Sunday, May 19, 2013

Disney's Star Wars Weekends, 2013!

Star Wars Weekends just started out at Disney Hollywood Studios, so yesterday John and I braved the heat and crowds to go check it out!

Before we even got to the front gate I was chasing down these two sisters to get a photo:

(That's their parents smiling in the background.) I love that you're just as likely to see a girl toting a play sword or blaster as a tiara these days at the parks - or even all three together. ;)

And check out these girls' fabulous fascinators!

They even dressed to match!

We hung out in the gift shops for a while while we waited to meet up with Martha, a long-time reader from Canada. If you follow me on Twitter, then there's your explanation for all my wacky merchandise tweets:

Here's one I didn't post, though:

I actually love these Angry Birds foam balls, but they were like $15 each. YEESH. Ah, Disney pricing...

Once we met up with Martha, we moved on to the day's big attraction:


This momma and her babies were pacing back and forth on a raised planter:

She kept jumping down from the planter and looking up at the ducklings expectantly, but they were all, "What, you crazy?" Then the momma duck looked at ME, but I was too busy taking videos of her with my phone. Eventually a lady walked up, scooped the ducklings up, set them down by the mom, and herded them all across the path to the lake side. I was both mildly horrified and horribly jealous.

What's that? I'm supposed to be looking at Star Wars stuff? Oh. Ok. Here, have a Chipmunk Ewok:

The lines for photos with the characters were pretty crazy, as were the crowds jostling around, so I couldn't get the characters by themselves. Instead, enjoy these photos of random children alongside them. :D

This Darth Maul is the same guy every year, I believe, and he is incredibly intense - spot on perfect, whipping around into different poses like he can't even feel the 90 degree heat. So that girl's finger point and grin cracked. me. up.

(Did I mention it was like surface-of-the-sun hot? Why can't they host these things in February?)

Not long into the day I spotted a tweet from another reader named Jennifer at the park, and convinced her to come say hi. We ended up hanging out with her family and Martha for the next few hours, which was super fun.

Jennifer's daughter Emily was sporting a Jedi robe her dad Jeff had made (go, Dad!) and she was a real (storm?) trooper when it came to facing down the dreaded Tusken Raider photo op:

Whatever you do, don't look beside you.

This backlot area is where the characters definitely have the most fun, playing with the crowds and doing their best to freak people out.

Here's a shot of Emily's dad Jeff playing a game of mirror, mirror with the same Raider, who took it upon himself to stalk our group for a little ways:

Next he went after Jennifer, poor thing, while John looked on:

Such a Casanova.

I'm pretty sure these walk-around characters have been told to get in your face at every opportunity, because that seems to be their go-to tactic. It's either funny or terrifying, depending on your disposition, and I found having a camera in front of my face was both a shield and a target.

Here's Aurra Sing closing in on me:

She locked eyes on the camera and then slowly stalked off to the side:

Next I spotted my perennial favorite, Zam Wessel, walking by:

I caught her mid-stride giving me some serious side-eye.

I chased her down and asked for a photo of just her, which of course is like volunteering to be messed with. She let me snap one quick photo:

And then started closing in:

She got closer, and closer, until:


This photo isn't cropped, and I didn't use a zoom. In fact, her nose was practically touching my lens, something I didn't realize until I went to move and stumbled into her - and then realized everyone around was laughing. No complaints, though; these shots were my favorite to play with in Photoshop.

We wrapped things up at the Darth Mall, aka a Star Wars fan's shopping heaven. New this year is a 3D printing service that puts your head on a Storm Trooper's body:

It's about a hundred dollars plus shipping, and they ship it to you about two months later.

They also had Roxy the Rancor there for photos, which some of you may remember from MegaCon and Star Wars Celebration:

I guess the fans who created Roxy agreed to lend her to Disney for the event. Nice of them!

Donald seemed to be the stand-out character this year in merchandising, which was great for me; after classic Mickey, Donald is my favorite of the Fab Five:

Talk about the perfect set: Donald's butt frozen in Carbonite, and Donald as Boba Fett!

