Strangerville – a Sims 4 Let’s Play

Brad Zimmer and his twin daughters, Maddison and Mathilda, have just arrived in Strangerville as part of Brad’s newest military posting. Follow their adventures in this strangest of towns.

As I flagged a couple of months ago, I’ve been busy experimenting with the whole “YouTube content creator” thing, by playing and uploading Sims 4 “let’s play” videos. I’ve finished recording one of those story arcs; it’s a short one (only eight videos long), and I thought it was a good one to recommend to anyone who’s curious about that sort of content and what I do specifically — which is basically create stories and narrate them with an Australian accent. (Hawt?)

This year, the Sims 4 team released a downloadable game pack called Strangerville. If you imagine a combination of The X-Files and a zombie movie (but where the zombies don’t eat you, because of the game’s rating), that pretty much sums it up! The entire video playlist can be found here if you’re interested — the last part comes out in two days, so in theory you could binge watch the entire thing before then.

If you like. 😉

If you watch it, I’d love to hear what you think — you can leave comments here or on any of the videos! (I’m still a baby YouTuber, so please be gentle!)

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Where I’ve Been: A Sneaky Side Project

I know I’ve been quiet (Instagram posts notwithstanding) for the last month. I accidentally got caught up in a new side project that isn’t related to my writing — a project that was foreshadowed by my December blog post about The Sims 4.

I started a YouTube gaming channel. (Wut?)

I’ve been pondering investigating this for a while; my son is nine and an avid watcher of “let’s play” gaming videos on YouTube, so much so that he wants to have one himself, one day. I kept telling him that I didn’t know how it worked. (If you watch my channel, it’ll become pretty clear I still don’t! 😉 )  Simultaneously, over the Christmas break I got drawn into watching some Sims 4 let’s plays … and suddenly, in January, it seemed like a good idea to investigate starting one for myself.

My boy finds Sims 4 boring, honestly, but he’s very excited that I’m a YouTuber. He wants me to tell everyone I know so that lots of people follow me and I become super famous. #goals Of course, I’ve told maybe two or three other people, because I’m a middle aged woman and I suspected people might think I’d gone a bit senile!

What made me decide to write this post in the end was the fact that I had the exact same reaction when I was writing Isla’s Inheritance, my first novel. I was embarrassed. I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it till it was done. And I get the same enjoyment from writing as I do from making these videos — The Sims 4 lets you create characters and tell all sorts of stories with them. It’s loads of fun, and I’m going to own it.

So, uh, I guess I should post the name of the channel.

It’s AussieCassPlays.

BE GENTLE WITH ME, GUYS. The first few videos I posted weren’t great — I had a few problems with the game sound. But the two children I know who watch a lot of this content assure me that my videos are better than average for a starting YouTuber — at least I’m not breathing all over my microphone, apparently! (Phew.)

If you don’t like The Sims 4, my videos won’t be for you … but if you want to have a quick look and make fun of my accent, that’s totally fine too!

I’m still writing. I don’t ever see that changing. And I don’t imagine this blog is going to turn into a Sims 4 blog — I’ll still post reviews and other writing-related news.

But I will do this too.


Four Reasons Sims 4 is Better Than Real Life — a Writer’s List

I’ve been a fan of the Sims series of games since the first one came out in 2000 (gosh I’m old), and in the last few months I finally caved in and got myself a copy of Sims 4. It is … just as addictive as I remember. To the point where, over the summer break, my son has ordered me to write for a minimum amount of time each day before I’m allowed to play it.

A friend commented that you can tell I’m a writer — I get just as much enjoyment out of creating characters and houses for them to move into as I do out of playing, and even though I try to keep them happy and healthy, when things go wrong, I think “Oooh, plot twist!” and keep going rather than reverting to the last saved game.

There are definite advantages to being a Sim, and especially a writer Sim, despite your shorter lifespan and almost-complete lack of free will. Here’s my list.

Authors who work hard will definitely succeed

Working hard and practicing your craft are obviously of benefit to a real-world writer, but they aren’t a guarantee of financial success. Self-publishing books doesn’t automatically open doors to publishers and critical acclaim, for example. (At least, not in my experience — not so far!)

In the Sims, on the other hand, my author character (named Evelyn Martin because that was the name my character had randomly generated for her in Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery — did I mention I suck at naming things?) was able to almost single-handledly finance the building of a lush house for her family. I mean, look at this house. Look at it!

