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.


Standing Is Nice

The Link train has been so crowded in the mornings, lately, that I don’t bother trying to find a seat for my short, two station ride. I stand for the ride. It’s good to see the trains so well used. I don’t mind standing at all

The ride home is long enough that I do try to find a vacant seat.

Fare Inspectors boarded at Westlake this evening. The one in our car got to me just as the train arrived at Capitol Hill Station.

When I come home these days, I almost immediately open a book. I am enjoying this year’s Reading Challenge a whole lot. I’m into an especially good book right now. Of course, I won’t tell you what it is until I finish it and post my review. (That’s a rule I made for myself last year, just for fun, and I’m sticking with it for 2017.)

I find amazing that I’ve finished seven books this month. (Granted, two were short ones, but I’m still amazed.)

I continue to have a love/hate relationship with The Sims 4. I love playing the game, and it’s gorgeous to look at. I hate how buggy the game is, even with no custom content or mods. (Last night, Phillip and I spent a long time figuring out how to make his Sim get some sleep. The last time it happened, a camping trip did the trick. Last night it did not. Internet searches came up with just about everything from resetting the Sim to removing vegetables in his inventory to removing pictures from the walls. Last night, moving to a different bedroom solved it, but it probably won’t work the next time.) Also, I’m frustrated by the restrictions to creativity the game offers.

But I keep playing The Sims 4, and I continue to enjoy it (when it works right). Phillip and I said we wouldn’t spend any more money on it, but we’ve bought the City Living pack and the Vampires pack.

Phillip and I continue taking turns playing The Sims 4, and we’re playing it in the same world in rather different styles.

Phillip’s Sim has become a vampire. Daryl is living alone, and dating a lot.

My Sims, Henry and Mary Burke, have retired to the countryside of Windenburg. (Henry’s a happy ghost, and Mary will be joining him in ghost form any day now.) Their son, Aquarius Burke, has grown up and moved to the city. After an awkward courtship, Aquarius married his roommate Francine Cha. Their daughter, Lily Cha-Burke, has grown into a teenager, and their son, Spencer Burke-Cha, is a child. They may outgrow their small apartment soon.


Mary and Henry Burke

Phillip is playing the wild, dark, single life, and I’m playing the multi-generational family life.

(I didn’t know where this post was going when I started it.)

And So It Goes (Away) Again

We’re playing The Sims 4 without custom content, but apparently that’s not enough.

I’m playing an unusual style for me: only one household. Phillip’s playing another household. I’ve plopped down two restaurants and a spa that the game gave me. I’ve built a gym. We’re keeping the game content to a mimimum, but apparently that’s not enough either.

I figured that the less I build, the less can glitch out.

A Sim I was playing this evening went to a party at Narwhal Arms, in Windenberg’s Old Town. It was then that I noticed that South Square Coffee was gone. It had become an empty lot.

I confirmed that it wasn’t a graphics glitch by trying to have my Sim travel there. The only option was to “Move a family into this lot”.

I looked at the list of clubs. The Avant Gardes’ hangout, formerly South Square, was listed as “None”. The coffeehouse was really, truly gone.

I found what appears to be an exact copy of South Square Coffee in the public gallery, and plopped it into the lot. (Why had someone placed this in the gallery? Are other players experiencing disappearing content, too?)

So now it seems that it’s not just user content disappearing from this glitchy game. Anything can vanish at any moment.

What is it with this game?

Rising From Empty Lots

Origin never did respond to any of my service tickets, and we never did recover any of the content we lost, but Phillip and I both missed playing The Sims 4. So, we’ve started playing again.

We’ve started fresh. We’ve agreed to wipe out everything we had before, rather than trying to re-create that lost content. Phillip’s playing with a Sim he created before, but starting a new life in a new house. I’ve created a new Sim family, and moved them into an existing house. We’ve agreed to get rid of most of the custom content we had downloaded. (For a game built around the concept of open-ended creativity, The Sims 4 is surprisingly, frustratingly, resistant to user creativity.)

We just couldn’t stay away from The Sims 4.


From The House To The City

I haven’t heard a word from Origin about my Sims 4 content that went missing on August 15th. Theoretically, I have several service tickets open, since their system generates a new service ticket every time I ask about the first one. But I haven’t received so much as an acknowledgement that the service tickets were received.

I’ve considered cutting the losses and continuing my game. I used to love playing The Sims 4. But now I really miss Phillip’s Romani House, and I’m afraid playing the game will make me miss it even more. Besides, I don’t know what else is missing from my game beyond what can be seen from the neighborhood level (Sims, relationships, achievements, etc). Besides, I don’t know what will disappear in the future as I continue to play. I want my game fixed.

I can’t bring myself to give up and delete the game.

So, for now, The Sims 4 is in limbo.

I’ve been playing The Sims 2 on the laptop, but, having played The Sims 4, I’m now frustrated by the incredibly long load time, the stiffness of the Sims, and the inferior graphics.

