Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Videogameopolis: Nuclear Throne First Impressions

Independent game developer Vlambeer is no stranger to pain. The tiny two man team, along with occasional collaborators, have witnessed their best efforts stolen by unscrupulous rivals. Until recently, these clones of their games have also found a decent amount of success, discouraging these brilliant creators with a heavy dose of despair. Their fortunes have begun to turn recently, but it seems that they've decided to inflict some of that pain on others. Nuclear Throne is that pain, and it's exhilarating.

Nuclear Throne is the latest game to take inspiration from the "roguelike" genre, which is known for heavily randomized levels, high difficulty, and permanent death of game characters. These types of games give no quarter and no mercy, and only once chance to complete them. Traditionally, it's been a niche genre, due to the high skill level and time investment required. Recent games have taken the principles of these games but quickened the pace and shortening the experience. You can realistically finish in a couple hours, once you've played enough to not die within the first few minutes.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Vinylmation Problems: The Wide Spectrum of Collectors

As pointed out in the evaluation of trade boxes, Vinylmation fans have a wide range of concerns and desires, many of which directly contradict each other. These conflicting views come from a wide range of goals that collectors have. Each collector brings their own personal quirks that may place them in conflict with the collecting of others.
Often, collectors see the hobby only from their personal viewpoint. They fail to take the goals of others into consideration, and thus think that Disney's decisions are obviously wrong or problems are easy to fix. By understanding the various types of traders, all the factors become clear that must be balanced for a healthy hobby and collecting community.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Meet Lil' Joe, Epcot's New Manatee

The zoos and aquatic attractions of Florida work together to aid and preserve manatee, gentle giants often injured by pollution and boat propellers. Epcot's Living Seas pavilion is no exception, housing a small manatee rehabilitation facility inside the larger aquariums. By law, manatees are cared for as wild creatures, with care focused on the eventual release of the animals

For the last couple years, Disney has housed two manatees that survived boat strikes, named Lou and Vail. Both suffered serious injuries that left their tails in tatters, which made release difficult. It seems Vail has either been transferred to another facility or been released, as he's no longer at Epcot.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Misanthrope's Guide to Proper Disney World Parking

Part of the Misanthrope's Guide to Disney World, a series of posts on surviving the theme parks for people who hate people. The main guide page can be found here, with links to previous posts.

Parking in theme parks is often one of the most miserable parts of the day. In the morning, it's the arduous, overwhelming hassle that bleary eyed visitors must undertake before they are truly awake. In the evening, it's the last obstacle for exhausted tourists as they fight alternating weariness and rage as they sit in unmoving traffic.

Having acquired excessive land and foreseeing the potential nightmares, Disney designed parking lots with minimal hassles and maximum capacity in mind. Parking areas are massive, flow through multiple entrances into carefully guided spots, and enter from and exit directly to major roads. Everything is designed to minimize the likelihood of traffic jams and remove most of the hassles that make the beginning and end of the day so painful.

Unfortunately, Disney forgot one thing when they planned this perfect parking solution. They failed to account for the fact that many of the people parking their cars every day are inconsiderate, reckless buffoons. Unless a mandatory driving class is required before using the parking lots, there is most likely no way to eliminate the problem of bad motorists. However, these guidelines may help alleviate a few cases of theme park road rage.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Vinylmation Problems: The Trouble with Trade Boxes

 Usually I write Vinylmation articles for the site VinylmationWorld.com, but this is a topic that falls a bit outside its usual content and tone. As such, I thought it more appropriate on my blog.

Vinylmation fans, like any fans really, have an ever changing variety of complaints and issues with the hobby. Many of these issues can never be resolved, as they often contradict each other. For example, the casual collector would like easier to find items at cheaper prices, while those looking for rarity or profit want small edition sizes that make vinyls exclusive and expensive. It's a balancing act to please all the different varieties of fans, and there is no way to make everyone completely happy.

However, there is one problem area that most collectors can agree is an issue. Trade boxes, both mystery and clear, were meant to give Vinylmation buyers a way to exchange blind boxed figures they didn't want for something better. As the hobby has grown older, numerous factors have combined to make these trading boxes virtually useless to all but the most casual collectors. Trading in any figure purchased at retail price seems a foolhardy edeavour, as what will be received in return is usually an undesirable vinyl, one that was most likely on clearance or found in the outlet stores.

Many Vinylmation fans believe that this is a problem easily fixed, and that Disney's lack of action is laziness or disregard for the hobby. In truth, there are a lot of factors that prevent an easy solution. While there may be ways to fix the problem, understanding the contributing factors makes the problem's complexity clearer.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Videogameopolis: The Joy of Frustration

One of the great perils of nostalgia is that it often leaves people remembering fondly things that seemed terrible at the time. Everyone's heard some variation of the line, "When I was young, I walked to school barefoot in the snow uphill both ways, and I loved it." In the world of video games, there's a growing nostalgia for the extreme difficulty of games from their early days. The argument goes that games today are a shadow of their former selves, because they're too accessible, and there isn't enough challenge.

These arguments tend to overlook many factors for the differences in difficulty. Early video games were often designed first for the arcade, where a high level of challenge forced players to spend more of their precious quarters to continue playing. These games also often had unwieldy  or flawed controls, due to the primitive technology, that unintentionally made the experience harder. There's also the truth that while the default challenge of modern games is not insurmountable by most, these games usually include higher difficulty levels as an option, or focus on other concepts like story over punishing mechanics.

