Samson Valley Begins

Last month, I excitedly logged on to Steam and looked for the new Cities: Skylines DLC: Mass Transit. I searched and searched for it, until I realized it was coming out May 18 – not April 18.

Today is May 18, and I bought Mass Transit. I disabled all my mods (for now) and I started a new city, which I’ve named Samson Valley.

Samson Valley beginning

My little city is still suffering growing pains, and the blimps and monorails and transit hubs, etc., will have to wait until the population catches up.

This is going to be fun!

My Extended Family

Mary and Henry Burke were already married when they moved into a house in Willow Creek. Mary was a scientist. Henry was a painter.


Mary and Henry

Mary and Henry have one child: a son named Aquarius Burke.


young Aquarius Burke

Mary and Henry have retired to a home in the Countryside neighborhood of Windenburg. They have both died, and have chosen to spend eternity as ghosts. They spend their retirement pay on camping trips to Granite Falls.

Henry and Mary

When he was old enough to move out, Aquarius answered a “roommate wanted” ad placed by a woman named Francine Cha. He moved into Francine’s cramped, rundown apartment in the Fashion District of San Myshuno. Aquarius and Francine were both loners. Aquarius was socially awkward. They were uncomfortable roommates.

Francine and Aquarius

Francine and Aquarius

Francine Cha has remained close to her longtime friend, Daryl Robards. They both feel as if they’d known each other in a previous life. Francine feels some romantic attraction toward Daryl, but understands that he prefers men. Daryl is now a vampire. He’s almost always asleep when Francine comes to visit.

Daryl and Francine

Daryl and Francine

Somehow, despite the awkwardness, Aquarius Burke and Francine Cha fell in love, married, and raised a family. As their family grew, they moved into larger and larger apartments in San Mayshuno, finally settling into a three-bedroom apartment in the Arts Quarter.

Aquarius Francine and family

Francine and Aquarius have three children. Their eldest, Lily Cha-Burke, married Rita Somberg, from Oasis Springs. They’ve moved in with Francine, in San Myshuno, thinking that Francine is in her last days. They have two children.

Lily and Rita

Lily (on the right) and Rita

Lily and Rita’s older daughter, Rylie Cha-Somberg, recently became a young adult and moved into a cheap San Myshuno apartment across the hall from her parents. Rylie is pursuing a career in law enforcement.


Rylie Cha-Somberg

Lily and Rita’s younger daughter, Reece Cha-Somberg, is still a child. Reece enjoys visiting her ghost great-grandparents in Windenburg. She gets excellent grades in school.


Reece Cha-Somberg

Aquarius and Francine’s second child, Spencer Burke-Cha, married his childhood sweetheart, Cassandra Goth.  They’ve moved into a modest two-bedroom house in Willow Creek. They’ve decided to not have children. They use the space bedroom as a music studio.

Spencer and Cassandra

Spencer and Cassandra

Aquarius and Francine’s third child, Chris Cha-Burke, married Wendy Ashby. They met at GeekCon. Chris and Wendy share the three-bedroom apartment with Lily, Rita, Reece, and Francine.

Chris and Wendy

Chris and Wendy

Wendy and Chris have one child, a daughter named Annie Ashby-Burke. Annie is a toddler. She is fiercely independent.


Annie Ashby-Burke

Francine Cha outlived Aquarius Burke.

Aquarius dies

After Aquarius passed away, Francine married a painter named Sam Moore.

Sam and Francine

Sam and Francine

Francine outlived Sam, too.

Sam Dies

Francine Cha currently has a new boyfriend, a much younger man named Karim Al Habib.

Francine and Karim

Francine and Karim

Francine also has a girlfriend, named Cheyanne Greenwood. Cheyanne wants to move in with Francine, and settle down. Francine doesn’t want to give up her relationship with Karim.

Francine and Cheyanne

Francine and Cheyanne

Cheyanne is also much younger than Francine. Then again, just about everyone is younger than Francine.

It seems like Francine Cha is going to live forever.

I am rather enjoying this new method of playing The Sims 4, following just one multi-generational family.




The Sims 4 Continues To Be A Buggy Game

Stuff is disappearing from our game again, and this time no one can blame it on mods or custom content. This is why I’m cautious, this go-around, about building things I might get attached to, and limiting the number of families I play. (The more I add, the more I can lose.)

