January 31, 2011

Mass Effect 2 Review

If there's any video game that has all the fictional planets with the coolest names ever, then it's Mass Effect 2 (ME2). It's probably the only game that made me read the short stories about its fictional planetary settings. I admired all the beautiful exoplanetary landscapes and terrains, and the views of cities that set my minds on worlds beyond. ME2 made me pay attention to the dialogues between the characters because it matters; getting to know each of the characters that make up your team is crucial to the success of the final mission.

What’s great about Mass Effect 2 is that the storyline is not exactly the same for each player. Meaning, no two players can experience the exact same events that unfolded during their game play. For example, here’s how my own storyline went: Legion, my favorite Geth sustained a fatal headshot in the final mission. I felt really bad losing him because I loved talking to him. Legion was the only casualty in my team. But other players did not lose a single team member. Or some lost two or more.

Another example is that Miranda was totally pissed at me. Thus, I ended up with ‘Jack’ on a rough scene below the deck of Normandy, not with Miranda in the engine room that some players brag about with a wide grin.

Another thing I love about Mass Effect 2 is that it touches upon so many human aspects. Here’s some of them; Emotion: Miranda shed a tear after seeing her twin sister, and Kazumi keeps a memory of a loved one. Romance: Go figure. Humor: Mordin sang (he's my least favorite because he resembles Jar Jar Binks). Philosophy: My conversations with Legion the Geth was very interesting as it dealt with existentialism. Aggression: Grunt just wants to crush every body. Psychology: Thanes was pretty deep with his Zen quips. Politics and Ethics: Tali, keeps a secret, Zaeed wasn’t too happy with me for foiling his revenge in exchange for saving lives. Morality: The “Renegade” (bad cop) and “Paragon” (good cop) feature has a bearing on the outcome of the game. Apparently, ME2 has something for the evil within you, and it will show up in your face.

As you can see, the scope of the game reaches deep into the humanity of the player while managing to touch upon larger topics such as: Exploration: the quick bits of story and context behind the in-game planets were very good. It was fun reading through the narratives behind each planet. Science: Loads of astrophysics were integrated into the stories behind each exoplanet. It made me think that an astrophysicist and astrobiologist were consulted in this game.

The writers really did a great job of appealing to the different dimensions of the human psyche, and the narratives were well written. All in all, I consider Mass Effect 2 as a masterpiece.


This mini-review is long overdue. I actually dug this from my google.docs and hurriedly posted it, hoping that some items from my wish-list could get to the game developers in time to get implemented in the upcoming Mass Effect 3, which is due this year 2011. Also, since I am now getting immersed in a new high-adrenaline game, I needed to get this out prior to posting my review of Dead Space 2. So, hey Bioware, please take a look at my wish list below:

Wish list:
1) Mass Effect should work with Kinect!
2) “Game-within-a-game” (unlocking and hacking) should be more diverse and varied than just pattern matching and memory game.
3) Multi-player mode
4) Should have more references to Astronomical objects. I already love the inclusion of Eagle Nebula and Crescent Nebula, and so on. I wish there were more. Perhaps add Orion Nebula...
5) Mining the planets made me fall asleep several times (so i let my son mine minerals for me) Not sure if mining could be made more exciting

1) Lack of Mass in planetary properties
2) Text is too small and unreadable. I had to get HDMI cable to read the short stories about the planets
3) Some bugs: (I was unable to move in some spots. This happened around 4 times)
4) Mordin eerily reminds me of Jar Jar Binks. Could you please change his face or change the way he talks?

January 28, 2011

The Search for Exoplanets and ExoLife

This is a great presentation about the search for exoplanets. Featuring the techniques (transit and radial velocity), instruments (Kepler and Keck), and the ongoing challenges involved in finding these diverse far-away worlds. Aside from noting the race to find the first earth-sized exoplanet, it also touches upon the prospect of finding life on exoworlds--one of the main goals of the Science of Exoplanets. It also includes some great quotes from leading astronomers and scientists. Watch it in its entirety. Highly recommended!

"We're gonna have an existential shock, looking at the night sky. Realizing that there--there-there are earth-like twins in outer space. And then we're gonna wonder: Is there anyone looking back?" ~ Michio Kaku

"The 64 million dollar question is whether or not there are other intelligent life in the universe. The answer is definitely yes!" ~ Geoff Marcy

"I think it's inevitable that we're gonna find another intelligent life in outer space. Get used to it." ~ Michio Kaku

Planet Data to Hunt for Life

January 25, 2011


By not posting my review of Exodyssey last year, I have done great injustice to this excellent work of art entitled Exodyssey by Steambot Studio. Exodyssey is actually the first art book ever that used the word “exoplanet” for the very first time. As such, credit is due to them. But even moreso, they deserve the utmost kudos for producing the most amazing concept art book ever.

I’ve been posting pictures from my micro-reviews of the book
since last year (and the year before that). And here is a page
from my own copy of the book which is about
the exoplanet called Samhuinn.
The book is truly inspiring as it gives room for your own imagination to run wild and free. The “awe-mazing” artworks simply gives ‘prompts’ as a starting point for your mind to build upon. This book has that feel of a graphic novel, a comic book, a concept illustration book, and an artist’s scrapbook/portfolio--while managing to be *not* any of those in itself--which makes this book truly unique. It’s like five books in one!

