Sunday, September 4, 2011

Splashing in the Shallow End

I've been sitting on this for a long time because I didn't want to spoil things for people, so, heads up: big fat Deus Ex 3 spoiler. I mean, I'm going over the very end of the whole game. Go away until you've played through it, unless you really don't mind having it spoiled.

That said, this is less of a spoiler than it should be in some ways. I'll set the scene.

You, Adam Jensen, ex-cop, head of security for the bleeding-edge human augmentation corporation Serif Industries, rebuilt from practically the ground up after a raid by paramilitary goons leaves you broken, are headed to Panchaea. Panchaea is a project built by your boss's mentor, Hugh Darrow, as an ambitious project to take control of global warming. It also turns out that it's got a system which is tied into the world's augmented citizenry--a recent "fault" in the neural interface caused everyone to go to their clinics to get a "fixed" version which, it turns out, allows for an alarming level of control of any person with such a fix. Darrow sent out a global signal which caused everyone to basically go mad. You, paranoiac that you are, avoided the upgrade before finding out how awful it was.

It turns out that Darrow had lost faith in the secret project he was really working on, or perhaps intended to go rogue the entire time: a shadowy cabal of people calling themselves the Illuminati intended for everyone to get the upgrade to become controllable, so that at any time they could simply immobilize anyone with augmentations. Other individuals you meet suggest this could further allow them to control a person's memory to a degree, or make them do things they wouldn't in their right mind. Darrow intended for his action to be a painful object lesson, to teach people not to trust the augmentations or the people behind them.

You manage to dig to the heart of the system to shut it down, and are presented with four choices:
  1. Darrow set up a recorded message laying everything out. It is strongly suggested that the revelation will drive massive anti-technology backlash, trashing the infant augmentation industry. This is Darrow's preferred ending.
  2. An edited version can go out which hides the failures of the corporation but leaves in all the bits about Illuminati control. This version will cause people to not shut down augmentation technology. This is David Sarif's preferred ending.
  3. An edited version which places the entire blame on Sarif and hides the Illuminati string-pulling. This version will cause people to demand stronger regulation of augmentation technology which will ultimately lead to control by the powerful. This is Bill Taggart's preferred ending.
  4. Don't send out any recording and destroy the facility, leaving it at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean and rendering the entire event a mystery. This will allow people to make a decision without the influence of Darrow, Sarif, Taggart, or you.
If you view them as "who do you want to win" positions, it's okay if a little unsatisfying; ultimately I tend to prefer Sarif's futurist philosophy to anyone else's, but then they build a moral for each of them, and this is where it falls apart, giving you a "why would you take this option" summary, and each of them are questionable in their own special way.

Darrow's ending finishes up with a message straight from the Unabomber: technology is bad. People can't be trusted with it, and it must be ended. No one ever really puts it this way in the game, so it seems out of left field, though it is a real philosophical position, it's just not a generally coherent one. There's some noise about the technology risking what makes humans human, but it's a position taken in a vacuum, with no thought given to alternatives and the risks inherent in them. However, his is the only ending in which the truth in its entirety is revealed to the outside. I found this fundamentally frustrating, in that I feel that getting the truth out would be vital to the informed decision making of others, yet it's spun with an unpalatable philosophy.

Sarif's ending, the one I sympathize most with, is basically a futurist one, in which it is seen as vital to progress. However, his ending suggests that we should turn a blind eye to those hurt by progress and simply accept the harms without any redress. There's also a strong underpinning of, "well, we won't let this happen again," but we've got no real reason to believe it won't. Further, you have to lie to get the message out and cover up Sarif's failure.

Taggart's ending is as bad as Darrow's, in which we advocate control by "our betters" in order to preserve social order. We do this by, of course, hiding a different set of the truth. In some ways this one is just stupid, though, in that we're trusting the Illuminati to control things for the greater benefit of all, or so it's suggested, yet the very endgame scenario illustrates that the Illuminati are a bunch of incompetent clowns who should never be handed the reins of the world. One of them had a fit of philosophical conscience and drove everyone mad, remember?

Finally, we have the ending where you destroy it all in the name of letting "humanity" decide, but this is probably the most ridiculous of the options. It suggests that doing otherwise is not "trusting" people to do the right thing, yet I don't see how hiding the facts of the events allows for people to make a rational decision about what happened. It further suggests that the messages constitute "meddling" in humanity's collective decision-making process, yet it fails on a number of fronts: the collective meddling is what happens in any decision made, and destroying everything leaves the majority of the Illuminati out there and in control of what is allegedly the most powerful media institution in the world. You're even told by the media corp's AI that it can make people believe any position you want them to.