This time, it’s the pool at The Bluffs. This time, unlike the time South Square Coffee disappeared, I haven’t been able to find a replacement in the gallery.

That pool was one of my favorite community lots.

Bluffs Pool before


I suppose I should rebuild it. It won’t be the same, but it’ll be better than a big empty lot.

Bluffs Pool after


Update: I took a second look at the gallery, tried a different search, and there was a replacement in there. The pool is back.

Why are players recreating the game’s pre-built lots and uploading them to the community gallery? Are we not the only ones with disappearing lots?

Waiting For Mary


The ghost of Henry Burke continued to cruise the bars and museums, hoping for a chance encounter with his ghost wife, Mary Burke. She had vanished from his life when she died, just as he had vanished from her life when he died, long ago. He understood how it was in the afterlife: Sometimes a ghost needs some time alone. Sometimes a ghost dies on a community lot, and the transition is so overwhelming that they become lost, and can’t find their way back home. In the bars, Henry met several women, and a few men, willing to start a romantic relationship with him. It didn’t matter. He was waiting for Mary. Owing to the quirks of the afterlife, a ghost can’t be contacted directly. (A ghost can call you, but you can’t call a ghost. No one knows why.) All he could do was wait for her. Someday, Mary will call him, when she’s ready to return, just as he had called her, so long ago.


Henry’s son, Aquarius, and daughter-in-law, Francine, worried about Henry. Even the dead should live a healthy life, they told him. They urged him to come out of retirement, return to a professional painter career – maybe even become a ghost cop. Henry remained in retirement, however. He wanted to be available when Mary called. His grandchildren visited him often. Lilly and her girlfriend, Rita, moved in with Henry for a while, until they were both old enough to move into their own apartment in the city. They didn’t want their ghost grandfather to be so alone.


Then, one day, it happened. Henry’s phone rang, and it was Mary. She invited him to the Humor and Hijinks Festival. They spent the whole time together, ignoring everyone else, and ignoring the whole festival. They talked, laughed, flirted, kissed, and bantered like old friends do. And yet, even though their friendship and romance levels were at their maximums, Mary didn’t seem ready to come back home. Henry didn’t know why, but he understood the concept. These things take time, and Henry had all the time in the world. They were ghosts, after all. The festival ended, and they went their separate ways. Henry was heartbroken, but at least he knew that Mary was still around.


Weeks later, it was Ghost Night at the Old Quarter Inn. The ghost of Henry was there, enjoying a discounted drink, and ducking the advances of Jade Rosa, when the ghost of Mary glided through the door. He asked her, once again, to rejoin the household, and she said yes.


Mary Burke has returned home. Their house in the Windenburg countryside is pretty much as she remembered it. There’s a new basketball hoop, and Henry has built a swimming pool. Henry’s garden is slightly larger. Aquarius’ old bedroom, which was converted to a craft room when he left home to move in with Francine, now looks as if two teenage girls had been living there. But, overall, it seems to Mary, Henry has kept the place just as she left it. Her science lab in the basement is still there.

Henry and Mary Burke will continue to live the lives of retired ghosts, taking camping trips to Granite Falls whenever they like. They’ll remain together in Windenburg until the end of time (which, since this is The Sims 4, could happen at any time).

The Sims 4 Is A Weird Game, Part 2

Stuff in The Sims 4 costs your Sims money. Except for clothes. Clothes are free. Sims don’t have to pay for clothes, or even shop for them. They just open a dresser and all the clothes that exist in the world are in there. A Sim in a cheap apartment with an entry-level job has the same clothing options as a millionaire Sim in a mansion. It’s weird.


I got this suit for free!

In The Sims 2, a Sim has to go shopping to buy more clothes. Different types of clothes have different prices, but all clothes pretty much cost the same. But, at least, clothes cost something. The more money a Sim has, the more clothes they can buy, and the more clothing options they can have. I miss the clothes stores in The Sims 2.

(I have never played The Sims or The Sims 3, so I can compare only the even-numbered Sims games.)

I think it’s awesome that, in The Sims 4, a Sim can have up to five outfits for each clothing category. But I think it’s weird that a Sim can change their clothes anywhere – even in the middle of a public park. (In The Sims 2, you need to have access to a dresser, closet, or changing booth in order to change clothes.)

