Wednesday, May 28, 2008

PS3's HAZE: Run of the mill game, or brilliant military commentary?

This post may contain spoilers for Ubisoft's PS3 title, HAZE

"They told me I would be the best. They gave me the best weapons. They gave me Nectar."

HAZE, the newest first person shooter for PS3 follows Shane Carpenter, recent college graduate and member of the private "Mantel Army" who learns early on that he's fighting for the wrong side.

During the early stages of the game, Shane (and
you) learn how the Mantel Army works. Being the most successful private military, you have access to the most advanced weaponry, tactical information, and one key component, Nectar, a super performance enhancing drug.

The Nectar administer is attached directly to the back of the character's neck, and supplies a steady dose of the drug. By pushing a button, the player can administer higher doses, reflected by a gauge on the left hand side of the screen. These higher doses allow the player to see the enemy combatants surrounded by a hazy glow and from farther distances, see farther through the scope on their weapon, hit harder and sense danger such as grenades.

There are two immediate downsides to the Nectar drug. The effects do not last long, maybe 60-90 seconds per dose, so the player has to constantly administer it to themselves, something you hear your computer controlled squad-mates doing as you hear a click-hisssss as they run by. Also, if the user uses too much of the drug, they can overdose, not be able to tell friend from foe, have vision problems, shoot their weapon uncontrollably and pull the pin out of grenades and hold onto them (i'm assuming from muscle spasms).

The one main downside (or upside, depending on how you're looking at it), is that Nectar sterilizes your environment. That is to say, the player on nectar doesn't see what the regular person sees. The player walks into a room, sees a clean room with a door on the other end and a few desks. What they don't see is the dead bodies littering the floor, the blood splatter on the walls, and the player's own hands covered in blood. However, because the suit that the player wears delivers a constant low dosage of the drug, none of the other soldiers ever sees the gruesome damage that they cause.

Halfway through the game, the player's Nectar Administrator is permanently damaged, and he sees everything. This of course, leads him to question everything he was fighting for, and instead of his team wanting him back to fix him up, they try their best to kill him.

I'm skipping around here, but the player eventually joins
the group of rebels that he had previously hunted as a Mantal soldier, and you learn that the reason for the entire skirmish is that the plant used to produce Nectar grows in the rebels back yard. Instead of striking up some kind of deals with the rebels (who at the beginning, weren't rebels at all), Mantel tells their people that the rebels are involved in ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity, terrorism, and that their leader gruesomely disfigures captured prisoners.

Let me say that again.

The army that you're a part of can't
see the destruction and brutality they're causing while invading a country to steal its natural resource under the guise of liberating its people from a terrorist group with an insane leader.

It wasn't until close to the end of the game that you realize that the leader of the rebels uses the same speeches to motivate his troops th
at your former squad leader used to pump his guys up before a mission. Also, one of the last lines in the game is about how the company used the drug in the wrong ways, and in the rebels hands, it would be used for good.

The most powerful weapon was indeed the drug, Nectar that was given to the soldiers. How could any regime defeat an army that couldn't see the evil it did, and willingly removed itself from the moral responsibility of its actions? Wrap all this up in a drug that made them stronger, faster, and more effective, as well as constant encouragement from superiors to "...go ahead and take your meds...". It somewhat reminded me of Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card in the sense that if the soldiers knew what they were actually doing, they never would have pulled the trigger.

So, this game touched on a lot of interesting points, but was far enough removed to look at the plot objectively. Many reviewers gave it a poor score, but I feel that they missed the point that the entire game was social commentary. I found a military with little oversight going into a foreign country on the grounds of liberating people from evil while actually just trying to secure their own interests somewhat familiar. How about one military group not learning from the mistakes of another?

All in all, it was an interesting game, and interesting concept, even if executed poorly.
One thing this made me think though, was that more games should follow in the footsteps of Haze and Battlestar Galactica in making social commentary. It is a viable medium after all.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Important Tax Rebate Information from TurboTax

Wondering why you haven't received your stimulus check yet? this may be the reason.


Nice of them to fess up early - ____-

Important Tax Rebate Information

Dear Valued Customer,
We want to provide you with the most up–to–date information about the tax rebate to which you may be entitled.
Recently, you may have received a letter from the IRS advising you when to expect your Economic Stimulus Payment (rebate). That IRS letter may have inadvertently left off some important information. Taxpayers who chose to have their tax preparation fees deducted from their federal tax refund will receive their tax rebate in the mail, not via direct deposit.
Our records show that you chose this payment option in TurboTax. As a result, the IRS has determined that you will receive your tax rebate in the mail. This may result in you receiving your rebate on a date later than expected.
This situation, while not unique to TurboTax, is understandably causing some concern and confusion. To help further clarify the situation, below is the most current IRS rebate payment processing schedule, as well as additional resources about the tax rebates.
I hope you find this information helpful. If you still have questions, the best source for the most up-to-date information is (see the "Rebate Payment Questions" link).

Bob Meighan

Vice President, TurboTax Customer Advocacy

If the last two digits
of your Social Security
number are:
Payments will be
mailed no later than:

00 – 09
May 16

10 – 18
May 23

19 – 25
May 30

26 – 38
June 6

39 – 51
June 13

52 – 63
June 20

64 – 75
June 27

76 – 87
July 4

88 – 99
July 11

Sunday, May 11, 2008

With a Purpose

There are too many times when my main goal in art is to do something that just looks cool. This would look great! That would really impress people! While cool looking pieces are fine and good, they lack something that pieces with substance behind them have.

I've recently been getting into Google Sketchup, which is a free 3d modeling program that is basic enough and intuitive enough for the 3d novice to pick up and feel comfortable with pretty much immediately, but powerful enough to be used in the production pipeline of many architectural/ACAD studios. As some of you may know, back in high school I wanted to be an architect. I didn't care what I was designing, be it bridges, buildings, apartments, classrooms, as long as I was designing something. Unfortunately, I didn't get very far, as I picked up Japanese and did it a bit better than I ever did architecture, but the desire to design something that is closer to being tangible than airships and angel wings hasn't disappeared yet.

While doing some research on tutorials for sketchup, I came across this link. For those who are too lazy to follow the link, this architectural firm has used sketchup in the past to create eco friendly single and multi-family green homes. How's that for doing things with a purpose, eh?

The way I'm seeing it now, I have something I'm passionate about. I can keep the fruits of that passions (hmm) to myself, or I can try to do something with it. Something meaningful.

Now, I may not be a great architect, or a renowned painter yet, but I should start somewhere, and sometime. So why not here and now? So Now I'm making a resolution. From now on, every piece I do is going to be for a specific purpose. No more, "Wow, that looks cool!" for the sake of looking cool. Everything I do is going to be to in the efforts of learning something, or the piece will be used for a specific purpose.

Does that mean that Nevergreen is on the outs? No, not quite. NG was originally conceived as a reason to learn how to model more complex scenes, learn color theory, shot composition and lighting. It evolved into the story that I want to tell, but it has an educational origin.

I want to help people. So I'm going to take what I love, and figure out how to help people with it. Or at the very least, I'm going to have a reason for my art. Art for the sake of art lacks substance, in my opinion.

I want mine to have more purpose.