Sunday, December 30, 2018

Top Five: Video Games of 2017

  • As we come upon the end of the year, we take time to reflect on what made the year meaningful for us. And for gamers, that often means taking stock of the games we played throughout the year, preferably in some form of list. So without further ado... Wait, did I not put up a list for 2017. Uh oh.

  • Yakuza 0 & Yazuka Kiwami - My absolute favorite games of 2017. If I had any lingering doubts about choosing to go Playstation this generation, the new revitalized Yakuza series has affirmed I made the right call. The games' combination of crime melodrama, action brawler, and a densely packed explorable world are a perfect combination to keep me playing. And one of the neatest outcomes from setting each game in the fictional Kamurocho district is seeing out the neighborhood changes while maintaining its underlying familiarity. Yakuza 0 is the decidedly better of the two, with Kiwami feeling more like an expansion pack. But I was excited to play both, and look forward to more in 2018.

  • Titan Quest Anniversary Edition - Late in the year, I found myself returning to Titan Quest, this time the Anniversary Edition. The game is one of the few Diablo-style ARPGs that I actually enjoy. I didn't end up finishing it, but it was a nice respite in an otherwise odd gaming year.

  • Heroes of the Storm - If you asked me at the beginning of 2017 what the chances were of me including a MOBA on my top I would have laughed. And yet, I found myself logging in to beat up on bots with some regularity throughout the year. I never wanted to play against other players, but I enjoyed the old comp-stomp a lot more than I ever expected.

  • Destiny 2 - The sequel to Destiny make it on to this list almost by default. It both is and isn't like the first game, which made my Top Five list in both 2014 and 2015. What it did wrong was its lack of stickiness. But I can't knock if for not being my new forever game. I was happy to have played it even if I may never play it again. (Spoilers: I didn't.)

  • Honorable Mentions: Horizon: Zero Dawn, Persona 5, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Each failed to connect with me in vary different ways.

  • I guess this means my blogging hiatus is officially over. Maybe I'll even get 2018's list up on time. Maybe.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Theme Parking: The More Things Change - Disney Further Tinkers With Pirates

  • When I opened Twitter after work Thursday, my first reaction was a deep sigh. Disney announced changes coming to its Pirates of the Caribbean ride in Disneyland Paris, some of which would be making their way to the rides in Disneyland and Walt Disney World. At first, I only noted the title referring to the Paris park. It wasn't until I reread the article that I fully comprehended their intentions for the American parks.
  • It's hard not to feel jaded about more changes to Pirates. I have a draft post about my feelings on the ride that I'll get around to finishing some day. But to summarize, Disney has found it necessary to tinker with the ride with some regularity ever since 1996, starting with the chase scene. Then after the release of the Pirates movie, they could not move fast enough to jam Captain Jack Sparrow into a ride that didn't need him. At every turn, Disney damages Pirates in the attempt to improve it.

  • The auction scene is one of the most iconic in the ride. The Auctioneer is probably the best animatronic in the the park. And let's not forget mystique of the Redhead. (Another draft post I really need to get to.) Like the change with the chase scene that follows, Disney wants to purge the scene of its regressive themes. But based on their track record, it's hard to trust them to get it right, no matter how many times they trot out the hoary old "Disneyland will never be completed" quote.
  • In reality, it is the movie related changes that committed the most violence to the ride. The story of the ride is all but incoherent now. Not that the original ride was perfect with the discordance between the villainy of the pirates against their happy-go-lucky "A Pirate's Life For Me". But whatever themes existed before have been entirely contracted by focusing on the treasure seeking adventure of Captain Jack Sparrow instead of the doomed pirates singing their way to the grave. To be fair, it was around this time that the music was added to the grotto, dramatically improving the atmosphere. So not all is lost.

