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 it 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 Café 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 princesses 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.

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).

  • UPDATE 10/07/2015: Here is one more link, this from LA Times report Brady McDonald, titled "7 reasons why Disneyland raised its annual pass prices". There has been a lot written about Disney's greed (by the LA Times, OC Register, Motley Fool, and Frommer's). And although that is a factor in this change, it is not the only one. I would have written my own blog post, but Brady McDonald covered everything I wanted to say in much better fashion.

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.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Theme Parking: Out With The Old

  • A couple of very interesting news items dropped during our vacation last week to the Disneyland Resort (trip report coming soon). Of course I was nowhere near a computer, so I'm writing about them today.

  • First up, the Orange County Register reported that a very optimistic Tom Scaggs, COO of Walt Disney Company, announced a groundbreaking timeframe for the new Star Wars Land. According to Scaggs, both he and CEO Bob Iger are pushing to start development in 2016. A lot of the scuttlebutt online assumed a 2017 start date. Those estimates were based on the assumption either that at least two years of planning would be necessary post-announcement or that Disney would delay until 2017 to meet the letter of their agreement with the City of Anaheim. Considering the competition that Disneyland is expecting from Universal's Harry Potter land, Star Wars Land can't open soon enough. Of course, I initially estimated an open date of June 15, 2018, so a 2016 groundbreaking is way too late for my taste, but I suppose Disney knows what they are doing.

  • The other big news of the week was more bittersweet (or just bitter) for some. The long running musical, Disney’s Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular, will finally draw to a close January 10, 2016. Taking its place will be a new musical based on the massive hit movie, Frozen. Several people online were losing their minds over the announcement. Some will genuinely miss the show, or, more likely, the Genie. Others seem to loathe Frozen so thoroughly that they decry any further incursion of the property into the parks. I agree in the sense that running three separate shows plus a meet-and-greet at the same time would be insane. So insane in fact that there is no way Disney is actually going to do that. My hope is that Disneyland will sunset the other, smaller shows to focus more on their new musical, while freeing up the other theaters for new productions. That would be the smart thing to do, right?

  • Right, Disneyland?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Theme Parking: Disneyland Resort Trip Report - 9 August 2015

  • Sometime on the Friday prior to our visit, I decided that it had been too long since we had been to Disneyland. I sprung the idea on my wife and she agreed. Sunday morning, we packed the car and headed off to the Magic Kingdom.

  • Leaving the decision to our four year old daughter, we started the day in California Adventure, heading to Ariel's Undersea Adventure. She knows that Ariel's ride is Daddy's favorite in the park. After the ride and several snapshots, I noticed that the line for Toy Story Midway Mania was under an hour. I had previously been hesitant to wait so long for a ride that I knew little about, but forty minutes seemed manageable. I'm happy that we waited because, 3D glasses notwithstanding, we had a great time. I was worried that our daughter would have trouble with the cannons, but she had a blast.
  • When the ride was over, I acquiesced to a request for Mickey Mouse suckers (a perennial favorite), but I did not want to ride Mickey's Fun Wheel again. I have a terrible fear of heights and the extended trip around that wheel freaks me out. Luckily, my wife suggested that I finally indulge in a Disney corn dog (probably so that I would stop talking about it so often) while she chaperoned our daughter on the ride. The corn dog was a much better experience, though I will forgo the potato chips next time. When we joined up again, it was time for lunch.
  • We rounded out our adventures in DCA with a round on King Triton's Carousel, Heimlich's Chew Chew Train, and Flik's Flyers. I finally assented to our daughter's request to ride the bumper cars. However after making it all the way through the queue, we were informed that the ride was down due to a PA system malfunction. We would have to save the bumper cars for another day.

  • After having our fill of California Adventure, we crossed the esplanade to finish our day in Disneyland. It was then that I developed a splitting headache.
  • While I'm usually tolerable when I'm feeling well, I understand that I am unbearable when I have a headache. Unfortunately, the heat that day was not helping to make me feel any better. I took some medicine and hoped it would pass soon. As such, our next four rides, It's a Small World, Alice in Wonderland, Mark Twain, and Winnie the Pooh, were less than pleasant experiences. It wasn't until we reached the queue for the Haunted Mansion that I started to feel like myself. Just in time for that ride to break down too.

  • We knew from experience that if we waited long enough, the happy haunts would stop their meddling and get things moving again. We were again rewarded for our patience and enjoyed our jaunt through the darkness. I rewarded my wife and daughter for putting up with me with ice cream from Gibson Girl, as well as their choice of candy from the Candy Arcade. Our daughter chose candy-covered crispy treat. My wife selected a peanut butter sandwich (that I almost chose as well). I picked the English toffee. We dutifully packed up our treats and took them home with us, ending the day.
  • The lesson I took from the day was to remember my limits. Disneyland can be a great time, but only when you are feeling well. Our next trip to the parks is scheduled for early September. Hopefully the weather will be more cooperative, as well as my head.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Theme Parking: The Attraction Poster Calendar Returns for 2016

  • The Disney Parks blog announced that a new version of the Attraction Poster Calendar for 2016. This year's calendar includes posters from around the world instead of focusing on Disneyland alone.
  • Several of these posters I'm only aware of from the Poster Art Of The Disney Parks book (which I'll getting around to reviewing some day). It is quite a wild and varied collection this year, covering a number of styles and eras.