View from the front

View from the rear

My son asked me sadly why we didn’t have a swimming pool. Maybe … maybe this is why he wants me to write every day?

A Sim can write a couple of books a day

On a day off, a Sim can smash out a couple of books and still have time for lunch and “woohoo”. Even on a working day, they can write one book. (Of course, a day for a normal lifespan Sim is roughly equivalent to a year for a human — barring accidents, they live at least 81 days, and yes, I looked that up.)

Plus you get the joy of coming up with hilarious book titles without having to write 70k+ words to back them up. (I love that part.) And when you tell a Sim to write, they can’t get distracted by the internet, or by writing blog posts about addictive computer games. They won’t stop unless they have to.

So compulsorily industrious

Death is sad but not always permanent

Speaking of Sim lifespans, there are ways to extend them via magical potions — if you keep your Sim satisfied, they can buy enough potions to effectiely live forever, barring accidents. They can also become vampires, which are, again, immortal (also barring accidents, like walking in the sun for too long because the game froze — I’m looking at you, Hendrick!).

But if they do die, then the author has a way to bring them back — if you write the book of life and customise it to a particular Sim, you can then use it to summon them from the grave. (I haven’t actually tried this yet so I don’t have a screenshot of that, but I’m pretty excited to give it a go.)

Also, dead Sims can come back as a ghost so you can shoot the breeze. And get selfies.

Spectral selfie of Evelyn’s departed wife

And the reaper is an alright kind of guy, not scary at all. You can chat with him once his work is done; I even had one Sim successfully beg the reaper to spare her adult son (the aforementioned Hendrick), so that was nice! And sometimes he hangs around for a bit after he’s done what he needs to do, which does demystify the whole “death” thing.

The reaper playing Sims after he finished “taking care” of a careless repairman

There are lots of inspiring things to write about

Aside from having vampires in the family, there are lots of other exciting occult things to write about, which is great if your Sim writes speculative fiction. Some of it depends on you buying different expansions, but some of it comes with the base game. Here we see Evelyn exploring a magical hidden glade through a mystical portal … and taking a selfie, because that’s how my Sims role.

It’s basically inspiration fodder for your Sim writer’s muse. And maybe for your own.

If you can turn the game off for long enough to write.


In case you haven’t seen it yet, Smashwords is having an end-of-year sale. All of my ebooks are heavily discounted – and some of them are free! You can find a complete list here (including my elf smut under the Tammy Calder pen name, so, uh, discretion is advised for those ones).


A children’s Harry Potter birthday party

My son just turned nine (wut) and had requested a Harry Potter party. Our house is very small with no discernable yard — and it’s winter here — so we decided on a “movie” pyjama party, based on my misguided theory that kids in their PJs would be less likely to run around shouting.

Needless to say, very little movie-watching took place. But fun was had regardless. I thought since it was a book-related party I’d share my experience here, in case it is of benefit to others.

(Note: Check the run time of the movie before you start. I forgot quite how long Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone actually runs — we didn’t quite make it through the movie before the other parents came to collect their kids. It wasn’t a big deal, though, given how little time was spent in front of the TV.)

The Food

Our budget didn’t stretch to actual Harry Potter brand food, especially since I’d have had to order it in from the UK, so I made do. We bought lolly snakes, chocolate frogs and other snacks, but then I gave them a Harry Potter theme by labelling each bowl with Honeydukes-inspired labels. (This also meant I could flag the contents of each for those kids with dietary requirements.)

For example, the snakes became “Basilisk Bites” and our Jelly Belly jellybeans were “Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans”. My son and I got around the fact they weren’t every flavour by faking it, which the other adults got in on. “Oh, gross, I just got a soap-flavoured one!”

The “Cake”

My son doesn’t like icing (I know, right?) so we decided to do homemade muffins in house-coloured cupcake wrappers instead. I googled “butterscotch muffins”, thinking I’d claim they were butterbeer, and ended up using this recipe from taste.com.au. I found it was a little dry, so added a little extra buttermilk, and because we didn’t use the caramel sauce due to my fear of sticky pre-teens, I added a splash of maple syrup as well. I’m not a baker, generally, so I was pleased at how nicely they turned out.

