From Visual Developer Magazine #60, March/April 2000--The final issue.
Part of the RAD Mars design is an ErectorSet API. There's a catalog of partsgirders, dome segments, panels, windows, maglev track sections, even architectural fittings down to drawer pulls and sconce lampsand with those we begin to create houses, towns, and community spaces.
Whew! We ducked the imaginary Y2K bug. (All we have to fear is fear itselfare you sure that guy didn't run Linux?) So what's next? I know! Let's model a planet…in 1:1 scale!
We have meter-resolution elevation data for virtually the entire surface of Mars. Let's start with that, and design a rendering engine that either interpolates and textures the meterscale points realistically, or uses fictional points created by designers (us) that render down to the centimeter level. Pass the RADMars server a set of Mars global coordinates, and your Web browser looks out on…Mars.
Physics works like it does here, adjusted for Mars conditions: Throw a rock, and it goes…far. Edge off a cliff, and you falland when you hit the bottom, you "die" and wake up back at Mars Port Alpha. The Sun rises and sets. The wind is thin, but it registers on your "suit" instruments in your browser status bar.
It's the ultimate collaborative Internet portal. For we won't stop at simply gaping at Marscapes. We get it working, and then we build. Part of the RAD Mars design is an ErectorSet API. There's a catalog of partsgirders, dome segments, panels, windows, maglev track sections, even architectural fittings down to drawer pulls and sconce lampsand with those we begin to create houses, towns, community spaces, and entertainment facilities. (Your construction equipment is a browser plug-in.) If you've got a rock band, design your avatars and then book a time slot to come down and jam. Sell your music CDs to all the other avatars who show up to listen. Want your avatar to breathe fire? There's a function call for that in the avatar API.
And who's "we"? Why not everybody? There's a lot of Mars. 56 million square miles of itmore than enough to give an acre to every human being on Earth. (There are 640 acres in every square mile. Do the math.) We can set up a homesteading program. Register to play, and you get your acre. People and companies that want more can buy acreage from the portal to defray portal expenses.
Whatever's inside your acre is your business. (Sound from your rock band conveniently stops at a "force field" on your property lineswhich also keeps out all visitors but those you explicitly invite.) Public space is governed by committee. Artists, architects, and engineers could make money by designing new partseven entire structuresand selling them. Being virtual makes certain things easierlike moving your Frank Lloyd Wright home to a different plot if somebody else wants to swap. And we could stretch physics to allow Niven-esque "stepping disk" teleporters to get from one point on Mars to another instantaneously.
The portal would offer varying levels of resolution to Marsholders depending on their connection bandwidth. At 33Kbps, well, Mars looks a lot like a Doom level. But at cable modem resolution, things start looking like Myst rendered in real time. And at the T3 or better bandwidth that optical connections will eventually give us, you're talking photorealistic animation. (Am I being too optimistic? Who knows? Look where we were ten years ago. Now imagine where we'll be ten years from now!)
With the rules and operational mechanisms set up correctly, RAD Mars could become a seething cauldron of new ideas in art, music, collaboration, and governance. If it became popular, it would drive development in fast graphics and especially fast Internet connections. It would certainly provide a mass market for exotic VR helmets and tactile feedback gadgetry, which has always been a solution in search of a problem.
Why Mars? Mars is a world, and more than that, a myth with a powerful hold on the human imagination. Mars invites that imagination to reach above the mundane limitations of meatspace life. The acre is free. The parts (the standard ones, at least) are free. The avatar is free. Everything, furthermore, is as malleable as your dreams.
Mars exists to draw forth our dreams. Let's go there before we forget how to dream entirely.
(Jeff's note: Perhaps appropriately, these words were the last words on the last page of the last issue of Visual Developer ever published. It was great fun, those ten years. Thanks to all of you who were there while it was happening.)