The art area is filled with fantastic original Star Wars and mash-up art:

The registers are overseen by Darth Donald:

And some fun Jawa set ups:

I managed to resist the siren call of most of the goodies, but I did cave on this deck of 3-D/lenticular playing cards:
Every card has a lenticular face - not just the face cards - and it comes in a metal tin. Not bad for $12! (And how appropriate that Jar Jar is the Joker...)

Here's a close-up of Vader's card:

We ended the day with the Hyperspace Hoopla, which is always a toe-tapping spectacle of goofy fun. People get in place for the show two to three hours ahead of time, though, so unless you're willing to wait that long you're not getting a great spot. I caught glimpses of it through a forest of trees and kids-on-shoulders, but I saw enough to still enjoy it. The show seems to be getting longer each year, too, since this one clocked in at over 35 minutes.

Here's a snippet from Inside the Magic that includes one of my favorite bits:

They used to play Robot Rock at our local skating rink when I was a kid, and I've loved it ever since - so that was a fun surprise. (And I love the controller DJ. Ha!) The only other bit that really made me hoot and holler, though, was the surprise finale - because I am just that much of a Dizgeek. :)

Head over to Inside the Magic to watch the entire show, or Ricky's also got it separated into clips if you just want to watch bits and pieces.

If you're in the area, definitely come check out the Weekends if you can! They run for the next three weeks, and there are plenty of shows and events (like the parade!) that we didn't catch this time.

Oh, and this coming Friday is also the 24-hour Disney Day at the Magic Kingdom, so if you're going to that and want to meet up, let me know! I've heard from two or three people already, so it might be fun to have a little Epbot party - maybe we can all grab a Citrus Swirl together!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mailbag: What Dremel Should I Buy?

I've been asked this a lot over the past few years, so last night when Kristy H. asked again on the Epbot FB page I figured I'd better get around to posting an official answer!

Dremels are one of those infinitely versatile tools that you'll find yourself using for everything from drilling to sanding to carving, so I definitely recommend buying one if you're the crafty type.

Mine is a Dremel model 4000, but I'm not a stickler for brand names. (I call them all Dremels, but that's actually just the most popular brand of "rotary tools.") Whatever brand you buy, make sure you get a corded model (for more power), and definitely spring for the "flex shaft" attachment - the smaller bit that screws on to the main body:

The Dremel is kind of heavy, so the flex attachment lets you drill and sand with much greater control. I use it at least half of the times I'm using the Dremel, so it's really worth its weight in gold. (This one retails for about $43, and is just under $29 on Amazon.)

If you purchase a kit then it will probably come with most of the accessories you need: cutting disks, drum sanders, drill bits, etc. (I spotted two Dremel kit options on Amazon - one for $80, and one for $135, and both are about half of the list price.)

If you want to try any wood carving, there's a pack of specialty bits for that - but I actually found mine marketed as pumpkin carving bits around Halloween. The tips look like this:

I have three sizes of these, which are what I used to carve my Harry Potter wand display:

You'll probably also want a pack of super tiny drill bits; I use those all the time for jewelry and finer pieces. Get the small bits online, though; we found they're MUCH cheaper that way versus the local hardware store. You should be able to get a whole pack of various sizes for well under $10 with shipping. (Check Ebay for those; I didn't see anything great on Amazon.)

For Christmas John also got me a Dremel workstation, aka a drill press stand, which is great for projects where you're either drilling a lot of holes, need those holes to be at perfect right angles, or both.

(Retails for about $65, about $40 on Amazon.)

The stand was a life saver when I was making my light-up copper cane, and it was also perfect for drilling my resin penny bracelet, since I needed those holes to be at perfect right angles.

Other than those projects, though, I haven't really used the drill press. It's one of those add-ons that's invaluable for the right project, but otherwise won't get used a whole lot, so I'd hold off on buying one until you find you actually need it.