  • As happy as I am to see a new calendar, they need to use some of those beautiful California Adventure posters in the future if Disney really wants to hook me.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Theme Parking: From Dreams to Anticipation - Star Wars in Disneyland

  • For fans of Disneyland, there was exciting news at the D23 Expo this weekend. Bob Iger, Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO, announced a fourteen acre expansion to add a Star Wars land to the park. Bob Chapek, head of Disney Parks and Resorts, and Imagineer Scott Trowbridge went on to describe what exactly the new land would entail.
  • Set on a new world in the Star Wars universe, Disney is crafting a place better suited to Disneyland than the extreme environments normally present in the movies. The land will be entirely inhabited by characters from the universe, costuming all of the cast members as appropriate. There are two rides planned: one involving the Millennium Falcon and one involving a battle between the light and dark sides. There will even be dining similar to the Mos Eisley Cantina, which seems like a Star Wars fan's dream come true.
  • Rumors had Disney demolishing Mickey's Toontown to replace it with a Star Wars land. But the current thought, as corroborated by the Disneyland Today twitter account, is that Big Thunder Ranch will become the new entrance to the land.
  • While the new land is under construction, additions will be made to Tomorrowland to suffice those of us waiting for the real thing. Star Wars Launch Bay will exhibit the films and merchandise around the series, most likely in the under-refurbishment Innoventions building alongside the Marvel superheroes. Star Tours will be receiving another update to align the program with episode seven. Also, a new seasonal event called Season Of The Force will increase visibility of Star Wars in the park. The most concrete plan for the event is the new themed overlay for Space Mountain called Hyperspace Mountain.
  • The Orange County Recorder reports that the city of Anaheim is likely to approve the park's plans with all speed. As well, the newspaper reminds us that it is likely to be some time before those plans come to fruition. Comparing this announcement to the most recent addition, Cars Land, we are likely two years from the company even breaking ground. Add in three years for construction and we are unlikely to see an opening until 2020.
  • In other news, it looks like I'm back to the drawing board on my plan to fix Tomorrowland. If anyone one from WDI is reading, give me a call. I can get this all figured out.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Theme Parking: How I Would Save Tomorrowland

  • Things are moving fast for the Disneyland Resort. Between the announcement of a billion dollar investment into the resort and the recent purchase of nearby properties, speculation about expansion options is at an all time high. With the D23 Expo coming up, I need to get in on the action before Disney make some sort of announcement.

  • Tomorrowland has always been the strangest part of Disneyland. Over the last sixty years, there have been four separate versions of the land. Each revision has attempted to rejuvenate the area. But before long, the present always catches up with the future and Tomorrowland becomes relic of dreams gone by. Science fiction and futurism will always have a limited shelf life. Before long, what once seemed like exciting possibilities eventually become quaint, even misguided. That is what the Imagineers have been facing for decades with Tomorrowland. How do you design a land of the future that will stay futuristic for more than a few years. And as people perceptions of the future change, having grown more pessimistic over time, is it still possible to maintain Walt Disney's boundless optimism?

  • In some ways, the 1998 New Tomorrowland was an idea that was too early. The concept of retro-futurism is sound as evinced by the rise of steampunk culture. If Disney had gone that direction a few years ago, slapping some extraneous gears on everything in sight, I think it would not have raised as many eyebrows. But even today steampunk's currency will wane as new aesthetics come into fashion. Nonetheless, I believe that the concept of New Tomorrowland was sound, if maybe too specific.

  • If I was given control of the New (to the nth power) Tomorrowland, I would reimagine the land as a celebration of many visions of the future that mankind has expression over the years. I've already decided on a name for the concept: All Our Tomorrows. The land would be rethemed so that each attraction more closely resembles a specific era. Space Mountain should lean even more into the seventies' white-plastic-and-jumpsuits vision. The Tomorrowland Theater and Redd Rockett's Pizza Port would be dialed back to 1955, reverting to the future Walt Disney would have envisioned when he opened the park. I envision making the exterior of Buzz Lightyear more like the fictional Star Command while leaving the interior as is. Star Tours, alas, has to go. (Don't worry; I'm just relocating it.) In its place will be some sort of grunge future thrill ride, something like Alien or similar movies.

  • The biggest change would revolve around Innoventions and all points north. Ever since I noticed that Innoventions resembles Jabba's Palace, I knew it was a perfect starting point for a Star Wars themed land. From there through Autopia would be converted to Mos Eisley. Can you imagine Star Wars character dining in the Mos Eisley Cantina? I sure can. On the north end of Mos Eisley would be a hanger building that doubles as the causeway through the shield generator building into the Endor portion. The idea would be to save as many trees as possible so that the land can run right up to Fantasyland without clashing too hard. I'm not sure what rides I want in those areas, but I feel confident that there are ideas to be had.

  • My new Tomorrowland would be connected by concept of the Tomorrowland Transit Authority offering access to several points around the universe, with air - err - spaceport signage throughout to direct travelers to their destinations. And to top it all off, I would install a new Peoplemover to tie the land together and tell the story from a higher level. Maybe even install a second station near the train depot to make it a real transportation system.

  • Now that I've got that out of my system, I'd like to hear from you. What would you do to revitalize Tomorrowland?

