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  Is ‘Blink 3D’ Ready for the Metaverse?  
Posted 2007-04-03 by Tony Walsh
Is ‘Blink 3D’ Ready for the Metaverse?
"Dark City" meets Blink 3D
Clive Jackson, CEO of Pelican Crossing announced today that his web-based 3D environment system Blink 3D represents the arrival of Metaverse 2.0--somehow, Metaverse 1 must have passed me by overnight. Blink 3D's client software is available as a fairly small browser plugin, and a variety of screenshots and a few 3D demos are available for viewing. After reviewing some of samples, I'm of the opinion that there's still a long way for Blink to go both from a technology, usability and design standpoint--I couldn't envision any of the sample environments reasonably acting as hubs of massively-multiuser activity.

Jackson told me via email that Blink's support for concurrent users varies greatly, depending on numerous factors, most notably typical issues such as polygon-count, client-side hardware, and client-server communication (such as the handling of chat and avatar position). In short, the more polygons, the lower the specs of the client hardware and the more avatars present on-screen, the more like a slideshow Blink becomes--much like any 3D environment.

"At the end of the day it is really the environment designer who controls the number of concurrent users though their design decisions," wrote Jackson, adding that designers can set the limit for the maximum concurrency: "If that number is exceeded a new version of the environment is created." During testing, 20 avatars were supported "with no noticeable slowdown," and that in an average 3D environment built with between 20,000 and 50,000 polygons, about 100 low-poly avatars could be supported, provided not all were in view. "With the optimizations planned for the next release I think the numbers will be even more reasonable," Jackson wrote.

A single-user license for the Blink 3D Builder software runs $399 USD. Personally, I find this to be a high price-point for a system that has yet to be tested on a Metaversal scale. There are far too many tough competitors in this space with comparable or lower pricing, for example, the Multiverse platform, Kaneva, and the Torque Game Engine. I don't see how Pelican Crossing can afford to risk low adoption of its system--will Blink 3D still be here the day Metaverse 3.0 arrives?
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Comment posted by csven
April 3, 2007 @ 5:54 pm
I've not looked at this yet, but I'd agree the $399 price tag seems like a potential showstopper. I've not yet beta-tested VScape (which uses an enhanced X3D format to get around some limitations the author didn't like) but afaik it'll be open source. If comparable, that'll be 399 reasons people may choose it over Blink.
Comment posted by TrevorFSmith
April 3, 2007 @ 7:43 pm
The bullet list on the technology page is certainly appealing (sweet, sweet plugins), but a Windows-only, proprietary platform and build IDE seem more like VRML 1.0 than Metaverse 2.0.

Flux seems like a more open long term bet if you're willing to reject everyone who doesn't run XP with .NET.
Comment posted by TrevorFSmith
April 3, 2007 @ 8:58 pm
After the plugin auto-install failed and I used the manual install I took in the Dark Cities map in their entertainment showcase, and it is really good looking.

I was surprised that I had to wait for the entire scene to load (all 8MB of it) before entering, but once you're in it's smooth. I didn't find anyone else in the place, so I can't speak to its multiuser aspects.
Comment posted by csven
April 3, 2007 @ 10:14 pm
Auto-install didn't work for me either.

Agree with you guys but would add I thought the spatialized sound was pretty good.

Hope that it hangs around long enough to mature.
Comment posted by Clive Jackson
April 4, 2007 @ 12:54 pm
Tony, thanks for taking a look at my press release and the white paper. It seems that Blink 3D has come in for some criticism here. If I may, I would like to comment on a few of points in your blog.

I would dispute that Blink 3D has a long way to go from a technology, usability and design standpoint and I know my customers will concur. I do think that once you have had a chance to review the product in detail this will become apparent. Was there a specific area where you felt Blink 3D was weak?

I appreciate you may be somewhat confused by the term Metaverse 2.0. I think people were also a bit confused when Web 2.0 came along. I agree in order to have a 2.0 you need to have a 1.0 and I believe that is what we have now and have had for some time with Active Worlds and Second Life and

In the white paper I describe what I envisage as the Metaverse 2.0. Other people thinking and talking about whatís next -- like this blog article from Bryan Alexander where he calls it Third Life as opposed to Metaverse 2.0. [url=[/url].

