Dale Visits Blue Mars

Finally all trace of the NDA was scrubbed from the website registration and the installer, and I was able to get into the Blue Mars Beta! I wasn’t able to get there for very long, because RL has been amazingly busy suddenly with work stuff, and college starting, and computers needing upgrade and replacement, and driving children around, and so on, but I think I got enough for a weblog entry. :)

The first message is that you should not go to Blue Mars expecting to compare it, in its present form, to Second Life, or WoW, or anything else. It’s still very much in Beta, and the only reason to go there at this stage is to be a beta-tester, help them try out their software under load, push buttons and tell them if anything breaks, get an early view of a new virtual place, and like that. In terms of actual user experience and the state of the world, there’s nothing there yet that isn’t already done better in Second Life. Which isn’t to say that there won’t be eventually; just go in with the appropriate expectations.

One thing that isn’t there yet is avatar customization. Here’s the current Dale Innis:

Dale in Blue Mars

Bland boy in bland clothes.

Here I am talking to friend GoSpeed, who has been in the Beta quite a bit longer, and has posted at least one very nice posting on it.

Dale in Blue Mars, with GoSpeed

She is showing me around New Venice, which is a very nice build. (All of the current Blue Mars was built by professionals, and it’s quite well-done and pretty, although none of it is at the level of, say, Pteron in SL.)

Note the multi-colored chat balloons. I hate them. :) And so does everyone else in the beta, if the forums are any indication.

One funny quirky thing: as I said, AV customization is quite limited, and there are very few clothes available (it is a beta after all), but there is a tool that lets you draw colored smudges all over your face! Here I am putting a purple glow on my forehead.

Dale in Blue Mars; glowing face spot!

Drama-wise, I’ve noticed two Controversial Issues in Blue Mars already.

First, in a discussion of how non-humans AVs might work in BM, some troll posted a nasty anti-furry comment, and it’s still there. It’s not clear to what extent the BM folks are actually monitoring the forums at all. They hardly ever post there, and for that matter they don’t post to their own weblog much. Their main means of communication seems to be Twitter, which is very Web 2.0 and all :) but a little odd.

And second, there’ve been a few small things which, while harmless enough in themselves, are raising the worry that, where SL was inspired by Burning Man, Blue Mars might turn out to be inspired by, say, FMH. :)

The initial female animations are painfully quasi-sexy and simpering, and the initial male ones annoyingly strutty. BM announced the addition of skimpy bikinis to the female default clothing set as though it were an important new advance. And then we hear of the occasional appearance of swarms of NPC groupies around some male players, scantily clad and saying dumb things (see for instance this SLUniverse posting).

I do hope that this is just a coincidence of anomalies, and not an indication of the guiding spirit inside Blue Mars HQ.

So anyway! :) That’s the summary. In terms of actual beta feedback, here’s what I wrote on the Blue Mars forum. (I’m not linking to things on the forums, because many of you probably haven’t signed up there, and wouldn’t be able to follow the links.) Warning: it’s long!


Background: I’m a heavy SL user, moderate WoW user, don’t play any modern graphic-intensive FPS type games. Just got into Blue Mars tonight (because I’d been waiting until all trace of the NDA was scrubbed from the registration process!).

As far as content, there’s not much to do but wander around and help beta-test by letting the AR team watch things not crashing. :) But that’s expected since it’s the beta an’ all. I look forward to seeing what sorts of things start to appear once content creators start creating content. I might even sign up for that myself, once *that* NDA is lifted.

Feedback on game mechanics and stuff (none of which will be new, I suspect):

Really really slow, even with the highspec.cfg trick, setting the number down to 1. I’d estimate 3-5 FPS at best. This machine is probably slightly underpowered for Blue Mars: Vista with a mere 3GB of RAM, AMD Athlon 7450 Dual-Core running at 2.4GHz, NVIDIA GeForce 8200. I’ve got a more muscular machine (4GB of RAM, Intel® Core™2 Duo P9700 at 2.8GHz, NVIDIA 160M) coming next week; things will I hope be smoother there.