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Misanthrope's Guide to Epcot's Gran Fiesta Tour

Part of the Misanthrope's Guide to Disney World, a series of posts on surviving the theme parks for people who hate people. The main guide page can be found here, with links to previous posts.

World Showcase is the true heart of Epcot, and the Mexico Pavilion is one of World Showcase's most stunning countries. Fronted by a giant facade that resembles an Aztec temple, the entire experience is housed inside. A small museum of Mexican culture and history provides the entry into the greater pavilion, a perpetually moonlit courtyard buzzing with life. Street vendors sell numerous wares, nearby stores entice customers with pricier goods, and a tequila bar tempts the thirsty. A romantic restaurant sits along the water that flows past another ancient temple, with a volcano looming in the distance.

Hidden in the back of the pavilion is one of World Showcase's only two rides, three if you count transportation boats. The Gran Fiesta Tour Starring the Three Caballeros has one of the longest names of any Disney attraction, but that's not the only thing that makes it unique. This is a dark ride, tourism film, and animated adventure all viewed from a slow moving boat. It's not the best or most exciting ride, but it's one of the most random.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Vinylmation Trading Dash 2: 5th Anniversary Edition

Five years ago, Disney launched the Vinylmation line of collectibles. Inspired by urban vinyl and art toys, the series was created to replicate the success of Disney pin trading. The official launch was at Festival of the Masters, a yearly art exhibition that takes over Downtown Disney.

To mark the 5 year anniversary, Disney released multiple new Vinylmations, including event exclusives, and had a signing with several of the artists behind the vinyls. I was there to cover the new releases and events, so I decided to mark the anniversary in my own way. Yesterday was the second attempt at the Vinylmation Trading Dash, and it was both a success and a failure.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Theme Park Connection Moves Locations, Writer Empties Wallet


Theme Park Connection is a Disney memorabilia reseller, the major retail location for secondhand and one of a kind items in the Orlando area. Over the years several stores have filled this niche, but Connection has dominated the market for a while. Selling and buying items through eBay, online, and their physical location, they have amassed an eclectic collection of items. If you're looking for anything Disney, from old toys and collectibles to maps and ephemera to actual pieces of the theme parks, then Theme Park Connection is the place to look.

The most unique items are the disused pieces of Disney itself, but many of those items can be quite impressive in size and scope. At their former location, Theme Park Connection seemed to be bulging at the seams. Rooms shrank to make room for more behind the scenes storage as inventory only increased. A typical visit to the store included at least a few moments of delicately side-stepping some iconic prop from the theme parks of old.

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Routine: A Short Story

A piercing cry cuts the still morning air, an organic alarm. It is time for The Routine. The man suddenly wakes and stares towards the sky. He hopes, prays, bargains for just a few more minutes of unconsciousness. Closing his eyes, the man tries to slip back into the blackness, away from reality.
Sharp jabs, like tiny needles, sink into his flesh. This is the first punishment, the first pain for delaying The Routine. The punishments will only become more insistent, more painful as he delays the inevitable. There's no point to waiting any longer. Relief will not be granted.

Reaching blindly into the dark, the man feels something brush against his flesh, startling him. Regaining his composure, he reaches out again until he feels the cold metal of his spectacles. Setting them on his face, they feel icy, only adding to the growing pain in the forehead. The man's eyes begin to focus, but still see nothing but the black.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Videogameopolis: Hearthstone Beta Impressions

When something combines two popular obsessions, ones that have long been abandoned, you know there's potential for trouble. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is a new digital collectible card game (CCG) from Blizzard Entertainment. They've combined a simplified version of Magic the Gathering with the fantasy universe of World of Warcraft. While this is the second CCG based on Warcraft, it's the first completely digital game. It also has the makings of a truly addictive hobby.

When Blizzard first announced Hearthstone, it sounded like a money making opportunity first, and a game second. Card games are huge business, and digital card games can be a license to print money. Though they require ongoing development and balancing, virtual packs of cards are often priced at almost the same value as physical cards, and yet have none of the production and distribution costs. Although the pricing model is a bit expensive in the beta, the game so far is surprisingly polished and definitely not just a cynical marketing gimmick.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Misanthrope's Guide to Dark Ride Etiquette


Part of the Misanthrope's Guide to Disney World, a series of posts on surviving the theme parks for people who hate people. The main guide page can be found here, with links to previous posts.

Of everything Imagineers and the Disney Parks have contributed to the world, the continuing advancement, and even perfection, of the dark ride is one of most important. Dark rides originated as simple Tunnels of Love, mostly pitch black boat rides with occasional cheap scenes, mostly intended as a way for couples to share some intimate moments in the dark. These days, most couples don't bother waiting for the dark to show their extreme affection in theme parks, so those rides would be pointless.

Other early rides, specifically those manufactured by the Pretzel Amusement Ride Company, were created for cheap scares. These rides featured vehicles which raced through darkened buildings, utilizing flashing lights, spooky props, crude animation, and loud noises to startle guests. Most of these craftsmen were near magicians, creating scenes on a budget that made a huge impression, even if the technology wasn't amazing. Unfortunately, most of these old rides have closed over the years. Similar attractions in county fairs are pale imitations, with the people operating the rides often more unsettling than the ride itself.

Like many other theme park standards, Disney took the basic dark ride concepts and added new levels of theming and quality. Other rides were only mildly improved by the additional care. Spinning tea cups still spin the riders and induce vomiting, no matter how pretty they look while doing it. Dark rides were always a visual medium, however, and Imagineers used the form to create new levels of storytelling and scene setting. They perfected a new art form, one based on engineering and design on a grand scale.

