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.



    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.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Top Five: Video Games of 2018

  • Whenever I fall away from gaming, it's because I have become entranced with some other form of media. Whether it's comics or books or web forums, I usually have an excuse to not fire up a new game. This year is was streaming video, namely YouTube, Netflix, and Hulu. Ironically, my addiction to streaming happened soon after we finally decided to cord cut and go internet only. Nonetheless, I found the time to play a few games.

  • Yakuza 6: The Song of Life - After my enthusiasm for last year's pair of games, I was ready to jump into another Yakuza game. Of course, the next available is the final Kazuma Kiryu story, but I did not find jumping so far ahead to be such a detriment. Kamurocho looks better than ever before. And with their Dragon engine allowing you to enter locations without load screens, it is more seamless and alive than before. Once again, Ryo Ga Gotoku Studio finds the right balance of drama, action, and comedy that fits my tastes to a tee.

  • West of Loathing - I can't remember the last time I laughed out loud at a video game. West of Loathing is a genuinely funny game. Its light RPG and adventure mechanics are just the catalyst for its absurd take on the Old West. Players of the online Kingdom of Loathing will find a lot of similarities here. But as much as I enjoyed the game, what I will remember is its humor.

  • Monster Hunter World - I never once imagined that I would enjoy a Monster Hunter. All of the preparation, the grinding, the arcane systems... None of it sounded like actual fun. Then Capcom filed off (most of) the jagged edges and left a game that was downright inviting. I'll never pick up a mainline game in the series. But World let me have a glimpse of what all the diehard fans love.

  • Diablo III: Eternal Collection - All I remember of Diablo III on the PC was Error 37. The zeitgeist was enthralling, but I haven't enjoyed an Diablo-like ARPG since Torchlight. Then they put it out on Switch and it was finally the right place, right time game for me. I much prefer the Dark Alliance style controls for these games that PC versions don't offer for some reason. So eight years (and two purchases later), I finally saw the game to its end and I had a blast doing it.

  • Mario Kart 8 Deluxe - Having another person in the house who is interested in video games has been a change for me. My daughter will likely never be a "gamer" like myself, but she enjoys watching me play from time to time and has a few she likes to play herself. One of those that we overlap on is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Purchased in the waning days of 2018, I thought it might be the kind of thing she would enjoy, and oh she did. We often play split-screen together, me charging ahead while she fights in the mid-field. It might not have been the game for me, but it is the perfect game for us. And those few days at the end of December playing together was enough to propel it onto my Top Five for the year.

  • This is usually the part where I list honorable mentions, but it really was that slow of a gaming year. Here's to a more fruitful 2019. (Spoilers: it's pretty good so far.)