Whoosh! Level 3, everybody! Recover all of your hit points and mana. I know it’s been awhile, but everyone who’s played AD&D knows that it takes a bit longer to get from level 2 to level 3 than it does from level 1 to 2. I know what you’re wondering. What’s going on with Justin in New Zealand? Good question. I wonder that pretty often myself. On the plus side, I have loads of pictures for all of you nerds out there. Speaking of, the above picture is from my recent hike to the top of Bridle Path in Christchurch. (Cheers to Liz for giving me permission to use her image in one of the best pictures I’ve taken in NZ so far. Mostly because I figured out how to use the panorama function on my camera. +100xp) Continue reading
Announced today, The Void is looking to put laser tag out of business. The company is getting us closer than ever before to a Holodeck, by combining virtual reality devices (of their own design, but similar to the Oculus Rift), with real spaces designed for you to interact. When you press a panel in a sci-fi shooter, there will actually be something there for you to press. When you hide around a corner from the horrifying monster in a survival horror game, the corner will be there. As will the spider webs you have to push through to escape.
Ding! Congratulations on reaching level 2, nerds! Justin checking back in with some more exciting adventures from New Zealand. Above, notice the view from Bluff Hill Lookout. This is a spot in Napier that’s one of the first to see the sun rise in the morning. If my geography is any good at all, all of you US readers are like a zillion miles across the ocean from this picture. Pretty sure that’s mathematically accurate. (+50xp)
When we last left off, I gave a rundown of the wonderful land of Hobbits. Well, on the way back from Hobbiton my driver informed me that there was one space left for Black Water Rafting at the Waitomo Glowworm Caves the following day. How about yes? Not going to lie, it was expensive. But well worth it.
This week, the Ace of Geeks get a surprise guest in Robert Fulkerson of Found in the Alley! We’ll tell you to vaccinate your damn kids, and in the process discuss League of Legends new map, whether Super Smash Bros is a “real” fighting game, Telltale Games, and what Disneyland says about us a society.
Being a nerd, I am very hard to please. Things have to be just right and if they are off or are different than the image in my head, I hate it. I love the Harry Potter books, and the movies upset me because they left so much out. They did a good job bringing the look of the world of Harry Potter to life, but I felt like they didn’t catch me like the books did. The movies were good for something, however. They led to the creation of the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and it’s expansion, Diagon Alley. Both parks exceeded all of my expectations, and I literally burst into tears the first time I saw the Hogwarts Express parked in Hogsmeade. I was crying because I felt that I was in Hogsmeade. Not some muggle half-assed recreation, but the real macoy. Below is my breakdown and guide of some of the attractions in both parks.
Let’s start by discussing the Hogsmeade side, on Universal’s Islands of Adventure. This was the original Harry Potter park, and what better way to start than its signature drink. If you like butterscotch and marshmallows then you will love butterbeer. I recommend the frozen version, it’s more like a slushie, and the marshmallow doesn’t feel like a weird film on the top of your beverage. This winter, because it was a freezing 50 degrees in Florida, they were offering a hot version. I did not try it, since I don’t like butterscotch, but I can only image that this is the form butterbeer was meant to be drunk in.
What’s great about this show is that, more than anything in the park, it really makes you feel like you are part of the world. Without giving too much away, the wand master picks an audience member seemingly at random, (I’m sure there’s some kind of system) and has them try several wands. As spells go hilariously wrong, eventually they pick out a perfect wand for that one guest, and then usher the rest of you into the shop to buy your own wands. The attention to detail is immaculate – some of the wand boxes that are picked out for guests are buried in huge piles, and covered in dust as if they’ve been there for decades.
Too. Freaking. Cool. Seriously, a must see. Even if you already have a wand, it is worth going to see this show. The first time we visited, we waited in line for an hour and a half, and it was worth it. The dedication to the character, and the chance of having a wand choose you totally amazing. (And they do pick adults sometimes, I’ve seen it -ED) Note to the public, if you want to get picked, just make sure you are going with me and stand in front of me, that guarantees you will be picked. We went three times and all three times the person in front of me got picked.