Also, the storyline is great. Check out my summary of their script:

Exodyssey is the name given to the long and war-filled period of time during which humans departed for exo-planets in order to survive their own destruction. The book chronicles the journey of Harry, a highly gifted engineer...a descendant of the first wave of colonists who decided to leave earth. Harry is the key to discovering the origins of an extraterrestrial invasion and is provided the means to travel to a planet called Samhuinn.

I would end my mini-review of Exodyssey by telling you how I useful this book is to me: Whenever i need visual or conceptual inspiration, every now and then, I pull this gem from out of my bookshelf and browse through its pages to take me to a futuristic otherworldly journey which I can describe as an amazing exodyssey!


January 24, 2011

Exoplanetary Dreamscapes

As a follow-up to my installments about artsy exoplanetary sceneries, i bring you Exoplanetary Dreamscapes from Kahn & Selesnick. This time, i dare not use the word “surreal” as it will not suffice to describe these otherworldly works of art that send my mind to the wild exo-yonder.
Let my words be few. The links below points you to more of their work which can be accessible via their tumblr and their book, Mars Adrift on the Hourglass Sea.

Surreal Exoplanet Landscapes

One of Joan Fontcuberta's recycled landscape.
For a while now, I’ve been quite lapse on featuring some exoplanet art on this blog. Allow me to make up for it with this post featuring an unlikely source of imaginary digital realms that give a glimpse of exoplanet landscapes.

In Joan Fontcuberta’s Landscapes without Memory, the method in how these landscapes were produced is as interesting as how they were generated. Instead of inputting maps into the scenery-rendering Terragen software, Fontcuberta entered masterpieces by Paul Cezanne, Andre Derain, Gustave LeGray, Jackson Pollock, Edward Weston, and others to make 3D landscapes from the two-dimensional artworks. "The contours and tones of these painted and photographic landscapes were transformed into three-dimensional mountains, rivers, valleys, and clouds. The result gives the user the illusion of navigating in three dimensions which had previously been visualized only as a flat image".

To me, Fontcuberta’s work offers a glimpse of otherworldly landscapes, and it mirrors the unexpected surprises that exoplanets provide as we continue to discover these worlds that could prove to be more surreal than we could ever imagine.

Joan Fontcuberta’s Recycled Landscapes (From FlavorWire)
Landscapes Without Memory (Book)

January 12, 2011

Our Holy Grail

There’s always that Quest, that insatiable quest to find the most important thing of all. In the field of Exoplanet Science, planet-hunters are actively pursuing to discover the first earth-like planet, or the first inhabited exoworld. Is that the holy grail in exoplanet science? Perhaps.

But in stories where the holy grail is mentioned within the plot, they often contain twists that leave the audience in awe of the unexpected. Such a twist is worth re-telling in this post because it is a monumental event in the history of Exoplanetology.

One night, after his talk on exoplanets at the American Museum of Natural History, the astrophysicist Ben Oppenheimer poignantly answered this question, "What is the Holy Grail in Exoplanet Science?"

For me, the Holy Grail in Exoplanet Science is simply being part of it. It’s not making the best exoplanet discovery, or being in the news and all that; It’s simply being part of the collective efforts of the people around the Science of Exoplanets.

I still remember that idea so clearly, despite the slight tipsiness from the booze of red wine and olives served at the SciCafe event. As I headed home that night, I couldn’t fathom how the common folk would ever be able to find planets at all. And I wondered how simple citizens could help well-trained planet-hunters.

For many months thereafter, I looked into different Citizen Science projects that show potential. I even wrote about the need to enable the common folk to contribute to the hunt for exoplanets, 'subtly' urging astronomy-oriented organizations to embark on such a project.

Then one day, I became excited about Zooniverse’s Milky Way Project, wishing that they make one for exoplanets, too. I asked the hive mind...almost pleading: When will Zooniverse make one for Exoplanets?

I was shocked a few days later. Along came Planet Hunters, the latest project by Zooniverse that enables citizens to find exoplanets!

Hear ye! Hear ye! The Holy Grail of Exoplanet Science is not an object. It’s not even a special exoplanet. Rather, it is the swarm of people--the community--embarking on a mission to find exoplanets. Ultimately, such undertaking will lead us to answer some of man’s greatest questions: Are there worlds like ours out there? Is there life on other worlds?

Planet Hunters is a Citizen Science project that allows volunteers to sieve through data taken by the NASA Kepler space mission. Participants search for possible transit events by looking at light curves and identifying dips in brightness that occurs when a planet passes in front of the star - with the goal of discovering a planet (hence the name "Planet Hunters").

The response to Planet Hunters was enormous. So much that in only a few weeks, there’s already a couple of exoplanet candidates flagged by several Citizen Planet Hunters (CPH). So far, I’ve not been so lucky of being among these sharp-eyed exoplanet hunters, but I am just happy contributing in the search for planets, no matter how small it is. I’ve tagged a few stars, and identified some dips from several light curves, and so far the experience is awesome. Perhaps it's a subjective experience, that the holy grail in exoplanet science could mean many things to different people. But one thing i know, is that this is my holy grail--our holy grail--for all those who take part in it, and drink from its cup.

The Holy Grail in Exoplanet Science
Data Mining Age in Exoplanet Science
Planet Hunters by Zooniverse