Thursday, April 22, 2021

Theme Parking: Disneyland Part II

  • Looking at this blog, you wouldn't know that COVID had happened. You wouldn't know that anything happened, honestly. But I passed the time in a number of ways, watching for the markers that life was returning to normal again. If there was ground for optimism, this set of annoucements is a company with hope for the future.

  • Disneyland is reopening April 30, 2021 - It may not be the biggest news, but I think it's the most iconic: Disneyland announced that they are opening April 30. Although California Guideline allowed for reopening as of April 1 (and Magic Mountain was right there waiting), Disneyland set a date that gives them time to: 1) wind down the Taste of Disney event, 2) recall Cast Members and retrain them, and 3) give the county time to reach a better tier. That last part worked out because Orange County has already reached the Orange tier and is swiftly moving toward Yellow at the end of the month. I was never one of the doomsayers who thought that Disney would pull up stakes because of onerous state guildlines (hah!). But it is nice to the the light at the end of the tunnel may be Tinkerbell.

  • DisneylandForward - For as important as reopening is, this was the news that got every Disneyland fan in a tizzy. On March 25, Disney announced... something. The most extreme fans immediately declared that Disneyland had annouced the mythical third gate and started trying to parse what rides and lands that the concept art was portraying. Thankfully it did not take long for more rational heads prevailed and the real story came out: DisneylandForward is Disney's public relations campaign to lobby the City of Anaheim to change the zoning of the Disneyland resort. Exciting, huh?

    As it is, the Disneyland Resort Specific Plan was drawn up when Disney was planning California Adventure and pretty clearly lays out how each part of the resort can be developed. Although it ushered in a massive upgrade to the resort, Disney now find themselves too constrained by that same agreement. There are only so many backstage areas they can demolish while pushing out the margins before they finally run out of all available run. (Though Tomorrowland continues to be wildly underutilized.) So now Disney is asking for more freedom to develop what they have left however they see fit. It is an exciting development in that it shows that Disney wants to continue investing in their original park. But don't get hung up on a bunch of artwork in a zoning proposal.


  • Alcohol in the Blue Bayou - Not nearly as big of news, but I'm still fascinated to see this headline. Disneyland announced that they will start selling alcohol at the Blue Bayou in New Orleans Square. When Oga's Cantina opened with Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge in 2019, the alcohol ban was already done, but it stayed limited to a highly-thematic location. The Blue Bayou is the best place to expand the practice. And if following the example of WDW's Magic Kingdom, alcohol will stay limited to table service restaurants. Though considering how few of those there are in the park, maybe Disneyland will expand their dining options in order to expand their alcohol sales.

  • Annual Passholder Tears - I was an annual passholder once upon a time, and I loved having that kind of freedom to go to the parks at a whim. But when Disney announced that they were cancelling the program, there was a part of me that was fascinated by the implications for the park. Not everyone was so thrilled and many have been very vocal online about their displeasure. I know I shouldn't be mean about this, but I was struck with the thought of buying a mug with the phrase "Annual Passholder Tears" if such a thing existed. Failing to find one on Etsy, I may have to source one myself...

  • April 30 is just around the corner and I'm excited to see what's coming in Part II of this grand Disneyland story.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Top Five: Video Games of 2020

  • Ryu Ga Gotoku Studio has owned my gaming time for the last few years and will own 2021 as well when I finally get to play Yakuza: Like A Dragon. (I'll have an Xbox Series X someday. Hopefully.) So I'm not surprised to find them on this year's list. But that's not all I played. What a year.

  • Judgment - After playing through a number of Yakuza games over the last few years, Judgment was both familiar and a breath of fresh air. The game leans more toward a dramatic tone where Yakuza can weave wildly between extremes, but that focus gives Judgment enough distiction to stand apart from its predecessor. The main chararacter, lawyer-turned-hard-boiled-detective Takayuki Yagami, and his companions are much more grounded, but the story is as big as ever. I loved playing this game from start to finish and I hope RGG Studio keeps making side games like this.

