First-time developer Avatar Reality has announced Blue Mars, a massively multiplayer virtual world for PC that uses Crytek's impressive CryENGINE2, as featured in Crysis.

The game, first hinted at this time last year, is set on a terraformed Mars in the year 2177. Don't expect hard sci-fi action, however - the press release describes "endless gaming attractions that will allow players to build and simulate real-life scenarios by creating personalized characters, or avatars". Sounds more like Second Life in space to us, albeit with a gaming slant.

Blue Mars' announcement immediately follows timely comments by Lord of the Rings Online producer Jeffrey Steefel, who said that virtual worlds need a gaming hook to avoid being overwhelming to users.

Screenshots show a lush, tropical and very realistic environment, and a few simple modern buildings. We've also seen some others featuring golfing equipment, and shops full of handbags and ladies' shoes. So we're expecting a light lifestyle simulator with a "holiday on Mars" theme.

Interestingly, Avatar Reality is opening Blue Mars up to third-party developers with a development program that "gives game developers, CG artists and interested business partners an opportunity to create a variety of in-world attractions, 3D art assets and promotions for Blue Mars users". It says third parties should be able to "easily build rich 3D casual games" on its platform.

This could mean that Blue Mars is looking to exploit the business opportunities of having outside parties make content for virtual worlds, without necessarily opening content creation up to all users, as is the case in Second Life.

It's all very intriguing, although we're sceptical about the viability of a casual gaming experience based on such high-end technology. Even if your PC can run Crysis, can your Mum's?

In any event, look out for more details on Blue Mars emerging from GDC in the coming days.

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Oli Welsh

Oli Welsh

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Oli is the editor of Eurogamer.net and likes to take things one word at a time. His friends call him The European, but that's just a coincidence. He's still playing Diablo 3.

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