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8/10/2012 It's been that long?

As usual, there's a new bonus comic for everyone who clicks the TWC button on the left to vote for Pebble Version. This week's features long time forum member, Silver.

In other news, tomorrow will mark the beginning of Pebble Version's 10th year. Nine whole years worth of comics finished and Brendan and May are just about to take on the sixth gym. So, if things continue at that pace, it'll be another three years until they finish the eighth plus another year or so for the Elite Four and wrap up... I'm going to take a guess and say that it won't take quite that long (the pace has been picking up a bit lately). But anyway, it's hard to believe how long I've been making this comic. A lot has happened over that time. In Pebble Version, there's been almost 1800 comics (counting all the Blooper Reel and other special comics), three forums, all my travelogues and guides, etc. In my life, I moved to Arizona for university twice (one for my bachelor's and once for my master's), worked in Japan twice, and am now working in Florida. I also released a game, published some books, and did a whole lot of other things I don't have time to review here. In world news we've had all sorts of major events including wars, natural disasters (some of which I've been in), a recession, and tons of political stuff I don't want to get into. The fact that I've managed to keep PV going and updating regularily through all of that is kind of impressive when I think about it. And I plan to keep it going until the end, whenever that may be. And what happens after that? Well, I've got some ideas but there's no need to make a decision right now. Despite all the time and effort it takes, I'm still glad I started PV back then. It never did become the next 8-bit Theater or Bob & George, but it's been fun and I've met some great people because of it. So thanks to all my fans, whether you've been reading PV since the beginning or just found it today, I hope you'll stick around for the rest.

As a note, my summer vacation is just about over and I'll be returning to Florida on Sunday and getting back to work on Monday. I've got a week of meetings and some serious class prep to look forward to followed by the start of fall semester. The next couple of weeks at least will probably be pretty busy with all that and my work on Aurora's Nightmare, but you can expect my Florida travelogue to resume sooner or later (gotta get out and do something fun every now and then). My list of attractions to visit and write about is shrinking, but I'm not done yet. Anyway, assuming the trip back goes smoothly and my internet was turned back on properly, PV updates should continue uninterrupted. Though, as I'll be changing time zones, they'll be taking place slightly earlier.

Well, that's all for now. Enjoy your weekend and thanks for reading!


8/8/2012 Shading!

I promised you an updated version of that Aurora pose and here it is, now with much better shading thanks to PV forum member Silver.

There isn't much else to talk about at the moment. Pebble Version's anniversary is coming up, but I'll talk about that more on Friday. Otherwise I'm just trying to get as much work done on my own projects as I can before returning to my job next week. The next two or three weeks are likely to be pretty busy but I'll be sure to post some more Aurora's Nightmare art from time to time and, once things calm down a bit, you can expect the return of my Florida Travelogue (I'm not quite out of theme parks and other attractions yet). For now though, I've got more things to work on...


8/6/2012 One more week...

Come next Monday it'll be back to work for me. Sigh... I suppose I can't complain though, I got a whole lot more vacation than I would with most jobs. But I'm not using my last week to relax. I've got a lot I want to get done. Both some stuff for my parents and work on Aurora's Nightmare. Speaking of which, Silver (from the PV Forums) offered to take over the shading for the character art. That means better shading. Plus, it's one less thing I need to work on which means the game will be finished sooner (though I'd guess it's still at least six months off). I'll post a new version of that Aurora pose once he's done working on it.

On, on a side note, I made a couple graphical corrections to strips #1331 and #1332. So, if you thought something was strange when you reading those strips, it's probably fixed now.

See you Wednesday!


8/3/2012 In color!

There's a new special bonus comic for everyone who votes (use the TWC button on the left). This week's features forum member Bioniclemandi121. In other news, I noticed that Brendan and May's team info on the Cast page was horribly out of date, so I fixed that. I'll try my best to keep it current from now on.

While getting my Verities Silex trilogy on Kindle took more time than I thought it would, I have been working on Aurora's Nightmare too. While my main focus in that regard is currently the writing, I got in a bit of an artistic mood and spent some time working on the character art. I showed you this sketch of the title character, Aurora, before (drawn by my friend Hanbee Lee). But now here she is colored, shaded, and ready to go into the game. Of course, this is only one of her poses. I've got a ton of other sketches that need similar treatment, though I'll likely be waiting until I get a lot more of the story written before doing any more. Maybe I should make some sort of progress bar...

Anyway, have a good weekend!


8/1/2012 Anyone?

I'll be really dissapointed if no one gets the reference in today's comic. Though the title pretty much gives it away...

I don't have much of anything to talk about at the moment. I'm just enjoying the last couple weeks of my vacation, getting some work done, and waiting for my copy of Kingdom Hearts 3DS to come (I pre-ordered it online, due to all my summer traveling). I'm sure that, soon after I upload this, I'll think of something I should have written about but right now I'm really drawing a blank so I'll see you on Friday.


7/30/2012 Glenwood Springs

I promised a write-up of my trip to Glenwood Springs so here we go!

Thursday (July 27): Glenwood Springs
My parents and I had been thinking of going on a short hiking trip this week but a couple of issues prevented it so instead my mom and I decided to go on a day trip to Glenwood Springs and see the caves there, something I've been wanting to do for a long time. While the Glenwood Caverns first opened for tours early in the 1900's, they later closed for decades and only re-opened fairly recently. But, as much as I love caves, between my times in Arizona, Japan, and the like, I never got around to visiting.
Since their re-opening, the caverns have expanded into an entire adventure park. Once we arrived in Glenwood Springs (which ended up being a much quicker drive than we expected), we headed to the ticket counter. While you can get individual tickets for the various attractions, you can also get a day pass which gets you into just about everything. Though, oddly enough, the cave itself costs an extra $5. Anyway, after getting our passes we got on the gondola (the cave is near the top of a mountain) and rode up to the adventure park.
We had some time before our cave tour so we took a moment to admire the awesome views and then headed for the rides. I was impressed, with a bit more work they could have a small theme park up there. We started out on a zipline (which naturally went off the side of the mountain). It was nice, but would have been more fun if they just let you hang (like a regular zip line) instead of sticking you in a chair. Then it was on to the best ride in the park, the Alpine Slider. I could only get a picture while being towed back up to the top at the end, but it should give you some idea of what it looks like. Basically, you get in a little one or two person cart and head down the side of the mountain on a rail. There's lots of bumps, twists, and turns and it's a really long track. Even better, you can control your speed, making it a relaxing slide, a speedy thrill ride, or anywhere inbetween. Really great ride all around. Moving on, we found our way to the roller coaster. For a fairly small coaster, it was actually quite a lot of fun and offered some great views from the top. Plus, it had a really short line so we ended up riding it three times in a row.
After regaining our footing, it was about time for our cave tour. There's two parts to the tour. You start off going on the same tour that visitors were taken on when the cave was first opened. Our guide was pretty good and filled us in on the history of the caverns as we went. That part was nice, though not especially impressive compared to some of the other caves I've visited. The second area, however, was on a different level entirely. It's much more open and full of stalagmites, stalactites, and other cool formations. As a note, if you make reservations in advance there's a special (and more expensive tour) that takes you into other portions of the cave (with a good bit of crawling and squeezing through tight spaces). I should give that a try sometime if I get the chance...
Anyway, my mom and I grabbed a quick lunch then went to ride the Alpine Slider again and check out the rest of the attractions. There was a small maze, a climbing wall (I made it to the top off the hard course and my mom the medium), several 4D movies (3D plus moving seats), a virtual wagon ride, and even laser tag (I won the round). There was also a few kiddy rides, which we skipped, a giant swing over the side of the mountain (which was unfortunately closed that day), and a bungee jump (which we skipped since it cost extra).
Once we'd had our fill of rides we figured that, as long as we were in Glenwood Springs, we should visit the hot springs. It's a huge hot springs pool complete with lap lines, diving boards, and a couple of water slides. In my opinion, there are better hot springs in Colorado (the ones in Ouray and Steamboat Springs, for example) but that doesn't mean I didn't have a good time.
It was getting a bit late by the time we finished swimming so we decided to go out for supper before driving home. A combination of a tourist map and Yelp led us downtown (they've got a nice little old fashioned downtown, by the way) and after looking at some menus we settled on The Pullman. Gotta say, they had a really interesting menu. My mom had Colorado bass with an unusual kind of pasta and carrot ginger sauce. I got duck meatloaf (yes, you read that right) with creamed spinach, shiitake gravy, and pickled onion straws. And for dessert? A strawberry rhubarb crumble with sweet basil ice cream. Though little odd, everything tasted great and it made for an excellent ending to an excellent day.
Since Colorado is home for me, it's a little hard to think like a tourist but a day like this reminded me just how much awesome stuff there is to see and do here. While I won't really have time on this trip, I should try and do a bit more touring next time I'm here.


7/27/2012 Upcoming...

There's a new special bonus comic for everyone who votes!  This one features PV Forum member Doodleshark.

I went to the town of Glenwood Springs yesterday and had quite a lot of fun. In fact, I think it's worth a travelogue style write-up, even though I'm not doing a Colorado travelogue right now. But it's getting a bit late (had a couple of things I needed to get done before working on this update) so it'll have to wait until Monday. Enjoy the weekend!


7/25/2012 Nostalgia

Thanks to those of you who downloaded my fantasy novel, Guardian of the Stone, earlier this month. If you've already read it, please remember that the second and third books of the trilogy (Defender of the Lost and Someone to Love) are also available. Good reviews are also greatly appreciated. If the books sell well I'll be able to spend more time and money working on my other books and games (like Aurora's Nightmare), and probably Pebble Version as well.

At my dad's request, I've spent the last few days doing some work with our old family movies. Some of them were transferred to DVD a while back, but a lot are still on VHS. Problem is, we don't know which are which and the ones that were put on DVD were done so pretty haphazardly. So I've got to figure out which videos need to be digitized and take the video off the existing DVDs, break it into clips, and organize them properly. It's made my rather nostalgic. Gotta say, I had a pretty great childhood. And, while everything hasn't always worked out the way I want, most of the things that came after have been good as well. As for the future, I'll just have to wait and see... But anyway, watching the videos has been fun and nostalgic, even though I'm just skimming through them.


7/23/2012 Where I'd live

Last week, I mentioned several places where I'd seriously consider living if work wasn't a consideration. Well, I figured I'd expand on that a bit. First off, what I mean by work being a consideration is that, at the moment, my place of residence is decided primarily by my job. If it wasn't for my current job, I wouldn't be living in Northern Florida. So if I suddenly win the lottery or eventually end up with a job that I can do from anywhere, here are the places I'd currently consider living and my reasons (in no particular order). Oh, as a note, if my family ever moves away from Grand Junction it'd still be an option but I'd also consider replacing it with other cities in Colorado.

Phoenix, Arizona
  Great shopping and restaurants (always a good thing to have).
  Lots of events and things to do (Phoenix has a lot of concerts, festivals, and the like).
  Warm all year around (while I have nothing against the winter, warm weather is nice).
  UAT (my old university gives alumni free audits for life, so being nearby has its perks).
  Extremely hot summers (you get used to it, more or less, but still...).
  No real winter (I do like snow, provided there's enough to have fun with).

Honolulu, Hawaii
  Nice weather all year around (the temperature never gets overly hot or cold).
  The beach (sand, waves, and surfing).
  Great shopping and restaurants.
  Lots of events and things to do.
  A large Japanese population (a plus to shopping and dining, and it would help me stay in practice).
  Fresh tropical fruit.
  High cost of living.
  On a small island (getting anywhere off the island requires a plane ride).
  No real winter.
  Constant wind.
  Humidity (not nearly as bad as some places I've lived, but it's still there).

Grand Junction, Colorado
  Pretty good restaurants (it doesn't compare to Phoenix or Honolulu, but it has a surprisingly decent selection).
  Close to lots of great hiking (both desert and mountain hikes).
  Good congregation (always a plus for me).
  Excellent karate dojo.
  My family lives there.
  Good selection of fresh fruit and vegetables in season.
  Shopping could be better.
  Not a whole lot of events.

Tokyo, Japan
  Great restaurants (though some types are rather lacking).
  Awesome shopping (Akihabara and Nakano Broadway, for example).
  Lots of events and things to do.
  Excellent public transportation.
  Good congregation.
  It's Japan (great for Japanese practice).
  Japanese culture (politeness, cleanliness, great work ethic, etc.)
  Tiny apartments.
  It's Japan (certain foods, appliances, and other things are really hard to get there).
  Japanese culture (indirect, overly passive, emphasis on overwork).

So that's my current list. I've got a few maybes as well, areas that seem nice but I haven't spent enough time in to make a definite judgement on (such as Austin and Colorado Springs), and I'm sure there are plenty of great places that I've never considered, but I'd be happy living in any of the above places.


7/20/2012 Nearing the end

There's a new voter bonus comic. This week's features PV Forum Awards winner Cheezdude so click the TWC button on the left to check it out.

I got back to Colorado ok. The plan is to spend the last three weeks or so of my vacation spending time with my family and working on Aurora's Nightmare. There will probably be some hiking in there as well. Anyway, it was a long flight and I didn't get any sleep on the plane (I need to be dead tired to sleep on a plane) so I'm going to keep this short.

See you Monday!


7/18/2012 Back to Colorado

Well, it's been fun here in Honolulu but tonight I'm heading back to Colorado where I'll have a last few weeks before I need to return to Florida for fall semester. I liked Honolulu when I first visited in the winter and, now that I've spent more time here, I've reaffirmed that opinion. In fact, if work weren't an issue, this is one of the places I'd seriously consider living (along with Phoenix, Tokyo, and somewhere in Colorado).

Well, unless something interesting happens tomorrow, this will probably be the last entry of this travelogue. So, here we go...

Monday and Tuesday (July 16 - 17)
Since I'll need to spend Wednesday cleaning up the place, packing for my return trip, and the like, these were really the last two days I had to enjoy my vacation. That said, I didn't do too much worth writing about. I went to the store to pick up some stuff for my parents, spent some time on the beach, got sushi one last time, and took walk around to check out all the flowers, different kinds of birds, and turtles over at the Hilton. I also paid a last visit to Bookoff on Monday and saw that, on the following day, Shirokiya (the Japanese department store in the mall) would be starting their new theme event. They change themes every few weeks, which involves filling part of the store with appropriate products. For example, when I first got here they were having a kimono theme, then a Hawaiian foods theme. The new one? Otaku. So naturally I had to go back on Tuesday to check that out. They had a bunch of manga (in Japanese), CDs, figurines, and art books. Neat, though the selection was kind of random and the markups on a lot of the items were extremely high so I didn't actually get anything.
All in all, it was a nice (though not especially exciting) couple of days and a good way to wrap up my trip. I'll be flying out tomorrow night but, since I'm planning to spend most of the day cleaning and packing, I think I'll wrap up the travelogue here. It's been fun. Honolulu (and Oahu in general) is a great place and I wouldn't mind spending more time here in the future. And for a last picture, here's a rainbow from a Tuesday evening drizzle.

Random Hawaii Comment: Japanese Bakeries
Thanks to the large Japanese influence in Honolulu, you can find a some actual Japanese style bakeries here (complete with things like melon bread, curry bread, anpan (red bean bread), etc.). Like in Japan, you start by taking a tray and a pair of tongs and then use the tongs to pick up whatever you want. From what I've seen so far, the best Japanese bakery around (in terms of price and selection) is Saint Germane, which has a shop on Kuhio right across from Marukame Udon and two in Ala Moana mall (one's in Shirokiya).

Restaurant Review: Five Star International Buffet
Type: Buffet (with a bit of everything)
Location: Waikiki, Royal Hawaiian
I haven't seen a lot of buffets around Honolulu so Five Star immediately stuck out. While I don't know about "five star", it is one of the fanciest buffets I've been to. And, as the name suggests, it really is international. On this plate, for example, I've got Thai curry, Japanese curry, Korean kalbi (beef rib meat), and some Italian potatoes. And here I've got several Japanese dishes (tofu, a type of fried chicken, and yam tempura) along with another type of potato, fried salmon, and a loco moco (a Hawaiian dish consisting of rice, hamburger, egg, and gravy). And that's really just the beginning. There were salads, udon, sushi, various pasta dishes, and quite a lot of other things which I didn't get the chance to try (I can only eat so much at a single meal). And, of course, a wide selection of desserts. Some personal favorites? The kalbi and friend salmon were particularly awesome, as was the bread pudding, though everything I tried was good. At $19, the lunch buffet (which is what I was there for) isn't exactly cheap but it's not a bad deal considering the quality of the food and the fact that it's all you can eat. At $48 though, the dinner buffet (which has a different selection of food) is another matter entirely.
Overall, if you're looking for a big lunch and don't mind splurging a bit, Five Star's variety and high quality is hard to beat. I'm sure the dinner buffet is good as well but, considering how much it costs, I'll probably never find out.

Restaurant Review: Lappert's Hawaii Ice Cream
Type: Ice Cream
Location: The Hilton Hawaiian Village
Can a state have too many local ice cream brands? I'm thinking no. Lappert's is located in the Hilton's shopping plaza, which is on the far West end of Waikiki. While they had far fewer strange flavors than the other parlors I've visited, they do have coconut pineapple, a couple of other tropical fruits, and and several macadamia nut based flavors (in addition to all your standard ones, of course). Since this was my last chance for Hawaiian ice cream, I went with the afore mentioned mac nut and coconut pineapple. Lappert's ice cream is rather thick and creamy (similar to Roselani) and, unsurprisingly, quite good. What really stuck out to me was the large amount of shredded coconut, pineapple chunks, and chopped mac nuts in my ice cream. That's a good thing, and I think they beat out all the other ice creams I've tried here in that regard. However, they're a bit on the expensive side, charging around $7 for a two scoop cone which you could get for five or six at most of the other places.
Overall, I've yet to find a Hawaiian ice cream I don't like and the large amount of fruits and nuts in Lappert's ice cream is pretty awesome. That said though, they have fewer unusual flavors and higher prices than most of their competitors, so they wouldn't be my first choice when out for ice cream.


7/16/2012 A busy weekend

Thanks to everyone who downloaded Guardian of the Stone during the free give away. If you missed it, it's only $0.99 now. And if you read and liked it, the sequels are also available on Kindle (for $5.99 each). Guardian didn't make it into the top 100 free list, but it did fairly well in the top free lists for fantasy and teen fantasy so, hopefully, if it picks up some more good reviews, it may get some momentum going.

Moving on, my time in Hawaii is nearing its end, but I fit in quite a lot over the weekend so it's travelogue time.

Friday (July 13): Pearl Harbor
As long as I'm in Honolulu, I figured I should visit Pearl Harbor eventually. While there are a lot of tours there, it's pretty easy to just catch the bus and go on your own, which is what I did. I did a little bit of research before hand and found out that there's a whole lot more there than just the memorial. Enough to fill an entire day, in fact.
Upon arriving, I headed right for the ticket booth. Tickets to the USS Arizona Memorial are free. Each one is for a specific time (there's a new group every fifteen minutes or so) and they're on a first come first served basis. I arrived around 10 AM and, since I was by myself, was able to get a ticket for 12:45. Though I've heard that, during peak times, they can run out entirely pretty quickly. In addition to the memorial there's three other museums. They're not free. You can get tickets for any single museum or pair, or $50 will get you access to all three. I managed to fit everything in before closing time at 5, but it was fairly close and, if I were more of a machine or military buff, I could have easily spent much more time so, if you want to do it all, go early.
Since I had a while before my visit to the Arizona Memorial, I headed to the first museum, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum. The museum (which has a nice audio tour) traces the history of submarine warfare, with an especially large focus on World War II. They even had some control panels and stuff from old subs inside. As I said, I don't have an especially large interest in the military or combat vehicles (of any kind), but it was pretty interesting. The Bowfin itself (a WWII era sub with a very impressive combat record) is moored right outside and a museum ticket lets you actually climb on and take a look around, complete with another audio tour. That was cool, though I've got to say that I'd hate to live on a sub. I'm not claustrophobic but saying space it tight is an understatement.
Once I'd finished exploring the Bowfin, I took a look through a couple of free mini museums that tie in with the Arizona memorial by tracing the history of the attack on Pearl Harbor (the conditions that led to Japan's decision to attack, their strategy, what things were like in Honolulu at the time, etc). I studied all that in high school but it's been years so there was a lot I didn't remember. Eventually, it was time to visit the memorial itself. You start out by watching a short documentary showing video footage from the actual attack (I didn't realize someone was actually recording it) then board a boat out to the memorial, which is situated right over the wreckage of the Arizona. There isn't a whole lot to see at the memorial, other than a bit of wreckage sticking up above the water and a wall covered with the names of the sailors who died when the ship was destroyed, which makes sense since, being a war memorial, it's more about remembrance and contemplation than anything else. I didn't have any relatives at Pearl Harbor at the time, but both my grandfathers were in the war and I took some time to stop and think about the price of freedom and all the people who died. The sheer number of casualties in WWII is mind boggling... Especially when compared to that of more recent wars. It certainly gave me a lot to think about.
After I returned from the memorial, it was time to head to the next two museums. Unlike the Bowfin museum, they're a short distance away on Ford Island. The island itself is an active navy base (though a lot of it looked to be taken up by housing developments for the soldiers and their families) so you can't just drive or walk there yourself without the proper credentials. Instead, you need to take a shuttle bus (free with a suitable museum ticket) from near the Bowfin museum. The first stop, the USS Missouri (aka, The Mighty Mo), a battleship first launched back in 1944. It had a very distinguished record in WWII and, even though battleships started to be phased out afterwards in favor of aircraft carriers, it also served in the Korean War and the Gulf War before being completely retired. The deck of the Missouri is even where the Japanese signed the surrender documents which ended WWII. Now the Missouri is a museum ship. There's a guided tour or you can grab a map and an audio guide and look around yourself (which is what I did since the tour only covers a small part of the ship). There's also a couple of special tours (which cost an additional free), one of which takes you down to the engine room (an area you normally can't access) and another that focuses on areas which were used in the filming of the movie Battleship. While there are a lot of parts of the ship that are blocked off, you can walk all over the main and upper decks (which contain the guns, command rooms, captain's cabin, etc.) as well as the first of the lower decks (which has the crew's quarters, mess, kitchen, etc.). While not as bad the Bowfin, space was still pretty tight. With the exception of the captain and second in command's quarters, even the officers' rooms made my apartments in Japan seem spacious and I'd take a capsule hotel over the regular crew's quarters any day. It's hard to imagine what it must have been like with more than a thousand people on board. Very cool to walk through though.
I spent quite a while exploring the Missouri before moving on to my final stop, the Aviation Museum. It contains a variety of restored military aircraft, mostly from the 40's through the 70's. Once again, not my area of expertise, but how often can you take an up close look at fighter planes and helicopters?
I wasn't really sure what to expect from Pearl Harbor and first but, all in all, it was a pretty cool (though occasionally sombering) day. Certainly worth the trip. Once I got back to Waikiki, there was just enough time to get something to eat (I'd skipped lunch, so I was starving by that point) then watch the sunset and fireworks.

Restaurant Review: Mikawon Korean Restaurant
Type: Korean
Location: The International Market Place (on the side near the back)
Although it's a bit hard to find, Mikawon is a pretty popular place. The walls inside are covered with notes and letters in Korean, Japanese, and occasionally English, from people saying how much they enjoyed their visit and the restaurant itself can get crowded at meal times. The menu is fairly large and covers all your main Korean dishes, plus the tables have built in grills so you can order and cook your own meat and vegetables (if that's what you order). There's also some fairly unusual items that I haven't seen at Korean restaurants outside of Japan before (beef intestines and tongue, to name a couple). I played it fairly safe and got one of my favorite Korean dishes, rice, beef, egg, and various vegetables inside a hot stone bowl (the heat from the bowl cooks it, so you need to stir it around for a few minutes before eating). It's a dish I've had at a number of restaurants and Mikawon's version could compete with any of them. No complaints at all. Like any good Korean restaurant, a number of side dishes were included as well. In this case, normal cabbage kimchi, cucumber kimchi, some sort of potato thing (I don't think it was a kimchi, but I'm not a kimchi expert so it might have been), and a noddle dish. While cabbage kimchi has never been a favorite or mine, this one wasn't bad and I loved all three of the others. The entree prices ranged from around $11 to $25. The ones on the higher end of that may seem a bit expensive though, considering that most of them revolve around different high quality meats, I can't really fault them for that.
Overall, Mikawon is popular with the local Korean population for good reason. It's not a bargain (though the prices are reasonable), but the food is good, authentic, and comes with some awesome sides. Plus, no matter what Korean dish you're looking for, the menu probably has you covered. There's a number of Korean restaurants around Honolulu but, if you're looking for good Korean food on Waikiki itself, Mikawon is probably the best (if not necessarily the cheapest) place you'll find.

Saturday (July 14): The Korean Festival
I got pretty lucky with the timing of my visit to Honolulu. Not only did I arrive just in time for the annual Pan Pacific Festival, but I stayed just long enough for Honolulu's annual Korean festival. It's not nearly as big as the Pan Pacific Festival was, and it was only one day, but it did fill up the better part of Kapiolani Park (off Kalakaua, right near the zoo). There were a number of booths, though a lot of them were advertising various Korean businesses (banks, doctors, etc.) rather than selling anything. Naturally, there was a lot of food booths, many of which looked pretty good. Unfortunately, since I don't buy anything on Saturdays (at least not until after sunset, at which point most of them were shutting down), I couldn't actually get anything. Instead, I grabbed a seat and watched the entertainment. They had a variety of things going on throughout the day. There was a kimchi eating contest to see who could eat a bowl of extra spicy kimchi the fastest, a Korean karaoke contest (which had some surprisingly good contestants), and all types of Korean dance groups. The best dance, in my opinion, was this extremely impressive five drum dance. It's a bit hard to describe, so just watch the video, it's really cool. The big show came at the very end, a short concert by Kim Wan-Sun. As a note, I know almost nothing about K-Pop music but I heard her repeatedly called the Korean equivalent of Madonna or Michael Jackson so I guess she's pretty famous there. Her music was mostly high energy pop songs with elaborate dance routines. Pretty good though, once again, I don't know K-Pop at all. As a note, she's cracking up a bit at the start of the video because it's her second time doing that song. The sound system died in the middle the first time, so she started over once they got it working again. While Korea doesn't have quite the same attraction for me as Japan, I enjoyed the festival quite a lot and I'd recommend visiting it if you're in Honolulu at the right time.

Sunday (July 15): Surfing
In retrospect, I probably should have taken a surfing lesson a few weeks back so I could go again if I liked it. But anyway, I finally got around to booking one. I went with Hans Hedermann Surf School. It wasn't the cheapest place I found ($75 for a two hour lesson as part of a group) but it got good reviews, has a convenient location on Waikiki, and was easy to book (you can make a reservation and pay online). The lesson started with some quick instruction and practice inside the shop, with the instructor explaining the proper way to lay on the board, paddle, and stand up once you get going. Then it was off to the beach. While we were on Waikiki Beach, we went a bit further down than I usually go. The instructors said that the waves tend to be a little bigger down there than the by the Duke statue (which is where a lot of people go to surf) but the main reason it's their preferred spot is that there's a whole lot less people, and they were certainly right about that. While the beach was far from empty, it was much less crowded, especially in the water. Part of that is probably because the water there is extremely rocky (even worse than down by the Hilton). We all wore reef shoes, so the rocks weren't too much of a problem, though their heights varied wildly so trying to walk or stand wasn't easy (paddling on the surf board was better). I'll also note that, with a bit of bad luck, if you fall off or get knocked back by a wave in the wrong spot you could scape yourself on the rocks a bit (happened to me a couple times). Still, the instructors said that having lots of people around was much more dangerous than rocks or slightly larger waves.
Anyway, the main thing surfing instructors do in the water during basic lessons, other than offer the occasional tip, it help you catch the waves. They pick a good spot, get you lined up properly, and give you a push at the right time so it's not entirely dependent on your paddling. Without them, other than picking your own spot and waves, you'd also have to paddle a whole lot harder to make sure the wave catches your board instead of passing you by. Once you get going though, that's when it gets fun. I've always had good balance (further improved by all my karate practice, among other things) and I had no trouble standing up on the board and riding the waves (as a note, just like when I went parasailing, the photos cost extra). In fact, I was able to stand and get a decent ride on my very first wave and every single one after that (it wasn't just me, by the end of the lesson everyone had managed to get some decent rides in). As a note, I totally agree with the instructors about other people being the biggest danger. The only times I wiped out were when others crashed into me and there were a couple fairly close misses in between waves when I was paddling back to the instructor. Of course, if any of us has been better surfers (rather than complete beginners) we probably could have steered around each other pretty easily. But anyway, you can usually see a crash coming enough in advance to, at very least avoid anything worse than a wipeout. And, for the most part, we were often able to surf relatively close to each other without too much trouble. Really, the only thing I had trouble with was getting back into a proper position at the end of the ride without falling off the board. In retrospect, I think I had a tendency to try and rush my drop a bit too much (or maybe wait a little too long to start). I only managed to get from a standing position to a sitting one once and fall off shortly after while trying to shift back to a laying down position.
While riding the waves was easy and fun, the majority of the time was spent paddling. After you ride a wave, you've got to paddle back out to where the instructor is. After a couple rounds of that my shoulders and upper arms were starting to burn and I was wishing I devoted more of my usual exercise routine to arms rather than legs, though the instructor told me that paddling uses different muscles than a lot of things and even really muscular guys tend to wear out pretty quickly if they haven't surfed before. But yeah, my arms and shoulders were pretty sore by the time the lesson ended and I doubt they'll be much different tomorrow. That aside, I had a lot of fun surfing and came out of it in pretty good shape. There was one point where another student knocked me off my board at an odd angle, which caused my leg muscles to lock up for a bit. The water was too deep for me to do much while swimming, and trying to get back on my board when I could barely bend my legs was a real pain, but I eventually managed to recover and other than that everything went pretty smoothly. I can totally see myself surfing again next time I'm here. I may not even need an instructor again. Choosing the right position and waves could be kind tricky without one, but I caught one wave on my own (even if it was completely accidental).
Once the lesson was over I was pretty wiped out so I headed back to shower off and, other than a quick trip out for supper and to get one last pineapple, spent the rest of the day hanging out and getting things done.

Restaurant Review: goma tei
Type: Japanese
Location: Ala Moana
goma tei isn't in Ala Moana's food court, or up on the fourth floor with the fancy restaurants, instead it's on the side mixed in with a bunch of regular stores. But that doesn't stop it from getting a lot of business and it can easily have a waiting list during regular meal times. goma tei is mostly a ramen restaurant, though there are a few other items on the menu. The restaurant is very Japanese in style, complete with long counter to sit at (they have some tables as well), though a touch higher class in appearance than most of the ramen places on Waikiki. I got their chicken shoyu ramen which is pretty much just what it sounds like (soy sauce based ramen with chicken and some vegetables). The broth was good, but didn't have an especially strong taste to it (though I'll take a moment to remind you that I don't eat ramen out very often so I'm far from an expert on the different broths (unlike true ramen lovers)). The chicken was cooked to a perfect consistency and there was a lot of it (I thought the whole bowl was a pretty good size). It also had a slightly spicy sesame sauce drizzled on it. The sauce was a nice touch, if unexpected since I'm not used to finding anything spicy in ramen. The prices were in the $8 - $9 dollar range, which seems pretty typical for this area, though more than I'd expect to pay in Japan.
Overall, I'm not a ramen expert but I enjoyed my ramen at goma tei and, judging by the crowds, so do a lot of other people. You'll find a lot more ramen restaurants to choose from over at Waikiki but, if you're at Ala Moana, goma tei is a pretty good place to go.

Restaurant Review: Snow Factory
Type: Frozen Yogurt...Sorta
Location: Mcculy Shopping Center
I've been curious about Snow Factory for a while. I walked past it a number of times but they had a booth at the Korean festival and it looked pretty interesting so I finally decided to take a closer look. I've already talked about many of Honolulu's great ice cream parlors, one of several frozen yogurt places, and mentioned that there's a lot of shaved ice around, but Snow Factory is different. It's something of a mix between frozen yogurt and shaved ice but even that doesn't describe it properly... Anyway, once you go in you start by choose what size and flavor(s) of snow you want. In addition to the standards (strawberry, vanilla, etc.) they had a number of tropical fruit flavors (mango, lychee, pina colada, etc.) and a few odder ones (honeydew, li-hing, etc.). A regular size (which can contain two flavors) costs $4.50 with an extra fifty cents for each premium topping you get (syrups, azuki bean paste, fruit jellies, etc.), though there's a few dried toppings you can add for free as well. There's also a smaller size (which is limited to one flavor) for $3. The bowls are pretty big, though you'll see why soon enough. I got pina colada and white peach. One of the first things I noticed was how light the bowl was. While the flavors come across pretty strong when you're eating your snow, it's nowhere near as rich as ice cream or frozen yogurt. It's really just like you're eating very lightly packed snow. While it is diary based, I'm willing to bet snow's fat content and calories are much lower than that of ice cream or frozen yogurt. I don't think it's quite as good as either, but it still makes for a nice snack or dessert and is certainly a unique alternative to its more common competitors. As a note, the place is rather popular and the snow takes a little while to make so don't be surprised if you end up waiting for a five or ten minutes to get your order.
Overall, I wouldn't rank Snow Factory's snow above some good ice cream or frozen yogurt, but it's a nice lighter alternative. Snow never tasted this good before.


7/13/2012 Extreme sports

There's a new voter bonus comic up and it's the start of this year's special series featuring the winners of the Pebble Version Forum Awards. This week's stars me and PoisonWing14. It's also the last day to get the first book in my fantasy trilogy, Guardian of the Stone, for free (after today it'll cost $0.99). Thanks to everyone who downloaded it so far! Remember, if you like it the sequels are also available and good reviews are greatly appreciated.

Back to the travelogue. Not many entries left now...

Wednesday (July 11): Parasailing
Yep, parasailing. It's been on my list of things I want to try for quite awhile. And, since my dad isn't around to freak out, this seemed like a good time to give it a try. After looking at some reviews, I made a reservation with a company called X-Treme Parasail. At a bit over $50, it was a lot cheaper than I thought it'd be.
They're based at the docks near Ward Center so I walked over there and checked in. I ended up getting there a lot earlier than I needed to, but better early than late. Eventually the boat arrived and everyone got on. Aside from me, there were another ten people on the trip. After putting on life vests and getting some basic safety instructions, we headed out onto the ocean. The boat ride itself was fun and offered some nice views of the coast. The parasailing setup allowed for one or two people at a time. I was by myself so I had a solo ride. Thanks to all the wind here, getting started is pretty easy. After getting strapped in, the wind easily grabbed the parachute so the X-Treme Parasailing guys just needed to let out the rope and off I went. They give you around 700 feet of rope so before long I was pretty far above and behind the boat. As a note, getting your picture taken by the staff costs extra, but I had to get some photos of this. The guy had a nice camera and was extremely good at balancing on the moving boat while taking pictures. Everyone who wanted photos got their own memory card with quite a lot of them (I ended up with at least 80 or so, though a lot were pretty similar so I cut the number down a good bit). Anyway, I was expecting parasailing to be pretty rough (lots of turbulence and all that) but it was actually surprisingly smooth, almost like sitting on a swing (just sitting, without really swinging). And, of course, the view was awesome. After 7 minutes or so they started to reel me in. While they could pull people right onto the boat if they wanted to, they like to drop you in the water first. After everyone had their turns, we headed back to the dock and that was it. The whole trip ended up taking around an hour and fifteen minutes. While it wasn't really the roller coaster type ride I was expecting, it was a lot of fun, making it an enjoyable (and surprisingly affordable) activity.
I spent the rest of the day relaxing and then went to the Blaisedell farmers market. I got some sort of Vietnamese soup there. It was bad, but like every time I'm gotten Vietnamese food, while I did't dislike it, it doesn't really leave me wanting to eat Vietnamese more often either. Which is why, despite the large number of Vietnamese restaurants here in Honolulu, I haven't reviewed any yet.

Thursday (July 12): Relaxing
I used Thursday as a relaxation day so, other than a walk to the store to buy some things to take back to my parents and try a new restaurant, I didn't do anything worth writing about. So here's that restaurant review.

Restaurant Review: Da Spot
Type: A bit of everything
Location: King St near Hausten St
I was actually already familiar with Da Spot since they have both at the Blaisdell farmers' market every week (they're the ones I got the Moroccan chicken and Cajun chicken from). They advertise healthy food and have a very diverse menu. The two types of chicken I had at Blaisdell were there, as were things like Egyptian slow cooked lamb stew, Thai curry, Greek salad, and many more. The whole thing is cafeteria style. For $8 you get a plate with one entree, rice (regular or saffron), and a salad. For $10 you can upgrade to a combo and get two entrees instead of one. As a note though, some of the items (anything with lamb and the fancier salads) add a couple of dollars each to the price. So, while it starts off fairly cheap, you could easily end up paying $5 or $6 more than you planned. I got the Egyptian slow cooked lamb stew. I'm usually not a huge fan of a lamb (I don't dislike it, but I'm not particularly fond of it either) but this was quite good (though there were a lot of bones), as was my rice and salad. Everything was fresh and, while I can't say for sure how healthy it is compared to other places, there wasn't anything fried or greasy and this is the type of food that rarely contains chemicals or the like. As a side note, Da Spot also has some baklava (I got some at Blaisdell, it's good) and similar desserts, and a pretty large smoothie menu.
Overall, Da Spot's food is fresh and good and their "around the world" selection of dishes makes it a fun and interesting place to eat whether you're at their restaurant or their farmers' market booth. Definitely worth a look if you're in the area. Just keep in mind that, as many items come at a premium, the base prices for a plate can be a little misleading.


7/11/2012 Taking things easy

If you missed Monday's news post, my fantasy novel trilogy The Verities Silex is now available on Amazon Kindle (which means you can download them to read on your PC, Mac, smart phone, tablet, or actual Kindle). The first book, Guardian of the Stone, is free through Friday (after which it will cost only $0.99 as a special introduction to the series). I'm hoping to get it into the top 100 free books list before the end of the week. It's made a lot of progress so far, but is still far away from that goal. Will it make it? Well, download a copy for yourself and tell your friends and family to do the same and we'll see what happens. If you enjoy it, good reviews are also greatly appreciated. I'm happy to say that, while Guardian isn't in the overall top 100 free books yet, it's ranked fairly highly on the lists of top 100 free fantasy and teen fantasy novels.

Anyway, I've got a week left in Hawaii and a month left in my vacation. Then it's back to Florida with its floods, alligator attacks, and violent crazy people. Yeah... The new stories from the state haven't been very good lately. Let's hope they get some of those things taken care of before I have to return. For now though, back to the travelogue.

Monday (July 9): Taking it Easy
A couple of things came up that I needed to take care of and, after my big push last week to get The Verities Silex trilogy up on Kindle, I wanted to take it easy for a little while. Since I had to go to the post office, and the nearest one is in Ala Moana, I decided to get lunch at a restaurant there I've been wanting to try. Other than that, I went to the beach for a while and just relaxed for the rest of the day.
On a side note, I stumbled across a nice little arcade on the fourth floor of Ala Moana (it's very easy to miss) which is mostly Japanese fighting and music games, so that was a fun diversion.

Restaurant Review: Jade Dynasty
Type: Chinese
Location: Ala Moana
Jade Dynasty is one of the fancier restaurants in Ala Moana. While they have a regular menu, the focus is on their large dim sum menu. If you're not familiar with the term, dim sum involves getting a number of smaller dishes to sample rather than a single large main course. Dim sum is pretty popular at Chinese restaurants in Honolulu, which is a change from the ones I'm used to back on the mainland, which tend to either have ordinary menus or buffets. After entering Jade Dynasty, I was soon greeted by the extremely friendly staff (the service was excellent), shown to a table, and given a dim sum menu and a pot of tea. Dim sum is really best suited for a group so you can order a whole lot of items and share them. That said, it still can make for a pretty good meal for one. I got three dishes, roast duck, some sort of fried taro dumplings, and mango mochi. While I'm not overly fond of taro (I figured that, being in Hawaii and all, I really should eat at least something with it), all these dishes were very good. The duck was cooked perfectly (crisp on the outside, soft on the inside), the taro was good for taro and not greasy, and the mango mochi were soft, creamy, and generally delicious. When it comes to price, Jade Dynasty isn't too bad. While the main courses on their menu run from the mid teens to twenties, the dim sum ranges from $2.50 - $8, with the majority being on the lower end of the scale, so you can get quite a lot of food for your money.
Overall, Jade Dynasty is a great place to go for dim sum. The menu is large and varied, the food is good and affordable, and the staff is very friendly and attentive. They were ranked as one of the best Chinese restaurants in Honolulu and I can see why.

Tuesday (July 10): The Dole Plantation
I visited the Dole Plantation when I was here in the winter but, due to the weather, wasn't able to actually do much there and I've been wanting to go back for their pineapple maze, which has the record for world's largest maze. Getting there by bus from Ala Moana is pretty easy, though it's also rather time consuming. With the bus routes and all the stops, it takes a good hour and forty-five minutes or so. But I was prepared and brought my 3DS along for the ride so it wasn't too bad.
While Hawaii doesn't produce nearly as much of the world's pineapple crop as it used it, Dole still has a fairly big operation here. The plantation has a few different attractions but I was mainly there for the maze so that's where I headed first. As a note, it's called the pineapple maze because it's shaped like a pineapple. It's not made out of pineapple plants, which are pointy and not especially tall. Unlike some mazes, the challenge isn't finding the exit but rather finding the eight stations scattered throughout the maze to complete the card you're given at the entrance. Some of them are pretty well hidden and there are a lot of twists and turns and dead ends to contend with, especially if you don't cheat and squeeze through the gaps in some of the walls. With a quick pace, some very thorough searching, and a bit of luck, I managed to finish in just under an hour. It was fun, though not a match for The Amazing Maize Maze in Pennsylvania, which I used to go to every year when visiting my grandparents. Speaking of which, while the pineapple maze is pretty big, I really can't believe it's bigger than some of the corn mazes I've visited. Maybe they don't count since they're temporary?
Anyway, since it was only a few dollars more, I'd gotten a combo ticket for both the maze and the garden tour. But I wanted to take a quick break so I headed inside the marketplace. While they've got a wide variety of Dole, pineapple, and general Hawaiian themed goods, along with a restaurant, I decided to skip lunch and just get some Dole Whip (a pineapple based soft soft serve of sorts). You can get your Dole Whip in a lot of different ways, and I chose a float which consisted of a large cup filled with Dole Whip and pineapple juice. I'm probably going to be absolutely sick of pineapple by the time I leave Hawaii, but for now I still love it. As a note, you don't have to go the Dole Plantation to get Dole Whip, there are stalls in both Ala Moana and the International Market Place that have it.
My next stop was the garden, which features a self guided walking tour through a number of native plants. It looked like they usually have an audio tour but it wasn't available for some reason so I made due with reading the signs instead. The garden was of a moderate size and very pretty, with lots of different kinds of tropical flowers and some fruit trees and other interesting plants as well. The plantation also has a train ride you can take (though I skipped that) and a small separate (and free) garden featuring a number of different varieties of pineapple. According to the signs, while the others are edible, there's only one type of pineapple that's grown for commercial consumption in the US (chosen due to its taste, texture, and shape). Though the shapes and colors of some of the others were pretty cool. Overall, the plantation was fun, though for a lot of people it may not be worth the long bus ride (as a note, it's a much shorter trip if you have your own car).
After I'd finished at the plantation, it was time for another long bus ride. Once back in Honolulu, I spent the rest of the day relaxing and getting a few things done. I ended up eating at CoCo again, since I wanted to go there one more time before the end of my trip. If you ask me, it's a Japanese chain that I think could do pretty well expanding across the US (along with Yoshinoya, Pepper Lunch, and possibly Hanamaru Udon). Probably not something that'll ever happen, but it'd be nice...


7/9/2012 Guardian of the Stone, FREE through Friday!

My fantasy trilogy, The Verities Silex, is now available in ebook from Amazon Kindle! There are three volumes, Guardian of the Stone, Defender of the Lost, and Someone to Love. As a special offer, Guardian of the Stone is completely FREE through Friday and only $0.99 (or the equivalent if you're not in the US) after that. And you don't need an actual Kindle to get it. You can get the free Kindle reader program on Windows, Mac, iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7, and Blackberry. So please, download Guardian and tell your family, friends, etc. to download it too! My goal is to get enough downloads this week to push it into Kindle's Top 100 Free Books list so every download helps. And if you like it, please consider leaving a good review and getting the other books. If sales are decent, the money will be going towards the release of additional novels and the development of Aurora's Nightmare.

Other than that, my time in Hawaii in nearing the end (a bit over a week left) but I've still got some things left to do. So, on with the travelogue.

Friday (June 6): Finishing Things Up
With my fantasy trilogy about to go live on Kindle, I decided one more day of work was in order to get everything ready. Though, since I wasn't going anywhere, I figured I could at least eat at a restaurant that would require a bit of a wait. I snapped a nice picture of the rowboats in the nearby canal too. Team rowing is pretty popular there.