  • Although I was initially hesitant, I will always second-guess my opinions when I find myself on the same side as the reactionaries. But my nostalgia for the auction was mostly challenged when my wife admitted that she never cared for the scene. Maybe some good can come of this change. Disney may not have my trust, but they have my best wishes for their success.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Top Five: Video Games of 2016

  • It's way too late for this, but let's do it anyway.

  • 2016 has gone and it is once again time to look back on the games I enjoyed last year. In truth, I played very few. Time and priority shifted such that I couldn't dedicate many hours to gaming. But what I did play were some of my favorite of all time.

  • Persona 4 The Golden - As a fan of Giant Bomb, Persona 4 looms large as one of the defining games of the site. When the chance game up for me to get a PlayStation Vita and the game, I knew I had to experience it for myself. It is without any hyperbole that I say P4G is the best JRPG I have even played. It's funny that the actual dungeons, the mechanical RPG sections themselves, were my least favorite parts of the game. They never felt as grindy as I was led to believe. And the battle system with its use of weakness exploits was a lot of fun to manage. But the best part was clearly the visual novel side, where making friends and learning more about them turned the experience from a good dungeon crawler to a truly great game. Persona 4 The Golden lives up to its hype.

  • Firewatch - I don't go out of my way to try "walking simulator" games. 2013's Gone Home, while amazing, was not some gateway to a new style of game for me. However, when the team at Campo Santo announced their first game, I was immediately interested. Firewatch is very much a first person adventure game, combining the best of environmental storytelling techniques with point-and-click adventure structure. It may not stick the landing on the big mystery, but the emotional arc is perfect. This is easily a game I would share with non-gamers to show what video games can do.

  • Pathfinder Adventures - I'm a sucker for all kinds of tabletop games: board, card, RPGs. Even if I may never play them, I like reading about them. Occasionally, against my better judgment, I'll even buy one. I got lucky, then, with the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords. I could play solo, with my brother, and even convinced my family to try it. So when the game made the transition to a mobile app, I jumped on it. Pathfinder Adventures does everything I want out of an video game port: making it easier to play the physical game while also taking advantage of the electronic medium. I have now played more on the app than I've ever played of the card game. And I got to play with my daughter which made it even better.

  • Hitman - I never imagined myself playing a Hitman. They always seemed like too much work for too grisly a topic. Sure, there was fun stories to come out of the games (hat tip to Rebel FM for piquing my curiosity about the series years ago. But I never actually tried one. That was until videos of the new game started coming out, showing off just how crazy things could go. Hitman lives up to the hype. If you want to see just how good it can be, check out this video.

  • Let It Die - I did not expect to find myself enjoying a free-to-play game. Too often, the monetization strategy leads to degenerate design. And although it is said to be worse in the end game, I didn't see any free-to-play shenanigans in Let It Die. Instead I found an alternately morose or farcical dungeon crawler, resembling the Souls and Rogue games. It was simple fun to explore a ruined world, collect gear, and fight various psychos. I didn't make it all that far up the tower, but I enjoyed learning my way through new encounters and doing my best to survive just a bit longer. Also, Uncle Death is a great character, underused in the game.

  • Ironically, I've already started 2017's Top Five list with a great game I just finished. Hopefully you won't have to wait quite so long to read about it.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Theme Parking: Disneyland Resort Trip Report - 28 February 2016

  • Back in February, with only a couple weeks before we were planning to celebrate our daughter's birthday in the park, we decided it had been too long since we had been to Disneyland. Unwilling to wait any longer, we packed into the headed off. I thought I would share a few thoughts and highlights from the trip.

  • I have often wondered at the number of birthday buttons I see in Disneyland. On one hand, there have to be a bunch of people in the parks celebrating their birthday, on or near it. Why wouldn't you go to Disneyland for your birthday if you could? On the other hand, I've seen any number of buttons that are worn and faded, leaving me to wonder if people re-wear their buttons to the park for the attention. By the time of this visit, Disneyland had introduced their new button design, making the old buttons stand out. The charitable part of me wonders if the parks could be using up their old stocks. The not-so-charitable side wonders why people would do that.