Friday, August 7, 2015

Theme Parking: Was Someone At Disney A Tolkien Fan?

  • Werner Weiss's only statement about it is:
    The back cover has a fun logo for “The Happiest Place on Earth.”

  • Fun logo, sure, but look at the type face. Does it seem familiar to you?

  • By 1966, The Lord of the Rings was a certifiable phenomenon, pervading the culture and counterculture. I cannot imagine that an artist working for Disney was not aware of the books. The calligraphy style isn't unique to the trilogy, but the coincidence is too much for me to handle.

  • I know this is a stretch, but come on. Come on.

  • Yes, I'm posting this in the middle of the night because I know just how dumb it is. I would have posted my thoughts directly at Yesterland, but that article is eight years old and the comment section is long closed. So blame Werner.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Theme Parking: Yesterland

  • When we returned to Disney California Adventure for the first time ten years, we found a wildly different park than the one I remembered. The entrance and opening thoroughfare were amazing, entirely unlike what I could recall. The airfield zone was closed for refurbishment, but I could not recall its name. There was a Cars Land out of nowhere. I remembered a movie theater, but it seemed to be long gone. The new park was magical, but in comparison to what? It has been so long since I last visit that I could no longer remember the park that I was comparing it to. Luckily, those old lands and attractions were just a short trip away on the internet.

  • Yesterland is a website curated by Werner Weiss. Opened in 1995, the site was one of the earliest bookmarks I ever set in a browser. Over the years, Weiss has written extensively about lands, attractions, shops, parades, and even signs that no longer exist at Disneyland and several Disney other parks. He published each Friday, either with a new addition or to spruce up an older article. Several photographs illustrate his articles, letting readers gaze into a past that no longer exists. It would take several days to get through the entire archive. I speak from experience.

  • Upon returning home from DCA, I looked up the Yester California Adventure articles. Amazingly, it is already two thirds the size of Yesterland. I had a lot of reading ahead of me. It took several late nights of reading to get through everything. I came out the other side with a much greater appreciation for what Disney had to work with when they redesigned the park.

  • Walt Disney famously said, "Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world." Neither, it seems, will Yesterland. Yesterland will be there to welcome those attractions from yesteryear that no longer find a home in our world. I could not be more grateful for it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Theme Parking: Almost Forty Inches

  • During our recent trip to Legoland California, we were once again confronted with the minimum height requirement for several rides. I dutifully walked my daughter over to a sign post and asked her to stand under the height marker. Although her hair brushed the bar, she was still able to stand comfortably under the 40" mark. I looked at my wife and shook my head. We were almost there.

  • No matter which park you go to, forty inches seems to be the threshold for the good rides. I don't know for certain why that number was chosen. Someone must have decided that, once some has reached that height, a person is less likely to flop out of a vehicle.

  • We've been going to Disneyland for a couple of years now, each time with a tiny person in tow. As such, there are several rides that I have not been able to ride since our pre-child visit in 2005. Here is the list of rides that require that the rider be forty inches tall to ride (at least, the good ones):

    • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
    • Radiator Springs Racers
    • Soarin' Over California
    • Space Mountain
    • Splash Mountain
    • Star Tours - The Adventures Continue

  • That is several of the best rides in the parks that I haven't ridden in ten years. But did you notice Radiatior Springs Racers on there? That's right. It's the hottest ride in DCA and I don't even know what that ride is. Evidently there's a dark ride portion? I have no idea what to expect!

  • For as long as I've held that little girl, I've wished that she wouldn't grow up quite so fast. But in this one instance, if she really wants to ride on the "Big Girl" rides, I'd be willing to let her grow up a little more.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Theme Parking: A Trip To Legoland California

  • I can no longer recall how, but I came into possession of a Legoland California park map sometime in the last fifteen years. The old map is worn and creased, a souvenir from my unremembered benefactor's day at the park. I looked at it from time to time over the years and tried to imagine what the park would actually look like. But for as curious as I was, it was never that high on my list of vacation destinations.

  • At least, until I had a daughter.
  • My wife and I decided that we had waited long enough and it was time for a family vacation. Since we already held annual passes for the San Diego Zoo, it seemed prudent to plan a vacation around that area. My wife also loves the ocean, so that narrowed the options. And then, we remembered that Legoland is in that vicinity and our choice was settled. After a day in the zoo, we set out early Wednesday morning to explore this new-to-us theme park.

  • I had been warned long ago that Legoland is a park that pitches its attractions much younger than Disneyland. Still, I was still shocked at the number of rides that our daughter was too short to ride. Making a right hand turn from the entrance took us into what seems to be the newest section of the park. Several of the attractions we ran across required her to be at least forty inches tall.

  • Of course, a little exploration led us to rides more her size: a cute little airplane ride, a swinging pirate ship, a Dumbo-like flying plane ride. In the Adventure zone, we found Legoland's version of a light-gun dark ride, Lost Kingdom Adventure. Castle Hill held the Royal Joust, a kiddie ride on a Lego horse. Our daughter enjoyed working out her energy in the Duplo play area. Our favorite area was probably Explorer Island, with the Safari Trek, Coastersaurus, and Fairy Trail Brook. Our daughter enjoyed the boat ride so much that she insisted that we ride it again the next day.