Every thirty minutes, outside of Hogwarts, the visitors are treated to two shows, the Hogwarts toad choirs and a demonstration from the Durmstrang Institute and the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic. The acapella choir is awesome, and several of the wizards are holding toads that sing the base parts of the songs. The songs they sing will be stuck in your head for the whole day, and I especially loved their rendition of “something wicked this way comes”. The triwizard demonstration is pretty neat. The Durmstrang boys are dashing and strong and the Beauxbaton ladies float on air. Except, ladies guard your men form those Beauxbaton floosies. I almost got into a duel with one of them when she blew a kiss to my man.
The lead up to this ride is unforgettable. The line winds outside of Hogwarts, through the scream mandrake beds, and then you enter Hogwarts, and just, wow. The amount of details and thought that went into the line is awesome. There are little vignettes with the characters to set up the ride and then right before you get on the ride, the sorting hat tells you all the safety instructions. Along with the usual safety warnings, they should add arachnophobia and fear of Dementors. The pictures of me on the ride are priceless. A bit topsy turvy for those who don’t like roller coaster type thrill rides, but my mother-in-law got past it, so anyone can do it.
We all have to go eventually, and there is an awesome surprise in the bathrooms. (But sadly only in Hogsmeade.) Yet another testament to the attention to detail.
Make sure to sent yourself or someone else a postcard from the owlery. The Postmark actually says Hogsmeade, just another level of detail that adds to the authenticity of the park. We sent a friend an admission letter to Hogwarts one year, and they’ve treasured it ever since.
And now we move from Universal’s Islands of Adventure, to the original Universal Studios Florida. The entrance into Diagon Alley looks like a London street with the Night Bus waiting outside. No really, it looked like London, complete with the lion heads lining the bank of the lagoon. Having just recently been in London, we recogonized Kings Crossing before we saw the sign. They matched the color of the brick and the architecture perfectly. Next to King’s Crossing is a series of storefronts, complete with CCTV notices in the windows. They recreated Her Royal Majesty’s Theater, and finally Grimmauld place, complete with Kreacher peeking out from number 12.
Diagon Alley is not visible from the outside, and you need to walk through what seems to be a brick wall until suddenly you are transported to Diagon Alley. Unlike the Wizarding World, Diagon Alley is a series of specialized shops. You have your quidditch supplier, robe and other school supplies, animal companion shop, Zonko’s, and of course Olivanders. In Hogsmeade, these items are combined into smaller stores, and often are way to crowded. That problem is solved by Diagon Alley’s abundance of space.
The Alley is spacious and beautiful, but can get crowded when everyone is standing outside of Gringots bank, waiting for the dragon to breathe fire. Insiders hint: she grumbles for about a minute before she breathes fire. There is no need to just stand there like an idiot with your phone slowly dying waiting for something that happens every twenty minutes. (Seriously, stop it. -Ed)
The ride itself is decent. I feel like if I was five it would have been awesome. I was expecting more of a roller coaster, because the vaults of Gringots are a roller coaster tycoon’s wet dream. As it was, it was a tame simulator ride. The lead up is great, another testament to the level of detail that the park engineers and designers put into Diagon Alley. But again, it is not the awesome coaster it could have been. It’s still an enjoyable experience for the fans, I just wish it could have been more.
The Leaky Cauldron
In Hogsmeade, you can dine at the delicious Three broomsticks and Boar’s Head, where you can get some delectable British delights like shepard’s pie, and pasties. At the Leaky Cauldron, they take the British dining experience to a whole new level. They have traditional British breakfasts complete with proper British bacon rashers. If you don’t dig baked beans and blood sausage in the morning, then you can feast on a traditional American breakfast of pancakes, sausage and lame american bacon. We loved breakfast so much we went there for lunch as well, where they had a proper plowman’s lunch. They also provide other British favorites like Guiness lamb stew, and of course, fish and chips. It also seemed more spacious than the dining area in Hogsmeade. I think J.K. Rowling gave them some leeway on her specifications after seeing the difficulties of the small cramped dining and shopping areas in Hogsmeade. However, they didn’t budge on the soda issue. Instead of soda you may dine on Fishy Green Ale (a mint ginger ale of sorts with pop rocks in it), Otter’s Fizzy Orange juice, Tongue Tying Lemon Squash, or Peachtree Fizzing Tea. Not going to lie, they are all weird and strangely delicious. If you drink beer, there is Wizard’s Brew or Dragon Scale Ale. You can’t even get normal water, it is Gillywater. There are no normal beverages in Diagon Ally, but there are a lot more places to get Butterbeer.
