Friday’s All Right for Even More Crankin’

Friday link post featuring Panic! at the Bluetooth Speaker

I imagine that most of the people reading this blog will have already seen it, but just in case: Panic put out a video with lots more info about their upcoming Playdate handheld videogame machine, with pre-orders starting in July. Mentioned in the “Season One Games” section of that video is my own game, “Sasquatchers,” which makes sense because it’s one of the Season One games. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about it on here as it gets closer to release, because for such a small game, it’s taken up a surprising amount of my life over the past several years.

Congrats to Christa Mrgan and the rest of the team there at Panic for managing to get across so much of (what I think is) the personality and core appeal of the project. I’m a fan of the company and just the whole notion of wanting to do something weird and different, and to do it well and responsibly. Now I have to find out how to get one of those audio docks for it, because the Poolsuite FM screen with 2-color dithered video of a plane running in the Mac classic interface as a music player triggered intense feelings of need I wasn’t aware I even had.

If you don’t have patience for the whole update but would rather see an extremely Portlandish 2-minute ad describing what it is, that’s available separately. (It’s at the end of that update video as well).

The company’s been adamant about encouraging development on the device to anyone who wants to make something for it, a philosophy underscored by this video. On top of releasing a lowest-possible-barrier-to-entry development system called Pulp, they’ve pledged to make the SDK public and already released a 50-minute video with Steven Frank demonstrating how to use the SDK to make an app that runs on the device.

Plus, they’ve been running a developer preview, to expand the number of people testing out the SDK beyond just the devs in Season One. There’s been some really imaginative stuff already hinted at; you can get a good sample from Arisa’s Twitter feed, since she’s been handling developer relations for the Playdate project. One of my favorites from seeing screenshots and previews is Dustin Mierau’s “Playmaker,” which seems to nail the whole aesthetic of the Playdate and its philosophy of creative exploration.

Fahrenheit 451 and the Author Who Refuses to Die

Re-thinking some of my own condescending opinions about Ray Bradbury’s work

I’ve been thinking a lot about Fahrenheit 451 and its surprisingly nuanced take on censorship. The kerosene-filled salamander trucks are the most dramatic, but not the most unsettlingly relevant image in the book. Instead, it’s the society that slowly and gradually gives in to our own fears and assumptions to the point where we think the firemen are a good idea in the first place.

I already wrote about Ray Bradbury’s Coda, which was included as an afterword to a 1979 edition of the book. Searching for the full text of his essay online, I could only find the occasional personal blog post, and then a full copy of it included in an obituary of Bradbury on the Cato Institute’s website. Which I won’t link to, because F the Cato Institute.

I don’t know what Bradbury’s specific and personal politics were, because I get the impression he was adamant about letting his work speak for itself. (An idea that seems forcefully underlined by his Coda). I only just started reading Bradbury’s work for the first time in the past couple of years — going roughly in order of “famousness” — and I’ve been struck by how he has a clear and undeniably specific voice, which he uses to describe concepts that are universal.

It’s that combination of universal concepts plus early-to-mid-20th-century-American mindset which initially left me with the overall impression that his works are “brilliant, but dated.” To me, they’ve seemed to communicate ideas that are immediately and crucially relevant to 21st century liberal progressives, despite their being shaped by the mindset of a period in American history that so many of us are now recognizing needs to be dismantled and un-learned.

I imagine it’s that same universality that lets people at a well-funded libertarian “think tank” interpret it as a “got ’em!” dismissal of social progressivism and inclusivity as assaults on free speech driven by frivolous special interests.

Bradbury’s Coda to Fahrenheit 451 suggests — insists, really — that neither of those takes is the right one. Except I’m a little bit more right than they are, and here’s why.

Continue reading “Fahrenheit 451 and the Author Who Refuses to Die”

Friday Night’s All Right For Crankin’

A pre-update for a new videogame console! A maybe-BDSM-cult-driven series of computer games! A new land at Disneyland!