So, why did they do this and pigeonhole us into four endings, none of which is what I'd really want? I'd guess they simply can't do everything, but at the same time I can't help but feel like most people would be dissatisfied in the endings. It feels like they've provided us with synopses of larger philosophies without providing adequate underpinning to make them seem reasonable. That part of the story just felt half-assed.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Deus Ex 3

  • Police are totally cool if you wander into their offices and mess with their firearms. That combat shotgun resting over in the corner look nice? Take it, no worries!

  • Similarly, dropping loaded firearms off in their office will also provoke no reaction.

  • Hacking their computers in front of them, though, that will piss them right off. Other people--generally those with no combat training--are totally cool with you messing with their computers.

  • Feel free to take cash left lying around, no one will ever miss it. Even if it's on a desk someone is sitting at.

  • People embed money in their door locks. I have yet to figure out how or why.

  • Trained military and paramilitary troops find nothing unusual about their buddies abruptly going missing, even leaving their weapons dropped on the floor. Maybe they really, really had to go to the bathroom.

  • Similarly, they either have no gear that can monitor life signs, or they don't really pay attention to it. If you don't see or hear someone get hurt, they're probably okay. Perhaps this is metacommentary on the quality of military equipment. Take that, military-industrial complex!

  • Security systems are best laid out in a decentralized fashion, in such a way that a station has no more than four cameras attached to it. There should be no way for anyone to actually see what's going on at a station remotely.

  • When raiding a company, send in security ninjas to set up all the security gear to notice special people and promptly leave so that no one left knows how the security gear works. The people left should be unable to even tell if the gear is turned on, despite the indicator being big fat glowing circles of colored light visible at long distances... or maybe this is yet another hit on military intelligence. OXYMORON, AMIRITE?

Okay, let me interject here that this list and my further gripes are really testament to how well the developers did with this game. There's a lot of verisimilitude that makes it feel totally immersive, which makes the bits that aren't right stand out a little more than other games. For example, in most other games, I'd guess cops wouldn't have firearms in their offices, though it doesn't seem unreasonable that they would, so the fact that they're there is a point in their favor. That the cops don't care if you dick with them... well, that's just funny.

But I did mention I have further gripes, and they're loaded with spoilers. So stop reading here if you want to be surprised.

There's one real sticking point for me: Adam's kind of dense. There are reveals made much later than I've put the pieces together on, which makes it less of a revelation than a "you just now figured this out" moment.

Take the first real mission: Zeke Sanders, militant anti-augmentation terrorist has stormed a Sarif factory. Midway through the mission, you discover that one of his goons with serious augmentations has been hacking the systems. You get the opportunity to chat with Zeke at the end, and I chose to to see what I could learn and see if I can negotiate him to surrender. He indicates that he's surprised at the hacking, frustration that he and his brother (who was involved in planning, not execution, of the raid) were played by someone, and, if you let him go, he swears revenge on whoever it is. Okay.

Now, at some point, I forget if it's before or after the mission, you can find out that Zeke's got a bit of a background: he shot up a shopping mall at some point. Piece number two of the puzzle.

Shortly after, Sarif HQ is visited by William Taggart, noted and respected anti-augmentation speaker. His aide, Dr. Isaias Sandoval, comes along, and if you talk to him he will talk about how he got into the anti-augmentation movement: his friend shot up a shopping mall due to some sort of augmentation issue he had. Hm, that's familiar. But wait: Sandoval hesitates before saying "friend," suggesting he was going to say something else but didn't. Further, Sandoval is hispanic, and so is Zeke. It's not airtight, but at that point, I was pretty sure Sandoval was Zeke's brother and had been involved in the earlier raid, despite being a public face in a strident but non-violent organization.

Now, it would have been nice if I'd been allowed to act on that realization, or somehow indicate that I knew what was up. However, there wasn't really any way to do anything about it, no one really cared, so it just kind of dropped and I half-forgot. But then, hours later, it is revealed to you by a third party that Sanders and Sandoval are brothers and Sandoval is neck deep in whatever shadowy bullshit is going on... and Adam is shocked. Seriously, Adam? I put this together hours ago and this would have been an "okay, suspicions confirmed" but Adam is dumb as a post.