All of this history is just set up for the number one principle of Disney dark rides: violating the experience is like destroying a masterwork. To ruin Haunted Mansion or Spaceship Earth for others is only a few steps removed from burning the Mona Lisa. Unfortunately, those that lack Dark Ride etiquette usually get away unscathed, while destroying great art probably gets you locked forever in the Louvre's secret dungeon. The following rules are still worth following, just in case they begin locking rude tourists in the Pirates of the Caribbean jail cells.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Life with Theme Park Mice: Stuck in the Middle with Lakeland, Florida

Orlando and Tampa dominate Central Florida. Tampa is a large, thriving city with some of the worst drivers and most intolerable highways in the state. Orlando is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, attracting more people to the city every day than the actual resident population. Some nearby locations, like Legoland in Winter Haven, draw a bit of the attention away, but most focus remains on those two cities.

Interstate 4 connects those two cities, with many smaller locales littered along its path. Almost directly in the center, with the road cutting through it, is Lakeland, Florida. Some people know about Lakeland, maybe because they know someone retired there, or have to live there because the rent is cheaper. There are even some Floridians that don't know much about the city. Stuck in the middle between two giants, it disappears into their shadows.

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Misanthrope's Guide to Pirates of the Caribbean

Part of the Misanthrope's Guide to Disney World, a series of posts on surviving the theme parks for people who hate people. The main guide page can be found here, with links to previous posts.

Pirates of the Caribbean is one of the marquee dark rides of any Disney Park, the kind of attraction that is timeless in its design. One of the last projects personally overseen by Walt Disney, it's a wonderful culmination of all the Imagineering skills, fusing impressive at the time technology with movie quality set design and an amazingly efficient ride system. It's the theme park equivalent of a master work, something that should be witnessed in person to take in its beauty. Unfortunately, that Pirates of the Caribbean is at Disneyland, and we're talking about Disney World.

When the Magic Kingdom opened, Pirates was notably missing from the available attractions. The logic was that since Floridians lived in a place once frequented by pirates, they would be bored by an attraction featuring them. This same logic was not applied when Disney designed a park in California about California a few decades later, but I digress. Visitors complained about the missing ride, so Disney cancelled ambitious, unique additions like the Western River Expedition and rushed construction of Pirates of the Caribbean.

The resulting experience was still a good ride, but lacking in comparison to longer, more detailed versions in other parks. Scenes are missing or shorter, there are fewer drops, and the entire experience feels rushed. Once the Pirates of the Caribbean movie became a surprise blockbuster franchise, Disney saw an opportunity to give the Florida attraction some unique elements while also appeasing fans of the films. While most rides received some of the movie characters as additions, the Magic Kingdom version includes additions and content from almost every iteration of the franchise.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Videogameopolis: Shedding Some Greenlight

Games on the PC have rapidly evolved into a digital focused medium. Only a few stores still stock physical copies of games, and most of the best games are independent releases that are only available by download. While not necessarily the sole cause, Valve Corporation's Steam games distribution service is responsible for much of this change. It provided an easy way to purchase, update, and organize games on the computer, while also including many social and competitive features.

Steam has become so ubiquitous as a platform that many people refuse to buy games that are not available on the service. This has become a problem, as there is an inscrutable selection process for what games are available. Steam features many of the best games ever produced, but also some that are outright scams. Selection rules are sketchy and undefined, sometimes seeming like the personal preferences and whims of an individual rather than a corporate policy.

The Greenlight program was the supposed answer. In theory, it's a wonderful idea. Independent developers submit their game, in whatever stage of production, to Greenlight, and the Steam community votes on what games they want to buy. Unfortunately, the mechanics of Greenlight's voting system are shrouded in confusion and mystery, and until recently, the amount of games allowed on Steam from the program was pitifully small.

Things are improving, with dozens of games admitted at least a couple times a month. Still, there are many games that deserve to have a wider audience that still haven't been greenlit. Here are three games that should be on Steam and need more votes.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Disney World Trading Night Review: October 23, 2013

Disney collectibles are an enduring hobby, and part of that lasting appeal is Disney's own attempts to encourage the collector community. Those attempts are sometimes misguided or not thoroughly planned, but they at least try to some degree. Trading Nights are one of the most important benefits Disney provides to collectors.

Similar to the yearly showcase events, like this year's Reflections of Evil, Trading Nights give previews of upcoming products, allow guests to buy a few items of exclusive or early release merchandise, and provide a centralized night and location for mass trading of collectibles. Items featured are mostly pins and Vinylmations, though attendees will sometimes bring other Disney collectibles to swap.

During 2013, Disney has made many adjustments to the trading nights at the Walt Disney World Resort. The first event of the year moved the location to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Unless you were a baseball fan or had a child who competed in certain sports events, the complex was a virtual unknown to most guests. Space seemed barely sufficient, few new items were previewed, and available merchandise included little interesting for Vinylmation fans.

The second trade night added slightly more space, provided a few surprise product previews, and even had a Vinylmation set available a few days before the official release. However, demand had increased, and crowd control policies proved disastrous. To prevent the merchandise line from overcrowding, guests were only admitted a few at a time. Since hundreds of people were waiting trade, many waited in line an hour or more after the event started just to enter. Since the event only runs three hours, this left little time for many people to trade.

At last night's Disney World event, most attendees were prepared for the potential problems, with the line to enter wrapped around the corner over an hour before the event start. However, Disney was also prepared with a new system. All guests would be allowed to enter the building at the same time, but were given wrist bands for the event store. When your particular color was called, you were allowed to buy any desired merchandise and then had to destroy the wristband.

