Monday, October 22, 2012

Ready Player One

From Goodreads
I have always wanted to be great at video games. But, if I am being honest, I really am not. It took me and three friends to finally beat Myst and, if I continue with my honesty, I don't think I contributed all that much in the end. I spent honors playing Commander Keen but never got very far. Same with Sonic the Hedgehog, the original Mario Brothers, any of the Sim games I played, you name it, I probably tried it but never got anywhere. But I wanted to. I wanted to be one of those awesome video game uberplayers. But really, the only ones I've ever gotten very far on are the Tycoon games - Rollar Coaster, Mall, Zoo. I made one heck of a zookeeper, people.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline may just inspire me to find some app version of Pac Man and dive in. This book is a classic gamer's dream. Also, if you wish it was still 1987, this is the book for you. Ready Player One takes place in 2044 (if I recall correctly) and the human race has succeeded in completely destroying pretty much everything. A world wide energy crisis has led to world wide poverty, crime, disease and overall chaos. Wade Watts (whose Dad actually gave him a name that would echo the comic book alter egos) is a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who escapes into the OASIS every chance he gets. The OASIS is like Second Life had a kid with World of Warcraft and the kid was like a billion times cooler than his parents. When the creator of OASIS, James Halliday, dies, he has no one to leave his billions so he creates a game within the OASIS. The first person to find all three keys, open the three gates and beat them, wins his estate. Wade, along with thousands, dive into the hunt. The hunt requires everyone to love what Halliday did; '80s pop culture, video games and MMO games etc. So Wade and his fellow "gunters" start on the ultimate game but, as usual, the stakes get higher the further along the game goes.

One, the geeky sixteen year old I carry in me has a serious fictional crush on Wade. He is adorable; a geeky, socially awkward teen whose real life is so bad, escaping into a computer simulation makes perfect sense - in fact, its self preservation. His virtual friends are also awesome - Aech (pronounced H) and Art3mis. In fact, if I am ever as cool as Art3mis, I will have reached my nerdy goal. These kids are all up against insane odds and you root for them, you yell at the book, you wish you knew enough to yell the answers along with them. As the game's stakes rise, you really wish these kids had an adult, someone with authority, they could ask for advice or maybe just someone who could ground them as they move forward. Luckily, a character like this does appear towards the end which led to a major fist pump from me. These kids deserved a little help; I was glad Cline gave them some.

Cline is also just a great writer - he has a great sense of pace which must come from his screenwriter background. He doesn't waste time telling you anything you don't need to know. Every piece of obscure '80s trivia he throws at you has a reason for being there. In fact, at one point, I thought he was going on a tangent. As I read, I was thinking what is he doing? He is wasting mine, and Wade's time, the clock is ticking! And then later, that scene, that time he took, was essential to saving the day. As the dust settled and Wade explained what had happened, I just sort of sat there and thought, well played Mr. Cline, well played.

Highly recommend this read for anyone who has a love of '80s pop culture and video games, then and now but also, this is a just a great action adventure story with characters you root for. Now excuse me while I dig up copies of WarGames and The Goonies and indulge in some childhood nostalgia.

(Also, sorry Wade, but Aech is totally right about LadyHawke....even I do not like that film and on paper, I should adore it but then I watched it...)

Monday, October 1, 2012

A Short Ode to my Favorite Park

Actually, ode is probably the wrong word since you won’t find poetry here. But I did feel the need to mark the 30th birthday of my all-time favorite Disney park.

You see, I was an odd kid (I can see your mock shocked expressions from here) and while most kids liked the glamor of the Magic Kingdom or the thrill rides of what was then MGM Studios, I couldn’t get enough of Epcot. Something about hearing that futuristic music as I entered the gates and seeing that giant geodesic sphere of Spaceship Earth enchanted me as no castle could.

In Epcot, I could see what the future would look like if I rode Horizons, a ride that has sadly left us but that I still have a crystal clear memory of, even how Dad used to let me choose how the ride would end. I also have very clear memories of the original Journey into Imagination and Dreamfinder’s marvelous presence alongside his Figment. I remember the Land before it was “that building where Soarin’ is” and the Living Seas before Nemo invaded and you got to ride in a hydrolator to Sea Base Alpha. While I love Epcot just as much today and all the new attractions, I still have a pang for the Epcot of my childhood which seems more whimsical than the Epcot of today and also more hopeful, like we were still excited for the future would bring, rather than worried about it. In a sense, the Epcot you visit today is much more concrete and based in reality than the one you would have seen on opening day.

World Showcase though seems very familiar still. Not much has changed over the years; the landscaping grew in, they updated the boring boat ride in Mexico to include Donald Duck and Martin Short narrates the Canada film. The trolls are still threatening to send us over the waterfall in Norway, the department store in Japan is still one of the neatest places to shop on property and France still has the best bakery. I was one of those kids that had to do a passport through World Showcase every trip and the thrill of seeing my name in different languages never got old. I appreciate World Showcase more now though. As a kid, Future World was my favorite but now I love exploring the countries. I think being able to explore each country’s drinks is also a plus!

So Epcot, Happy 30th – that Mimosa Royale in Morocco yesterday was for you!

(Sadly most of the photos from when I was a kid at Epcot are still actual printed photos and not digital files. Someday I need to digitize those...)