Restaurant Review: Eggs 'n Things
Type: Breakfast
Location: Waikiki, Saratoga Rd. just off Kalakkaua and Kalakaua near the Duke statue
Eggs 'n Things is a rather famous breakfast spot (though it's also open for lunch and the Saratoga location is open for dinner as well). As such, it tends to have moderate to long wait times, though you might be able to avoid them if you get there early enough. Egg 'n Things is best known for its pancakes though they also have waffles, french toast, omelets, and all the usual breakfast foods. I got the pineapple pancakes which, aside from being filled with fresh pineapple chunks, they were also sprinkled with chopped macadamia nuts and come with a selection of fruit flavored syrups. The pancakes were awesome. Warm, soft, and with lots and lots of pineapple. They went especially well with the coconut syrup. They were also on the expensive side for breakfast, at just under $12.
Overall, Eggs 'n Things is not a place if you're looking for a fast and/or cheap breakfast (or other meal), but the food is worth both the wait and the price. I recommend stopping by for at least one meal while you're in Honolulu.

Saturday (June 7): A Bon Festival
When looking up some things online Friday evening, I saw a notice about the Mo'ili'li Summer Festival, a Japanese bon festival, taking place near the Japanese Cultural Center. FYI: bon festivals are summer festivals that take place across Japan, so named began they're often scheduled in or near the obon season (obon is a Japanese holiday when people honor their deceased ancestors). This festival started in mid-afternoon and went until 10:30 at night though I arrived shortly before sunset. It wasn't all that big, but it was packed. There were a few food stands, some things for kids, and a continuous series of bon dances made up of a mix of people who knew what they were doing and a bunch of were just trying to follow along. There wasn't a whole lot to do but I picked up some andagi (fried dough balls) and oddly flavored macaroons (an ume and a ginger) to snack on and watched the dancing for a while, so that was fun.
There were some good looking restaurants in the general area (for future reference) but I had snacked enough that I didn't want a full meal so I decided to try out something else I'd heard was nearby...

Restaurant Review: Bubbie's Homemade Ice Cream
Type: Ice Cream
Location: University Ave
Hawaii certainly has no shortage of local ice cream brands. While Bubbie's is a bit off the beaten path, you can actually find a number of places in Waikiki that sell their mochi ice cream (bite sized balls of ice cream surrounded by mochi). But if you want to get the best price, or get an actual cup or cone of ice cream, you'll need to head to their parlor. Note that while the official address is University Ave, it's actually closer to the corner of Coyne and Kaialiu and I spent a little while walking in circles trying to find it. Although Bubbie's has apparently gotten a good bit of attention across the country, their parlor is a nice little old fashioned place with a lot of charm and reasonable prices. Speaking of which, if you just get a cone or a cup (as opposed to something fancy), the price is based on the weight of your ice cream. While they have their normal scoop size, the sign says that they'll scoop as much or as little as you want, so feel free to customize. At the normal size, my two scoop waffle cone cost a little under $5. The mochi balls, BTW, are $1 each (a good fifty cents to a dollar cheaper than anywhere else I've seen them) and come in a wide variety of standard ice cream and tropical fruit flavors, along with a couple of odd Asian ones (like sakura). As previously mentioned, I got a cone since you can only do that at the parlor itself while the mochi balls are pretty easy to find elsewhere. The available flavors change fairly often and there wasn't anything too strange available when I was there. Plus I've been getting macadamia nut and pineapple so often that I wanted something different so I ended up with green tea and root beer (not strange perhaps, but not an ice cream flavor I'd ever seen before either). They were both very good. The texture was on the soft side (not quite soft serve, but fairly close) and very creamy, making for yet another excellent Hawaiian ice cream.
Overall, Honolulu is a pretty amazing city for ice cream lovers and Bubbie's is another parlor that won't disappoint. It's a bit out of the way, compared to the ice cream parlors I've review in Waikiki, but if you're in the area or want to get the best possible price on their mochi ice cream, it's well worth a visit.

Sunday (July 8): A Shopping Trip
I heard there's a big outdoor market / swap meet three days a week at Aloha Stadium so I figured I might as well check it out. As a note, while the market is every Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday morning and early afternoon, I heard some people saying that there are more shops on Sundays. While Aloha Stadium was a bit too far to walk, it was an easy bus ride from Ala Moana. In fact, it's right near Peal Harbor (which I also want to visit before I leave). The market was huge and filled a large portion of the parking lot, making a complete circle around the stadium. There were two different parts to it. The main row was lined with somewhat professional looking tents selling souvenirs and similar items. Clothing (shirts, sarongs, swim suits, etc.), jewelry, and various souvenir knickknacks predominated, though there were a handful of fairly nice produce and dried food stands scattered throughout. Certainly not a bad place to go if you're looking for those type of things though you can find similar products at similar prices around Waikiki, especially in the International Market Place. To me, it all started to blend together after a while... The other and, in my opinion, more interesting part was the swap meet. It occupied several rows running parallel to the main market row, though they didn't stretch quite all the way around the stadium so there were some gaps. These rows were somewhat similar to the giant flea market I like in Tokyo, though with more American and less Japanese stuff, of course. Most of the stands were small and haphazard and comprised of all sorts of odds and ends that people wanted to get rid off. Clothes, tools, movies, books, toys, electronics, random furnishings and antiques, etc. While I didn't end up getting anything, there were a lot of interesting items to be had and it was fun to browse for a while.
When figuring out how to get to the stadium, I also noticed that it's relatively near the island's other Bookoff which is in the Pearl Ridge mall (the main one being in Ala Moana). I'd been wanting to check that out (since Bookoff is a used book, music, and game store, each one can have a widely different selection) so I figured I'd swing by. I walked, though the route was less direct than I'd been led to believe and longer as a result. Still, I made it eventually, thanks in no small part to the GPS on my phone. Pearl Ridge is a pretty nice mall (though not quite as fancy as Ala Moana). It's fairly big as well, spanning two separate buildings which you can ride between on a monorail (though it costs a dollar, so you may just want to walk). They currently have some sorta super hero themed promotion going on and, as a result, have recreations of props from various movies and TV shows scattered around, which was kind of neat. Finding Bookoff proved a little tricky though since the directory listed it in two separate locations, once in each building. Naturally, I checked the wrong one first. When I finally found Bookoff, I was happy to see that this one was a bit larger than the Ala Moana one (though it's still not especially big). Unfortunately, while the Ala Moana Bookoff is very Japanese with its Japanese speaking staff and large selection of Japanese, books, movies, music, and games, the Pearl Ridge Bookoff is not in the least. Well, they had a pretty good selection of manga and anime DVDs but everything was in English. I didn't seen any items that were actually from Japan. Considering that one of my favorite things about the Ala Moana Bookoff is their Japanese music selection, that was rather disappointing. Though I did pick up some hard to find manga I've been wanting, so it was still worth the trip.
When I was done, getting a bus back to Ala Moana was pretty easy. After that I relaxed for a bit then went to get supper. No review this time though. I wanted to go to Murakame Udon one more time before the end of my trip and this seemed like a good day for it. There's another place or two I want to revisit as well, though I'm not quite done with new restaurants yet either.


7/6/2012 Work, nostalgia, and fireworks

There's a new blooper reel comic (just click the TWC button to vote and check it out)!

First up, work. It took some doing, but I submitted all three books in my Verities Silex trilogy to Amazon last night. Amazon has to approve them before they go up for sale, but the process is supposed to be fairly quick so they could be available by the time you read this. That said, I'm going to hold off on the "official" announcement until Monday. That should ensure that all the books have been released and it'll also give me time to do a bit of prep work (make a web page, prepare announcements, etc.). Plus, if I understand things right, I'll be able to offer the first book in the trilogy free for five days as a special promotion. So, I'm going to try and set that up for this coming Monday - Friday. Expect the full details about the books and promotion on Monday.

Nostalgia? Theatrhythm Final Fantasy launched earlier this week, combing two things I really love, portable music games and Final Fantasy music. Every so often, after listening to so many different things, I forget just how amazing Nobuo Uematsu's music is. But it only takes a couple of songs to remind me. Theatrhythm has far more than a couple of songs and the music, combined with movie clips and the like, is reminding me just how much I love the Final Fantasy series. It makes me want to go back and play through my entire collection again. Sadly, I don't have time for that so I suppose I'll have to settle for listening to the soundtracks for now. They're great games, some of the best I've ever played, but they're more than that. They significantly influenced both my writing and game design. In fact, if it wasn't for Final Fantasy VII and VIII, I probably wouldn't be nearly as into video games as I am now and I definitely wouldn't be a game designer. I studied game design so I could make games with that level of quality, emotion, and impact. I'm not there yet. Car Washer certainly isn't the next Final Fantasy. But Aurora's Nightmare will be a bit closer and I'll continue to work towards that goal. Someday, I hope...

And the fireworks? My travelogue, of course.

Wednesday (July 4): Independence Day
Just because I went to Aloha Tower's slightly early Independence Day celebration yesterday was no reason not to go to Ala Moana's today, especially since it's so close by. So I planned to spend most of the day working and then head out in time for the show. I was going to go out for lunch but some things ran late so I ended up throwing together something quick and going out for supper instead. I had a nice meal (review below) and then walked to Ala Moana Park (right across the street from the Ala Moana mall) to find a good place to watch the fireworks. While there were a lot of people watching fireworks at Aloha Tower, this was clearly the more popular show. The park was packed. A lot of the people had pavilions and grills set up and looked to have been there most of the day. There wasn't any entertainment going on in the park itself though. The mall had something running for a couple of hours in the afternoon, but it didn't sound all the interesting and I was busy working so I skipped it.
Despite the crowds, I didn't have any trouble finding a good spot and the fireworks show itself was excellent. They were launched from the end of the park, rather than over the ocean, but I was right underneath them and the show was at least twice as long as Aloha Tower's. Overall, I'd say it's one of the best fireworks displays I've ever seen and a great way to close Independence Day.

Restaurant Review: Sushisan
Type: Sushi
Location: Right behind Ala Moana mall on Kapiolani
Sushisan is a kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurant, much like Genki Sushi. The sushi goes around on the conveyor belt and you grab the plates you want. And, in a nod to authenticity, it even has hot water faucets built into the bar to make green tea with, something that practically all kaitenzushi restaurants have in Japan, but that I've never seen in the US before (though, unfortunately, Sushisan gives you teabags rather than matcha powder). But what sets Sushisan apart is its pricing. Kaitenzushi restaurants normally charge by the plate (with different color plates costing different amounts). Sushisan, however, just charges a flat rate. For $21 ($18 for lunch on weekdays), you can eat all the sushi the want. There are a handful of items that cost extra, but you have to special order them so there's no need to worry about accidentally increasing your bill. The sushi is similar in quality to Genki and other US kaitenzushi places (fairly good, though certainly not a match for the ones in Japan). Their selection isn't quite as good as Genki's (especially if you like vegetable based sushi) but they've got the basics covered along with a few fancier items. And this is the first time in ages that I've been able to eat my fill at a sushi restaurant, which is a huge plus.
Overall, whether or not you should go to Sushisan as opposed to another kaitenzushi restaurant really comes down to how much sushi you eat. If you're only going to have a few plates, you're better off at Genki. But, depending on the type of sushi you get, once you hit seven to ten plates, Sushisan starts to become a lot more cost effective. If you want a lot of sushi, it really is the place to go.

Thursday (July 5): Taking a Walk
I really wanted to finish the work on my books today, so I didn't plan anything too ambitious. Instead, I went out for lunch and ended up turning it into a bit of a walk around a part of the city I hadn't been through yet. Along the way I found a large Safeway (would have been nice to know it was so close a couple of weeks ago) and spotted a really cool church built to look like a Japanese castle. After that it was back to work for what turned into a very productive, if not especially exciting, day.

Restaurant Review: Honolulu Burger Company
Type: Hamburger
Location: Beretania St., about half way between Piikoi St. and Keeaumoku St.
Unless you're going to Safeway, Honolulu Burger Company is a bit out of the way. However, they're one of the few places you can find grass fed Hawaiian beef. They're got a number of rather interesting burgers (kimchee burger, anyone?) and fries (like truffle fries) on the menu, in addition to more standard types. I decided to get something normal for a change and settled for a simple cheese burger and fries. While not as good as my favorite burger restaurants on the mainland (Smashburger, Red Robin, etc.), Honolulu Burger Company easily beats out both the usual fast food chains and the previously reviewed Mahaloha Burger in the taste department. Though, at $8 for a basic cheeseburger and over $9 for some of their more unique burgers, they're the most expensive of the bunch. The restaurant is also rather small so, you may have to wait a bit for a table if you're dining in.
Overall, with local grass fed beef and some interesting special burgers, Honolulu burger company is one of the best places to go in Honolulu for a hamburger, though its slightly higher prices and out of the way location are definite drawbacks.

Nordstrom Gelato Bar
Type: Geleto
Location: Ala Moana, just outside of Nordstrom's
I've already reviewed three excellent ice cream parlors on Waikiki, but want if you want a dessert while you're at Ala Moana? They may not have any local ice cream there, but you can swing by the Nordstrom Gelato Bar to get some locally made La Geletaria gelato instead. The selection of flavors wasn't huge, and none of them were especially unusual (not for Hawaii, anyway), but at less than $5 for two scoops, the price isn't bad and it tastes great. I got macadamia nut and pineapple sorbet (which, as you're probably realized, are my go to flavors for Hawaiian ice cream), both of which were excellent.
Overall, unlike Waikiki, Ala Moana doesn't have much to offer when it comes to ice cream. But with Nordstrom's Gelato Bar (and the wide variety of Japanese sweets in Shirokiya, for that matter), you really won't mind.


7/4/2012 Happy Independence Day!

Happy 4th of July! I hope all my US readers have a great holiday and spend at least a little time thinking about our country and its history.

Monday (July 2): Kailua
The weather was really nice so I decided to do something outdoors. I'd heard a lot of good things about Kailua Beach (it got voted best beach in the US at one point) so I decided to take a bus over there and check it out for myself. Kailua is a pretty little beach town on the eastern side of the island. You can get a bus there from Ala Moana which takes 40 minutes or so and costs $2.50 (just like any other bus ride on the island).
Kailua itself is a lot quieter than Honolulu and has a lot more houses than big hotels and apartment buildings. It does, however, have a nice shopping area near the center of town (where the bus dropped me off) with lots of shops and restaurants. I looked around a bit, stopped to get some lunch, and then walked down to the beach.
I don't know about best beach in the country but Kailua Beach is very scenic. And it's got great sand without any of the rocks that so many parts of Waikiki Beach have. It didn't have much in the way of waves when I was there (though I've heard it gets good ones at times), but the water was pretty choppy, which can be fun as well. Another major difference from Waikiki Beach is that, instead of being lined with big hotels, it's lined with private homes, which keeps the crowds down. There's a few small islands off the coast (one of which is a bird sanctuary) and the whole area is a really popular spot for kayaking, wind surfing, and kite boarding. I spent a while swimming and relaxing on the beach then took a walk back through the town and looked around the shopping area a bit more before catching a bus back. If you're ever in Honolulu, I'd say Kailua is worth a day trip (perhaps more if you like the quiet or are big into water sports). It's a nice town with a great beach and getting away from the crowds for a while is always a plus.

Restaurant Review: Crepes No Kai Oi
Type: Crepes
Location: Kailua
There are a few places around Waikiki that make Japanese crepes, which are quite good in their own right, but Crepes No Kai Oi is all about classic European style crepes. They've got a large selection of both sweet and savory crepes, either of which you can easily make a light meal of. My crepe was filled with macadamia nuts and coconut cream and it was awesome. It's not easy to make a good crepe, especially the traditional European kind, but this one was perfectly cooked, tasted great, and managed to fit quite a lot of nuts inside. It wasn't even very expensive (most of their crepes are in the $6.50 - $8.00 range).
Overall, while decent crepe stands aren't too hard to find in Honolulu, Crepes No Kai Oi is on an entirely different level. Whether you want something sweet or more substantial, if you're in Kailua you really should pay them a visit.

Tuesday (July 3): Independence Day at the Aloha Tower
While there will be an Independence Day celebration tomorrow at Ala Moana, there was also one today at Aloha Tower. I hadn't been there yet, so this seemed like a good time to take a look around the area. It was around two a half miles away, but I decided to go ahead and walk there anyway. It wasn't too bad of a walk and I finally got a chance to take a photo of the King Kamehama statue by the judiciary building. If if looks familiar, the building and statue are both shown a lot in the new Hawaii Five-0. I also walked through part of downtown Honolulu to get to the tower. As a note, while it's near both Iolani Palace and Chinatown, downtown Honolulu itself isn't really worth visiting (there's a few shops and restaurants but nothing that impressive).
Aloha Tower is right by the port. It used to be the tallest building around and was a pretty popular spot back when most people traveled by sea. Now though, the area seems to be in decline. You can go up the tower (for free) and still get some nice views, and there's a maritime museum nearby that looks interesting but the marketplace at the foot of the tower has clearly seen better days going by the number of number of empty shops. While quite a lot of people showed up shortly after the Independence Day entertainment kicked off, I arrived a bit early and the place was completely dead. I suppose it's just too far away from Waikiki and Ala Moana to get many tourists these days, especially with its current lackluster collection of shops.
There are some restaurants, ranging from cheap stalls to an moderately expensive gourmet place (with a few others in between), though nothing that I'd consider special enough to merit going out of your way for. I ended up eating Gordon Biersch. It's a brewery restaurant chain with a number of locations scattered across the US. I'm not going to bother with a full review of it. Their fish and chips were fairly good, but I've had better. Though I will say that their house root beer is pretty awesome and, though it didn't say anything about it on the menu, they gave free refills.
But anyway, I was there for the Independence Day celebration. There were a number of tables with games and activities for kids and various entertainment going on in different parts of the marketplace. There was a performing arts group doing a mix of pop, Hawaiian music, and show tunes, who were fun to watch. But, in my opinion, the stand out performance was Emke, a rock band formed by four local school kids (ranging in age from 12 to 16 or so). Since they were all Asian, I was hoping for J-Pop. That didn't happen, but they played some really good cover songs and one original piece of their own. They were a little rough here and there but both their playing and singing impressed me, especially considering their ages. They even have a mini album on iTunes and Amazon. All in all, I enjoyed the entertainment a lot more than I thought I would. Of course, it wouldn't be an Independence Day celebration with a fireworks show and it was a good one, if a little on the short side. I'll see how it compares to Ala Moana's tomorrow...


7/2/2012 July already?

Sigh... Summer vacation is already half over... Anyway, I finished formatting the second book of The Verities Silex trilogy and should have the third done today or tomorrow (depending on the weather). After that, I just need to make the covers, do the Kindle conversion, and double check everything. But now, back to the travelogue.

Friday (June 29): Hiking Diamond Head
Diamond Head Crater, once a Hawaiian holy place and then a military base, is now one of Oahu's biggest tourist attractions. I hiked up it last time I was here but it ended up raining that day and the clouds obscured the view so I'd been wanting to go back on a day with better weather. While the tourist trolleys that the Japanese tourists ride everywhere go right up to the trail, the regular busses drop you off at the entrance to the park. From there, you need to walk half a mile into the crater to get to the trail head. It's not hard, and the walk in fee is cheaper than the drive in one, but it's good to keep in mind if you're limited to public transportation.
The trail itself isn't especially difficult but it's mostly up hill. I'm a pretty experienced hiker and, despite getting stuck behind slower groups here and there, I kept up a fairly good pace and didn't really stop except to take some pictures so I made it to the top pretty quickly (I wasn't timing myself, but I know it was under half a hour), though most people were taking a much slower pace. And there were a lot of people. When you get near the top you go through a long tunnel after which the path splits, giving you the option of a more strenuous route through an old bunker or an easier route around the side. The bunker is fun, though the stair are steeper and you have to crouch a bit at the end. Either way, once you get to the top you'll find great views of both the crater and Honolulu. I spent a while admiring the view before heading back down, but still managed to make it back to the bus stop before my free transfer expired, giving my trip a total cost of $3.50 ($2.50 for one bus ticket and $1 for the hike).
After that it was back to work until the evening, when I headed out to get some food and watch the sunset on Waikiki, followed by the Hilton's weekly fireworks show.

Restaurant Review: Grylt
Type: American
Location: Waikiki, Waikiki Shopping Center Food Court, Ala Moana Food Court (coming soon)
Grylt is all about customizing your combo plate. You start by choosing between a couple of different types of rice and mashed potatoes, then several different salads, then meat (beef, chicken, pork, or fish), then a sauce. Their advertisements are big on the fresh and healthy aspects of their food. Well, it was fresh and, considering the ingredients, seems relatively healthy despite it not being an "official" health food restaurant. I had mashed potatoes, a salad composed primarily of grilled onions and an entire bunch of lettuce, and steak with some sort of garlic sauce. The price varies a bit depending on which meat you get but mine cost a little under $11. A touch high for a food court maybe, but the quality of the meat is higher than what most food court places have so it evens out. The salad and potatoes were both very good and the steak was well prepared and high quality. My one complaint is that you can't choose how your meat is cooked, they only do it one way. For steak, that way is medium rare, which I'm not a big fan of (I prefer my meat well down), but that's a fairly minor issue.
Overall, if you're looking for quick and affordable American food, Grylt's quality is far above that of the fast food chains scattered around Waikiki. It's not on the level of a true steak house, but considering the speed and price, it makes for a fairly good alternative.

Sunday (July 1): Independence Day Parade
I didn't do anything worth writing about on Saturday but I heard that they were having an Independence Day parade this evening at Waikiki so that, and some grocery shopping, became the main events of the day.
My luck with restaurants was a bit problematic though. Since I was low on food, I decided to go out from breakfast for a change but the place had such a long line that I changed my mind (I'll get up early and beat the crowds another day). After that it was work, shopping, then more work. Eventually I decided to go out for supper before the parade so I walked over to a Korean place that's on my list of restaurants to try only to find out that they're closed for the holidays. Thanks to that, I was running a bit late so I wound up getting something quick at Waikiki so I could eat while watching the parade, but more on that in a minute.
The parade wasn't as long as the Pan Pacific or King Kamehameha parades I saw a few weeks back, and it was a bit faster moving as well. There were various local politicians in fancy cars, bands and veterans from different military branches, emergency services personnel, and a few other random groups. The coast guard actually brought an entire boat with them, which was kinda cool. While the parade wasn't as fancy as the others I've seen here, the quicker pace was nice and it's good to give some recognition to the troops and veterans.

Restaurant Review: Hula Dog
Type: Hot Dogs
Location: Waikiki, On Kuhio at the very back of the International Market Place
You may be wondering why I'm reviewing something boring like a hot dog place but Hula Dog is anything but ordinary. You start by choosing between a polish dog and a veggie dog (I got the veggie, since they didn't have all beef as an option), then pick your bun, choose how spicy you want your garlic lemon sauce to be (from mild to really hot), pick from one of several tropical fruit based relishes (pineapple, coconut, papaya, etc.), and then finish it off with a more ordinary condiment (or perhaps a not so ordinary one like Hawaiian fruit mustard). I ended up with a veggie dog in a whole wheat bun with mild lemon garlic sauce, pineapple relish, and guava mustard. I was doing this more for the experience than anything else and wasn't too sure how it would turn out but, surprisingly enough, it tasted pretty good. And it was certainly different than any hot dog I've had before. A Hula Dog, however you make it, costs a bit under $7 and, while not a foot long, is still on the large side. For another $3, you can get some freshly squeezed lemonade to go with it. And when they say freshly squeezed, they mean it. The girl behind the counter actually squeezed the lemons and mixed the water, juice, and sugar together by hand when I ordered. I got my lemonade guava flavored, which was very good, and hey, how often do you find fresh handmade lemonade?
Overall, while going out for a hot dog may sound rather boring, Hula Dog's unique toppings and handmade lemonade make it fun and ensure that your dog will be far different than what you've come to expect. If you're looking for a cheap meal or fairly substantial snack on Waikiki, going out for a hot dog can actually be a great choice.


6/29/2012 Coming soon...

There's a new Blooper Reel comic! Just click the TWC button on the left to check it out.

I've got another few days to a week or so of work left before my current project is complete but I might as well announce it now. Long time readers my remember that I self published one of my novels a while back called Guardian of the Stone, it's the first volume of a fantasy trilogy of mine. Well, it's been out of print for ages and I've done a significant amount of editing on it since then. Not to mention that I wrote the other two books. As an experiment, I've decided to release the entire trilogy in ebook form on Amazon's Kindle store (available not only on Kindles but on PC and most smart phones and tablets as well). Plus the first one will be bargain priced (free if I can manage it) as a introductory promo. I've taken a few weeks off of Aurora's Nightmare to work on this and progress is going well. I finished a final editing pass on all three books (the biggest task) and am currently formatting them for Kindle (one book down, two to go). After that I just need to make cover images, skim over the Kindle proof files to make sure there are no formatting issues, and I'm done. The formatting is proving to be a bit more time consuming than I thought it would be but the books should be up for sale sometime within a week or week and half. Naturally, I'll keep you updated.

Wednesday and Thursday (June 27 and 28): Hard at Work
Another day without too much to talk about. The weather cleared up on Wednesday so I hit the beach. I brought a boogie board with me (there's a couple in the condo) but, while I had gotten fairly decent with them at one point, that was years ago and, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't quite catch a wave. It actually looked easier with a surfboard... After that I headed to the Blaisdell farmers' market. I tried a kuki azuki OnoPop this time. It was a mix of azuki beans, satsumaimo (Japanese yams), and a few other things (peanuts and cookie dough, I think). Definitely the best one I've tried so far. I also got some things from a stall that advertised health food. Their menu was a big mix of things, I got Moroccan chicken and Cajun chicken, which were both pretty good, and they had a nice baklava as well.
I was hoping to do some hiking on Thursday but the rain returned so I spent nearly the entire day working. By evening I really needed a break so I walked over to Ala Moana and browsed through Bookoff for a bit (found a good AKB48 album) before grabbing supper at the food court (along with a couple taiyaki from Shirokiya). Hopefully I'll have better weather for the next few days... But hey, I got a nice photo on the walk back.

Restaurant Review: Chinatown Express
Type: Chinese
Location: Ala Moana Food Court
Chinatown Express is in many ways like most of your fast food Chinese places. You can get a combo plate with rice or noodles and anywhere between one and four items (with prices ranging from $7 - $10.50 depending on how many you get), just like at a Panda Express or somewhere similar. Actually, there is a Panda Express right nearby, but Chinatown Express is the better choice. For one thing, they've got a much larger selection of main courses than any other Chinese cafeteria type restaurant I've seen, some of which are moderately unusual. I got beef with bitter melon (which I'd never had before and quite lives up to its name) and an interesting vegetable and tofu mix based on what Shaolin monks used to eat. If the combo plates don't interest you, they've got a few fancier things you can order and they also have a whole separate counter dedicated to various dim sum items like steamed buns, dumplings, and assorted sweets (which I'd gotten a few random things from last week) for a dollar or two each. All in all, the selection is pretty hard to beat. That said, it's still Chinese fast food so expect most of the combo plate items to be a bit on the greasy side. If you don't mind that though, it's fairly good and, while their steamed buns can't compete with the ones I make, the dim sum counter is pretty awesome.
Overall, if you don't like Chinese fast food, Chinatown Express probably won't change your mind, though you may still want to grab some steamed buns or other sweets when you're passing by. I should also note that there's a much fancier and more expensive Chinese restaurant in a different part of Ala Moana. But if you just want some fast and cheap Chinese food or a steamed bun to munch on, Chinatown Express's low prices and large selection make it hard to beat.


6/27/2012 Hanging out

Travelogue time!

Monday and Tuesday (June 25 and 26): Hanging Out
It was raining intermittently both days so, other than a trip to the movie theater to see Brave, I just hung out and got some work done. But I do have some restaurant reviews.

Restaurant Review: Curry King
Type: Japanese
Location: Ward Center
Curry King is a little stall in the middle of Ward Center (I forgot to bring my camera with me that day, so no photos). Their specialty is Japanese curry, though they have some ramen and rice bowls on the menu as well. They advertise that they make everything fresh when you order and don't use any MSG (which is a rather common ingredient in Japanese curry), which is always a plus. I got the salmon katsu curry. Aside from rice and curry, it came with a large piece of breaded salmon, a salad, and some pickled gourd. The curry was good, if a touch sweeter than I'm used to, and the salmon katsu was excellent. I got a combo with the curry and a drink for about $7, and most of the items on the menu are also in the $7 - $9 range.
Overall, if you're looking for Japanese curry, Curry King is a good alternative to CoCo Curry House. Both have great curry at similarly low prices. CoCo has a larger menu and more locations (though none in Ward Center), while Curry King is probably a bit healthier and makes their katsu fresh to order. Unless you strongly prefer the taste of one over the other, I'd head for Curry King when you're in or around Ward Center and CoCo when you're elsewhere.

Restaurant Review: Menchie's Yogurt
Type: Yogurt
Location: Ward Center
Over the last few years, frozen yogurt places which combine a variety of yogurt flavors with various mix-ins have exploded in popularity across the US, and Hawaii is no exception (though the ice cream here gives it some tough competition). Menchie's is a local place, as opposed to a large chain, and was voted best yogurt in Honolulu by one of the newspapers. Most of the flavors they had when I was there were pretty typical, but there were a couple Hawaii specific ones. The selection of toppings was pretty extensive, especially when it came to dry items. They even had carob chips (a personal favorite that few yogurt places have). Their selection of fruit was a bit lacking though. Prices were typical for yogurt places, with the cost being based on the weight of your combination.
Overall, I've yet to find one a yogurt place that I'd rank significantly above the others I've tried here or anyway else but, if you're in the area, Menchie's is a good place to grab a snack or dessert.

Restaurant Review: Matsugen Soba
Type: Japanese
Location: Waikiki, Just off Kalakaua Ave on Beachwalk
I've already talked about an udon restaurant and a ramen restaurant. Well soba is the other major kind of Japanese noodle. They're kind of thin (though usually not as much as ramen) and made of buckwheat and can be eaten two ways, either warm in a bowl of broth with various other items (like udon) or cold with a bowl of broth or sauce on the side to dip them in. Matsugen is very authentic, complete with Japanese menu, Japanese speaking staff, and mostly Japanese customers. They don't have much on the menu besides soba, but they've got a lot of different kinds. I got kitsune soba (soba with green onions and tofu skin). My soba was just as good as what I've gotten in Japan though, at around $12, it's also more expensive than the average Japanese soba restaurant. Though Matsugen does make everything from scratch. They've even got a counter in the middle of the restaurant where they make the soba noodles, though I haven't been there at the right time to see it in use.
Overall, Honolulu is a great place if you're looking for authentic Japanese noodles. You've got Marukame for udon, Matsugen for soba, and a number of ramen restaurants all within a few blocks of each other and you really can't go wrong with any of them. Matsugen may be a bit more expensive than the others, but if you want great soba it's the place to go.

Restaurant Review: Paradise Flavors
Type: Ice Cream
Location: Waikiki, Kalakaua Ave
Paradise Flavors is similar to Cold Stone, so their ice cream is softer and creamier than Tropical Dreams' or Hul-la-la's and you can get various things mixed in. Though they also sell their ice cream plain (without mix-ins) and you can get two flavors in a cup (something I don't think Cold Stone does). Aside from the basics, they had quite a lot of tropical and unusual flavors. There were pineapple and macadamia nut, of course (you can't seem to have an Hawaiian ice cream parlor without them) but also haupia, ginger, lychee, honey dew, and more. I had a tough time choosing but eventually settled on pineapple and ginger. Both were great and it's rare that I find ginger ice cream anywhere (which is a shame since it's a great flavor). The price was comparable to Tropical Dreams' and a bit cheaper than Hu-la-la's though they're all close enough that it's not a big deal either way unless you're pinching pennies. If you're not in the mood for ice cream they also have smoothies, local ginger drinks (which are also popular at various area farmers' markets), and assorted other desserts so they do beat out the competition in terms of sheer variety.
Overall, Waikiki has no shortage of great ice cream parlors and I can now add Paradise Flavors to my list. I wouldn't necessarily say it's better than Tropical Dreams' or Hu-la-la's, but only because all three are equally good. Take your pick, you won't be disappointed.


6/25/2012 Doing things on Waikiki

I'm running late so let's get right to the travelogue.

Friday (June 22): Night on Waikiki
Other than a trip for lunch (see the restaurant review below), and a pause to take a nice panoramic photograph from the deck of the condo, I spent the day working until late evening, when I decided to head to Waikiki Beach to watch the sunset. At this time of year, the sun sets over a mountain, instead of over the ocean like in the winter (that whole thing about the sun rising in the East and setting in the West, not entirely consistent). Anyway, even if the sun isn't setting exactly over the ocean, it's still quite scenic. As a tip, there's a few places along Waikiki Beach were a finger of sorts juts out a ways into the ocean. They make good spots to watch the sunset, regardless of where it's setting. Since it was a Friday night, I hung out on the beach a bit longer afterwards and watched the fireworks as well (the Hilton has a short fireworks display every Friday night).

Restaurant Review: Chibo Okonomiyaki
Type: Japanese
Location: Waikiki, Third Floor of the Royal Hawaiian
Before talking about Chibo itself, I should probably give a quick explanation of okonomiyaki. It's a Japanese food sometimes referred to as Japanese pizza. Though, while it's round and has a sauce on top, it really doesn't have any relation to pizza. You start with a batter made from flour, cabbage, egg, ginger, onion, yam, and tempura batter. You add in some items of choice (often things like meat, seafood, or various vegetables), cook the entire thing on a flat grill, and top it with an ume (Japanese plum) sauce, bonito flakes, and maybe some mayonnaise (not exactly traditional, but Japanese people love mayonnaise).
Now back to the restaurant. I only ever had okonomiyaki once before. I'd been wanting to give it another try but okonomiyaki restaurants aren't nearly are common in Japan as some other types of Japanese food and Chibo is the only okonomiyaki restaurant I've ever seen in the US. Chibo also serves yakisoba noodles (pan fried soba with meat and veggies) and some other teppan yaki dishes (that's where they grill the food up for you at the table). They've got some recommended okonomiyaki and yakisoba combos or you can choose your own extra ingredients. I got an okonomiyaki with beef and assorted vegetables. Most teppan yaki restaurants I've been to make a bit of a show of cooking your meal, doing some fancy tricks and all that. The chiefs at Chibo didn't for me or the other groups sitting nearby. Maybe because I was there for lunch, or maybe because they're always like that. Nothing really wrong with the lack of a show, just thought I should point it out. Now that I've given okonomiyaki a second try, I think I can safely say that, while I don't dislike it, it's not one of my favorite Japanese foods. That said, the one I got was well made and the ingredients seemed to be of pretty high quality. And just because okonomiyaki isn't a favorite of mine doesn't mean it isn't worth trying. If you go to Chibo at lunch, you can get okonomiyaki or yakisoba with two add ins of your choice for around $13. Expect to pay about $5 more if you go for dinner.
Overall, while it may not be quite as showy as some teppan yaki restaurants, Chibo Okonomiyaki has good food, which is what really matters. And, when it comes down to it, you won't find many other restaurants in Hawaii, or anywhere in the US for that matter, which serve okonomiyaki.

Sunday (June 24): The Honolulu Zoo
I didn't do anything worth talking about on Saturday, but I did get a nice photo of a rainbow.
Moving on to Sunday, I'd heard about an art festival in the park on the east end of Waikiki so I headed down to take a look. The festival wasn't all that big or interesting but, since I was in the area, I figured I might as well check out the Honolulu Zoo. I wasn't expecting much, but it turned out to be larger and nicer than I expected. That said, I've been to a lot of zoos and it certainly doesn't stack up against the best of them either. There were all your typical zoo animals, monkeys, lions, zebras, lemurs, etc. In particular, they had an especially good collection of tropical birds and various kinds of turtles and tortoises. A couple of turtles were actually fighting (which, like everything else, they do very slowly). I passed by the same pen a little later and found that one of them had been flipped on its back. Makes sense, I guess. I mean, how else are turtles going to hurt each other? It flailed around helplessly for a while until a zoo keeper came to roll it over (and move the offending turtle to the other end of the pen).
After making a complete circuit of the zoo and seeing more animals (like this fennec fox), it was time for a late lunch. I was really thirsty as well and ended up in the International Market Place's food court to get a bubble drink so I decided I might as well eat there and try out a certain Hawaiian specialty I've never had before.

Restaurant Review: Blue Water Shrimp & Fish Market
Type: Fish and Seafood
Location: Waikiki, International Market Place Food Court
While Blue Water has a few different types of dishes on their menu, their specialty is poke. Poke, if you're not familiar with the term, is an Japanese inspired Hawaiian dish consisting of pieces of raw ahi (a type of tuna) mixed with sea salt, sesame oil, green onion, and a couple of other things to form a salad of sorts. In addition to the standard ahi poke, which is what I got, they also had salmon, shrimp, and oyster varieties. While this was my first time eating poke, I've had plenty of raw tuna so I can saw with confidence that the ahi at Blue Water was pretty good. Not super high grade, but fresh, clean, and without a strong fishy taste. The poke was quite good plain or when dipped in the wasabi and/or soy sauce I was given on the side. Though I did think that, since there's already sea salt on it, the soy sauce upped the salt content just a little too much. For $12, my poke came with a regular salad, a scoop of rice, and a small pineapple slice. The portions weren't huge, but the plate was large enough to make a decent lunch, or small dinner, out of and, considering the amount of the ahi, reasonably priced.
Overall, I haven't had poke anywhere else for comparison but the poke at Blue Water is made from good fresh ingredients and, considering the cost of fish, it's priced decently as well. I'm sure there are much fancier places to get poke, and I may try one sooner or later, but Blue Water is a perfectly good spot to get a plate.


6/22/2012 Lots of walking

There's a new blooper reel comic, so click the TWC button on the left to have a look.

Wednesday (June 20): Enjoying Hawaii
While still a bit cloudy, the weather had improved considerably so I finally made another trip down to the beach. As a note, from the Hilton on the extreme west end of Waikiki Beach until around the Royal Hawaiian or so, there's a lot of rocks under the water. That's not so much of a problem if you've got a surfboard or floatation device of some kind. Swimming isn't too bad either, so long as you watch where you're going (some of those rocks are pretty big), but it's not much fun if you just want to play around in the water. If you head far enough east (around where Kalakaua starts running right along the beach) you can avoid the rocks and find some better waves as well. That said, the beach also tends to be more crowded down there and, if you're not careful, you could easily get hit by someone on a surfboard. Of course, if you don't care about the water and just want to lay out in the sun, anywhere is fine.
Other than the beach time, I got some work down and then walked to Blaisdell for the farmers' market. I got another OnoPop (lilikoi cheesecake this time) and some guava smoked chicken for supper. Naturally, I also picked up a bit more produce (I'm going through fruit pretty quickly). So, while I didn't do anything particularly special, I think I did a good job taking advantage of being in Hawaii.

Random Hawaii Comment: The Cost of Living
Hawaii has one of the highest costs of living of anywhere in the US. Property and rent is certainly on the expensive side (though that shouldn't matter if you're here on vacation) and gas is much higher than it was in Colorado or Florida. And, while local produce is pretty cheap, most other food at grocery stores comes at a bit of a premium. Even basics like eggs and butter are a decent bit more expensive than on the mainland. It's understandable, considering transportation costs, but annoying none the less. Stuff with a MSRP, however, (like books and electronics) seems unaffected. As a note, despite higher prices, the sales tax here is rather low, so that's something.

Thursday (June 21): Walking in Honolulu
Last time I was here, I went to a store called Toys 'n Joys which had a bunch of anime related items and video games. I mentioned it in my travelogue then. They've got a fairly large, if random, selection of figurines, wall scrolls, and other anime/manga/game related items, some of which are actually rather rare even in Japan. Prices aren't bad, though you're not going to find many bargains. They've got a lot of DVDs and music CDs too, unfortunately most of them are bootlegs. Probably the best part is their video game selection. They've got a lot (both new and used) including a lot of rather hard to find older games, most of which are in very good condition, and a bit better priced than the figurines. They have a number of import games from Japan as well, though they're on the expensive side. While it's got nothing on shops in Japan, of course, if you're into Japanese anime, manga, and/or games and you're in Honolulu, it's worth a trip. It's on Waialae Ave near the intersection with 12th Ave, BTW.
I wanted to head down there at some point during this trip and today seemed like a good day for it. According to Google Maps, it was about two and a half miles away. I could have taken a bus, but decided to get some exercise and sun and walk there instead. Not that I haven't been getting plenty of both, I don't think I've walked this much since the last time I was in Japan. Anyway, Honolulu looks fairly ordinary when you get away from the more touristy areas, though there are some nice views here and there.
It wasn't a bad walk and it gave me a chance to explore the area around the store a bit. Aside from Toys 'n Joys, there's two comic book stores in the area (both of which have decent selections of manga as well) and a bunch of restaurants, including two Thai, a Korean, and a Japanese (all highly rated on Yelp) and a couple of somewhat out of place French pastry shops. Since I'm planning something Japanese for tomorrow, and I can never get enough Thai curry, I stopped for lunch at one of the Thai restaurants.

Restaurant Review: To Thai For
Type: Thai
Location: Honolulu, Waialae Ave near the intersection with 12th Ave
What is it with Thai restaurants here and puns? That aside, despite the plain exterior, To Thai For's interior is spacious and attractive, if not especially fancy. It's family run and the menu covers all the Thai staples like curries, noodles, and soups. There are also a couple of more unusual items on there, like chicken wings. I got the home style curry with beef, which was described as a central Thai curry, as opposed to the usual red, yellow, green, and massaman varieties (which were also on the menu). It was very good (a bit of a cross between green and yellow curries), and loaded with vegetables and meat. There were some kaffir lime leaves in there as well, which added a nice flavor to the curry. If you're not familiar with them I'll note that, like bay leaves, they're not meant to be eaten. The service was good and the prices were pretty typical (my curry cost $12). They don't really have a lunch menu (prices seem to stay the same all day) but, unlike Phuket Thai, the rice is included with the curry so you'll save some money there. As a note, I found their medium to be a a bit on the hot side compared to a lot of other Thai places, so keep that in mind when ordering.
Overall, To Thai For is a nice, authentic, and family run restaurant. While it may not quite be "to die for", Thai food lovers won't be disappointed. If you're in the Waikiki area, there are other good Thai restaurants that are a bit closer (like Phuket Thai) but if you want to avoid the crowds, or just happen to be in the area, To Thai For is a great choice.


6/20/2012 Fun with gravity

I don't have a whole lot to write about today as far as the travelogue goes so, before getting to that, I want to take a minute to say how awesome Gravity Rush (for the Playstation Vita) is. You play as Kat, a young woman who wakes up in a floating city and discovers that, with the help of a mysterious cat, she can shift gravity. If you've played Mario Galaxy, you should be familiar with running around on the walls, ceiling, and the like. Gravity Rush takes that concept even further by putting you in control of the gravity. During gameplay, you can quickly and easily change the direction gravity comes from, at least as far as Kat is concerned. Want to walk up the side of a building or run around on the ceiling? Not a problem, just shift gravity in the proper direction. Even better, with a little practice you can fly (or technically fall) around around the city with some simple gravity manipulation. Using gravity to explore and move around the city is a lot of fun and, after an hour or two, you'll be soaring all over the place like a pro. Kat gains a lot of other gravity tricks as the game progresses, all of which are fun and useful. While not especially ground-breaking, the story is enjoyable and has a great cast of characters. It also manages to provide a satisfactory arc while still setting things up for a sequel (which can't come too soon). The beautiful graphics (sort of a classical France meets anime look) and excellent soundtrack are there to add to the experience all the way from beginning to end. It's one of the best games I've played in ages. I love it so much that I got a Platinum trophy (something I hardly ever try for unless I'm having so much fun playing that I don't want to stop) and can't wait for the DLC just so I'll have an excuse to take Kat for another spin around the city. If you have a Vita, you have to get Gravity Rush. If you don't have a Vita, you should seriously consider getting one and a copy of Gravity Rush. While you may not want to buy a Vita just for one game, there's some other good Vita titles coming out later in the year and, mediocre battery life aside, it's a pretty nice handheld. But anyway, back to the travelogue.

Monday and Tuesday (June 18 and 19): Taking it Easy
The weather on Monday and Tuesday wasn't all that great (very cloudy, very windy, and some intermittent rain) so I mostly just hung around and got a lot of work done. But I do have a little bit to write about...

Restaurant Review: Kiwami Ramen
Type: Japanese
Location: Waikiki, Waikiki Shopping Center Food Court
Due to the heavy Japanese influence in Honolulu, and the high number of Japanese tourists, there are quite a lot of Japanese style ramen restaurants around. By Japanese style, I mean that, aside from the authentic food, they're fast, relatively cheap, and aren't much for ambience (you'll usually be eating at a counter with everyone else). Kiwami Ramen fits that description pretty well, though it's a bit more English friendly than some of the others and has a fairly good variety of broths, noodles, and toppings. I got their shoyu (soy sauce based) ao ramen which included chicken, menma (a type of bamboo that's a common ramen topping), and a couple other vegetables. I'll admit that, despite my time in Japan, I'm not an expert on all the subtle differences in flavoring and quality between different types of ramen. But I will say that the ramen at Kiwami was quite good. The broth had a nice flavor and the noodles and toppings were cooked just enough (not too firm or too soft). At $8 - $9 a bowl, it's not a bad price although, after living in Japan, I'm used to ramen being a bit cheaper.
Overall, while I'm no ramen expert, Kiwami Ramen is a good and authentic place to get a bowl. It provides a very Japanese ramen experience with an English friendly staff and menu all for a price that, while not quite a bargain, is perfectly reasonable.

