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.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Theme Parking: Paying More For Less - Disneyland Annual Passport Prices Increase

  • Sometime Saturday evening, rumors started spreading that annual passports would be increasing in price. Within a few hours, those rumors became a reality for both Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World. The biggest change for Disneyland was the abolition of the Premium passport and its 365 day access. In its place are two new passes, the Signature and Signature Plus passes. The Signature is $50 more expensive than the old Premium pass, but now includes fifteen blockout days over the holiday season. The new 365 day pass, the Signature Plus, is now $1,049, a full $270 higher than the prior version.

  • The one announcement that was not made was any change to standard ticket prices. The one-day one-park ticket is still $99 and I don't see Disney wanting to break the hundred dollar barrier lightly. Instead, this increase is primarily targeted at annual passholders, especially those who fill the park on their busiest days.

  • It is for that reason why I find myself so confused about the comments I see about the increases. The common troupe is that Walt built the parks as a family vacation destination. While increasing ticket prices does have an effect on vacation planning, annual passports are not targeted at vacationers. While Walt was alive, the parks were still selling ride tickets. Annual passes did not show up until the mid 1980's when attendance was falling. There is no way to tell what he would have thought of people who return to the park repeatedly.

  • It will cost my family an extra $150 next year if we choose to renew our Deluxe passports for roughly the same amount of access. Thankfully, it's a decision we don't have to make until next April. We have already spent nine days at the resort during the first half of our passes and foresee spending several more days there. At this point, the passes have more than paid for themselves even at the new prices. When we decide whether or not to renew, our decision will come down to how much more we will want to visit Disneyland over the coming year.

  • In the meantime, something must be done about the massive crowds who seem to show up no matter what the prices are. Until the parks become too expensive for the value they provide, people are continue to flock to the park in droves. And even this price increase will not be enough to keep people away.

  • For more thoughts on why prices keep going up, here are articles from Robert Niles from the OC Register and Brian Krosnick from Theme Park Tourist (from earlier this year, but still relevant).

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Theme Parking: Stirring The Pot - Will The Rivers of America Be Shortened?

  • The talk of Internet Disneyland today is MiceAge's rumor that the upcoming Star Wars Land addition will be accompanied with a massive redesign of the Rivers of America and the route of the Disneyland Railroad. According to those rumors, about one quarter of the length of the waterway will be excised to make room for the expansion. The north end of Tom Sawyer's Island will have to be removed to make room for the new waterway, taking Fort Wilderness with it. And along with change will be a rerouting of the railroad along the new waterway, cutting much closer to Big Thunder Mountain before cutting back toward Fantasyland Station.

  • It is difficult to take anything MiceAge reports as face value. Such rumors have the tendency to evaporate as reality encroaches. As writer Matthew Gottula stated on Twitter, "Then again, this is the same source that kept telling us a few years ago that an Ewok Village would uproot the submarine Voyage and Autopia." Here are a few of the highlights from MiceAge from the recent past:
  • Again, rumors are just that. Something to talk and laugh about while there is no real news to discuss. Maybe this is all true. But I'm not going to bet my Disney Dollars on it.

  • UPDATE 09/30/2015: I should have bet my Disney Dollars.
    Disneyland Today @DisneylandToday
    @ZachTWB Hi, Zach. The Rivers of America will have a new route when it reopens.
    Congratulations of MiceAge for getting this one right.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Theme Parking: The Timetable Is Set For Star Wars' Disneyland Invasion

  • A pair of announcements were released yesterday signaling the start of the Star Wars era of Disneyland.

  • First, Disney announced the official launch of Seasons of the Force, beginning in Disneyland on November 16, 2015. The inaugural event coincides with the opening of Star Wars Launch Bay in the Innoventions building, additions to Star Tours - The Adventure Continues for Star Wars Episode VII, and an updated to the Jedi Training based on Star Wars Rebels. The seasonal offering include the Hyperspace Mountain overlay, a Star Wars film supercut (I guess) in the Tomorrowland Theater, and limited time food, drink, and merchandise. Writer Matthew Golluta had reported on rumors that JJ Abrams was not allowing an Episode VII teaser to be included with the theater show, which seems to have been honored. This should all be interesting if anyone needs a Star Wars fix before the land is ready.

