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Halo Reach, Our Generation’s Dirty Dozen February 29, 2012

Posted by Maniac in Editorials.
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War movies used to be little more than propaganda to encourage positive support for the country’s war effort. Then, in 1967, The Dirty Dozen was released. It is, to this day, considered one of the greatest war movies of all time, and probably is up there on some lists of the greatest action movies of the last generation.

Based on the bestselling book, The Dirty Dozen told the story of twelve American soldiers during World War II who had been found guilty in a military court-martial and had sentences ranging from death to extended hard labor. Instead of serving their sentences, the military cut them a deal and trained them for a mission to France. Their goal was to break into and eventually destroy a château where several high-ranking Nazi officers were staying and disrupt the Nazi chain of command just before D-Day. It was, by all accounts, a suicide mission. While they were promised exoneration for their crimes if their mission succeeded, if anyone, even anyone in the army, found out their identities or what their mission was, their deal was off and they would be sent back to serve their sentences.

E. M. Nathanson, the author of the original novel, was inspired by the urban legends and rumors that were traded among the soldiers after World War II. He had heard stories about a mythical dirty dozen who were made up of condemned men, and then when he later asked what happened to them he found out that they all perished on their mission. While the US Government and the book’s author readily acknowledge the story as a complete work of fiction, many believe that the story of the dirty dozen was true.

The movie was made after World War II and ironically enough many actors who had served in war through various branches of the armed forces brought that experience to their role. Lee Marvin, who starred in the picture and was the soldier assigned to lead the dozen had been a Marine. Ernest Borgnine, who played a General responsible for overseeing the mission, had been in the Navy. (Yes, McHale really was in the Navy.) As for members of the dozen, Clint Walker had been a Merchant Marine, Charles Bronson and Telly Savallas were in the Army. You can tell that war experience was influential when seeing the actors in their roles. The people who watched him on the movie’s set said Marvin’s performance was “…all Marine” and watching him in the role, you can tell.

Everything about that movie worked in its favor, and it turned out to be a fantastic picture which pulled no punches in its graphic depiction of war. Many believed that something like it could never had been made again. Even the three direct to television sequels of The Dirty Dozen failed to reach anything near the acclaim of the first movie.

In 2010, Halo Reach was released.

Here was the story of six soldiers, called the Noble Team, of extremely differing backgrounds forced to fight in a war with overwhelming odds against them. Just like the dozen, they never had the chance to get to know each other very well. Only five of them knew each other, Noble Six was a recent replacement for a squad member who had died. They also never trained together. Noble Five, (Jorge) was part of the SPARTAN-II program, the same program that produced John-117, the Master Chief. The others were part of the controversal SPARTAN-III program, which was made up of revenge motivated orphans of war. They were developed in secret after the success of the SPARTAN-II program, in a way to be more cost-effective they were not given training or armor nearly as good as the SPARTAN-IIs had, as, like the dirty dozen, they were considered expendable.

One thing I found interesting was that Halo Reach and The Dirty Dozen were both shot in the same aspect ratio. While this could be played off as a mere coincidence, Bungie did also make Halo 3 and Halo 3 ODST for the Xbox 360, and chose to Letterbox those game’s cinematics, so that they would have black bars even when displayed on a widescreen HDTV. In Halo Reach, the cinematics are not letterboxed, and display at the same aspect ratio as the rest of the game, which ironically enough is the aspect ratio The Dirty Dozen has.

Like The Dirty Dozen, Halo Reach cast members did have military experience. Noble Two (Kat) was played by Alona Tal, who, according to the game’s Legendary Commentary, had served in the Israeli Defense Forces. Heck one of the guys who played a soldier in the game, Ron Livingston (who you probably remember from Office Space) had some experience. He went through military basic training (probably in preparation for Band of Brothers), and the Reach developers remarked that he did the whole recording session while in character (even calling the people at Bungie, “Sir”). When they asked him why he did that, he said he had to since that was how he was trained.

