More Thoughts on the Cataclysm Beta

EDIT: Lost my Picasa album when I reinstalled the WoW Cataclysm client, so the Picasa links won’t exactly work right.

Finally hit a point with the Worgen in Cataclysm where I find the story got interesting. It’s kind of hard to judge without the animated cut-scenes in place, but the early story really didn’t grab me. It was kind of hard to figure out who the Worgen were. Yeah, there were wolf-people all around Shadowfang Keep, and I knew that the boss mob there had something to do with them, but their story didn’t really come across for me. So…I got bitten…then I’m a Worgen, but not exactly. More sort of half-human Worgen, thingie…

Eventually, after the quest that was bugged earlier was fixed, you get the “so you see, Joe” scene where some handy druids show up to explain exactly what’s going on. Better. Still confusing. But at least I have motivation now. I’m half-human, half-Worgen, and the druids are helping all of us contain our bestial side so we can fight the bad guys smartly. Cue the theme from The Hulk.

The art style is kind of gothically kewl. Lots of fancy-dressing and top hats. Made me chuckle happily when one of the quests I did gave me a top hat. Totally worthless from a game perspective, but at least now I look like all the other citizens of Gilneas.

Speaking of totally worthless from a game perspective, there’s a lot of complaining in chat about the whole ability Worgen have to transform. You see, you get to choose your Worgen form, but not your human form, so you swap into this random human form selected for you when you hit the transform button. Being a roleplayer, I kind of like the rp aspects of this, but I’d rather see the transform have a purpose. Maybe not the, “Oh, no, I have to transform or they’ll attack me” kind of thing. But it might be fun to have some quests where you have to change form.

On the Goblin side of things, I tried to heal my first instance as a Shaman. Total disaster. Um….I have one healing spell. And I didn’t spec Restoration. Not that the six or so talent points I had when I tried to do it would have helped. I’m thinking next time I use the Dungeon Finder, I’ll only tick DPS.

For the Alliance…and Horde. ;P

Harry Potterland at Universal

Went to see Harry Potterland at Universal yesterday. (Okay, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter…really?) The detail that went into building the place is amazing! Take a look at the pics I posted to see. You definitely step into the world when you get to the land, which is something I’ve felt about most of the work done at Islands of Adventure.

I’ve seen very little of the attractions yet. The line for the Forbidden Journey ride was two hours long at 7PM, so I’ll skip that until the crowds get shorter. Ditto on the rather annoyingly small Ollivander’s Wand Shop show and the Honey Dukes/Zonko’s shop. I really don’t feel like waiting in long sweaty lines to shop. I’d feel different if I was a Potter fanboy, I’m sure. I did hear where they said J.K. Rowling insisted the shops be small to be more authentic. Really, J.K.? Have you NEVER been to a theme park in Florida? It’s hot. Blisteringly, annoyingly, pass out from the armpit smell hot. Air conditioned space is like a Patronus spell when you’re surrounded by starving Dementors. Those shops NEED to be bigger.

From Harry Potterland at Universal

We ate at the Three Broomsticks restaurant, which is really the re-themed Enchanted Oak, which used to be one of my favorite places at IoA. And here is my biggest beef. Enchanted Oak felt like an Inn in the Shire. It was kind of welcoming, with lots of little booths and a distinctly positive magical feel. The Three Broomsticks is kind of…dingy. It feels like a dungeon inside now. It’s much darker. Lots of antlers hang on the walls. It’s not really someplace I feel like slouching about for a nice meal. The food is pretty much the IoA cloned menu of ribs, chicken, or ribs and chicken, along with some British flavor. Natasha had the pasties and wasn’t enchanted. I had the ribs, which I’ve always thought were quite good. The Hog’s Head brew was quite good — nice, mild beer in a collectible mug. Butterbeer is suitably sweet, like cream soda with butterscotch in it. Ultimately though, Three Broomsticks just isn’t someplace I’d want to spend a lot of time. I mean, it’s kind of nasty in the movies, isn’t it? It’s one saving grace is that they back porch is covered in tables with umbrellas over them, and that same porch has a great view of the castle.

From Harry Potterland at Universal

Again, not a huge Potter fan, so you might feel differently about Three Broomsticks if you own a wand. =) Hey, I’ll admit it, if there was a Death Star restaurant, I’d eat there…lots…

There was a great choir of Hogwarts students performing with their singing frogs. Very catchy, upbeat, musical show. And you can get your pic taken with them afterwards.

From Harry Potterland at Universal

Ultimately, Potterland is amazing work. If you’re a Potter fan, get your time turner and get there yesterday. Or maybe find some way to travel into the future, when the lines are shorter.

World of Warcraft Cataclysm Beta

EDIT 09/12/2009 – When I reinstalled the WoW Cataclysm Client it messed up my syncing with my Picasa gallery, so I lost the pics that were up there. I’ve restarted posting pics up there.