I do state a couple of times in the white paper that the Metaverse 2.0 will be cosmopolitan in nature and will consist of 3D environments created using software from many vendors, not just Pelican Crossing. For example when Trevor Smith finishes his Ogoglio project, 3D environments created with it could be part of the Metaverse 2.0 as well.

I certainly did not claim the Metaverse 2.0 belongs to Pelican Crossing or is powered by Blink 3D, quite the contrary. I tried to point out some of the challenges that exist in creating the Metaverse 2.0 and how Blink 3D could be used to address those challenges.

You are right; the issue of how many users you can have in an environment is a complex one. The issue is really not how many users there are, but how many avatars can be in an environment and how many can be visible in front of the camera at any point in time. I should point out that in this area, Multiverse has pretty much the same restrictions that Blink 3D has when it comes rendering avatars. I donít think that Multiverse publicly states how many avatars they can have in an environment. I wonder how much testing they have been able to do in this area?

It is interesting that you should pick up on pricing. I feel that Blink 3D is very well priced given its functionality and ease of use. Comparing Blink 3D to the products you mentioned seems a bit strange, like comparing apples and oranges. Blink 3D is designed to run primarily inside a Web browser. None of the products you mentioned runs inside a Web browser. But if we were to compare product purely on price this is how things break down:

Blink 3D is an enabling technology, an authoring tool, and costs $399 which is a one time fee, no royalties, you can create whatever you want and as many as you want.

Kaneva: Free, they make their money from advertising and selling furniture and clothes. Functionality-wise, there is little point comparing Kaneva with Blink 3D as they are so different, Kaneva does not even have an API.

Torque: Priced at $1495 for their commercial license, enough said!

Multiverse: Still in beta, price is 10% of gross income from sale of games developed. Games must be listed on their web site. Assuming the average game sells for $20 the royalty fees from the sale of only 200 copies would buy you a copy of Blink 3D and you would never have to pay royalties again. You could of course buy a license with no runtime fees but Multiverse is not publicly stating how much that would be.

Now letís look at the prices of other comparable Web 3D authoring tools that could be used for creating 3D environments that can also be part of the Metaverse 2.0:

Bitmanagement: $399
DxStudio: $735
Adobe Director: $1,199
Quest 3D: Creative Edition $1,333
Unity 3D: $1,499
Anark: $1,800 approx
Deep Creator: $1,995
Subdo: $2,000
Virtools: $14,000 approx plus license fees.

As you can see on price alone, Blink 3D at $399 ties for first place with Bitmanagement.

@ TrevorFSmith and csyen
I would like to hear more about the problems you had with the auto install. Trevor, you obviously know a lot about this area. If you have time, I would really appreciate it if you could you email me about the problem you had, (Clive<dot>Jackson<at>pelicancrossing<dot>com) so I can take a look because it is working for other people. Or if you prefer we can take it up on the Pelican Crossing forum.

Iím glad you both liked the environment. I should point out the person who created it did not write a single line of code. He also created the Mellow Tiger environment, again without writing any code.

For me, the entire environment Dark City downloads and displays completely rendered in 20 seconds which is quicker than just loading the Keneva or Second Life viewer to the point where the login screen is displayed. He could have broken the environment down further into environment extensions but this was the first environment he created and was just starting to understand what Blink 3Dís capabilities were.
Comment posted by Tony Walsh
April 4, 2007 @ 2:24 pm
@Clive Jackson: Lots to respond to here, so I'm going to try to keep it brief.

Q: Was there a specific area where you felt Blink 3D was weak?

A: In short, I had a bad user experience. The Green Ninja avatar isn't responsive enough for my tastes. It wasn't clear to me what the Green Ninja environment was, or how I'd gotten there. I had some issues downloading the plugin the first time, and I had show-stopping Blink errors when starting up every of the sample environments aside from the Green Ninja one. It seemed from the error messages that these were Blink rather than driver-related issues.