  • The best thing that stood out to me were the play areas built into a couple of the ride queues to entertain waiting children. It was nice to let our daughter play and build Lego while we waited for the line to move. If there was one idea I would import into the Disney parks, it would be that.

  • On Thursday we visited the water park and aquarium, much to our girl's delight. Legoland was interesting. Not a place I intend to visit often, but I can see us returning in a few years' time to maybe revisit some of what we missed the first time.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Theme Parking: Four And A Half Ways To Improve Disneyland

  • Over in the Family section of The Orange County Register, staff writer Kedric Francis posted an article titled "10 ways to improve Disneyland". As I am a blogger and it is my nature to respond to articles like this when I have nothing else to write, let's examine the list and see how much of it makes sense.
  1. Streamline the entrance to the parks - Opening a no-bag line at bag check seems like a no-brainer. I can't imagine walking into Disneyland without a bag, but I suppose there are many who do. And while I don't think that the gates are that terrible of a wait, I'm sure I would use an annual passholder entrance were it available. Verdict: Yes
  2. Retire the “Song of the South” characters that populate Splash Mountain - It would be impossible for me to argue about where Song of the South belongs in the Disney pantheon. That the company has all but disowned the film certainly casts the characters' inclusion in the ride in a strange light. The greatest problem is what to replace it with. The article's suggestions of Up, Wall-E, and Marvel Comics seem ill advised as Splash Mountain sits squarely in Critter Country. Considering how popular the ride still is, it would be best left alone until a truly better option comes along. Verdict: No
  3. Add fast, casual breakfast options in the morning - We rarely get to Disneyland early enough to worry about breakfast in the park. The one time we did, we ended up at the Jolly Holiday Bakery Café for croissants and muffins. It was fine, but we would have welcomed an option between the continental breakfast fare and a full restaurant meal. (Though had I the means and opportunity, I'd always breakfast at the Carnation Café.) Verdict: Yes
  4. Help provide easier public-transit access to the parks - I am so out of my league on this one, I don't even know where to begin. Verdict: Eh
  5. Go locavore - When a writer just has to make a list of ten items, this is the kind of thing that's likely to crop up. Only the fact that my daughter likes raisins keeps me from laughing the entire suggestion off. Verdict: Sure?
  6. Serve alcohol at Disneyland - First, that an article in the Family section is looking for more ways to get alcohol in the park is pretty funny. Second, it's hard for me to care that much since I don't really understand the fascination with alcohol anyway. I'm not some park purist who has to follow Walt's edict that alcohol sales be limited to Club 33. But I also don't see why people need to drink so badly. Verdict: Eh
  7. Expand early entry - Again, I don't have experience with early entry because we are never in the position to take advantage of it anyway. It sounds like a good deal already, so I don't quite know why it needs to be better. I suppose I'll take the author's word for it. Verdict: Eh
  8. Keep the Main Street bypass alley open at all times, but especially after parades and at closing time - Building bypass alleys behind Main Street seemed like a genius idea for curbing congestion during parades. But I've never actually found them open. I can't say for certain that I even know where to find them. We often find ourselves sneaking through the shops along the western side of the street just to avoid the crowds where we can. Disneyland should be more liberal in allowing their use. Verdict: Yes
  9. Let the characters speak - Really? You don't think that would be creepy as all get out? Would you even be able to hear the performer through the head? Again, this seems like a poorly considered addition to the list. Verdict: No
  10. It’s time to permanently park Autopia - We took our daughter on Autopia for the first time a couple months ago. She was finally tall enough to ride along with her mother. She had a blast, even though she was unable to drive herself. Autopia is a lot of fun and it is unique in the park. However, it takes up a crazy amount of land. If one takes into account Innoventions and the Submarine Voyage, Disney has enough room to open an entire Star Wars Land in the park. I would hate to see Autopia go, but it might be for the greater good. Verdict: Yes
  • So, four good suggestions and one that seems okay. What would you like to see improved at Disneyland?

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Theme Parking: A Disney Princess In The Making

  • While driving to her day care last week, my daughter suddenly told me, "It was really great that we got to see Disney Junior." I should not have been as shocked as I was. She is growing up quite fast and constantly surprises me with how much she has learned and how fast. But here I was talking about one of my favorite topics, Disneyland, with my daughter. I decided to prod her a little to see just how much she remembered. I asked, "What was your favorite part?" She answered, "When Stuffy made all the bubbles in the sink." She was right; that was a lot of fun.

  • My wife and I have long been fans of Disneyland. We had annual passes for a few years until it was no longer feasible. But we never stopped loving the parks. When we had a child, I knew that I would want to share so much with her. I should have guessed that it would be Disneyland that caught her attention.

  • Disney is already a big part of her life. She loves watching Disney Junior in the evenings, especially Miles From Tomorrowland with its catchy theme song. We read Disney books before bed. And, of course, she is in love with the Disney Princesses.

  • Prior to her birth, her mother and I talked and planned about how we would encourage our daughter to find some aspiration other than "Princess". We bought books and toys and clothes that cover a variety of tastes. When she was old enough, we enrolled her in soccer and swimming classes. We did everything we could to expand her horizons. In spite all of that, she is a princess.