Panic has been working for quite some time on making the Playdate, a handheld videogame device that I think you should all be interested in, for reasons. Today they made a pre-announcement that a video update is coming next Tuesday, with some more news about the device, the games, and how you can pre-order it later on.

Aaron Reed’s 50 Years of Text Games series is just going to be a constant fixture of my link posts, since they’ve all been fascinating. This week’s is about an adventure game called Silverwolf and really, the bonkers story about the people who may or may not have developed it, and why.

A YouTuber named Kelsea Dyer made a video exploring the new Dragon Quest Island in Japan, and it looks like an interesting attempt to translate as much of the experience of the JRPGs to a real-world setting as they could. It looks more screen-heavy than I would’ve liked, personally, but the twist of traveling to random encounters along the path, then back to the village for shopping and treasure-hunting, seems like it would add some fun interactivity to it. The official site has more info, assuming you can either read Japanese or are better at finding language settings than I am.

The Avengers Campus opens at California Adventure this weekend, and Nerdist’s video is a pretty good overview. My unsolicited take: the available space and the mostly-real-world setting both make it seem a little, well, underwhelming when seen on video, but it’d be stupid to pass judgment until I’ve spent more time in the land. Even Galaxy’s Edge was unimpressive at first, until I got to spend more time there and get a sense for how all the place-making works together. The rides themselves are just a small part of it; I’ve already seen that from riding Mission: Breakout and having a dance party break out outside the queue, which made the whole experience seem 10x more fun. I get a sense that the emphasis on characters and smaller details are going to do the heavy lifting of making the place feel exciting.

My favorite touch that I’ve seen so far: the homage to Adventure Thru Inner Space inside the Pym’s Test Kitchen, using pretzels instead of Omnimovers. And I can’t imagine ever getting tired of seeing that acrobatic Spider-Man being flung over a building.

Nuggets of Responsibility

Why I’m finally giving up on the campaign to give Chick-fil-a the benefit of the doubt

For a decade now — you can tell how old posts are when the images didn’t survive a change in web hosts — I’ve been writing posts about Chick-fil-a‘s role as The Heel in the fight against marriage equality, stupid attempts to drum up outrage, and my own clumsy attempts to explain how I don’t think we should fall for it.

For all this time, though, there’s been one thing I’ve never been quite able to settle on: how much am I willing to make this a hill I’m going to die on?

I mean, if people want to feel better by boycotting a fast food restaurant, what’s the problem? If there’s one thing I’ve felt consistently adamant about, it’s that people should be free to choose how to spend their money, for whatever reason, or for no reason at all.

And I certainly don’t have any sympathy for the Cathy family, especially Dan Cathy, and it’s nonsense to even hint that their freedom of speech or religious freedom might be at risk. Cathy is the epitome of the rich white guy who refuses to keep his mouth shut. He and the company that made him super-wealthy have had over a decade of opportunities to make things right. People have even tried to spin him as a case study for how we can all get along despite our differences. But instead, he and the company have made the barest of non-committal statements, and then the moment the heat’s off of them, they go right back to their same old bullshit. Screw that guy, and his whole damn family, who’ve made billions of dollars off of peanut oil and neoconservatism.

Ultimately, the problem I’ve had but have been unable to articulate is that I hate seeing smart people get sucked into a stupid, manufactured culture war. If I think it’s idiotic for Mike Huckabee to stage the most American South version of a protest, where people buy chicken sandwiches to stand up for freedom and stick it to the homos, then it seems hypocritical to cheer on anyone acting like their decision not to buy chicken sandwiches is some kind of bold statement.

Continue reading “Nuggets of Responsibility”

The Old Normal

Starting Pride month with some well-meaning complaints about some popular symbols of inclusivity

It’s the beginning of Pride month — it’s always seemed odd that Pride is in mid-summer, since we all know that Pride goes before the Fall — and I’m choosing to complain about two symbols of inclusiveness and acceptance: the new Pride flags, and indicating pronouns in online profiles.