A perfect way to polish off a meal is a visit to Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. In true Harry Potter fashion they have unique flavors in both soft serve and hard packed varieties. They have an array of toppings, so don’t come in unless you have substantial room in your tummy, as they give you very generous portions.
Just like in Hogsmeade, Diagon Alley has its own version of free shows that happen every half hour. These shows are provided by WADA (Wizarding Academy of the Dramatic Arts) graduates. The shows are puppet shows and it is magical how life-like the performers can make the puppets. They perform two of Beadle the Bard’s tales: the Fountain of Fair Fortune and the Tale of Three Brothers. Really an amazing way to pass a few minutes, and if I had my choice I would so apply to WADA instead of Hogwarts!
Not that I’m judging you if you really want to practice the Dark Arts, but I’m totally judging you. Knockturn Alley is a one stop shopping area for all thing related to the dark arts. Basically a Death Eater’s delight. It is wonderfully creepy, and barely lit. The people working the alley are awesomely devoted to their character. We heard tales of unsuspecting children giving their wands to the workers in the ally and the worker exclaims, “Don’t you know not to give your wand to a dark wizard!” One worker that we interrogated assured us that he only practiced that one spell once and that he is working out his penance teaching the muggles magic in Knockturn Alley. “It was that or Azkaban,” he said, “and I am beginning to think Azkaban would have been better.”
With the creation of Diagon Ally, they added a new feature to both parks that makes you feel like an honest to god wizard. Now the wand that you can purchase at Olivanders can interact with the environment, and you can make things move in shop windows, and interact with fountains, and it is totally worth buying another wand. Its a small thing that goes a long way toward making your visit feel magical and awesome. The only major issue is that a small line forms at each spell area, so you may end up seeing the magical effect three or four times before you perform it, just like Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. Pro-tip: use small sharp motions and point your wand at the sensor. Also, while it’s not necessary, it just feels cooler to say the spell aloud.
Why walk to the other park when you can take the train over? First of all I felt like I was in the the actual Kings Cross Station, just strangely shrunk down. There are ticket takers with pretty authentic looking uniforms for the British Rail employees (on the other side they have a more vibrant uniform with reds and golds). Because it is just a train station, the beginning part of the line is a little boring, but then it becomes amazing. Yes my friends, you go through platform nine and three quarters and while it doesn’t look like you are disappearing through a wall to yourself, to the others behind you in line ,you magically go through the wall. It’s an incredible effect that I won’t spoil here. Once you are through, you see the Express and Hedwig is there as well. The cars fit about eight people and the windows are projection of the wall outside. Once you start moving, the picture changes showing you the lovely town of London, which changes to the countryside, and finally transitions to Hogswarts. Through out the ride things happen outside your window and your door. The ride is different depending on the direction, and I personally like the Kings Cross to Hogsmeade the best, but all in all, a very enjoyable way to get between the parks. Just make sure you bought a park hopper, or else you won’t be allowed to board.
Nothing makes me happier than going to a place like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and Diagon Alley because they make it so easy to forget you are in the real world. They are fully committed to making the world real to you and man do they succeed.
Mae Linh Fatum, a.k.a the wife, is a high-school math and Physics teacher. In other words, she is a real life wizard. She is a huge fan of Harry Potter (Go Ravenclaw!) obviously, but also enjoys Star Trek, board games, cats, and knitting.
My lovely wife and I went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter this year. One of the things they sell is wands – in previous years, they were just fun little accessories, but this year they were actually part of the show – at different points in the parks, if you waved them in the correct way different magical things would happen, like water falling from the sky or store windows lighting up. It’s a really cool thing.
The OTHER cool thing they have is the Hogwarts Express, which takes you between the two parks that have Harry Potter lands. The ride works like this (SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THIS RIDE): You get into a tiny train car, exactly like the ones Harry, Ron and Hermione ride in during the films. The “window” in the car plays a scene of the British countryside, with some Harry Potter flare. In addition, the door on the other side has frosted glass, through which you can occasionally see different characters walk by. At one point, for example, the conductor walks by and tells everyone to take their seats.
We piled into our car with a very nice Brazilian family. They saw our wands, and asked us if we could do any magic. I pointed my wand at my wife, said “Accio Mars Bar!” she tossed me the Mars Bar, everyone had a laugh.