There are a few other instances of this throughout the game--the tricksy owner of the Hive nightclub, who first misleads you as to his identity and surprises Adam in a later reveal, despite the initial deception being solidly undermined by a psych profile my augmentations put together for me in my first conversation with him. Zhao Yun Ru, corporate overlord known as "the Dragon Lady," cons Adam into believing her a helpless pawn in mere moments, misdirecting him long enough to shove him out the door, since it turns out he's invaded her panic room. It's a little frustrating to be behind the steering wheel in his head allegedly and being completely helpless in the face of his relentless obliviousness. I vaguely hoped for some sort of twist at the end--you're really David Sarif steering around a puppet!--but that doesn't seem to be the case.

Still, very fun.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Working with Citadel Metallics

I've been experimenting with Citadel metallics and painting some bits (as well as finishing up the piece I last worked on), and it's interestingly different. From what I've been able to gather, most metallic paints get the shine from ground mica flakes--there are genuine metal metallics, but they're more finicky in that the metal flakes will rust in contact with water, so you have to thin with nearly pure alcohol, clean brushes used with alcohol-based cleaners, etc. The Citadel line, from what I've read, uses a finer ground mica than other lines but is otherwise a water-based acrylic. These qualities give the dry paint a smoother, thinner finish. So far, so easy.

The tricky part with the Citadel metallics line--especially the gold--is that the coverage is weak in comparison to others I'm familiar with. To thoroughly cover a basecoat would require 3 or 4 layers of the unthinned paint, and even then the underlying color might come through. On the other hand, this color can be used to my advantage--subtle shifts of hue can be had just by basecoating the area with a different color, and the metallic effect is strong even when the basecoat is still coming through. I've found a couple of basecoat mixes I quite like for various shades of gold, and the end results are nicely distinct to my eyes. Citadel discontinued one dark copper entirely which I use pretty heavily for one scheme in its Vallejo formulation, and I'm interested to see how well I can mimic it with a dark undercoat and the light copper.

I'd actually be interested to know how the rest of the Citadel line has improved in its latest incarnation. The pots alone are a vast improvement over their previous version, which was probably the worst possible choice in every way--hard plastic with a screwtop lid is difficult to the point where I had to use a wrench to open a used pot, yet simultaneously more air gets in, giving the paint a much shorter lifetime. I've got decade old paints that are still fluid, but the last Citadel paints dried up after a year.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Futzing with Metallics

After reading this post I decided to get some Citadel metallics, and... I'm debating whether I agree. The post claims that Citadel's metallics are higher quality than Vallejo's, but I'm having a hard time seeing any advantage at all to the Citadel metallics--they are uniformly less pigmented yet thicker. I'm not really seeing much difference by way of the claimed difference in mica flake size; after five coats of lightly thinned Citadel Burnished Gold, I'm almost but not quite to the coverage of three coats of lightly thinned VGC Polished Gold. However, the texture is much smoother, and I'm not seeing much by way of flattening the surface out, so maybe it will ultimately look better.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Paint Review Update

Two updates to my last paint review.

First, I'm less satisfied with VMA metallics than I was. All of five months after I purchased them, they've become sludgy and difficult to use. If you plan on using them very quickly you may be just fine, but if you use them like I do, you'll probably be annoyed. I'll probably be tossing out about two-thirds of each bottle.

Second, Reaper has released an "HD" (High Density) line for their Master series of paints. It sounds like these are intended primarily for basing, so I'm not sure what's up with their Pro line. I'll have to see if there's anything I want to try out.

EJB3, JNDI naming, and a question of the necessity thereof

One of the more interesting things I'm picking up in my new job is EJB3. My background is almost entirely in non-JEE technologies--Spring, Hibernate, and everything built around those. EJB's purpose is very similar to Spring's, and the two have functionally converged over time to the point that annotation-based EJB3 is very similar to annotation-based Spring.

The aspect I'm looking at right now is EJB's dependency injection system. EJBs may declare fields with an @EJB annotation. This informs the EJB container that that field should be populated with an EJB which implements the class of that field immediately after the bean with the field is instantiated.

One thing to be aware of when doing this is that multiple EJBs may implement a given class. I'm not sure if the container's behavior is prescribed by the JSR or if it's just per-implementation, but JBoss uses multiple tiers which it analyzes. Multiple EJBs implementing the class in a given tier results in an exception, but if you have one in the "closest" tier and another in a different tier, you should be fine.