Restaurant Review: Hu-la-la's
Type: Ice Cream
Location: Waikiki, International Market Place Food Court
At first glance, there isn't anything particularly special about Hu-la-la's. But, according to the a dining magazine I read, it has one of the largest selections of Hawaii's famous Roselani ice cream to be found. I can't speak for other ice cream stands, but they do have quite a lot of flavors available, many of which are ones you'll only find in Hawaii (like lychee sherbet and banana macadamia nut crunch). I got pineapple coconut and banana macadamia nut crunch. Both flavors were very good and you could tell they'd used real fruit and nuts when making them. Roselani ice cream struck me as a bit creamier than Tropical Dreams (another local ice cream that I talked about before), though I'd have to go to both places another time or two if I wanted to seriously compare them. Hu-la-la's prices are fairly average, or maybe a touch on the high side if anything.
Overall, there are several good places for ice cream in and around Waikiki and Hu-la-la's isn't one of the cheapest (though it's not horribly expensive either), but if you're looking for Roselani ice cream, you'll be hard pressed to find a better selection of flavors anywhere else.


6/18/2012 A hiking trip

On with the travelogue!

Friday (June 15): Chinatown
I've mentioned in the past that Honolulu has a large Asian influence. It also has a Chinatown, which I briefly mentioned last time I was here. There was some sort of block party going on there this evening so I decided this would be as good day to head over there. Chinatown is near downtown Honolulu and, as such little far away from the Waikiki area, so I decided to give the bus system a try. Honolulu has a pretty extensive bus system. It's $2.50 for a ride (unless you buy a pass) and a ticket allows you one transfer within two hours or so of your first ride (so you can even use one ticket for a round trip if you're quick). Conveniently, the whole system is plugged into Google maps so if you do a route search by public transit it'll tell you everything you need to know.
But anyway, Chinatown. If you've ever been to a Chinatown you should know what to expect. A bit grungy with Chinese writing everywhere and lots of grocery stores, medicine shops, and restaurants. It's not especially scenic but there are some reasons to stop by. For one thing, it's the best part of the city to get smoothies, bubble tea, and the like. There's a number of shops and stalls, just about all of which make their drinks fresh from scratch (as evidenced by the piles of fruit they have around). They've got a much larger selection than any place I've seen around Waikiki or Ala Moana (if it's tropical and can be juiced or blended you can probably get it in a drink) and, even better, they tend to be a dollar or two cheaper than anywhere else than the city. It's also the best place for cheap local produce (though the stuff at some of the stores is a little old so take a close look before you buy). I got a pineapple, bananas, honeydew, and a few mountain apples (a odd pinkish red fruit that I wasn't familiar with; they taste sort of like a flowery apple, they're not bad raw but not all that amazing either). As a note, some of the grocery stores and stalls don't stay open all that late so the morning or early afternoon is the best time to visit.
The block party had a bunch of stalls (drinks, food, and a few other assorted things) but, oddly enough, nothing really Chinese. So I decided to just eat in a restaurant. Dim sum (getting a whole bunch of cheap appetizers) is pretty popular around here, but I wasn't really in the mood so I decided to look for something else. It was kind of hard to tell which places are good just by looking so I pulled up Yelp on my phone and checked what was nearby.

Restaurant Review: Ken Fong's Restaurant
Type: Chinese
Location: Chinatown
Ken Fong's is a family run, hole in the wall restaurant in Chinatown. It's old and not a place to go for the decor or atmosphere. Fortunately, the food makes up for it. The menu is huge, containing a wide variety of traditional Chinese foods, all of which are really cheap. Nearly everything is in the $6 - $8 dollar range, you get a free pot of tea with your meal, and the service is good. I got roast duck and noodle soup. The size caught me off guard. There was half a duck in there, when most places I've seen charge $12 - $16 for a quarter. Though it wasn't anything fancy, the soup was good and the duck was cooked perfectly. No complaints what so ever.
Overall, Ken Fong's isn't anything to look at. However, if you can go without the flashy decor and fancy dishes of your fancier Chinese restaurants, you'll find great food for a great price.

Saturday (June 16): Hiking the Waimano Tunnels
Despite being a relatively small island, Oahu has its own mountain range and quite a lot of hiking. There are multiple hiking clubs on the island, some of which allow visitors to tag along on their outings. It helps if you have a car, but I managed to get a ride and join a group hike to the Waimano tunnels. The hike started out on the side of a mountain, though not all that high up, and wound through a forested ravine. The trail was a five mile loop and, while it went up and down a bit, it was mostly fairly flat with the occasional branch or root to scramble over. There were some nice views in spots, but what sets the trail apart is the tunnels. There are a number of old water tunnels along the way that carved out a long time ago. They're all big enough to walk though you need to crouch to get through some of them. You can't tell from this photo (thanks to my flash) but they can get really dark inside so bringing a flashlight is a good idea (fortunately, I learned about that ahead of time from the hiking club's web site). That said, they're all rather narrow and don't have any turn offs so you could probably get through without one if you're careful and stay low to avoid hitting your head on anything. There were a couple tunnels that you had to pass through and several more optional ones that you could either go through or around.
It was a nice hike and, once it was done, I got to talking with some of the other hikers. One of them seemed to be a real expert on local hikes. He was taking a friend of his to some sort of water cave and invited me and the guy who was giving me a ride back to Honolulu to come along. We decided we might as well take a look and ended up in a fairly nondescript part of the city. I was rather skeptical when he led us to a storm drain but he said he learned about the place from the Travel Channel and I figured they had to be pretty trustworthy so I followed. (FYI, I looked it up later and found that it was featured briefly in the Hawaii episode of Off Limits.) After a minute or so of crawling through drainage pipes (which wasn't helping my confidence much), we emerged into an underground cave. The entire place was partially submerged, ranging from around two to six feet deep. The water was surprisingly clear, which was a bit of a relief (though I made sure to keep my head well above it). The cave went in a straight line (aside from some little alcoves) and about twenty minutes of walking and swimming brought us to the end. Naturally, there wasn't any light down there so flashlights were a must. Unfortunately, my camera isn't especially water resistant so it had to stay in the car. I was soaked through and covered in mud by the time we got out, but it was fun and made my feel like a real spelunker.
I did a bit of research later on. Turns out it was the Moiliili water caves, which are left over from a time when the sea level around the island was a lot higher than it is now. The cave used to be much bigger but parts of it were damaged or destroyed during the city's big construction boom long ago. You can read more (and get a look at the inside of the caves) at this site. As a note, this really isn't somewhere most people should be going, so I'm not going into detail about the location. I don't think there are any rules about not entering the cave, and there's really nothing to stop you if you can actually find the entrance (which is entirely nondescript), but it's dark, the water is moderately deep, and you have a crawl through a grimy storm drain to get in. Plus, the water level probably changes a good bit depending on the weather so it's definitely something to avoid soon after or anytime there might be a storm.

Sunday (June 17): Eating Out
After all the hiking and swimming yesterday I wanted to take it easy and get some work done so, other than a trip to a nearby restaurant, I didn't really do anything worth writing about.

Restaurant Review: Phuket Thai
Type: Thai
Location: Mccully Shopping Center and Ward Center
Let's leave all jokes about Phuket Thai's name aside. It's a nice Thai restaurant, slightly fancy, and pretty popular. The one on Mccully, at least, can easily fill up during meal times. The menu covers all your main Thai foods. Soups, noodles, curry, etc., they're all there. They've got a collection of seafood specialties as well, some using local catch of the day fish (which can get a little expensive). While the food costs a bit more than at my favorite Thai place back in Phoenix, the prices aren't too bad, with your average entree going for around $11. What might not be immediately clear, however, is that rice isn't included with your meal, it costs an extra $2. And, as a lot of Thai dishes are really made to be eaten with rice, things are a little more expensive than they first seem. Thai curry is a favorite of mine and, in my opinion, the best thing to judge a Thai restaurant by. I got red curry with beef (as a note, the picture is only about 2/3 of my meal). Although the combination of vegetables wasn't my favorite, the curry was excellent (even the eggplant, which I normally don't like), as was their Thai tea.
Overall, while having to pay extra for rice is a bit annoying (and makes things a little more expensive than you first think), if you're looking for good Thai food Phuket Thai is worth a visit. As a note, if you go to the Mccully location, skip the Thai tea and the dessert and swing by Coffee or Tea? after your meal instead, they've got a better selection of both for lower prices.


6/15/2012 Walking around

There's a new voter bonus comic! Just click the TWC button on the left to vote and check it out.

Wednesday (June 13): Farmers' Markets
Honolulu has a farmers' market going on somewhere nearly every day of the week. There's two reasons to visit the farmers' markets here. The first is, of course, to get produce. Farmers markets often have better prices and a better selection of locally grown fruits and vegetables than most of the grocery stores. The second reason is to eat. Many of the farmers' markets have quite a lot of stalls selling meals and snacks. The prices are actually close to what you'd pay in an average restaurant (around $8 - $12 for an entree, depending what you get), but the food is good and some of it is rather unique. One of the better farmers' markets takes place every Wednesday evening at Blaisdell, which is a couple of miles west and a bit north of Waikiki (more or less behind the Ward Center shopping area). I picked up a pineapple and, out of curiosity, some brown fruit I'm unfamiliar with (unless you're an expert on tropical fruits, you're bound to run into some you don't recognize in Hawaii). There were a lot of interesting food stalls and I had a tough time deciding what to get. I eventually settled on duck quesadillas with a mango and dragon fruit sauce (yes, you read that right). It was quite good (I actually prefer duck to chicken and possibly even turkey) and I even liked the sauce, which surprised me since I've not overly fond of mangos or dragon fruit. I also got an OnoPop while I was there. OnoPops are a local popsicle brand that you can find at various stores and restaurants in addition to some farmers' markets. What's so special about popsicles? The flavors. OnoPops have a lot of strange ones such as pickled green mango and ume Thai basil, just to name a couple. Some of the combinations make for rather strange textures and whether or not half of them taste good is up for debate, but they're certainly interesting to try. I decided to play it fairly safe and got orange cinnamon, which was pretty good. Anyway, the farmers' market was definitely worth the walk and I'm planning to go back next week (and probably the following week, for that matter) to try out more of the food stalls.

Random Hawaii Comment: The Wind in Your Hair
Honolulu seems to have a constant breeze going on. Sometimes it's pretty gentle and others it's quite strong. In general, it's rather nice and helps keep you from getting too hot, though it can be a little annoying when swimming. One thing to keep in mind though is that, unless you wear a hat or have an extremely wind resistant hair style, your hair is going to take on a rather windswept look for your entire stay.

Thursday (June 14): Ward Center
As part of my continued goal of walking around various parts of Honolulu, I decided to spend some time today checking out the Ward Center. As previously mentioned, it's a shopping center a bit to the west of the Ala Moana mall. It was about a mile and a half walk for me (here's a nice flower I saw on the way), though all the busses and tolleys pass it so there's no need to walk if you don't want to. It's split across four groups of buildings and mostly outdoors. There's an assortment of stores (nice clothing, mainly), a large movie theater, and some restaurants. It's doesn't have anywhere near the variety that Ala Moana does, but it's a lot less crowded, has the movie theater (which Ala Moana doesn't) and has a few interesting restaurants (including a Genki Sushi that's considerably less busy than the Ala Moana one). There's also a nice comic book store (American, not Japanese) and Marukai Market, the best Japanese grocery store around. Shirokiya doesn't have much of a grocery selection (it's better for bento and other premade food) and Ninjiya isn't nearly as big. Marukai also carries a lot of the things you'd find at a Japanese 100 yen store (though for a bit more than that) and has pretty good prices on a lot of food and other items if you're willing to buy a membership card (which, as they're only $15 for a year, will pay for itself in one or two decent shopping trips). I'd say it's got the best selection of Japanese food I've seen in the US, though it doesn't quite have everything you can find at a good grocery store in Japan.

Restaurant Review: zpizza
Type: Pizza
Location: Ward Center
zpizza is a bit more high class than your typical pizza place. Not because of the decor, but the pizza itself. All their ingredients are organic and their cheese is made from the milk of grass fed cows. So it's a bit more healthy than your typical pizza. It's also a bit more expensive. A small pizza (10", enough for one or two people, depending how much they can eat) tends to run $12 - $13 while an extra large (18") is around twice that. They also features some of the most unusual specialty pizzas I've seen outside of Japan like the Thai pizza (which includes peanut sauce, spicy chicken, and bean sprouts, among other things) and the chicken curry and yam pizza (which, in addition to those two ingredients, also has raisins and mango chutney). I'm pretty picky when it comes to pizza, a trait I got from my dad (who's from New York) and I think the best way to really judge a pizza place is by their standard cheese pizza. That said, I decided to be adventurous and try something different. I settled on the pear and gorgonzola pizza. It had mozzarella and gorgonzola cheese with thyme and pear slices on a cracker thin crust. A little strange, yeah. But it was actually pretty good. The pizza was well made and pear makes a surprisingly decent pizza topping (seeing as I like pineapple pizza, I suppose that shouldn't surprise me too much). I don't know whether or not I'll make it back there this trip, but I have to admit that I'm interested in trying out some of their other strange pizzas.
Overall, you're not going to find many pizza places (in Hawaii or elsewhere) with all organic ingredients which, for some people, is a huge plus. Though if you don't care about that, zpizza's high prices could be be a real turn off. But, if you're willing to pay for them, their pizzas are high quality, well made, and features some very interesting toppings, which makes them worth checking out.
As a side note, you don't need to come to Honolulu to try zpizza, they've actually got a handful of other locations scattered across the US, so there may be one near you.


6/13/2012 The rest of the festival

Ok, time to get the travelogue caught up.

Sunday (June 10): The Pan-Pacific Festival Parade
This was the last day of the Pan-Pacific Festival. The final event was a big parade on Kalakaua but that wasn't until the evening. I worked on things for a while then left around mid-afternoon to catch the last of the performances. There were some women doing traditional Japanese dance to start. After that was a Korean dance team, the only non Japanese group I'd seen on the schedule. They were quite good and had several different dance teams, including three different types of drum dances, but the most impressive by far was the fan dance. I could try to describe it, but you should just watch the video instead.
I had some time to kill between the end of the shows and the start of the parade so I decided to take a walk around Waikiki, get a good feel for where everything is, and make a list of any restaurants I want to try in the future. From what I can tell, the two main tourist areas in Honolulu are the Waikiki and the Ala Moana mall. Waikiki follows the coast between the docks and the aquarium. Kalakaua Ave is the main road and is where you'll find most of the major hotels, shops, and restaurants, though Kuhio Ave (which runs parallel to it) and a handful of little side streets running off Kalakaua are also part of it. In addition to your touristy type stores selling all manor of Hawaii souvenirs, you'll find a lot of restaurants (with Asian and seafood being the most popular types) and clothing stores ranging from cheap and simple to high class and very expensive. Name a high end clothing brand and they probably have a shop on Waikiki. I don't have any interest in that sort of thing, but I like Waikiki for other reasons. Mainly the restaurants (many of which I'm sure I'll be reviewing in future posts). In addition to the stand alone stores, Waikiki also has several malls and other shopping areas. Unless you absolutely love name brand clothing, the most interesting of them will likely be the Royal Hawaiian mall and the International Market Place. The Royal Hawaiian is a fairly fancy open air mall but it has more affordable stores than the other malls in the area along with a decent food court and a few interesting restaurants. They also have an area right off the street where they have various shows and other performances. Meanwhile, the International Market is more of a cheap touristy area with tons of little souvenir booths and shops. It's a good place to go if you want a good deal on t-shirts or other souvenir type stuff, they also have a (primarily Asian) food court and host a small farmers' market every Thursday evening.
Of course, Waikiki also has the famous Waikiki Beach. It's the big tourist beach and can get very crowded in places, especially off the main part of Kalakaua. From what I've seen, it tends to be a bit less packed out towards the Hilton on the west end, but there's also a lot of rocks under the water there, which means you probably don't want to be walking around in ocean without water shoes (though floating or swimming isn't a problem). The other end doesn't have many rocks and has more waves (and is quite a popular surfing spot), but is usually pretty crowded so keep that in mind when visiting.
So I walked around, made a note of the interesting restaurants, and enjoyed the scenery for a while then found a good spot to watch the parade. It was a pretty long one (though not quite as long as the King Kamehameha parade yesterday), and featured just about every group that performed in the festival along with some local Asian groups and officials. There were also some Chinese groups (though there weren't any Chinese performers during the festival). There was a Japanese jump rope team (whose stage performance I hadn't made it too) who were pretty impressive and a lot more hula dancers too. The parade ended with some mikoshi (portable shrines) which are carried and/or pulled through the streets at many major festivals in Japan. While I've seen mikoshi on display in Japan, I never managed to make it to a festival where they were actually carried around, so that was cool.
Afterwards I decided to get something to eat before heading back. Since I'd been having so much Asian food lately, I went for something a bit different...

Restaurant Review: Mahaloha Burger
Type: Hamburger
Location: Waikiki, Royal Hawaiian Food Court
At first glance, Mahaloha doesn't seem much different than your typical fast food burger places. The difference is that they use local grass fed beef, which is much better than what you'd get at McDonald's or Burger King. It's a bit more expensive than they are, but you can get a burger for around $6 and a combo meal for under $10. They also have some Hawaiian style burgers like teriyaki burgers and locomoco burgers. As far as the taste, they're way better than McDonald's and the like, but not as good as Smash Burger, Red Robin, or Ruby Tuesday. So pretty much right in the middle tastewise.
Overall, Mahaloha Burger isn't one of the best burger places I've been too but the taste and quality of the meat are much better than what you'll get at the other fast food burger joints in the area so if you want a quick burger at Waikiki, it's the best choice.

Monday (June 11): Hitting the Beach
While I walked on the beach a couple times since coming here, I hadn't actually gone in the ocean yet so, after getting some things done, I headed to Waikiki to remedy that. I spent a lot of the time just swimming around and figuring out the best areas to find waves and avoid rocks. As an interesting note, compared to the other beaches I've visited, the water here is very clear and doesn't have much of a smell to it (though it still tastes just as salty as everywhere else). I can't say it's the best beach I've been to in terms of waves, shells, or size, but it's very nice all around.
That's really all I did other than making a quick run to a nearby plaza for supper.

Restaurant Review: CoCo Curry House
Type: Japanese
Location: Ala Moana Food Court and other Honolulu Locations
CoCo is a major chain of curry restaurants in Japan. Oddly, in Japan the CoCo part of the name is emphasized while here they emphasize the Curry House part. There are a few CoCos in Honolulu, one of which is right near where I'm staying, though the easiest to find is in the food court in Ala Moana mall. And, aside from having English on the menu (in addition to Japanese, of course), they're pretty much identical to the ones in Japan. If you've never had Japanese curry, it's a copy of British curry which is in turn a copy of Indian curry. The end result is nothing like Indian curry (or Thai curry, for that matter) but it is good. It's served with rice and typically has pieces of pickled gourd on the side. There's got a fairly large menu, but it basically comes down to what you want in your curry. I got thinly sliced beef, but there are other types of meat, fried cutlets, vegetables, tofu, and the like. You can also choose to get extra rice (though the normal amount is good for the amount of curry you get) or mild curry instead of the normal spicy kind (though Japanese curry really isn't that hot). It's also cheap. That plate of curry cost me under $7 and it makes for a very filling meal.
Overall, if you like Japanese curry you're going to love CoCo. It's good, cheap, very authentic, and gives you a lot of options to choose from.

Restaurant Review: Coffee or Tea?
Type: Coffee Shop
Location: Mccully Shopping Center (NW corner of Mccully and Kapiolani)
Coffee or Tea? is just a couple of minutes walk from my parents' condo and in the same plaza as a CoCo and several other Asian restaurants. They've got coffee, bubble tea, regular tea, and a few more unusual drinks (a hot ginger drink, for example) along with Japanese shaved ice if drinks aren't your thing. Their drinks are good and they make their bubble tea from scratch rather than using a powder mix (which a lot of places do), so you know they care about quality. The prices are comparable to what you'd pay at Starbucks or any other coffee or bubble tea shop.
Overall, I wouldn't go significantly out of my way to visit Coffee or Tea?, but if you're nearby it's a nice place with good drinks and a large selection, including some things you may not see anywhere else.

Tuesday (June 12): Walking Around Ala Moana
While I've popped in and out of the Ala Moana mall since coming here, I haven't actually walked through the whole thing so I decided to take some time today and do that. Ala Moana is a little bit west of Waikiki. It's the largest mall in on the island and popular with locals and tourists. As far as the shops go, you'll find many of the typical mall stores along with some Hawaii, beach, and souvenir shops and a number of high end clothing and accessory stores. It's not as fancy as some of the places on Waikiki, but does good job of covering all ends of the spectrum. It's open air, like many malls and shopping centers in Hawaii, and has a lot of tropical plants growing throughout, so it's rather pleasant to walk through. For the most part anyway. There's a number of shops whose only entry point is from right off the parking garage, which I find a little annoying. In my opinion though, the two best things about Ala Moana are its food court (which is huge and has an impressive variety of restaurants) and Shirokiya, an authentic Japanese department store complete with a nice food court of its own (all Japanese food, of course), a Japanese bakery, and a small Bookoff. As a note, Bookoff is a chain of Japanese used book, movie, music, and game stores. This one features both Japanese and English media and is a great place to visit if you're looking for something new to read, watch, play, or listen to.
The streets right behind Ala Moana have a number of restaurants and things as well, including a Walmart and Don Quijote store. I mentioned Don Quijote a couple of times in my Japan travelogues. It's a Japanese department store chain that, odd name aside, is known for its low prices and wide variety of merchandise. The ones in Japan also tend to be filled with twisting narrow aisles that make it easy to get turned around. This one is organized a bit better and is worth a visit if you want some Japanese appliances (fancy toilet seats or rice cookers, for example), or good deals on clothing, food, alcohol, and the like.
As a side

Restaurant Review: Genki Sushi
Type: Sushi
Location: Ala Moana and other Honolulu Locations
The Genki Sushi on Kauai was the first kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurant I ever saw, a couple of years before my first trip to Japan. Like kaitenzushi in Japan, you sit at a counter and watch the sushi go by on a conveyor belt. When you see something you want, you take it, eat it, and stack up your empty plates. Then, at the end, your bill is calculated based on the number and color of those plates. It's simple, fun, and a whole lot cheaper than going to a regular sushi restaurant. That said, Genki is a touch on the expensive side for kaitenzushi, with most of the fish based sushi costing $2.80 or more, with the total price range per plate going from $1.50 to a little under $5. I should probably mention that, due to its location, the Genki Sushi in Ala Moana can be a little tricky to find if you don't check the mall directory.
Overall, Genki is a fun and authentic way to get quality sushi. It may not be quite a cheap as similar restaurants in Japan, but it's a bargain compared to any normal sushi restaurant and features a pretty extensive selection. Whether you already love kaitenzushi or have yet to experience it, I highly recommend giving Genki a try.


6/10/2012 The Pan-Pacific Festival

I'm running a bit late today and there's a lot to cover, so let's get right to the travelogue.

Friday (June 8): The Pan-Pacific Festival
Honolulu's Pan-Pacific Festival is a three day event celebrating the ties between Hawaii and Japan (the rest of Asia slips in a little here and there, but it's mostly Japan). I arrived in Hawaii just in time for the festivities. Each day features a number of performances across three stages (one at the Ala Moana mall, one at the Royal Hawaii mall, and one on Waikiki Beach itself for the night time hula shows), along with various special events. I got a bit of a late start since I had to wait for a guy to come and turn on the internet here, but once that was taken care of I headed out to Ala Moana.
I arrived just in time to see some hula dancing. As a note, this and all the hula troops I saw throughout the festival (there were a lot) are from Japan and came to Hawaii to perform at the festival. After the dancers, there was a gagaku troop. Gagaku is an very old style of Japanese music (derived from an even older Chinese style), focusing on several unique instruments. It's not very common anymore (this is my first time hearing it) and is mostly used in various Buddhist ceremonies. It has a rather interesting sound compared even to other old styles of Asian music and some of the songs had dancing as well.
Since I was at the mall, I ran a couple of errands before returning to the condo, where I got a bit of work done before preparing to head out for the evening festivities. Unfortunately, I got delayed due to the discovery that the doors in this place auto lock when closed (something I've come to expect in hotels but not in apartments and condos). That would have nice to know before hand... Anyway, I eventually got back inside the condo, grabbed my keys, and headed out.
First stop, supper at a Japanese place in Waikiki (more on that in a minute) then back to the festival. Tonight they closed off a large part of Kalakaua Ave (Waikiki's main drag, so to speak) to traffic. Instead, it was lined with booths and stages. The booths were a mix of food and souvenirs and all the different groups that had come from Japan to perform had shows. There were multiple taiko drum groups, singers, dancers, and musicians, along with a stage on the beach itself dedicated entirely to hula. A couple of particular highlights for me were a high school cheerleading team from Sendai and, surprisingly enough, a gospel choir. Yes, a gospel choir from Japan, and a really good one at that. Certainly not something I expected to see. I walked down the road, stopping to watch each show I passed (with so many shows across so many stages, I didn't come close to seeing them all), watched the hula dancers at the end for a while, then made my way back up, watching more shows along the way. It was a lot of fun and certainly worth attending if you're in Honolulu at the right time.

Restaurant Review: Marukame Udon
Type: Japanese
Location: Waikiki, Kuhio Ave, Parallel to the Royal Hawaiian Mall on Kalakaua
Udon, as you hopefully know, are thick Japanese wheat noodles. I mentioned sanuki udon restaurants in my last Japan travelogue. Well, this is one and it's as authentic as you can get. Marukame tends to have a line out front, but it moves pretty fast and, if your timing is good, you can watch them make the noodles while you wait. Once you're inside, you choose your noodles (it's all udon, so it mostly boils down to whether you want them hot or cold and which toppings you want), grab some assorted tempura or musubi (rice balls, aka. onigiri) to go with your meal, pay (cash only, BTW), and find a place to sit. From the food, to the layout, to the decor, it's pretty much identical to the sanuki udon restaurants you can find in Japan (though with a little more English). It's fast, it tastes great, and it's cheap! The noodle bowls range from $3.75 - $5.25 (curry udon and niku (meat) udon being the most expensive). You can add a dollar to make your bowl a large, but the normal size should be enough for most people. Then you just pay for every extra item you take on your way to the cashier (most of the various tempura and musubi were $1.50 each). I got all this for a bit over $8 (that's a normal sized bowl of noodles, if you're wondering). It's really one of the best values you're going to find anywhere in Waikiki.
Overall, I really can't recommend Marukame enough. It's a fast food restaurant of sorts (so don't go looking for a table service or a fancy atmosphere) but it's fast, cheap, authentic, and tastes great. If you like udon, you have to go. If you haven't had udon before, it's a great place to start. Basically, if you're in Honolulu, just make sure to eat at Marukame.

Randon Hawaii Comment: Bubble Tea
Bubble tea (aka. boba tea or pearl tea) is a drink from Taiwan which involves putting little balls of tapioca in a drink (milk team and various types of fruit being the most common). It's become fairly popular in the US lately, but nowhere near as much as Hawaii. Sure you've got your coffee, pina coladas, and the like, but in terms of popularity bubble tea is just as common (probably more so). From my experience, the price and general quality of bubble tea is pretty similar no matter where you get it (though the better places will make it from scratch instead of using a powdered mix) so it more comes down to what flavor you want. Since Hawaii has such strong tropical and Asian influences you can find standard teas, a wide variety of tropical fruits, assorted Asian flavors (Japanese yam, for example) and more. Like all the unusual ice cream flavors in Japan, it can be fun to try different bubble teas as you come across them. As a side note, if you don't like the bubbles but want to try the drink itself, most places are happy to leave them out if you ask.

Saturday (June 9): The King Kamehameha Parade
The Pan-Pacific Festival continued but today was also a time to commemorate King Kamehameha, the legendary figure who united all the Hawaiian islands under a single rule. There were various ceremonies in commemoration of his deeds, with the main one being the giant parade which ran from the palace down through Waikiki. The parade was scheduled to start at 9 ,so after I work up I hurried down to Waikiki, found a good spot on Kalakaua, and waited for it to pass by. If I'd known how slow it moved, I'd have slept in, or at least picked a vantage point much closer to where it started.
After over an hour and a half of waiting, the parade finally reached my location. And it was huge. There were Hawaiians in traditional dress, practically every major member of the Hawaiian government, marching bands from what had to be every school in Honolulu, decedents of Hawaiian royal families, the world's largest aloha shirt, classic cars, a number of Hawaiian beauty queens, and more. Just about everyone was wearing leas, including the horses (though a few seemed rather determined to eat them). After watching for over an hour, I decided to speed things up and walk towards the end of the parade. Seeing just how far it went made me glad that I hadn't decided to stay and wait. It could have easily taken another ninety minutes or more to finish passing by my original location.
I returned to the condo for lunch then went to the Royal Hawaiian Mall back in Waikiki to see some more Pan-Pacific festival performances. Among them, that gospel choir from the previous night (which was still very good and very energetic), and the best hula dancer I've seen so far.
Then it was back to the condo again where I took a swim, spotted a partial rainbow, and tried my hand at macadamia nut crusted fish (which turned out pretty good). I was tempted to just stay inside the rest of the day. My dad really wanted me to try wearing Nike Frees while I'm down here (as opposed to my usual Asics gel sneakers). He says they're comfortable and good for for your feet (as far as muscle use and things like that). I'll grant that they're moderately comfortable, but beyond that all I can say is that, after a couple hours, they make me feel like I've been on my feet all day. Is that really a good thing? Anyway, I eventually decided to go down to the beach and watch the sunset. The sun ended up being hidden by clouds, but it was still pretty. And, since I was already out, I got some ice cream on the way back.

Restaurant Review: Tropical Dreams
Type: Ice Cream
Location: Waikiki, On Seaside Ave slightly off of Kalakaua and across from Ross
Tropical Dreams is a Hawaiian ice cream brand, made on the big island of Hawaii. They've got some stores scattered around the islands. Like most ice cream parlors, the available flavors vary, depending when you visit, but expect a number of tropical ones (pineapple, coconut, macadamia nut, etc.) in addition to the more standard varieties. It's good ice cream with some fairly unique flavors and prices are comparable to what you'd pay at most ice cream parlors (or frozen yogurt places, if you prefer).
Overall, Tropical Dreams isn't the only place to get ice cream. It's not even the only place to got Hawaiian ice cream. But it's good, the prices aren't bad, and it tends to have more unique flavors than the other places (at least from what I've seen so far) so it's worth a stop if you're looking for dessert.

Well, it's getting late so I'm going to stop here for now and save Sunday's write-up for next time.



6/8/2012 Back in Honolulu

I made it to Hawaii without any problems. I've started a new travelogue page for this trip, so you can always catch up on old entries there if you miss any. Oh, as a general note, due to the time difference, updates will be a few hours later than normal while I'm here.

Wednesday (June 6): Back to Honolulu
The best part of working at a college by far is summer break. I already spent a few weeks with my family in Colorado (along with a week in Arizona) and plan to return there for a few more weeks towards the end of the summer. The original plan was to spend the rest of the time in Japan working on a tour book. Unfortunately, that didn't work (though I'm aiming for next year) so I went with my backup plan.
When I visited Honolulu over winter break, I mentioned that my parents were looking at some real estate. As it happens, they ended up getting a vacation condo (as I said back then, they've always had an attachment to Hawaii since it's where they lived when they first met). So I had a free place to stay in Honolulu. In addition, I could use the points I'd been saving on my credit card to pay for nearly the entire plane ticket, which means that, other than food, it would pretty much be a free trip. With that taken into account, it seemed like a great place to hang out while working on some various projects of mine.
I took a look back at my first Hawaii travelogue. There's are a couple of areas I talked about in it that I want to go back and cover more in-depth this time around, along with new locations, of course. That said, this is a working vacation of sorts so I'm generally not going to be packing a whole lot of activities into a single day like I often due on a pure sightseeing trip. There will be a bit here and a bit there as I visit interesting places (I'm aiming to get out for a little while each day or two, though I can't say that each outing will be worth writing about) along with a lot of restaurant reviews (at my parents' request). Anyway, now that the format has been explained, let's get to it.
I got a pretty good flight coming to Hawaii, leaving Phoenix in mid-morning and arriving in Honolulu around 5 (due to the time difference), with only one stop along the way. The trip went very well and I arrived a little early at got a cab to the Waikiki Landmark, where my parents' condo is. Rather distinctively shaped building, isn't it? The condo they ended up buying is actually one of the two I looked at with them but that short tour was all I'd seen of it. While not quite as big as the condo in Phoenix (which I still really like), it's very nice and a bit fancier than I'm used to. And the views from the deck and numerous windows are pretty amazing during the day and at night. It even came with all the furniture, appliances, and the like.
That said, there wasn't any food. I was a little tired, due to the time change, but decided I should run out and do at least a little shopping. The other really nice thing about the condo is its location. It's not right on the beach or anything, but it's within easy walking distance of lots of great places (especially good since I don't have a car). So I made a quick trip to Ala Moana (the big mall I mentioned in my previous travelogue). I'll be walking through the entire place and giving it a more detailed write-up at some point in the future, by the way. At this point though, I just wanted to run in to the grocery store (yes, it's got a grocery store inside) and pick up some food for the next day. Figuring a serious shopping trip could wait, I grabbed a pineapple and a couple other things. Since I was there, I also swung by Ala Moana's rather awesome food court to get supper. On that note, here's my first restaurant review (and one of what will likely be several from said food court).

Restaurant Review: Donburiya Dondon
Type: Japanese
Location: Ala Moana Food Court
Dondon is actually one of several Japanese restaurants in Ala Moana's food court. Its specialty, donburi. If you're not familiar with the term, donburi are rice bowls. There are a number of variations but they generally come down to meat, vegetables, and sauce (usually the soy based don sauce) over rice. They're a favorite of mine and a cheap and popular fast food item in Japan. My personal favorite is gyudon (rice topped with very thinly sliced beef, onions, and don sauce), but since I had just had some a couple days before in Phoenix, I decided to get oyakodon instead. Oyako translates (rather morbidly, in my opinion) to mother and child and consists of chicken and egg over rice, along with some onions and don sauce mixed in. Dondon's oyakodon was quite good. The eggs were a little runnier than I like (though that's a matter of personal preference) but the chicken was cooked extremely well and they didn't try and do anything fancy with it. It was just plain well made donburi. It also came with a bowl of miso soup and a couple of bites of salad, or something like that (I couldn't quite decided if it was pickled cabbage or a tiny salad with an odd dressing). The total cost was a bit over $9. A little expensive compared to Japan, but fairly standard for the US. The portion sizes were good, though not huge.
Overall, Dondon is a nice donburi restaurant and much better than the type of places you find in most mall food courts (though that applies to a lot of the restaurants in Ala Moana). While Honolulu is unfortunately lacking a Yoshinoya (a popular donburi chain in Japan), Dondon makes for a fair substitute.

Thursday (June 7): Settling In
My goal for today was to settle in, do some serious grocery shopping, and hopefully get a little work done as well. I started out by taking a closer look around the condo, checking drawers and the like, to get a better feel for the place and figure out what I needed. I also took the opportunity to look around the Landmark building. Check out the awesome pool. It's big, has a great view (it's 15 floors up) even has a couple of hot tubs.
Once that was done, I did a few map searches on my computer then headed out for the nearest health food store. There's actually a couple of them in walking distance, right near each other. As a note, Honolulu is considerably less fancy once you get away from Waikiki and all the resort hotels (just like any tourist city, really), but the walk was pleasant. While Hawaii is more humid than I like (the less the better, as far as I'm concerned), it's not nearly as bad as Florida or Tokyo and the near constant breeze helps keep temperatures reasonable. I passed a number of restaurants on the way (some of which I'll probably review in the future) and grabbed a bubble tea (something else that probably deserved more details at some point). On a non food related note, I passed a small shinto shrine as well, which reminded me a bit of Japan where such shrines can crop up just about anywhere.
The health food stores turned out to be right near the Japanese Cultural Center (which I visited last time I was here). There's Japanese market called Nijiya nearby as well, which has a fairly good selection and, surprisingly, a little bit of a health food focus. So I stocked up on some food and headed back to the condo.
A couple of related notes. First off, the majority of food items seem to be a little more expensive in Hawaii than on the mainland (due to shipping costs, I suppose). Though, of course, tropical fruits tend to be a decent bit cheaper. Also, while walking a little over a mile is normally no big deal, it's a bit of a pain while carrying a couple of very full shopping bags.
After returning and making lunch, I got a bit of work done and planned out my activities for the next few days. Then, since I was still a bit lacking in the produce department, I decided to visit a nearby farmers' market. Honolulu has a lot of them, but this particular one is in the International Market Place down by Waikiki (I mentioned both the location and the farmers' market in my previous travelogue as well). I'll write more about the International Market Place and Waikiki in general in later posts since I was really just focused on the farmers' market. That said, I couldn't resist photographing some flowers along the way.
On a side note, you see a lot of trolley style tour buses down near Waikiki, which seem to be a favorite of Japanese tourists (I think they get a pass for them as part some sort of vacation package deal). Some of those trolleys are One Piece themed so I snapped a picture of one for Silver, the PV Forum's resident One Piece super fan.
Anyway, the farmers' market is there every Thursday from 4 - 8. It's not especially big.  There's a couple of stalls selling produce and another six or eight selling snacks and meals. I picked up a couple of things and then, since I was in the area, decided to eat in the International Market Place's food court.

Restaurant Review: Choi's Kitchen
Type: Korean
Location: Waikiki International Market Place Food Court
Choi's is one of several small Asian restaurants in the International Market Place's food court. While the food court isn't nearly as nice or large as the one in Ala Moana, they're in different parts of town and it's not a bad place to go if you want a snack or a whole meal. Choi's has a fairly typical setup for an Asian food court place. You pick you dish (from entries like grilled chicken/beef/pork, kalbi (beef short ribs, sliced thin), etc. and several sides to go with it (in this case, most were various types of kimchee and spicy pickled vegetables). I got a combination with kalbi and chicken, along with rice, pickled cucumbers, radish, bean sprouts, and regular kimchee. The chicken and kalbi were both good, though certainly not the best I've had (though, as a note, kalbi is pretty awesome just about everywhere, here included). Of the sides, I really liked the pickled cucumbers. The others weren't bad, though I wasn't especially fond of them either. That said, I'm not a big kimchee fan in general and don't eat it very often so I can't really make a judgement on its overall quality. The meal cost me over $13 with tax. That strikes me as a bit high for food court restaurant, but it's really not a bad price for kalbi and you get a pretty good amount of food for your money.
Overall, Choi's is a decent Korean restaurant. There's really nothing wrong with it and it's a perfectly good place to eat if you're in the area and want some Korean food. However, I'm sure that, for a similar price, you could eat at a fancier Korean restaurant (as in, not in a food court) with comparable (possibly better) food.


6/6/2012 Pokédex

I've very nearly completed my pokédex in Black (just need a few trades to finish it off), but what I'm referring to is the Pebble Version pokédex. It's been neglected for quite a while so I decided to use that mystery donation bonus I owe to do something about it. First off, I finally got it up to date with every single pokémon Brendan and may have caught so far (except mew, since it doesn't have a pokédex entry yet). Plus, from now on I'm going to actually keep the thing up to date. At some point, I should probably make the whole thing easier to navigate as well, but that'll have to wait for another time.

Anyway, I'm off to Hawaii today. There's a chance I'll miss Friday's update, depending on what my internet access is like. That hopefully won't be the case but, if it does happen, everything should definitely be worked out in time for Monday.



6/4/2012 Looking good

I got all my PV strips for this week done on schedule, so as long as I avoid falling behind on next week's, I should be in good shape. As previously mentioned, I be heading to Hawaii for a few weeks on Wednesday. PV should update normally the entire time I'm there, though this Friday's update is a little iffy since I can't be entirely sure I'll have an internet connection Thursday night. I'll be doing some travelogue entries while I'm there, though probably not with every single PV update. I already covered a number of places when visited Honolulu over winter break, so there's no need for repeats of them. Plus, I'll be spending a lot of my time working on Aurora's Nightmare and that other project I mentioned (which I'll talk about more in a week or two), so I'll be limiting my touring time. That said, I'm sure there will be plenty of travelogue entries, pictures, and all the rest. I may even try my hand at some restaurant reviews (my parents want me to make them a list of all the good places I find).



6/1/2012 Catching up again

Sorry for the guest comic. I never did manage to rebuild my comic buffer the last time I burned through it. Mainly because big battle strips take a lot longer to make than others. I also had a lot of things going on late last week and early this week, which reduced the time I could spend on PV. That said, I really should have had a comic for today. In fact, I thought I did...right up until I started getting the site ready for today's update. And by then, there just wasn't enough time to make one so I had to resort to one of my only remaining guest comics. I really need to get that buffer rebuilt... Hopefully, now that Brendan and May's battle is over, I can get that done over the next few days.

Other than that, work is progressing on that unannounced project of mine. I don't want to go into details yet, but it's quite possible that the entire thing could be finished and ready to go in 2-3 weeks, which would be pretty awesome. It's delaying my work on Aurora's Nightmare a bit, but if it goes well I may even end up with some extra cash I can use to increase my development budget and make Aurora's Nightmare even better.

That's all for now. I'll go into more detail on my projects, and get to some other things I've been meaning to talk about, once I get that comic buffer rebuilt.


5/30/2012 Summer

Unfortunately, it looks like I won't be going to Japan this summer. It's not just because my Kickstarter drive for An Anime Fan's Guide to Japan failed. That's part of it, but there are a few reasons I won't be going. Instead, I'll be focusing most of my time and effort on Aurora's Nightmare, as well as one other potential project...which I'll be talking about soon if it works out.

As much as I like Colorado and Arizona, I won't be spending my whole summer in the west. In a week I'll be heading to Hawaii. My parents have a place there, and I was able to get a good deal on a ticket, so it won't cost much. The current plan is to stay there until mid-July. I'll had a lot of fun there in the winter, and this time I'll be able to explore a bit more and take advantage of the beach. Though, as previously mentioned, I do plan to spend a lot of time working on things. After that, it'll be back to Colorado for the last few weeks of summer vacation. Anyway, that's the plan for now and it seems unlikely to change.

See you Friday!


5/28/2012 Off to Phoenix

No time to talk at the moment. As previously mentioned, I'm leaving today for Phoenix and well be there in a week or so. My internet situation is a little uncertain, since the cable at my parents' condo is off right now, but PV updates should probably continue as usual.


5/25/2012 Transferring...

There's a new voter bonus comic (just click the TWC button on the left) and a new ROM!

For various reasons, I decided not to bring any of my main game consoles with me on summer vacation. On the down side, that means it'll be quite a while before I can play Xenoblade, Last Story, the final DLC pack for Final Fantasy XIII-2, and a few other things I've been really looking forward to. On the bright side, it gives me a chance to catch up on some of my DS and PSP games. My current goal, finish my pokédex in Black. I've got a few pokémon I need to breed and evolve and a couple I need to trade for, but the big thing is transferring in my entire collection from Diamond. I just started on that the other day. And while it's nice that it doesn't limit you to six pokémon per day, like D/P does, having to play a mini-game for every six pokémon transferred is rather annoying and time consuming. Couldn't they make it a little more convenient? I mean, I've got over 500 pokémon to transfer...

In other news, I've fairly certain about my plans for the rest of the summer at this point but since it's not totally nailed down yet, I'll wait and talk about that later. The one thing I know is that I'll be hanging out in Phoenix next week. Unfortunately, nearly all my friends university have moved away. But I like it there (I still kind of wish I could have found a good job in the area) and it'll give me a chance to visit some favorite restaurants and stores. The one downside is that I think the cable service there is turned off right now, which means my internet may be a bit spotty. That said, I don't think I'll have much trouble finding a connection so Pebble Version updates probably won't be affected.

Have a good weekend!


5/23/2012 Something to celebrate

If you haven't heard, Toonami is returning this weekend! Looks like it's getting a much smaller time slot than it once had, but hopefully that'll change if it does well. If you're not familiar with Toonami, it was Cartoon Network's old action programming block. It used to play every weekday afternoon and featured quite a lot of anime. While Toonami didn't get me started watching anime (I have Pokémon, Digimon, and the other shows on WB and Fox's morning lineups to thank for that), I found it fairly early on and it showed me that anime was a lot more than monster battling shows. I used to watch Toonami every day and it introduced me to many great shows and series such Gundam Wing, Outlaw Star, Tenchi Muyo, and Dragon Ball Z, just to name a few. Ah, good times... Unfortunately, Toonami's line-up slowly grew smaller and started to feature a number of so-so American shows along with some lousy 4Kids dubs, leading me to watch it less and less until it eventually faded away entirely a few years back. Around the same time, Cartoon Network's other anime heavy block, Adult Swim, started playing less anime and got reduced times as well. Fortunately, by then anime DVDs had started to get more affordable (back when I was first getting into anime, box sets were rare and expensive and series were spread over as many DVDs or video tapes as possible) and it wouldn't be too much longer before I was introduced fab-subs (though I only ever downloaded shows that hadn't been licensed for a US release). So while I don't need Toonami anymore, it brings back a lot of great memories and, if you ask me, cable TV could use a good anime programming block, there just isn't as much anime on TV as there used to be...