K, I think that's everything, so I hope it helps, guys! And happy crafting!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Best Non-Violent Video Games For Adults

After my review a few weeks back of BioShock: Infinite, a reader by the name of ZippyWafflebuns (best name ever? YUP) wrote:

"This was a fun review to read (and would love to see you write more), but are there any games this quality that aren't violent? Like, no killing involved at all? I have a pretty low threshold for this kind of thing in games that I play, and I just can't put myself through it just for the world-building/storyline. But I wish I could, because I feel like I'm stuck playing Lego games and this looks so much cooler."

There aren't many non-violent games out there not aimed at children, but there are some, and some of those are pretty darn amazing. I gave Zippy a few titles to try, and then started amassing a list of my own. I focused on relatively recent, story-driven console games not specifically aimed at kids - and I also left out anything sports-related, because blech. (In fact, you might recognize several of these from my last recommended games post; I'm not generally a fan of violent games, either.)

I realize there are many degrees of violence, but for my purposes here I'm defining any game that doesn't include/require killing other humanoid characters as "non-violent."

So, with those caveats, here's what I've got so far:

Games I've played:

Kingdom Hearts - (2002)(PS2) or Kingdom Hearts Remix (HD remastered collection for the PS3,  releases this September, yay!)

A must-play for Dizgeeks with a fun, button-mashing fighting style. Great storyline, gorgeous graphics, and only mild cartoon violence. I love this game. (I also can't believe it's this old - yikes! Can't wait to get the HD remix version and play it again this Fall.)

Mini Ninjas (2009, PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Wii, and Mac) -

Quite possibly the perfect game; beautiful, a rich story, and you defeat enemies by turning them back into the adorable woodland creatures they used to be. 

- Psychonauts (2005) (Xbox, PS2, PC, Mac)


This game is almost too old to include, but it's still brilliant. Crazy characters, funny dialogue, great art, and a totally unique concept/story line. As I recall there's some cartoon violence, but no killing. (Please correct me on that if I'm wrong, guys.)

I do have a love/hate relationship with Psychonauts, though, because I've never seen the ending; the last boss fight is just too dang hard. I threw my controller across the room more times than I can remember with this game, but if you're a more skilled player than I (which is likely), do give it a try.

Portal 2 (2011)(PS3, Xbox360, PC, Mac) - 
By all means play both Portals, but if you have to choose just one, go with Portal 2. It's a hilarious puzzle-based action game with a fantastic storyline. The only violent aspect are automated turrets that shoot at you, so there's no real killing. Plus there's a 2-player co-op mode that's great fun to play with your SO.

Quantum Conundrum - (2012)(PS3, Xbox360, PC)

If you've already played both Portals and are yearning for a game with puzzles almost exactly like them, play this one. (It was directed by one of the Portal designers, which explains the puzzle similarities.) The story isn't as entertaining, but the colorful, cartoony style is fun - and may fool you into thinking this game is easy. IT'S NOT. (I made it about halfway before giving up in frustration.) No violence whatsoever, and as a bonus for my fellow Trekkers, John DeLancie (aka Q) is the main voice actor.

Journey (2013)(downloadable PS3 exclusive) - I'd never even heard of this one before I started researching games last week, but after watching this trailer I immediately downloaded it and played it that night:

That review says it all, although I'll add that this was the most relaxing game experience I've ever had, and I'll definitely be playing it again. I felt like there were plenty of things I missed the first time, so don't be too put off by the $14.99 price tag for a 2-hour game; odds are you'll get several play-throughs out of it.

Machinarium (2009)(downloadable only, PC or Mac)[Correction: someone just told me you can download this on the PS3, too! Yay!]

It's been years since I played this, but Machinarium is still popular and enjoyable enough that I'm including it despite the fact it's not a console game. Adorable robots and puzzle-solving gameplay. Need I say more? (Hit the link up there to play the demo for free.)

(And if you've already played that one, Unmechanical is another puzzle-based adventure game featuring adorable robots. You can only play that one on a PC, iPhone, or iPad, though.)

