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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Blue World Notes: How a Dozen Developers Collaboratively Created the Steampunk City of Caledonia

In Caledonia with Desmond Shang

When you teleport to the town square of Caledonia (Blink site here), a steampunk city in Blue Mars, you arrive amid walkways and trees, and all around you, dozens of stores and homes, all done up in Victorian styles. (It looks pretty much what British colonists would build, after they traveled via Jules Vernian rocket to Mars.) And while this bucolic place seems like it was made by one designer, it’s actually the creation of dozens of people, working separately around the world.

“What we did,” Desmond “the Guvnah” Shang, the humble leader of Caledonia, tells me, “was people picked blocks and developed them in the block editor -- this gave them their own local copy of Caledonia in a way, and they were able to construct in that.” (The Blue Mars Block Editor enables individuals within a City to develop a store or residential housing within an alloted space.)

About a dozen Caledonians worked on their blocks offline, sharing their progress in an email list. This is also where they planned the general design parameters of Caledonia. For instance, they agreed on a maximum ceiling height of 3 or 4 meters, to keep the buildings in a reasonable scale.

“There is a tendency to make buildings far too tall,” steampunk inventor Ralph Doctorow explains. “There was also another extensive architecture discussion about what was appropriate for building styles. That resulted in a lot of examples of English and East Coast architectural styles, along with a general agreement that bizarre steampunkish elements were quite appropriate, but that it would be good for people not to go too crazy modern.”

The other advantage of collaborating and communicating via email was informal technical support. “I have found that our mailing list has been a huge source for support and problem solving, especially when experimentation is afoot,” as Vivito Volare puts. “There are some projects you would prefer to share with neighbors rather than strangers who may well be your competition.”

As each individual Caledonian finished their block, they uploaded it to Desmond’s City editor, and he integrated it into the next update sent to Blue Mars' servers. Take this store by Thadicus Caligari, who built it in Sketchup, then imported it into Blue Mars’ Item Editor, to test it, then finally placed it in the Block Editor. What you see above is what it looked like in his local editor.

And here’s what it looks like, merged into Caledonia:

Every few weeks, Desmond would merge individual blocks and publish them to Caledonia. The citizens would meet in-world after the changes went live in Blue Mars, comparing notes. “[We] had kind of a fun time seeing what different people made, as we hadn't seen it ourselves until it was all merged and published.”

And that’s how the first town of Caledonia came to be. But, Desmond promises, “We've barely touched upon what can be done here.”

What about Blue Mars should I write about next? Email and let me know: hamlet at bluemarsonline dot com.

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