The chat bubbles are just annoying; get rid of them, or at the very least let me get rid of them as an option. I’m surprised that these survived the closed beta; I haven’t seen anyone say they like them. The scrolling text window should (therefore) definitely not be called “Bubble chat”. And it should scroll more reliably; mine tends to stop autoscrolling for no obvious reason, so I can’t tell what anyone’s said recently unless I manually scroll to the bottom (at which point it starts autoscrolling for awhile, until it randomly stops again). Even when it is autoscrolling, it sometimes randomly doesn’t show me the last line or two of text. And there should be at least the option to log all chat (and whispers, when we get whispers) to disk; those of us with awful memories rely heavily on that. :)

All the avatars look like very slight variations on the same person. Even the male and female avatars look like fraternal twins! Very much like Twinity (last time I tried Twinity) that way. The face sliders have a very limited range, and there seems to be only one face texture (with the different “races” being different shadings of that same texture?). I suspect that what’s happened here is that someone is very concerned that people not be able to make “weird looking” faces by having more extreme sliders, and that the result is that everyone looks like clones. That should of course be fixed. We need real control over faces, and even (ooh!) body shapes, and we need tons more default clothes and accessories. Don’t obsess about people making funny-looking AVs; that’s part of the fun!

On the other hand I’m *very* amused that we have a tool that lets us make multi-colored smudges all over our faces. What is up with that? I love it in that I can now have a glowing purple spot in the center of my forehead, but it seems like a rather weird thing to have in the beta, given how many other things that I’d consider more important are missing. But hey I like quirks. :)

The little chirp every time you start moving has GOT to go. Both for arrow-key walking and for click-to-move walking. It’s just maddening. I actually like the click-to-move model, but it could use some intelligent pathing. Right now the algorithm seems to be “walk directly toward the destination, and if you hit any kind of obstacle, give up”. I expect that can be improved.

The fact that the camera doesn’t move when the AV moves is weird; feels like The Sims. Having to move my AV, and then move my camera as a separate step, feels awkward and like alot of work (although click-to-move helps somewhat there). And stop the AVs from staring into the camera all the time! I’m gonna have nightmares tonight. And speaking of nightmares: the AVs should (1) actually blink, at a reasonably realistic rate (rather than staring constantly with the occasional creepy squint), and (2) stop twitching around constantly like they need a bio-break! (Oh, and although I’ve seen quite a few complaints about the default slutty female animations, the male walk is infinitely dorky also; please fix.)

Make more use of mouseovers. It’s very nice that mousing over a usable things causes it to glow (reminds me of Metaplace), but it would be nice if there was hovertext giving you some hint about what will happen when you click on it. In SL, I always have “tips on all objects” turned on, and it’s very useful.

Some of the builds are really beautiful, but I’m worried that the “download every city that you visit to your hard disk, in its entirety” model isn’t going to scale. In fact it can’t scale. So you’re going to have to do something else, and I’m wondering what that something else will be, and how it will change the experience.

All the social amenities are missing, and needed, as everyone else has said. I want to be able to tell who is who, I want whispers, I want profiles (with a page that I can write on, please, and give that page more data capacity than it has in SL!), I want a friends list that shows me which ones are currently online, etc, etc. This is all Known Art, and BM should just have it as a matter of course. No need to reinvent it, or do it differently than everyone else just for the sake of difference. And I recommend against leaving it to each city builder to do separately, because then they will be confusingly different, and won’t work well between cities.

Walking / jogging everywhere is slow and tedious. I’d like to be able to fly, but if that’s too SL-ish for you :) give us motorbikes or medium-distance teleportation or something. I found this thing in New Venice that showed me a map and let me mouse over things to see points of interest, but as far as I could figure out the only way to get to any of those points of interest would have been on foot, and would have required somehow not getting lost. And that wasn’t going to happen! (I never did find the water taxi; maybe tomorrow.) Click-to-teleport would have been very nice (maybe it was there and I just didn’t find it?).

Need maps, both world-size and mini (both SL and WoW have these, and that’s because they’re useful). Need to be able to see where other people are, ’cause people like to find people (or to avoid them!). Need to be able to talk while dancing, for heaven’s sake! :)

I’m still not sure what Blue Mars will turn out to be *for*, and I suspect even the devs don’t really know. But that’s okay; it’s a platform, and as long as it’s flexible enough, it will have a good chance of finding one or more purposes and one or more ecological niches.

It should be interesting!

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Now that’s odd…

Blue Mars Online logoQuick followup to the last post: I decided that since I wasn’t going to be in the beta due to the rather extreme agreement, I’d look around and see what there was to read on the Web in the way of second-hand Blue Mars stuff.