I’m not complaining about either game. I’m just noting how weird a game simulation can be.

I also miss the grocery stores in The Sims 2. A Sim’s refrigerator will run out of food, and that Sim will either have to visit a grocery store, order a grocery delivery, order a pizza delivery, or starve. Groceries cost money, and the cost is based on the amount of groceries bought – measured as a percentage of a sliding scale. It’s a simplified simulation, but it makes sense.


Grocery shopping in The Sims 2

In The Sims 4, things get weird. Food cost is charged each time a Sim cooks something – and it’s the refrigerator that charges them. Want to make four bowls of chili? Open the refrigerator door, take out the ingredients, and money is automatically deducted from the household account. A refrigerator never runs out of food – leftovers can spoil, and need to be thrown out, but you’ll always be able to make dinner. (It’s like the refrigerator is some sort of food replicator, connected to your bank account.)


Magic milk!

There is free food available in The Sims 4 – sort of. Catching fish from a lake or stream is free, but cooking a fish usually costs money, since it involves a refrigerator. A Sim can grow their own food for free, but seeds cost a few simoleans. There are community gardens, and harvesting food there is free. Plants harvested from a community garden can be planted at home to grow more free food.

We have the City Living pack, and I like all the new things it offers. There are even fruit and vegetable carts that show up from time to time. It’s the closest thing, so far, that The Sims 4 has to a grocery store.


Grocery shopping in The Sims 4

The Sims 4 Is A Weird Game, Part 1

Ghosts in The Sims 4 are weird.


There are five things that make a ghost Sim different from a living Sim: Ghosts are semi-transparent, they change color according to their emotion, they can pass though walls (but often opt to use a door), they can briefly possess objects, and they don’t age.

Aside from those five differences, a ghost Sim is just like a living Sim. They get hungry, they have to go to the bathroom, they get sick occasionally, and they get sleepy. A ghost Sim can have a job, or collect retirement pay. They can go to a pub and have a drink or a bowl of chips. They can go on a date with a living Sim, along with everything that that involves. They can paint a painting and sell it to a collector. They can grow a garden. Since they don’t age, they can do all of these things forever.


Two of my current Sims, Henry and Mary Burke, retired to a nice house in the countryside of Windenburg. Their son, Aquarius, and his family moved to an apartment in the busy city of San Myshuno. Phillip, meanwhile, was playing his Sim, Darryl.

One day, I returned to playing Mary and Henry, and discovered that Henry had died. I was sad and disappointed that one of my Sims had died while we were playing other Sims. (I can’t decide if this is an improvement, or not, over The Sims 2, where time stops in unplayed households, and a Sim can grow up, leave home to start their own family, and become older than their parents, who are stuck in time until I play them again.)

What was worse than Henry’s passing was that he disappeared. He was a gray icon on Mary’s family tree, but his tombstone, or urn, was nowhere to be found. I had lost a Sim. (In the earlier game, before half of our content, including Phillip’s amazing Romani House, vanished, and Origin ignored my service tickets, and we swore we’d never play The Sims 4 again, and I had households scattered throughout every neighborhood, I had built a graveyard to place the tombstones in. Now that I’m playing just one, extended, family, and Phillip has turned Darryl into a vampire, there don’t seem much point in building a graveyard.)

So, Mary Burke was all alone in the countryside house, without even a tombstone to mourn over. Then, one day, Mary received a phone call. It was the ghost of Henry, calling to invite Mary out to lunch. Over lunch, I discovered that Henry’s ghost had a social interaction option that said, “Invite into household”. The ghost of Henry accepted Mary’s invitation, and moved back into the countryside house.


Although Mary and Henry Burke had once been the same age, Mary continued to live longer than Henry had. They continued to exist happily together in the country. Oddly, they were no longer married. (Or, maybe, it’s not so odd. ’til death do you part, perhaps.) I suppose it’s possible that they could get married again, but I didn’t try. They were happy as they were.

Henry Burke was the first ghost Sim I had ever played – in either The Sims 2 or The Sims 4.

Then, one day, I returned to the Burkes’ countryside house, and Henry was alone. Mary had died and disappeared, just as Henry had earlier. And, again, there was no tombstone, or urn, to be found.