  • The Yakuza Remastered Collection - Yes, I'm cheating by combining three games into one slot so that they don't dominate the entire list. I have been infatuated with the Yakuza series since Zero. I knew that, once I finished that game, I would have to play all the rest. Since 3-5 were all Playstation 3 exclusive, I knew that might be difficult, but Sega seems to have anticipated my needs. I have now played to 3, 4, and I'm working on 5 as the year draws to an end. The series continues to be a delight in drama and creativity.

  • Fantasy Life - There is a good chance that I bought this game on the recommendation of Austin Walker (formerly of Giant Bomb and Waypoint). There is so much to it, though, that I quickly ran into a "too-much-to-do" mental block and dropped the game. It wasn't until the pandemic hit that I had the time and desire to lose myself in a fantasy world. Fantasy Life's simple gameplay, colorful characters, and inviting world was a welcome escape in the early days of the lockdown.

  • Hades - I've never done the whole "follow a game through early access" thing before, but Hades was the exact right game to try it on. A lot of credit has to go to the team at Supergiant who had the game nailed from the start. All of the time after I started playing was just adding more and polishing the gem-like core that was already there. It was fun to watch the game grow over time, and it was amazing to play from day one.

  • Kingdoms Of Amalur - Reckoning - It certainly is big game, which is why previous attempts at the game eventually faltered. (The studio name Big Huge Games should have been a giveaway here.) It is easy to fall into the completionism trap when the quests are so diverse and the stories so interesting. But there is so much of it and there is enough sameyness to the dungeons it can feel monotonous. But it's hard not to be drawn to the combat and, maybe, see a glimpse of the MMO that might have come.

  • Since this is going up in April, I'll totally admit that I have a Series X now. Also, I've already beat Like A Dragon. I really need to try harder on these posts.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Top Five: Video Games of 2019

  • It may have been a slow gaming year again, but some big titles found a way to overcome my inertia. Here are the games that refused to let me ignore them.

  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild - When I first received my Nintendo Switch as a Christmas present, Breath of the Wild was the game I was most looking forward to playing. And... I didn't like it very much. I ran around a bit, followed the story line, but it just wasn't clicking for me. I thought it would go back on the shelf, unfinished.

    But then my brother played and finished the game himself and encouraged me to try again. I don't know what changed. Whether I was in the right headspace or I just figured out what the game wanted of me, it finally clicked in a big way. Breath of the Wild is an explorer's dream. The world encourages you to wander around and check everything to see what is hidden there. In a way, this is the closest a Zelda game has come to replicating the feeling of the NES The Legend of Zelda.


  • Hades - I have been a fan of Supergiant Games since their inception. Their first game, Bastion captivated me entirely with its riff on the action-RPG and the studio's now-signature narrative and musical excellence. Unfortunately, although their next two games didn't hit me the same way, Hades has hit me just right. Its combat feels right out of Bastion, but with a run-based, Rogue-lite underpinning that has me always eager for "one more run." Even though Hades is in early access, it is stuffed with systems and content that, bar an ending they haven't completed, would be a release game for any other developer. It seems that Supergiant is not satisfied with "good enough" and Hades is all the better for it.

  • Zen of Sudoku - I purchased Zen of Sudoku in 2007 and have played it for over 279 hours. When I need to unwind and let my brain take a rest, this is my go to game. It comes up on my list this year because 2019 just demanded it. (In looking up these stats, I see that I also purchased Bookworm Adventures around that time for three times the price and only played for four hours. Woof.)

  • Marvel's Spider-Man - I'm a little surprised that I've never played a Spider-Man game before. Spidey is hands-down my favorite superhero. But a combination of platform issues and reticence to try something different has always kept me away. Thankfully, the praise for Marvel's Spider-Man overcame all of that and I was treated to a distillation of everything I love about the character. And although I am awful at the combat (even on the lowest difficulty), the joy of swinging through the city is enough to earn a spot on the list.