Well, from the Blue Mars Online Twitter feed, I got to the Twitter feed of one John Carter (how could one resist reading John Carter’s thoughts on Mars after all?), and from there to this weblog entry in which he writes in part:

Still waiting for my beta key for Blue Mars, but I finally got into the forums, on about my 20th try at entering the captcha.

Which raised my eyebrows slightly, since it suggested that the forums might be more or less open to random people. Two seconds in Google found the forums in question, and it turns out that in fact anyone in the world can sign up for them by filling in a minimal web form, passing a rather challenging captcha, and agreeing that if you start trolling they can terminate your account.

So… since anything on the Blue Mars Beta forums can be seen by anyone in the world, isn’t every Blue Mars Beta tester who posts anything there about the Beta (beyond the fact that it exists and they are taking part in it), violating the Confidentiality sections of the Beta agreement?

I wonder if maybe that agreement page is left over from the early, NDA-bearing, closed beta, and someone just forgot to update it?

Maybe if I check back now and then, they’ll eventually change it to something that I can agree to. :)

And if not, at least I can read the forums in the meantime…

Why I’m not in the Blue Mars beta-test

BLUE MARS™ BETA TEST AGREEMENT

PLEASE READ THIS BETA TEST AGREEMENT (THE “AGREEMENT”) CAREFULLY. BY CLICKING THE “ACCEPT” BUTTON BELOW OR BY PARTICIPATING IN THE CLOSED PRE-RELEASE BETA TEST (THE “BETA TEST”) FOR BLUE MARS™ (“BLUE MARS”), YOU (“YOU”) AGREE THAT THIS AGREEMENT IS ENFORCEABLE LIKE ANY WRITTEN CONTRACT SIGNED BY YOU. IF YOU DO NOT AGREE TO ALL OF THE TERMS OF THE AGREEMENT, CLICK ON THE BUTTON THAT INDICATES THAT YOU DO NOT AGREE TO ACCEPT THE TERMS OF THIS AGREEMENT, AND DO NOT COMPLETE INSTALLATION OF THE SOFTWARE.

