Monday, February 1, 2016

Theme Parking: Construction Begins on Star Wars Land

  • As has been long expected, construction have gone up all over Disneyland. Between removal of holiday overlays, refurbishments, and the start of Star Wars Land, it feels as though it would be easier to count the attractions that are still open rather than name all those that are closed. From the photographs MintCrocodile posted recently, it would be hard to find a sight line that doesn't include a construction wall or barrier.
  • As the work goes on beyond the walls, Disney Parks have given us some indication of what the new Rivers of America will look like. Based on the posted concept art, it looks amazing. As much as I enjoy riding the train around Disneyland, there is far too much staring at foliage or the backside of buildings. Riding over a trestle along the northern end of the rivers will likely become the highlight of the loop.
  • Theme park bon vivant Matthew Golluta pointed out one particular poster which recently went up on the construction walls across the Big Thunder Trail. Along with other Frontierland posters, the Disney Parks crew also hung a Nature's Wonderland poster. It took me a bit to realize that this was not just a reproduction but an update, replacing "Via The Mine Train Thru Rainbow Caverns" with "Via The Disneyland Railroad" and removing the location labels. Could this be a hint that Imagineering has more in store for the railroad than they have let on. We can only hope.
  • Finally, along with its usual histrionics, MiceAge recently reported on the proposed layout for Star Wars Land. On the face of it, it looks exactly like what I would expect. Whether this map is the real thing or an educated guess, it remains to be seen. But, I would not be surprised if Star Wars Land looks a lot like this.
  • It will be interesting to watch construction unfold over the coming years. It is an exciting time to be a fan of Disneyland.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Top Five: Video Games of 2015

  • 2015 has been a year of highs and lows for me. One of the highs was definitely all of the great games that came out this year. Without wasting any more time, let's get to the list:

  • The Witcher III: Wild Hunt - Probably the best game I played all year. I found the Witcher books to be engrossing and I'm glad I had that background going into this game. Although I had some frustration with the combat, the world of the Witcher was so beautiful to explore. Everything from the countrysides and cities to lonely hovels and corpse strewn battlefields were amazing. Best of all were the quests and the well-written characters that drove them. As the game intends, I spent a lot of time in the first act taking on contracts and completing side missions while I investigated Ciri's whereabouts. Eventually though, I mainlined the main quest, if only because I had to see it through to the end. I was very happy after the ending to find that I could return to the world and resume taking on side quests and the DLC after the main quest was done. Also, I though Gwent was an amazing addition to the game. I spent many a night avoiding monsters and bandits so that I could find the next gwent player.

  • Destiny: The Taken King - I was one of those weirdos who actually liked Destiny when it was initially released. The Taken King has made it even better. The original content has been reorganized into a much more coherent series of quests. And the new content to so much more exciting. I am so happy that Bungie learned from their early mistakes and was able to reforge the game into something that I don't have to feel embarrassed to admit enjoying.

  • Shadowrun Returns - I'm not sure why it took me a couple of years to finally try Shadowrun Returns, but I'm glad I did. Returns is the tactical RPG I've been waiting for since the Gold Box games and Fallout games. Once again, great stories and great characters carry a straightforward tale of investigation and revenge into and exciting challenge. That there are two more games in the series available gives me such joy. If you miss tactical combat in your role-playing games, you have to try Shadowrun. They got it right.

  • Bloodborne - From Software played a key role in my decision to purchase a PS4. I was infatuated with Dark Souls and, to a lesser extent, Dark Souls II. Bloodborne may deviate from the Souls games, but the lineage is clear. The quick, aggressive combat was an interesting change of pace. But although it did not achieve the same high as with Dark Souls, Bloodborne was a memorable experience that had me on edge through the end of the game. It was a worthy successor to the series.

