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.