CS3. Dropping libtiff3.dll there changed the problem and now jpeg62.dll is needed. That too is in Bin32. Next zlib1.dll is needed. PS loads ok once those are added. But then it can’t find the resource engine when you try the save as dds… sheesh, which hangs PS. Ok remove those .dll’s and the Cry plug-in. (Later I found the ‘good’ install instructions: Installing the CryTIF Plugin. The ones in the read me are incomplete.)

Blue Mars Developer Tools

nVidia DSS File Format for Photoshop

Digging in the developer’s forum I find a possible work-around. NVidia has a DSS tool for Photoshop. Cool. It even has a 16 page PDF manual. Installing that, I can create .dds files. I do that and stuff it in with the other files for this test. Re-import and I still have an invisible cube. Creating a new material I find I cannot browse outside the Blue Mars Dev. Tools folder for textures… ummm.

Later I find out that I have to put all the objects and materials in the folder named: C:\Program Files\Blue Mars Developer Tools\Game\Objects\MyData

Now things start working. But my cute cube persists in hiding. Seems Blender sets the opacity to 0%. One has to go into materials and set that to 100%. Open the material editor within the Item Editor and expand the MyData branch of the tree until you find it. My offset texture comes in and my pretty little invisible cube gives up its hidden life to become an odd looking cube.

If you want to keep data files out of the program files and off the C:\ drive, use a junction link that seems to work just fine.

Result

Blue Mars Developer Tools

Blue Mars Item Editor's Material Editor

From Blender to Blue Mars is actually easier once you have things set correctly. Second Life lacks the features the Item Editor has such as, bump maps, a specular, normal, environment, detail, opacity, decal, subsurface, 2 customs and a UV Modifier. There is glow, vertex deformation and material layer presets for frozen, wet or cloaked. It is no wonder Blue Mars’ stuff looks better than Second Life’s.

I said Second Life lacks… but is capable of these features and has several of them; they have just simplified and restricted them for their target audience. For instance SL has bump maps but only a few. Blue Mars allows you to make you own. Now that Blue Mars is in open Beta we may see them moving to provide advanced tools for experienced 3D modelers and removing some of the restrictions. That new SL user interface that is being designed may allow different interfaces by experience setting.

The Future

Blue Mars and Second Life have different approaches to how things are built. Also different targets for who will be building for their worlds. It appears there is no way to stack some primitives and have a quick house. One will model in a 3D modeling program, map UV textures, tweak in the Item Editor and then import to Blue Mars. This appears to be the process used by most games/worlds other than SL. This means it is far more likely advanced builders will be building for Blue Mars.

Blue Mars Developer Tools

Avatar Clothes for Blue Mars

Avatars and clothes work differently than SL’s. See the image. Even simple clothes will require one to model and texture them in a 3D modeling program. One can even build complete avatars in CryEngine. Whether that is permitted in Blue Mars I have not figured out.

Because of the complexity it limits how many people are likely to be building for Blue Mars. It will give Blue Mars a better looking world. But will it populate like Second Life? I can’t decide. From what I see so far, I doubt it. If Blue Mars is just builders, who is left to buy stuff?

There is a not-all-that interesting post Lots of info on Blue Mars that has lots of really interesting comments posted. Check it out for more on what people think of Blue Mars so far.

It looks like the dividing line between the builders and buyers is becoming more sharply defined. I build and the profits from that are used to buy the things I want in SL. So, the economy in Blue Mars may work. For me to sell in Blue Mars I’m going to have to learn a bunch more to be competitive. I’m not sure how many will be willing to spend the time. If lots aren’t, the economy in Blue Mars may not be viable.

Update

There are some more tips here for those using Blender 2.48a and up. See: blender with material and lods

Update 10/13/2009

There is now a walk through by Corey Evans for the Cloth Editor.  Blue Mars Cloth editor walkthrough

Second Life’s Future

I think when SL allows users to easily import meshes and add user made bump maps then SL and Blue Mars will be about equal in what builders can do and appearance. New Venice is gorgeous. But there are places like Waterfall where there is so much detail it starts to pixilate. In RL our brain translates those little bits of color from leaves fluttering as leaves fluttering. On screen that compensation does not kick in. Instead it just looks odd as single pixels change colors. Blue Mars’s visual advantage may not be that great.

The next few months will be interesting.

* also known as known as CryEngine 2, CryEngine 2 Sandbox Editor, and any computer software program and/or source codes commonly known as CryEngine 2 Tools, owned and licensed by Crytek GmbH.

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