This system worked beautifully and seemed to alleviate most complaints. Anyone just interested in trading was able to start immediately, while still keeping the shopping situation orderly and fair. Only a few items were available, but they were decent offerings. Pin traders could buy an event pin featuring a Haunted Mansion ghost, while Vinylmation fans could buy blind boxes of the new Urban Redux 2 series, set for release Friday.

Product previews were also decent, even though the Reflections of Evil event was only last month. Almost the entirety of upcoming Animation and Cutesters series were revealed, as well as another chance to see other upcoming products. Personally, I'm actually excited for the new Cutesters Snow Day series, even though they're traditionally some of my least favorite. I think it helps that almost all of them are adorable animals, including a narwhal. Who doesn't love a narwhal?

The heart of these events is the trading. The event seemed to have lower attendance than the last, possibly due to past problems, the awkward Tuesday date, or the recent end of tourist season. Those with some trading knowledge were still able to find plenty of great exchanges, and hopefully word will spread about the more efficient crowd control solutions.

As for my wife and I, we didn't do too badly ourselves. Since we've only collected for a couple years, and don't have the resources to acquire lots of rare items, we also don't have the most desirable items to offer. We managed to do well for ourselves regardless, and helped out a few people with their collections as well. In the end, that's the most fun of these kind of spectacles, meeting new people and helping each other with our own little manias.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Misanthrope's Guide to Polite Disney World Behaviour


Part of the Misanthrope's Guide to Disney World, a series of posts on surviving the theme parks for people who hate people. The guide page can be found here, as well as some previous posts.

When hearing of the many problems massive crowds cause at Disney World, the natural solution seems to be visit at less busy times of the year. There are a few flaws with this plan. For one, "less busy" for Disney World is often just another point on the spectrum of ludicrously overwhelmed with humanity. The second flaw is that the massive crowds are only half of the people problem, it's how the individuals within that crowd behave that causes the majority of issues.

Something about the theme park experience turns relatively decent people into loud, obnoxious, selfish, sociopathic, boorish twits. Whether it's the heat, the mob mentality, or the emptying wallets, something causes certain guests to abandon all manners and decency once they walk off the monorail. Unfortunately, there's no way to change the majority of tourist behavior. However, a good misanthrope can at least follow some common sense rules to make the Disney World experience easier for others, and maybe they'll reciprocate in turn. They probably won't, but hope springs eternal.

What follows are some basic guidelines for polite behavior at Disney World. This isn't an exhaustive list by any means, but a good starting point of things to consider.

1. Don't Walk Six Across

Paths at Disney parks are often extremely wide, paved to allow people to walk both directions in large numbers. It doesn't matter the size of path, however, because at some point an entire group will decide to walk next to each other. If the path is 5 people wide, they will walk 5 across. If its 10 people wide, they will somehow conjure 5 more people out of the ether to fill it.

2. Don't Stop to Imitate the Snail

This is a corollary to the previous rule, as these two problems are most egregious when combined. Already blocking most of the path, many groups will proceed to walk at a pace best left to the mighty Galapagos tortoise. Worse, they randomly stop to adjust a stroller or examine a map, causing the crowd behind them to collide in a sweaty pile-up.

Sometimes you have to stop, and sometimes you can't walk that fast. If either is the case, however, please step to the side and let the masses pass. You'll keep traffic moving, and you'll avoid someone deliberately trodding on the back of your heels.

3. Don't Act Like You're in a Playground (Unless You Actually Are in a Playground)

In recent years, Disney has attempted to alleviate the more boring aspects of the theme park day. They added interactive games and activities to many of the attraction lines, and started providing permanent and temporary playgrounds at spots where children might have to wait. It's a brilliant idea that does seem to make guests happier, but it has unfortunately not eliminated a certain kind of misbehavior, and may be accidentally encouraging it.

Many guests have taken to playing with, pulling on, and attempting to destroy every piece of prop or theming within in reach. For example, in the Pirates of the Caribbean queue they will rattle chains, try to pry fake weapons from the wall, and climb on top of giant barrels. This usually creates unnecessary noise, bothers other people in line, and sometimes literally destroys part of the theme park.

It doesn't require much awareness to understand what should and shouldn't be manipulated or climbed. If it looks like a playground, or if there are clear instructions to monkey about the place, then feel free to play with things. However, don't assume everything on the wall is meant to be grabbed, and actually read the signs that say "don't climb."

4. Don't Shout in the Ears of Others

Sometimes theme parks can get loud. Large amounts of people talking at once, rides blaring thematic music, and general hustle and bustle combine into a cacophony that can drown out all but the most focused of thoughts. The natural reaction to all that noise is to talk louder, and louder, and louder, so that you can be heard over the cacophony.

When you feel like talking louder, stop and think about where you are. If you're in the open air, make sure you're not shouting directly into some bystander's ear drum. If you are in a line, make sure you're not just raising the overall noise level for a pointless comment. If you're watching a show, pre-show, or are on a ride, just shut your mouth, keep it closed, and enjoy the experience. Everyone came there to hear the attraction, not your annoying blather or witless comments about what is happening.

5. Don't Forget Your Children

There could be multiple articles written about bad parenting at theme parks. However, many problems are caused by parents forgetting to keep an eye on their children. Many a child has disrupted crowds and caused hazards, to themselves or others, while their parent walks away. Occasionally little ones get away, but whenever possible it's best to keep them in view, for their safety and others sanity.