In thinking about the problem, it seems to me that multiple instantiations of an EJB interface should be relatively rare. For the most part they represent distinct pieces of the system which should be well encapsulated--having multiple implementations suggests to me that the responsibilities of the bean are not properly defined and the functionality which differs should be analyzed to determine whether it should be broken up, and I suspect that it probably should.

Regardless, it may prove necessary in some cases, and in those cases one can disambiguate between the beans with a string called a JNDI name. The JNDI name is passed to the EJB annotation. This should be unique within the system, so collisions at this level are illegal.

One of my coworkers is of the opinion all @EJB annotations should include this JNDI name. However, based on my thinking above, I believe the actual value of this to be incredibly small, and doing it just introduces overhead we don't need, and based on the YAGNI principle, should be avoided until it actually becomes necessary. We'll see how this is resolved.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Paint Review

So I've now used something like a dozen brands and lines of miniature and related paints, and I have opinions.

First off, a couple terms. Saturation refers to the "strength" of a color. Low saturation means closer to grey, while high saturation is very colorful. Coverage refers to how dense the pigmentation within the paint is. Paints with strong coverage are generally easier to work with for most purposes.

I've found a few paints that are all equally solid in my opinion: Vallejo's various model lines, Privateer Press's P3 (P3), and Reaper Master Series (RMS). Even among these, however, there are better and worse colors, and I've found experimentation is key to determining which is best for a given color.

Of Vallejo's lines, I've primarily used the Game Color (VGC) line, though I have some of the Model Color (VMC) and a few Model Air (VMA), specifically metallics. The VGC line is solid, but there's some weakness in the yellow/bone range, and there seems to have been a malfunction in their dark green, in that every one I've tried has been somewhere between a wash and an ink, good pigmentation but really, really thin. VMC is generally okay, though I've found the metallics from this line to pop nicely. The VMA metallics, however, are really impressive... except when they're not. The Chrome and Rust colors look incredible, but the Copper and Brass are painfully bad for their names, looking more like a tinted silver than either copper or brass. They might have a use, but it's something other than what they call themselves.

Privateer's lines seem to specialize in very vibrant, saturated colors. They have excellent colors across the gamut, though there's a little too much specialization in browns and olives, in my opinion--a few of the browns I have difficulty telling apart, and probably ten of their colors are olive or olive-tinted. I've yet to find one of their paints I was dissatisfied with, coverage-wise. None of this applies to their metallics, however. I've heard that the paint manufacturer managed to screw up all of P3's metallics in their first batch. I've further heard that the issues have been corrected, but that there's so much of the first batch floating around that all new orders for the metallics still get that bad batch. They are universally awful in my experience, which is really too bad in that they have some distinctly unique colors, such as Blighted Gold.

Reaper's Master Series line seems solid. It's not quite as consistently vibrant as P3, but it has a broader range, and the "Violet Red" is the best looking red I've seen in miniature painting lines. The metallics are good, but I have a hard time saying they're better than Vallejo's. They have a few different colors, however; the Old Bronze is a particularly nice somewhat green gold.

To be honest, I haven't used too much of Citadel's modern lines. I generally preferred the VGC line years ago, which has a color-for-color match to the Citadel paints, and even the problem dark green I thought better substituted by P3 Gnarls Green. I also have yet to try Reaper's Pro Series line. Per their marketing, they suggest using the Pro Series for base coating and the Master Series for further layers, much like the Citadel Foundation and VGC Extra Opaque lines in comparison to their respective standard lines.

Containers strongly affect the usable life of a paint. The worst offender is the modern Citadel line; its hard plastic containers with their hard plastic tops appear to allow more air in and let more moisture out than any other line I have. After two years in my kit, they're dried to solid lumps in their pots. By way of comparison, I have older Citadel paints (made by Coat d'Arms, now an independent) that are over a decade old that are still usable. Silicone tops appear to be the best at keeping in moisture; nearly all of my P3 paints are good, even after around five years. Dropper bottles appear to be very good as well, though I probably lost 1 in 5, and many 1 in 10 remaining are a little thick.

One trick I've found is moving paints from pots to dropper bottles, which can be purchased relatively cheaply. The transition is slightly tricky, but in moving 25 P3 paints to droppers I had no significant mishaps. You'll be left with a small amount in the pot, but it's not too hard to use that up. Bonus for that is you now have empty pots, which do have a use in my experience: wash containers. I have about a dozen washes of various colors in my empties, and the generally leak-proof nature of the P3 caps is hugely useful.