So I’m lucky enough to be in the beta for the new World of Warcraft expansion, Cataclsym. So far, it’s been pretty fun. I’m running a Worgen Warrior and a Goblin Shaman. The Worgen currently have a bug preventing me from getting past level 10, so I switched over to playing the Goblin, which I’m finding waaaaay more fun. The Goblin quests really have the spark of humor that you find a lot in WoW. Admittedly, they’re less high fantasy and perhaps a bit too Gnome-like in terms of how the humor works, but being a fan of well-done pop culture references and anachronisms, I’m really enjoying it.

You can follow my progress at this Picasa album.

George Lucas on the Prequels Before He Started Writing Them

Star Wars Screen Entertainment Box ArtI was going through some old boxes of computer games the other day, and amongst my various notes on hints and cheats I found a print-out of a secret message that was contained in Star Wars Screen Entertainment — the Star Wars screen saver program that was released in 1994. This was written by George Lucas before he started the prequels.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away Good and Evil battled to determine the fate of the Universe. The struggle is chronicled in STAR WARS, nine episodes which depict the reign of the Empire and a small, brave band of rebels who threatened to topple it. The middle third of the story was told in Star Wars: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. We followed a young farm boy, Luke Skywalker, and his commitment to the Rebel Alliance. We watched as Luke learned about the Force from Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda, and felt his pain when he discovered that Darth Vader, the most highly regarded commander in the Imperial Navy, was his father. The STAR WARS saga actually begins 40 years before Luke has the pivotal meeting with Obi-Wan that sends him down the path to his destiny. The first three episodes begin with the friendship of a young Ben Kenobi and Luke’s father, Anakin Skywalker. When Ben meets Anakin, he sees that the talented pilot is very strong with the Force and decides to train Anakin in the ways of the Jedi. But the Emperor senses Anakin’s growing power, and determined to harness it for the Empire, sways the young Jedi to the Dark Side. Anakin Skywalker ceases to exist, and in his place Darth Vader emerges. The new movies will feature all the action of the first three. Much of the drama, however, will revolve around betrayal — between friends and within the Empire. In this part of the story, things are not always as they seem and you never quite know who the good guys and bad guys are. I plan to start the screenplay for episode one by the end of 1994, and release the prequels by the year 2000.

George Lucas

Pretty interesting look at George’s thought process at that point in time there. I’ve always wanted to have the giant book of drafts and scratch paper for the prequels, to see where some of the ideas in the movies came from. It intrigues me to think about the things not mentioned above, like Qui Gon Jinn or the fact that Anakin is some sort of messiah figure, and wonder why George felt the need to add them into the saga. I mean, does it really matter that Anakin is special? Or could it just be that he’s a pivotal figure, as human, or at least Jedi, as anyone else?

One of those Veggie Melt Days

Yesterday, I went to the cafeteria downstairs where I work to grab something for lunch at my desk. It was just one of those days, you know, where you give up and eat lunch at your desk.

I stopped at the display of food at the cafeteria entrance, trying to decide on something fake-healthy for lunch. You know, it’s not oats and fruit, but if most of the population saw you eating it, they’d say, “Oh, eating healthy, huh? Good for you!”

I settled on the Veggie Melt Ciabatta. Nice mushrooms and peppers and herbs, which by themselves are mostly healthy, along with some melty cheese and oil and some big fat bread so my subconscious would be fooled into thinking it was something more akin to a Whopper.

So I go to the deli counter, and ordered the Veggie Melt, gesturing to the sign.

“The what?”

This is not the first time I have had this experience. I did a little Vanna White action at the sign. “The veggie melt?”

“The what?”

Fine. I pointed.

The guy turned the sign around and pondered it a bit. “Wow…veggie melt?”

Then, accepting the quest on the sign, he leaped into action. He read each line of the description, carefully adding each item to the sandwich. On at least two occasions, he goes off on a quest to find the ingredient. When he came back with the bowl of mushrooms, I silently hoped that he didn’t find them growing back behind the building.

Finally, he handed me my sandwich, which actually looked quite a bit like the display one by the entrance…except…it’s a veggie melt…and it’s not actually melted.

“Thanks,” I say. It was just that kind of day.

At least the sandwich was good.

Two Ends of the Animated Spectrum: The Avatar and the Frog

Over the last two weekends, I did something I hardly ever do nowadays. I went to the movies.

I don’t have kids, and generally I have time to go. For me, not going to the theater is all about the quality of the experience. Netflix and a reasonably nice TV trumps a crappy quality version of the film (you know, with all that schmutz flying by on the FILM!), sitting behind talking people and being charged 3000 times more than the bucket of popcorn is worth. So, if I go, I tend to be critical. I want the experience to blow me away.