Anyway, check out Toonami this weekend if you get the chance, I know I will.


5/21/2012 Commentary!

The commentary for strips 161 - 180 is finished!

Nothing new in regards to my summer plans yet, but I'll probably have something to report later this week.

Finally, I forgot to mention this last week but I did something rather interesting on Wednesday. As a slightly late Mothers' Day present, my dad and I took my mom out to see famous ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro. Gotta say, it was a really impressive show. He does things with a ukulele that you wouldn't think the instrument was capable of. I didn't have my camera on me, but you can find lots of videos of him on youtube. Very cool.

And that's it for now. See you Wednesday!


5/18/2012 An uncertain summer
EDIT: The original version of this comic (which was only up for around 9 hours) had oddish getting KO'd, which would have resulted in May's loss since oddish is her 6th pokémon. I had somehow gotten mixed up and had it marked as her 5th instead. Anyway, the problem strip was replaced with the new corrected version

There's a new voter bonus comic (just click the TWC button the left) and a new ROM!

The last couple of days turned out to be a bit busier than I expected. Nothing major, but a lot of little things came up that I needed to deal with and, as a result, I'm not quite done with all the commentary yet. It should be finished soon but, in the meantime, here's a bit more concept art from Aurora's Nightmare, once again drawn by my friend Hanbee Lee. Mira and Dux work with the three previously shown main characters, Ars, Tia, and Aurora. Nightmares like this one, are a mysterious and very dangerous type of creature which, on rare occasions, appear out of thin air and violently attack everyone around them. I'll note that, because of the way the nightmares look, their appearance will change quite a bit when they're colored.

In other news, my summer plans are currently in flux. I was originally thinking of splitting my time relatively evenly between Colorado, Japan, and Hawaii. Then my parents started thinking about going to Japan as well for a while, which had me thinking about staying there longer and skipping Hawaii. However, the Kickstarter campaign for my Anime Fan's Guide to Japan will be ending in a couple days and, without a miraculous turnaround, isn't going to come anywhere close to reaching its goal. I'm looking into some other potential funding sources and even thinking of paying for everything myself, but at the moment I'm having a difficult time even finding a decent flight to Japan (due to uncertainties involving the book and my parents' plans, I couldn't book way in advance, which would have made things much simpler).
So what now? Well, Japan and the guide aren't out of the question yet. If I find a good flight, or one of the other things I'm looking into works out, I'll go. If not, I'll have to shelve that project, at least for now (I may revive it next year if I have the summer free again). If that happens, I'll probably go to Hawaii for a while instead and focus my efforts on Aurora's Nightmare. I'll let you know once everything has been worked out.


5/16/2012 Almost done
Nothing much to report and the moment. I'm still making good progress on the commentary and should probably have it all done in time for Friday's update.


5/14/2012 Commentary continues
Only a week left in my Kickstarter drive. I'm rather disappointed by its performance, but I won't give up quite yet. So, if you're interested in getting a awesome Japan travel guide written specifically for anime, manga, and game fans, click the image on the right for more information and be sure to tell all your friends.

In other news, work on the commentary is continuing, and that's about it. I'm sure I'll have more to say later in the week but for now, that's about it.


5/11/2012 Working on the commentary
There's a new voter bonus comic so just click the TWC button on the left to check it out.

Well, my first few days of vacation haven't been all that relaxing but I've got time for that later. Starting now though, I'll have a lot more time to work on my own projects. For example, I'm starting on the commentary for that batch of old PV strips that I owe you. So, I'm off to work on that.

Have a good weekend!


5/9/2012 Travel problems
Well, yesterday I made it to Colorado for the first part of my summer vacation. Unfortunately, there were some problems. Quite a lot of them, actually.
To start the day off, I woke up at 3:15 AM (having gotten very little sleep) to get a taxi to the airport. I go outside about 5 minutes before the taxi is supposed to arrive and wait... 10 minutes later it's still not there so I call the company. Seems that either the dispatch operator or the driver had copied my phone number down wrong so the driver called the number, didn't get an answer, and gave up without actually driving by my place. The guy on the phone tried to get in touch with the driver and have him come back, but the driver wasn't answering his phone. Eventually the dispatch guy himself came (45 minutes after my cab had been supposed to arrive) and drove me to the airport. As a side mode, my apartment is an annoyingly expensive $50+ cab ride from the airport.
So I make it the airport later than I planned but still with about an hour before my flight is supposed to leave. I go to check in...and they tell me that I never paid for my ticket so they won't give me a boarding pass. Of course, I paid for the ticket ages ago when I booked. The airline guys say there's nothing they can do and that I have to call Priceline, which I'd used to make the reservation. So I call them and go back and forth between them and the airline. While this is happening, they stop checking in passengers and, as a result, I miss my flight. I ask Priceline to give me a new one and they say that I need to call back in an hour when their booking office opens. One hour later, I call them again and spend a good half hour on hold as the Priceline guy talks to the airline to try and figure out what went wrong. They eventually get me on a new flight but the whole thing took so long that I missed all the early ones and had to get a completely new itinerary and wait until 12:30 (about 7 hours after my original flight time).
Since my apartment was a very expensive cab ride away, and the airport isn't within walking distance of anything worth noting, I was stuck there. On the bright side, the airport had free wi-fi. On the downside, that's about all they had. It's a really tiny airport.
But that wasn't the end of it. After several hours I was informed that my 12:30 flight had been delayed until 2:15 (annoying, but at least it wouldn't cause me to miss a connection). So I settle don to wait even longer, only for them to change their mind and call for everyone to board the flight at the normal time. So I rush to shut down my laptop and board the plane. Once everyone is on board, they inform us that they've decided to switch planes so we have to gather up all out stuff, go back into the terminal, wait around half an hour for them bring the new plane around, and board again. Then the have the plane just sit there for another half hour or so before leaving. And, just to make things a little worse, it was a small old plane and a really bumpy ride.
Fortunately, once I finally managed to get out of Gainesville, things started going a lot more smoothly. Still, as far as bad travel days go, yesterday is definitely in my top five, probably my top three.

After all that, I really need some sleep so I'll see you Friday!


5/7/2012 Epcot Part 2
My indie game, Car Washer: Summer of the Ninja, has been updated based on user feedback. Nothing major, but there's a several small changes to make it easier for new players to jump right in. Even better, for a limited time, the Windows version of Car Washer is on sale for 50% off! Only $2.50! If you'd rather have the Xbox 360 version, it will recieve the same update and its own sale soon (going through Microsoft's approval process makes it take longer).

Tomorrow I'll be heading off on my summer vacation! First stop, Colorado. After that, probably Japan, though it's still a little uncertain. There may be a bit of time in Arizona in there somewhere as well. It won't be all relaxation though. I'll be teaching a couple of online classes and working on Aurora's Nightmare. I'll likely be working on that Anime Fan's Guide to Japan as well (click the image on the right for more info). Pebble Version updates should continue as usual, at least while I'm in Colorado, though they'll likely come a couple hours earlier due to the time difference.

For now though, let's finish that Epcot write up. We left off just as I reached my first county in the world showcase...

Sunday (April 29th): Epcot Part 2
Mexico is rather unique compared to the other countries because it's all indoors. You enter a giant pyramid, pass by some neat wooden animal carvings, and suddenly it's night time in Mexico. Like all the countries, Mexico is primarily shops (little street stalls in this case) and restaurants. While the restaurants looked pretty awesome, I didn't want to eat too much in Mexico (Mexican food is really easy to find, after all) but since I was so hungry, I did grab some churros. I've only had churros once before and I wasn't overly fond of them but these were really good. Mexico also has a boat ride showing off various parts of the country and culture through a mix of videos and animatronics. It's a smooth and slow ride, but I enjoyed it. Definately brings out the best of Mexico (as opposed to what you tend to hear about on the news).
Leaving Mexico behind, I came to Norway. Like the rest of Scandenavia, Norway is a former viking country. Note the fancy wooden church (I would love to see a real one of those). It's got a boat ride as well (slightly more intense than the one in Mexico, but still pretty mild), which focuses on Norway's culture and seafaring history. While there, I decided to get something a bit more substational to eat. If you can't tell, that's a traditional Norwegian sandwhich (sprouted bread, smoked salmon, egg, and onion, and a pastry made with cloudberries.
China came next. It's a fun country with some cool shops and, of course, restaurants. I was pretty thirsty so I stopped by a tea stand to get something. While I'm not normally a fan of anything alcoholic, they had a green tea and plum wine slush that I couldn't resist trying. As a side note, umeshu (Japanese plum wine) is the only alcohol I've tried that I've come anywhere close to liking. The slush didn't have much of a alcohol taste to it and, as such, was quite good. While enjoying my drink, I took at a look at this neat topiary dragon (in honor of the year of the dragon). They had a small museum inside. I think the display changes periodically. The current one is on the thousands of terra cotta statues found in one of the emperor's tombs. I finished looking around just in time to catch a 360 degree movie (the screen circles the entire room) about China. It re-affirmed my desire to visit China some day. On the list of countries I've never been to but want to visit, it's up near the top along with Australia and Greece. Finally, I caught an acrobatics show. While the acrobats couldn't match what I saw in La Nouba a couple weeks back, they were still good.
After China there's a little outpost area which isn't really based on any country (though it's got a vague African theme to it) before you get to Germany. It's one of the couple of countries that doesn't have a ride or presentation of any kind, but the buildings are pretty cool. I stopped long enough to get a pretzel and admire the buildings and topiary before continuing.
Italy immediately brought back memories of Assassin's Creed 2 (in which I climbed the tower in that photo). Once again, the buildings were awesome. There wasn't a ride, display, or movie there either, but there was a street performer doing a juggling routine, who I stopped to watch.
My next destination was America. They've got a movie there about American history but it's a bit longer than the other countries' movies and I was a little presssed for time so I skipped it. As with everywhere else, America has restaurants and a store as well. The restaurant looked pretty good but, if you ask me, unless you're a foreign tourist (and even then), going to Epcot and eating in America is kind of lame. I only stayed long enough to take a quick look around and snap a picture of some Toy Story inspired topiary before moving on.
Now this looks familiar... Epcot's Japan certainly isn't the same as going to the actual country, but short of the Japan Towns in San Francisco and LA, it's the closest you're going to get in the US. And hey, check out their version of the otorii gate from Itsukushima. You may remember that I saw the real one my last time in Japan. This one is a bit smaller and more red than orange, but it's otherwise a very impressive reproduction. I grabbed another snack (the Japanese equivalent of shaved ice) and took a look through the huge store. While going in to Epcot to do your shopping probably isn't very practical, they had a pretty good selection of Japanese snacks, wines, and teas, along with a bunch of anime and manga related items and more. If I wasn't planning to actually go to Japan this summer, I probably would have picked a few things up. There was changing museum display nearby, much like in China. This one was all about Japanese mythological creatues (oni, tengu, kitsune, etc.) and their appearances in art and legends both old and new (including anime and video games). That was a lot of fun and I caught the very end of a taiko performance on my way out. Oh, since I haven't mentioned it before, the employees in each country in Epcot are actually from the country in question and fully bilingual, so if you want to practice your Japanese, Chinese, German, or whatever, Epcot is a pretty good place to do so.
At this point, I backtracked to America. As part of the Flower and Garden Festival, they have various singers from the 60's and 70's doing mini concerts on the weekends. This particular weekend featured Chuck Negron, formally of Three Dog Night (Joy to the World, Old Fashioned Love Song, etc.) The concert was only about 40 minutes long, but it was fun and he sang most of Three Dog Night's big hits. I did notice that I looked to be one of the only people in the audience under age 40, which was a little sad. Three Dog Night is way better than most new music.
After the concert, it was back to my world tour. I had made a dinner reservation in Morocco for a bit later, so I passed it by and headed to France. I looked around, checked out some more topiary, and watch a movie about France (another country I'd love to visit someday, mainly to see Paris. I also happened across an unscheduled performance. Some girls, who must have been part of a school choir or something similar, had been talking to one of the employees about some French songs they knew and get talked them into singing some for him. It may not have been an official show, but they were great singers.
Then it was back to Morocco. It's a pretty cool country with covered alleys full of little stores. I ate in Morocco my last time at Epcot (a number of years ago). It was my first time eating Moroccan food, which tured out to be delicious. Since then, I've learned how to cook some Moroccan dishes, but I've only been to one other restaurant (Moroccan restaurants just aren't very common in the US) so I wasn't about to pass up the opportunity. As a note, if you want to eat in one of the fanciest restaurants in any given country, it's probably a good idea to make a reservation a bit ahead of time as they can get pretty busy around meal times (most countries have a big fancy restaurant, a smaller cheaper restaurant, and snack stand or two). Making reservations is pretty easy. You can do it in person, over the phone (using the number in the guide map), or via the free Disney ap for iPhone and Android (which is what I used). Moroccan food is rather hard to describe if you've never had it, but spices are extremely important, especially ones like saffron and paprika, and there's quite a lot of tagines (meat and veggie dishes cooked in a special pot). It's very different and very good. They also have an great mint tea. I got an awesome full course meal. A good bit more than what I usually spend when I eat out, but I had already decided that Epcot would be a bit of a splurge day when it came to food. I love trying foods from other countries and you'll be hard pressed to find a place with more diverse cuisine than Epcot, and all extremely high quality at that. They had a belly dancer come out during the meal, along with some musicians. I wish I had a video for you but I wasn't able to get a clear shot from my location.
After dinner, I passed by France to reach the UK. I looked around a bit (no blue police boxes, unfortunately). The highlite for me was the tea garden, which contained a lot of the plants used to make traditional English teas, along with sign boards describing the differences between the teas.
The final country was Canada. I looked through the shop and checked out the totems but didn't stay too long. They've got a 360 degree movie, which would have been cool to see, but there wasn't a whole lot of time left before the big end of the day fireworks show and I wanted to try and get a ride on Spaceship Earth before then. Fortunately, there wasn't a line anymore so I was able to walk right on. Spaceship Earth is inside the big sphere at the entrance of the park. As a rather nifty feature, it lets you choose the language of your narration. Japanese was one of the options so I chose that for a little extra practice. It starts out going through some animatronic recreations of various points from ancient history. The second half seems to be different every time I've visited the park. This time, they asked a bunch of questions (via a touch screen built into the car) and showed a humerous movie about what life may be like in the future (from the look of things, there's quite a lot of different movies, depending on you answers).
When the ride was over, I hurried to secure a good spot near the lake to watch the fireworks. The show was called IllumiNations and was a mix of lights, water jets, and fireworks. Like all Disney's end of the day shows, it was great and more impressive than a lot of the 4th of July shows I've seen. It was an excellent finish to a great day and I'm looking forward to returning to Epcot (hopefully sooner rather than later), checking out the things I skipped, and visiting some different restaurants.

Well, that'll be the last entry in my Florida travelogue for now but I won't be closing it just yet. There's a good chance I'll be doing more in the fall, so we'll see what happens.


5/4/2012 Epcot
There's a new bonus comic up for everyone who votes using the TWC button on the left! It's a special one this week, featuring forum member PoisonWing14. New ROM too.

In other news, I added some new information to the Kickstarter page for my Japanese travel guide. Click the image on the right to check it out! Now for that travelogue entry.

Sunday (April 29th): Epcot
I wanted to get in one last theme park visit before summer break. There were still two major ones I hadn't visited yet, Epcot and Seaworld, along with one water park (Wet 'n Wild). I decided to do Epcot for several reasons. For one thing, it's always been one of my favorites (I was there several times before, though my most recent visit was years ago). Plus, I've got that Disney pass which means I don't have to pay for admission.
Anyway, the first thing you notice when entering Epcot is the big sphere that houses the Spaceship Earth ride. You may also notice the topiary Mickey. Epcot's yearly Flower and Garden festival is currently taking place which, among other things, means that there are cool topiary figures all over the place.
Once you get inside, Epcot is divided up into two sections, Future World and the World Showcase. I planned to spend most of my time in the World Showcase but it generally opens a couple hours later than the rest of the park, so I had some time to spend in Future World. As a side note, while most other parks can be completely covered in a day with a little planning and bit of luck with the lines, seeing everything in Epcot in a single day is difficult, if not impossible, so I had to skip some things here and there.
My first stop, The Land. Soarin, the park's most popular ride, is there and I wanted to grab a fast pass before it got too busy. I had some time to kill before I could use the pass, so I hopped on the The Land's other ride, Living With the Land. It's a boat ride that starts out with some little displays about different types of climates. The second half of the ride is the cool part. The Land has a greenhouse where they research a bunch of different agriculture techniques and you get to go through the middle of it. Quite a lot of their experiments involve growing things with minimal soil, like this tomato "tree". The hanging melons and pumpkins, however, have me a little worried. You can actually sign up to take a more in-depth tour of the greenhouse but it's rather long and costs extra so I passed it up. I may give it a try next time though. As an interesting side note, they actually use the fruits and vegetables they grow in the restaurants there. I still had some time to kill so I watched a little movie about the importance of taking care of the Earth, narrated by characters from The Lion King. Getting back to Soarin, it's essentially a simulated hang glider ride. You get in a chair that's lifted off the ground over a huge screen. The screen fills pretty much your entire field of vision and, thanks to some very well done wind and motion, it really does feel like you're gliding across California. Very cool.
Moving on, I swung by Imagination! It's mostly comprised of a collection of light and sound based play areas for kids. It's also got a theater for 3D movies. The last couple of times I visited Epcot they played Honey I Shrunk the Audience there. Now though, they switched back to the movie they had before it, Captain EO. It's one of the earliest 3D movies and was a collaboration between several famous people including George Lucas and Michael Jackson. Take Star Wars, combine it with Michael Jackson music videos, and add in a heavy dose of the 80's. It's weird, to say the least.
Next stop is the counterpart to The Land, The Sea. It's got a Finding Nemo ride, a decent aquarium (see the frog fish?) and...a fish restaurant? I'm not sure I'd really want to eat fish while watching them swim around, but anyway...
To save time, I decided to skip Spaceship Earth for now (though I did get back there later in the day). I also skipped the Innovations buildings. The first time I went to Epcot, the Innovations buildings had a bunch of arcade games and virtual reality stuff. That later moved to Disney Quest and they had a robot building attraction instead. Not sure what exactly is in there now though the guide map says something about designing your own thrill ride. Maybe like that motion simulator in Disney Quest then... As long as we're talking about things I skipped, I also passed on Universe of Energy, a rather lengthy ride and movie about the origins of various types of energy that takes you back to the dinosaur era. From what I remember, it's not a bad ride but, like I said, you really can't see all of Epcot in a day and it's pretty long.
Instead, I headed to Mission: SPACE (spotted a bit more topiary on the way). Mission Space is a ride that simulates a flight to Mars. There's two versions, green and orange (with orange being more intense). It doesn't flip you around or anything like that, but it does a rather remarkable job of simulating g-forces, making it unlike anything else I've ever ridden.
There's two other buildings in Future World. One is the test track ride, which is based on car safety tests. It's currently closed for renovations. And the other building, which I remember housing some attractions and shows based on the body. Right now though, it was being used for some presentations related to the Flower and Garden Festival.
At this point, the World Showcase was open and I was starving (I skipped breakfast) so it was time to move on.
On my past visits to Epcot, I already went around counter clockwise. This time, I decided to do the opposite which means that I started out in Mexico...

And it's getting pretty late so I'm going to have to stop here for now. I'll finish this up on Monday.


5/2/2012 A good lesson
Didn't quite get the Epcot write-up done. I didn't realize just how many pictures I needed to prepare so, while I did get them done, that didn't leave me with much time for the writing so I'll be pushing that back until Friday.

Did anyone see the new episode of The Simpsons on Sunday? It had a really good lesson, and once which I try to live by. If you didn't see it, Bart is in a rut and bored with his daily life. To get away from it, he manages to convince his family to take a cruise on a fancy ship. Everyone is having the time of lives until Bart realizes that, as great as the vacation is, once it's over he'll be stuck back in his boring life, with nothing but memories of that one awesome week he once had. More happens after that, of course, but I don't want to give you a full plot summary. In the end though, Bart learns that you can't just wait around for fun things to happen, you need to find your own fun where ever you may be.
Now I get a lot of people telling me how lucky I am to be able to go to all the places I've talked about in my travelogues. Japan, New Zealand, all the theme parks in Orlando, and more. And they're right, I am lucky and I've had a blast visiting those places. But I haven't spent my entire life living and/or traveling in especially fun or exciting areas. Yet, no matter where I am, I always find time to go out and do something fun at least every few weeks. Many of those experiences aren't things that were really worth writing about here on PV. Going out hiking or swimming, exploring a new shopping center, or trying out a restaurant I've never been to before aren't nearly as interesting to read or write about as my international trips and theme park visits, but they can still be fun and provide a nice break from my usual routine. You don't even have to go anywhere. Some of the most fun times I've ever had have been at home, playing games or watching movies with friends (something I regrettably don't get to do nearly as much as I used to). Even curling up on the couch with a good book or video game can provide a really fun and exciting experience if you let it.
So if you're not able to travel to exciting places on a regular basis, don't get depressed about it. Your situation may change sooner or later but, in the meantime, you can have lots of fun times wherever you are. Do some research and wee what's in and around your home town. Think up some enjoyable activities to do with friends or on your own. Fun is out there. You just need to put a little effort into finding it.


4/30/2012 The grading continues
My plans for today? Grading, grading, and more grading... The last of the projects and stuff for my classes was due by the end of yesterday, so it's time to go over the last of it and figure out everyone's final grades. Fortunately, I planned things out so that my schedule shouldn't be too bad. In fact, it seems I have a little more time to get both the grading and a couple other tasks done than I thought I did, which is always nice.

Actually, I did quite a lot of grading and related work on Friday. Made for a rather dull day, but it meant that I didn't have to do any work yesterday. There was a good weather forecast too, and I really wanted to get in a trip to Epcot before I head off on summer vacation, so it was off to Orlando to visit the last Disney Park on my list (not the last theme park, but the last Disney related one). Look for a write-up on Wednesday.



4/27/2012 A sneak peak...
There's a new ROM!

I did say that, despite the Anime Fan's Guide to Japan project I'm trying to get started, I'm still working on Aurora's Nightmare. Well, on that subject, I just got a whole bunch of new character art from my talented friend Hanbee Lee. So, without further ado, here's the new versions of the game's three main characters, Ars, Tia, and Aurora. And this is actually in-game artwork too. Or, more accurately, it will become in-game artwork. I'll be taking these and the other drawings (there's lots more) doing some cleanup and editing, and coloring them in to create the final character images that will be used in the game. I'll probably post some more drawings over the next week and my final versions as well, once they're done (though that might be a while since I want to get a bit more of the writing finished before focusing heavily on the artwork).

Well, that's all for now. I should have a decent amount of time to work on that commentary I owe and, if you look at the donation gauge you'll see that, thanks to Silver donating his King of the Forums Prize, you're due for that mystery bonus. So what is the mystery bonus? Well, I'll talk about that after I've finished the commentary...



4/25/2012 Time to grade
If you haven't ready Monday's news post yet, I announced that new project I've been teasing. It's all about my new project, a Japan tour book written specifically for anime and manga fans. It will show you where to find the actual locations featured in your favorite anime, manga, and games, tell you how to get tickets to see groups like AKB48, and list all the best stores for CDs, figurines, and other cool merchandise. I'm running a Kickstarter drive for it right now. You can find out more there or by reading Monday's new post. If you're interested, please help spread the word!

That aside, it's nearing the end of spring semester! I'm really looking forward to my summer break but, in the meantime, I've got quite a lot of grading to do. Final projects and all that. At least grading isn't too hard, it's just really time consuming. Fortunately, now that I don't have to prepare any more lectures, I should still have a lot of spare to focus on things like Aurora's Nightmare. I can get another theme park visit in at some point too.

Right now though, I happen to be running pretty late so I need to take off.



4/23/2012 An Anime Fan's Guide to Japan
It's finally time to announce my new project! If you've been following the site for more than a year (and even if you haven't) you're probably familiar with my Japan travelogues. Since my stay in Japan, I've been asked for recommendations, travel tips, and the like by a lot of different people. And I've really enjoyed doing it. I love Japan so I have a lot of fun helping out people plan their trips there. Plus, having used all the major Japan travel books during my previous times there, I've noticed a glaring weakness. None of them are written with all of us anime, manga, and video game fans in mind. Sure they may briefly mention Akihabara, the Ghibli Museum, and a couple other relevant things, but there's a ton of great locations they're missing and they're not going to help you find the best the best stores, see popular J-Pop groups in concert, or find the locations featured in your favorite anime, manga, and games. So, I've decided to write a Japan travel guide of my own, just for us American otaku. But to do so I'll need to go back to Japan and do some research. Plus, since I don't currently have a publisher lined up, there will be printing costs and the like to deal with. All of that stuff isn't cheap, so I've decided to try something. I'm running a drive for the book on Kickstarter. If the book sounds interesting, you can pledge some money towards it. Then, if (and only if) my funding goal is met by the deadline (May 21), the money will be collected and I'll be able to get started on the book. But you're not just pledging money to help me, you're getting something out of it as well. There's a variety of different rewards you can get depending on how much money you pledge, such as suggesting locations to be included, signed copies of the book, and help planning your own Japan trip. And that's just for starters. If the initial goal is met, I'll be able to add some really cool extra rewards as well. I'll be announcing some more details over the coming days and weeks so keep an eye on these news posts and the Kickstarter page for more information. And be sure to tell you friends!

As a side note, I'll still working on Aurora's Nightmare, this is just a side project I'm hoping to do over the summer.


4/20/2012 Out and about

There's a new voter bonus comic up so click on the Top Web Comics button to check it out! I was hoping to announce my new project today. Everything is done on my end but, unfortunately, I need to wait for something to go through an approval process, which takes a bit longer than I originally thought, so the announcement will have to wait a little longer (hopefully Monday). For now though, here's those travelogue entries I promised.

Sunday (April 15th): A Day of Festivals
Since I was trying to catch up on some work, going out somewhere for an entire day wouldn't have been a good idea. However, Alachua, the town where I live, was having some sort of spring festival and there was an art festival going on in Gainesville, where I had to go for errands anyway, so I figured I'd check it out as well.
Alachua is a small town, but it has a very nice old fashioned Main Street which was lined with booths. Most of the booths were for various arts and crafts type things. Carvings, knitted caps, and the like. There was a bit of food as well, though nothing too special in that regard. While I probably wouldn't come to the festival from out of town, it was a lot bigger than I expected and it was fun to walk around for a little while.
After returning to my apartment, I headed off to Gainesville. I was originally planning on going straight to the art festival but I ended up stopping at a book store on the way. In a bit of incredibly good luck, it turned out that D.J. MacHale, author of the Pendragon and Morpheus Road series (both of which I really like), was going to be having a book signing there a little later in the afternoon so hung around for that. While I actually have books autographed by a number of my favorite authors, they're all generic signed copies I happened to get at various stores, this was the first time I actually got one signed in person. As it turns out, Mr. MacHale is a really nice guy. He was very friendly and took the time to chat with everyone when their turn came in line. It made for a really awesome surprise addition to my day.
I eventually made it to the art festival, which was hosted by Santa Fe College. I've been to one or two art festivals in the past, so I had an idea of what to expect. Lots of lots of little booths filled all types of art. Paintings, sculpture, jewelry, photography... I'm not a huge patron of the arts or anything, but some of the stuff was really cool to look at, especially the photographs. It made me want to make giant high quality prints of some of my best pictures. I wonder how much that would cost... There was food as well and I had a lot of fun looking around before finally forcing myself to head out and get back to work.

Tuesday (April 17th): Disney Quest and Cirque du Soleil
Something came up rather suddenly last week, with the result being that I had to go to Orlando for a meeting. The weekend wouldn't work so, in the end, I had to take a personal day to get it done. It felt like a waste to take an entire day off of work and drive two hours only to return to my apartment right after the meeting ended, so I decided I might as well make the most of things and do something fun afterwards. The meeting was late morning and I wasn't sure how long it was going to go, so it wasn't the best day to go to a full theme park. However, I'd been wanting to see La Nouba, Disney's Cirque Du Soleil show, and that wasn't until the evening. Plus, it was right by Disney Quest in Downtown Disney, which is one of the of the places I can get into using my Disney pass, so that fit the bill perfectly.
The meeting ended up going fairly quickly and I arrived up at Downtown Disney right around lunch time. I wrote about Downtown Disney before but, in case you don't remember, it's a fancy shopping and dining area inside Disney World, with the biggest attractions being the aforementioned Disney Quest and La Nouba. Since the meeting didn't take as long as I'd though it would, I had quite a lot of time to spare before the show. I thought about getting some lunch but the restaurants were crowded and I wasn't all that hungry anyway so I skipped it and headed straight to Disney Quest. It's an indoor mini theme park of sorts with a focus on video games and virtual rides. There were several virtual reality rides (complete with head sets) which involved tasks like fighting off super villains with a laser sword and flying around on a magic carpet. They were rather cool but sometime I'd like to see a VR system with graphics that don't look like they came out of an early generation PS2 game. Some high end graphics would go a long way towards making the experience feel more real. Anyway, it was the other rides that I found the most interesting. They had one completely non virtual ride, which can best be summed up as bumper cars with ball shooting canons and several where, while you weren't wearing VR goggles, there were video screens all around to make it look like you were in another place. All of those were pretty cool. For example, there's a jungle cruise where you sit in a raft and have to physically paddle your way down a dangerous river. It's the one ride without seat belts and it's pretty rough. I near fell over a few times, but it was fun. The Pirates of the Caribbean ride, on the other hand, has you running all around the deck of a ship shooting canons at attacking ships. And then there's one of those motion simulator roller coasters, except that you can to design your own track (mixing and matching various pieces) before you ride. I've been in motion simulators before and wasn't expecting much other than a bit of tilting. However, the one they have there can actually rotate a full 360 degrees, making for a much more fun and intense ride. Sorry for the lack of pictures, by the way. While I had my camera with me, the inside of Disney Quest is rather dimly lit and most of the lights that are there are odd colors, which is a horrible condition for photography unless you have a fancy tripod setup or something.
In addition to the main attractions, Disney Quest is also full of arcade games ranging from the new to the old. They had a really impressive selection with my favorites being DDR X2 and an original Asteroids machine from 1979. Even better, all the games (with the exception of a couple that give out actual prizes) are on free play, so there's no need to worry about running through huge stacks of quarters.
I could have stayed there all evening moving between various arcade games but after a few hours I decided that, as long as I had the free time, I might as well go and see the Three Stooges movie, which was playing in the theater next door. I wasn't really sure what to expect. I really like the original Three Stooges but trying to recreate them now just seemed like a bad idea. However, I was pleasantly surprised. Though not as good as the original Three Stooges skits, the movie was actually very well done and the actors did an excellent job portraying Moe, Larry, and Curly in looks, voice, and mannerisms. On a side note, it was also the fanciest movie theater I've ever been in, complete with a mini food court, leather seats, and an unusually large screen.
When the movie let out, I had just enough time to get something to eat before going to La Nouba. I ended up at a Cuban restaurant (they're pretty popular in Florida). Cuban food tends to involve a lot of pulled meat, beans, and rice. It's not one of my favorite types of cuisine, but it can be pretty good if done right, especially when fried plantains are involved.
Then, at long last, it was off to the show! La Nouba is the only Cirque du Soleil show in Orlando and it's got its own theater at the far end of Downtown Disney. Tickets (which it's best to get in advance) are a bit on the expensive side, but I'd never seen a Cirque du Soleil performance before and don't know when I'll get the chance to see another so I figured it'd be worth it. And, in my opinion, it totally was. How to describe it... La Nouba features a wide variety of acts including tight rope walking, trapeze artists, ribbon dancing, trampolines, bikes, juggling, several cute little Asian girls with an extremely impressive diabolo act, and more. It was all tied together with abstract costumes, a sweeping musical score, and hilarious clowns. Every single act featured some of the most impressive feats of acrobatics I've ever seen. Doing a handstand on the head of a person walking across a tightrope? Turning a trampoline jump into a wall run into an open window? Juggling diabolos back and forth while doing flips? And that wasn't the half of it.
La Nouba brought back a lot of memories of Kaleido Star, an anime centered around a place called Kaleido Stage were a group of multi-talented acrobats designed and puts on spectacular shows filled with amazing stunts and elaborate sets and costumes. Back when I was watching it, I kept thinking how awesome it would be if there was something like that in real life. Well, La Nouba came pretty close. Cameras weren't allowed, but there's a nice teaser video on youtube, though it's nothing compared to seeing the show in person. I didn't get one of the highest tier tickets, but I somehow ended up in the front row, though way on the side. Being a bit more centered would have been nice but overall it was a really good seat. However, looking at the theater, it didn't really look like there was a single bad seat in there. As a warning, if you're in the front row, be careful not freak out during the bicycle act, as they like to stop just short of hitting you in the face. Anyway, long story short, the show was amazing and I highly recommend it. Now I really want to see more Cirque du Soleil shows...


4/18/2012 No time to talk

Sorry about the guest comic. I wasn't planning on running one today but, while I did manage to finish all the course work that needed to be done, it ended up taking longer than I thought and I didn't have any time left to try and get caught up on PV strips. The yesterday I had that meeting in Orlando and didn't get back until really late. I've got work today, so I really need to get this up ASAP and get at least a bit of sleep before then. We'll return to Brendan and May's battle on Friday. Hopefully, I'll have a write up of my activities from both Sunday and yesterday done as well.

Oh, one last thing. While the last part of my summer vacation is still somewhat iffy, it looks like I can go ahead with my plans for at least the first half of it. That means that the new project I was going to announce last week is back on! Look for more information soon...


4/16/2012 An interesting weekend

It's been an interesting weekend. Friday was a Jewish holiday, so I wasn't able to get any work done that day. I appreciated the chance to relax, but it could have come at a better time since I had a lot of class material I needed to get done for this week. Fortunately managed to get most (though not quite all) of it done between Saturday night and Sunday evening. I could have gotten it all done, I suppose, but then I would have had to give up my Sunday plans and I'm glad I didn't do that. At this point I would be in pretty good shape, except that I need to go to Orlando on Tuesday for a meeting, which means I probably won't have a chance to get any real work done then either. So where does that leave me? Well, as far as that class material goes I'm in pretty good shape and should be able to finish up the last bit of it today. However, that didn't leave me with time to work on anything else this weekend which means I'm behind on this week's PV strips as well as a couple other things on my to-do list. And just when things were calming down too... Oh well, I'll definitely be caught up by the end of the week, hopefully sooner. With any luck, I'll also have a much better idea about my summer plans, so I can decide whether or not to go ahead with that mystery project I mentioned last week.

Look for a write up of what I did on Sunday later this week (I was hoping to do it today, but barely go the comic itself made in time). I'll hopefully have time to start on that commentary as well though, depending on how things go, it may have to wait until next week.


4/13/2012 There's a bonus coming

The Top Web Comics site was having some trouble when I updated so the the new voter bonus comic isn't up yet. I'll keep trying and let you know once it's working.

In other news, take a look at the donation guage. Blastotoise, the winner of this year's King of the Forums content on the PV Forums, chose to boost this month's donation guage in place of a prize. And that means you all get a reward! Namely, commentary on the next set of old PV strips. I expect it to have it done sometime during the coming week.

Have a good weekend!


4/11/2012 A bit of a delay

I was all set to announce that new project I mentioned today but, unfortunately, it's going to have to wait. For once, it's got nothing to do with a lack of free time or anything like that. I actually have everything ready. Or almost, anyway. I could have finished yesterday but something came up that has the potential to drastically change my summer plans. And, if said plans change too much, I won't have the time I need for the project. So, instead of announcing it now and risk having to cancel it a couple of weeks later, I'm going to hold off for a week or two until I have a better idea of what's going on and go from there. Sorry for the confusion.


4/9/2012 Back to work

Well, spring break is over and it's back to work...though only for about a month before the semester ends entirely. The week ended up being much busier than I though, but at least I got a decent amount of things done, got one day at Disney, and had a fun Passover celebration Friday night. In addition, I've got a potential new project in the works (separate from Aurora's Nightmare) that I think a lot of you will find very interesting. I've already mentioned it to a few people, but I'm hoping to have the official announcement up later this week...


3/6/2012 Disney's Hollywood Studios

There's a new voter bonus comic so just click the TWC button on the left if you want to take a look. And now for my theme park write-up.

Wednesday (April 4th): Disney's Hollywood Studios
Thanks to my GDC trip and a whole bunch of assorted tasks it'd been a while since my last theme park trip. But I couldn't let my long awaited spring break slip by without going somewhere. In the end, I decided on Disney's Hollywood Studios (formally known as Disney MGM Studios).
Much like Universal Studios, Disney's Hollywood is themed after movies and movie creation. The entry area is based on famous streets from the real Hollywood. It's also got the park's centerpiece, the hat from The Sorcerer's Apprentice (the Mickey Mouse short from Fantasia, not the more recent live action movie). I was here once years ago (back when it was still MGM) so, from past experience, I made a beeline for two of the most popular rides in the park. First up, the Tower of Terror. If you've read my write-up of Tokyo Disneysea, you may remember that they've got a Tower of Terror there as well. The ride itself is the same (an elevator carries you way up and drops you repeatedly) but this one is themed after the Twilight Zone while Disneysea's is an evil tiki thing. Regardless, it's a really fun ride. Probably the best free fall ride you'll find short of actual bungee jumping (I should try that sometime...).
After riding the tower, I grabbed a fast pass for a nearby ride (more on that in a minute) then headed back to the central area for The Great Movie Ride. It takes you through some recreated moments from classic movies. And by classic, I mean stuff like Casablanca and The Wizard of Oz. Even if you don't know old movies, the sets are pretty cool and there's a bit of live action stuff mixed in.
I finished in time to catch a showing of Beauty and the Beast on Stage, a very well done abbreviated version of one of my favorite Disney movies. It was the first of many shows I'd see over the course of the day. That's another thing Disney's Hollywood has in common with Universal, lots of shows.
By the time the show was over, it was time to use my fast pass and ride The Rock n Roller Coaster. It's themed around Aerosmith and, while they're not one of my favorite bands, it's a pretty cool coaster (the fact that it's pitch dark helps) and one of the most intense rides in any of the Disney parks.
The next area is based on Disney's animation studios. You can learn a bit about how characters are designed, watch some artists at work, view original background panels from various Disney movies, and even try your hand at drawing and voicing some famous Disney characters. Not exactly "exciting" but I thought it was interesting. As was the nearby Walt Disney museum, which chronicled his history and the history of Disney as a whole. Walt Disney really was an amazing person. He repeatedly bet everything he had on projects that no one thought would work, eventually creating one of the largest and best loved entertainment companies in the world. He created the first cartoon with synchronized sound (Steamboat Willy), the first color cartoons, the first feature length animated movie (Snow White and the Seven Dwarves), and a number of innovative art and filming techniques. Not to mention creating the modern "theme park" and so many other things. He won more academy awards than any other person in history and inspired key figures in many other fields, and not just in the US. For example, Shigeru Miyamoto (one of the most famous and important figures in video game history) was heavily influenced by early Disney movies, as were many pioneers in Japanese anime and manga. It's hard to imagine what modern entertainment would be like without Walt Disney...
Next was a Little Mermaid show. It was a mix of puppets and live action and, as with Beauty and the Beast, very well done, though I liked the style of Tokyo Disneysea's Little Mermaid show a bit better. I passed through a small Pixar themed area on my way to another show. They've got some sort of Toy Story laser shooting ride but the fast passes for the entire day were gone before I got there and the line never seemed to drop below two hours so it ended up being the one ride in the park I didn't get to do. So, if you're going to Disney's Hollywood, I recommend heading there first as it's apparently the most popular ride in the park by a decent margin.
At this point, I was getting kind of hungry so I grabbed some popcorn (in the coolest popcorn bucket ever) and headed for Lights, Motors, Action! a vehicle based stunt show. If you want to learn a bit about how all those movie car chase scenes are made, or just want to see some fancy driving and explosions, it's worth watching.
After the show, I took a look around the Streets of America area, which is designed like a movie set for various major cities (like this New York City area). Then it was time for the parade, which was all characters from various Pixar movies. It was a nice parade, though not quite as elaborate as the ones at the other Disney parks I've visited.
I decided to do the backlot tour next, which is a big mix of things. You get to see some special effects sets in action, a check out a whole lot of old movie props and costumes, and even get a peak into actual Disney costume and props departments in action. Once again, not especially exciting but very interesting.
The Muppets 3D show was next (which I especially enjoyed after the recent Muppets movie) and then Star Tours. Star Tours is a motion simulator (one of those rides where you get in a car with a video screen and watch the screen as the car tilts and turns along with the action. The whole ride was recently revamped. The video is all new and in 3D, which is a nice touch. And, while I didn't have a chance to confirm this, I head that there's actually a whole bunch of different videos that can play so the ride is different each time, which is pretty cool.
Oh, while I didn't see it myself, I should probably mention that they also have an American Idol show. You can swing by throughout the day to audition, with the best people getting the chance to go on stage in front of the audience, who votes for their favorite. The winners of the regular shows then get to return in the evening for the final championship show. Looks about as close as you can get to the real thing.
But anyway, after Star Tours I started looking for a place to eat supper but ran into a bit of difficulty. Since it was the middle of the week, I wasn't expecting the park to be especially crowded but it was and all the nicer restaurants had stopped seating anyone who didn't have a reservation. I've never seen that happen before at any of the theme parks I've been to. I did get a decent meal eventually, but I may want to plan ahead a bit more on my next theme park visit, just in case...
I wrapped up the day with two more shows. First was the Indiana Jones Stunt Show. Which, as you might expect from something based on Indiana Jones, had lots of traps, fights, and explosions. Finally, I went to get in line for their big night time show, Fantasmic. While the big finale shows at most Disney parks are out in the open where everyone can see, Fantasmic is set off to the side in its own stadium. That means there's limited seating (and standing) room so it's a good idea to show up early. I seemed to be there on a fairly crowded day but, even so, by the time I arrived (a good half hour early) it was already standing room only, so getting there an hour or more before the start time is probably a good idea. The show is a mix of live action, water jets, and video (projected on walls of water). It's a really cool show (one of the best I've seen at any theme park) and worth the wait.
All in all, it was another fun day at a Disney Park. Disney's Hollywood is a bit of an unusual mix seeing as it combines a whole lot of shows with a couple of the most intense rides in all of Disney World. If I had to rank the four Disney World parks, I'd probably put it in the lowest slot, but that really comes down to personal preference, it's an excellent park and has some of the best shows around.


4/4/2012 Getting back to the theme parks

Well, there's only about a month left before summer break so if I want to finish visiting the major theme parks before I go off on vacation I need to get back to it. While a whole bunch of assorted chores, projects, and things are keeping me a little busier this week than I thought I'd be, I can spare a day for a theme park visit. And that day is today! Look for a write-up on Friday.


4/2/2012 A pleasant surprise

Every so often a movie is made based on a book I like. While I've missed a few here and there for various reasons, I generally go see said movies in the theater. And I generally end up hating them because they make a whole lot of stupid changes which end up ruining or at least seriously damaging the story. There are some I've liked (Lord of the Rings, for example), but they're the exception, not the rule. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that The Hunger Games is one of those exceptions. They did a good job. A really good job. I actually don't have any complaints, which is unprecedented, even for the handful of book to movie conversions that I like. I'd still recommend the book over the movie because it's longer and therefor has time to develop the world and characters a bit more but the movie is such a good adaptation that I wouldn't have any trouble recommending it to someone completely new to the series. I hope this is the start of a new trend in movie making, but I'm not gonna hold my breath.


3/30/2012 Spring break!

There's a new bonus comic so just click the Top Web Comics button on the left to vote!

In other news, I'm now on spring break! Seems to be a bit late in the semester, but I get the coming week off of work, so I guess I can't complain. So what am I going to do with my week? Well, I suppose I should rebuild my buffer of PV strips and finish that last Ink update (didn't manage to get those done this week). I was originally thinking of taking a little trip but decided that I'd rather just stay home, relax, get a few things done, and finally get back to work on Aurora's Nightmare. Though that doesn't mean I'll be staying at home all week. There's a movie or two I want to see and I'm definitely going to visit another one of the theme parks on my list (maybe even two). Naturally, you can expect a write-up afterwards. For now though, I think I'll start my vacation off with a good night's sleep.

Have a good weekend!


3/28/2012 Do I know how to pick them?

So, yesterday was the first day in two weeks that I have time so sit down and play some video games after work. And what I do? Try to complete a bunch of boring and/or frustratingly difficult sections. Not the greatest idea, but I won't make that same mistake today.


3/26/2012 Finally!

After a whole lot of work, I've finally finished some things that have been on my to-do list for ages. I'm a little behind on Pebble Version strips, but that's about it and that's something I should have taken care of pretty soon. And, with that taken care of, I think I'll finally get around writing that last Ink post I have planned. Look for that to hopefully show up later this week.