This may seem at best unnecessary, and that’s because it is. Everything I’m talking about has been done with the best of intentions, and it is short-term help for a real problem. The equality movement has progressed to the point where people like me — white, middle class, comfortably conforming to the binary gender I was assigned at birth — can feel relatively safe and welcomed in most of the places we’d want to live and travel. But those benefits haven’t been distributed equally, and there are too many people who are still marginalized within an already-marginalized community.

Also, I don’t have any illusions that my opinions are going to change what other people are doing, and I don’t want it to. But as symbols become more ubiquitous, I think it’s important to keep in mind what exactly they mean and why they’re necessary. It feels like more people — and opportunistic companies — are treating them as completely positive, to the point where it’s becoming as innocuous as the “Have a Nice Day” smiley face. Innocuous quickly becomes meaningless, and hides the fact that these are short-term patches over a more systemic problem that we’re not doing a good job of addressing.

Continue reading “The Old Normal”

Fahrenheit 451 and the Various Ways to Burn a Book

More thoughts about Ray Bradbury’s coda to Fahrenheit 451, and the book’s broader definition of censorship

In an essay included in the appendix of my edition of Fahrenheit 451, written as a coda to the 1979 edition of the book, Ray Bradbury says that a college student wrote to him asking if he would consider rewriting The Martian Chronicles to include more women characters. Bradbury responds by calling her an idiot.

All right, to be clear: he doesn’t pull out the word “idiot” until several paragraphs later, after he’s mentioned several other examples of his work being censored or rewritten, and worked up a good supply of anger over the long history of works being bowdlerized to suit one group or another. But it’s still wonderfully exciting to read an author flat-out refusing to make concessions over the integrity of his work in order to appeal to critics.

“There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running around with lit matches.”

Think of the outrage that would result if he’d written that in 2021! Especially if Bradbury had had the patience for social media! I don’t know enough about him to know how, or even if, his opinions changed over the years, but I like to believe that he’d have a fierce and eloquent take on exactly how social media has escorted western culture contentedly off of a cliff.

But imagine! An established, white, male writer not just rejecting a call for a more inclusive version of one of his works, but actually equating the request with censorship! I can just see the hordes of people using their non-pearl-clutching hands to fight each other off to be the first to dramatically collapse onto the fainting couch!

We should all read more

Friday Night’s All Right For Falling Off a Cliff

Friday link post with handsome Scotsmen being skeptical about nature documentaries, handsome nerds reminiscing about CompuServe, and handsome Italians touring beautiful Apple stores.

I’m a fan of Late Night with Seth Meyers and especially a fan of Ewan McGregor, but the above clip from an interview with McGregor about his work narrating nature documentaries is just the best. “Yeah, right!”

Aaron Reed’s 50 Years of Text Games series continues to be exceptional, and the entry about Trade Wars 2002 hit me with all kinds of nostalgia. I never actually played that game, and in fact I was never that active on BBSes, but I was way into CompuServe, GEnie, and later, QuantumLink, and the potential energy in text-based games over a phone line just can’t be overstated. I wish I could explain exactly how this all-caps paragraph:

EACH OF YOU IS THE CAPTAIN OF TWO INTERSTELLAR TRADING SHIPS. YOU WILL TRAVEL FROM STAR SYSTEM TO STAR SYSTEM, BUYING AND SELLING MERCHANDISE. IF YOU DRIVE A GOOD BARGAIN YOU CAN MAKE LARGE PROFITS.

hits me harder even than when I first put on a VR headset running Elite Dangerous.

Finally for this week, Frederico Viticci and Silvia Gatta’s tour of the new Apple store in Rome, a restoration of a historic building on the Via del Corso, is stunning. Just imagine what wonderful things Epic Games would be able to do with that kind of money!

999 Happy Cooks

An idle observation about the Haunted Mansion and what makes it timeless

At this point, I’ve read two books about Disney’s Haunted Mansion; Rolly Crump’s autobiography, which as you’d expect contains a lot of his stories about working on the attraction and the Museum of the Weird; and I’ve gotten to ride the three versions of the attraction in Anaheim, Orlando, and Tokyo, plus the Phantom Manor in Paris. So I’ve got some opinions.