  • But, she is a princess in addition to everything else she is. She's a storyteller. She can climb and run and kick a ball. She loves her books. And she loves dresses and she loves pink. For as much as I worried, being a princess is not some terrible, anti-feminist affliction. It is just another facet of her life. So long as it makes her happy and doesn't cause any harm, she can be a princess for as long as she wants.

  • Theme Parking is a new category for posts related to my lifelong obsession with Disneyland.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Theme Parking: What Should Disney Do With One Billion Dollars? Ban Selfie Sticks!

  • If you didn't see my update to yesterday's post, it turns out that my predication of a selfie stick ban was exceptionally timely. Within hours of that post1, Disney announced a ban on all selfie sticks inside their American parks starting June 30 and on their international properties July 1.

  • Sorry to every selfie stick user who isn't a terrible person; the terrible people spoiled it for you. My wife and I already offer to take pictures of people awkwardly trying to selfie their families. If you find us in the park, we will be more than happy to do the same for you.

  • The other big news from yesterday was the announcement of a potential one billion dollar expansion of the Disneyland Resort and surroundings. Today, The Orange County Register posted an excellent breakdown of expansion options for the parks. It covers both intellectual properties they are likely to build on as well as areas of the property that are available for construction and remodeling. As packed as the Resort is, it is nice to know that the parks still have room to grow.

  • Because I get a kick out Disneyland maps, so here's a preview from that article:
  • Footnote 1: Four hours to be exact.

  • Theme Parking is a new category for posts related to my lifelong obsession with Disneyland.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Theme Parking: A Billion Dollar Expansion, Rising Prices.... and Selfie Sticks?

  • As I like to do with gaming news, I wanted to round up a few news items about Disneyland that may not deserve in individual post. Such is the power of the bullet point.

  • There is likely no better source for Disneyland News than The Orange County Register.1 Since the parks sit firmly within its jurisdiction, the newspaper has a vested interest in covering Disneyland as a local concern. So when news breaks, the Register's Disney section is likely to cover it first. Such was the case with the news today. Staff writers Art Marroquin and Joseph Pimentel revealed that Walt Disney Co. is considering a $1 billion dollar expansion to Disneyland and California Adventure. With construction beginning in 2017, those plans include new attractions, a new parking structure, and improvements to the surrounding city streets, but not a third park. However, those plans are contingent on Anaheim extending current tax exemptions on park admissions. Considering how much a billion dollars was able to improve California Adventure, I would love to see what more they can do for the resort.

  • Republished on the OC Register site, Drew Harwell's Washington Post story titled "How theme parks like Disney World left the middle class behind" examines the effects of rising prices have on what was once a park for everyone. I know that our family is only able to afford annual passes this year because we have restructured our finances to allow it. I understand that the value I place Disneyland is skewed, but I can't imagine how anyone can manage to take their family without considerable planning and savings. One only has to look at the massive crowds to know that high prices aren't keeping people away. But I wish there was something that could be done to let more people experience Disneyland affordably.

  • MousePlanet, my favorite blog for Disney park news, posted a follow up to their study of posted wait times at Walt Disney World, this time focusing on wait time at the Disneyland Resort. In comparison to its sister resort in Florida, wait times at Disneyland and California Adventure are a lot more accurate. Usually, actual wait times will be about 80% of the posted time, though shorter posted times seem to be underestimations. I'm a sucker for fun statistics like this.

  • Finally, The OC Register posted an article about a recent stoppage on the California Screamin' rollercoaster. The two hour stop was caused by a passenger extending a selfie stick while the ride was in progress.

  • Sigh.

  • I get that someone might have a narcissistic need to document their life for all of their Facebook or Instagram friends. I get that a specialized device might be helpful to make those photos seem slightly less unnatural. But what I don't get is this blatant disregard for the safety of their fellow park guests, if not their own safety. I don't know how many times I've heard warnings broadcast by cast members to parents who are too negligent to keep their children seated on what could be a dangerous ride. There are some rides that I have never experienced without at least one warning. Why do people have to be so stupid? Arrgh!

  • Anyway, watch here for the inevitable selfie stick ban.

  • UPDATE June 25, 2015, 11:00 PM:

    Remember when I said this?

  • Anyway, watch here for the inevitable selfie stick ban.
  • Well, that was fast:
  • Footnote 1: Actually, there probably is a better source for Disneyland news out there, but I haven't found it yet.

  • Theme Parking is a new category for posts related to my lifelong obsession with Disneyland.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Random Shots: E3 2015 Makes Me Excited For Video Games Again

  • The season of E3 has come once again, leaving presents and a few stockings full of coal in its wake. There was a lot to get excited about this year. Here are a few things that caught my interest, arranged by press conference:

  • Bethesda - Far and away, the star of Bethesda's inaugural conference was Fallout 4. Considering the amount of time they dedicated to it, I'm sure Bethesda felt the same way. I don't have any special love for their games (I never got very far in Fallout 3 or Skyrim), but they sure make Fallout 4 look great.

  • Microsoft - Though not a game, the biggest surprise for the Xbox One was the announcement of Backward Compatibility with Xbox 360 games. I actually enjoyed the Xbox to Xbox 360 compatibility, so I was happy to see that feature come to the new console. If I had not already thrown in my lot with the PS4, the lower price and this announcement would have swayed me Microsoft's way. The most interesting game at the conference was Sea of Thieves, Rare's new pirate themed game. It seems to fill that long time dream of letting multiple people crew a ship together and take to the sea. And just like last year, Cuphead looks amazing. I hope it finds its way to PC because I would love to see that game in person. I might have put the Elite Controller on this list were it not for the $150 price tag. Yow.