I also tweaked the main page slightly. The main changes being that I removed the donation link on the top left of the page, since there's another one right below this post, and replaced the Top Web Comics banner with one for Car Washer. If you want to vote for Pebble Version on TWC, you can still use the button on the left. What I'd really like to do is re-design the entire site as some point (something I've mentioned from time to time for years) but that probably won't be happening any time soon. I may have a bit more free time now compared to the last couple of months, but I've got much more important things to work on, like Aurora's Nightmare. Actually playing some video games (instead of just working on and teachin about them) would be nice as well. I haven't even finished Final Fantasy XIII-2 yet... For that matter, aside from spending a few minutes here and there playing something on my cell phone when waiting in line and the like, I haven't played any games for over a week. But that's just the way it goes sometimes... It'll be nice to take things a bit easier for the rest of the week and then there's spring break and, after that, summer vacation isn't too far off (the best thing about working as a professor is definately the vacation time).

In other news, the free soundtrack offer for Car Washer may be over, but you can now purchase the soundtrack seperately on Bandcamp.

Anyway, I'm off for now. See you Wednesday!


3/23/2012 Nearly caught up

There's a new voter bonus comic up!

Not much to talk about today. But, after a lot of work, I'm very nearly caught up on everything I've been working on. By the end of the weekend, I should be free to relax a bit more and get back to work on Aurora's Nightmare, which I'm very much looking forward to.

Have a great weekend!


3/21/2012 Times have changed

I got to thinking yesterday. Over the course of the day I made PowerPoint presentations, researched a number of different subjects for said lectures, e-mailed a friend in Japan, listed to some of hundreds of songs on my MP3 player, streamed a TV show online, got directions to a place I'd never been with my GPS, and probably a dozen more things all revolving around fancy computer technology. Thing is, none of this stuff has been around all that long. A few years ago I was printing maps off of Google whenever I needed to find my way somewhere but that's nothing. Google really hasn't been around that long. I used to have to research things in books, find my way around using paper maps, and listen to music on CDs or even cassette tapes. And if I wanted to watch some movie that wasn't on TV? Buy a video tape. And writing to someone in another country? That would have required writing a physical letter, sending it at the nearest post office, and waiting a couple of weeks for a reply. I didn't have a cell phone to keep in touch with everyone at a moment's notice. For that matter, my family didn't get a computer till I was 10 or 11 (a good old 486 running DOS 6 and Windows 3.11). For my first few years of school I was writing everything by hand or on a type writer.

Often times, when I think of something like Google, cell phones, e-mail, GPSs, and the like, I think of how I ever got along with it. Yet, really, that stuff hasn't been around very long (I'm in my mid twenties and I remember not having any of it). And, when it comes down to it, I and everyone else did just fine without all that stuff. Not that I have any desire to get rid of all my gadgets, bookmarked web sites, and the like. But it's good to keep in mind that we can function perfectly well without all this stuff so long as we don't become too reliant on it.


3/19/2012 San Francisco

Looks like it's time for the last part of my San Francisco trip.

Saturday (10th): Walking Around San Francisco
The conference was over but my flight didn't leave until Sunday morning, which meant I had one extra day in San Francisco. Since it was a Saturday, I intended to go to services but didn't have any real plans beyond that. So I chose one of the closest synagogues to my hotel and headed out.
I got to walk through a nice residential area on the way, which was pleasant change from the combination of fancy and slumy commercial areas I passed through going to and from the conference. I even got a look at a number of San Francisco's famous "painted lady" style houses. But what really impressed me was the synagogue itself. The plaque on Shereth Israel said it was over 100 years old and it was easily the fanciest synagogue I've ever seen. The exterior was impressive enough but the inside was all marble floors, elaborately painted walls, and stained glass windows. This picture isn't that great (I couldn't just walk around taking photos whenever I wanted), but it should give you some idea.
After services I went back to my hotel to change. While there, I decided to check the BART schedule so I'd known when to leave the hotel in the morning. Turns out the BART doesn't start running until 8:30 AM on weekends, by which time my flight would have already left. Good thing I checked when I did, but I should keep that in mind when booking flights for future GDC trips. Cab fair to the airport is a bit on the expensive side...
Staying in the room all day seemed like a waste, especially since the weather was good, so I decided to walk around the city for a while. I figured I should head towards either the Golden Gate Bridge or Pier 39, since those are the biggest attractions in the area. The bridge turned out to be quite a lot further away, and there wasn't much else nearby, so I decided on Pier 39 and headed out. After hiking uphill for a bit, I happened to run into a San Francisco attraction that I had completely forgotten about, Lombard Street. If you're not familiar with the name, it's also known as the world's crookedest street. There were a number of people (mostly Asian tourists) gathered around the top and button of the street taking photos. There's a nice walking path on both sides, so I walked up one and down the other. It's lined with some fancy houses but, judging by the cameras, it looks like most of the people who drive down it are tourists, not locals.
Soon after that little detour, I finally reached the top of the large hill I'd been climbing and got a good view of Alcatraz off in the distance. Then, as I drew near Fisherman's Wharf, I got a completely different view as a small group of naked people on bicycles rode past. Before you ask, I don't have any photos of them. Besides, most of the riders were middle aged men so you probably wouldn't want to see photos even if I had taken any. I have to say, California certainly lives up to its reputation as a haven for weirdos (no offense to any readers who live in California, but I saw more strange people on this brief San Francisco trip than in the entire past year).
Fisherman's Wharf itself was fun to walk around. Turns out there's a good bit more to it than Pier 39. I saw a lot of stores and restaurants, including a bunch of stands selling fresh crab. Seems like a rather odd snack food but, then again, Japan has dried squid on a stick so... Anyway, as I was walking around I ran into an old penny arcade. Well, many of the machines originally cost a penny, but most of them had been modified to take quarters instead. It was really cool regardless. There were old sports games, video machines (back from before true video cameras were invented), pinball machines, and even classic video games. There was an old arm wrestling machine too, and a really strong one at that. I'm no "muscle man" but I'm in fairly good shape and it completely overpowered me on the weakest difficulty. I did see someone beat it, but only by having a friend pull backwards on the arm at the same time (once again on the weakest setting). There was a warning sign on there saying it could hurt your arm and, considering how strong the weak setting was, I imagine the stronger ones could really do some damage if your tried to fight back.
Continuing on, I came across Boudin Bakery, which claims to be the first place to make San Francisco's famous sour dough bread. I got a free sample, which was quite good. They had some pretty fancy breads on display as well, like this one which would look more at home in Florida. I also passed a place that rents bikes, the goal being to bike to and over the Golden Gate Bridge, passing a number of San Francisco's landmarks on the way, and then returning via ferry. If it'd been earlier, and the weather hadn't taken a sudden turn for the worse (it had become cool, windy, and a bit foggy), that would have been a fun way to spend the day. Well, maybe next time.
Shortly after that, I finally reached Pier 39. It's covered with restaurants (mostly seafood) and souvenir stores. As I made my way through, I paused to watch a guy making crepes and a seagull that apparently needed some dipping sauce to go with its meal. The far end of the pier had a nice view of Alcatraz and would have had one of the Golden Gate Bridge as well if not for that aforementioned fog. Of course, there were also the famous Pier 39 sea lions They mostly just laid around lazily, with the occasional pair fighting over a favorite spot, but they were fun to watch. And then there was one that stayed far away from all the others and just stood around posing.
While there were some good looking restaurants on the pier, I didn't want to hang around for two hours until supper time so I decided to make my way back towards my hotel. Checking my map, I saw that I could go through China Town on the way back so I figured I might as well. And, on the way, I passed yet another impressive church (see my pictures from Tuesday for some of the others).
China Town wasn't particularly amazing. There were the usual assortment of Chinese drug stores, grocery stores, butchers, and restaurants, but it didn't really stick out much compared to some of the other China Towns I've visited (such as the ones in Honolulu and Yokohama). Though it was getting cold and I was getting really tired of climbing up and down hills so I only walked down one street and may very well have missed the best part.
I eventually made it back to my hotel and it was a relief to get off my feet for a while. After resting for a bit I started to head back towards Japan Town to eat but, along the way, I passed a Yemeni restaurant that looked interesting and, since I'd already eaten in Japan Town twice over the last few days, decided to give it a try instead. I got salteh, which is a lamb stew in a hot stone bowl with a rather interesting mix of herbs and spices and large flat bread of some kind on the side. I wouldn't call it one of my favorite meals, but it was pretty good and I always like trying new types of food.
After that there was nothing to do but pack up, get a little bit of sleep, and head to the airport for the trip back to Florida. Overall it was a fairly good GDC and my exploration left me with a much more positive view of San Francisco than I had before. I'm even looking forward to my next visit, and not just for GDC and Japan Town.


3/16/2012 The Game Developers' Conference

There's a new bonus comic for everyone who votes! Just click the Top Web Comics banner or button and confirm your vote to check it out. Also, there's only a couple of days left if you want to get a free copy of the Car Washer: Summer of the Ninja soundtrack included with the game. Though, if you don't mind missing out on the soundtrack, it's now available in the indie section of Xbox Live Arcade as well.

Well, let's continue with my San Francisco trip. I think I'll talk about the conference today and then save my last day (when I actually did some sightseeing) for Monday.

Wednesday - Friday (7th - 9th): The Game Developers' Conference
When most people think of video game conferences or conventions they tend to think of ones like E3 or the Tokyo Game Show, where game companies show off trailers and demos of their newest games. Both are a lot of fun and tend to get an enormous amount of press coverage. GDC, on the other hand, is the professional conference. There are three main parts to it. There's the conference part, with has a number of presentations, lectures, and roundtables by industry professionals (including a lot of rather big names). Unfortunately, you need one of the better passes to get into those and said passes are very expensive. The next part is the expo, which is where I and my more affordable pass tend to spend most of my time. Unlike E3 and TGS, there aren't a whole lot of games on display. Instead it's all about hardware and software used to make and distribute games. Game engines, art and modeling programs, project management tools, new processors and graphics cards, advertisement and monetization systems, and more. Basically, if you can use it to make a game, it's going to be there. Finally, there's the career center which contains a bunch of booths where various companies collect resumes for open positions, meet with potential business partners, and the like. The conference is great way to keep up on the latest tech and trends and, though it's not my strong point, it's also good for networking and I generally end up talking to at least a few interesting people.
I spent Wednesday looking around a bit and talking to a lot of different people until the expo floor closed. Though I did get sidetracked for a bit by this year's convention game (every year, there's some sort of game for convention attendees). It was called Meta-Game and you get a random set of cards containing several video game cards (Minecraft, Pokémon, Final Fantasy VII, etc.) and several question cards ("Which is the most tragic?", "Which is the better representation of a sport?", and the like). You challenged another player by presenting a question card and a game card. They would then choose a game card of their own and you'd both get a couple of minutes to argue why your game better fits the question. Someone who happened to be nearby would judge and the winner got to take a random card from the loser. It got pretty interesting, especially when arguing for a game you know nothing about that really has nothing to do with the question.
Anyway, at the end of the day it was off to the awards show. Yes, awards show. GDC hosts the Independent Game Festival and the Game Developer Choice Awards. While I don't always agree with the winners, it's nice to have a show where the nominees and winners are chosen by actual game developers and they've always got some big name game developer hosting (Tim Schafer, Cliff Bleszinski, etc.) along with a bunch of videos from the hilarious Mega64, so it's a lot of fun.
On Thursday I made a slow circuit of the entire expo floor, checking out the different booths, taking a closer look anything that interested me, and the like. Most of the stuff wouldn't be of too much interest to anyone not involved in game development so I won't go into a lot of details here. I did, however, get to meet the team behind the excellent indie game To the Moon (which I keep meaning to write a review of) and Laura Shigihara, a composer I like who did music for To the Moon, Plants vs. Zombies, and more. So that was pretty cool. I also demo'd a couple of upcoming games. Nintendo was going full force with Kid Icarus Uprising, I got to try the single player mode, multiplayer mode, and AR card mode, all of which are a lot of fun (if very different from the original Kid Icarus games). I also tried out a Vita for the first time. The screen on it is really nice and Gravity Rush is looking like a very cool and unique game. I know I'll be getting a Vita sooner or later, so maybe I'll do it when Gravity Rush ships this summer...
After the show on Thursday, I met up with a bunch of other game writers for dinner, which was fun even if we did run into a few complications with our restaurant reservation (long story short, it got lost and the place was packed).
Finally, on Friday I checked out a few last booths I had missed on the previous days, got a rather cool picture, and collected a bunch of random swag (not as cool as the stuff I've gotten at E3, but there were still some rather nifty items). And, since everything closed a bit early on Friday, I headed back to Japan Town to get some gyudon before sunset.

Well, that ended up being a bit longer than I'd thought it would. We'll wrap things up with a write-up of my "touristy" day on Monday.


3/14/2012 Visiting San Francisco

The Xbox 360 version of my indie game, Car Washer: Summer of the Ninja, is now available in the indie section of Xbox Live! Or, if you'd rather have it on PC, if you order it from Pen and Sword Games by the end of the week you'll get the complete soundtrack for free!

I was originally planning to write about my entire San Francisco trip in one post but that isn't going to work so here's the first part.

Tuesday (6th): Off to San Francisco
The Game Developers' Conference is held every year around in this time in San Francisco. Unlike the more well known E3, GDC isn't about showing off all the latest games. It's a conference for game development professionals and focuses on lectures and round tables, recruiting, business meetings, and demonstrating the latest game development hardware and software. I've been to GDC several times as part of a school group when in college and I went by myself two years ago in 2010. However, I missed last year's since I was in Japan at the time. Fortunately, since it was a work related trip, I was able to get time off from my teaching job and go to GDC this year.
Gainesville doesn't have much of an airport so I ended up flying out of Jacksonville. Since I had a fairly early flight, and parking at the airport is rather expensive, I spent the night as a hotel that had a park and fly package, which was the better deal by far. The flights went smoothly and, thanks to the time difference, I arrived in San Francisco in the early afternoon. The airport isn't all that close to downtown San Francisco, where the convention center and my hotel were, but that's what the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is for. It's essentially a subway. It's rather limited compared to the systems in Tokyo or New York, but it stops at the airport and several places downtown, and that was all I needed.
Past visits left me with rather mixed feelings about downtown San Francisco. It's an older city, at least for the US, and has tall buildings everywhere. It's also got more hills than the entire state of Florida (or so it seems). But the thing about it that gives me a pause is how much the good areas and bad areas are mixed. You can be on one street strolling past fancy stores and art gallerias and then go a block or two to the side and be in a trashy area with barred windows and graffiti on all the walls. Many areas also have quite a lot of crazy homeless people wondering around (a number of which seemed to be high as well). I suppose it doesn't matter too much during the day but some of those streets make me rather nervous at night. They're avoidable once you know which is which, but having them so close to the good streets is a little unsettling.
But anyway, after getting off the BART, I climbed (and it was a climb) to the Nob Hill Hotel. I stayed there last time I went to GDC and had forgotten the name but, fortunately, I managed to find it again. It's not the fanciest hotel, and it's a bit over a mile from the convention center and near the top of a hill. But, that aside, compared to all the other hotels in the area it strikes a really good balance between quality, cost, and location. The size of the single bed rooms reminds me of hotels in Japan (which isn't a good thing) and the rooms (or at least the ones I've been in) don't have their own temperature controls, but it's comfortable and the place has style. And hey, according to the plaque at the entrance it's over a hundred years old, which is pretty impressive.
I only stopped by the hotel long enough to check in and drop off my stuff before heading back out. I passed a couple of interesting looking churches and then made my way to Japan Town. I found Japan Town last time I went to GDC. It's one of only two in the US (the other one, which I've heard is a lot bigger, is in Los Angeles, but I haven't had a chance to go there yet). It's comprised of several blocks (much of which is inside a large mall). There's a lot of restaurants and stores (clothing, antiques, anime, and assorted Japanese stuff) with the most notable being a Daiso (the big Japanese 100 Yen store chain) and Kinokuniya (the Japanese equivalent of Barnes and Noble). Quite a lot of the people there speak Japanese and everything is very authentic (aside from a few bootleg items in some of of the anime stores) so while it's not the same as being in Japan, it's not bad for a place in the US.
I walked around and browsed for a while. I especially like Kinokuniya as it's got an enormous selection of manga in both Japanese and English, along with lots other Japan related books. It even has some imported music CDs, soundtracks, figurines, and the like and they charge much less of a markup on imported items than most stores and web sites do. I ended up finding a few books I'd been looking for as well as the soundtrack for Project Diva Extend, which was pretty cool. After that, I got curry udon at one of the nearby restaurants before calling it a day.

Well, it's getting late so that'll have to do it for now. Look for more on Friday.


3/12/2012 Back to work, once again

I'm back from GDC and ready to get back to work. Well, ready as I'll ever be. It's not like I have a whole lot of choice in the matter. Anyway, I got back later than I would have liked, thanks to the time difference, but I did make it back just in time for a going away party for one of the people I know from the local university's Japanese language tables. After that I had to do some quick unpacking followed by a couple of work related things I didn't have time to finish while in San Francisco. One of which was finishing the Power Point for a game history lecture that I'll be giving tomorrow (I hate cutting things that close, but it happens at times). There actually wasn't much left to do on that. All I needed was to write the text for one slide and find some suitable clips of the games I'll be talking about on youtube. It shouldn't have taken all that long but somehow youtube managed to crash my entire computer and then, after a restart, my web browser. And, finally, I needed to get today's comic finished up because I didn't really have time to work on them while on my trip either.

Anyway, I've got work today so I should stop there. I'll have pictures and a write-up of my trip up later in the week.


3/9/2012 Keeping up

There's a new voter bonus comic!

I don't have time to say much. GDC is going well but the San Francisco pictures will have to wait. The conference has been keeping me pretty busy and, if I find some free time, I really should spend it preparing some material for Monday's classes (which I wasn't able to finish before I left). So anything else will have to wait until Monday, or possibly Wednesday. Sorry.


3/7/2012 Conference time

My trip to San Francisco went pretty smoothly and the conference (or at least the part I'll be attending) starts today. I have a few pictures of San Francisco I'll try and put up Friday but right now I need to get some rest and try and adjust to the new time zone before things get started.



3/5/2012 Off to GDC

Well, I'm off to the Game Developers' Conference for a few days. I missed last year's since I was in Japan at the time, so this should be a good chance to catch up on things. I may post a few photos here and there, especially if I do anything interesting outside the conference, but don't expect a full travelogue. GDC is more business than fun and, even if I did feel like writing about it, quite a lot of the things I'll be seeing at the expo are really only of interest to professional game developers. Some day I really would like to get a pass that would get me into all the lectures, roundtables, and the like, instead of just the expo, but those passes are extremely expensive, especially on top of the usual travel costs. Anyway, it'll hopefully be a good trip and I think my schedule may even calm down a bit once I get back, which would be great. I mean, I've had Final Fantasy XIII-2 for a month and I'm still nowhere near finishing it...

Pebble Version updates will most likely continue as normal while I'm gone, though the update time will probably by a few hours off because of both my schedule and the time zone switch.

See you Wednesday!


3/2/2012 Universal Studios Part 2

There's a new voter bonus comic and a new ROM!

Sunday (February 26th): Universal Studios
While I was in Universal Studios for the concert, I didn't really have time to check out the park itself. That's what today was for.
Like most Orlando theme parks, Universal is broken up into several themed areas. Most of them are themed after various cities, but there's a few odd ones thrown in. The entry area, for example, is called Production Central. It doesn't seem to have much of a theme in particular but it does have a couple of attractions in addition to the usual shops and restaurants. First up, Shrek 4D. It's a 3D movie that takes place shortly after the end of the first Shrek movie. The 4F part refers to moving seats, some air blasts, water spray, and the like. It was mildly amusing and I only had to wait in line for a couple of minutes. Actually, I don't know if it was the lousy weather report (it was threatening rain all day but, fortunately, it didn't start until I was already driving home) or if Universal just isn't as popular as Islands of Adventure and the Disney parks (probably a mix of both), but I never had to wait in line for more than 15 minutes or so, usually less. The other big ride in Production Central, and one of the best ones in the park (at least in my opinion) is the Rip Ride Rockit roller coaster. It's a pretty good coaster and, in a rather interesting twist, you can choose one of 20 or 30 songs to listen to while you ride.
Moving on, I ended up in New York City. It was the most impressive of the areas in terms of design and the Delorean and train from Back to the Future were there as well. Anyone remember the movie Twister? I vaguely remember seeing it years back but, other than that it involved a tornado, I can't recall the details. But anyway, there's a Twister themed show of sorts. You start out walking through the ruins of a house while watching some video clips from the movie narrated by the actors. Eventually you reach the final area which is a movie set of sorts where they whip up a mini tornado to wreck things. It's fairly impressive looking but, from where I stood, the wind never rose above what I'd come to expect from a moderately powerful thunderstorm. Next up, Revenge of the Mummy. Now the Mummy is a move I remember pretty well. I wasn't especially fond of it but my brother and some friends loved it so we ended up watching it way too many times. Regardless, I'd say it was tied with the Rip Ride Rockit for best ride in the park. You ride through a trapped Egyptian tomb to try and escape from the mummy. It looks good, jerks you around a lot, and is an all around fun ride. New York also has a Blues Brothers show. Not the original guys, of course, but they still put on a pretty good mini-concert. I also got lunch in New York a bit later in the day at an Irish bar and restaurant. Universal doesn't have the variety of restaurants that the Disney parks or even Islands of Adventure do, but that place was pretty good.
Next up, San Francisco. It's a bit smaller than New York and has two shows (which I didn't see until later in the day, so I'll talk about them then) and Disaster! A sort of show / ride hybrid. Basically you're cast as extras in a big disaster movie. They grab a few people from the audience and have them flail around in front of a green screen then you all hop on a fake subway that gets torn apart by a combination earthquake, flood, and fire. Finally, you get to watch a goofy trailer for the fake movie with everyone edited into it. It's not much of a ride, but it's fairly amusing and the effects on the subway are cool. On a side note, they had a bunch of fake movie posters for corny looking disaster films in the waiting area and I figured my dad would like this one.
After that I passed by an area that was under construction and came to the World Expo. It starts off with Men in Black, which is one of those rides where you go around in a car and shoot at targets with a laser gun. In fact, it's the longest and best ride of that type I've been on since you're going through a fairly impressive set and shooting at animatronic aliens rather than flat cutouts. Nearby is the impossible to miss Simpsons Ride. It's one of those simulator rides where car twists and tilts in sync with a video screen without actually moving anywhere. Fun, though not spectacular, but it does have a lot of nice touches for Simpsons fans to spot.
Pretty much every theme park has a kids area and Woody Woodpecker's Kidzone, where I arrived next, is Universal's. It had a couple of large play areas, an animal show that I didn't end up seeing, and a Barney show which I also skipped. If you don't have a little kid in tow, the only thing worth seeing in the area is the E.T. Adventure ride. Classic or not, I was never especially fond of the movie, but it's a very well done ride and you get to fly with E.T. through a large forest, up into space, and then across the surface of his home planet. In a nice touch, when you get in line you give you name to an attendant who gives you a card which you scan at the start of the ride. Then, when you near the end, E.T. thanks everyone in your group by name. It's not a very intense ride but, when it comes to atmosphere, it's the best one in the park.
I had one more area left to see but, before that, I made my way back to San Francisco to take in the Fear Factor Live show. You can actually visit the area early to register to become a contestant. I considered that when I first arrived but eventually decided not to. I used to watch Fear Factor in its earlier days on TV and, while I love the stunts, the eating challenges would present a problem. Not so much because you have to eat a lot of gross stuff (something that the show started focusing way too much on), but because I can't eat a lot of those things for religious reasons. As it turned out, the main contestants didn't have to eat anything, it was all stunts. Some other people who were brought up between rounds, however, did have a pretty disgusting eating challenge.
When the show was over I was off for Hollywood. It has a cool looking 50's style diner, some shops, a horror movie make-up show (another one I didn't get around to seeing), and a small museum dedicated to Lucille Ball. But the main attraction is the Terminator 2 3D show. It's half 3D movie and half live actors. Like Shrek 4D, it was a good show but it didn't blow me away or anything.
By the time I got out of Terminator, it was starting to get late. Universal isn't an especially big park and the lines weren't long but it also closes at 6 on a lot of days this time of year so time was a little tight, especially with all the fairly long shows I'd been watching. But I had enough time to run back to San Francisco and catch one last show, Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue. What do you think would happen if a bunch of classic movie monsters formed a cover band? As it turns out, they'd be pretty good. I really wasn't expecting much at the start but they were good singers and dancers and the whole thing was surprisingly entertaining. I had about an hour left after that but I decided to call it a day so I could get a bit of shopping done in Orlando before heading home.
So, overall opinion of Universal Studios? It's not a bad park by any means and it's got quite a lot of fun shows (though their start times could be staggered a bit better). However, all their best licenses are used in Islands of Adventure so there's less of an attraction in that regard. Universal is also a decent bit smaller than Islands and the Disney parks and doesn't have the same variety of attractions, shops, and restaurants that they do. So, while it is fun, if your time in Orlando is limited I wouldn't bother going unless you've already visited all the Disney Parks and Islands of Adventure (possibly Sea World as well, though I can't really make a call on that until I go there for myself).


2/29/2012 Universal Studios

Wow, a PV update on February 29th. That sure doesn't happen very often. If I had realized that ahead of time (and wasn't struggling to keep up with new comics) I would have been tempted to do something special... But that didn't happen so you get a regular strip instead.

In other news, Car Washer: Summer of the Ninja is now available for purchase on Indievania! Of course, you can still buy it direct from Pen and Sword Games as well (and get a free copy of the soundtrack to sweeten the deal).

Now for my report on the past weekend...

Saturday (February 25th): Diana Ross
It seems that Universal Studios has yearly Mardi Gras events on Saturdays and some Sundays in February and March. The main highlight is their concert series. Each day of the event they have a different singer or group perform. They're all big names but the only one that really interested me was Diana Ross (if you've been reading my news posts for a while, you may know that I like 60's music a lot more than most modern stuff). Going to that concert was the reason I got that three day Universal ticket and visited both parks in such a short span of time. But anyway...
The concert was Saturday night but, for religious reasons, I don't go to theme parks or anything like that before sunset on Saturdays so I ended up driving down to Orlando in the morning, going to services there, and then getting to Universal shortly after sun down. I didn't really look around the park much until the following day so for now I'll focus on the Mardi Gras related events. One section of the park had been converted into the Mardi Gras area. There were costumed performers walking around on stilts and a bunch of stalls selling various drinks and New Orleans style foods (gumbo, jambalaya, etc.). Not nearly as expansive a transformation as some special events, but it was well done. Since I was mainly there for the concert, after getting some food I made a beeline to the stage to grab a spot. The concerts are outdoors and there's no seating so you really just need to go and stake out an area. I got there around 1 1/2 hours before the show and was able to grab a spot somewhere near the middle. If you want to be right in front of the stage though, you'll probably have to get there an hour or so earlier than I did.
Around eight the Mardi Gras parade started. I wasn't in the best spot for that, but I was able to get a bit of a look. There were quite a lot of elaborate floats and dancers, along with lots of people throwing strings of beads to the crowd. Unfortunately, it was pretty dark by then and the parade wasn't lit up enough for me to get any good pictures of it, at least not from my position.
The concert started soon after the parade ended. It was a little on the short side (around an hour) but Diana Ross sounded great (as did the rest of the band) and I had an excellent view. There were a couple songs I didn't recognize but she sang quite a lot of her big hits. The crowd really got into it and the whole thing was a lot of fun.
As a note, I wouldn't recommend going to Universal Studios just for the Mardi Gras celebration, there really isn't enough to it for that. But if you want to see a particular concert or spend the day enjoying the park's normal rides and shows, the Mardia Gras stuff makes for a nice addition.
The park closed as soon as the concert ended and with that I was off to my hotel to rest up for my return to Universal the next day...

Well, I was hoping to write about both days but I'm running short on time so I'll have to finish this up on Friday.



2/27/2012 Always something going on

Well, I had fun at the concert and Universal. With all the stuff I was doing last week though, I fell behind on PV strips again and didn't have time to both get today's comic done and finish my write-up. So it'll be coming on Wednesday. What's next for me? A pretty normal week with, of course, lots of work to be done. But then next week it's off to the Game Developers' Conference for a few days. I sure do seem to be running around a lot so far this year, despite work. Not that I'm complaining, it's mostly been for fun. Anyway, see you Wednesday!


2/24/2012 Big weekend coming up

There's a new voter bonus comic!

I don't have much else to say right now. Got a lot of things planned for the weekend though. Today is work, work, work, and more work. Partly because I've got a whole lot to do and partly because I've got other plans for the rest of the weekend. Saturday night I'll be going to a concert in Orlando (and probably getting more work done afterwards) and then Universal Studios. Why so much Universal in such a short time? Well, the concert I want to see is at Universal Studios and, as I mentioned before, their multi-day tickets (while a good deal) have a duration of two weeks only. So, I figured as long as I was going to the concert, it made sense to get both Universal parks in around the same time. But more on that next week. Right now, I need to get that work done...


2/22/2012 Islands of Adventure

On to the travelogue!

Monday (February 22): Universal Islands of Adventure
I've been working hard lately and over weekends but, with Car Washer finally up for sale, it was time for a break. And with Presidents' day off of work, this seemed like a good time. I thought about going on Sunday but Monday had a much better weather report and I figured that, despite it being a holiday, the crowds probably wouldn't be as bad as on a weekend. Since my last couple of theme park trips were to Disney parks, I decided to go somewhere different this time. That left the two Universal parks and Seaworld. Due to my plans for the coming weekend (more on that later) a Universal park made more sense since I could save some money by getting a multi-day ticket. Like with Disney, the more days you buy, the cheaper the ticket. Unlike Disney, however, you can't purchase a ticket with an unlimited duration so you have to use all your days within a two week span. Anyway, I decided to save regular Universal Studios for next time and go to Islands of Adventure.
As a note for anyone planning a visit to Islands or Universal Studios, there's only one parking area for both of them and Universal City Walk (Universal's fancy shopping street) so you can hit a lot of traffic trying to get in (more than I've ever seen at Disney, which has separate parking lots for each area). Speaking of City Walk, you have to walk through it to pass between the parking area and the parks and it stays open for quite a while after the parks close, so if you want to browse I recommend doing so at the end of the day.
Between the traffic jam outside of the parking area and passing through City Walk, it took me a good 30 minutes to get to Islands of Adventure. It's Universal's newer park and, from what I can tell, is the more popular of the two. Like the Disney parks, it's broken into several themed areas spread out around a central hub (a lake in this case). Unlike the Disney parks, it doesn't have some sort of central structure that really sticks out (like Cinderella's Castle or the Tree of Life).
The first area, the rather generically named Port of Entry, has a sort of mid-eastern bazaar look to it and is all stores and restaurants. I passed through pretty quickly and, going counter clockwise, arrived in Suess Landing. The Dr. Suess theme is very well done with everything from the restaurants to the fencing having a Suess appropriate look and name. There are a few rides based on books like The Cat in the Hat and The Sneetches and some themed play areas, like this one from The Lorax. The whole area is quite clearly geared towards younger kids but anyone who likes Dr. Suess should get a kick out of the aesthetics and the rides which, while simple, are worth a go if the lines aren't too long. All in all, I spent about an hour there before heading on to the next area...
The Lost Continent is themed after... Well, kind of a mix of things. Greek Mythology plays a major part, but there are a few other things (like Arabian Nights) tossed in there as well. The first thing you run into is Mythos Restaurant. It's the fanciest restaurant in the park though, for a fancy restaurant, the prices are pretty reasonable. I ended up eating supper there. The food is good and the interior is pretty cool (like you're in a cave with lots of carvings of mythological figures). Right after Mythos, I came across Poisiden's Fury. It's more of a show than a ride, but you move from room to room through the ancient temple as the show progresses, which makes it feel a bit different than the usual sit down and watch type shows. The story is about helping Poisiden (Greek god of the ocean) reclaim his trident and defeat some fire guy. It's nothing amazing but the temple is cool and there's some nice effects and amusing dialogue. Plus, unlike the normal shows, it runs almost constantly so there's no need to come back at a specific time of day. Other than a few shops, the only other thing in the Lost Continent worth noting is the Sinbad's Eighth Voyage stunt show. Since there are only several shows a day, I passed by it and returned at six to catch the last performance but, since I've already mentioned it I may as well finish up. It's a more traditional show with Sinbad and one of his sailors rescuing a princess from a witch. It had some fairly funny parts but I've seen better stunts at Legoland and Disney. It's not bad, but something that can easily be skipped if you're pressed for time.
Leaving the Lost Continent behind, I came upon the coolest and most popular area of the park, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Now I absolutely love the Harry Potter books (it's my favorite series) but I have a very long list of complains about the movies. So many that I still haven't watched the last few. That said, even though it was model after the movies, I really enjoyed the area. You start out by passing the Hogwarts Express and entering the village of Hogsmeade (though there's a bit of Diagon Alley mixed in there as well). It's packed full of stores that any Potter fan will recognize like Honeydukes and Zonko's. One of the first things I did was get a butterbeer, though not from the stand in that picture. The Hog's Head Tavern, which is indoors and off to the side a little bit, consistently had much shorter lines throughout the day. As for the butterbeer itself, I always imagined it being a warm drink but here they serve it cool or frozen (like a frappuccino). It's good both ways. I heard some people compare it to cream soda and it made me think of a root beer mixed with cream (which, I suppose, is pretty close to a cream soda). They also had pumpkin juice, which I tried later in the day. It was a bit on the sweet side for my tastes, but with a strong taste of pumpkin pie spice. The first ride I came across was the Dragon Challenge, the twin roller coasters you can see in the background of that photo with the butterbeer stand. The line moved fairly quickly though it wound through a seemingly endless stretch of twisty underground tunnels. The coaster itself was a really good one (lots of loops, twists, turns, and the like) though, and worth the wait. There's also a much tamer Hippogrif themed coaster nearby, but I ended up skipping that one to save time. Since it was nearing lunch time, I spent some time in the stores (wizard robes were way out of my budget, but I couldn't resist getting a wand) then headed to The Three Broomsticks. Aside from its awesome interior, it has some pretty good food as well (I got Cornish pastries!), though there was a 15 - 20 minute line for seating during the lunch period. Not surprising, really. If you couldn't tell from my pictures, the entire Harry Potter area was very crowded, far more than any other part of the park. Finally, I came to Hogwarts castle which, aside from looking awesome, is home to the area's main attraction, the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride. Unfortunately, it averaged 90 minute wait times throughout most of the day and Universal doesn't have a fast pass system like Disney does. They do have an express pass you can buy to skip lines but, aside from costing extra, it doesn't work on the Forbidden Journey anyway. Since I was determined to go on that ride, I decided there was no point in putting it off. On the bright side, the lines winds all through the castle and you'll get to see lots of familiar areas and objects like the greenhouse, the Mirror of the Erised, the portrait hall (speaking of which, the paintings did move and talk and looked very convincing), and the hourglasses that track the points for each house. There's even a very good recreation of Dumbledore's office. There's a single rider line, if you're looking to shorten the wait time a bit but, unless the line is already fairly short, you'll have to wait for quite a while before reaching the turn off and, while it does save time, it skips past most of the best parts of the castle so I wouldn't recommend it for your first time. While I loved the castle, I was quite happy to discover that the ride itself was worth the wait. You're strapped into a flying "bench" though it twists and jerks you around almost as much as some roller coasters I've been on as you fly through a mix of animatronics and wall sized video screens (since they cover your entire field of vision, it feels like you're flying along with them). Even if you're not a Harry Potter fan, it's a really good ride.
All in all I ended up spending around five hours in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter before moving on to Jurassic Park. It's got a rather large kids' play area, a visitor center modeled after the one in the movie (complete with dinosaur hatching demonstrations), and a raft ride which takes you past some nice looking dinosaurs before dropping your down a long slope. Having been on rides like this before, I was half expecting to get soaked but it doesn't drop nearly as much water on you as many of the others I've seen and, while my jacket got a bit damp, that was about it (though the people in the front couple of rows got hit harder). At the end of the ride, they had something I've never seen before. Basically you pay $5 to get blasted with hot air for a minute or so. Kinda weird, but I suppose it would work fairly well and, despite the price, there were a lot of people lined up for it.
Next stop, Toon Lagoon. It wasn't quite what I was expecting since, instead of being themed around some recent kids shows, it was based mostly on long running newspaper comics with a couple of really old cartoons thrown in for good measure. I didn't mind, though I wouldn't know who half the characters were if I hadn't used to watch old cartoon marathons on TNT as a kid so I suspect most people my age or younger won't recognize half the characters. Anyone remember Dudley Do-Right, for example? Well, he's got pretty nice water ride. I managed to avoid getting too wet until the end, when there's a long line of very powerful water guns people can shoot for a quarter. Then I got soaked... Which wouldn't have been so bad if there was more than half an hour or so of daylight left. Since I was already wet, I went on the Popeye raft ride as well, and get even wetter.
At that point, I ran back to the Lost Continent to see the Sinbad show and eat supper before making my way back to explore the final area of the park, Marvel Super Hero Island (note that it was dark at this point, the following pictures were taken when I passed through on my way to the show). I thought the design of the area was fairly unimpressive (then again, most super hero comics are set in modern cities so there's only so much you can do) but it has the excellent Incredible Hulk Coaster, Dr. Doom's Tower (one of those rides that lifts you up really high then drops you down), and some sort of spinning teacup style ride (which I skipped, since those things tend to make me sick). And check out this cool life sized Iron Man figure I found in one of the shops (if you're rich, they actually have it for sale).
By the time I finished there, I had about an hour left before the park closed. Since all the lines had thinned out a bit after six or so, I managed to get in one more ride on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, which was just as awesome as before (although they paused the ride for a minute or two when my seat was tilted back at a rather sharp angle).
And then it was time to start heading back. I had a lot of fun and Islands of Adventure is a good theme park though, if you're not particularly into roller coasters or Harry Potter, I'd probably recommend going to one of the Disney parks instead.

That's all for now. Look for my write-up on regular Universal Studios next week.


2/20/2012 Off for adventure

If you missed the announcement last week, my indie game, Car Washer: Summer of the Ninja, has been released! It's only $5 and if you order be March 17th you'll get the complete soundtrack free. Right now only the Windows version is available though. The 360 version, while done, won't actually go up for sale until it gets through the approval process, which could take a little while.

I've been working pretty hard lately between my job, getting Car Washer ready for launch, and some other projects. While I still have a lot left to do, I've made enough progress that I can take some time off. And, since I get off today for Presidents' Day, I'm heading to Orlando to visit Islands of Adventure (Universal Studios' newer park). It should be fun and I should have a write-up ready for you guys on Wednesday.

See you then!


2/17/2012 Holiday weekend!

There's a new voter bonus comic up!

I've got a long weekend thanks to Presidents' Day. So what am I going to do with my free time? Work, mostly. Got some graphic design jobs to do and I need to make some ads for Car Washer, now that it's up for sale. Not to mention errands and some stuff like that. Weather permitting though, I'm hoping to go to a theme park (probably on Monday). I do have a lot to do but it's a four day weekend and I've been working quite a lot lately so taking one day off shouldn't hurt. And, if I can find another couple of hours to spare, I'd really like to see The Secret World of Arietty as well.

But anyway, I should go. If I'm lucky, I'll get my Pebble Version buffer rebuilt as well so I'll have a bit more time to spend on these news posts.



2/15/2012 Quick update

If you missed Monday's news post, my indie game, Car Washer: Summer of the Ninja, has been released! Scroll down and read Monday's news post for the full details.

I don't have much else to say right now. Between getting Car Washer finished up and a couple of other things I've been up late just about ever night for the last couple of weeks and it's starting to catch up to me, so I'm going to end this here and go to bed.



2/13/2012 Car Washer: Summer of the Ninja, NOW AVAILABLE!!!

While it could still use a little tweaking, the Pen and Sword Games online store is up and running! And with it, I'm pleased to announce the official release of the Windows version of Car Washer: Summer of the Ninja. It's only $5 and, as a special bonus, everyone who orders from now through March 17 will get the complete soundtrack absolutely free!

It's great to finally have Car Washer finished and up for sale but I'm not done with it quite yet. I'm currently working to get it in some other downloadable game stores, sending out review copies, and getting ready to do some advertising. And there's the Xbox 360 version as well, which will be launching once it gets through Microsoft's review process. But, after all this time, my work on Car Washer is finally nearing its end... Which just means I'll have more time to work on other projects.

But anyway, please give Car Washer a try (if you're not ready to buy it just yet, there's a free demo available on the Car Washer site) and I'll see you Wednesday.


2/10/2012 Making plans

There's a new voter bonus comic up so just click the Top Web Comics banner or button to check it out!

For those of you waiting for Car Washer, there's a pretty good chance it will be released on Monday! Note that the initial release will only be the Windows version on the Pen and Sword Games store. The 360 version has to go through Microsoft's review process before it can be put up for sale and, while I've contacted a few major downloadable game stores about carrying Car Washer, I don't know how long it will take to get things worked out. But why wait to buy it from another store? It's the same game either way (you can even use a 360 controller with the Windows version, if you like) and I've got a special bonus planned for everyone who buys Car Washer during the first month after its release...

Oh, if you're wondering why I didn't definitively declare Monday to be the release date... Well, while things are going well so far, this is the most complex online store system I've ever set up and I've never created an online store of any kind that supports digital downloads. If nothing goes wrong, Car Washer will launch on Monday. But if I run into any unexpected problems with the store, it could delay things a little

I will, however, have plenty of time to work on it over the weekend. I was thinking of going to a theme park this Sunday but, after checking out park schedules, it looks like the following couple of weekends will work out much better. Since I've still got a lot of parks left to visit, I may even go both weekends, we'll see.

Naturally, I'll keep you guys updated on both Car Washer and any sightseeing trips I take.

Enjoy the weekend!


2/8/2012 Renaissance fair

I don't really have anything new to report today, so let's move right on to that write-up...

Sunday (February 5): The Hoggetowne Medieval Faire
In the past, I've had a lot of fun at the Renaissance festival in Phoenix. I even did a travelogue style write-up for it one year. I can't remember how I heard about the one in Gainesville but with how hard I've been working lately I really needed a break and it was the last day of the fair so I decidedit was now or never.
I wasn't really expecting too much. The festival in Phoenix has the size and production values of a small theme park so I really doubted Hoggetowne would live up to it. However, I was pleasantly surprised. While it wasn't anywhere near as large or fancy as the one in Phoenix, it was still well done and I enjoyed myself quite a bit.
There were a couple of fairly long rows of tents filled with the usual Renaissance fair assortment of stores and food stands, along with a number of Renaissance themed carnival games (archery, axe throwing, etc.). While the stalls didn't have anything I haven't seen before, there were some very nice handmade items for sale including a collection of impressive glass figurines and quite a lot of leather clothing and accessories (cool but out of my budget, as always). I spent a while looking around and stopped for a bit to watch a local medieval fighting group put on a demonstration. I don't know if I ever mentioned it here, but I took fencing for a couple of years awhile back. This, however, looks like a lot more fun. Mainly since it's more like real fighting instead of a very strictly structured sport. I kind of want to look into meeting times and costs, but considering how busy I've been lately (and how many other things I need to do even after I'm completely finished with Car Washer) I doubt I'd have time.
Anyway, there was also a large number of stages scattered throughout the area. There were a surprising number of jugglers, acrobats, comedians, and singers performing throughout the day and, while I'd say that the overall quality level wasn't as high as that of the performers in Phoenix, they were still fairly entertaining.
When I'd finished exploring, it was nearly time for the fair's main event. In Phoenix, the main event is a jousting tournament. Hoggetowne did have jousting (though not nearly as good), but its big event was something very different, a living chess game. Whenever one piece went to capture another, the two faced off in some very nicely choreographed battles. There were some pretty unusual characters filling in for the chess pieces, including a blind woman, a gardener, and a very drunk knight, which made things all the more entertaining. That said, it still followed the rules of chess with the capturing piece always being the eventual winner. At least until the whole thing devolved into a giant melee. But anyway, all the actors did an excellent job and the whole thing was a lot of fun to watch.
I wandered around for a little bit longer after that (mainly to get some lunch) before heading out to get some shopping done in the early afternoon. Unlike Phoenix, there wasn't enough to keep me occupied all day (at least not by myself) but it was a lot of fun and a very good Renaissance fair overall. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone in the area at the right time of year.


2/6/2012 Car Washer trailer

It took a bit longer than I thought it would but I not only finished the Car Washer trailer, I also added a lot of new stuff to the Car Washer web site. And, since I don't think I mentioned it before, I made a web site for my new indie game studio, Pen and Sword Games, as well.

Even with all of that, I managed to take a bit of time off yesterday to visit Gainesville's renaissance festival. I was planning to do a write-up for today but I ran into a few last minute snags with the Car Washer web site and, in the end, barely managed to get today's strip done on time (thanks to all the Car Washer work, I ended up burning through my buffer), so it'll have to wait until Wednesday.

See you then!


2/3/2012 Coming soon...

There's a new voter bonus comic!

I've been working on a trailer for Car Washer. It's been a while since I've done any serious video editing, but I think it's coming along pretty nicely. All I need to do now is adjust the timing and add in music and sound effects. It should be finished and online sometime over the weekend. I'll post a link to it on Monday but, if you don't want to wait, I'll probably link to it on the forums and the Car Washer web site as soon as its up.


2/1/2012 An ant problem

Since I've been working so hard lately, I took some time off yesterday (not from my teaching job, but from working on my own projects) to start a game of Final Fantasy XIII-2. It was a nice break and I'm enjoying the game so far.