  I. Beta Test Restrictions. Avatar Reality™ (“Avatar Reality”) has designed and developed and is the publisher of Blue Mars. Avatar Reality is conducting the Beta Test to allow a limited number of people to give feedback and comments to Avatar Reality regarding Blue Mars as well as to test the features, capabilities and performance of software (“Beta Software”) and other informational materials (“Beta Materials”) as may be provided by Avatar Reality as part of this Beta Test.
  In order to participate in the Beta Test, you must be:
A. Eighteen (18) years of age or older.
B. Not a principal, employee, agent, independent contractor, consultant, officer or director of a developer or publisher of video or computer games or virtual worlds, other than Avatar Reality.
  II. Compensation. you represent and warrant that you are entering into this Agreement on a completely voluntary basis with no expectation of any form of compensation whatsoever other than what is expressly provided for in this Agreement. you agree that the role you will play in helping Avatar Reality develop better software does not constitute a critical or vital role in the development of Blue Mars or the Beta Software such as to entitle you to claims of ownership or rights to receive any other compensation or acknowledgement of any kind for your participation. you agree that Avatar Reality may terminate your participation in the Beta Test at any time without any compensation. you agree that your participation in the Beta Test does not constitute an employment agreement or offer of such an agreement between you and Avatar Reality and that your participation in the program is strictly voluntary and done solely for your personal enjoyment and that Avatar Reality expects you only to use your leisure time to participate in this program, and does not expect you to forego other activities, including gainful employment, during the time you spend participating in this program. you may stop being a volunteer tester of Blue Mars at any time that you wish.
  III. Termination of Beta Test. Avatar Reality may, in its sole discretion, terminate the Beta Test at any time.
  IV. Testing and Evaluation Obligations. you hereby agree to test, evaluate and analyze Blue Mars and specific aspects of it as identified by Avatar Reality to you and to provide feedback, analysis, suggestions and comments to Avatar Reality (including, but not limited to, bug reports and test results) as reasonably requested by Avatar Reality, or as otherwise voluntarily provided by you (collectively, “Feedback”). you agree that as part of your participation in the Beta Test, it is your responsibility to report all bugs, exploits, or other defects and problems (collectively “Bugs”) related to Blue Mars and the Beta Software to Avatar Reality as soon as you find them. If you know about a Bug or have heard about a Bug and fail to report the Bug to Avatar Reality, Avatar Reality may terminate your participation in the Beta Test and may disallow your future participation in Blue Mars.
  V. Personally Identifiable Information, Privacy Issues. you may be required to provide Avatar Reality certain personally identifiable information (“Personal Information”). Retention and use of Personal Information is subject to the Avatar Reality privacy policy as set forth at http://www.bluemarsonline.com/legal/privacy.html. you acknowledge and agree that your communications with other users or with Avatar Reality via chats, conferences, bulletin boards, and any other avenues of communication within Blue Mars, the Beta Software and/or this Beta Test are public and not private communications, and that you have no expectation of privacy concerning your use of Blue Mars and/or the Beta Software. you agree that Avatar Reality may monitor and record any such communications.
  VI. Term of the Agreement. Your participation in the Beta Test may be terminated by Avatar Reality at any time, for any reason or for no reason, by providing written or emailed notice to you. you may, at any time, for any reason or for no reason, terminate your participation in the Beta Test by providing written or emailed notice to Avatar Reality. Upon termination of the Beta Test or your participation in it, any and all license rights granted to you under the Terms of Service shall terminate immediately. you agree that you will return to Avatar Reality any and all copies of the Beta Software delivered to you for review at the request of Avatar Reality. The return of the material and termination of your participation in the Beta Test will not affect your confidentiality obligations as set forth in Sections VII through IX.
  VII. Confidential Information. “Confidential Information” includes any and all information relating to, contained in or relayed through the Beta Software, Blue Mars, and the Beta Test, including but not limited to information relating to the performance, capabilities and features of Blue Mars, the performance, capabilities and features of the Beta Software, the contents and features of the Beta Materials, your Feedback, any other Beta Test participant’s Feedback, and any Avatar Reality employee’s Feedback. By way of clarifying examples and not as a limitation, Confidential Information includes comments regarding the stability of Blue Mars and/or the Beta Software, comments regarding the appearance, features, or functionality of Blue Mars and/or the Beta Software, general comments about Blue Mars’s overall development, contact/private information for Avatar Reality personnel that is provided to you, any information that would allow people who are not part of the Beta Test to access any private areas for use in connection with the Beta Test, including but not limited to, Blue Mars, the Beta Software, chat, email and message boards, postings from the private boards or forum for the Beta Test, screen captures, pictures, videos, podcasts, audio files, or any other representations in any form of media, known or unknown, of any content in Blue Mars, the Beta Software, or the Beta Materials.