  • alphacross - My affinity for crossword puzzles assuredly can be traced to my grandmother. She did the crossword every day, in pen as is proper. Just recently, I was looking for something to keep me occupied and discovered alphacross on the Google Play Store. It is everything I need from a crossword puzzler without a bunch of the crap you usually get from one of these apps. It's just a subscription to as many puzzles as you can manage and the tools to complete them. I have been rediscovering the special language of crosswords that comes from seeing certain clues repeat over time. I have also been cursing the puzzle designers who are always too clever by half. But from time to time when I work on another puzzle, I remember what it was like to sit at the kitchen counter and do the crossword with my grandma.

  • An honorary mention goes to the board game The 7th Continent which would have taken a spot had I need to fill out the top five. A survival adventure game about ridding yourself of a terrible curse, I spent countless evenings with my daughter learning the continent and dying horribly again and again. We're sure to win one day.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Theme Parking: D23 2019 Parks & Resorts Presentation Wrap-Up

  • I woke up Sunday morning, made breakfast for the family, and tuned into whoever could get a stream up of the D23 Parks & Resorts Presentation. The biggest Disneyland rumors leading up to today revolved around a refresh of Tomorrowland. That did not happen, but there was still several things to announce.

  • Chairman Bob Chepak officially announced the new daytime parade, Magic Happens, a name that has been posted all over the message boards because of an amazingly dishy leak over on MiceChat.
  • He also showed the new entrance to Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railroad in Mickey's Toontown. Called The El Capitoon Theater, the queue will feature an historical (hysterical) exhibit of costumes and props from film history. This seems to be located where Toontown City Hall sits now. Since that part of the land is just a large outdoor seating area for a set of food vendors that I never remember exist. (Heck, the most recent park map just lists the three windows as Toontown Dining.)
  • We also got so see a little more of Rise of the Resistance, the ride the Galaxy's Edge really needs to open right now to keep the nerds happy. All of the new footage looks a little too much like CGI trickery, but we'll know for certain in about four months. Maybe.
  • Over in Disney California Adventure, all talk was about the coming Avengers Campus. The primary new attraction in the land (not the first though because Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout will be moved to Avengers Campus when the land opens, Matterhorn-style), will be the currently unnamed Spider-Man ride. Rumors of it being yet another shooter ride seem to be founded.
  • Chapek also officially announced the long-rumored Avengers ride. It's described as a QuinJet ride to Wakanda that (say it with me) goes terribly wrong. The rumors have been that TDA (Team Disney Anaheim) sent the Imagineers back to the drawing board for this ride due to capacity issues, thus causing it to fall into Phase II of the expansion. Considering WDI's track record, this is the easier rumor to believe.
  • And that was it for Disneyland. Considering that we just came off the Galaxy's Edge launch and with Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railroad and Marvel Land already to announced, it really was too much to expect a new-new-new Tomorrowland. And since all of the most exciting expansions are taking place elsewhere, Disneyland still has plenty to finish before needing something new.

  • The rest of presentation focused on the other parks. We heard about Hong Kong's two Frozen rides, as well as the name of their redesigned castle. We got more info about Shanghai's new Zootopia land. They also announced what should be a pretty cool new Cirque du Soleil show opening at WDW's Disney Springs. And we heard more about the Star Wars hotel.

  • While they were at it, Chapek announced the name of the new Disney Cruise ship, Disney Wish. And it what was the most excruciating announcement of the day, they announced a new collaboration with Target.

