When Neville Spiteri talked to my fellow colleague about theblu, he was excited and simply described it as a Wikipedia-like app for the oceans. His excitement of the project left me intrigued. Prior to the interview, I was mostly unaware of what to expect from theblu. But after meeting with Spiteri, the project sounded ambitious on paper and once I saw the glimpse of theblu, it was apparent that this project was a labor of love. For about 10 years, theblu was an idea that brewed between the minds of Spiteri and Scott Yara as a “global art project”. Yara is only one of many impressive names in the company. Half of the team is comprised of heavy hitters, along with Final Fantasy CG Director Takahiko Akiyama and even Avatar animation supervisor Andy Jones.
“Both Scott and I have a big passion for the ocean,” said Spiteri. When you launch the web application, users virtually dive into the ocean and explore its species. It’s simple. Installing the browser plug-in is a hop and skip away from an oceanic journey. Once in, the app plays like a social networking game, but not in a sense like Zynga. “We’re explicitly telling our users that theblu is not a game,” said Spiteri, “but there are many stories to tell in the ocean.” Discovering new species, gifting them for friends works along with purchasing them to fill up their own personal aquarium or in TheBlu’s case – the ocean.
Graphically, TheBlu is impressive and makes use of hardware acceleration. Thanks to Spiteri’s background in video gaming, even the most basic of graphic cards can run the most intensely designed sea floors without much issue or drop in frame rate. During the interview, Spiteri ran the browser-based software on an early-2010 Macbook Pro. But its eye candy wasn’t the most impressive part of the package, it was the artificial intelligence of the creatures.
Each asset can be comprised of sea floor, plant life, and a whole gamut of other subtleties in the ocean but the creatures deserve special mention. Each creature has their own behavior and “predatory” relationship. So, each fish, shark, and pretty much anything can react to other creatures. Sardines swim in a formation of schools while other fish have a certain level of friendliness to other families of fish. It’s an astounding piece of the project that makes theblu more believable and immersive. Additionally, each of these assets can be built using popular 3D modeling apps including 3D Studio Max, Maya, Softimage and a couple of others.
As of this writing, theblu, much like Wikipedia, is still in progress and it probably always will be. Each continent has a habitat, which features species and topography from that part of the world. For example, in Hawaii you’ll find tons of tropical fish, turtles, rays and dense seaweed at Hanauba Bay. TheBlu’s ambitious plans to map out the world’s oceans using its Unity-based platform is growing quickly and with $2 million in seed funding just announced a few days ago, Spiteri and team will be making its run to push theblu to the next level.
We got a chance to talk to Spiteri himself. From our own impressions, TheBlu’s interface is pretty simple and easy to use, though I did have some trouble seeing it thanks to the not-so-excellent Internet quality at CES. Users are able to view the ocean using different camera angles, and when they see a fish they like they can click on it for more information on both the fish and the artist who created it.
TheBlu is a very cool project that has tremendous potential–I kind of wish my Internet connection was a little better so that I could play with it a bit more. It’s many things in one: a collaborative art project, and ambitious plan to map out the world’s oceans, and a social networking game. TheBlu is currently in private beta, though it will be launching publicly this year.