Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Building with Prims

Primitive shapes, or prims, are basic 3d shapes like boxes, cones, and cylinders which have textures applied to them and assembled in groups to make more complicated objects. In a 3D modeling program such as 3Ds Max or Google Sketchup they are your starting point to create complex items. Not everyone knows how to use these programs or is ready to learn them, and people did quite a lot in Second Life with only prims to build with (they have since added more complex shapes called sculpties)

To make it easier for people just starting out, I am working on a building kit of pre-made prims, which you can install in your Blue Mars directories and just drag into the perspective view to use. Currently if you resize an object by different amounts in the XYZ dimensions, it breaks the physics collisions. That means an avatar will not walk on or bump into the item properly. If you change all three dimensions together, it still works. Therefore I have to make a variety of shapes in different proportions to cover what people will want. If you want a shape not in the kit or want something more complex or custom, then you will need to go use one of the 3D programs to make it. It will take a while to make the full kit and instructions, but I wanted to show a preview and let you know I am working on it. Along with the texture pack that is already available these will let you start building right away.

The first photo shows the various categories of shapes (box, cone, cylinder, etc). The second shows the various box shapes I have made so far. I need to do the same for the other shapes. There is also a flat alignment grid to help you measure and line up what you are building, then you can delete it once you finish.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What to do with your block instructions

I have posted an updated set of instructions on how to work with blocks to the Blue Mars Developer Forum
(see the third post in that topic)

Oh and I made a cheesy real estate sign for block 1 *smile*

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Tharsis Estates Available for Download

I have exported a sample block file (Block number 1) and posted it to Block 1 Download at Mediafire. This file contains all of the Tharsis Estates city data so you can look at it, though you cannot edit the objects there. To view it:

* First register as a Blue Mars Developer if you have not done so
* Download and install the developer kit, which should include the Block Editor
* Create a folder under the Blue Mars City Developer Tools\Game\Objects\Mydata\SAND_Tharsis\Block_Data\Block_1
* Place the SAND_Tharsis_Block_1.bld file you downloaded in that folder
* Run the Block Editor and select the file. You should see a view like the photo above. The sample block is outlined in yellow.
* Use menu Config Spec > Very High to get the best view of everything
* Use menu Display > Hide Helpers to unclutter the view.

You can use the arrow keys and mouse to move around. The block editor is too complicated to explain in one blog post, so actually editing I will work on a tutorial for. This download is intended to let you explore the layout, and perhaps choose a location for your own block.

UPDATE: Apparently the block export misses the two modified terrain materials I used.
Go get them at: MediaFire and follow the attached note about where to put them

Tharsis Estates Open for Lease

Tharsis Estates is the residential and commercial partner to Sandbox City. The main difference is size (1024x1024m) and primary purpose. Sandbox City is larger (4096x4096m) and is primarily intended for experimental and learning use, or for people who want a lot of room.

I am accepting residents for Tharsis Estates on a free trial experimental basis for lots up to 16K square meters, and for larger lots with 50% of the setup fee in advance. The reason for the up front payment for larger lots is to prevent one person from grabbing all the waterfront and road frontage for free. When there are enough residents for the city to go live on the Blue Mars servers, then the balance of the setup and monthly hosting will be due.

During the experimental period, you can receive your block, edit it with your items, and have it merged back to the city file. The city file will be distributed to residents, so they can see and play with the whole thing, and log in with other residents and guests in "developer mode". Within reason I will modify the landscape for you, and add infrastructure items. I have already put in a couple of roads, two boat docks, and a bunch of trees.

I have marked out a few starter lots. Others can be cut as needed. A flyby video is available on Vimeo, and photos on Picasa

The rates are as follows (both US$, and Second Life L$ - the Blue Mars economy is too new for me to accept their money yet). For intermediate sizes, add units of the various lines to get a total.

Area / Data allowance / Setup fee / Hosting /
1024m / 0.25MB / $3 (L$800) / $1/mo (L$60/wk)
4096m / 1.0MB / $10 (L$2700) / $3.5/mo (L$210/wk)
16K m / 4.0MB / $30 (L$8000) / $12/mo (L$725/wk)
64K m / 16.0MB / $100 (L$27,000) / $40/mo (L$2400/wk)

If you have questions, you can leave it here in the comments, or contact me in Second Life (DanielRavenNest Noe). My user name is danielravennest on gmail and Blue Mars also.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tutorial 1 - City Map Setup

I've posted the first of what I hope to be a series of tutorials on how to do things with Blue Mars. This one covers setting up and painting a city map. Normally this would be the first step in setting up a city, since everything else goes on top of the basic terrain. The link is over to the right.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sandbox City Flyby Video

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Flyby Video

(soundtrack: Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Siberian Sleigh Ride)

Video Notes:

Blue Mars ( is a 3D virtual world in development, based on the CryENGINE 2 graphics engine. Its currently in early beta, and should be done sometime in 2010.

Sandbox City ( is my project to open up a public building area within Blue Mars, similar to SL sandboxes. The terrain map is 4096x4096m. I built the map from scratch :-) and recorded the video.