What I'm not enjoying is the ants. I've had a bit of an ant problem in my apartment for the last couple of weeks (despite keeping the place very clean). I bought some of those poisoned ant bait packs and spread them around right away. And, while it took a little while, that mostly took care of the problem aside from the occasional stray ant. Problem was, every time I got rid of the ants in one room they showed up in another. And, just when I finally thought I'd taken care of all of them, they found my dishwasher. Yes, the dishwasher. They just keep showing up there, never mind the fact that they should die every time I run the thing. I've got some of those poison packs sitting on the floor nearby but the ants never seem to leave dishwasher so it doesn't do any good. And, of course, putting poison in the dishwasher itself seems like a really bad idea. So that's been getting on my nerves all week. I came up with one last idea, which I just put into effect yesterday. If it fails though, I may have to resort to spraying them and then running the dishwasher empty a whole bunch of times before using it. Fun, fun, fun...


1/30/2012 There's always more to do

Remember that you can use the Top Web Comics banner or button to vote for Pebble Version and the latest Blooper Reel comic!

While I'm fine with not going on a day trip every weekend, like I did in Japan, I prefer to spend my time relaxing and/or doing something fun. Of course, that's not always possible and, like last week, I spent most of my free time this weekend working. Like before, I made a lot of progress. Unfortunately, there's still lots to do. For Car Washer I still need to make a trailer video, use the video to finish the updated version of the Car Washer web site so I can get that online, submit the game to the various online stores I want to carry it (Steam, XBLA indie arcade, etc.), and get an online store of my own set up. And, once that's done, I'll still need to update various documents and profiles of mine with the information about Car Washer and then get to work on other things that I've been putting off in order to finish Car Washer. And, after all that, I can finally turn my focus back to Aurora's Nightmare (which will be a nice change of pace).

Actually, I probably wouldn't mind working on the weekend much if I hadn't been spending most of my free time during the week working as well... If you don't count the time I spent bug testing Car Washer, I've barely even played any video games over the last couple of weeks. Anyway, I'm looking forward to a weekend where I won't be spending all Saturday night and most of Sunday working on stuff. Will it be this weekend? Maybe, it'll depend on how much I manage to get done before hand. And, I suppose, if my friends decide to have a Super Bowl party or something. But either way, I'll need to take time for another Orlando trip sometime in the next few weeks if I want to hit every theme park on my list before summer vacation and I'd love to just take a day to play video games (especially with Final Fantasy XIII-2 coming out tomorrow), so we'll see. Things are bound to calm down sooner or later.


1/27/2012 Ink status report

There's a new voter bonus comic and a new ROM!

It's been a long time since I updated Ink, hasn't it? It's not that I haven't had time. Well, there were periods when I didn't have time, but there were others where I could have updated if I tried. The thing is, I've finished most of the easier work on it. With a couple of exceptions, the rest of things about it that I'd be posting here would take quite a bit of time and effort. And, when it comes down to it, between planning and teaching game design classes at work and spending a significant chunk of my free time working on Car Washer and Aurora's Nightmare, I'm spending enough of my day focused on game design already. I love it, but if I overdue things I'm going to get burnt out and, with all the extra time I've been spending getting Car Washer ready for launch, I'm pushing it a little already. I'll do one or two more updates (I want to get the last party member done), but then I'm going to bring it to an end for now. It's not like I'm giving up on Ink or anything. I still love the concept and the story, and I still hope to actually make the game someday. I may even continue it here on Pebble Version at some point. But, for now, I'm going to focus on other things.

Have a good weekend!


1/25/2012 Vocaloid

Vocaloid music seems to have gotten fairly popular in the US recently, at least among anime/manga fans. If you're not familiar with the term Vocaloid, you can read more about it in my last random Japan comment from last year's stay in Japan (the RJC about Hatsune Miku at the very bottom of the page). In a nutshell, Vocaloid refers to a type of computer software that creates a virtual singer. With some skill and work, you can make them sing just about anything. They're useful for composers and song writers who don't have a singer to work with, but they've turned into an entire music genre of their own. A Japanese company called Crypton really popularized Vocaloid software by creating characters to go with the different voices available. The most popular of which is Hatsune Miku, who not only has hundreds and hundreds of songs, but a manga, video games series, and a ton of merchandise. She even performs in live concerts (via hologram). But anyway, as I was saying, Miku and the other Crypton Vocaloids (such as Luka, and the twins Rin and Len) have become fairly popular in the US. There was a Miku concert at Anime Expo this last summer which sold old almost immediately (I wish I could have gone), and Toyota even used her in one of their US commercials.

So why am I talking about Vocaloids now? Well, I was looking for something in Amazon's MP3 store the other day and, out of curiosity, tried searching for Hatsune Miku. It turns out they've got a pretty good selection of music with not only Miku but other Vocaloids as well. If you're curious, you may want to head over there and take a look. Unfortunately, they don't have Miku's greatest hits albums or the Project Diva soundtracks, but Supercell is an excellent Miku album and features some of her biggest hits like The World is Mine and Melt. It's also a fairly hard to find CD in Japan. If you want to hear some different Vocaloids, I really like the Rin and Len album Sunspot Cycle, and there are a lot of good Megurine Luka songs too.

Anyway, just something I thought was cool. Especially since it doesn't require importing Japanese iTunes cards or anything like that. Amazon is building up a nice little collection of Japanese MP3s (and not just Vocaloid music) and I hope they continue to expand it.


1/23/2012 Hard at work

This past weekend was a complete opposite of the last one. Aside from my usual weekly grocery run, I pretty much just stayed at my apartment and worked on things. I did manage to get quite a lot done though. Pretty much everything on my to-do list, in fact, which I really wasn't expecting. As it happens, quite a lot of that work was related to Car Washer. Everything is on track for a launch in the first half of February. Actually, I could probably rush it out a bit sooner but I want time to finish updating the Car Washer web site, make a site for my indie studio itself, and do a little advertising first. But anyway, it won't be long now...


1/20/2012 Magic and Music continued

There's a new voter bonus comic! Now back to the travelogue...

Monday (January 16): Taking in a Concert
The Evanescence concert wasn't until the evening but I naturally wanted to arrive early and it was around an 80 minute drive so didn't want to spend money on another theme park only to leave early. If I'd known how warm it was going to be (the weather report was a bit on the low side), I may have considered a water park. But anyway, since it was nearby (and free) I ended up going to Downtown Disney, Disney World's shopping area. It's a nice area, right on the lake, with lots of shops and restaurants. Unsurprisingly, quite a lot of the stores were selling Disney merchandise of some kind, though there were other things, like a very large Lego store (and, unlike the stores at Legoland, there's no need to get a park ticket to get in). Speaking of Legos, of all the giant Lego models I've seen, this is one of my favorites. And check out this restaurant, it's like a Rain Forest Cafe, only with dinosaurs. Disney Quest (a super arcade / mini theme park) is there too, as is a Cirque du Soliel show. My Disney pass can get me into Disney Quest, so I'll probably go there sooner or later. Maybe try and combine with with Cirque du Soliel, though tickets for that are kind of expensive.
Away, I walked around for a while, looked in the stores, and got some food. They've got a restaurant there called The Earl of Sandwich, which is part of a small chain that was actually founded by the current Earl of Sandwich (descendant of the man credited with the creation of the sandwich). I don't know how much the history matters, but they do make a really good sandwich. I wouldn't mind having one closer to my apartment...
After I finished looking around, I swung by the nearby Whole Foods (another thing that is, unfortunately, nowhere near my apartment) then headed to Tampa. I arrived fairly early so, after parking and picking up my ticket, I walked around downtown Tampa a bit. My past visits to Tampa didn't give me a particularly good impression of the city, but the downtown was fairly nice. It's got a walking path along the river, which passes by several museums and a library. And then there's this building... I spotted it from a distance and had to take a closer look. Turns out it's a former luxury hotel that eventually shut down and was converted into the University of Tampa, much like Flagler University back in St. Augustine. This hotel isn't quite as fancy, but it's still a very cool building. Part of it is also used as a plant museum, but it's not open on Mondays so I just walked around for a bit before heading back to the performing arts center to wait for the concert.
Impressively, it started right on time. However, there were two opening bands and, between their sets and the time taken to re-arrange the stage inbetween, it was about two hours before Evanescence came on stage (as a note, I didn't particularly like or dislike the opening bands). Once it started, the concert was excellent. Cameras weren't allowed (though considering how many people were recording with their cellphones, they probably wouldn't have cared if I'd brought mine in). Amy's voice is just as amazing in person and they did some pretty cool stuff with the lights. The concert went for around an hour and a half. They played most of the songs from Evanescence (the self-titled new album), about half from Fallen, and a couple from Open Door. It made for a good mix and they played all my favorite songs (I never liked Open Door all that much). Amy even played the piano (a real piano, not a keyboard) for a few of the songs, like My Heart is Broken and My Immortal. I had a great time and would definitely see them in concert again.
After that, there was nothing left to do except drive back to my place and get ready to return to work in the morning.

And that should do it. See you Monday!


1/18/2012 Magic and Music

Without further ado, let's get started with the write-up of my weekend outing.

Sunday (January 15): Disney's Magic Kingdom
I still have a lot of of theme parks I want to visit before the end of the school year and, with a long weekend thanks to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I figured Sunday would make a good day to knock another one off the list. After some thought, I decided to save Universal and Sea World for later and do another Disney park. I was originally thinking of going to Disney's Hollywood Studios (formally Disney MGM Studios) but, at the last minute, I heard that Evanescence was doing a concert in Tampa Monday night. More on that later, but I managed to get a ticket and, in the end, decided I might as well save myself several hours of driving and just spend Sunday night in Orlando. Since I was going to be doing that, it seemed like a good time to go to the Magic Kingdom, since it stays open until midnight a lot of days and, with a hotel nearby, staying up late wouldn't be a problem. Any hey, all the driving was a good test for my new car (yes, I ended up getting a new Civic last week).
Anyway, this is my third visit to the Magic Kingdom, though the others were many, many years ago. It hasn't changed all that much since my last visit, though there were some new attractions. Unlike the other Disney World parks, you can't park right at the Magic Kingdom, you have to take either a monorail or a ferry from the parking lot to the park. I don't think I ever took the ferry before, so I hopped on for a nice ride across the bay. If you've never been to the Magic Kingdom before, the first area after the entrance is Main St. USA. And, of course, it has a great view of Cinderella's Castle. It has a lot of shops and restaurants, but I wanted to save the browsing for later and try to hit some rides before the lines got too long so I quickly moved on to Tomorrowland, the futuristic area of the park. The main attraction there is Space Mountain, which is also one of the most popular rides in the park. I've been on a lot of roller coasters and, while Space Mountain isn't one of the most intense (no loops or anything like that), it's still one of my favorites. The star field effect is awesome and also makes it impossible to tell where you're going, which keeps the ride nice and unpredictable. While in Tomorrowland, I also swung by the Carousel of Progress (which really makes you think about how much things have changed over the last hundred years), Buzz Lightyear's Star Command (a laser shooting ride), Stitch's Escape (more of a show than a ride), and The Monster's Inc. comedy show (which had a lot of audience participation and was surprisingly funny).
Next up was Fantasyland. They're actually in the middle of a pretty major expansion there, which will be swallowing up the old Toon Town that used to be nearby. I couldn't see too much of the new rides they're building but Beast's Castle was pretty hard to miss. What I could see looks pretty cool (though it would be even better if they'd gone with Hollow Bastion instead of Beast's Castle) and, if I'm still here in the fall (when the expansion opens) I'll definitely have to head back and check it out. Most of Fantasyland is still open though. In addition to a nice 3D show, it has several classic rides including It's a Small World and Peter Pan (which, going by wait times throughout the day, seemed to be in very close competition with Space Mountain for "most popular ride in the park"). I know a lot of people tend to discount those rides since they're pretty mild but I like them. They're very impressively done, despite their age, and the attention to detail is amazing. I even re-rode It's a Small World later on when the line was shorter. However, Disney's fast pass system came in really handy in Fantasyland. As cool as the Peter Pan ride was, the wait time was ridiculous. Even the fast pass I got wasn't good until very late in the day.
Since some of the lines were pretty long, and I've been to the park before, I decided to jump around a bit at that point and take some pictures while the light was good. Here's the bell in Liberty Square and the steamboat that goes around Tom Sawyer Island and the the Haunted Mansion. Frontierland comes next and has Splash Mountain, the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, and the Country Bear show. And then there's Adventureland, which is best known for the awesome Pirates of the Caribbean ride, though the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House sticks out the most. You know, I vaguely remember watching that movie a long time ago. I should see if they have it on Netflix...
After my whirlwind tour of the second half of the park, it was just about time for the big parade, so I found a good spot and watched as Mickey, Mary Poppins, and many others sang and danced their way past. It was a nice parade, but I would have really loved to see a Kingdom Hearts float in there somewhere (for that matter, I would have really loved to see a Kingdom Hearts anything somewhere in the park, but that's a minr complaint). I went to Tom Sawyer Island next, since it closes at dusk. There isn't a whole lot to do their other than walk around, but it's pretty cool if you're familiar with the book and there's lots of things for kids to explore and climb on. Then it was back to the rides. The lines had shortened a bit so I returned to Fantasyland to go on some of the rides I'd passed up earlier. And, while it looks like I won't be the next king of England, I had to try. I also fit in a visit to the Haunted Mansion (better than anything at Howl-O-Scream, in my opinion) before supper.
I decided not to get anything too fancy to eat and finished up just in time for the Electric Parade, which is a really cool parade of lights. Unfortunately, right about then my camera batteries died and I'd left my spares in the car. Fortunately, I was able to get most of the photos I wanted earlier.
Once the parade had passed, I ran over to Splash Mountain to grab a fast pass but, since there was absolutely no line, I ended up riding it instead. Then it was off to Cinderella's Castle for the night time fireworks show. Speaking of which, Disney puts on great fireworks shows. They had a whole lot of fancy ones that you don't see very often.
Even though the park wouldn't be closing for a few more hours, the lines really thinned out after the fireworks. I went straight to Pirates of the Caribbean, followed by the Jungle Cruise (you know you've got a good guide when he introduces himself as your lion tamer, snake charmer, and pokémon master). I also ended up passing by the Country Bear show and the Enchanted Tiki Room show (a whole lot of singing animatronic birds) just as they were about to start so I watched them before heading back to Main Street to browse the shops for a bit.
I ended up leaving around 11. I could have stayed a bit longer but I was pretty exhausted (it was a long week) and, with the exception of a handful of kiddie rides and the Hall of Presidents, I'd pretty much done everything. Overall, it was a lot of fun. I can't really imagine myself not having fun at Disney. The settings, the rides, the shows, the food, the attention to detail... Disney Parks are just extremely well designed. But anyway, after that it was one quick drive to the hotel and a good night's sleep before starting on my plans for the second day...

Well, that ended up going a bit longer than I'd planned so I'm going to end it here for now and talk about the concert and the other things I did on Monday next time.



1/16/2012 Big weekend

Sorry for the late update. I ended up going to Disney's Magic Kingdom yesterday and by the time I got to my hotel I was pretty wiped out and it completely slipped my mind. Why the hotel? Partly because it's a holiday so I don't have work today, and partly because I'm going to see Evanescense tonight in Tampa! Expect a full write-up on Wednesday.

In other news, I got a nice e-mail from Bandai about my news post on media piracy (see the 1/9/2012 entry), so that was kind of cool.

Anyway, I need to hurry about and get going. See you Wednesday!


1/13/2012 Only three weeks...

What's in three weeks? Could ti be Car Washer? Not quite. It's probably 4 - 6 weeks from the initial launch. The beta test will be closing at the end of next week, followed by another week or so to make adjustments based on the feedback gotten from the test. Then a bit of time to get the new web site ready and do a little promotion. At that point, it will be ready to go up for sale on my site, though it may take a little longer for it to get through the approval processes necessary to get it on the XBLA Indie Arcade and various downloadable game stores (Steam hopefully being one of them).

The thing that's three weeks away (or a little less, actually) is the launch of Final Fantasy XIII-2. I've you've been reading my news posts for a while you probably know that I've a huge fan of the Final Fantasy series. Plus, I absolutely loved FFXIII so I'm really looking forward to the sequel. Last night, I finally managed to set aside a little time to play the demo that popped up on the PSN on Tuesday. Normally, that's the kind of thing I would have played immediately but, between work, Car Washer testing, and car research I just didn't have the time. Even now it ate up most of the time I was planning to use to write this news post.

Long story short though, the demo is great. XIII-2 has XIII's excellent battle system and amazing graphics, and an interesting system that lets you capture and power up various monsters to fill out the third slot in your party (it seems promising, but I think I'll miss having a true third character). Anyway, pretty much everything I've seen for XIII-2 has made more more excited and the demo is no exception. I'm really looking forward to seeing what became of XIII's main characters and where XIII-2's time travel story is going. The fact that the collector's edition (which I naturally have pre-ordered) comes with the complete four disc soundtrack instead of a single disc "best of" collection like most games is also pretty awesome. It's a little disappointing that, between work any my own projects, I haven't come anywhere close to finishing all the big holiday hits I got (Skyway Sword, Uncharted 3, etc.), but for XIII-2 I don't mind putting them on hold for a bit longer.

Anyway, I gotta run. Look for a new theme park write-up next week (most likely on Wednesday).


1/11/2012 Wrong numbers

You know, I was being really careful to make sure I didn't list my dates as 2011 instead of 2012. And then I go and get the month wrong... Of course, now that I went back and fixed it most of you guys probably never would have noticed if I hadn't say anything...

On a completely random topic, I'm currently re-watching Genshiken, an anime about a group of otaku college students in Tokyo. I first saw it in anime club in college before I ever went to Japan. Since my first time working in Japan, I've been recognizing landmarks and even some train stations in anime and manga (especially ones in the Tokyo area), and Genshiken is no exception. But what surprised me was that I actually recognized some of the stores the characters visited in Akihabara. They really put a lot of effort into making things recognizable, but I guess that's really the type of anime it is.

But I really should get my mind off Japan for now and focus on other things. The new semester seems to be off to a good start, but it's only the first week of classes (the one day last week doesn't really count) so it's too early to really make a judgement there. Anyway, work aside, I'm finishing up some Car Washer related stuff (right now, I'm in the middle of a last round of testing and preparing some promotional material) and squeezing in some other things I need to get done here and there. The last couple of days though, I've gotten a bit sidetracked with car shopping. Which, for the record, I really don't like (mainly due to pushy salesmen and majorly jacked up prices). I'm glad it's not anything I'll need to do often (I've had my current car for around 10 years and it still runs very well).

All that said, while that car related stuff has been eating up a decent chunk of my free time, I'm still making good progress on most of the things on my to do list. Enough that I won't feel guilty about hitting up a theme park over the weekend. Besides, since it's a three day weekend (due to the holiday), I'll have an extra day I can use to catch up on things if necessary. So, barring some really bad weather, look for a new theme park write-up next week. I've also been meaning to write a bit about To the Moon, an indie game I played a few weeks back, so expect that sometime soon as well.



1/9/2012 About piracy

I've always been very strongly against pirating music, movies, games, etc. There's two main reasons. Part of it is that, no matter what you say, pirating is stealing. It doesn't matter that they're digital copies instead of hard copies. You're still taking a commercial product without paying. As for the argument that all the big media companies are evil and rich so it doesn't matter, there's two problems there. First off, stealing from a company with a lot of money doesn't mean it's not stealing. Secondly, not all musicians, game developers, movie studios, etc have a lot of money to spare. For example, many independent game developers, like myself, work full time jobs and sacrifice their own money and free time to work on their games. Those sales lost to piracy can be the difference between allowing them to spend more time doing what they love, and forcing them to give up indie development entirely. Even large companies aren't immune. Development can be very expensive. If enough people don't legitimately buy an album, DVD, or game it may never turn enough profit to get a sequel, no matter how great it is. Studios can even close. It's happened before.

The recent closer of Bandai Entertainment's US branch is perfect example. Bandai is a major company with lots of excellent and popular licenses like Gundam and Haruhi Suzumiya (fortunately, it's just their US branch that closed, not the entire company). Considering the popularity of many of their franchises here in the US, Bandai should have been doing really well...if people were actually buying their stuff.

Even if ten million people buy a product, it's still not ok to pirate it. Making an album, video game, or TV show, or even just translating one into another language, is a very expensive process and, in most cases, relatively little of that makes it back to the original creators as profit. Even if the creators have tons of money (which, if you study it out, they often don't) they deserve to get paid for all the time and effort they put in.

The whole "media should be free for everyone" idea is nice, but it just doesn't work. How would you like it if one day your boss said that you weren't going to get paid any more because all the companies' customers decided that they deserved to get everything for free? Wouldn't really make you want to work, would it? And, in the end, if the company isn't making enough money to cover expenses, it's going to shut down entirely.

Kotaku has a great article on piracy and what it's doing to the US anime and manga industry, which I recommend all you anime and manga fans read. Now I won't say that I've never downloaded fan-subbed anime, I have lots of times. But I have some very strict rules I follow. First off, I don't download anything that's been licensed for an official US release. And, if something I've downloaded in the past does get licensed later on, I get rid of my downloaded copy and buy the US DVDs.

I realize that many people can't afford to buy every game, CD, and DVD they want. But that's still not a reason to pirate it. There are various rental and subscriptions services for movies, music, and games (Netflix, Pandora, Gamefly, etc) and, while they're not as good as buying the actual discs, they do funnel some money back to the creators. And, despite all the complaints from video game companies these days about the number of people buying used games, it's still better than piracy (at least the creators made money off the initial sale). And, if after all that, you still can't afford to buy something you want, then save up for it until you can. It's not the end of the world if you don't get every single thing you want. Remember, if media piracy continues to grow, eventually we're not going to have much new media at all because no one will be able to afford to make it.


1/6/2012 Trying a 360

I finally got a Xbox 360. While I've had my PS3 and Wii for years, this is my first 360. I never even had an original Xbox. The reason? There just were hardly any exclusive games I cared about. The 360 has a few, though there were never enough to make me run out and buy one (though I've been considering it for a while). But I got a really good deal so I figured I might as well go for it.

When it comes down to it, the most important thing about any game console is what games are on it. Hardware, interface, and the like are all secondary. I haven't had much time to play with my 360 yet, but I did set it up and spend some time looking over the various downloadable games on XBLA. This is actually my first time spending more than a few minutes with the 360's controller or interface, so I figured I'd write up some first impressions.

First off, the controller. It's a big improvement over the one on the original Xbox and it's pretty comfortable to hold. That said, I do have a few minor issues with it. While shoulder triggers are great, the should buttons are kind of slick and narrow, making them slightly uncomfortable to reach, at least for me. The face buttons also seem a touch slippery. The d-pad also bugs me. I haven't tried it in a game yet, but typing with it proved to really annoying. I kept hitting accidental diagonals and over shooting the letters I wanted. I suppose I may get used to it in time, but I think it's the worst d-pad I've ever seen on a first party controller. It would have also been nice if Microsoft built the rechargable battery pack into the controller instead of charging an extra $20 for it...

Moving on to the console itself. The 360 slim is nice, though the power brick is a little large and it'll take some time for me to get used to having games spread across multiple discs again (I've gotten used to everything fitting on a single blu-ray). The Miis...er, completely original avatar characters, look better than I expected and give you quite a lot of customization options, which was a pleasant surprise. But I have pretty mixed feelings about the interface. One the one hand, both the main interface and the XBLA store interface look great. However, there are ads all over the place. And not just images, these are full blown TV commercials. I'd be a bit more tolerant if they were only ads for Xbox games but do I really need to see commercials for hamburgers and WoW? None of the other consoles have anything like it. Once you get past the ads XBLA makes it easy to find all the downloads related to any single game. Finding anything else, however, is often a bit of a pain. A lot of options, settings, and tools just don't seem to be in very logical places and searching through the store for various items just isn't as easy as it could be. It could really use some more catagories and search options. Not to mention an actual shopping cart so you're not forced to buy only a single item at a time. And speaking of buying items, I'm not a fan of point systems. I highly prefer it when purchases are made in real money (like on the PS3). It's simpler and you're not limited to buying set ammounts of points (which seems to always leave you with a few left over). That said, at least the Wii's point system is very straight forward, with 100 points equally $1. On the 360, 100 points is $1.25, which makes it a bit harder to keep track of how much actual money you're spending.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to playing Lost Odyssey and a few other games on my new 360 but going strictly by the hardware and interface, it really doesn't compare to the PS3 which gives you blu-ray, a cleaner and better organized interface, real money purchasing, and a whole lot of free online features (online multiplayer, Netflix and Hulu access, etc) that are only availabe on the 360 by paying for a gold subscription.


1/4/2011 Catch up

I made it back to Florida and back to work! There was a bit of a hang up with my suitcase not getting put on the correct plane, despite the fact that the long lay overs I had gave them plenty of time to make the switch. Fortunately, it was delivered last night, with all the contents intact. Classes start up tomorrow but just basic intro stuff, I won't be doing any serious teaching until next week. Instead, I'm focusing on catching up on stuff post vacation (pretty much done), getting material ready for my game classes (making good progress), and working on stuff for my web and graphic design side jobs (finished the little stuff, but have a couple of big projects to do), and getting things ready for Car Washer's not all that far off launch (barely started). I don't actually have much to do this week other than work though so, if I don't do anything on the weekend, I can probably have most of that stuff done by next week. At least I hope so. Because, once it's all finished, there are plenty of over things I'd like to work on. What? You thought I was going to take it easy and catch up on my video game backlog? I'd love to but, sadly, I don't think that'll be in the cards any time soon. I will, however, continue to take the occasional day off for a theme park visit (still got a lot of places on my list). For now though, back to work.



1/2/2012 Happy new year!

Well, it's 2012 (let's see if I actually remember that when dating my news posts for the rest of the month), and I'm now 27 years old. 2011 sure was a crazy year. I started out in Japan and taught in Narashino for three months, returned to the US a bit early due to the problems at the Fukushima plant, moved to Arizona for a few months while starting work on my visual novel, moved to Florida to start a game design program at Florida Gateway College, and finished it off with a vacation to Hawaii and Colorado, while finishing most of the remaining work on Car Washer.

So what's in store for 2012? It's hard to say for sure. I'll almost certainly be in Florida through early May for FGC's spring semester. Though there's a week of spring break in there somewhere (while I'll probably spend touring more parts of Florida). Meanwhile (likely late this month or early next month), Car Washer should go up for sale. What happens next is hard to say and depends on several factors. First off is whether or not I end up renewing my contract with FGC for another year (which will depend on several things including how much they like me and what my feelings are at the time). If I stay, I'll have the summer free to do what I want. A trip to Japan is high on my list, though Colorado and/or Hawaii are also possibilities. If I end up getting a job somewhere else, things will vary considerably based on the job, location, and when they want me to start. Then there's always the highly unlikely (though not impossible) scenario where Car Washer becomes a smash hit and I make enough money to do whatever I want (I have some ideas, just in case). I'm also hoping to get Aurora's Nightmare completed and released some time during the summer...

Anyway, it's looking like 2012 has the potential to be just as crazy as 2011 was (though it could also be a lot calmer, just depending on my job situation). Well, nothing to do at this point but wait and see. Whatever happens, you can be sure that Pebble Version will continue. Right now though, I need to focus on my trip back to Florida today and going back to work tomorrow (in my opinion, winter break shouldn't end until at least a week after new years, but I unfortunately have no say in the matter).

See you later!


12/30/2011 End of the year

There's a new Blooper Reel comic so just click the Top Web Comics banner or button and vote to check it out. And, since I mentioned updating the Links and Link Exchange pages on Wednesday, I decided to go ahead and do it. I got rid of some sites that aren't around any more, updated some links, and added some completely new comics.

It's hard to believe the new year (and my birthday) is almost here... I feel like talking about my plans for the coming year (though a lot of them are quite uncertain at this point) but updating all those links took a lot longer than I expected so it'll have to wait till next time.

Happy new year!


12/28/2011 So close...

Car Washer is just about to enter beta testing! It's not going to be an open beta, but what that does mean is its release date is getting close! I'm not going to set an official date yet (it's an indie game, so there's no need) but something in the late January - early February period is looking very likely, with a new (and greatly improved) demo coming a bit sooner. Naturally, I'll be sure to keep you posted.

In other news, I spend a while today making some improvements to this site. Though they were more to make some things easier on my end, chances are you guys won't notice them. Though I should probably update the links pages soon, which would be a much more noticeable project...

Anyway, this might not be the most relaxing last week of vacation, but the more I get done now the less I'll have to worry about once work starts back up next week.


12/26/2011 Hawaii wrap up

I hope those of you who celebrate it had a good Christmas. I spent a large portion of the day (and all the preceding night) traveling from Hawaii to Colorado, where I'll be spending the remainder of my vacation. While Hawaii was fun, I'll probably be spending this week trying to get a lot of things done. Though at least most of them are things I can do while watching TV. Anyway, time to finish up the travelogue...

Thursday (December 22): Kualoa Ranch
My mom had originally planned this activity for Wednesday but, due to the weather report, we switched it to Thursday. In the end, we still got rained on, but anyway... While my dad stayed at the hotel to relax, my mom and I went back to the Northern part of the island, specifically to Kualoa Ranch. It's a large cattle ranch containing some of the island's more scenic landscapes. As such, it's been used as a setting in numerous movies and TV shows including Lost, Jurassic Park, George of the Jungle, and Hawaii Five-O, just to name a few. They have all sorts of different tours you can take to the filming locations including bus tours, horse tours, and ATV tours. We did the ATVs. While I've ridden an ATV before (a very long time ago), this was my first time driving one. It really wasn't too hard, though since they lack power steering you really need to keep a firm grip on the handles. Despite the rain, it was a lot of fun and we got to see a number of different filming locations. We ended up being the only people in our tour (which was rather unusual, judging by the size of the other groups I saw) so we were able to move pretty quickly and cover a lot of ground. Unfortunately, movie sets are often built with the intention of demolishing or tearing them down at the end of the shoot, so there wasn't anything too elaborate. But there were still some things to see. This mountain range, for example, is featured in tons of different movies if you look for it. And here's the location of Hurley's golf course from Lost. See the giant footprints? They're from Godzilla (the relatively recent American remake, I believe). Our guide said they were originally ten feet deep, but had to be filled in a bit since the ranch's cows kept getting stuck in them. For Jurassic Park fans, here I am with the log the kids hid behind. Now this statue isn't from any movie or show (though I heard it was shown in an episode of National Geographic). Basically, a lot of scientists have trouble believing that the people of Rappa Nui (aka the Easter Islands) could have made the giant stone maoi heads by hand using traditional tools, so some locals without any real carving experience decided to give it a try. While not on the same level as the real maoi heads, it's pretty impressive considering their lack of training. Hard work - 1. Skeptical Scientists - 0.
During World War II, parts of the ranch were also used by the army and they put a bunker in one one of the mountains. It's been shown in some movies and TV shows but now it's primarily used as a gallery of all the different things filmed there, with lots of signed movie posters, cast photos, and the like. They've even got the submarine from Lost. Well, part of it anyway (the rest was a set).
If you're a movie buff, or just want to take in some beautiful scenery, Kualoa Ranch makes for a nice visit, especially with all the different types of tours you can choose from.
The rest of the day was spent relaxing, though my mom and I did go out for supper at an udon restaurant that was nearly identical to the kind that were really popular on my last visit to Japan. Specifically, the type where you order your noodles then grab some assorted tempura and onigiri off the counter before paying. It was very authentic, both in regards to the food and the style of the restaurant, and just about everyone was speaking Japanese as well. Even better, it charged Japanese prices, so it was easy to get a good complete meal for several dollars.

Random Hawaii Comment: Produce
While Hawaii was once a hot spot for commercial agriculture including sugar cane and pineapples, most of it has long since moved to other countries. That said, it's still a great place to get tropical fruit ranging from the more common (bananas, pineapples, mangos, coconuts, etc) to the somewhat unusual (egg fruit, rambutans, etc). While grocery stores work in a pinch, you've got a much better shot at getting fresh local fruit at one of the many farmers' markets (Oahu seemed to have at least one every evening) or produce stands. If you see something you're not familiar with, it's worth getting a little to give it a try. Just don't go overboard, since some tropical fruits are definitely an acquired taste.

Friday (December 23): Hanging Around Honolulu
My parents had some things they needed to do in the afternoon, so this was a pretty easy day. In the morning, my dad and I walked to the aquarium at Waikiki. It wasn't all that big, but it was nice. Their collection of coral was especially impressive and they had some things you don't see too often like an octopus and a bunch of different types of jellyfish. We also got to watch them feeding their seals.
I spent the afternoon swimming and reading and then we ate supper in the food court at the Ala Moana Mall. That might not sound too impressive but with a lot of nice Asian restaurants (including several types of Japanese food, a fairly elaborate Chinese restaurant, Vietnamese, and Thai, among others) it's no ordinary mall food court.
At night, we went out to watch the fireworks. They weren't for Christmas, the Hilton does a show on the beach every Friday night and, judging by the crowds, it's quite a popular event. The show wasn't especially long but it was well done, and gave me a chance to play with the under used fireworks mode on my camera.

Saturday (December 24): Heading Out
Our flight back to the mainland didn't leave until 10 PM, which meant that we had a lot of time to kill after checking out of our room. Though, since it was a Saturday, that kind of limited our options. I spotted this gingerbread house version of Byodoin on display in one of the Hilton's lobbies and we went to services (getting caught in the rain on the way). After that we walked around a bit, saw one last rainbow (here's a shot of my parents in front of it), and watched the sun set over the ocean once more before starting to make our way towards the airport. We'd planned to stop somewhere to eat along the way but, being Christmas Eve, most places were closed. We suspected a lot of things would still be open down by Waikiki but that was in the opposite direction so we ended up just grabbing some things in the airport.
And that's pretty much it. The flights to Salt Lake and then on to Colorado went well. I'm not a big fan of overnight flights since I really can't sleep on planes, but I managed to stay pretty awake and alert throughout the following day despite the lack of sleep.
Overall, it was a fun and relaxing trip. Oahu (and especially Honolulu) certainly has a stronger Japanese influence than most other parts of the US (the exceptions being the Japan towns in San Francisco and Los Angeles), the weather is nice (though it can get rather windy and rainy at times), and you've got the beach, some nice hiking, and a lot of good stores and restaurants. I don't know if I'd call it "paradise", but it's certainly a nice place to go on vacation.


12/23/2011 Tourist attractions

There's a new voter bonus comic and a new ROM!

My vacation in Hawaii is nearing its end (I'm leaving tomorrow night), though I've still got some time in Colorado to look forward to before the end of winter break. But let's get back to the travelogue...

Tuesday (December 20): Hiking Diamond Head
Diamond Head Crater is one of Oahu's major attractions. While you can see it easily enough from Waikiki Beach, the main draw is the trail that goes to the top. Despite iffy weather, my parents and I headed out to hike it. The trail started simply enough. It was raining most of the time but more a drizzle than anything else, so it wasn't too bad. A rainbow even came out later on. The trail was paved and simple to follow, but it wasn't entirely straightforward. Back during World War II, Diamond Head was used by the military and there's a bunch of bunkers and the like carved into it, including a long tunnel that the trail passes through. Overall, it wasn't too bad of a hike. Kind of steep at spots but not too long or rough. And, despite the rain and clouds, the view from the top was still good.
After making our way back down, we did a little shopping and, since it was nearby, we also stopped at the Japanese cultural center. While the center is primarily for events, classes, and the like, they also have a small but well done museum about the history of Japanese people in Hawaii. As I previously mentioned, most of them came to the islands in the mid to late 1800's to work on the sugar planations. Most planned to complete their contracts then return to Japan with the money they earned. However, things rarely went as planned and they had to face horrible living conditions and unfair contracts which ensured that nearly all their money went back to the company. A series of protests and labor reform laws finally changed things and many of the Japanese chose to stay in Hawaii and raise their children as Americans. Of course, that's the highly simplified version. If you like history, you may want to look into the details, as it's pretty interesting.
After a nice lunch at a shabu shabu restaurant, my dad and I ended up walking back towards the hotel. We split up after a while and I strolled around the Waikiki Beach area. I'd been there before, but always with my parents and some specific destination in mind. This time, I was able to explore a bit. There are a couple of long streets following the beach that are lined with shops and restaurants, some of which are set in a series of fancy malls. There's a pretty nice variety of restaurants in the area and the rest of the stuff is mostly divided between souvenir shops and clothing stores (many of which are very high end). Not really my kind of thing (aside from the restaurants), but it was kind of fun to walk through once and, at night, a lot of street performers come out. As I was walking, I passed the beach's most famous surfing area, marked by the statue of Duke Kahanamoku, a legendary swimmer and surfer. Even though all the best waves are on the North side of the island this time of year, the area was still packed with surfers.
Later that evening, since it was the first night of Chanukah, my parents and I went back to Waikiki to see the big menorah lightning. As part of the event, a number of cars drove up with menorah mounted on their roofs. Here's my mom next to the most creative of the bunch. And that wrapped up the day.

Random Hawaii Comment: The Smell of the Ocean
Those of you who have been to beach have probably noticed that you can tell when you're getting close to the ocean by the smell of salt water in the air. It's not an unpleasant smell, but it's there and makes it clear that the ocean isn't far off, even if you can't see it. Strangely, that smell is almost completely absent in Honolulu. I don't know if it has something to do with the wind patterns or water composition, but you can't really smell the ocean here, which strikes me as a bit strange.

Wednesday (December 21): A Palace
After so many days of touring, my parents and I took things a bit easier on Wednesday. I spent most of the morning between the beach and the swimming pools at the hotel then walked with my mom to the big mall I mentioned before to get lunch at Coco's Curry House (a popular Japanese chain that has some branches here). It wasn't until the middle of the afternoon that we headed out to pay a visit to Iolani Palace.
For a while, Hawaii was actually a sovereign kingdom of its own. That began when King Kamehameha united all the islands under his rule in 1810 and lasted until a US official staged a coup and overthrew the monarchy in 1893. Despite the questionable legality of his actions and numerous protests (including those by President Cleveland), that was the end of Hawaii's independence. Iolani Palace is a remnant of the Hawaiian monarchy and the only true royal palace in the US. There palace itself, while not as fancy as some of the ones in Europe, is a nice building and has lots of fancy decorations inside, along with a throne room and all the other things you'd expect to find in a palace. It also has this neat castle like side building. We took an audio tour of the inside of the palace but pictures weren't allowed. It was interesting though and worth an hour or so if you're ever in the area.
After that we swung by a farmers' market (there's a lot of them around Honolulu) to look around and get some food for supper. It wasn't one of the biggest farmers' markets I've been to, but there was a pretty nice selection of produce and food (I got guava chicken). After that, the rest of the day was spent relaxing. After all, this is a vacation.

Looks like I'm still not quite caught up, but I don't really have time for any more right now. I'll try and get the rest of the days' write-ups posted on Monday so I'll see you then!


12/21/2011 The vacation continues

There were a couple of picture links in my last post that were going to the wrong pictures, but that's been fixed if you want to go back and look. Now let's continue with the travelogue.

Sunday (December 18): Museums and Malls
Sunday my parents and I needed to switch hotels. But checkout time at the old hotel came way before check in time at the new one. So we loaded up the car and paid a visit to The Bishop Museum. It's got a lot of different exhibits but the main hall is focused on Hawaiian history. It went all the way from early Hawaiian culture through when Hawaii became a state. It was pretty interesting and each section had a good combination of text and artifacts. While there, I also took a look at a couple of temporary displays. One was about the early Japanese immigrants to Hawaii (but I'll talk about that more in a later entry) and the other was about Mars. It was a good museum overall, and there seemed to be a lot of different shows and presentations throughout the day. Certainly not a bad way to spend a couple hours if you're interested in history.
After that, we got some rather interesting hamburgers (I had a miso and Japanese cucumber burger) then swung by Toys 'n Joys, a video game, anime, etc store that was supposed to be really good. While it was certainly nothing like the shops in Akihabara, I'll admit that I was pretty impressed. They had the best selection of anime figurines and import video games that I've seen in the US, other than at major anime conventions, and they had a lot of other related items as well (plushies, pendants, DVDs, CDs, etc). Prices were a mixed bag though, ranging from really good to rather expensive. I had fun browsing while my parents explored the surrounding area (which has quite a lot of Asian restaurants).
After that, it was my parents' turn to have some fun and engage in their long time hobby of looking at real estate. Considering what a popular vacation spot Honolulu is, it's only natural that it has a number of very nice (and very expensive) condos and the like available. They had already toured some before I came to Hawaii, but they weren't quite done yet. I went with them to see a couple but then headed back to the big mall we'd visited to the other day, leaving them to do a bit more looking and check into the new hotel.
Last time, I really didn't get to see much of the mall aside from the Japanese department store. This time, however, I was able to get a good look around. While not the largest mall I've ever been in, it's very big and pretty fancy. Besides that, without much time left before Christmas, it was also extremely crowded. It had a pretty good selection of stores and one of the more diverse food courts I've come across, but I didn't find anything else as interesting as that Japanese department store. They did, however, have some good Japanese restaurants including Japanese chains Coco's Curry House and Beard Papa (chu, Japanese cream puffs).
After a lot of walking and a bit of grocery shopping, I eventually made it to Hilton Hawaiian Village. It's a really nice hotel (and often featured rather prominently in the new version of Hawaii 5-O. They've got multiple pools (including one with a water slide and a mock ocean lagoon), beautiful flowers, tropical birds (like flamingos and African penguins), and a shopping and dining area with a number of stores and restaurants. The rooms even have Playstation 3's and come with free movie and video game rentals for the duration of your stay. Very impressive. And that was pretty much it for Sunday.

Random Hawaii Comment: The Japanese Influence
Japanese people have a long history in Hawaii, with many Japanese immigrating here in the mid to late 1800's to work in the sugar cane fields. These days, it's also a very popular Japanese tourist spot. As a result, outside of the Japan towns in San Francisco and Los Angeles, it's probably the most Japanese place in the US. There are a number of Japanese stores and restaurants (including major Japanese chains such as Book Off, Coco's Curry House, and Don Quixote) and several Japanese TV stations. Many signs and restaurant menus are in Japanese as well and I've heard quite a lot of Japanese just walking around the city. There's no real Japan Town (though there is a China Town), but Japanese things can be found spread all over the city. It's certainly not the same as being in Japan, but it's not bad for part of the US.

Monday (December 19): The Northern Side of Oahu
Honolulu is on the Southern side of Oahu. Today, my family and I paid a visit to the Northern side. We started out by heading to the Dole Plantation. While most pineapples are grown in other countries these days, Dole still has some pineapple fields in Hawaii. At the plantation you can see pineapples (and a number of other plants) growing, check out a very large souvenir shop, and work your way through what they claim to be the world's largest maze (though I have a tough time believing it's bigger than some of the corn mazes I've visited. Unfortunately, the maze was closed due to mud (it had been raining on and off throughout the night and morning), but seeing the growing pineapples was cool.
Since we couldn't do the maze, we decided to hit up some other sites on that part of the island. First up, a stop by the beach to watch the surfers. Of course, our hotel is right on a beach, but this time of year all the good waves are at the Northern beaches, so that's where the surfers go. Surfing with a paddle in hand seems to be pretty popular these days. I suppose it make it easier to move into position and stay ahead of the waves, but it seems like there's a good chance the thing would hit you in the head whenever you fall off your board...
Moving on, we passed through a moderate sized Mormon town (complete with fancy temple) and stopped at a rocky stretch of coast to see an arch.
My dad wanted to take the long way back to Honolulu so we followed the coast East for quite a ways before starting to make our way South towards the city. Since it was on the way, we decided to hit up another attraction, Byodoin Temple. If you think the name sounds familiar, you're right. The original Byodoin (or Phoenix Pavilion) is an over 900 year old Buddhist temple that I visited in Kyoto. The Byodoin on Oahu is considerably newer and only about half the size, but it's still a beautiful temple set in a very picturesque location. Unfortunately, there weren't any sakura trees around, but there were some other flowers. For comparison, here one of my pictures of the original Byodoin back in Kyoto.
From there, a bit more driving brought us back to Honolulu where I got to spend a while relaxing on the beach and at the pool before going out for kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi), which I've been really missing since moving to Florida. I also got some macadamia nut ice cream afterwards which, for the record, is really really good.

Random Hawaii Comment: Rain
It rains a lot in Oahu (and Hawaii in general), though how much and how hard can vary greatly depending on your exact location. So far, I think it's rained at least a bit every day of my vacation. While it can rain pretty hard in Honolulu at times, it's most often something between a heavy drizzle and a light shower. Since the weather is pretty nice, and that amount of rain won't drench you unless you're out in it for a really long time, it's not bad to walk around in, even without an umbrella. That said, it can get rather annoying after a while. I'll note though, that I've been told this is the rainiest part of the year so perhaps it's not always like this. On the plus side, all the rain does lead to a lot of rainbows.

Well, I wasn't quite able to catch up, but we'll see how much I can get done on Friday.


12/19/2011 A vacation in Oahu

Today we've got a guest comic by forum member Blivsey. I was hoping not to have to use any guest comics during this trip but, with how busy things were leading up to my departure, I never did get my comic buffer rebuilt. Hopefully this will be the only one, though I may have to use one more guest comic later in the week depending on how things go. But anyway, as promised, here's the start of my travelogue for the Hawaiian island of Oahu. As usual, updates will be posted here and on their own travelogue page.

