It had been a month since I last logged into Blue Mars and when Patricia Daviau brought it up in a recent discussion I decided to go back for a look see. First thing was a 2mb patch, no biggie. Oooh, what do I see here? Two new cities and updates to almost half the existing ones. First off I noticed was Capitalantis on the launch page:

This City is an environment preview of the later metropolis “Capitalantis”. Its 64 million square meter big map gives you enough room to explore, build, shop and socialize. Come and take a look at the massive mountainside or the endless ocean with its wonderful islands.

We hope to see you soon in Capitalantis.

The Virtual International Regions team.

Amazing! I download the city package and enter it. Now, first off most of you know how far you can see in SL. Typically we set our draw distance to 128-200 meters. More or less depending on your connection speed and the horsepower of your computers. The Emerald will let you set it to 1024 meters. The further your draw the greater your pain, your FPS will drop to nearly zero. Great for snapshots, but not for moving around. Upon arrival in Capitalantis you are on a platform up several hundred meters below a a wall of mountains (most likely a crater wall. Before you is a broad plain that meets the sea and an archipelago of small islands. The furthest island is some 6,000 -7,000  meters away. An array of signs will teleport you to them.

Capitalantis - 7

Capitalantis - 1

One of the outermost islands some 6000 meters from the mountains.

Capitalantis - 6
Another island. Notice the haze? Imagine the fun you could have sailing or jet skiing!

Streams flow downhill and go  over waterfalls, but they are still working on those. That shouldn’t be too hard as waterfalls are quite common in Crysis2 games.
Capitalantis - 2

Capitalantis - 3

This developer needs to work on the rapids effect.
Capitalantis - 5

A broad plain,  or flooded crater bottom.

The Singtel city features a big shopping mall. Just a few items on sale and the mall is basically deserted at this point.
SingTel shopping mall

Lastly I visited Digital DNA. It’s a fairly big place too, but only the immediate surroundings of the arrival spot are filled with content. But is it ever pretty! A nice forest with winding paths.
Digital DNA - 2
I followed a new patch that led me to a cave.
Digital DNA - 3

The lighting is also a bit different in this city too. I look a bit golden here 🙂 .

Aesthetically speaking this is a great step forward. Recent improvements in IMs and the introduction of currency is a good move forward too, but still needs much work. However, I do have some suggestions on how to improve the experience:

1) Getting around. Just like RL getting from here to there takes TIME.  Virtual World users are used to quicker transport. Teleports, elevators, flying, etc… I can see where personal teleporting may ruin the immersion of Blue Mars and teleport devices may not always be where you want them and you have to end up walking a ways to get where you want. On a city that’s 4,000 , 8,0000 or 16,000 meters on a side surely we deserve wheels or a hovering vehicle? Hoverboards (like they had in or what Marty McFly had in Back To The Future) , scooters, cars, boats and helicopters would sure be nice to have. And fun too! These larger city maps would also work great for WW1 or even WW2 aircraft as there would be room enough to maneuver at speed.

2) A robust and useful friends list. Like our book marks in a web browser we need to be able to categorize our friends and tag them with labels.  Every IM client on the web or mobile phone does this. While we can now IM friends, I have more friends on my list than I have screen space. As a result I can’t IM some of my friends. Come on guys, fix that! Chat is where it’s at!

3) Too many cities, too much space. A possible problem I see is that there are several large cities that will open up to residential use very soon. While people love elbow room they also like being where the action is. I’m not sure how quickly these cities will fill up but I can imagine having a glut of real estate will not be good for the city developers looking to break even in their early days.  How many people can rent or buy in Beach City? How many “residents” and merchants does it need before it can break even? Beach City is 16 Million square meters of which maybe 60% is usable (flat land). How much concurrency is it rated for ?? 250, 500, or 1,000 avatars? If a big a mass influx of customers to fill these places up does not materialize  I’d hate to see a developer not meet their goals and walk away, abandoning their city.

4) City prices. I’m not sure the prices are competitive, at least at this point. This is the list of what they offer:

Features Outpost* Village City Metropolis
Land Size User Defined User Defined User Defined User Defined
Concurrent Users 5 50 250 1,500
Support Forums Only Forum & Email Forum & Email Forum & Email
Setup Fee $100 $750 $2,000 $7,500
Monthly Hosting Fee $30 $275 $1,000 $5,000

A city that holds 5o avatars cost about the same in fees (tier) as a sim in SL costs. A very popular event in SL can easily approach 100 avatars.  Of course it’s going to be laggy as hell, but you can be there and share the experience with a very large crowd of people. Of course in BM the lag is a lot less pronounced or non existent. The biggest selling point for BM is less lag. Why place such a low arbitrary number on a product that is priced nearly the same as the competitors product?. If you got lots of room and low lag then you should be able to have a higher concurrency. I’d suggest these new numbers for concurrency:

Out post : 25 (This would be a Homestead Killer)

Village : 200 (Ever own a sim in SL but wanted to have a multi-sim estate?)

City : 750  ( Definite estate or corporate killer)

Metropolis : 2000 ( For deep pockets or short term events)

5) Avatar appearance. It looks like clothing and skins will come along just fine from the rumors and pics I’ve seen so far. The one weak spot is the avatar shape. They simply are not very customizable. Everyone pretty much looks alike from the neck down. from the neck up the range of variance is very minimal. No one’s Blue Mars avatar comes close to looking like their SL avatar. Personally, my BM avatar is pretty homely. Bleh. If I could import my SL shape that would be awesome! Could it be as simple as using XML or something like that to do the trick?

I’m hopeful points 1,2, & 5 will be addressed to my satisfaction by the end of the summer. Time will tell if points 3 & 4 will work themselves out.