  VIII. CONFIDENTIALITY OBLIGATION. YOU MAY DISCLOSE THAT THE BETA TEST EXISTS AND THAT YOU ARE PARTICIPATING IN IT, HOWEVER, YOU AGREE THAT YOU WILL NOT PUBLISH, DISCLOSE, DISTRIBUTE, TRANSMIT, POST OR OTHERWISE MAKE AVAILABLE, DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY, ANY CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION DEFINED IN SECTION VII PUBLICLY OR TO ANY THIRD PARTY, EXCEPT AS REQUIRED BY A JUDICIAL OR GOVERNMENTAL ORDER AS SET FORTH BELOW, UNTIL AND UNLESS AVATAR REALITY AUTHORIZES YOU TO DO SO IN WRITING. you may disclose Confidential Information in accordance with a judicial or governmental order; provided that (a) you give Avatar Reality prompt written notice of such order so Avatar Reality has opportunity to seek a protective order or other appropriate remedy to such order, prior to disclosure and shall comply with any applicable protective order or equivalent, (b) you provide Avatar Reality with all reasonable assistance in opposing such required disclosure or seeking a protective order or confidential treatment for all or part of such Confidential Information, and (c) you disclose only such portion of the Confidential Information as is either permitted by Avatar Reality or required by the court, tribunal, governmental agency or other authority, subject to any protective order or confidential treatment obtained by Avatar Reality.
  IX. Injunctive Relief. you acknowledge and agree that a breach or threatened breach of your Confidentiality Obligation as set forth in Sections VII and VIII of this Agreement will cause irreparable injury, that money damages alone would be an inadequate remedy and that Avatar Reality shall be entitled to ex parte injunctive relief, without bond, to restrain you from such breach or threatened breach.
  X. Warranty and Disclaimer.
  A. Warranty Disclaimer. THE BETA SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED TO YOU “AS IS” AND AVATAR REALITY MAKES NO WARRANTY, CONDITION OR REPRESENTATION (EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, WHETHER BY STATUTE, COMMON LAW, CUSTOM, USAGE OR OTHERWISE) AS TO ANY MATTER INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, NONINFRINGEMENT OF THIRD PARTY RIGHTS, MERCHANTABILITY, INTEGRATION, OR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. YOU ASSUME ALL RESPONSIBILITY FOR SELECTING THE BETA SOFTWARE TO ACHIEVE YOUR INTENDED RESULTS, AND FOR THE INSTALLATION OF, USE OF, AND RESULTS OBTAINED FROM THE BETA SOFTWARE. WITHOUT LIMITING THE FOREGOING, AVATAR REALITY MAKES NO WARRANTY THAT THE BETA SOFTWARE WILL BE ERROR-FREE, THAT BLUE MARS WILL BE FREE FROM INTERRUPTIONS OR OTHER FAILURES, OR THAT THE BETA SOFTWARE WILL MEET YOUR REQUIREMENTS.
  B. Limitation of Liability. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES AND UNDER NO LEGAL THEORY, WHETHER IN TORT (INCLUDING NEGLIGENCE), CONTRACT, OR OTHERWISE, SHALL AVATAR REALITY BE LIABLE TO YOU OR TO ANY OTHER PERSON FOR LOSS OF PROFITS, LOSS OF GOODWILL, OR ANY INDIRECT, SPECIAL, INCIDENTAL, OR CONSEQUENTIAL DAMAGES, OR DAMAGES FOR GROSS NEGLIGENCE OF ANY CHARACTER INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, DAMAGES FOR WORK STOPPAGE, COMPUTER FAILURE OR MALFUNCTION, OR FOR ANY OTHER DAMAGE OR LOSS. IN NO EVENT SHALL AVATAR REALITY BE LIABLE FOR ANY DAMAGES IN EXCESS OF ANY AMOUNT YOU HAVE PAID AVATAR REALITY FOR THE BETA SOFTWARE, IF ANY, EVEN IF AVATAR REALITY HAS BEEN ADVISED OF THE POSSIBILITY OF SUCH DAMAGES.
  XI. Test Environment. you acknowledge that Blue Mars and the Beta Software will run in a test environment, and that avatars, avatar data, Blue Mars currency balances, virtual items, and any other value or status indicators that you accumulate as part of the Beta Test may be erased or modified by Avatar Reality at any time. you agree that unless you are specifically told otherwise in writing by Avatar Reality, such data will not be exported into Blue Mars once Blue Mars is commercially released.
  XII. Terms of Service and End User License Agreement. you agree that your participation in the Beta Test and use of the Beta Software are governed by the Terms of Service Agreement, available at http://www.bluemarsonline.com/legal/tos.html.
  XIII. Survival. you agree that the provisions of Sections II, IV, V, VII, VIII, IX, X, XII, XIII, XIV, XV, and XVI will continue in full force and effect even after the Beta Test has been terminated or completed and/or your participation in the Beta Test has been terminated.
  XIV. Entire Agreement. This Agreement (including any amendments you subsequently agree to, the Terms of Service Agreement, and the Privacy Policy, which are incorporated herein by reference) represents the complete agreement between you and Avatar Reality concerning the subject matter of the Agreement, and supersedes any prior agreements and representations between you and Avatar Reality.
  XV. Reform and Severability. If any provision of this Agreement is held to be unenforceable for any reason, such provision shall be reformed to the extent necessary to make it enforceable to the maximum extent permissible so as to affect the intent of the parties, and the remainder of this Agreement shall continue in full force and effect.
  XVI. Applicable Law And Venue. This Agreement shall be governed by and construed under the laws of the state of California without reference to its conflict of law principles. Each party agrees to submit to the exclusive and personal jurisdiction of the courts located in San Francisco County, California. The United Nations Convention on Contracts for the International Sale of Goods and the Uniform Computer Information Transactions Act shall not apply to this Agreement.
  XVII. Avatar Reality Customer Contact. If you have any questions concerning these terms and conditions, or if you would like to contact Avatar Reality for any other reason, please contact Avatar Reality support at info@avatar-reality.com.

Sheesh.

Update: this was fixed a few days later. :)