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.