To give an idea of how much I like this ride: one morning, I got the opportunity to ride the Magic Kingdom’s version over a dozen times back-to-back — I lost count, but I think it was 16 times? — and if I’d been given the option (and had a bathroom break), I would’ve wanted to ride it over a dozen more. It would be going a bit too far to say that you see new details every time you ride, because there’s definitely a point at which you’ve seen everything, but it doesn’t get old because it’s just fun to be surrounded by all of it.

One recurring bit of information that I’ve seen pop up repeatedly is that many of the Imagineers who worked on the ride — Marc Davis in particular — weren’t happy with how it turned out. In The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion, Jeff Baham describes how the attraction went through years of design with multiple teams of Imagineers assigned, all with different styles and opinions about how the attraction should be focused. Some wanted stronger story, while other wanted “mood.” A persistent argument, never settled even after the ride opened, was whether the attraction should be funny or scary. Baham cites an interview from Haunted Attraction Magazine, in which Davis says there were “too many cooks.”

Marc Davis was a genius, and his work is indisputably one of the main reasons I love Disney parks so much. But I disagree on this one. I think the apparent lack of focus in The Haunted Mansion is exactly why it’s so timeless, and why I never seem to get tired of it.

For evidence: the Phantom Manor in Paris. It’s more cohesive, more consistent, and more polished. The visual design of the house itself — like just about everything in Disneyland Paris — is striking, and it sets a perfect mood as an Old West version of the Bates house. It’s got a story that (if I remember correctly) is made all but explicit, which fits in as a key part of the fully-fleshed-out story of the entire land. It felt to me like a team had the vision of what they wanted from the start, and they worked to make everything fit. And it didn’t do a thing for me.

The key impression I got of the attraction was that it was overwrought. There’s very little of the fun and humor I associate with the “real” Haunted Mansion. The tone does lighten up in the last act of the ride, but by that point, I was just left with an overall feeling that they’d tried harder to make the story work than to make the experience fun.

Even an attraction I love, the Tower of Terror, loses a little something from its focus on story. The build-up can’t be beat: seeing the tower from a distance, passing the sign into the ominous queue, the path through the garden covered in fog from the misters if you’re there on a hot day, haunting 30s jazz music coming quietly from out of nowhere, an abandoned fountain with a long-neglected statue, the cobweb-covered lobby, and then the preshow that has the lightning from the TV escape out into the real world… it’s just exceptional place-building. But then our characters are zapped into the Twilight Zone, and the whole thing is over.

And while I haven’t ridden Rise of the Resistance enough to be sure, my first impression is that its story is part of what’s kept it from being one of my all-time-number-one favorite attractions. It is a phenomenal piece of design and execution, but I was still left with the feeling “Well, that happened.” It felt over, instead of ongoing.

I get the sense that there’s a long-running “debate” within Imagineering — frankly, probably more within the nerds like me who have strong opinions about Imagineering — about what it means to say that Disney’s strength is “story.” My opinion is that “story” is the best word for it, but that’s only because I can’t think of a good word for “something in between just a themed queue, and a narrative with beginning, middle, and end.”

The Haunted Mansion feels endless. Even as you’re leaving, the ghosts are encouraging you to hurry back. It’s a place, not a story, and it feels as if things are happening inside, and will continue happening forever, even when I’m not there to see them. It’s obviously most similar in tone, design, and structure to Pirates of the Caribbean, but unlike that ride, it doesn’t feel like you’re watching scenes from the past, but from a perpetual present.

Except that’s not quite it, either. One of the things that makes Walt Disney World’s version superior — for the record: California has the better exterior, Florida has the better interior, there will be no further questions — is that it has so many paintings still on display. They’re intensely nostalgic, of a very specific time and aesthetic, which is late 60s camp horror. Some have the quality of the best Scooby-Doo concept and background art, some seem straight out of horror comics like Creepy and Eerie, some feel like cover art of a cheap horror paperback.