About a minute into the train ride, just as we’re passing Malfoy Manor in the rain, we hear a distant shout of “Dementors on the train!”
My dear, lovely, and talented wife is terrified of Dementors. So imagine her reaction when a Dementor places its hand on the glass door directly next to her face. She surpresses a scream, as the glass slowly freezes solid.
I reach for her hand, and then, as a joke, point my wand at the Dementor and say “Expecto Patronus!”
At the exact same time, inaudible because I said something, Harry Potter shouts “Expecto Patronus!” off screen. A blue glowing stag shoots out from my side of the train, slams into the Dementor, and expels it entirely.
To everyone on the train, including me, the impression is that I’ve just done magic. In fact, I’ve just dispelled a Dementor. And the entire car erupts in cheers.
The moral of this story, of course, is that I’m a god damn Wizard.
Mike Fatum is the Editor in Chief and Podcast Co-host of the Ace of Geeks. He is also a wizard.
Something nerdy is happening on Tuesday and Thursday nights in San Francisco’s trendy SOMA district. At the intersection of 10th and Folsom, the Folsom Street Foundry is a relatively new, astoundingly popular bar that caters to San Francisco’s burgeoning population of geeky twenty and thirty-somethings.
|Early on a Thursday night|
On any given Tuesday or Thursday night, the vast remodeled factory fills to the brim with people playing everything from Beer Pong to Magic: The Gathering. Every type of gamer that can be catered to in a social setting has been. Tournaments, emulators, food, booze and board games are all provided for a $5 entry fee.
|The small bar|
As I enter a group is playing a Santana song on Rockband, a small crowd gathered around them where a large projector showing the game. On my right is a small bar. This entry room is cozy. Here you can check your coat and you’ll find several tables with board and card games for the borrowing. In the back right, there is a Halo 2, two on two tournament going on.
|Only part of a giant library of games|
|Board Games in front Halo 2 in the back|
I follow the other patrons who look like they know where they’re going to an immense back room. This room looks like a factory set from a movie, but this workshop is filled with more modern machinery. On my right dozens of projected games fill every open space on the wall. I recognize Mario Kart 8 and sit down to play a round while seated on a large leather couch, looking up at the screen like I’m in the front row of a movie theater.
|One of the smaller screens|
The most popular video games at the foundry are the ones that have dedicated tournaments. Tuesday night is for Super Smash Brothers, Thursday night for Street Fighter. However, Tower Fall and Gauntlet are also extremely popular and have a strong following of regulars.
Some very focused and somber gentlemen sit playing Starcraft in the corner with headphones on. Not my cup of tea, but there really is everything here.
|The Drink Menu|
|A busy Tuesday night at the Foundry, bar in the back|
To the right of the Starcraft gamers is a very long bar – and the thing that keeps this place running in conjunction with the Foundry’s numerous sponsors. There is also a fantastic food menu, however at the time of publishing the kitchen is down for remodeling. The bartender was very apologetic and said the panini sandwiches are amazing, she swears. (I’ve had them, they are. -Ed) In the interim the current fare is fresh french bread mini pizzas only. Food orders are placed at the bar and then called out at the back of the space by a large red curtain that divides off the kitchen. From the bar to the kitchen, I walk past a long row of around twenty small TV monitors hosting any console game brought from home.
Frequently game developers showcase their kickstarter projects and newly funded board games at the tables directly across the bar. Other tables nearby host people playing Nintendo handheld games via the mobile network and the inevitable large group of Jenja players.
|Winning @ SF Game Night|
There is also beer pong with its questionably sterile ping pong ball. The best part of having beer pong at the Foundry is hearing its over-enthusiastic and intoxicated players commentating Pokemon battles.
|Beer pong @ SF Game Night|
Tips and tricks to have a great night:
– Sign up for tournaments early. Halo’s two on two closes at 9pm, or when 8 teams have signed up.
– Bring your friends! It’s next to impossible to rope people you’ve never met into a two hour game of Settlers of Catan.
– Several gaming stations run emulators for everything from “Aladdin” to “Zombies Ate My Neighbors”. Get there early or wait in line if you want to choose what to play.
– Game nights are busiest from 8:30pm – 10:30pm. Tuesdays are busier than Thursdays.
– Developers can get info on showcasing their indie game at firstname.lastname@example.org
Megan Marie Fox currently lives in San Francisco. Comic-Con is her favorite holiday.
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