Just to warn you guys right now, I’m going to wrap this article up with some spoilers. As those of you who have played through the game, you know that one by one, the members of Noble Team are killed in action. The game’s promotional material, as well as very early foreshadowing in the first cinematic of the game makes it clear to the player, that Noble Team is on a suicide mission, not because of choice, but out of necessity for the survival of the human race.

It would be a lie to assume that everyone in a war would simply be able to walk away from it just because they’re likable. The Dirty Dozen dared to show that to people at a time when other movies kept that away from audiences. Forty years later, it would take a video game to bring that same message to the next generation.

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Podcast 9 – The Darkness February 27, 2012

Posted by Maniac in Podcasts, Site Videos.
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It’s time for the next site podcast!  Fueled by the recent release of The Darkness II and all the promotional events that have gone along with it, Maniac has devoted the ninth site podcast to The Darkness, a game series which has seen two game releases since 2007.

In it, Maniac talks about its origins as a comic book by Top Cow, his first exposure to the series, all the promotional events he participated in for the second game, and his favorite parts of the series.  If you’re interested in the game series, give it a listen!

The Darkness II is out now for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.

Max Payne 3 Story Trailer February 25, 2012

Posted by Maniac in Game News.
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Rockstar Games has released the second official story trailer for Max Payne 3.

Max Payne 3 was delayed from its March release, the game is now expected to launch in May.  The delay has also meant that the game’s collector’s edition preorder deadline has been extended to April, so there’s still time to preorder it if you’re interested.

For those of you interested in knowing more about the game, you can check out the preview we did of it at the New York Comic Con here.

Mass Effect 3 Take Back Earth Cinematic Trailer February 25, 2012

Posted by Maniac in Game News.
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With Mass Effect 3 launching very soon, EA and Bioware has released this full cinematic trailer for the game.  While it seems to be done entirely computer generated (opposed to with in-engine game footage) it really succeeds in showing to the player just what the stakes are this time around.

Mass Effect 3 is launching March 6th, 2012 for PC, Xbox 360 and PS3.  You can check out our preview of the demo here.

Alan Wake Day Aftermath February 23, 2012

Posted by Maniac in Site News.
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I want to thank everyone who participated in the site’s day of Alan Wake content.  I’ve gotten a ton of positive comments about the videos from Alan Wake fans all over the world.

Since producing those videos the small cold I had has gotten a bit worse and because of that I’ve decided to hold off any further video production until it clears up.  That said, written content can still be expected for the time being.  Once I feel better I have a bunch of new ideas for video content that I can’t wait to start working on for all of you.

Thanks again, enjoy the site!

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare Released February 22, 2012

Posted by Maniac in Game News.
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In his defense, he did tell us in advance.

And that will bring us to the end of the day of Alan Wake on this site!

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is out now exclusive to the Xbox Live Arcade.  Price is 1200 Microsoft Points.  A trial is availible.

What Was Cut From Alan Wake February 22, 2012

Posted by Maniac in Site Videos, What Was Cut.
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Hours before Alan Wake’s American Nightmare gets released, Maniac recorded the second of two promised videos to celebrate it!  In it, he spills the beans about a lot of content that was cut or changed from the original Alan Wake game.

Note, some of these concepts were just ideas or test concepts and are no longer considered canonical to the game, but there are some things that did find their way into the Alan Wake Files book, and are considered canonical.

Alan Wake is out now for Xbox 360 and PC.

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is out right now for download on the Xbox Live Marketplace!

Alan Wake Commentary February 21, 2012

Posted by Maniac in Site Videos.
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With Alan Wake’s American Nightmare releasing tomorrow I planned to have two site videos uploaded to commemorate it.  Alan Wake is one of my favorite games for the Xbox 360 and I’ve done plenty of research about it over the five years of its development.

So, enjoy the first half of the first episode of Alan Wake with commentary by Maniac.  Maybe you’ll hear some behind the scenes information you hadn’t heard before!

Alan Wake is out now for Xbox 360 and PC.  Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is being released tomorrow to the Xbox Live Marketplace.  Another video will be coming, and hopefully will be up before the new game releases.