6. Don't Cut the Line

If there ever is a set of theme park commandments etched into stone, this should be number one on that list, even though it's number six here. Line cutting is something that most everyone knows is wrong in some way. However, there are still people that do it without realizing. Some guests will use the bathroom, then cut ahead to their group. Some groups will do the opposite, and have one person stand in line so that a large amount of people can avoid the wait. Of course, there are also those useless wastes of oxygen who will blatantly cut the line even though they know it is wrong.

Simply put, don't cut the line. It makes you a terrible person. Don't be a terrible person.

7. Don't be Rude to Cast Members

The Cast Members of Disney World are some of the greatest employees in the world. While some are just doing a job, many see themselves as integral parts of the magic creating experience. These tireless individuals always smile, try to make every interaction special, and literally or figuratively perform their roles like stars.

Of course, this means that guests often treat the Cast Members like dirt. Not just dirt, but filthy, radioactive, putrid muck. These ruthless individuals will shout demands, expect ridiculous results, and refuse to listen to reason. To these people, Cast Members are unworthy servants that should grovel at guests' feet.

Be nice to the Cast Members. Only through their enthusiasm and efforts can the theme park experience exist. Unless you want to pop your own popcorn, run your own rides, and clean up your own mess, you need them there doing their job. Crushing a Cast Member's spirit is like kicking a puppy.

These have been some basic guidelines for Disney World behavior. Please be a good misanthrope and follow them, and maybe you'll restore someone else's faith in humanity.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

40 Pounds to Disneyland: The Vinylmation Trading Dash

The continuing tales of one chunky Disney fan's personal quest to lose 80 pounds and visit Disneyland, in that order.  
See my first 80 Pounds to Disneyland post for all the details.

There are days where you wake up and have an idea so amazing, you know you have to try it immediately. Something that achieves multiple goals at once, and gives you an excuse to go to Disney World. I woke up this particular morning envisioning a way to exercise, get coverage for my writing on Vinylmation World, and hopefully wear myself out enough to sleep better than I had in days.

I was going to try something new, the Vinylmation Trading Dash. For those who don't understand the strange world of Vinylmation, the plastic figures are often sold in blind boxes, making it mostly random chance what figure you receive. To alleviate some of this randomness, Disney has provided one to two locations at each theme park where you can trade for either one of a few visible figures, or take a couple chances trading from a mystery box. This mostly results in receiving Vinylmation being clearanced at the outlet stores, but occasionally there's a hidden gem or two inside.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Misanthrope's Guide to Disney World: The Best Parks for Avoiding People

Part of the Misanthrope's Guide to Disney World, a series of posts on surviving the theme parks for people who hate people. The guide page can be found here.

All Disney World theme parks are not created equal. They were all formed under different circumstances, shaped with different goals, and have received varying levels of care and neglect over the years. Most rankings of the four theme parks focus on aspects like the amount of rides offered, the number of attractions that qualify as "E-Tickets" (world famous rides, essentially), or just generally how busy you can remain.

These qualifications are generally useless for my purposes. From a misanthrope's point of view, more attractions designed to attract the masses is a negative. For our purposes, the most important factor is how easy is it to enjoy and explore a theme park while also being able to escape from other people. When the tourists, tour groups, and terrors grow to strong, there has to be somewhere to find peace, quiet, and harmony. At the very least, whatever passes for peace, quiet, and harmony in Disney World. Here are the theme parks ranked from best to worst for avoiding people.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Misanthrope's Guide to Disney World

Fourth of July at Magic Kingdom

Part of the Misanthrope's Guide to Disney World, a series of posts on surviving the theme parks for people who hate people. The guide page can be found here.
  "Court and town furnish me with nothing but occasions to stoke my fury. It fills me with black depression and reduces me to utter despair to see men living as they do. I meet with nothing but base flattery, injustice, selfishness, treachery, villainy everywhere. I can't stand it any more. It infuriates me."- Alceste in Moliere's The Misanthrope

"The only people who can be excused for unleashing a bad book on the world are the poor devils who have to write for a living."- Alceste again

There's an odd divide that seems to exist within adult fans of the Disney company, and specifically those that attend the Walt Disney World theme parks. On one side are the eternal optimists, excited for any aspect of the world of Disney, always ready to embrace the new and unworried about the little problems. The other side are the pessimists, who don't see little problems, but glaring, growing flaws and issues that will consume the entire company and its magic.

Guides to Disney World often feel like they are addressing either of these sides. Some of these books, especially the official guides, seem to function only to tell you what's more amazing than everything else that is just somewhat amazing. Other guide books operate the other end of the spectrum, in a cynical universe where the theme park experience is a gauntlet to be endured, less a vacation and more a death march with lots of costumed characters along the way.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Videogameopolis: The Wolf Among Us

One of last year's video games of the year was an incredible tale of morality and consequences in a harsh, Hobbesian state of nature. Regrettably, I never played this game, even though it's primary gameplay was dialogue and choices, not gunplay or violence. That game is The Walking Dead, Telltale Games original story set within the greater Walking Dead fiction. I utterly detest anything with more than the lightest bits of horror, and zombies just exhaust me. I still felt like I was missing a minor cultural event, however, when the otherwise action obsessed mainstream gaming culture embraced something that encouraged thoughts, emotion, and analysis.

Last week, Telltale released the first chapter of its newest serialized game, The Wolf Among Us, titled "Hope". This game shares similar mechanics to The Walking Dead, and is also based on a cult comic book series. However, the settings and plot of both series are miles apart.