  • EA - Were it not for Giant Bomb streaming the EA conference, I would have turned it off half way through. The only game of note was Mass Effect: Andromeda, and even that was just a teaser. A pretty cool teaser, but that's all I took away from the conference.

  • Ubisoft - I never did play The Stick Of Truth (even though I still mean to) but I couldn't help my excitement over the sequel, South Park: The Fractured But Whole. And if you get a laugh out of the Trials Fusion Awesome Level Max, you might want to check your pulse; you're probably dead.

  • Sony - As a PlayStation 4 owner, I watched the Sony conference with an extra helping of self-interest. Campo Santo's Firewatch continues to take shape. I pretty much know that I want to try it out, but I'm glad to have a great idea about what to expect. The surprise of the conference was Horizon: Zero Dawn. The robot dinosaur hunting game looked great and felt unique. I will have to see more before taking a chance on the game, but I am eager to see more. As a Destiny player, I was happy to see the announcement of The Taken King. As always, I am wary of the value proposition of their products. Finally, I was happy to see DLNA support added to the PS4. If we ever get a remote control for the console, I will be able to put my Xbox 360 away entirely.

  • Nintendo - First, if you haven't watched the Nintendo Direct from this E3, go do it now! The Muppet Nintendo characters are amazing. For games, I'm primarily interested in Super Mario Maker. I'll be interested to see just how powerful a tool it ends up being. However since I don't own a Wii U but do own a 3DS, I'm more likely to buy Yo-Kai Watch. I've heard so much about the popularity of the game in Japan that my curiosity meter has red lined.

  • Square Enix - Maybe it's better not to say anything about this one.

  • What did you think of E3? What are you looking forward to playing in the coming year(s)?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

News Filter: The Flying in WoW Trial Balloon Crashes and Burns

In an upcoming Public Test Realm build, we will be introducing a new meta-achievement called Draenor Pathfinder. You’ll earn this achievement in Patch 6.2 by mastering the outdoor environment of Draenor—exploring Draenor’s zones, collecting 100 treasures in Draenor, completing the Draenor Loremaster and Securing Draenor achievements, and raising the three new Tanaan Jungle reputations to Revered. Initially, this achievement will award a rylak mount: the Soaring Skyterror, one of the native beasts that roam Draenor’s skies. Players will remain ground-bound on Draenor until a small follow-up patch (6.2.x), when all players who have earned Draenor Pathfinder on at least one character will unlock the ability to fly in Draenor on all their level 90+ characters.
  • Does that read to anyone else like a very slightly tweaked version of the status quo? Anyway, if you love flying in World of Warcraft, this is very good news.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Theme Parking: Ariel's Undersea Adventure

  • I was under the mistaken impression that Disney didn't make rides like this any more.

  • For several years, it looks like Disney was only interested in thrill rides and more active experiences. Rides like Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin, Indiana Jones Adventure, and Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters showed that Imagineering was interested in building something more than the standard dark ride. The Fantasyland dark rides finally received a modern take in 2003 with the opening of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. But grander rides on the scale of Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion were unique for decades.
  • Actually, let me stop for a moment to talk about this beautiful poster. I love Disney's attraction posters. We have several hanging in our home. This poster, like many of the DCA posters by artist Greg Maletic, is thoroughly modern while invoking the styles of Disney artists of the past. It is simultaneously reverent and refreshing, much like the park it advertises. I'm so happy that Disney made that choice when commissioning the new posters.

  • From the outside, Ariel's Undersea Adventure resembles an old-fashioned aquarium, one you might visit while on vacation at the seaside. Inside, you climb into a clamshell vehicle and enter the wreck of Prince Eric's ship. This may be my favorite effect of the ride, where the water and bubbles are projected on the vehicle you are facing as you slide underwater. Above, you spy upon Ariel and Flounder swimming above you. The ride continues through Ariel's grotto, then into the large Under The Sea section. Beyond, you enter Ursula's cavern and witness Ariel's transformation from mermaid to human. As you climb back to the surface, you witness Prince Eric and Ariel's romantic rowboat outing. Finally, with Ursula defeated, everyone comes out to celebrate the couple's wedding.

  • Any impression I had that Disney lost the ability to work magic was completely banished by Ariel's Undersea Adventure. I left the ride astonished. As I said at the beginning, I thought that Disney didn't make rides like this any more. The ride, like the poster above and the park they represent, honors the Disney tradition even as it grows beyond the constraints of history.

  • Rating: D Ticket

  • Theme Parking is a new category for posts related to my lifelong obsession with Disneyland.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Theme Parking: Being Wrong About Disney California Adventure

  • My mental construction of Disneyland takes a few forms. There is the black-and-white 1955 Disneyland based on all of the books and shows I've consumed about the early days of the park. There is the 1980's Disneyland that I remember from my childhood. And there is the 2005 Disneyland, the last time my wife and I took a trip to the park, until recently. That trip was our one experience with Disney's California Adventure (as it was called at the time). It was then that my expectations of DCA were set for the next decade.
  • At the time we visited DCA, it was still in the weird middle phase of the park. The anticipation of a new park adjoining Disneyland has already passed, leaving a crater where all of our hopes had been. Disney Parks and Resorts was already looking for ways to improve DCA, with additions like A Bug's Land and the Tower Of Terror, but had not yet committed to the massive makeover that made the park what it is today. Thus, although DCA would start its turnaround within a couple of years, the last impression the park left in my mind was of a poor substitute for the Magic Kingdom sitting just a few yards away. Even as we returned to the resort in the last couple of years, that prejudice kept us from entering California Adventure again, fearing it would be a waste of money.