I want to get back to Kerbal Space Program, but recent updates have improved the game physics and made space flight much more challenging. In other words, I have some re-learning to do.

The game that’s eating up my time these days is Cities: Skylines. This is a city-building simulation game, very much in the style of SimCity, from a Finnish company named Colossal Order. I’m playing it through Steam, which I’m currently loving a lot more than Origin.

Cities: Skylines has its share of graphics glitches (cars driving through other cars, and so on), but I’ve never encountered a major bug, and I’ve never had the game crash on me. (I’ve never had game content disappear, either.)

I’ve played every version of SimCity (except SimCity Societies) and I think Cities: Skylines is better than them all. I love the attention to detail that Cities: Skylines gives while still functioning on a citywide level.

I love that City: Skylines not only supports mods and custom content, it actually encourages it. It encourages it so much that player-created content is readily available, for free, through the official Steam Workshop. (Of course, popular mods seem to have a way of making their way into game updates.) There is a lot to this game, and a lot that can be added to it.

I don’t know how many thousands of hours I’ve played Cities: Skylines. I’ve built four cities which each reached a point of collapse, due to poor planning and inexperience on my part. But with each city failure, and with the help of YouTube, I’m learning the game and I’m getting better at it.

Cities: Skylines is my type of game. It combines creativity and puzzle-solving. Sometimes, it’s fun to just sit back and watch the city operate. (The game is so detailed that it’s possible to watch a single citizen commute home from work.)

I’m now well into my fifth city, the city of Filbert. It’s reached the top milestone, “Megalopolis”, and its population is around 100,000 citizens. (I’ve heard them referred to as Cims, but I don’t know if that’s an official name.) Filbert is doing well, it’s survived a couple of crises, it’s showing no sign of collapse, and there’s still room for growth.


Filbert on a rainy night

I’m getting the hang of this game.

First Crisis: When I started Filbert, I put in the requested amount of industrial zoning. Since this was too early in the game for industry specialization, this grew into high-pollution factories. Since the area was polluted anyway, I put the garbage dumps (later to be replaced by garbage incinerators) nearby. I put in tram lines (this game has a rather European feel to it) so workers wouldn’t have to live too close to the pollution.

The city of Filbert grew up around this polluted ground. Eventually, I became dissatisfied with that pocket of pollution in the middle of the city. I moved the incinerators to an open field out of town. Since the city had plenty of low-pollution industry, in the form of farming and timber industries, with room for more, I bulldozed the factories and re-zoned the area for office buildings. I left the “Statue of Industry” there, as a memorial to the city’s history.  The pollution cleared up (in the middle of the city, anyway), offices sprung up, and Filbert prospered.


The Statue of Industry, with factories in the background

The problem was solved.

Then businesses started failing. Shops closed, and commercial buildings were abandoned. The problem, I discovered, was that the shops had nothing to sell, since there were no factories producing goods.

I learned that the type of industrial zoning is as important as the amount of industrial zoning.

I built a new industrial area, with no specialization, out of town, and the polluting factories returned. Some shops opened, but many more did not. I waited for business to improve, but it did not.

Eventually, I realized that traffic in Filbert was so heavy that trucks were having a tough time driving from the factories to the shops in a timely manner.

I put in a rail line between a freight terminal near the factories and a freight terminal near the shops. I made the rails elevated the whole way, so traffic wouldn’t be an issue. Shops began to re-open and business thrived.


Busy freight terminal

This time, the problem really was solved, and I was beginning to understand how trains worked in Cities: Skylines.

The Other Crisis: From the beginning of Filbert, I wanted trains to be important to the city. Using lessons learned from previous cities, I kept freight tracks separate from passenger tracks as much as possible, to avoid train traffic jams. There were a couple of spots were freight trains and passenger trains shared the same tracks, but they didn’t share them for long.


A passenger train passing farmland

When the city became rather large, something I’d never seen occurred. Trains were jammed to a standstill on the single line of tracks outside of the city limits, and causing trains inside the city to be stuck. Since the jams were occurring outside of the city, where I couldn’t edit anything, I had no idea how to fix this. I turned to forums and YouTube for the answer.

The advice I found was to reduce the budget for the trains, and thus reduce the number of trains entering and leaving the city.

I did that, and it worked for a while. Then the jams returned. I turned to forums and YouTube again.

That’s when I learned about rail lines – which are different from rail tracks. All this time, I had been under the idea that all I had to do was place a station near a popular location, connect it to an outside connection, and people would ride the trains, and goods would be distributed. (In my defense, this is how streets work in the game.)

I learned that it was possible to have heavy-rail commuter lines which never leave the city. I made a loop from this station to this station to this station, and back around to the start – the same way I create a bus line, or a tram line, or a metro line. It’s possible to create a freight line between factories and shops. (This seems obvious to me now, and I somehow never noticed that little icon that looks like a bus stop.)



This one discovery not only cleared up the outside train jams, it boosted the weekly ridership numbers at several passenger train stations from single digits to triple digits.

Now I need to do something about that traffic.