Honorable Mentions: 
Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009) & Batman: Arkham City - (2011, Xbox 360, PS3, PC) - 

While these games are definitely violent, Batman himself (who you play) never kills anyone. So if that distinction is enough for you, then give Asylum a try. Both titles won Game of the Year and have an "easy" level for not-so-great players like me. Again, these games are violent and gritty, though, so even though *you* won't be shooting people (you politely knock them unconscious instead), other people will be. Even so, the violence isn't nearly as graphic as BioShock:Infinite.

Games I haven't played:

Dishonored (2012)(PS3, Xbox 360, PC) - 

This is a tricky one, but it IS possible to play the game without killing anyone. It's just a lot harder. John played through the violent way, and from what little I've seen this is the game that most approaches BioShock: Infinite level scenery and detailing. That said, even if you choose not to kill in the game yourself, it's still a gritty, violence-filled world - like Batman - so there are no guarantees you'll find it any less disturbing.

Braid (2008)(Xbox 360, PC) -

This is a side-scrolling platform game that's won rave reviews and all kinds of awards for its unique puzzle-solving game-play. No violence that I know of.

Fez (2012)(Xbox, PC) -

(The PC version just came out this month!) Like Braid, this is an indie game that's garnered lots of praise, awards, and attention. It looks like a standard side-scroller, but you can rotate the world to turn corners and access all the different sides of each structure. Nifty!

[Btw, if you have Netflix Streaming check out Indie Game: The Movie. It's a documentary that features both Braid and Fez, among others.]

Katamari Forever (2009) (PS3) -

Since Katamari Damacy - the first game in this series - is now ten years old, I don't think its graphics will really hold up for new players. Katamari Forever is the most recent installment for a console, though, and from what I've read has the same style of gameplay as the original. It looks... weird. But hey, it's from Japan, and millions of fans can't be wrong, right? The object is to roll objects into one giant ball to form stars, so unless you consider that violent, it's completely violence-free.

Mirror's Edge (2007) (PS3, Xbox, PC) - 

This is a parkour-based game, so your object is to scale buildings, run, jump, tumble, etc. to deliver secret messages in a dystopian society. Your character *can* use weapons, but doesn't have to, and like Dishonoured you unlock a special achievement if you navigate the entire game without killing anyone.

You'll note I've neglected to add any of the Mario series games, Lego, Rayman and the like, although those are all fantastic, fun games. I omitted them because they're primarily made for kids, and because I prefer games that are more story-driven. I also left out some titles like Myst, Ico, and Siberia because they're just too old; I tried to go back and play Siberia a few years back and the point-and-click playing style just didn't hold up well. (It's a gorgeous steampunky game, though!)

So, what did I miss, guys? Share your favorite non-violent games in the comments! Bonus points if they're not too old, not too kiddy, and somewhat story-driven (as opposed to arcade-style games.)


5/15 UPDATE: Wow, lots of great suggestions coming in! Keep 'em coming, guys! Here are some of the titles you've mentioned the most so far:

- The Professor Layton games (Nintendo DS only, which is why I didn't include it in my original list - but so many of you are raving about it that now I think I need a DS!)

- Ni No Kuni (Also for the DS, or the PS3, released in 2010)

- Okami (Re-released for the PS3 in 2011 [Supports the Move controller, but not required], also available on the Wii)

- World of Goo (PC, Mac, & Wii) - Physics-based puzzle game

- Stacking (Xbox 360 & PS3) I enjoyed the demo of this, but was afraid it'd be too kiddie to recommend. After talking to some of you in the comments, tho, I believe the puzzles get more challenging as the game progresses - so check it out! It's by DoubleFine, the company behind Psychonauts, and the art is fantastic.

- Ico and Shadow of the Colossus - I mentioned that Ico was too old, but someone pointed out it was re-released in 2011, so you can play it and its companion game on PS3! Sweet!

Be sure to check the comments for lots more; plenty of non-console games being mentioned, and also older titles. (You've all convinced me to finally try Zelda, too. Most of those are pretty old, though, so I just have to figure out where to start!)