Friday, October 11, 2013

41 Pounds to Disneyland: It Could Have Been Worse

The continuing tales of one chunky Disney fan's personal quest to lose 80 pounds and visit Disneyland, in that order.  
See my first 80 Pounds to Disneyland post for all the details.

This week is the first week that my wife and I have returned to decent eating habits and exercise. This is also one of the worst times of the year to return to healthy eating, as the annual Epcot Food and Wine Festival is ongoing. We've already indulged of it once, but I haven't completed my annual sampling of all the cheese platters available. I may have to starve myself for a week to compensate, but I will not be denied gourmet cheeses that would drive most people away with their scent alone.

Otherwise, getting back in to healthy eating isn't quite as intolerable as I feared. For one thing, it's been long enough that I no longer fear the site of Lean Cuisine boxes and have no more nightmares of salads consuming me. The reduced portions are proving problematic, but stomach shrinkage comes naturally over time. I have hope that this time I will make it to my goal.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Videogameopolis: I Don't Want to Fight Those Monsters

Recently I finished playing two blockbuster video games, Assassin's Creed III and Skyrim, but I didn't actually complete them. Since these are modern AAA games, they were filled with excessive amounts of extra, often pointless, content, but I'm not referring to those parts of these games. I never reached the end of these games, did not see the end credits roll, and I don't have an immense desire to finish them. I was tired of fighting monsters, both literal and metaphorical, and had discovered a lot more about my own personality in the process.

In Skyrim, you play as an adventurer of self-determined origins who discovers he/she is Dragonborn, a unique form of warrior able to slay and absorb the souls of dragons. The main plot is rather thin, as it can essentially be summed up as kill dragons, find out who is bring back the dragons, and eliminate them as well. It's mostly an excuse to explore and interact with a huge fantasy world, buildling your own story along the way.

Exploring dark tombs and ancient ruins, my created character faced undead abominations, malfunctioning mechanical wonders, and a virtual legion of bandits and thieves of various sorts. It was interesting at first, but soon I found myself bored with bashing zombies with a large, blunt weapon. I focused on the game's minor content, building up a home of my own, adopting an orphan, then finally marrying a fellow adventurer. Instead of stealing from untouched ruins or disturbing otherwise isolated creatures, I was creating a better life for my character.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Quick Review: Gatorland

For over 6 decades, Gatorland has existed outside the mainstream of Orlando tourism. Hidden on the outskirts of Orlando only recently touched by suburban development, it's a destination separated from the bigger attractions both by distance and ideology. Gatorland is a family owned attraction with an almost singular purpose, presenting visitors with an extreme concentration of some of the world's biggest reptiles. From the iconic giant jaws in front to the breeding swamps in the back, everything is devoted to alligators.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Reflections on 13 Reflections of Evil

Note: If some of the photos from this article look familiar, it's probably because I'm a writer for VinylmationWorld.com. My series of articles reviewing the 13 Reflections of Evil Trading Event in a more straightforward manner can be viewed on that site. This is a more personal view of a unique spectacle.

Nothing will make you appreciate villainy more than the Florida interstate. After the third driver tailgates my vehicle or cuts me off, swear words begin to flow from under my breath without thought. I begin to curse those poor unfortunate souls, wish for friends on the other side, and feel a little bit of Cruella de Vil in my heart. I know the unrighteous fury that comes with being a Disney villain, and so I am now ready for the day's events.

On this particular Sunday morning, I'm on my way to the 13 Reflections of Evil Trading Event. This is Disney's annual showcase event for pins and Vinylmations, their two main collectibles that generate a steady income from a devoted fan base. The annual events are not some tribute to dedicated fans, however, but big business in themselves, with admission prices starting at $65 per person and lots of expensive merchandise for sale as well. Every year features a different theme, and Reflections of Evil is devoted to Disney's animated villains, a popular and lucrative part of the empire.

Savvy collectors are willing to pay the price because the events are a unique opportunity. The items given to all attendees sell online for as much as the price of admission or more, and some items for sale will only rise in value over the years. Not everyone comes for profit, of course, with many taking the chance to expand their collections with items only available once or year, or by expert trading with other dedicated fans.

I have a duel purpose of my own for attending the event. I am an obsessive collector at heart, and the random nature of blind boxed Vinylmation figures calls to a particularly addictive part of my psyche. However, I'm also attending to experience this unique exhibition to give an outsider's impressions. I've been writing about Vinylmation for nearly a year now, but I still feel outside most of the collecting community and its idiosyncrasies. This event is a chance to see the culmination of a year's worth of collecting activity, in the center of the kind of spectacle Disney makes a specialty.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Dangers of Vinylmation Mania


Collecting Vinylmation, Disney's line of designer vinyl figures, requires a little bit of crazy. Like most collecting hobbies, it requires the inherent acceptance that colored mounds of plastic are somehow worth twelve dollars or more. They are great pieces of pop art and design, but it's still quite a lot of money for mass produced plastic. Most people collect something, either consciously or unconsciously, so it's definitely something all people share to some extent. However, Disney collectibles seems to inspire new levels of madness. We'll dub this "Vinylmation Mania."

What is the cause of Vinylmation Mania? Maybe it's the effect of inhaling plastic fumes from freshly opened figures one too many times. It could be the rush of blood to the wallet from the brain upon the first sight of overpriced Ebay auctions. Some people might just have taken one too many blows to the head in the melee of a new release buying frenzy.

