There's a lot of interesting things happening at the University of Hawaii's Second Life region. Today's launch of the College of Education's Second Life Island is one of them. Peter Leong (aka Ikaika Miles in SL) had a ribbon cutting ceremony in both real life (RL) and Second Life, with Donald Young, Director of Curriculum & Development Group kicking off the festivities. Presentations were by Ekaterina Prasolova-Forland, Diane Nahl and Dongping Zheng. During Diane Nahl's presentation, she mentioned an event happening in SL that would have particular interest to Bytemarks Cafe listeners. We are always talking about the Pan-STARRS telescope on Haleakala and its work to categorize and track near-Earth asteroids. Although we would seldom have an opportunity to visit the telescope the Institute of Astronomy is hosting a live Pan-STARRS exhibit on Saturday, March 5th at 7pm, HST in Second Life. This is a perfect example of how educators can use this virtual environment to share an experience that in RL would be difficult to attend. In order to attend the Pan-STARRS event you will need to signup and download the Second Life client. Once in SL you will then need to teleport to the University of Hawaii's region which consist of several major installations like Aquaculture Island and the COE's Second Life Island. If you are new to SL it is probably a good idea to explore the place beforehand and get used to the movement controls. Teleporting and flying take a little getting used to but once you get the hang of it you will be traveling all over the place. Also building your avatar is a requirement so careful thought should be given to how you want to be portrayed in this virtual world. If you attend you can find me there as Zen Thunders. Please feel free to introduce yourself. You might ask why Zen Thunders? At the time I signed up for SL back in 2006 you could only pick your first name and the system gave you a last name. I stuck with since this is Second Life and I might as well have a second identity. Nowadays you can sign up on SL and choose your own username. I did that also and you might guess what that name is.
In mid-January, CEO Jim Sink announced that Avatar Reality was going to cease development for Blue Mars on the PC and focus on iOS rollout. The much anticipated launch of Blue Mars over a browser interface was also suspended indefinitely. Obviously a great disappointment for all of us touting Blue Mars as the next generation (and successor) to Second Life. On Friday, Feb. 4th, Avatar Reality held true to its promise to rollout an iPhone/iPad app of Blue Mars. Like you, the first thought to cross my mind was, "that's fast". On closer examination, it is much less then what I had expected. The free Blue Mars app is more like a Hot or Not website for avatars. As in any virtual reality environment your avatar is who you are so why not have an app to rate your avatar. The app provides you with those avatars that are Top Rated and a Recent option to see what's newly submitted. In a company announcement:
...features for future updates include account registration, avatar customization, integration with social networking platforms, the ability to chat with other Blue Mars users, and integrated shopping for clothing and other items via Apple’s in-App purchase feature.In a effort to get a broader adoption of it's Blue Mars environment, this is a good first step in avatar familiarization. The question remains, will this help to grow the community on Blue Mars which has stalled because of PC hardware requirements. We'll have to wait and see what continues to be made available on mobile platforms.
Long time blogger, virtual world enthusiast and Kailua local boy, Wagner James Au will join the team at Avatar Reality, maker of virtual world, Blue Mars. His primary function at Avatar Reality will be to maintain his blog Blue World Notes, an ongoing journal documenting the launch, evolution and emerging online community of the user-generated 3D virtual world Blue Mars. Au's experience started with the virtual world of Second Life. Back in 2008, Au wrote the book, The Making of Second Life: Notes from the New World. He was also a contract writer from 2003-2006 for Linden Lab, creators of Second Life, primarily hired by the company to cover SL as an embedded journalist writing about the evolving social norms in the virtual environment. The blog continues at New World Notes, but to answer the question, will Au still write about Second Life? Au says:
Yes, New World Notes will continue to cover great Second Life content. To avoid conflicts of interest, I won’t editorialize or report on Linden Lab the company while consulting with Blue Mars. For the duration, my coverage will instead be around the topics that have always enthralled me most: The creativity of the community, and the cultural themes they provoke. I’ll also expand NWN’s editorial team, coverage of OpenSim, next generation gaming, and topics related to the metaverse and user-generated virtual worlds.Obviously there is a shift talking place and the folks at Avatar Reality would like us to turn our gaze toward Blue Mars. We've covered Avatar Reality and Blue Mars on Bytemarks Cafe but most recently, they've announced that Blue Mars will soon become cloud based. What this means is that rather than downloading specific software and requiring a high performance PC, you will soon be able to access the Blue Mars environment from your favorite browser, whether on a PC or Mac. This feature was supposed to become available this summer but the date has shifted to the end of 2010. What is hopeful is that Au was brought on to chronicle the process. Coincidentally, we will have Henk Rogers (owner of Avatar Reality) and Mark Loughridge (CEO of Aloha Island Software) on Bytemarks Cafe this coming Wed. 9/15 to talk about the video game industry in Hawaii. We will focus on the general topic of computer and video games as reported by the Entertainment Software Association, but if you were to call and ask about Blue Mars we would certainly welcome it.
We recently had Dean Sadamune and Jim Sink from Avatar-Reality on Bytemarks Cafe. Unfortunately the radio show does not lend itself well to images. The images, as you can see amplify the story about Blue Mars, the virtual reality platform being build by Avatar-Reality. I got a chance to spend some time in the AR offices getting the nickel tour from Dean. He showed me landscapes, underwater worlds, waterfalls, beautiful model avatars and game environments. it was quite impressive. My initial thought was to compare Blue Mars with Second Life but as soon as you see the detail in the rendered worlds the differences became obvious. The environments were rich, complex and easily captivating. This next generation virtual world runs on the CryEngine 2 game engine created by Crytek from Frankfurt, Germany. It's also the same game engine that runs Far Cry on the XBox. Based on what the guys were telling me, this is a platform for others to create on. Avatar-Reality will create some worlds but they are looking for others to create their own alternative realities. Another big difference from Second Life is rather then develop your 3D world with SL tools, Blue Mars is an environment that allows your to bring in models developed with your own favorite 3D modeling tools, like 3D Studio Max, Maya and Softimage. Besides the obvious entertainment value, there are countless applications in education, healthcare and commercial spaces. It struck me that if successful, Blue Mars could help boost the computer modeling and animation industry in Hawaii. Granted you could be anywhere to develop 3D models, but the Hawaii community would be right next door to the folks at AR. Question is will Blue Mars attract a sizable audience. The Second Life community has plateaued, but one could argue that is because the environment in SL hasn't changed. Will they shift over to Blue Mars? I'm excited because Blue Mars will have linkages into my favorite social media tools. I'm disappointed though because Blue Mars will only run on Windows machines and not the Mac with the planned release this summer. The guys tell me Macs will be supported by the end of the year. On the other hand they also tell me that Blue Mars can be experienced on a $500 Windows machine. I've got some ideas. I just need to convince my friends in education and healthcare to start building their Blue Mars worlds so I can explore on my work machine!