  • 80 Days - I feel a little more comfortable including 80 Days because it didn't release on Android until early 2015. I'm not sure I've seen a more impressive model of interactive fiction. Modeled after Jules Verne's Around the World In Eighty Days, this steampunk infused adventure gives the player freedom to travel all over the world, meeting people and visiting strange places. As the valet Passepartout, you must care for your master, Philias Fogg, and direct the journey. But you are given absolute freedom to explore and make connections that may or may not advance your goal. I love how the game evokes Verne's science fiction worldview while also keeping a modern eye toward those around the world who might not take kindly to the eurocentric point of view of the original work. I've been around the world a couple times now and I was much more satisfied when we lost the wager than when we won. But I could not stop there. Adventure awaits.

  • Honorable mentions go to Rocket League for its fast, fun, and completely infuriating gameplay and Tales of the Borderlands which might have breached this list if I had only finished it in time.

  • I can't wait to hear what you think are the best games of the year. Here is to a great new year!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Theme Parking: Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler

  • In the days leading up to PBS's American Experience, I found that I did not want to wait to learn more about Walt Disney. I did a quick Google search and eventually decided upon Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination by Neal Gabler. All of the reviews pointed to a thorough, modern examination of the man. With a handful of Audible credits available, I decided on the audiobook edition, read by Arthur Morey.

  • Gabler's biography is a mostly linear affair, from laying the groundwork for Disney's birth until his death. Some of the threads overlap, especially later in his life when Walt had multiple projects going at once. However, Gabler does a good job of reminding the reader of various milestones from other threads, so I never felt lost by the narrative. Gabler's prose is descriptive without being overly flowery. The book is more concerned with details than mood setting.

  • As one would expect, Disney's animation work takes up the majority of the narrative. From his initial shorts, through the creation of Mickey Mouse, to the feature films, Gabler devotes a lot of time describing the process of creation for each work. And, as expected, the triumph and setbacks of his business are a major component to the story.

  • Since I'm a huge Disneyland fan, I was very interested to see how the biography would describe its conception and construction. A couple times I fought the urge to skip ahead, especially during the Fantasia section. I came away slightly disappointed by how the subject was handled. That is likely my fault as that may be a better topic for a more Disneyland focused book than a biography could hope to provide.

  • My major issues with the biography are the facile conclusions Gabler draws to explain Walt Disney's personality. Each of Disney's actions either stem from a yearning for a childhood lost at the hands of his father or a personal drive to assert control over his life and environment. The way certain moments, right up until his death, were plucked to prove one of these assertions felt very Psych 101. By the end of the book, I found myself rolling my eyes whenever Gabler strayed from the narrative into analysis. The Walt Disney Family Museum has stated time and again that is supports fact based examinations of Walt Disney's life. While there is run for interpretation in biography, I think Gabler would have found himself in better standing had he followed that advice.

  • That aside, I found Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination to be a fascinating, well written examination of the man's life and work. I have no reservations recommending it to anyone interested in the subject, as long as they are forewarned about its one shortcoming.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Theme Parking: Disneyland Resort Trip Report - 9-11 September 2015