Whatever the reason, some people take the collecting hobby so seriously, they suddenly abandon all human decency. Whether collecting for personal fulfillment or profit, these individuals will do anything to gain an advantage. What follows are some personal observations of this phenomena. I have seen Vinylmation Mania in action, and it is not a pretty sight.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Videogameopolis: Gone Home

Over the years, I've experienced truly bizarre and fantastic things through the medium of video games. When I was a child, I explored fantasy worlds as Italian plumbers and a menagerie of anthropomorphized animals. As a teenager, I was a street fighter through Street Fighter and fought Hitler's army more times than I can count in first person shooters. Even as an adult, I've witnessed games that create immersive fantasy worlds that would have made my younger self faint, but only elicit minor excitement now.

Why then, with all this amazing escapism, am I most impressed and enchanted with a video game where you explore a large but mundane suburban home? Gone Home is that game, and it's one of the most refreshing experiences I've had in a long time.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

? Pounds to Disneyland?: Changes

The continuing tales of one chunky Disney fan's personal quest to lose 80 pounds and visit Disneyland, in that order.  
See my first 80 Pounds to Disneyland post for all the details.

Last time I updated, the weight loss had gone on hiatus. This was a temporary delay while my wife recovered from her ankle injury. Soon, I would be headed back toward healthiness, working toward that grand goal of Disneyland.

Life had other plans, it seems. About the time my wife was able to walk normally again, I came down with a minor cough. This cough lingered for a week, then it proceeded to turn into a constant purge of lung-locked mucus. Fatigue and listlessness took over my body, and the days became a blur of barely conscious living. I finally gave into common sense and visited the doctor, who proudly announced like a game show host that I had a nasty case of bronchitis. A week of antibiotics, steroidal inhalers, and lots of rest later, I realized that another month had passed and my weight loss had started to reverse itself.

This isn't to say I'm giving up on my weight loss. Yesterday was the first day resuming my workout routine. I'm also back to eating healthier, something that's going to make life a little darker and less delicious for a while. However, I refuse to weigh myself until I've spent a couple weeks back in the routine. I know the first time weighing myself if going to be depressing, but I want the impact to be a little less severe. My natural reaction to bad news is to eat, after all.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Life with Theme Park Mice: The Plagues

Disney World draws people from all over the globe, every one of the 50 states, and quite possibly disguised extraterrestrial lifeforms. This mass of humanity brings together a wide array of languages and cultures to one place in a mostly harmonious fashion. All these people also happen to bring every virus and bacteria floating around their places of origin. It's like Epcot everywhere, except you're sampling the germs of the world rather than international boozes.

Some of the excessively optimistic tourists think they can avoid the plagues. They wash their hands constantly, carry hand sanitizer like a talisman against evil, and generally refuse to touch anything. Of course, eventually someone will cough in their vicinity, or they will have to reach for a railing to avoid falling.

Then, all those efforts are for nothing. Those people that are sick probably don't even realize it yet. Those that do realize probably don't care about infecting others. They handle every bit of the queues, touching props and jangling chains marking out the lines. They breathe the same air as you, standing much too close while shouting to people mere feet away. You will be exposed to the germs at some point, and eventually your immune system will break.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Patrick Warburton Secretly Rules Disney World

Patrick Warburton is everywhere. This is a natural law of our universe. The amazingly talented and intimidatingly tall actor shows up in more movies and television shows than seems humanly possible. There's a good chance that, somewhere, there's footage of Warburton making a cameo appearance in a movie produced before he was born.

Disney World is not exempt from this universal truth. Patrick Warburton can be found all over the resort, in different times, places, and guises. In the past, he is Incan lunkhead Kronk from the Emperor's New Groove. Kronk hosts a painting tutorial at Hollywood Studio's Magic of Disney Animation.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Life with Theme Park Mice: The 4th of July

The 4th of July proves every year that I understand logic, but choose not to use it. Leading up to the day, I inform others where not to visit with dire warnings of maddening crowds and gridlocked traffic. Logically, I know that the 4th will bring total chaos from summer vacationers, fireworks aficionados, and amateur patriots flooding the Disney parks. Yet, I still visit, and abandon logic as usual. Here is the sequence of events from this recent holiday.

3:00 pm- Check-In at Hotel: I don't abandon quite all logic. Not wanting to add traffic jams to the evening, my wife and I stay at one of the cheaper Disney resorts. We know that the buses will be packed at the end of the night, but that's still better than tripled travel time home. Plus, my wife's ankle is still requiring the use of a wheelchair, and delivery near the park entrance is a huge advantage.

4:00 pm- Swim: The other reason we stay at a Disney resort is the wide array of swimming pools. We both enjoy swimming, but my wife doesn't enjoy swimming in the ocean. Apparently, she has a great desire to not be drowned by giant waves. We decide to take advantage of the nearby pool before we have dinner.

4:30 pm- Gnat Explosion: Unfortunately, Florida currently has a major bug problem, and the pool nearest to our room has a faulty filtration problem. Combined, this results in a pool filled to the brim with dead gnats, which flow through and past us no matter where we swim. No square inch of the pool is safe from the drowned insects, and every dive brings the risk of inhaling a few of them. This is apparently not normal, as the pool is quickly closed for an emergency cleaning.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin Review

Disclaimer: This is a review of a new penguin focused attraction by someone who named their blog after those amazing aquatic birds. While I'm going to try to give a rational impression, my viewpoint is still tainted by the fact that I'm fascinated and slightly obsessed with penguins. My wife was also still recovering from her recent accident, so our experience was still slightly atypical. Finally, I will be describing the entire ride, so please don't read if you don't want part of the experience spoiled.