  • But the best announcements were saved for Epcot, a park that has lost its way in recent years. The all-but-forgotten Future World will now be divided into three lands, World Celebration, World Discovery, and World Nature, seemingly to compliment the already strong World Showcase. They announced the names of Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and Space 220 Restaurant. They announced a refresh of Spaceship Earth as well as the release of new shows, Awesome Planet, Canada Far and Wide, a Beauty and the Beast sing-along, and Wondrous China. They discussed the upcoming opening of Remy's Ratatouille Adventure and announced a new Mary Poppins ride. We also got a very nice new logo treatment for the park.
  • D23 might not have been everything that us Disneyland fans might have wanted, but there is a lot for others to be excited about. Now we wait for 2021.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Theme Parking: A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum War

  • About a year ago, I started casting around for a place to discuss all things Disneyland. Somewhere, I hoped, that I could find like-minded individuals who enjoyed the parks and would debate, theorize, and share gossip. I landed on the WDWMagic forums, specifically the Disneyland Resort sub-forum. It has its fair share of kooks, supposed insiders, and all around nice people. It felt like an internet home I had been searching for since the implosion of NeoGAF.

  • Fast forward to Sunday morning when someone has detonated a dirty bomb in the community in the form of a Medium post. The gist of author Gary Snyder's claims is that Al Lutz, one of the earliest online critic of Disney and one of the founders of MiceAge, was posting articles provided by a Disney corporate writer starting in the early 2000's. The goal of all of this seems to be poisoning the community against Michael Eisner to help affect his ouster. (I see that I've never posted a review of James B. Stewart's Disney War. I should get on that.) The author further fingers WDWMagic forum member TP2000 as the Disney writer. This all seems to have been provoked by the recent MiceChat article by Lutz which this time portray Disney Chairman of Parks, Experiences and Products, Bob Chapek, as the current architect of Disneyland's woes.

  • MiceChat eventually punched back with a number of frequently re-edited statements, eventually landing on:
  • Folks, as we digest what was alleged in this nearly unreadable hit piece by Dusty's ex-husband and his friend (and banned MiceChat user), we can tell you without a shadow of a doubt that the entire gist of the article is wrong. In fact, it's slander. Anyone that has ever read the Al Articles knows the truth.

    At this point, we ask that you please support us by not further spreading the falsehoods in this ridiculous article. Our thoughts and prayers are with Al Lutz, who has been so brutally and untruthfully maligned.

    Al may now come to the Expo just to tell you in his own words. Please stop by the MiceChat booth to say hello.

  • It comes out that Gary Snyder has made a career writing hit pieces about Disney, casting doubt on the veracity of this claims. MiceAge co-founder Kevin Yee eventually reveals that Snyder is forum poster Spirit of 76, a long time antagonist of Lutz's. Along with the MiceChat post, it seems that Snyder and the ex of MiceChat's founder (the successor to MiceAge) concocted a revenge plot to bring down MiceChat.

  • (An alternate summary of everything up to here can be found in this Twitter thread from Matthew Panzarino, Editor-In-Chief of Techcrunch.)

  • On the WDWMagic forums, TP2000 finally arrived to throw water on all of Snyder's claims. This everyone took in stride as the post had mostly been discredited. At least until MiceChat admin PhotoMatt showed up to accuse TP2000 of lying about all of this (in a now deleted forum post).
  • This statement is not accurate. I have access to one of the emails you would have used and I have not received any emails. I also contacted Dustysage, and he has not received any emails from you. The claim you are conversing with him is not based on any facts.

    Wrong. You registered on the forum I am an admin on with an email that belongs to Troy Porter. You did this in 2005, and you had no idea it would come back to haunt you. Your address matches what was posted previously by another member. Public records indicate your real age, so it's odd that you would enter a birthday on Micechat using the year 1974.

    1974.

    74.

    Does that number ring a bell? WDW1974? Spirit of '74?

    Troy, you and your buddies hurt my friends. Why? What did you have to gain from this? You are clearly lying. Stop lying. Tell the truth. Why are you doing this?

  • PhotoMatt quickly apologized after all of this, that post was deleted, and TP2000 accepted the apology.

  • This, of course, leaves us with a lot of drama, but no actual substance. There is no way to trust any of Snyder's claims. And whether or not we do, we must come away with the same conclusion: we must always interrogate the agenda of any information with which we are presented. The reason why information is shared can be as illuminating as the information itself.