I appreciate you may be somewhat confused by the term Metaverse 2.0

I'm not confused, I think the term is unnecessary at this point in time. With respect, if a white paper is needed to make sense of the term, it calls into question the need for the term. There isn't broad consensus as to what Web 2.0 means, why do we need a Metaverse 2.0?

As for the pricing of the product, I think it's too high for what I'm seeing in the screenshots and reading in the tech specs. The value is not immediately apparent to me, unlike, for example, Torque ($100 non-commercial license) or Director (general multi-media authoring tool).
Comment posted by csven
April 4, 2007 @ 2:59 pm
Clive, may I ask, for whom is the Blink toolset intended? and who is their anticipated target audience? I don't quite get where you're positioning yourself and your product. Thanks.
Comment posted by Clive Jackson
April 4, 2007 @ 5:16 pm
The Green Ninja environment you refer to is simply a basic test environment that is used to invoke the auto install. Youíre right, I can see why it would be confusing for people. Iíll replace it with one that clearly explains whatís going on, thank you.

The responsiveness of the avatar is controlled by the designer. Customers have been using this as the default for some time and seem to like the way it is. Actually, some even slow it down for their particular environments. Of course, this is all a matter of taste. I think it helps to remember that Blink 3D is an authoring tool, so nothing is set in stone, and virtually everything is customizable. If someone wants to write a navigation system from scratch in Blink 3D they can.

Trevor has kindly provided me with some additional information about the install problems he had and Iím investigating. They seem to be IE7 security related.

As for the Blink 3D errors you received, hard to know what they are without knowing the exact error message. Most problems people have are driver related in my experience but if you are using the latest ones, I would like to investigate further. Could I ask you to email me the log file so I can try and determine why the environments failed on your system? The log files are in C:\Documents and Settings\<YOUR NAME>\Application Data\Pelican Crossing\Blink 3D Plug-in and begin with Blink_

Iím not sure if you just disagree with the title of the white paper or the vision. So I think we will have to agree to disagree over the Metaverse 2.0.

In my opinion, you are still comparing apples to oranges when you refer to the Torque Game Engine. I think the version you mentioned does not run on the Web, it is for non commercial use only, and it does not even support shaders and actually costs $150 not $100. To pursue this style of price comparison ignoring functionality, look at the Torque Game Engine Advanced which does support shaders. Even then, it is still for non commercial use and still does not run on the web and is priced at $295. As I mentioned in my previous post, the commercial version which is the one the one that is the closest to Blink 3D from a licensing perspective is $1495.

Blink 3D uses the Ogre rending engine (the same one that Multiverse uses), the Ageia PhysX physics engine. Combined they run rings around any version of Torque.

In a nutshell, the target Market for Blink 3D is anyone who wants to create 3D content for the Web. The version that is currently shipping is the Standard Edition. Other editions will becoming out very shortly that will be focused more towards the hobbyist. Having said that, Blink 3D is today being used by a wide variety of users with an equally wide skill set, from hobbyists to professional 3D designers.

In the short time Blink 3D has been on the market it has already been used for a broad range of projects; education both as a tool for use within the class room as well as for creating educational environments; there have been a couple of games developed; there are a number of virtual-heritage applications that have been developed; of course fantasy chat based environments, environments that can be used to host art including things like inner city graffiti; pre-viz of new houses, etc. I have yet to see a Machinima move made with Blink 3D but everything is there to make it possible.

With Blink 3Dís support for Just in Time loading and unloading of assets, environments can be huge. But more importantly they can be linked together to from a network of 3D environments that I foresee as being part of the Metaverse 2.0.
Comment posted by Clive Jackson
April 4, 2007 @ 10:37 pm
Just a quick FYI, the problem with the Blink 3D auto install and IE7 has now been fixed. It appears to have been a corrupted signature on one of the files; strangely IE6 did not seem to care.
Comment posted by TrevorFSmith
April 4, 2007 @ 11:38 pm
Yep, the auto-install works for me now. Slick!
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