We start at the 0,0 corner, and fly past the building area (the area with roads), up to the mountains, and back. The furthest we get is about 40% of the way across the map. Since it is under construction, there is very little there yet aside from the landscape. People will use their imagination to add whatever they want to it. You can too if you want.

Blue Mars Information Center in Second Life

We are starting to set up an information center in Second Life for people to find out about Blue Mars in general, our Sandbox City project, and other cities. There is not much to see there at the moment besides a globe of Mars, but the link to visit it (SLurl) is on the right in the links section.

If you have items or links you would like to see posted there please contact me in SL under DanielRavenNest Noe.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Setting Up Blocks

In Blue Mars, blocks are pieces of a city that are exported, and which can then be worked on by someone else separately. When they are done, they send it back to the city developer, who merges it back into the city file. So knowing how to deal with blocks is an essential part of making Sandbox City work.

Over the past couple of days I have been struggling with the process of exporting and importing blocks. Unfortunately, with Blue Mars still in the middle of beta development, the documentation is not complete. What is there can be found on these wiki pages:

City Editor Workflow
Block Editor Instructions

I have worked out added instructions, but there are some bugs and open questions still, so I'm not ready to offer blocks for people to use just yet. If any of those pages are not viewable, let me know.

I did manage to get a couple of blocks set up, and imported a few text boxes, so it's working on a basic level, but I would like to be sure we know the right way to do it before opening it up for everyone to mess with.

The blue lines in the picture are "helpers" which can be turned on and off. They show where roads, shapes, and various other objects are located, and their item names. In particular, one shape is the outline of the block border, which defines what area you can work in.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sandbox Area Layout and Prices

Today's additions to the city are some roads and markers for the sandbox area, and setting it up so you can actually log in to the city. I decided to start with a 256m layout, since Second Life users are used to thinking in those terms. There are 6m wide roads and white columns to mark the edges of the layout. Unlike Second Life, where land comes in 4m minimum units and 256m regions, in Blue Mars this is entirely up to us. There are narrow paths at 64m intervals, to mark out areas 4096 sqm each (less the road width). These will be the initial building areas for people to use. The next step will be to convert them to Blue Mars "blocks". Blocks are exported as separate files for you to work on, then are merged back into the main city file.

Blocks will be on a first come / first served basis. In keeping with the spirit of Second Life sandboxes, there is no charge to use a block temporarily. If we run out of spaces and someone else needs it, then your stuff may be deleted. If you want to hold on to a space for the longer term, because you have an extended project, or even want to set up a house to live on, then I am asking 256L$ per 4096m block per month. This will cover the Blue Mars hosting costs if and when the city goes live on their servers. For the moment I am not taking any rental fees, until we are sure the block export and import is working, and people can run the city in developer mode.

The next photo shows how a city is set up so that you can log into it. "Entities" are Blue Mars items which can contain a script and optionally a 3D model. This is different than SL, where a script has to be contained within an object to run. In Blue Mars, if you have no 3D model assigned, the entity is just invisible. The RollupBar window shows the features of whatever item you currently have selected in the perspective view. The ugly pink mannikin, and the little camera by his feet are the necessary entities to log in. They are placed by dragging from the list of default entities found under the Objects header > Entity button.

The spawn point entity sets the login location for the city. Im not a good scripter, but I assume the script sets the avatar position to be equal to the spawn point position. The ARDefaultCamera entity sets the behavior of the camera view which moves with the avatar. You need one of each of these per city. These entities are invisible when you are logged in, but in the editor you can turn on Display > Show Helpers to show their names, and some markers so you can click on them.

The last photo shows my Blue Mars avatar logged in to the Sandbox City in Developer Mode. In this mode, he is actually logged in to the Blue Mars system. The only difference between this and normal play, is the city file is fetched from my "Blue Mars City Developer Tools" directory instead of my "Blue Mars" game directory.

In regular play, the city files are downloaded from their servers. In Developer Mode, the files are distributed direct from the city owner. Anyone with a copy can then log in, and we can see each other. The plan is to operate that way to start with, until we are ready to go live.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Blue Mars Texture Pack

Over on the download link to the right you can grab my first cut texture pack for Blue Mars. It includes about 300 textures, already converted to the .dds format, so you can apply them directly in the material editor, though I use them in 3ds Max to preview my models while working on them.

Welcome to the Sandbox City Blue Mars Project

"Sandbox City" is a project to develop a cooperative building area in the 3D virtual world Blue Mars. It is named both for the "Blue Mars Sandbox" editor used to assemble projects within Blue Mars, and sandbox areas within the Second Life virtual world, which are places to build and test items. The goal is to provide a place for creators to get their feet wet, learn how Blue Mars works, and display and share their creations.

The plan is to offer free non-dedicated building areas, which you can use until someone else needs it, and rented dedicated spaces which you can use long term. The city data will be downloadable and used in developer mode to start with. If we get enough people involved to cover Blue Mars' city hosting fees, then the city go live for anyone to visit.

Since Blue Mars itself is still in beta, I and everyone else working with it are new and learning as we go, so we have not figured out all the details yet. More information will be posted here as things develop.

The photos above are the basic terrain I set up for the city. Think of it as a blank canvas that you can paint on. The city is 4096x4096 meters in size, so plenty of room.