  • But then I bought Poster Art Of The Disney Parks (review coming soon), the last chapter of which was dedicated to the posters of Disney California Adventure. I told my wife, upon reading the chapter, that the posters seemed to be a lot better than the park deserved. I didn't realize, at the time, that the posters were actually a sign that DCA had improved so much.

  • This year, in possession of annual passes for the first time in fifteen years, we trekked across the esplanade and I fell in love all over again.

  • In the nearly ten years between visits, California Adventure had transformed from a cynical and insincere counterfeit of the state into an idealized, nostalgic version of Walt Disney's California. It finally feels like a match to its sister park. Passing through the gates to Buena Vista Street has a different, but complimentary magic to crossing under the berm onto Main Street. It is a magic that says "This is a world full of possibilities." And I fully expect that the Disneyland Resort will fulfill that promise for years to come.

  • There is so much more to say, but I feel that there is so much more to discover as well. But first and foremost, I'm glad that I have been proven wrong about Disney California Adventure.
Even Princesses get tired sometimes
  • Theme Parking is a new category for posts related to my lifelong obsession with Disneyland.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Theme Parking: Disneyland: The Nickel Tour is too expensive

  • With the return of my Disneyland obsession, I find my myself seeking out blogs and websites that I haven't been paying attention to over the last ten years. One of the blogs I found was Tom Bricker's Disney Tourist Blog. The post that caught my attention was My Disney Theme Park Library, a list of his accrued books about the Disney parks. I didn't have to read very far into his Disneyland section before finding Disneyland the Nickel Tour: A Postcard Journey Through a Half Century of the Happiest Place on Earth. His describes it as "[u]nquestionably the best book about Disneyland". A stronger recommendation I could not imagine, so off to the internet I went.

  • A quick Google search turned up this Amazon link.
  • Jiminy Cricket! I guess I should have kept reading his review. About halfway down the paragraph he also writes, "Unfortunately, it’s also rare and incredibly expensive." Tom, you aren't kidding.

  • Here is my plan: I'm Kickstarting the purchase of the book and running the site, then I'm writing off the price as a business expense on my taxes. Bulletproof, right?

  • Maybe not. I console myself with the thought that, as expensive as my hobby can be, it will never be as expensive as it gets for some.

  • Theme Parking is a new category for posts related to my lifelong obsession with Disneyland.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Theme Parking: Disneyland Decades

  • For as long as I have been aware of Disneyland, I have been fascinated about the history of Walt Disney's Happiest Place On Earth. I've read books, magazines, and blogs about the park as it once was. With the arrival of Disneyland's sixtieth anniversary, it seems as though someone at Disneyland schemes to take advantage of my nostalgia.
  • The Disney Blog posted these images showing some of the merchandise based on the first decade art and as well as the designs for the other five decades by artist Jeff Granito. I'm impressed with the details and styles chosen for each decade. Each feels true to the time period depicted.
  • No, I'm never going to buy a commemorative plate or mug. Or a shirt or pin for that matter. But, a nice print would look really good above my desk.

  • Disneyland is going to take all of my money.

  • Theme Parking is a new category for posts related to my lifelong obsession with Disneyland.

Friday, May 22, 2015

News Filter: No More Flying in World of Warcraft

  • In an interview with Polygon, lead designer Ion Hazzikostas revealed that Blizzard will no longer allow flying in future expansions.
  • 4. There's still no flying in Tanaan Jungle ... and there probably won't be in any new zones or expansions

    When Warlords of Draenor first hit, some fans were surprised to discover that even upon reaching the new level cap of 100, they couldn't fly with their air-based mounts in the new zones. Initially Blizzard expected to patch in flying at some point, but now it has changed its mind.

    "Having looked at how flying has played out in the old world in the last couple of expansions, we realized that while we were doing it out of this ingrained habit after we introduced flying in The Burning Crusade, it actually detracted from gameplay in a whole lot of ways," Hazzikostas explains. "While there was certainly convenience in being able to completely explore the world in three dimensions, that also came at the expense of gameplay like targeted exploration, like trying to figure out what's in that cave on top of a hill and how do I get up there."

    Hazzikostas gives an example: Before flying was introduced to World of Warcraft, if you got a quest to rescue a prisoner from an enemy encampment, it would play out a certain way. Players would need to fight their way through the camp. After flying, players could just fly into the center of camp, land on top of the hut where the prisoner is, free him and fly out.

    "It made the world feel in many ways much smaller," he says.

    Originally, Blizzard took out flying in Warlords of Draenor as an experiment, and Hazzikostas says he would have bet "slightly better than even money at the time" that they were going to bring it back eventually. But as they played the expansion and watched others play it, they discovered that they liked the game better without flying.