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare Launch Trailer February 21, 2012

Posted by Maniac in Game News.
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The next Alan Wake game is launching on Wednesday, and to celebrate the imminent release, Remedy has uploaded the game’s official launch trailer for the game.  It does a fantastic job to setting up the story of the game and its new theme, which is obviously inspired by series like The Twilight Zone, and if you listen closely you can enjoy a little bit of the music for the new game’s soundtrack!

And for those who may have missed it, here’s the third developer diary for the game, once again being done by Ozz, Matias (who I met at last year’s E3) and Sam Lake.  They’re not alone however, keep your eyes peeled for a cameo by someone very important to the new game!

Alan Wake’s American Nightmare is launching Feb 22nd, 2012 exclusive to Xbox Live Arcade.

Science Check: Mass Effect February 20, 2012

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Science Check.
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After five years I’ve dusted off my copy of the Mass Effect Limited Collector’s Edition and decided to finish it. Previously, I had only gotten as far as the end of the first act, my intention now was to restart the game and play every bit of it I could. As I was playing the game, it became quite clear that the game was based in a very plausible reality when it came to science fiction, making it a perfect candidate for a Science Check.

Not familiar with the Mass Effect series? Let me introduce it to you in the way that it was originally introduced to me, its E3 2006 video.

I know what you’re thinking, didn’t Dr. Michio Kaku already talk about this game in a video series for GameTrailers? Well yes, he did. But he focused on specific technology in Mass Effect 2 like invisibility and force fields, so I’m not going to discuss what he’s already covered. Instead, I’m going to focus on the most important technology in the Mass Effect universe, space travel, and talk about how well the game’s presentation of how starships can travel through space holds up under scientific scrutiny.

Sometimes, you’re forced to make some severe leaps of logic as to just how plausible a video game’s grounded reality can be. Some things we’re willing to take for granted, like enemies will simply just carry health and ammunition supplies with them at all times, and you will be immediately able to make use of them.

But then sometimes there will be moments in gaming which skirt the bounds of reality and you are forced to ask yourself…COULD THAT REALLY HAPPEN? Fortunately for me, I happen to have a bunch of friends on speed dial with science backgrounds and when I ask them questions, they have no problem filling me in on just what reality would do in these situations.

So this is Science Check, where I take a look at the leaps and bounds of scientific logic that games have made over the years and check if it would indeed work, or if you tried doing it in the real world, you’d be totally screwed.

As you saw in the video, you have control of your own starship called the Normandy, which at the time of the beginning of the game is the newest and most advanced starship in the Alliance Fleet. Its revolutionary stealth drive allows it to travel through space virtually undetected by other starships.

It’s clear that Bioware had access to a scientific advisor when developing this game because after going through a lot of the game’s Journals and Codex files you can read intricate details about how all the technology in the Mass Effect games work, and all of it is based upon our most recent understandings of how the universe works. I haven’t seen a fictional medium this up to date with its real-world scientific information since Star Trek.

To explain how a starship can mask its engine signature I must start off by breaking some sad news. I hate to say this, but the movie Predator 2 lied to you. If you haven’t seen Predator 2, let me give you a little backstory. A government agent, played by Gary Busey, wanted to capture an alien hunter who was having a grand old-time in Los Angeles. With knowledge gained from Arnold in the first movie, the government deduced that the predators could only see in an infrared spectrum of light (it could only see based on body heat). When Busey tried to capture the predator with his team, he had them all wearing bodysuits which completely masked their heat signature with the hope it would block the predator’s infrared vision. However, it turns out that the predator can also see in other light spectrums such as ultraviolet, and detects the team coming for him by the beams of their flashlights.

In real life, if you were to wear a suit that rendered your body heat undetectable, you would die (and I’m not talking about from a predator attack). Heat cannot simply be masked or destroyed, only transferred. You can’t completely mask the body heat of a human being, as it would dangerously contain that heat, and without a way to vent it the suit would continue to build up heat until whoever was wearing it overheated and possibly died. Even if the suits contained some sort of air conditioner, the heat would still need to be removed from it through some sort of airborne exhaust system (which would have been visible to the predator) or a series of tubes (which they did not have). Your refrigerator, for example, doesn’t just cool your food by adding cold, it cools itself by removing the heat inside the box and dissipating it out the back. Even an air conditioner cannot cool the temperature of a room without first removing the hot air from it.