Thursday (December 15): Off on Vacation
While winter vacation at the college where I'm working officially began late last week, I still had to come into work though Wednesday. But now it was finally time for my vacation. My parents have always loved Hawaii (they met there, in fact) and have been vacationing on Oahu for a couple of weeks already. The plan was to meet up with them for the rest of their trip and then head back to Colorado for a week before returning to work. Unfortunately, a few phone calls revealed that a taxi to the nearby airport would be way more expensive than I'd expected so I decided to just park there. That wasn't cheap either, but it was close and more convenient.
Gainesville has a pretty tiny airport so I had a quick flight to Atlanta before changing planes for the very long flight (around 10 hours) to Hawaii. Fortunately, I've gotten rather used to long plane rides and, between books and video games, easily kept myself busy the entire time.
I arrived in the middle of the afternoon. Oahu is the third largest Hawaiian island and the most popular among tourists. It contains Hawaii's capital city (Honolulu) and a number of famous sights including Diamond Head Crater and Pearl Harbor. While I've been to Hawaii before, this is my first visit to Oahu. My parents picked me up and, after a stop at a very fancy hotel room, we headed out to walk around.
Honolulu is a pretty interesting city. Due to all the Asians (especially Japanese) who immigrated in the late 1800's during the sugar cane boom, it's a big mix of cultures. It's also become a very popular spot for Japanese tourists, so there's a lot of Japanese stores and restaurants scattered about. There are some nice shopping streets right off of Waikiki beach and we walked around there for a little while before heading onto the beach itself to watch the sunset.
After that, it was off to supper at a Japanese soba and udon restaurant. It was very authentic (we were the only non-Japanese people there) and very good. While it wasn't especially late at that point, I had a fairly large time difference to adjust to on top of a long string of late nights so we headed back to the hotel and called it a day.

Friday (December 16): All Around Honolulu
My mom and I got up early Friday morning and headed down the road to a popular breakfast spot. I got some really good macadamia nut pancakes and then it was off to Hanauma Bay for some snorkeling. There are a bunch of small reefs right off the bay, making it a popular scuba and snorkeling spot. While not spectacular, I did see a lot of cool fish. If you're really lucky, there are supposed to be eels, octopus, and sea turtles around as well, but I didn't see any of them.
After a couple hours of snorkeling, we met my dad at a large mall. I didn't have time to look around the mall much, but the reason we were there was to visit a genuine Japanese department store. While seeing a Japanese department store here in the US was cool enough, this one had a small Book Off (a Japanese chain of used book, movie, music, and game stores) and a number of food stands as well, so that was a lot of fun.
We stayed for lunch and then headed off to China Town. Like most China towns, it's a bit dirty and run down, but there's a lot of stores and restaurants around. After walking around for a while it was back to Waikiki for another sunset.

Saturday (December 17): Flowers and Music
I got to sleep in a bit, which was nice, but it wasn't too long before my parents and I headed off to a botanical garden. This particular garden was up in the mountains and rainforest. Which is fitting since it was raining a lot of the time. Fortunately, the rain was mostly light enough not to cause a problem. We walked around a bit and saw a lot of very pretty tropical flowers. And, for something unusual, check out these pink bananas.
Once we finished looking around, we drove to an overlook and got a nice view of the Northern side of the island (Honolulu is on the Southern shore).
That night, we headed to downtown Honolulu (which, as a note, is pretty dead at night on the weekends). After supper at a Cuban restaurant, we got to see Neil Sedaka in concert. It was a nice concert. Small, but pretty long, and he's still got a really good voice. Definitely worth it.

Well, that doesn't quite catch things up but I really should wrap things up so those three days will have to do it for now. See you Wednesday!


12/16/2011 Hawaii time

There's a new voter bonus comic and a new ROM!

Well, I made it to Hawaii without any real problems. I'll probably be starting up a travelogue on Monday. For now though, I need to get some sleep and try to switch over to the new time zone.



12/14/2011 A time for love

I'm heading off on winter vacation tomorrow! Pebble Version should update normally but there's a chance that updates will be a bit later or earlier than usual. I probably won't have to skip any, though I won't know for certain until I get to the hotel and see what the internet access is like.

I don't watch a lot of American sitcoms on TV. At least, I haven't for a very long time. And most of the ones I have watched in the past are fairly old. Lately, however, that's changed a little. Over the past few months I started watching Big Bang Theory and the occasional random episode of various other shows when I wanted some background noise while working on various things. Just recently, they added How I Met Your Mother to Netflix. I'm much funnier than most of the current sitcoms I'm familiar with so I've been watching a couple episodes here and there when I want a break from the more serious shows I'm going through. But I actually don't want to talk about sitcoms or TV today. Not exactly anyway.
See, watching some newer sitcoms let me to notice a rather strange disconnect between the current American attitude towards love, at least as shown in many modern TV shows, and that in Japanese and even older American shows. In all three, confessing your love to a girl/guy is a big deal, but it takes a much different place in a relationship.
In a lot of modern American shows, couples will date, sleep together, and even share an apartment without ever saying they love each other. In fact, confessing your love is considered to be a much bigger and more serious show of commitment than any of the other things I just mentioned. So much so that confessing your love too early in a relationship is considered to be overbearing and a good way to scare the other person away.
However, if you look at most Japanese shows, and older American ones, it's completely opposite. A confession still carries quite a lot of weight, but it's typically the first (or one of the first) steps in a relationship. Couples rarely even go on a first date without one or the other confessing their love. And while the guy and girl may have been friends or acquaintances first, in some shows they don't really even know each other before one confesses.
Somehow, over the last 15 - 20 years, the American idea of confessing your love has started to change, going from one of the first steps in a relationship to one of the last. It's interesting and, in my opinion, a little worrying of think about why that's happened and what else will change as a result.
My own feelings about love are far closer to, if not entirely in-line with, the Japanese / old American ones. I'm not really sold on the concept of love at first sight, or the need for a love confession before a first date. That said, I don't really like the idea of love being something that comes after sex or living together either. Shouldn't people love each other before getting that serious? And why should a confession of love be so "ominous" that it would drive someone away from a relationship if that confession happens during an ill-defined "too soon" period? A proposal maybe, but a simple confession?
I have to wonder if a lot of Americans today really think that way or if the "love is scary" viewpoint is mostly confined to movies and TV shows. I've talked a lot in the past about the differences between the American and Japanese mindsets and what I consider to be the pros and cons of each. Don't get me wrong, Japan has its own share of relationship related problems, but if this is really the direction the US is going in regards to love, I'm definately siding with the Japanese.


12/12/2011 A few more days...

Just a few more days till winter vacation! As a note, PV should update normally (and I may do a travelogue as well). Though, as is the usual case when I'm traveling, updates may be a little early or late and there's always the chance that I may have to miss one or two entirely due to limited internet access or something like that.

I have something I wanted to talk about today but, with my vacation so close, I really should try and get my comic buffer built up a bit, so it'll have to wait until Wednesday.



12/9/2011 Vacation plans

There's a new voter bonus comic and a new ROM!

The winter weather here in Northern Florida is annoyingly inconsistant. Over the past week or so there were a couple of days where I woke up to find my car iced over, followed by a some slightly chilly days leading up to Wednesday, which was warm enough that, had I not had so much work to do, I may have gone for a swim. The next morning, my car was iced over again. I'm ok with warm or cold weather, I just wish it would stick to one or the other. All this jumping between extremes is a bit of pain...

Anyway, there's less than a week to go until I'm officially on winter vacation. Actually, finals at the college where I work ended yesterday and I need to have final grades for all my students entered in by Monday (hoping to finish today though, so I can do other things over the weekend). But I still have to go in to work through Wednesday. There doesn't seem to be any real reason for it, but I'll go ahead and use the time to get some prep work done on next semester's courses. Since I was stuck playing catch-up most of this past semester, I really haven't had a lot of time to devote my upcoming game courses.

After that, however, I'm heading off on vacation. My parents are in Hawaii right now on a vacation of their own and I'm going to be meeting them there. While I've been to Hawaii several times before, this will be my first visit to Honolulu. It sounds like there's a lot of interesting stuff to see and do so I'll probably end up writing a short travelogue while I'm there. After that it's back to Colorado for a brief stay before returning here for spring semester. As far as winter breaks go, it seems a little on the short side (though not when compared to Japan, I suppose) but I'll have spring break in a few months and, if I end up staying on at the college for another year, I'll have a nice long summer vacation to look forward to (which will likely involve a trip to Japan if at all possible).

Well, I suppose that's about it for now. Depending on the weather, how much work I get done today, and a couple other factors, I may try for one last theme park visit come Sunday. I the meantime though, I've got grading to do...


12/7/2011 Every little detail

As previously mentioned, I've been spending a lot of time lately working on my indie game, Car Washer. Mainly, my programmer has been adding in new features and I've been testing them. It's reminded me just how much game designers need an eye for detail. While a lot of what I've done has been checking for bugs, trying everything in a number of ways to make sure it works, and the like, another important part is looking at the stuff that works and optimizing it. Adjusting an enemy's movement speed by a couple tenths of a second may not sound like a big deal, but it can make all the difference. If the enemy is too fast, the player won't be able to stop him in time and will get annoyed every time that enemy appears. If the enemy is too slow, it won't present any challenge. I also need to make sure the completion goals for each level are reasonable without being too easy. And now I'm starting to tweak the timing for the story scenes. Got to keep them moving at a good pace or players might get bored. Though I need to make sure they stay on the screen long enough that players can understand what's going on. It's a lot of really tiny changes but, when added together, they can make a really big difference in the feel of the game.

And that's your game design lesson for today.


12/5/2011 Drawing a blank

This has been a pretty crazy weekend, coming after an equally busy week. And while it wasn't bad (I had some fun and got a lot of things done), it wasn't really relaxing either. At the moment I'm feeling a little burnt out and really can't think of anything to write about. Sorry about that, I should be back to normal come Wednesday. Maybe I'll even get that last Ink character done...


12/2/2011 It's Tia!

There's a new bonus comic up for everyone who votes using the TWC banner or button and there's a new ROM as well. On a different note, I'd like to thank everyone who supported my friends' game, Blink. They got the funding they needed and are hoping to release the game in the spring!

I don't really like the online course system they use at the college where I'm working. The one they used at UAT (where I went to school) had its faults but it was way better than this one. One of the things I like the least about the system here is setting up tests. I had a final exam for one of my classes all written up in Microsoft Word and sat down yesterdat to copy it over into the system so the students can take it online. You'd think simply copying over a bunch of multiple choice questions wouldn't be that bad but the test making interface is poorly laid out, slow, and has to constantly refresh the page All in all, I think it took me around four hours to get the test copied over. Seriously, I could have written two brand new tests in that time...
Unfortunately, that ate up most of my free time, so I can't write too much right now. But, I do have something to show you. Although most of my game development time over the past few weeks has been devoted to Car Washer, Aurora's Nightmare is still progressing. Check out this new concept art from the very talented Hanbee Lee. It's Tia (one of the three main characters) as an adult and as a child.



11/30/2011 Getting close...

I'm running a bit short on time at the moment because I spent most of yesterday afternoon and evening testing out various additions to Car Washer! My new programmer is doing a great job and, at the rate things are going now, it could be ready for beta testing before the end of the year. If that's the case, I should have a new (and greatly improved) demo out in early January and have the full game up for sale not too long after. But anway, I'll try and write up something more substantial for Friday. Right now, I really need to get going.


11/28/2011 Momentarily back to work

Well, I'm back from my little Thanksgiving trip and back to work...at least for the next two and a half weeks until winter break. Right now though, I've got a whole lot of stuff to grade. Not to mention plenty of work to do on Car Washer and, if I have time, Aurora's Nightmare. Speaking of which, I've may post some new concept art later in the week. At the moment though, I need to rebuild my comic buffer...again. I just can't seem to keep it full lately...

Anyway, I'll see you Wednesday!


11/25/2011 Thanksgiving vacation

There's a new voter bonus comic and a new ROM!

I hope everyone (or at least everyone in the US) had a good Thanksgiving. As previously mentioned, I'm in PA right now visiting relatives. It's been a pretty nice trip so far. Nothing much to write about though. Between being on a trip and a general lack of interest, I'm not planning on doing any Black Friday shopping this year. There are some pretty good deals, but I already own most of the stuff I'd want. I've noticed that the stores seem to open a little earlier each year but midnight is pushing it a bit, and I've seem some stores that are actually starting a couple hours earlier than that. Though I'll admit that, as weird as the whole thing seems, if I was going shopping somewhere I'd rather stay up late than get up really early. But I've had enough late night recently so I'm going to get some sleep.

Enjoy the rest of the weekend!


11/23/2011 Animal Kingdom

Time for that promised write-up!

So, I'd had a pretty busy week and was thinking that it would nice to go do something fun on the weekend. I was originally thinking of going to Wet 'n Wild (the last water park on my list) but quite a lot of the slides there require two or more people. I invited some of my friends from Japan Club, but they were busy so I decided to go to a Disney park instead. Animal Kingdom is the one part of Disney World I've never visited, so that seemed like a good place to start.
Every Disney park has its "centerpiece" of sorts and Animal Kingdom's, which I came across shortly after entering, is the Tree of Life. Looking at the tree is a lot like looking at one of those hidden object pictures. No matter where you look on the tree you'll see some type of animal carved into it. It's kind of fun to take a minute and see how many you can find. Anyway, Animal Kingdom is part zoo and each section has its own set of trails winding through a number of animal habitats.
But moving on, the first thing I did was head towards the tree itself. They've got a 3D show inside based on A Bug's Life. Actually one of the most amusing things was all the bug themed Broadway parody posters inside.
After the show, I made my way to Dino Land USA, which is part dinosaur research center, part dino themed amusement park. It's got a pretty good time travel ride in the research area and you get to see a bunch of cool fossils while waiting in line. Then there's the theme park area which has a roller coaster and a few carnival type rides. Despite it being a Sunday, lines were pretty short all throughout the park. I don't know if Animal Kingdom is usually like that or if I just got lucky, but it all worked well.
Continuing counter-clockwise around the park, I ended up in Asia. Now when I think of Asia the first thing that comes to mind is places like Japan and China, but Animal Kingdom's Asia is based more on places like India and Nepal, though some of the interiors reminded me of the Buddhist temples I saw in Japan. They've even got their own Mt. Everest, which has a cool roller coaster inside. There aren't any loops, but it's got a lot of twists and turns and keeps changing directions on you. There's also a white water rafting ride. I think I got hit with more water than anyone else in my raft, but unlike some similar rides I've been on, it doesn't completely drench you. Still fun though. There was also a neat animal walk with monkeys, tigers, and lots of birds, to name a few. One of my favorites though, was the giant flying fox bats. Although they only eat fruit, they're pretty big, with wing spans of up to six feet. Unlike a lot of bats, they're not nocturnal so I caught them at a fairly good time and it's interesting to watch them move across the ropes and branches, especially since they stay upside down whenever possible.
At this point, I was thinking about going to see a show but decided that, since the lines were short, it would be a good time to skip ahead a little and stop by the park's biggest attraction, or at least grab a fast pass. So I made the long (well, five minute) journey from Asia to Africa. The wait time for the safari was only twenty minutes, so I decided I didn't need a fast pass after all. Besides, some of the animal habitats were right next to the line so I had things to watch. The safari is part ride but mostly it's an actual drive through a recreation African savannah with real animals roaming around. All the usual African animals were there, plus some that you don't see so often. There were trenches to keep a few of the more dangerous animals isolated but, for the most people, they're allowed to roam free so you never know exactly what you will or won't see. While I was riding, we actually had to stop for several minutes because an ostrich had decided it wanted to sit in the middle of the road. Riding around and snapping pictures of animals is a lot of fun and the scenery was great. That little Lego safari ride I did a few weeks back made for good practice, but I still feel like Professor Oak should have been waiting at the end to rate my pictures...
I liked the safari so much that I decided to grab a fast pass and do it again after lunch. For lunch, I made my way back to Asia. There's a pretty awesome restaurant there and I ended up getting crispy duck over rice with a orange wasabi dipping sauce. Yes, eating at Disney is a lot of fun.
Back to the safari, I ended up sitting on the other side of the vehicle, which let me snag pictures of some different animals. Then it was on to Africa's animal walk. They had a lot of gorillas, some hippos that didn't seem to be getting along, and lots more. I finished the walk just in time to catch the bird show back in Asia, which was easily the best I've ever seen. They even had a singing parrot.
I made it back to Africa for the big Christmas Safari parade and then went to check out Rafiki's Planet Watch, which has a lot of behind the scenes displays about how they care for all the different animals.
At this point, it was starting to get dark (the sun is setting pretty early now) so I went to see the most popular show in the park, The Festival of the Lion King. I had been expecting something based on The Lion King Broadway show but it ended up being more like The Lion King meets Cirque du Soleil, with elaborate costumes, dances, and acrobatics. Well, at least I think it's kind of like what Cirque du Soleil would be like, I've never been to one of their shows. Though, they actually do have one in Orlando so maybe I will sometime. But anyway, the show was really well done and they did all the major songs from The Lion King, along with one other that, while not in the movie, is very fitting. They even had a fire dancer during Be Prepared. He was really good, but the whole thing was a little funny since, soon after he started, a little boy sitting near me yelled out "Don't play with fire!"
Once the show was over, I took a quick look at the nearby area, which is mainly for getting photos and autographs from Disney characters, then headed back to Africa for a bit and enjoyed a mango smoothie while listening to some live African music before heading out shortly before closing time.
In the end, I saw just about everything in the park, except for one show, which I could have fit in if I'd done a little more planning ahead of time. From what I remember of the other parks in Disney World, Animal Kingdom is the smallest, but there's still plenty to do and it strikes a great balance between theme park and zoo. Even if you stripped out the rides and shows, it would still beat out most of the regular zoos I've been to, and the rides and shows were great. Not to mention Disney's usual attention to detail. I enjoyed just looking at all the buildings and environments. So, all in all, it was a great day and I'm looking forward to visiting the other Disney parks over the coming months.

And that's all for now. I'm off to Pennsylvania to visit my cousin and grandmother for Thanksgiving. PV will probably still update on Friday, though I'm no 100% sure at this point. To all my US readers, happy Thanksgiving!


11/21/2011 Lions and tigers and bears (oh my!)

I've got quite a lot of things going on this week. I spent yesterday at Disney's Animal Kingdom where I saw lions, tigers, and...actually they didn't have bears (and least I didn't see any), but there were a lot of other animals. I got back too late to finish sorting my photos in time for today's update, but I'll have the whole write-up ready for Wednesday. But that was only the beginning of my week. I've got work today and tomorrow, but then Wednesday I'm heading to Pennsylvania to visit my grandmother, cousin, and possibly other assorted relatives, for Thanksgiving.

For now though, I've got to get some sleep.



11/18/2011 The complete guide

There's a new voter bonus comic! While you're at it, you may want to click that image next to the Top Web Comics banner. Some friends of mine are accepting pre-orders for their indie game, Blink. Basically you pledge some money for a copy of the game and some nifty bonus content. If they get enough pledges to meet their goal by the end of the month, you'll be billed and the game will hopefully be completed in the spring. If they don't get enough funds you keep your money and we miss out on what looks to be a neat puzzle FPS.

Speaking of indie games, Car Washer (one of my own), is progressing very nicely as well. If things continue at their current pace, I'll be able to release it early next year.

But if you want something that's done right now, the final installment of Josiah's Sprite Comic Guide is complete! I hope you guys have found it useful.

Enjoy the weekend!


11/16/2011 Still working

Still working on that final installment of my sprite comic guide, so I'm just going to get back to that. If nothing goes wrong, it should be up on Friday.



11/14/2011 Coming soon...

I can't believe that winter break is only a month away. For that matter, it's only a week and a half until Thanksgiving... I'm going to keep today's newspost short so I can spend some time working on that final part of Josiah's Sprite Comic Guide.

As I'm wrting this, I'm watching an episode of House Hunters Internaional, where a guy from New York City is moving to Tokyo to teach at a highschool. While I like watching things about Japan, it's kind of getting on my nerves. The show is making a big deal about how expensive it is to live in Tokyo and how the guy will have to compromise due to his budget because he'll be on a teacher's salary. The thing is though, he's willing to spend up to 200,000 yen per month in rent. That's over $2,500 at current exchange rates. And a lot of that is being covered by a housing stipend from his job. Your average ALT salary is only 220,000 - 240,000 with no housing stipend. If he can afford to spend that much on rent alone, he has no right to complain. He's probably making more than I am teaching college here in Florida. I want that job...
Maybe that guy is used to paying so much for rent since he was some sort of New York stock broker but sheesh... When I was in Tokyo this year I was paying around 80,000 yen a month and everyone thought that was pretty expensive for what I was getting. Which it was, since most apartments in Japan require long leases and high move-in fees. Those that don't tend to make up the difference by charging a good bit more per month. So if I was overpaying for that apartment at 80,000 it stands to reason that, if you know where to look, 200,000 could get a pretty nice place.
Another minor annoyance, nearly every time the narrator mentioned Tokyo's high cost of living (which she did repeatedly throughout the show), the camera kept focusing on vending machines and fast food restaurants, all of which are very cheap, even by US standards.

Anyway, I should get back to work. See you Wednesday!


11/11/2011 The Orlando Japan Festival

There's a special voter bonus comic featuring forum members Saber Knight and Metalheadz. New ROM too.

So, Friday I went to Legoland and that conference was all day Saturday. It was ok, but not really worth writing about here. As it happened, Sunday was the day of Orlando's Japan festival so I decided to go there. The festival was fairly similar to the Matsuri festival in Phoenix though, surprisingly, a good bit smaller. There were two rows of booths (one primarily shops and one primarily food). The food was really good, but it didn't take very long to check out all the booths. There was also a performance stage. Most of the shows were pretty good. This taiko group, for example, is the biggest one I've ever seen and they put on a very impressive set. There were some other types of musicians as well, along with swordsmen and a couple other types of performers that I didn't get a good look at. After walking around, watching a couple performances, and getting lunch I ran into some people from UF's Japan club and ended up hanging out with Jonathan and Fumi (the couple I went to Howl-o-Scream with). It was fun, but I'm glad I didn't drive all the way to Orlando just for the festival. I find Phoenix Matsuri is considerably less impressive than I used to after spending so much time in Japan and Orlando's festival was, at best, a third of its size.
After that, Jonathan, Fumi, and I went off to a Japanese restaurant...and got lost since it had apparently moved to the other side of the city. So we ended up at a different Japanese restaurant called Hanamizuki. While a bit more expensive than my favorite Japanese restaurants in Phoenix, it was really good, and you know a place is authentic when the whole menu is in both Japanese and English. Not to mention that the staff all spoke Japanese as well. We even ran into more J club people there. All in all, it was a nice way to finish off my weekend trip.

So what's next? We'll, this weekend I'm just hanging out and getting stuff done. Not sure about next weekend, but then after that I'm going to visit some relatives for Thanksgiving. And then there really won't be much time left until the end of the semester... Anyway, I'm off. See you Monday!


11/9/2011 Indie games and Legos

I've got a couple of cool things to announce. First off, my often delayed indie game Car Washer: Summer of the Ninja has a new programmer and is making progress again. If all goes well, it should finally be released late this year or early next year! I'm planning to release a new demo and set up a pre-order program (complete with bonus) so I'll be sure to let you guys know once it draws closer to completion.
In somewhat related news, a couple of good friends of mine have formed a studio and are making an indie game of their own, a rather interesting FPS / puzzle game called Blink. While I've been working on my games in my spare time and funding them myself, they're taking a different approach and looking for people to pledge some money to help fund its development. They're offering some cool bonuses so please take a look. You can learn more here or by clicking on the Blue Void Studios image above.

Switching topics entirely, it's time to talk about what I did the past weekend. Or at least the first part.

As previously mentioned, I ended up going to Tampa last weekend for a conference. However, it didn't start till Friday evening and since I don't have to go in to work on Fridays, I figured I might as well go down early and visit another park. I was originally planning to go to one last water park but weather report wasn't so good so I decided to do something else. Because of when the conference started, I didn't want to go to a Disney park or other place where I'd probably end up wanting to stay late. Legoland Florida recently opened and, in addition to being closer to Tampa than the other parks on my list, it closes at 5, which meant I'd have plenty of time to get to my hotel and go to the conference.
Legoland is around halfway between Tampa and Orlando at the former site of Cypress Gardens (the area's first theme park, some elements of which are incorporated into Legoland). I went to Legoland California once a long time ago and while my memories of it are pretty fuzzy, I still had some idea of what to expect. Like any good theme park, Legoland is divided up into different themed areas. They're based on different types of Lego sets such as city/metro, adventure, castle, Duplo, etc. Wherever you are in the park, there's bound to be lots of giant Lego models around. Some are whimsical, some are recreations of famous characters, and some are very impressive copies of real life items like this full size Ford Explorer.
Aside from the models, there's a number of other attractions. The rides are geared towards younger kids (car and boat driving, laser shooting, etc). There are a few roller coasters, but they're all pretty mild. A couple of the rides, such as the safari, while not all that exciting, make for good photo opportunities. Riding around the safari course while taking photos of the Lego animals as I passed actually reminded me a lot of Pokémon Snap... I didn't go on all the rides (a couple of the coasters had rather long lines) but the ones I did go on were enjoyable, if nothing amazing.
Naturally, there are a lot of stores (containing all sorts of Lego sets, pieces, and merchandise) and restaurants (the apple fries are pretty good). but that's not all. It wouldn't really be a theme park without shows of some kind. Aside from a theater that shows an assortment of "4D" movies about Lego characters (3D plus some fans, air jets, and the like) there's a fireman show (which I didn't end up seeing) and a water show involving Lego men, pirates, wave runners, and water skiing. While the story was a bit corny, the show itself was pretty cool.
After the seeing the water show and getting some of the aforementioned apple fries, I took a leisurely stroll through the original botanical gardens from Cypress Gardens. They've got a bit of a jungle feel to them and are very pretty. I even saw a small alligator hiding in the river (far below the bridge I was on, fortunately).
My last big stop was Mini Land, which is a collection of Lego recreations of famous landmarks. According to the sign, it took a hundred people two years to complete but the end result is utterly amazing. It's divided into sections by city including Las Vegas (featuring many of its most famous hotels), New York, San Francisco, Washington D.C., and more. And, since this is Legoland Florida, there's an entire Florida section too. Remember this place? I visited the real thing a couple months back in St. Augustine.
The buildings themselves are remarkable and look perfect from every side, but that's only half of it. The streets (whether in crowded city scenes or quieter country ones) and even some of the buildings are filled with all sorts of people doing just about anything you can think of. For those with some time to kill, there's a lot of really cool hidden details scattered throughout. I must have spent at least an hour looking around and taking photos. While I haven't done much with them lately (due to a combination of limited time and most of my collection being in Colorado), I was constantly playing with Legos as a kid and got good enough to place in multiple national contests so I had a lot of fun studying how the different models were put together.
Overall, I had a very enjoyable time at Legoland. Though I will note that there's considerably less to do (and fewer operating hours to do it in) there than at Disney or Universal despite them all charging about the same amount for a day pass. Despite that, a strong love of Legos will easily make up for the shortcomings.


11/7/2011 Back to normal?

I made it back from my weekend trip without any problems. I'll have a write-up and photos on Wednesday. Right now though, I need to get to sleep so I'll be ready for work.



11/4/2011 Crazy weekend

There's a new voter bonus comic!

Actually, it's more like a crazy half a week. Yesterday at work I was just starting on a lecture I had to get done when I was told that I needed to compile this big list of stuff ASAP. Things like that happen, but it came on a day when I had a lot of other things I absolutely had to do. And today, I'm heading south. There's a conference I'm going to tonight and tomorrow. But, since it doesn't start until tonight, I'm going to spend the day at Lego Land. I was originally going to hit up the last water park on my list but Orlando is going to be a little on the cold side today so I had to change my plans. Anyway, I've got Lego Land today, the conference tonight and tomorrow, and then on Sunday I'm meeting some people at Orlando's Japanese festival. Expect write-ups and photos next week.



11/2/2011 Sleep?

Yawn... Gonna keep it short tonight. The reason? Had a couple of late nights in a row doing stuff online with friends so I need to get some sleep. I'll be doing a lot of stuff this weekend and there's some otther things going on that I'll probably be talking about soon. For now though, bed time.


10/31/2011 More about Japan

Some of you probably remember the Japan travel and info blog I was doing earlier this year (separate from my regular travelogue). It went on hiatus for the summer since I ended up being busier than I thought I would, but I've decided to start updating it again. Shooting for one or two updates per week right now. Anyway, I put up the first new entry yesterday so check it out if you're interested. If you've already read my travelogue there'll be some overlap but while the travelogue is a record of my experiences, the blog is all about things to see and do and what makes Japan so much different than the US (more of a guide book type of thing).

Well, that's all for now. See you Wednesday!


10/28/2011 Just a normal weekend

There's a new voter bonus comic up!

And, well, that's about it. Nothing special going on this weekend. I'm just going to run a few errands and try and get a bunch of work done on my own projects.

In other news, it's the start of the usual holiday flood of must have games. There's a lot I'm looking forward to including some big names like the new Zelda, Mario, and Assassin's Creed and some lesser known ones like Fate Extra, which I actually bought a copy of in Japan back in January because I thought it would never get a US release. I'd probably already be playing the first of my holiday release games right now...except that Best Buy seems to have forgotten that you're supposed to order enough copies of a game to actually fill are your pre-orders. While they do have a better rewards program, if I don't get my copies of Professor Layton and Kirby soon I'm going to start pre-ordering everything from Gamestop again.
Actually though, as much as I'm looking forward to the holiday release titles, my most anticipated titles aren't coming out till next year. First up is Final Fantasy XIII-2, which I'm getting more and more excited about with every trailer. Fortunately, it's coming out at the end of January (only a month and a half after Japan) so I don't have too long to wait. Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance only has a vague Q2 2012 release date at this point and while I'm always interested in a new Kingdom Hearts game that fact that it finally picks Sora and Riku's story after the end up KH2 is awesome. But what really peaked my interest is the inclusion of Neku from The Word Ends With You, one of my favorite games ever. Hopefully that means a TWEWY sequel isn't entirely out of the cards either... Finally, I've been hearing a lot of good things about Final Fantasy Type 0 (formally called Agito XIII). It just launched in Japan and is looking like a very cool action RPG with a pretty dark and serious story. Unfortunately, they haven't announced a US release yet. Though, seeing as it's a Final Fantasy game, I'd be pretty surprised if it doesn't make it to the US. That said, there's been a few games lately that really should have been brought to the US but haven't. Though I have Nintendo and Capcom to blame for that, so as long as Square Enix doesn't decide to follow their lead things should be ok.

Anyway, I'll probably be talking a bit about the games I'm getting over the coming months but for now I should get going. See you Monday!


10/26/2011 Florida Drivers

I've been trying to figure out just what it is with drivers down here and I think I've finally got it. It's not the same as Phoenix (where everyone likes to speed and slip through tight gaps on the highway). Instead, people here seem to have a favorite speed and they do their best to always stay at that exact speed, regardless of what the actual speed limit is. Which means that, while they do speed at times, at other times they go way below the speed limit. They don't even change speed when they need to slow down or stop. Normally, in a two lane road, if the person in front of you slows down to make a turn, you need to slow down and/or stop until they've turned. Here, however, I'd had plenty of people swerve into the other lane (in a no passing area) or go off the road entirely just so they don't have to slow down.
And then there's the train tracks. I cross some on my way to work. They've got one of those barriers that lowers when a train is coming, but the way it's setup is kinda weird and you can zig-zag through to drive across the tracks even when the barrier is down. And, so long as they can't actually see the train, that's what everyone does. Sure they look for the train first, but the visibility there isn't especially great and trains go pretty fast. Seems rather dangerous to me...

Well, anyway, I guess that's about it for now. See you Friday!


10/24/2011 The Gainesville Asian Festival

Check out the donation bar. It's only $5 away from the first goal, which would mean commentary on another batch of old strips and a chapter of ROM The Novel (though I actually owe you guys a couple of those from way back already). This donation did pass the goal for the final part of Josiah's Sprite Comic Guide, so expect that in the not too distant future. And for what comes next time the $50 goal is met... Well, I've got some ideas but we'll talk about that another time.

Gainesville's yearly Asian Festival was yesterday so I decided to go down and check it out. It reminded me a bit of the Japanese festival back in Phoenix, though smaller and covering multiple countries, instead of one. Anyway, there were a number of booths selling clothes, origami, jewelry, bamboo, koi, and a few other random things. The food booths were mostly Thai, though I really like Thai food so I can't complain too much about that.
There were also displays of bonsai trees and some Indian dolls along with a number of performances. I watched some Filipino dances (one of which involved stepping in and out of rapidly opening and closing bamboo poles), Indian dances (which had a lot of emphasis on head and eye movements), Chinese acrobatics (including plate spinning and unicycle riding), and various martial arts.
Overall, it was nice, though a bit on the small side compared to some of the things I've been to. I walked around, watched some shows, got some food, and was thinking about heading out when I ran into Jonathan and Fumi (the people I went to Howl-O-Scream with) and I ended up staying and going around the festival again with them, which was fun. They also told me about a Japanese festival in Orlando next month, so I'll probably try and go to that too.
Overall, the Gainesville Asian Festival was pretty nice for its size. Not especially impressive if you've been to Asia (or just some bigger festivals), but an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.


10/21/2011 Time to catch up

There's a new bonus comic for everyone who votes!

Thanks to my afore mentioned time issues, I barely got today's strip finished in time. On the bright side, my schedule should be returning to normal now so I should be able to get caught up on everything fairly quickly.

Right now though, I gotta run. Enjoy the weekend!


10/19/2011 Dolphins, roller coasters, and Halloween

It's finally time to talk about what I did last Friday so let's get right to it.

It all started when Jonathan and Fumi, who I know from the local Japan club, invited me to go to Busch Garden's big Halloween event with them. Busch Gardens in down in Tampa which is a couple hour drive from my place, but it's not all that far away from Orlando. And since the Halloween ticket at Busch Gardens doesn't get you in until kinda late in the afternoon, I figured I might as well go down early and visit another water park.
I decided to go to Aquatica, which is Sea World's water park. The price was more or less the same as the Disney ones, though at Disney you can save quite a lot by buying a combo ticket and Aquatica charges you for parking, which the Disney water parks don't. But anyway, Aquatica doesn't really have a theme to it like Blizzard Bay or Typhoon Lagoon. They do, however, have some pretty cool slides, some of which (like these multiple funnel slides) are rather unique as well. They also have a rather strange take on the old lazy river ride (though they had a regular one too), where you float or swim around without a tube in some really fast moving water. It was actually a lot of fun, though since you're moving so fast you do need to watch where you're going or you're bound to crash into someone or something. And since it's part of Sea World there's some Commerson's dolphins (note their black and white coloring) and one of the slides briefly goes underwater through their tank. There were a couple wave pools as well, though they were pretty small compared to the ones as the Disney parks. In the end, I had a lot fun though I think I'd rate Aquatica slightly below Blizzard Bay and Typhoon Lagoon overall.
After I finished riding and re-riding the slides, I got back in my car and headed for Busch Gardens. Their Howl-O-Scream event is a special Halloween version of the park that opens up after their regular hours and requires a completely separate ticket. It does, however, let you get in a bit before things switch from normal to Halloween mode and I had some time before Jonathan and Fumi arrived so I was able to explore the regular version of the park a bit as well. Busch Gardens has a bit of an Africa theme going but the best way to describe it is as a mix between an amusement park and a zoo. The animals were spaced throughout the park and while it couldn't compete with a good regular zoo, they did have a pretty decent variety of animals (mostly from Africa), including some alligators much bigger than any I saw in Jacksonville's zoo the other week. The amusement park stuff included your standard rides and midway games, along with some really good roller coasters. I'm a big roller coaster fan and was pleased with both the coasters themselves and the variety (there was a hanging coaster, a wooden coaster, a normal sitting coaster, a special raised seat coaster, etc). I'd say it was worth the visit for them alone.
Anyway, after the regular day visitors were herded out, things began switching over to Halloween mode. While a lot of the regular attractions closed, many stayed open (including all the coasters) and the lines during the transition period were nearly nonexistent. As for the other changes... First I should probably note that the only other special Halloween event I've ever been to was at Tokyo Disney, which is all pumpkins, cute ghosts, and the like. Howl-O-Scream is aimed at a much older audience and is about zombies, monsters, blood and guts, and scares. That type stuff never really appealed to me, but I was there more to hang out with people and go on the coasters. Some people, however, were really into it. First off, there were a number of "zombies" (costumed employees) roaming around the park. Some just walked around and looked creepy while others were more clever about it and blended into the scenery to scare unsuspecting passersby. Now I know zombies are pretty popular these days (though I'm really not sure why) but I think some people take it a bit too far. I mean, seriously? Oh, as a note, I found the occasional messages warning people not to physically attack the zombies rather amusing.
Now I don't scare easily. Especially when I know that no one is in any real danger (actually, considering how I was during the big earthquake in Japan earlier this year, I suppose I don't scare too easily when their is real danger either) and none of the zombies came anywhere close to scaring me (though I did get slightly surprised a couple of times). Judging from the screams, however, not everyone was as brave as I am.
So I dodged some zombies and checked out the coasters for a bit until Jonathan and Fumi arrived, at which point our main focus switched to the various haunted houses set up throughout the park. While Jonathan didn't seem to scare any more than I did, he's worked in all sorts of haunted houses and the like before so he enjoys checking them out and seeing how they're made. He likes roller coasters as well, which made Fumi a bit of the odd one out as she's scared of both. Oh, I should probably mention that Fumi is Japanese (if you didn't guess from her name) and doesn't speak a whole lot of English, so we were talking Japanese about 90% of the time, which was great practice. But, moving on...
While we couldn't get Fumi on any of the roller coasters she did go in all the haunted houses. I couldn't take pictures inside the houses themselves but they each had a theme (including vampire casino, zombie mortuary, evil sanitarium, etc) and featured lots of creepy decor, crazy lighting, and actors jumping out when you least expect it. Once again, I wasn't even remotely scared (though there were a couple surprising bits) but Fumi was another story entirely. While some of the houses were kind of neat by themselves (the one based on Poe's works was very well done) I would have gotten bored of them pretty quickly on my own. However, I had a lot of fun watching Fumi go through them. She behaved exactly the way I though a scared Japanese girl should (a little surprising since my expectations are based on anime and manga characters). Every time something scared or surprised her (and about 95% of the stuff did), she'd give a little shriek and grab onto Jonathan's arm, which was both cute and amusing. She made such an easy mark that she had a tendency to attract large numbers of zombies when we walked between the houses as well.
It was pretty late by the time I left but I managed to get back to my apartment ok and that's about it. As for final opinions... Busch Gardens is a nice park, though unless you're really into roller coasters it can't compare to the more famous parks in the area. Howl-O-Scream was pretty well done too. Not really my kind of thing, but it ended up being a lot of fun since I was there as part of a group, which was also a pleasant change of pace from all the solo sightseeing trips I've been doing over the last few years. I do like solo sightseeing (there's some definite advantages to it), but hanging out with friends is fun too and it's nice to mix things up from time to time.


10/17/2011 Coming Wednesday...

Well, I'm still staying barely ahead on all my work, though it's much closer than I'd like. Unfortunately, that's probably not going to change until sometime next week. Anyway, some friends I know from University of Florida's Japan Club invited me to go to Busch Garden's Howl-O-Scream event. But it didn't start until later in the day so I decided to go early and visit Aquatica (Sea World's water park). I took pictures and was planning to write about it today but I didn't have time to get today's comic, the photos, and the write up all done in time so look for that Wednesday.



10/14/2011 Staying ahead...barely

There's a new voter bonus comic and a new ROM!

I'm still managing to avoid falling behind with my work, though just barely. I suppose it would help if I just worked on things all day today, but some people I know invited me to go to Busch Garden's halloween event with them and, if I'm driving all the way down there, I might as well leave early and go to one of the two remaining water parks I want to visit. I can get ahead on things next week. Or at least try, since I've still got one last holiday to interrupt my schedule.


10/12/2011 At the zoo

Time for a bit about what I did on Friday.

I had plans to spend the night in Jacksonville Friday night to make things simpler for Yom Kippur. Since I don't have to go in to work on Fridays anyway, I decided I might as well go early and spend the whole day in Jacksonville. Thing is, aside from the beach and shopping malls, there really isn't all that much to see in Jacksonville. The two top attractions looked to be the zoo and the art museum so I ended up going to the zoo. While it wasn't one of the best zoos I've ever been to, I have been to quite a lot of zoos and this one was pretty nice. It was divided into several different areas, based on countries. One thing that really stuck out was the aviaries. There were several of them scattered throughout, so I got to get up close to quite a lot of different birds. All your typical animals were there, like giraffes and elephants, but they had some more uncommon ones too like gorillas, giant anteaters, and even an okapi (which I haven't seen since I visited the Yokohama Zoo in Japan). Speaking of anteaters, I got curious and looked up a few things online. Not sure about the giant ones, but apparently small anteaters make pretty good pets. Anyway, since it's Florida, there had to be lots of flamingos. One interesting thing was that all the ponds were absolutely covered in algae. It didn't seem to slow down the animals, but it was kind of funny to see turtles and alligators covered in the stuff, even when out of the water.
The zoo was fun and by the time I got out it was a bit too late to go to the museum (it doesn't stay open very late) so I did a little bit of shopping then went off to find a good restaurant. I ended up at a nice Thai place and had a big last meal before beginning my Yom Kippur fast. The rest of my stay (hotel, services, etc) went well but there isn't much of anything worth writing about. Though I did notice that my moderately priced hotel room was bigger than both of the apartments I had in Japan. It's amazing how little space you get used to over there... Anyway, I may hit up the art museum as some point and, if the weather holds up, I'll probably pay another visit to the beach but when it comes down to it Jacksonville really isn't much of a tourist destination. If I'm taking a day trip, there's a whole lot more to see and do in Orlando or St. Augustine.


10/10/2011 That time of year

I just can't keep ahead on my work right now. Not with all the Jewish holidays going on. Fortunately, though only thing I'm behind on at the moment is PV strips, but I'm not really ahead on anything and it's looking like that won't change at least until the holidays are finished (another couple of weeks).

I didn't do anything too amazing while in Jacksonville on Friday, but I'll talk about on Wednesday. I wanted to do it today but in the end I didn't have time to finish both my write-up and today's PV strip so it'll have to wait.



10/7/2011 Power!

There's a new Blooper Reel comment up for everyone who votes!

MoP: Divine Reflex
Duration: 2 Turns
Recharge: ??
Description: When Divine Reflex is active, Razelle's attack power is reduced by 25% but each attack in her physical combos hits twice. Her evasion is also increased by 20%.

Designer's Comments:
I wanted to do a speed based moment of power from early on, but just giving the character some extra actions wasn't all that exciting. So I thought about what a skilled acrobat like Razelle could do with extra speed and ended up with Divine Reflex.
She discovered the skill during while training as child. Though she didn't understand exactly what it was, she quickly saw how useful it could be in her performances and she often makes use of it during big shows. Fortunately for her, the type of people that might recognize her moment of power for what it truly is rarely attend traveling shows. But, as a performer, how long can she really expect to keep her secret hidden?

That's all for now. Saturday is Yom Kippur and, to avoid a lot of extra driving, I'm going to go into Jacksonville tomorrow and spend the night there. I might do some touring before then, though Jacksonville really doesn't have a lot of major attractions. I I end up seeing anything interesting I'll be sure to write about it and post pictures on Monday.


10/5/2011 Hard at work

I don't have too much to talk about at the moment. I've had a couple of somewhat late nights this week so I kind of just want to cut this short and get to sleep. So yeah, I'll talk more on Friday. I should have Razelle moment of power info finished by then too.

One quick comment for today. If you've got a PS3 and have never played Ico and/or Shadow of the Colossus, you really need to get the new PS3 rerelease. For $40 you get two of the most amazing PS2 games ever made, now even better than before. If you've already played both on the PS2, like me, it's not a "must have" but there's enough improvements that it's worth a look. Both games still look surprisingly good, especially with the HD upgrade, but it does make me wonder how amazing they would look if the graphics were redone from scratch for the PS3... But anyway, aside from the graphical improvement, you get trophies, a set of trailers, developer interviews, and the like, and a couple of dynamic themes. If only they'd put a demo for Last Guardian on there... Oh, you also get the European version of Ico which (aside from the addition of a couple of somewhat annoying timing based puzzles, has a lot of nice extras that the original US version didn't).

I may write a bit more about it another day, but I think I actually reviewed both games a long time ago so I probably don't need to do it again. Speaking of reviews, maybe I should dig through the old news and give all my game reviews their own page sometime... Anyway, see you Friday!


10/3/2011 Another character

When I used to visit my grandparents in Pennsylvania in the summer, of the my favorite things was visiting the Amazing Maize Maze, a giant corn maze near Strasburg. While I'm not going to be making it there this year, I heard about a corn maize in Gainesville and decided to pay it a visit yesterday. There's actually a few different corn mazes in Florida, though the others are all fairly far away from me. Anyway, the one here really doesn't compare in any way to the Amazing Maize Maze and I could spend a while going over all the ways that it's not as good...but there's no real point in that. All in all, it was still a fun (if somewhat expensive) way to spend 40 minutes.