  • As opposed to the spontaneity of our August trip to Disneyland, this trip has been planned for a long time. We wanted to spend a couple days in the park in celebration of my wife's birthday. Instead of making hard decisions about what to ride and what to skip between the two parks, visiting multiple days in a row would finally allow us to relax and see everything we would want to see. There was just one small, but growing, monkey wrench that changed our plans.
  • Wednesday was devoted to Disneyland. The park was already decorated for Halloween when we arrived. It was fun seeing the blue anniversary bunting replaced with orange. And of course, there were jack o' lanterns up and down Main Street. After a quick stop at City Hall for a birthday button for my bride, we made our way to Carnation CafĂ© for a birthday breakfast. (Aside: I am now addicted to making dining reservations online. That's how we ended up with Thanksgiving reservations in the park.) During breakfast, I noticed on the Disneyland app that the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters had a ten minute wait. The wait times for the ride are usually so long that I mentally wrote it off months ago. But with miniscule line and because Midway Mania was such a hit last visit, I convinced my family to give it a try. It ended up being a big hit.
  • After the ride, we found ourselves in Tomorrowland, trying to figure out where to go next. Across the way, we saw Star Tours and decided to give it a try. We walked over to the entrance and asked the cast members there if we could measure our daughter. It was a near thing, but she could finally clear forty inches. In that instant, all of our usual plans went out the window and a whole new world of possibilities had opened. That first day we could finally returned to a couple of our favorite rides, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Star Tours. I can't even remember that last time I rode them. While we were trying new rides, we even hopped on Gadget's Go Coaster for the first time. It may be small, but it was a lot of fun.
  • With our first day winding down, I volunteered to camp a spot on the parade route while my wife and daughter visited the princess in Fantasy Faire. They has so much time that they also rode on the Mad Tea Party and Alice In Wonderland. When they returned, it was time for Paint The Night and the Disneyland Forever fireworks. We ended the night with a stop at Wetzel's Pretzels and opening birthday presents in our hotel room.
  • Thursday was our California Adventure day, for the most part. I wore my new We Wants The Redhead shirt and we walked to the park for our second day. Now that our daughter was the appropriate height, we could finally ride Radiator Springs Racers. Our first stop for the day was the Fastpass station. Even picking up passes soon after opening, we still received an afternoon return window. We also picked up passes for World Of Color, a show we have never stayed late enough to see. After finishing our scheduling, we could finally make our way to the rides. Our daughter's first choice was Ariel's Undersea Adventure. Afterward, it was time to visit the princesses again. You read that right. So that our daughter could see some of the other princesses, we crossed the esplanade long enough to visit Fantasy Faire.
  • Upon returning to DCA, we had two goals. First, we wanted to try new rides that we hadn't tried before. We ended up on Monster's Inc., Radiator Springs Racers (finally!), Soarin' Over California, and Jumping Jellyfish. Second, we wanted to see several shows. I think it was the announcement the prior night that the Aladdin musical would be replaced by Frozen that prodded us in this direction. We saw Aladdin, the Frozen Sing-a-long, and World of Color. Again, I was stunned by how much we could do in the park that we had not before.
  • Our original plans for this trip called for one day at Disneyland, one day at California Adventure, and then off to home. As we woke up Friday morning, we did a quick calculation and decided to head back to Disneyland for the opening of Haunted Mansion Holiday. It was our first time seeing the overlay. While it was well done, I have no affection for The Nightmare Before Christmas and it felt disorienting to see the ride that way. On the way out of the park, I picked up The Haunted Mansion: Imagineering A Disney Classic by Jason Surrell and we all chose treats from Candy Palace. All in all, it was a great mini-vacation that left us all exhausted and happy.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Played Lately: The Witcher 3

  • Geralt left the deserters behind to nurse their wounds in the ramshackle cottage. The hound outside watched him warily as he passed. Although the witcher has been hired to find the lost man, it was the dog who eventually led them here. But no matter; the job was done.

  • Roach cantered up at his whistle. Geralt. climbed into his saddle and they rode back across the corpse-strewn battlefield. Broken engines of war jutted from the mud and filth. The witcher steadied his steed with a pat on the neck.

  • Down the road, the witcher could see the burned out remains of the village ahead. There were bodies here too, though the survivors were disposing of the dead. A good thing too, Geralt thought. The corpse eaters would find the battlefield soon enough. There was no need to draw them to the village as well.

  • Not that there was no fear from the necrophages. The witcher had noticed signs of drowners the first time he passed through. No one was going to pay him for the job. These people barely had homes much less the money necessary to hire a monster hunter. Nonetheless, the witcher could not leave these people to even greater misfortune for lack of coin.

  • As Roach cantered down the lane, a shout rang out from above. Geralt turned toward the sound only to be met with an arrow to the arm. Before he could react, a second arrow struck, knocking a full quarter from his vitality bar. The witcher paused the game and checked his world map. An icon nearby indicated that he was near a bandit camp in the middle of the village. "Oh, I have to fuck these guys up now."

  • Actually now that I think about it, that last part might have been me. The Witcher 3 is a really good game everyone.