  • At lunch time, I made a horrible blunder. In the ongoing fried treat wars going on between SoCal theme parks, Disney introduced the churro funnel cake. We had decided to eat at the Hungry Bear, partly to check out work on the Rivers of America, and partly because my picky daughter would actually eat something there. Along with my lunch, I thought I would try the new dessert. This was a mistake. Those things are massive. It was good, but it was also way too much. If you consider taking one down, I have a couple words of advice: either take a partner or don't eat anything else the rest of the day.

  • We finally had out first sighting of one of the famous Disneyland cats in the queue for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. This cat was a cool customer. He was midway down the hillside below the train platform, alternately eyeing the line of people and completely ignoring everyone. My cats would have flipped out if a train went by but this chill feline did not care. It was adorable and I'm glad everyone knew enough to leave it alone.

  • One thing I observed while riding Its A Small World and Pirates of the Caribbean were the number of women who would trail their fingers in the water, and then immediately shake their hands like something was crawling on them. I know Disney does its best to keep that water clean, but make better decisions, people!

  • As we exited Its A Small World, our daughter spied the couple sitting behind us. They asked her if she enjoyed the ride and which ride was her favorite. (Today, it was Big Thunder Mountain and A Pirates Life For Me.) They were so friendly that I had to ask about them. It turned out that they were from Singapore, studying at UCLA. I asked if they had been to any of the other parks and they said that Disneyland was actually the last Disney park they had to visit, having been to all the others. They admitted to enjoying Walt Disney World most of all and added that the Hong Kong park is tiny. We soon reached the docks and disembarked, quickly going out separate ways. I was reminded that the magic of Disneyland isn't the attractions and shows, but the people that it brings together to share and enjoy the experience.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Theme Parking: Disneyland Resort Trip Report - 26 November 2015

  • It's time for another trip report, but I just want to hit highlights and impressions. Sure, I could run down the itinerary (actually I can't since I lost it), but this get boring pretty fast. Instead, here is what stood out about our Thanksgiving visit to Disneyland.

  • We ended up parking in the Simba lot that morning and had to walk to the park through Downtown Disney. Instead of making the full walk, we decided to ride the monorail into Tomorrowland. Since we arrived just after the last train left, I decided to show off to the family and asked if we could ride in the front. It was quite fun to share a very different view of the ride.

  • Once inside the park, I got the idea to get Fastpasses for Hyperspace Mountain, which had recently opened. By the time I was able to get tickets, the window conflicted with our dining reservations over in California Adventure. We would have to postpone our first ride on Space Mountain in years until our next visit. I still have those Fastpasses in my memorabilia folder for that visit.

  • Those plans involved an early Thanksgiving dinner at Ariel's Grotto. It was a crazy idea, made even crazier in that I just lost my job, but we intended to make the best of it. Our little four year old gave us all the usual food problems we had come to expect, but she was delighted to be visited by the princesses who came to visit our table. Ours was the second table on the princess rotation, the first with a child, so she did not have to wait long after each announcement. Our grown-up dishes were much better than I expected given my low opinion of theme park food. The whole experience will stand out as one of my favorite holiday meals.

  • Disneyland after dark is a magic of a different kind and DCA captures that feeling in similar ways. After the sun set, we found our way to Paradise Pier and the Jumpin' Jellyfish. Our daughter likes this simple ride and, even though I have a small fear of heights, it is mild enough for me to chaperon her. As we stood in line, we heard the music for an oncoming parade. DCA's parades aren't nearly as popular as Disneyland's Paint The Night, so there were no crowds to warn us it was coming. The parade reached us just as we ascended the tower. It was a fun perch to watch from even if I wouldn't want to spend the entire parade up there.

  • Our night ended with a trip to Olaf's Snow Fest. It is a poor substitute for snow play, but it is as close as our Southern Californian little girl has ever come to the real thing. She had a ball. And that is what Disneyland is all about for me.