Now, I did promise that next Ink character...

Ink Character Profile: Razelle Aluna
Gender: Female
Height: 5'10"
Build: Willowy, tanned
Age: 20
Hair: Red; Very long
Eyes: Dark Green
Right Handed
Weapon: Chakram
Clothing: A wispy colorful dress, suitable for a dancer.
Background: Razelle was found in a forest by a group of traveling performers when she was six years old. Although she had vague memories of her parents, she couldn't remember where they were from or why she was on her own. She was raised by the members of the troupe, eventually becoming a skilled dancer and acrobat. Traveling from place to place and putting on shows, while not without its hardships, is a life she truly enjoys. Razelle tends to display a very carefree personality, but she's actually a very smart girl and puts a lot of thought into any important decisions she has to make. Yet there's one secret she never shared with anyone, not even those who raised her. A strange power that she keeps hidden. When she discovers other with the similar powers, she feels drawn to them in a strange way...

Designer's Comments:
Razelle was sort of a spur of the moment creation. I thought it would be better if Jessie wasn't the only character in the story with a romantic interest and it would be interesting to see how she reacted to a girl her own age, especially one with a very different personality.
Razelle can be very good as dissipating tension between the members of the group, or causing it to flare up. While she and Ralin quickly hit it off, much to Jessie's annoyance, she soon forms a strong friendship with Josiah as well. More than anyone else, she's able to look past his status as the creator of their world and see him instead for the person that he is.

That's it for now. Look for details Razelle moment of power soon.


11/30/2011 Repetition

There's a new voter bonus comic. Shauni also has a new news post up (though no new ROM comic).

Yesterday was a bit of a long day. In the morning, I headed off to Jacksonville for services (it was Rosh Hashanah). Then, that night, I went out to dinner with some people from the UF Japan Club. I ended up getting back fairly late, so I didn't have time to finish up that Ink character. Sorry for the continued delays with that. Barring some sort of disaster, I will get it up on Monday.
I had been thinking of going to a water park today, but I had to do a lot of driving yesterday and I've got to go back to Jacksonville tomorrow and I'd rather not have long drives three days in a row. I might do something Sunday, but I haven't decided yet.

Speaking driving, I drive a lot more during an average week here than I ever have anywhere else I've lived (and that's not counting my occasional touring trips). When driving I tend to listen to the radio. Now, I don't like a lot of current American music. There's the occasional song here and there but they're the exception, so I mostly listen to oldies stations. Annoyingly, Gainesville (the nearest city) doesn't seem to have one. There's an oldies station in Orlando and one in Jacksonville. On my drive to work and most of my shopping trips, the Jacksonville station is usually the only one that gets decent reception. But I've got a problem with it. I realize that different radio stations play slightly different music. There were songs I often heard on the Phoenix oldies station that I rarely if ever heard on the one I listed to in Colorado and vice-versa. The Jacksonville station, however, takes this way too far. I could swear that at least 75% of their playlist is comprised of the same ten or so songs. If I listen to the station for more than a couple minutes, I'm pretty much guaranteed to hear at least one or two of those songs, regardless of the day or time. I've even heard the same song multiple times in one day. And it isn't like I'm listening to the station all day either. This is around an hour of total listening time broken up into 2 - 4 segments. I'd understand if it was a top 40 countdown station or something but for an entire oldies station? Did they not budget any money for licensing music or something? Even if you really like those songs they're still being played way too often. And that is why I've started using my MP3 player on my daily commute.

But anyway, I really should get some sleep. Have a good weekend!


9/28/2011 Better Organization

Since I'd been doing a decent bit of touring since coming down here to Florida, and since I still have a bunch of places I'm planning to visit, I decided to go ahead and give all my Florida touring posts their own travelogue page. So if you missed my write-ups on St. Augustine, the Disney water parks, or any of the other interesting things I've done since moving down here, you can find them all there.


9/26/2011 Catherine

It was a busy weekend but I finished about 95% of the stuff I wanted to get done and, as a result, am pretty much caught up on everything again. So, it's time for that Catherine review I promised.

Soon after Catherine was first announced in Japan, it started to garner a lot of interest. For one thing, it was developed by the team responsible for the popular Persona series. But what really caught a lot of people's attention was the tone and the art. Trailers were a mix of nightmarish scenes and shots of a beautiful blonde girl in a number of suggestive poses. The developers were clearly out to make a mature game and they did...though perhaps not in the way some people thought. Before I begin with the review proper, let me make something clear. Catherine doesn't have any sex or nudity. Well, to be precise, there is sex and nudity but, despite the game's M rating, you don't actually see anything. So if you're interested in Cather solely because of the box art, you need to change your expectations. Now, with that out of the way...
Catherine is an unusual game in many ways, but it has one of the most normal heroes you could possibly imagine. Vincent Brooks is a 32 year old bachelor living in Japan in the near future (despite the setting, everyone seems to have English names). He's a generally nice guy but a bit of a loser. And, even though his life isn't anything exciting, he's perfectly happy with his undemanding job and is content to hang out with his long time girlfriend Katherine and and spend his evenings drinking with his friends at the local bar. But when Katherine starts strongly hinting that they should finally get married, Vincent finds himself confused and scared about his future. He loves her, but can't decide if he's really ready to make that kind of commitment. He stays late at the bar to think things over and that's when Catherine appears. In many ways, she's Vincent perfect woman. Young, beautiful, alluring, and not at all interested in marriage. After a few too many drinks, he wakes up to find her in his bed and that's when the trouble really begins... On the one hand, Vincent knows he shouldn't be cheating on Katherine, but is she really the one he wants? And how would either girl react if she found out that there's another woman?
But, as it turns out, that may be the least of his worries. There's a strange rumor going around about unfaithful men who find themselves in dreams that can kill. Nonsense to be sure...but at the same time an increasing number of men have been found dead in their beds, with no apparent cause of death. And Vincent has begun having strange dreams where he's forced to climb towers as they crumble and fall beneath him. He doesn't know why he's having the dreams or what they mean but he knows that, if he falls, he dies.
Each day in Catherine is divided into three sections. First are cutscenes following Vincent throughout the day as he interacts with Katherine, Catherine, and his friends. Come evening, he ends up in the Stray Sheep bar where you can chat with the patrons, receive and reply to text messages and phone calls from Katherine and Catherine, drink (and learn some interesting alcohol related trivia in the process), and otherwise pass the time. You'll often get to decide how to respond to conversations and texts, which will in turn change the way those exchanges play out (sometimes significantly). The characters are interesting and believable and Vincent's struggle between responsibility, freedom, and growing up is something that everyone past a certain age should be able to relate to. The plot is graipping, creepy, and will keep you guessing until the end.
Finally, at night Vincent finds himself in the nightmares. These stages play out like a puzzle game. You've got to guide Vincent to the top of each tower by pushing and pulling blocks to create a path. But, if you stop too long to think, the floor will drop out and it's all over. You'll need to move fast and think on your feet if you want to survive. I've seen a lot of reviewers complaining about Catherine's difficulty. And with lots of different types of blocks and arrangements, these stages can be pretty challenging, especially in the boss stages where Vincent's fears are demonized, becoming giant monsters that chase him up the towers while tossing out all manner of attacks. Completing each level feels like a real accomplishment and rightly so. That said, I don't think Catherine is anywhere near as ridiculously difficult as some people make it out to be. There's plenty of mid-level checkpoints, a handy undo button which let's you cancel one or even several bad moves (so long as you haven't died), and plenty of extra lives to be found. While there were lots of areas that gave me a bit of trouble, the last level was the only one that came close to frustrating me. Even when I went back and replayed all the levels to get gold models, there were really only three spots that I found truly frustrating. I realize that I'm a very experienced gamer, but I don't play a lot puzzle games and I was on normal difficulty the whole time. While I suspect that hard mode is pretty brutal, there's easy and very easy modes as well, so I just don't see what all the fuss is about.
Each night features several levels and in between them Vincent reaches landings when he can talk with sheep (who seem to be other people in the same situation as him) before getting questioned by a mysterious figure who seems to be running the show. There's a large variety of different questions, most dealing with life and relationships. There's a few weird ones in there, but most of them are pretty thought provoking and you're strongly encouraged to answer truthfully, at least on your first playthough. After answering, you're shown a graph of what other players answered their first time, which can be pretty interesting at times.
Vincent's answers to these questions, along with how he reacts when texting and talking to his friends, affects his alignment bar. But this isn't really a clear cut good and evil bar. Rather, one side represents duty, responsibility, and normalcy, while the other is for freedom and excitement. This bar, and your answers to the last batch of questions, determine which of the game's eight endings you'll get. It's made clear that there's no right or wrong answers (though some do fall more in line with societal norms than others) and except for the two bad endings (which are a result of jumping from one extreme to the other), all of them present a satisfying and fitting conclusion to Vincent's ordeals, both in the nightmare and in his real life. So it's good to just answer truthly and see what happens, at least on your first time through the game. Unfortunately, other than the ending, Vincent's alignment doesn't change the main story much aside from some slightly different dialogue here and there, which was a little bit of a missed opportunity.
The story and gameplay are backed up by excellent anime style graphics (interspersed with a number of actual animated scenes) and a soundtrack comprised of cleverly remixed classical music. Completing the story your first time will probably take 10-17 hours depending on how much trouble you have with the nightmare levels and how much time you spend messing around in the bar every night, but Catherine packs in a surprising amount of reply value. You can reply any completed nightmare stage to try and get gold medals, which unlock several super hard bonus levels (which in turn unlock an extra story scene). In addition, you can skip over any level you've earned a gold on when replaying the story, which makes getting all the endings a fairy quick and easy process. And, naturally, you can always give things a try on a higher difficulty.
If that isn't enough, there's also Rapunzel, the arcade machine in the bar that Vincent and his friends are all hooked on. It's an old style arcade game where you need to guide the prince to the top of a tower of blocks to save Rapunzel. It plays like the nightmare stages, except that you don't have to worry about the floor falling out from under you (at least not unless you make a really bad move). However, unlike Vincent, the prince can only make a limited number of moves each level, so it requires a much more thoughtful and measured approach. Every few levels, there's a little story scene with Rapunzel and the prince and, with 128 levels in all, both the game and its story are far deeper than they first appear.
In the end, Catherine probably isn't a game for everyone. It's different, difficult (at least on Normal and Hard modes), and involves quite a lot of dialogue and cutscenes. But those who give it a try will find a very well made game with a gripping romance/suspense plot that's one of the most mature and thought provoking tales to be found in any video game. I highly recommend that everyone with a PS3 or 360 at least download the demo and give it a try.


9/23/2011 Losing ground

There's a new voter bonus comic and a new ROM.

It's kind of annoying. At the end of last week, I was just about caught up on everything and now, with this week drawing to a close, I'm suddenly behind on a bunch of stuff again. There's a number of different reasons for that. A lot was out of my control (work related stuff, unexpected but important issues coming up, etc), but it partly came down to how I decided to spend my time as well. Anyway, I've got today, tomorrow night, and Sunday to try to get caught back up on everything, which I really need to do since Rosh Hoshanna is next week and that's a whole day on which I know I won't be able to get any work done. Unfortunately, that also means I don't have time to write any more right now. Assumine I manage to get mostly caught up over the weekend, expect my Catherine review on Monday and at least one of those new Ink character profiles later in the week.

I hope you guys have a good (and less busy) weekend!


9/21/2011 St. Augustine

Since coming down here, I heard a few people mention St. Augustine but I didn't really know much about it, other than that it was on the beach. But then I looked it up online, saw a few photos, and decided that I absolutely had to go. And, last Friday, that's just what I did. There's a lot to see, but most of the main attractions are in the same general area and I found a good walking tour so I was set.
St. Augustine was founded by the Spaniards in 1565 (though the area was first explored by Ponce de Leon around 50 years earlier), making it one of the oldest continuously occupied cities in the country. It has a pretty interesting history and was controlled by the Spanish, than the British, than the Spanish again, and finally by the Americans. And Ponce de Leon wasn't the only famous historical figure connected with St. Augustine. Sir Francis Drake, for example, burned it to the ground in 1586.
Further attacks by the British eventually led to the construction of St. Augustine most famous landmark, the Castillo de San Marcos, which was also one of the first stops on my walking tour (after the visitor center). The castillo is an old fort made out of coquina (a cement like rock formed out of crushed seashells). Coquina actually made a really good building material. Instead of cracking and shattering when hit by enemy canon fire, the balls just sunk into it. The castillo was in use for 205 years and in that entire time it was never captured by enemy forces (it did change hands several times, as previously mentioned, but due to politics, not conquest). While there, I watched a reenactment of an old Spanish canon drill. Though they didn't use a real canon ball, they did set off the canon with black powder using the same methods as the Spanish did long ago. The castillo can't compare with the castles I've seen in Europe, it was still a cool building and in excellent shape.
Finishing up in the Castillo, I walked along the bay as I headed to my next destination. I had been thinking about going to the beach for a bit after I finished touring but I happened to spot a few jellyfish floating in the water as I walked past, which really lowered my interest in a swim. And, in the end, I spent the entire day touring so there wasn't time anyway. But I'm getting off topic. I skirted the edge of the historic downtown district as I walked, getting a few early glimpses at some of the places I'd be visiting later, and eventually ended up at the St. Francis barracks. It was originally built in the early 1700's as a monastery but has since become the home of the Florida National Guard. As it so happened, I was there on the anniversary of the first muster (when the Spanish called the civilians to aid their military in conflict over 440 years ago), so they were having an open house and I got to go inside and look through the little museum they had covering the history of the national guard and the barracks themselves.
After that, I came to the Oldest House. While it's undergone a lot of expansions and modifications since it was built in the early 1700's, the basic building is thought to be the oldest one in St. Augustine. Each room is decorated to recreate the time periods of the house's various occupants. They had a pretty interesting tour and it made for a nice look into how people lived in those days.
Leaving the Oldest House, I passed the old Catholic Basilica (which was actually one the least impressive churches I saw that day), then headed down the first part of St. Augustine's most famous shopping streets. There were lots of little stores and restaurants, many occupying old buildings. Interestingly, a lot of the larger buildings had been turned into quirky little mini-malls, which were kind of fun to walk though. I got a quick snack but didn't linger too long since I'd be returning to the area later after seeing a few more sites.
The Government House Museum was a little on the small side, but had an informative series of displays on what life and construction were like during the Spanish, British, and early American portions of St. Augustine's history. And then it was time for me to check out some of St. Augustine's most impressive buildings.
First off, we have the Casa Monica hotel. Which was actually the least impressive hotel I visited. Though, to be fair, the other two aren't used as hotels anymore. The coolest building by far is Flagler College. Well, it's a college now but it was originally the Ponce de Leon hotel, which was built in the late 1800's by Henry Flagler, an industrialist who, among other things, built a bunch of fancy hotels during Florida's first big tourist boom. Ponce de Leon was his flagship hotel for a while and no expense was spared in its construction. I arrived just in to slip into the last tour of the day and wow... Modeled somewhat after Spanish palaces, the building is absolutely amazing. And that's just the outside. Inside, it's filled with elaborate carvings and painted ceilings. According to the tour guide, pretty much everything that looks like gold and silver actually is. It was the second building Thomas Edison ever wired for electricity. Early light bulbs only lasted 6 - 8 hours, so Flagler had a ridiculously large number of employees whose sole job was to go around changing the burnt out bulbs. But for a hotel like this, you could never have too much luxury. To give you an idea of what kind of clientele stayed there, the Ponce de Leon charged $90 a night. Now by modern standards, that's not that bad for a hotel room (not cheap, but not particularly expensive either), but this was back in the days when your average worker made about $1 a day, so it was only for the extremely wealthy. But eventually the rich people decided that St. Augustine got too cold in the winter and moved further south (where Flagler built even more fancy hotels), and the Ponce de Leon eventually became a college. The tour only went through the lobby, dining hall (complete with more painted ceilings), and womens' lounge (which had a cool fire place), but the guide told us that many of the classrooms are just as fancy and the second floor (where all the guest rooms used to be) has been converted into the girls' dorm. Oh, and can you believe that the entire hotel was built and decorated in only 18 months? All in all, I think it was the fanciest building I've ever seen in my life (with the possible exception of Germany's Neuschwanstein castle). I wonder if they want to start a game design program...
Anyway, Flagler had built a slightly less fancy hotel across the street as well, which has since been turned into a museum to hold a very impressive collection of high class stuff (clothing, jewelry, antiques, furniture, you name it), making it another serious contender for the fanciest building ever award. And then there was Villa Zorayda, a former private residence modeled after the Arabic style Alhambra Palace in Spain. Unfortunately, I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside but it was a very cool building and full of all sorts of old antiques belonging to the owner, including a 2400 year old Egyptian rug. But that wasn't quite the end of the fancy buildings. Turns out Flagler also built a church. And, once again, the entire thing was completed in the impossibly short (at least by modern standards) time of one year.
Pulling myself away from the magnificent architecture, I headed down the rest of the shopping street from before. Along the way I stopped at the Old Spanish Quarter (a living history museum that tries to recreate St. Augustine in the 1700's). I toured another really old house there and spent a bit of time watching and chatting with the blacksmith, carpenter, and leather worker. All of whom were happy to tell me about the techniques and tools used back then.
By the time I finished there, it was starting to get late so I decided to head home. While I managed to complete my walking tour and hit most of the major sites, there are a number of museums, old buildings, and assorted other attractions that I didn't get to so I may head back eventually. I've visited a lot of cool old towns in Japan, but there aren't nearly as many to be found here in the US, which helps makes St. Augustine really stick out. If you're ever in Northern Florida, I highly recommend spending a day there.


9/19/2011 St. Augustine...almost

You may remember that I mentioned having plans on Friday. Well, I visited St. Augustine. It's a really neat town with lots of old buildings, museums, and the like. I took a lot of pictures and was planning to do a write-up today. However, some stuff came up just as I was starting to work on it and, as a result, I while I managed to get the photos ready, there wasn't enough time left to do the writing. At least, not if I want to get a reasonable amount of sleep before work. So, unfortunately, the write-up will have to wait until Wednesday.

See you then!


9/16/2011 Teaser

There's a new voters' bonus comic so click the Top Web Comics banner or button and take a look!

I'm currently working on the last two party members in Ink. I've got their concepts down, but I still need to finalize the details. In the meantime, here's a little teaser.
The first character is a young woman about the same age as Jessie and Ralin. Josiah created her as a love interest for Ralin as well as a foil / rival to Jessie. She's also seemingly unphased by the revalations of Josiah's identity and the truth about their world.
Next up we have a man in his mid twenties. He was originaly a minor character who wasn't intended to have any real role in the story but certain events caused by Josiah's presence result in him joining up with the twins.

I'll probably post the full profile for one of them next week. My Catherine review will also be coming up next week along with a write-up of my plans for today. What plans for today, you may ask? Well, you'll find out next week...


9/14/2011 Cooking!

I've had a lot of people ask me about Catherine, so I think I'll give it a full review soon. I already beat the game once, but I want to get more of the endings and complete some optional stuff first. So look for that on Friday or Monday. I should have the next Ink character profile done soon too.

In the meantime, take a look at this. It's shabu shabu. Shabu shabu is a type of Japanese hot pot (there's more than one). The way it works is that you have a bowl of boiling broth and a bunch of really thinly sliced meat and vegetables. You pick them up, swirl them around in the broth for a few seconds with your chopsticks while they cook, and then eat. Normally there's a special type of heated pot you use, kind of like a big fondue pot. And, in fact, it was a fondue pot I saw in the store a week back that gave me the idea. I thought about getting it but figured that my wok should work just as well for shabu shabu so I decided to give it a try (whether or not my work will work for fondue is a question for another time). Shabu shabu is really pretty simple to make. Just put in a whole lot of your favorite broth (I used chicken) and keep it at around 300 degrees. The main thing is to make sure to cut your vegetables and meat as thinly as possible or they'll take too long to cook. I had the guy at the store cut my steak so that it was about the same thickness as sandwich meat. And that's really about it. Rice is the normal side dish, and I used some wasabi and my homemade teriyaki sauce for dipping. My vegetable selection could have been a bit better though. All I had was some onion and red pepper. Nothing wrong with that, but peppers aren't a traditional part of Japanese cuisine. Next time I should probably do some extra shopping and get green onions, carrots, and some Japanese mushrooms. Anyway, shabu shabu is fun and easy to make. Especially for a group. Between the broth and meat, it's not the cheapest thing you can make, but considering that it often costs $20 - 30 at a restaurant, it's still a pretty good deal.

See you Friday!


9/12/2011 Ink's status

Well, I said I'd get back to work on Ink today so I've been thinking about what's left to do.
Characters: There's a few important characters I still need to make descriptions for. They'll probably be my top priority.
Game Mechanics: I've already spent a lot of time talking about how the battles and gameplay will work, but I need to make all the numbers and formulas for damage, character stats, etc, etc, etc... For now, I'm probably not going to spend much time on this. Number crunching isn't one of my favorite parts of the design process and it would be difficult to properly test and balance the system by myself. I suppose I could recruit a testing team and run it like I would if I was actually making the game, but that's way too much time and work when I'm just talking about the design here on Pebble Version.
Story: I could go on and write out a complete plot summary, dialogue, scene descriptions, etc. But that would be a pretty big undertaking (we're talking hundreds of pages) and, since I want to make and sell the game someday, I don't really want to post the entire story online. I might post a bit more here, but not too much.
GUI: I need to make some screenshot mock-ups for the menus and other GUI elements. I'll get that that sooner or later.
Levels: Ink needs maps, lots of maps. A world map, city maps, maps of all the dungeons, forests, valleys, and every other area in the game. I'll do a couple of them eventually for demonstration purposes, but with the number of maps and level designs necessary for a big RPG like Ink, I don't have the time to do them all just for fun.

So that's how things stand on Ink right now. There's some other things, of course. Music, art, and programming, for example. But none of those are my specialties and concept art is really the only one that would be worth doing before the game actually enters production. Look for some of the things on the above list during the coming weeks.


9/9/2011 Almost...

There's a new voter bonus comic and a new ROM as well.

I'm running a little late right now but I'm just about where I want to be with my course material and other work. There's a couple meetings I have to go to next week, but other than that my schedule should finally settle down and I can spend more time working on my own projects. I should get going now, but look for a long overdue Ink update on Monday.


9/7/2011 Still?

Looks like I'm still playing catch-up a bit at work. That extra paperwork last week plus some more meetings have kept me from getting ahead like I wanted. This week though... Well, if I can get the next couple of week of course material finished by the end of the week I should be in pretty good shape.

I did have a nice break though. Spent a decent bit of it working on various things, but it was still relaxing. I also grabbed a bit of time to finally start playing Catherine. I wasn't that interested when I first heard about is back in Japan but after hearing some more info and playing Persona 3 (which was made by the same team) I knew that I had to give it a try. So far, I'm loving it. It's different, challenging, creepy, and very unique. The hero, Vincent, is a 32 year old guy in modern Japan (well, it seems like Japan except that everyone has English names). His life isn't anything special but he's happy with his dead-end job and long time girlfriend, Katherine. But when she starts talking about marriage and starting a family, Vincent's comfortable little world starts to fall apart. And that's only the beginning. After a long night in the bar he wakes up next to Catherine. She's young, beautiful, and, best of all, has no interest in marriage and commitment. But Vincent can't tell if she's a dream come true or a nightmare. And, speaking of nightmares, Vincent begins to have horrifying dreams every night. Dreams of climbing endless towers as they collapse below him. There are others in the dreams with him and they say that, if you die in the dream, you die in real life. Combine that with the recent series of mysterious deaths (all young men who died mysteriously in their sleep), and getting caught cheating may be the least of Vincent's worries. The story is not at all the type of thing you'd expect to see in a video game, and I love it. The characters feel very real and the mysteries surrounding the girls and the dreams are fascinating. Plus, it brings up a lot of interesting moral questions. I can't wait to find out what will happen next. As for the nightmares, I've heard a lot about Catherine's insane difficulty. I won't deny that it's challenging but I'm half way through on normal difficulty and have yet to even get moderately frustrated. There's been a few places where I've gotten stuck, though never for overly long and never because of glitches or unfair game mechnaics. You need to think fast and stay on your toes, but the puzzles are fair and solving them gives you a great sense of accomplishment. I really can't see why people complained about them so much, especially since there's an easy and very mode if you need them. But that's enough for now. I'll probably talk more about Catherine after I finish it.

And that's aboutit. Hoping to start Ink back up on Friday, Monday at the latest, since I should finally be ahead on everything. See you then!


9/5/2011 Typhoon Lagoon

Friday had a better weather forecast than yesterday or today so I took advantage of the extra time off and headed back to Orlando to visit Typhoon Lagoon, the second water park at Disney World. While Blizzard Beach was themed after a ski resort, Typhoon Lagoon is based on a tropical bay in the aftermath of a big storm (note the boat stuck on top of the rocks and the driftwood and wreckage style of the decor). The centerpiece is the giant wave pool. The wave pool at Blizzard Beach was choppy water all the time. Typhoon Lagoon's, however, is a bit different. It does have some choppy water here and there, but it's mostly about the waves. Really big waves (much bigger than during my last couple of visits to the beach). So big that they actually offer surfing lessons there in the morning before the park opens. When I was swimming around trying to get in a good position between waves, I realized that this was the first time in ages (years, I think) that I've been in water too deep for me to stand. I used to swim in fairly deep pools (10 - 12 feet) a lot but that was a long time ago. Over the last few years, it's mostly been pools at my various apartment complexes. Which, while nice, never get deep than 5 feet or so. I kinda miss deep water...
Anyway... Typhoon Lagoon doesn't have anything to match Blizzard Beach's huge speed slide (there's a set of three speed slides, but they're much smaller) and there's no toboggan slides either. However, there's a rather awesome trio of twisty body slides and some pretty cool tube slides as well. They've also got some roller coaster slides. If you've never seen a roller coaster slide before, they've get some powerful water jets that can actually blast you uphill, so there's lots of bumps, ups, and downs. Lots of fun, though I've actually been on longer ones in Phoenix. And, of course, there's the giant lazy river, which is always good for relaxing. The most surprising attraction is Shark Reef, a saltwater pool where you can snorkel with a collection of fish, rays, and even some sharks (really small ones). Doesn't compare to a real reef, but it's still pretty neat.
Overall, it's hard to choose a favorite between Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, they both have their pros and cons. If you're ever thinking of going to one of them, I highly recommend a weekday. Even though Friday was the start of a holiday weekend, the crowds were much smaller than they were on Sunday and I never had to wait more than 10 minutes or so for any of the slides (usually less).

And with that, I'm done with Orlando for a little while. I may do a beach trip in a couple of weeks, but I think I'll save the next water park for later this month or early next month. See you Wednesday!


9/2/2011 Holiday!

There's a new voter bonus comic and a new ROM.

Labor Day is coming up, which means I get a four day weekend! Unfortunately, it's the only holiday I get until November but anyway... Since I've got an extra day off this weekend I figured that I might as well do another Orlando trip. I considered going for two days and spending the night, but it's been a busy week (got some last minute work dumped on me that required me to put everything else on hold for the last couple of days) and I could use some time to run some errands, get a bit of work of my own done, and just relax a bit. So I'm just going to go into Orlando one day and hang around my place and Gainesville for the rest of the break. My plan is to visit the other Disney Water Park so expect a write-up and some photos next week.


8/31/2011 Almost there...

We're almost to the 1200 Pebble Version strip. And, now that the gym battle is finished, I've got a good shot at rebuilding my comic buffer this week. And, once that's done, I should have time to start updating Ink again.

On the work side of things, I'm getting the hang of my classes and the systems I need to use. I've still got a lot of material to make for some of my classes, but hopefully now that most of the "just starting out" stuff is finished I'll be able to pick up the pace there. Other than that, I'm starting to get a sort of daily routine going. I've even got some time aside each day for Aurora's Nightmare. Though I haven't thrown myself seriously back into it yet, since I decided I could use a bit of extra time to get some of that course material finished. I might start writing again today, or Monday at the absolute latest.

Well, I'm getting back to work on PV strips. See you Friday!


8/29/2011 Blizzard Beach

If any of you guys are in the Gainesville Florida area, feel free to send me an e-mail sometime and say hi. I haven't had a chance to meet many people around here yet, especially people with similar interests.

I've been talking about visiting the major water parks in Orlando since I moved down here and yesterday I finally got started on that. It took me about two hours to drive to Disney World. It wasn't a bad drive, though the scenery was mostly endless walls of tall trees (that seems to be the norm for highway driving around here). I made a few interesting observations on the way. First off, antique malls seem to be pretty popular here. I must have passed at least half a dozen of them, all of which had a series of billboards leading up to them. Second, the Gainesville and Lake City areas apparently have the highest gas prices in the Northern half of Florida (maybe the whole state). When I went to the beach in Jacksonville, the gas prices there were about 10 cents cheaper. Then, starting at Ocala (the next major town south of Gainesville) and going all the way to Orlando, gas prices were all 20 - 30 cents lower than there are here. What's up with that? And three, Florida has toll roads. The drive to Orlando cost me $3 in tolls. Oddly enough, the drive back cost me $3.75. Not quite sure how that worked...

Anyway, my destination was Disney, but not one of the theme parks. The whole Disney World complex also has two water parks (and quite a lot of other stuff). For this visit, I chose Blizzard Beach, a water park with a ski slope theme (which is one of your more unlikely water park themes, right after electric plant and toxic waste disposal facility). While there, I bought a pass I can use to get into the theme parks and other Disney stuff. While Disney World is kind of expensive if you only go for a day or two, when you buy a multiday pass the prices go way down, and for a little bit more you can add in access to the water parks and stuff too. So now I've got a pass good for ten theme park visits (I probably won't use that many by May, but it doesn't expire) and 10 admissions to other stuff (9 now that I've been to Blizzard Beach). All for around the same price I would have paid for single visit to each of the four parks and two water parks had I bought one ticket at a time.
The centerpiece of Blizzard Beach is this big ski mountain and the Summit Plummet speed slide (for the record, you don't go over that ski jump, there's a tunnel beneath it). It's 120 feet tall, which I'm pretty sure makes it the tallest one I've ever been on by far. It's a lot of fun, at least if you like speed slides. There's a somewhat more mild one next to it and, off on the other side, you got the longest (or one of the longest, different signs said different things) tube slides in the country. Down below you've got a kids obstacle type area and a wave pool (see the first photo), a really choppy wave pool. Which is a good thing, since I think most wave pools are kinda dull. On the other side of the mountain, there's some more tube slides and a couple of toboggan slides (where you go down head first on a mat). One is the usual eight way toboggan race which a lot of water parks seem to have these days. The other, however, is a three way race themed after a ski slalom, which twists and curves and is pretty awesome. They also have an area for really little kids and a very long tubing river running around the whole park.
It doesn't beat Water World back in Denver, but all in all Blizzard Beach is one of the best water parks I've ever been to. The day alternated between sunny and cloudy a lot (which helped keep the temperature comfortable) but aside from some occasional wind, the weather was pretty good until around up until around 4, when they had to temporarily stop the rides due to some thunder. Though I was actually thinking about calling it a day right around then anyway, so it all worked out. Lines weren't too bad either, with only a couple of exceptions. Overall, it was a pretty nice day. Although I will note that waiting in line by myself can be rather dull at a water park, since I don't have my phone or anything to mess with.

Well, that's all for now. While I'm thinking I'll normally go do something in Orlando once a month or so, with Labor Day coming up I've got a four day weekend to look forward to so don't be surprised if I post something about another water park next week.


8/26/2011 Kinda weird...

There's a new voter bonus comic up! We're done with the Forum Awards series so it's back to regular Blooper Reel comics now. We've also got a new ROM.

So, I drove all the way from Arizona to Florida and it's not the first long drive I've done either. When you're driving across country on a highway or interstate, pretty much all the big billboards you see are are for hotels, restaurants, and attractions. If you're in a city, you might see some for stores, TV shows, or events. But Louisiana and here in Northern Florida are the only places I've ever seen giant billboards for porn stores. I pass a series of them on the way back from work every day. And I'm not talking about a single sign right by the exit where the store is. There's a whole series of them that starts at least 40 miles before the place. It's kinda weird... I mean seriously, is there something that special about it? Do they think people driving on major highways are desperate to find a porn store? Not that I have any real desire to go there and find out (had to walk through way too much of that stuff when shopping for visual novels in Japan). It just makes me wonder about some of the people around here...

In other news, it looks like the hurricane probably isn't going to hit this area. At least not with any real force. I had been thinking of going to Orlando today but, despite my goal to confine my work to business hours, I really need to make some more PowerPoint presentations for future classes. Between a bunch of "just starting out" stuff going on (meetings, paperwork, etc) and getting locked out of my office for a while this morning (not my fault, there were problems with the lock), I didn't get as much done as I'd hoped. Besides, the weather forecast for Sunday is much better and this gives me a chance to take my car in for an oil change anyway (driving cross country really racks up the mileage).

Well, I'm off. See you Monday!


8/24/2011 Another one?

Halfway through my first week of of teaching at Florida Gateway College (second week of work, first of classes) and things are going fine. Though the first week classes are all pretty basic stuff (syllabus review, introduction to the online class interface, etc). Outside of classes, I'm still working on course content. I need to create lecturs and/or PowerPoint presentations, along with some assignments and tets for two different subjects, which should be more than enough to fill the rest of my work day for at least the next couple of weeks.

In other news, it's looking like Florida might get hit by a hurricane later this week. I've been told that this area never gets hit very hard by that type of thing, but we'll see... I seem to really be on a roll when it comes to natural diasters this year, don't I? The sad thing is, if the hurricane does hit here, it's probably going to do so on a day when I don't have to go into work. If it was on a work day, they might close the school. Or, at very least, I'd already been spending most of the day indoors anyway so it wouldn't be a big deal. If it hits over the weekend though, there's a good chance I'll have to delay my first Orlando trip again. Though, if I am stuck indoors over the weekend, I suppose that would give me a good chance to rebuild my buffer of Pebble Version strips...

I had a couple other things I was going to talk about today but the lack of said buffer means I only finished today's strip a few minutes ago and I'm already running a little late so I just don't have the time.

On a quick unrelated note, if any of you are in the Gainesville area (or somewhere not too far away), send me an e-mail somtime, ok? I'd love to meet some people around here with similar interests.


8/22/2011 Janmastami

Well, after working all day Friday and most of Saturday night, I managed to get to the point where, while I still have a lot of prep work to do for some of the classes I'll be teaching, I should be able to handle the rest during working hours. Hopefully...

Anyway, since I didn't have to work on Sunday, I was thinking of going to Orlando and visiting one of the water parks on my list for a nice break. In the end though, I wasn't too keen on getting up early (especially after a late night) and driving for a couple of hours. Considering how busy things have been over the past week, I figured it would also be nice to just hang out and relax a bit. Plus, a few days ago, someone told me there was going to be some sort of big festival in Alachua at the Hare Krishna and recommended that I stop by. So I decided to wait a little longer for Orlando (this weekend, weather permitting), get some things done, relax a bit, and check out the festival.

While I know quite a lot about some religions, Hare Krishna isn't one of them. A bit of quick Wikipedia research revealed that it's a type of Hinduism (India's main religion). Some elements of it also reminded me of Buddhism (which also started in India) but I'm not going to go into the details here (partly because I'm still kinda fuzzy on them myself). As a note, Hare Krishna isn't actually the proper name of the religion, it's Krishnaism. And the American "Hare Krishna" groups are part of the Gaudiya Vaishnavism sect of Krishnaism. Hare Krishna is actually the name of a mantra they use, but that's besides the point.
Anyway, apparently there's a fairly large Hare Krishna community around Alachua and yesterday was the annual Janmastami festival, which celebrates the birth of Krishna. The local group has a nice temple just outside of town and that's where the festivities were held. According to the schedule, there were religious services running pretty much all day from early in the morning until past midnight, but the main festival started in the late afternoon outside the temple building. The turnout was pretty impressive (especially considering how small Alachua is) and more people kept coming. While there were some people like me who were clearly there just to check things out, going by how they dressed, I'd say at least two thirds of the people were actual believers.
I only stayed for about an hour and a half, but that was enough time to check out the booths (which sold a mix of Hare Krishna related items, Indian style clothing, and a few other odds and ends), get something to eat (whether or not you care about the religion itself, Hare Krishna groups tend to make excellent vegetarian food), and look at some displays based on famous Hare Krishna temples. They also had what had to be the largest cow I've ever seen (in Hinduism, cows are sacred). It's hard to tell from this picture, but that cow looked to be over five and a half feet tall and between eight and ten feet long. Then there was the live entertainment. While I was there, they were doing a play about the three lives of an important religious figure (I believe his name began with a B, but I have no idea how to spell it). Here's a clip from a section where the main character muses on various matters. And here's a part where...actually, I have absolutely no clue what was going on in that scene. The show bordered on humorous at times (the actors had a tendency to ham it up a bit), but was very well done.
While I wouldn't say this Janmastami celebration was nearly as much fun as the various festivals I've been to in Japan, it was an interesting and entertaining way to spend an hour or two.

Well, I've got to start teaching classes today so I'm off to get some sleep before that. I'll see you later!


8/19/2011 Lots left to do

There's a new voter bonus comic up! It's the last of the annual Forum Awards special mini series and features forum member Puyon. Just click the Top Web Comics button or banner and confirm your vote if you want to see it. There's a new ROM too.

Did I ever mention which classes I'm going to be teaching this semester? I don't think I did... Well, as previously mentioned, the game design program (which is what I was hired for) was delayed until spring (though I'll need to get a lot of the pre-planning and prep work done for it later this semester) so I got assigned a few assorted computer classes. I've got three sessions of Computer Applications (Microsoft Office), two of Introduction to Programming (fortunately it's a very simple intro class, since programming isn't my area of expertise by any means), and one of Basic Web Programming (which I'm doing more as web design than programming).
Anyway, since my last news post I've finished all my syllabi (might have to tweak them slightly to get approval though). I'm also around 99% done with the prep work for Computer Applications (I was able to modify the other teacher's files, which saved a lot of time), 40-50% for programming, and 15% for the web class (I have to make pretty much everything from scratch for that one). My goal for today (and the weekend if necessary) is to get enough done on those last two classes that I'll be all set for at least the first week or two. If I can get that done, I can slow down a little bit and take the next week or two to finish up the remaining material I need to make for them. Fortunately, I should be able to do all that during my regular work hours, which will free up the rest of my time for various other projects of mine...

And that's all for today. I know there's a lot of you waiting for the return of Ink updates. I'm sorry for the delay, but at the moment I'm barely managing to get the comic strips themselves finished in time so it'll have to wait another week or two till things calm down enough for me to rebuild my buffer.

Have a good weekend!


8/17/2011 That time already?

With everything that has been going on, I completely forgot that last Thursday marked Pebble Version's 8th anniversary. It's hard to believe I've been making this comic for that long (and it's still nowhere near the end). It's strange to think about how much has happened to me since PV began. Or even in this past year for that matter... Back when I started PV, I was just beginning college and now I'm just starting a job teaching at a college....

Unfortunately, I don't have a whole lot of time to reminisce. Over the last couple of days I've attended several long faculty meetings and I've got a couple left before the week is up. But that's only part of what I've been up to. I've also had to run around to get my ID card, parking pass, etc. That wouldn't be too much of a problem except for how the campus is arranged. While Florida Gateway College doesn't have particularly high enrollment, instead of having everything in a couple of large buildings, all the rooms and facilities are spread out between thirty or so smaller buildings. Unfortunately, many of those buildings are labeled only by number and they aren't always positioned where you'd think, which can make finding the right one rather difficult. Just to complicate things a little more, my office key isn't ready yet for some reason and the door locks automatically, which means I can only get in if my supervisor happens to be around with her key.
Anyway, now that I've got all my stuff (except for that office key), and finished most of the important meetings (two more to go), and gotten the textbooks and most of the materials I need, I've started seriously focusing on preparing for the courses I'm going to teach. First step, making all the syllabi (which are due Friday morning). You'd think that'd be quick enough, but there's a lot of stuff that needs to go into the syllabi here, including a basic outline of the course, so they're not something you can just throw together. I did, however, manage to finish my first one last night. And while I can't just copy and paste everything, I can re-use enough of it that the remaining 5 should go a lot more quickly.
Of course, syllabi are just the beginning. Once they're done, I still have to actually get all the material ready for the courses themselves (presentations, reading assignments, projects, tests, etc, etc, etc). I can reuse a decent amount of stuff left by the courses' previous teachers (are previously mentioned, the game design program was delayed until spring so I'm teaching a bunch of assorted computer courses), but there's quite a lot that has to be tweaked and a good bit that I'll still have to make from scratch.
All in all, it's looking like the next couple of weeks are going to be extremely busy. I still might try and run off to a water park at some point in the near future, but if I do that would be the one break in an otherwise pretty intense work marathon. Once I've got this semester's courses all laid out, things should calm down a bit (at very least, I shouldn't have to do anything for the college outside of my normal working hours). Though I only have until the end of September to create syllabi and get some basic planning done for the upcoming game courses... But anyway, it'll be a crazy week or two followed by busy month but after that... After that I should be pretty good for the rest of the year...unless, of course, something else comes up. But anyway, that's just the way it goes. And I'm kinda looking forward to working on the game courses so that could be fun...

Anyway, I'll see you Friday!


8/15/2011 Off to work I go

Well, today is the first day on my new job. Though, as previously mentioned, this week is all faculty meetings and course planning. I won't actually start teaching until next week. Anyway, today's meeting starts particularily early plus, since it's my first day and all, I have no idea which building is which so I need to leave extra early to give myself enough time to find the right one so I've gotta cut this short. I'll try and get some pictures of the campus at some point, though that may have to wait till next week depending how things go.



8/12/2011 Walking around

There's a new special voters' bonus comic up. This week's features forum member Poisonwing14. There's a new ROM too.

Work starts Monday, though this coming week is kinda a weird one since classes don't start until 22nd. There's some meetings and stuff I have to attend but what I'll really need to focus on is planning for my upcoming classes. I only found out what I'll be teaching a couple days ago and I won't get my copies of the textbooks until Monday. If the classes were on game design or writing, I could probably hit the ground running fairly easily, but since the start of the game design program was delayed, I was given several assorted computer classes, some of which really aren't within my areas of expertise. I'll have to work pretty hard next week to review the books, make a syllabus for each class, and start creating lesson plans. It's going to be an interesting semester...

Anyway, with my shopping and apartment setup done, I'm finally able to take it easy for a few days. The weather was pretty nice Wednesday morning (though it got cloudy in the afternoon and eventually started raining) so I went out to walk around and take some photos. First off, here's a look at my apartment complex. Well, one row of buildings anyway. There's some nice grassy areas behind the buildings, a decent swimming pool, a gym, and an indoor basketball court as well. Though I forgot to bring my access card with me when I went out on my walk so I didn't get any pictures of them. The complex itself is on a hill on the edge of the town and there's some nice grassy fields around it, along with some large trees covered with Spanish moss. There's of lot of tiny little towns in this part of the Northern Florida. I'm in Alachua, which is the biggest and most picturesque of the bunch (or at least of all the ones I've seen). Here's the city hall, which also doubles as the utility company. I had to go there to set up my electric account. At least I can pay it online though, which is more than I can say for my rent.
Unlike a lot of the little towns around here, which are pretty much just some houses and a gas station, Alachua has a couple of grocery stores (neither of which is a Publix, unfortunately), a Lowe's (which seems very out of place), and a decent selection of restaurants, along with a couple other random stores. About half the stores and restaurants are clustered around the grocery stores and the rest on gathered down town on an old fashioned Main Street, complete with a number of neat old houses. I have to drive to Gainesville to do any serious shopping, or get any sort of Asian food, but there's an excellent pizza place just a couple minutes away from my apartment and one of the restaurants on Main Street serves really good (and really large) hamburgers, and there's a few other places I want to try.

Of all the days this week, yesterday had the lowest chance of rain so I decided to head to the beach. I ended up at Jacksonville Beach, which is the closest one, though still a good hour and forty minute drive (which is why I didn't want to risk it when there was a high chance of rain). It's a pretty nice beach. There's wasn't a boardwalk or anything like that, and I wish the waves had been a bit bigger, but it was a pleasant way to spend a few hours and I managed to do it without sunburning myself (much). It's too bad the beach isn't a big closer. If it was only half an hour or less from where I live, I'd probably go there fairly often. As is, if I want to go I'd have to devote most of the day to it, which I can't do very often, especially if I want to visit all the big attractions in Orlando.

On an interesting but fairly unrelated note, I'm rather surprised by the lack of Starbucks around here. It's not like there aren't any, but I'm used to seeing one in every big grocery store, every Target, and every Barnes & Noble, in addition to a bunch of stand alone Starbucks. Here, on the other hand, neither the Target or Barnes & Noble in Gainesville has one, nor does any grocery store I've visited. There isn't a single Starbucks in all of Alachua and while Gainnesville does have some stand alone ones, there's less than I'd expect for a city of that size. Not that it's a really big deal. Even at the condo in Phoenix, where there was one right across the street, I'd only go twice a week at most. It's just kinda weird...

Anyway, have a good weekend!


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