Combined with other memorable visual touches throughout the mansion — like the chair next to the endless hallway, or the eyes repeated in the wallpaper — they’re such a specific aesthetic that they feel unquestionably designed. It’s foolish to assign sole authorship to anything in something as collaborative as a Disney theme park attraction, much less one with such a long process involving so many people not just in the original version but with all the refurbs, but the details feel distinctly like they were made by someone. Not a committee, or a project leader, but individual artists. Each adding their mark to the house over the years, like a real mansion.

Disney fans like to make it sound as if originality in the parks is doomed because of the company’s preoccupation with IP over original attractions, as if there weren’t at least a dozen counter-examples of outstanding attractions based on an existing property. I think that’s mostly nonsense, but there is the tiniest of valid criticisms at the core of it: making something as long-lasting as a Disney attraction needs to have enough room for it to be indefinitely expansive. Even if you have a ton of talented people working to the best of their ability, all filling the experience with tons of expertly-crafted details, it’s inevitably going to feel a bit small if it’s kept tight, focused, and cohesive, instead of being given room to grow and be at least a little bit weird.

Friday Night’s All Right for Wii Snorkeling

This week’s link post features music for imaginary games and real etymologies

For the past few years, Gabriel Gundacker has been producing soundtracks for Wii Sports games that don’t exist. These exist somewhere in the space of 21st century creativity that I’m not even sure how to explain: they’re not parodies, because there’s nothing that calls itself out or hints at its being a joke. It’s just a bunch of compositions that would fit perfectly — eerily perfectly — into the music of a 15-year-old game, and are as catchy as much of the rest of the music for the Wii.

(Gundacker is also responsible for my favorite Vine ever made).

Drew Mackie’s blog The Singing Wolf is full of interesting, short-form posts about the etymology of words, how they contrast with what you’d assume is the etymology, and personal observations about each one. This is exactly the kind of blogging I’d like to see more of as we all abandon Twitter, Facebook, etc, and return to the Open Web.

Mackie is also co-host of a podcast called Gayest Episode Ever, about “the one-off, LGBT-themed episodes that classic sitcoms would do back in the day, when it was rare to see queer characters represented on broadcast television.”

Swingin’ Yetis, as in, to Swing

Free armchair imagineering available here

I don’t actually know how many people outside of Disney parks-obsessives care about the Yeti inside Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom.

I mean, I know plenty of people like to call it the “Disco Yeti” or make “Did you know…?” videos about it, and pester people working in Imagineering, and make novelty T-shirts, but I don’t if it’s actually enough of an issue in real-people terms, or enough for Disney to be genuinely interested in fixing (apart from vague promises at fan conferences).

Considering how much Disney loves projection effects these days, and how their B mode for the effect is flashing lights at it, I’m wondering why they haven’t invested in a permanent projection plus wind effect for the stationary Yeti.

The car moves so quickly through that scene, and the strobe lights alone are enough to suggest movement, and they’re already using a projector earlier in the ride for the scene in which the Yeti breaks the track. Even if it would be impossible to reproduce the original’s swipe-at-the-train movement, a super-brief animated projection could make the Yeti seem more alive and, for example, animate the eyes and hand to suggest it was about to attack. I’d especially love to see some environmental animation to suggest its status as a mountain deity, like the mural you pass under during the main lift hill.1Lift hill mural image from easyWDW.com. Maybe it could be similar to the Mara effects in the Indiana Jones adventure, suggesting that the Yeti is about to go super-Saiyan or something.

I still love the coaster, and even though it’s not as cool riding it today as when the Yeti actually moved, it’s still a fine ride. But since it’s pretty clear we’re not getting an overhaul of the ride big enough to fix the animatronic, it seems weird that they wouldn’t use the technology that they’ve been perfecting everywhere else in the parks.