    "The world feels larger, feels more dangerous," he says. "There's more room for exploration, for secrets, for discovery and overall immersion in the world. At this point, we feel that outdoor gameplay in World of Warcraft is ultimately better without flying. We're not going to be reintroducing the ability to fly in Draenor, and that's kind of where we're at going forward."

    Hazziokostas confirms that this direction includes future expansions, though he doesn't discount the possibility of adding flight options in to specific expansion ideas or zones that would benefit from it. In general, though, he believes that exploration in Blizzard's massive world "works better and feels better in our view when you're doing it from the ground."

    He also promises that Blizzard will continue working to improve its network of taxi flight paths in the game to prevent any major frustration from this change: "The goal is to maximize convenience in getting from point a to point but retaining as much of the gameplay and depth as possible once you do get to that point."

  • Flying has always been better in theory than in practice. Blizzard realized very fast that flying mount broke their game, but have waited (what is it now?) eight years to reverse their decision. I appreciate that Blizzard knows how to rip out systems that aren't working. But doing so after you've sold flying mounts in their cash shop makes this a little strange.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Top Five: Video Games of 2014

  • It's not too late for a best of 2014 post, is it? It is? Goddamnit. Oh well, as long as I'm clearing the queue...

  • Do you remember when the Nintendo 3DS was first released back in 2011? The launch line up was lousy. The next year was a gaming wasteland with few titles to remind us why we wanted the systems in the first place. Now when I look at the 3DS library, I see more great games than I could ever play. But it did not always seem this way. For a long time, I regretting impulse buying that little device. That is the same feeling I have as a PlayStation 4 owner. Sure, there is a game here or there that I greatly enjoy. But it is still in the process of becoming a console worth owning. As such, most of my favorite games were played on PC, Xbox 360, or the afore mentioned 3DS.

  • Tomb Raider (2013) - When I picked up my PS4 last year, I looked forward to playing an updated Tomb Raider on the new console. Only I discovered that past me picked up the game during a Steam sale. I thanked past me and started playing. Tomb Raider was a great experience. It was just broad enough to allow for exploring, even though the main path through the game was entirely linear. The story was really good, even though it pushed Lara into cold-blooded killer mode much too quickly. It's the most fun I've had with a Tomb Raider since Legend and I'm looking forward to the sequel, assuming it comes out on a platform that I can play it on.

  • Dark Souls II - It is strange to say that Dark Souls II was a disappointment and then put it on my list of top games of the year. It was the hollow to Dark Souls' humanity. Nonetheless, I played from start to finish and keep my attention the entire time. It was a game that I wanted to fall in love with. Like its predecessor, the combat was measured and brutally punishing. Overcoming its obstacles felt like a genuine triumph. It may not have been everything I wanted it to be, but it was still worthy of the Dark Souls name.

  • Destiny - Another best game of the year that pales only in comparison to what could have been. Destiny should have been the game of the year. All the pieces were there, but it didn't come together. But even though it wasn't the game many of us wanted it to be, I find myself going back to it time and again. I compare it to the first Assassin's Creed. That was a flawed game that taught Ubisoft how to make an amazing sequel. I strongly suspect that Destiny 2 will be the game we all hoped for. But in the meantime, I have patrols to complete and bad guys to punch.

  • World of Warcraft (Private Server) - So, I reached level 60 on my home WoW server and took my character into Outland. From one point of view, that means I am absolutely crazy for playing a massively multiplayer game in a way that defies the genre. On the other hand, it is gratifying that I can bend the game to my will. It may not be more than a curiosity, but it has been one that kept me entertained time and again all year.

  • Disney Magical World - I didn't expect to fall for Disney Magical World the way that I did. It looked like a Harvest Moon game with Disney characters. But it turns out to have a lengthy quest system and a surprising fun combat system. Also, I had a lot of fun playing dress up for Cinderella's various balls. I haven't finished it yet because there is so much to do. But I was happy to find a far deeper game than I expected.

  • It has been a strange year for gaming, and a terrible one for the gaming community. I hope 2015 will be brighter for all.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Random Shots: In Memoriam - 2014

  • Once again, it is time to look back at those we lost in 2014, the people who made our lives a little brighter
    • Justin Carmical, 42, aka JewWario, YouTube instructor on playing Japanese games on western consoles

    • Greg Martin, box cover artist for several Sega, Hudson, Capcom and Namco games

    • Kenneth Melville, 65, co-founder of Digital Pictures, developer of several FMV games including: It Came from the Desert, Sewer Shark, Make My Video: INXS, Make My Video: Kris Kross, and Corpse Killer, as well as developing Total Annihilation: Kingdoms.

    • Joel Green, 5, the inspiration for Ryan Green's game, That Dragon, Cancer.

    • Matthew Crump, 40, game developer, coordinator of the SXSW Gaming Expo

    • Masato Masuda, 48, game developer, creator of Pro Wrestling (NES) and the Fire Pro Wrestling series

    • Python Anghelo, 60, artist, game and pinball designer, best known for Joust, Bubbles, Pin*Bot, Cyclone and Taxi

    • Douglas E. Smith, 53, creator of Lode Runner

    • Ralph Baer, 92, developer of the first video game console, the Magnavox Odyssey
  • Farewell. You will be missed.

© 2015 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.