  • The other announcement portends the start of Star Wars Land and its effect on the rest of the park. At the end of the day, January 10, 2016, Big Thunder Ranch will permanently close to make way for the new land. In addition, several attractions on or around the Rivers of America will be closed for at least a year. Those include the Rivers of America itself, the Mark Twain, the Columbia, the Davy Crockett Explorer Canoes, Tom Sawyer's Island, as well as the Disneyland Railroad. The Rivers will be partially drained during construction. This seems to indicate a much larger impact on the park than some tucked away land behind the berm.

  • There are a lot of questions still about how the railroad will be impacted. Considering how deeply themed Star Wars Land will be, they can't have the train running through it. But will they divert the tracks forward or behind the new area? So many questions.

  • Things are moving fast and it's an exciting time for a Disneyland fan!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Theme Parking: Giving In To The Fantasy

  • Coincident with my rejuvenated affinity for all things Disneyland has been the launch of Dismaland. The temporary art installation coordinated by British street artist Banksy has been discussed quite a lot over the last month. What it's really about is open to some debate. But a recent link crossed my Twitter feed that tried to do so in some detail.

  • Heather Havrilesky's article, "Burning Down the Mouse", describes her family's visit to Disneyland at the behest of her children and, through that that lens, the larger corruption of culture through capitalism. Her argument seems to be that corporate-driven consumerism has made the world a bad place. In her personal anecdote, she was almost tricked into enjoying herself at Disneyland. It was only upon examining the consumerist sheep around her that snapped her out of the capitalist illusion.

  • I don't bring this up specifically to attack Havrilesky's (or Banksy's) critique of the pitfalls of capitalism. In many ways, I agree with them. The drive for money over all other considerations is dehumanizing. Conversely, there are people who occasionally can turn the vast corporate power at their disposal toward doing a real good. I think that, despite whatever other the company's intentions, Disneyland is one of those good works.

  • In the article, Havrilesky can't help but belittle the type of people she imagines would enjoy the theme park. She describes watching a parade and wondering why everyone she saw took in the entertainment so passively or with such disinterest. Instead of clapping and dancing along to the music, the crowd sat and watched the parade go by. Some were even so distracted that they were checking their cell phones instead.

  • I had a similar experience recently that this article made me rethink. While celebrating my wife's birthday at the Disneyland Resort, we took our daughter to the Frozen sing-along show. She loves to belt out the songs, which my wife and I find to be adorable. And I admit that I am a fan of the songs as well. As we sat in the theater, singing along with "Love Is An Open Door" (my wife and I singing a duet), I looked around the theater. Almost every face was blank, each person staring blankly at the screen. I turned to my wife and asked, "Do you think everyone else knows that this is a sing-along?" Even the wildly popular "Let It Go" was greeted with silence from the crowd. As we walked out of the theater, I wondered why all of those people went to watch a not-so-great stage show if they weren't there for the singing.

  • But thinking back, I wonder why I felt so judgmental about how those people watched the show. Maybe they really did want to watch the show. Maybe they were shy about singing in public, but still wanted to experience it. Maybe they were hot (and it was really hot that day) and they were just looking for respite. Why did I need to say that they were doing it wrong?

  • When I see people in the park who may not be enjoying themselves in the moment, there could be any number of reasons why. There are crowds, weather, closures, queues, money, and family pressures to deal with. Those things don't magically go away just because you've entered The Happiest Place On Earth. People find themselves under pressure to have fun and sometimes they just can't. We should not judge them for not living up to our expectations.

  • Finally, we should not be judging people for finding enjoyment where they can. People are not sheep just because they want to watch a parade go by. People are not sheep because they want to experience a thrilling but perfectly safe ride. People are not sheep because they want to ride through an elaborately told story. We understand that there is a capitalistic side to everything in the park. But there is also the thought and hard work that goes into everything we might see and do.

  • Fantasy is not a bad thing. Authenticity is not automatically some universal virtue to judge everything else against. We seek out fantasy because we want to experience something more than mundanity. It is not weakness to share in the imaginative. Fantasy can be used as an escape, certainly. But people deserve to be reminded that not everything is terrible in the world. We deserve to enjoy life, no matter how we might choose to do so.