For the last year, penguins have been missing from SeaWorld Orlando. Caught in the middle of the theme park war between Universal Studios and Disney, SeaWorld decided it needed a major family attraction to compete. What better way to compete than with penguins, nature's eternally loveable flightless birds? Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin promised to be a revolutionary new penguin habitat, attraction, restaurant and shopping experience. While it may be somewhat a victim of its own hype, the penguins may still save this attraction in the end.


Approaching the new expansion, small theming along the path marks the trail. This display includes some expedition gear and topiary birds.

However, this extra signage is just a nice touch, because the giant penguin-shaped mountain is hard to miss. The faux snow covered rocks surround the entire expansion. Fittingly enough, the ride and animal habitat are housed underneath the main mountain, with the shop and food offerings located directly across from it.

The queue is surprisingly located entirely outside. Thankfully, umbrellas and fans are located alongside the path, as well as some stations with penguin facts. It's not the most interesting line, but at least the hot Florida sun has been given some consideration.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

VideoGameopolis: First Level

Long ago, in that bizarre time known as High School and College, I wrote video game reviews for a tiny gaming website. That website ceased to exist year ago, having never found an audience. I'm quite glad that it has disappeared, because most of what I contributed was embarrassing at best.

However, I did enjoy writing about games, and they are still one of my primary hobbies. While I don't feel like providing traditional reviews quite yet, I thought it would be useful to give my impressions of games I'm playing lately.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Life with Theme Park Mice: The Chair

I stand at the bottom of a paved hill, in the middle of Disney's doomed Pleasure Island, and begin to doubt my strength. Pleasure Island used to be filled with dance clubs and bars before they were all shuttered, and I wonder how any drunk person managed this incline without tumbling down it. My recently injured wife is in a wheelchair, and I must push her up this hill. There are other paths, but none this direct or quick.

Suddenly, I notice a wheelchair next to ours. There's a teenage girl, most likely also with a broken leg, sitting in it. She smiles at my wife, who smiles back to her. It seems like a pleasant enough scene, but I know the real truth. This is now a race, and I will reach the top of the hill first.

Hunching down, I begin to push with all of my strength. My wife isn't heavy, but this steep grade is punishing even without a wheelchair. The Florida humidity clings to my flesh as the sun sears my face. I almost begin to run, pushing and pushing while trying not to lose my grip.

Monday, June 24, 2013

? Pounds to Disneyland: The Hiatus

Not a wheelchair, but it is a giant wheel.
  The continuing tales of one chunky Disney fan's personal quest to lose 80 pounds and visit Disneyland, in that order.  
See my first 80 Pounds to Disneyland post for all the details.

In my last update, I had finally hit the halfway point to my goal. I celebrated. I was ecstatic. I thought nothing would get in the way of my goal.

Hubris, my friends, makes fools of us all.

First, life brought even more chaos, with my amazing wife Nicole receiving excessive hours at work, while I tried to juggle freelance work, my continuing job search, and keeping the house from filling with garbage and dirty dishes and catching on fire. Weight loss slowed to a crawl, but I still made half-hearted attempts to keep working towards my goal.

Unfortunately, fate decided Nicole needed to take a break from her exhausting schedule by breaking her ankle. She both shared my weight loss goal and the recent backslide into bad habits. Now, progress towards her goal is completely stalled until her ankle heals.

As a show of solidarity, I've decided to temporarily put my weight loss goal on hold until we can both progress together. I'm going to stay active and eat healthier, but I won't be actively weighing myself or planning our trip to Disneyland.

At the very least, I'll be getting some extra exercise. Pushing a wheelchair around amusement parks has given me the realization that I have way too little upper body strength.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Life with Theme Park Mice: A Halo of Bubbles


"I'm not here to have fun." This thought passes through my head as I pull into the parking space, far away from my destination. I feel a moment of relief, having made it through the madness of Interntional Drive traffic once again. It's a gauntlet of distracted vacationers walking into traffic, drivers from the middle of nowhere dealing with congestion for the first time, and buses making continual stops along the strip of tourist traps.

My relief vanishes when I remember what's next. I check for car keys multiple times, delaying the inevitable. Finally, slowly, I take a deep breath and climb out of the car into the humid Florida air. The heat makes my head reel for a moment, but what keeps it spinning is the sight before me. I gaze upon the massive outlet mall and its shopping masses, and I wonder how I'm going to get through to my destination.

As I make my way through the parking lot, my body instinctively changes stance, taking on the form of a football player ready to crash through his opposition. My glasses slide down my nose, but I let them hang just a few centimeters from falling. Seeing everything as a blur only helps me deal with navigating the crowds.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Magic Kingdom Update: May 28th, 2013

Memorial day has come and gone, but it seems the crowds are sticking around longer than expected. Summer is essentially here in Florida, so tourist season might as well start early as well. In addition, summer weather is here, with 90 degree temperatures every day and random storms every afternoon. Watch those clouds behind the castle, you're going to see a lot more of them in this update.

Before we get to wiggy weather, first we must take the customary monorail ride to the park. Along the way, the Grand Floridian continues rapid construction on the new DVC wing. File this under another grand hotel that I won't be experiencing unless I win the lottery or get some very rich friends.

Something I'm more likely to utilize one day are the new bus loops to expand the Disney transportation system. While it looks like a giant dirt pit right now, I have a feeling a new paved area will take less time to complete than a hotel expansion or mine train.