Knowing that it’s possible to invite a ghost into a household, I’ve been trying to find a way for Henry to contact Mary. She’s on his list of acquaintances, but no interaction menu appears when I click on her icon. She doesn’t appear as an option when Henry uses the phone to call someone.

So now, the ghost of Henry Burke roams the neighborhoods, parks, nightclubs, and festivals, hoping for a chance encounter with his lost love. Maybe someday, he will receive an invitation to lunch. Maybe someday soon, The Shrieking Llama will host another Ghost Night and Mary will be there.


Thermal Point


Thermal Point is a growing city situated above the Arctic Circle. Its current population is around 40,000, and it is growing rapidly. Surrounded by rivers and mountains, its terrain is generally flat, which makes it idea for canals, but impractical for hydroelectric dams. Oddly, its canals never freeze – even when the temperature drops to -19° c.


Electricity is supplied by wind and solar power. Thermal Point has recently built its first nuclear power plant, to replace its aging coal power plant. Its water supply is heated by geothermal plants, which reduces the city’s electricity needs.


Geothermal Plant

Thermal Point has no bus system, other than its emergency services. Instead, it relies on a network of trams, heavy rail, and a circular subway line, to ease traffic flow in this densely populated city. There are no major traffic issues, despite multiple bottlenecks created by all those canals, plus a major freeway dissecting the city, and two other freeways along its east and west borders. Commercial and industrial needs are met by rail and shipping lines.


Thermal Point has recently been hit by an earthquake, which thankfully avoided most of the city. Casualties were avoided by an excellent early warning system, and property damage was minor. Because of its location, Thermal Point is subjected to frequent thunderstorms. The use of lightning rods, and a well-funded fire department, has so far kept thunderstorm damage to a minimum.

Thermal Point has been struck by several meteors – five, so far. The city has turned these meteor events into a minor tourist attraction. The district of Crater Island was built around a preserved impact crater, and has built a tourist lodge nearby. Meteor Park also attracts many visitors.



Meteor Park

I am quite pleased with the success and beauty of Thermal Point.


Disasters Come To Edgewood

One thing that SimCity had done better than Cities:Skylines is disasters – until now.

In SimCity, the metropolis you’ve been working on for so long could be devastated by a meteor or giant lizard at any moment. In Cities:Skylines, the only really bad thing that could happen was poor planning.

This has changed. A few weeks ago, I bought the Natural Disasters expansion for Cities:Skylines. Bad things have been happening to the city of Edgewood, and the game has become even more exciting.

Like everything that the developers of Cities:Skylines seem to do, they have taken what SimCity has already done and come up with something even better.

This new expansion isn’t just about natural disasters – it’s about disaster planning. With SimCity, it was about sending a tornado through your city and then rebuilding the damage. With Natural Disasters, it’s about setting up early warning systems – meteor detection systems, earthquake sensors, tsunami warning buoys, and so on. It’s about stocking shelters with food and water, and planning out emergency bus routes to get your citizens to the shelters.

When a tsunami flattens your nice beach-front community, rescue teams search through the rubble for survivors before things get rebuilt. Or, you can just bulldoze everything before the rescue teams get there, and let the community rebuild on its own. (I haven’t yet figured out if one option has an advantage over the other.)

If a meteor lands in the middle of a lake, and the resulting waves flood the surrounding areas, rescue teams show up with tanker trucks to vacuum up the flood waters. Or, you can just wait for the water to dry up on its own.

With SimCity, all you can do is bulldoze, rebuild, and hope you didn’t lose too many citizens.

As with SimCity, in the Natural Disasters expansion, disasters can happen randomly, or you can send that meteor into the middle of the lake just to see what will happen. There is also something entirely new – “scenarios” – in which you can plan an event, or events, and then set a goal of “winning” or “losing” (for instance, rebuilding the population to a certain level within a certain amount of time). You can also upload your scenario to the Workshop for other players to play.

I haven’t tried out scenarios, and I don’t know much about them. I’m not interested in playing City:Skylines with the idea of “winning”. But I love that the game developers came up with this option.

I am very pleased with Natural Disasters, and the new elements it has brought to the game – even though there are no giant lizards.