The Normandy’s engines actually have a pretty ingenious solution to the problem of what to do with its heat output. Ships in the future are tracked by the heat trail left by their engines. In order to move through space undetected the Normandy masks its heat trail by storing the heat generated by the engines in massive heat sinks, instead of releasing it as exhaust. The ship does not bend light around itself like a Star Trek cloaking device would, so it would certainly be visible by looking out of the window of another space ship in close proximity, but it would be next to impossible to track its trail with typical sensors, and with space being as big as it is, the chances of another ship in open space being close enough to the Normandy to be in visual proximity is quite slim. However, the ship cannot operate in stealth forever. Eventually the ship will have to vent the heat it is storing or it would risk catastrophic overheating.

In Mass Effect, in order for a starship to travel faster than light, a ship needs to pass through a mass accelerator, which are massive relays spread all throughout the galaxy by a long-lost alien race. By traveling through one, the ship gains speed as the accelerator, um, accelerates it. As the ship leaves the accelerator it will be travelling faster than light towards its destination. When it comes to light speed travel, scientific workarounds must be written because Einstein’s Theory of Relativity (and the reason why so many say faster than light travel is impossible) says the faster an object goes as it reaches the speed of light, the more mass it gains. Pesky little problem, right? Mass Effect says that while traveling at light speed, the mass of the ship is reduced to zero. This gets it around the Law of Relativity similar to how a starship in Star Trek must slip into subspace in order to reach warp speed.

The mass accelerators that a spacecraft like the Normandy travels through, pushes the spacecraft to faster than light speeds, and releases it. This reminded me a lot like how a linear electric motor works. Since nothing is faster than an electrical impulse, a projectile can be moved along a series of magnets placed end to end. The accelerated object gains speed as it is being pushed from magnet to magnet. gaining great speed over a short period of time. With this system, the vehicle’s speed is limited only to your craft’s design. This kind of technology is also used in a rail gun, which uses the same concept to accelerate a projectile. In fact, the animation of the Normandy using a mass accelerator to travel faster than light looked very similar to how a rail gun accelerates a projectile out of a barrel.

The stealth drive is not supported during faster-than-light travel, the amount of heat generated by the engines during that procedure is so massive that no amount of containment would be enough to mask the ship’s engine trail. So any ships tracking it would be able to know if they had entered a star system, and if they had left, but not where they were while they were in there.

I also wanted to talk about the other little vehicle included in the Normandy’s cargo hold, which you can take when cruising around uncharted planets and asteroids, called the M-35 Mako. The Mako is a fully enclosed six-wheel-drive vehicle designed to hold three occupants and allow safe travel over great distances of difficult terrain in hazardous atmospheres. It even has its own life support systems and can withstand high pressure or extreme temperature environments which could be fatal to a person if exposed for very long.

The Mako actually has a real world counterpart. NASA has constructed a similar vehicle with the intention to send it on a manned trip to Mars or the moon. Called the Lunar Electric Rover, or LER for short, this vehicle is just plain awesome. Last time I checked, astronauts were testing it on Earth under simulated Martian terrain conditions. The vehicle has a very similar redundant wheel configuration to the Mako, and also has high tork to help it travel over rocky uneven terrain without getting stuck. It is entirely electric with power from solar panels on its exterior. If you’re curious I believe its top speed is about fifteen km/hr. So not only was the design of the Mako plausible, a real world analog to it actually exists!

Okay, I just spent a few paragraphs drawing from what scientists have been debating for half a century. Would it work in reality? Right now, there’s just no way to know, while Mass Effect clearly had its scientific principles grounded in the most recent information available, the human race has not used this information yet to build a starship capable of traveling faster than light, and because of that I can’t put a verdict on it. Okay NASA, I’ve talked about it, now build it. If this method works, it will get a pass from me.

Mass Effect 3 is coming March 6th, 2012 to Xbox 360, PC and PS3.