So what did I see? Two ends of the animated spectrum: The Princess and the Frog and Avatar.

Have to say, neither one of them really engaged me much. Both were absolutely beautiful films. I liked the story of Frog better, mostly because I liked the characters more. Disney (the company whose theme parks I work for) did a nice job reinventing the classic princess story. I respected Tiana and her belief that hard work was way better than any magical spell. And I really like contrast they set up between her and Charlotte, who happens to be exactly the spoiled, cliched princess the movie is aimed at skewering. Charlotte is one-dimensional and yet not painted as worthless or evil. That’s tricky to pull off.

What’s regrettable is that the music in Frog is so … meh. I can’t say I remember any of it. No “Be our guest, be our guest…” here. Despite a nice number for the villain, and the swinging zydeco bit for the HSAs (happy, singing animals). Randy Newman’s effort just doesn’t cut it here, which is a shame considering the movie is set in New Orleans, which is really a paradise of music. (If you’ve never been there, and you like music, why not?) There’s just something too Disney and not authentic enough in this soundtrack.

Overall, Frog was enjoyable. A good movie, just not a great one. That left me especially sad, because I really wanted this movie to prove that the difference between success and failure in animation has nothing to do with traditional 2D versus shiny round 3D. Frog is a gorgeous movie. It deserved to be richer in story and song.
Avatar. Hrm. $300 million for that movie confuses me. Let me start by saying, I am firmly in the “3D is a gimmick” camp. After about 15 minutes wearing the glasses annoyed me. This may be partly because I have had 20/15 vision most of my life, and wearing the glasses feels like an imposition. But I also feel like 3D depth in a movie is mostly wasted on me. If it’s not John Candy’s old cheap 3D tricks from SCTV, I don’t really see the point.

Part way through the movie, I got tired and tilted my head and half the screen went blurry. Yeah, call me when you don’t need glasses.

Avatar’s a TREMENDOUS achievement in terms of special effects. There are some shots that are just amazing mixes of the real and the virtual. And there’s also some stuff that reminded me a lot of the old video games that had full motion video in them. It had that, “shot in the same warehouse” feel that those did. Maybe it was the 3D, but some of it just looked sort of cheesy.

Reading the WIRED article about how Cameron was reinventing effects made me hope we might now have a cheaper way of making movies of the “unfilmable” fantasy novels out there. Watching the densest credits ever roll by at the end, I realized this movie was great because they spent a TREMENDOUS amount of time, effort, and money on it, so I don’t know how much of an improvement it will be for people who can’t command the incredible budgets Cameron can.

Story? There’s a document making its rounds on the net that satirizes the fact that Avatar is basically Disney’s Pocahontas. That pretty much speaks to it for me. The sci-fi elements were unique, but they weren’t particularly challenging or thought-provoking. The characters were pretty thin and cliched too, which made it really hard to want to identify with anyone strongly.

So I’m back to my monastic Netflix existence until the next big event pictures come out.

The End (And I Like It That Way)

My roommate and I in college once had a big argument about books.

We both loved the “Apprentice Adept” trilogy by Piers Anthony. We bonded over those books, which was good because we didn’t always have a whole lot else in common.

Apprentice Adept Series Collection
Apprentice Adept Series Collection

But then, the unthinkable happened. Piers Anthony wrote a sequel.

My roommate was ecstatic. He raced out to the bookstore and brought it home. Held it before me like he’d claimed the grail. He cleared his calendar, scampered to the top of the loft, and buried himself in his sleeping bag and the book.

For me, it was like he’d just brought home a copy of the Venus de Milo, but with groovy arms cemented on, and painted to look realistic.

“That series…it was over. There was an ending,” I said to him, and he looked up from his book, startled.

“Yes! And now there’s more!” And he plunged back into the book, nestling deeper into his sleeping bag.

Over the ongoing days of his reading the book, it ate away at me. But the ending was beautiful. The entire reason for the story disappeared, closed, done forever. No possibility of sequel. The story was over. Everything was tied up in exactly the way that life truly and exactly never is. Happily ever after achieved, check the box and close the curtains.

All of this I argued at him, on and off as he read it.

And all he would say was, “You have to read it, though.”

Eventually, I did. At least the first 50 pages or so. But every word was like a slap in the face to your fairy godmother. I mean, come on…you told me everything worked out the way it worked on. And now, you’re saying, “Oops, I was wrong?”

I think Anthony even had an author’s note at the end of his book, where he said something like, “Hey, the fans wanted more.” I know an artist has to please the audience, but really, writing more Xanth, or something new, probably would have achieved the same thing.

I never finished the book. I sold it at a used bookstore some months later. Probably bought more Xanth novels with it.

I still have the original Apprentice Adept books. To me, they’re the only ones that exist in that series.

I guess I just like to believe in the “ever” in happily ever after. What about you?