The one Potter-ish food thing I did order was the cupcake toppers, which were super-easy to apply. I did have to add a very thin layer of icing sugar (with a splash of boiling water to make a paste), just to get the toppers to stick, but I got away with it. 😉

Wizarding Accessories

Wands

Far and away the most time-consuming (but satisfying) part of the party prep was making the wands. My talented friend Craig and I spent hours on these, though the materials themselves were quite cheap: a packet of wooden chopsticks, a glue gun and a packet of beads. Craig already owned the paint, which would’ve been a huge extra expense if I’d had to get it myself.

Each kid got to chose a wand — there were six children and twelve wands, so I get the spares! — and I’d done up a card for each one with a core and wood based on this page, so they all had unique “powers”. The kids spent the vast majority of the party dividing into tribes and flinging curses at each other. It was a little Lord of the Flies, not gonna lie, but they had fun.

Photos, detail work and amazing talent by Craig. Dribbly “organic” wands by me.

Wizard Hats

I painted the party hats black and then used my glue gun to stick stars all over them. Quick and easy!

Party hat graciously modelled by Professor McGonagall

The Games

Sorting Hat

All the kids who came knew their Hogwarts houses in advance (because we’re those sorts of people), but I’d downloaded and printed a couple of origami “sorting hats” from this site, which got quite a bit of use.

Pass the Parseltongue

This was regular pass the parcel, but with toy snakes, lizards and frogs in each layer.

Stick the Sock on the Dobby

I drew Dobby onto a sheet of A3 cardboard and then made socks for the kids to stick on him with sticky tac. I had prizes for those that got their sock into his hand and for the funniest placement (which ended up being an earring).

Musical Statues

As well as pausing the music, I used my wand to cast the charm “immobulus” (the freezing charm). It was a bit of a juggle managing both, so I had to get the other parents to judge who was out each round.

Other Games

I had organised a few other party games that we didn’t get to because the kids wanted to get back to flinging curses.

  • A “Celebrity Head” style game — I had a plain black party hat and some stickers that I was going to write Potter character names on so each child could have a turn at guessing who they were.
  • Memorise the spell — Starting with a “base spell” word, each kid has to repeat what has been said previously and then add a new word to the spell, going around in a circle, so that you end up with a string of gibberish.
  • Transfiguration class — I found a packet of animal noses and was going to get each child to cast a spell on themselves to “transform” and draw a nose from a bag.

The Prizes

Again, I didn’t have a huge budget for prizes, so I went for theme rather than brand. As well as the parseltongue lizards etc, I found a cheap pack of dragons at the local two dollar shop. I stuck some googley eyes on pompoms and called them pygmy puffs. I bought a grey Ikea rat to be Scabbers, and a little while owl to be Hedwig.

I had more prizes than we actually needed, so I divided up what was left into the party bags at the end. (Except for Scabbers. He lives with me now.)

Conclusion

All in all, everyone had fun — including me, as the whole thing appealed to my inner Ravenclaw. My boy has already told me he wants a Doctor Who party next year, which I think will be trickier.

For now, I’ll be over here, collapsed in a pile of wizarding robes and left-over lollies.


Mini-review: ‘Doctor Who: Time Lord Fairy Tales’ by Justin Richards

WE ARE ALL STORIES, IN THE END…

Fifteen tales of ancient wonder and mystery, passed down through generations of Time Lords.

Dark, beautiful and twisted, these stories are filled with nightmarish terrors and heroic triumphs, from across all of time and space.

The first thing you need to know about this book is that — despite the name — the stories aren’t Time Lord fairy tales in the strictest sense. They aren’t fairy tales that Time Lords (the race of aliens that the Doctor is) tell their kids. Instead, these are retellings of traditional fairy tales, but as if they were told in the world of Doctor Who. There are five with the Doctor actually in them (Two, Nine, Ten and Eleven, from memory), and a bunch of others that feature the various alien races from the show.

The stories are, sadly, variable. Some of them are clever, a little unpredictable, and feature cameos from beloved characters. (For example, the lead character from ‘Little Rose Riding Hood’ is a younger version of Rose Tyler.) Others are kind of bland. I don’t know what fairy tale ‘The Twins in the Wood’ is based off, but despite that I found the story utterly predictable — it suffered from having no stakes whatsoever.

Still, the good stories did outnumber the bad ones, and if you’re a fan of Who, then the book is worth a read for ‘The Scruffy Piper‘ and ‘The Grief Collector’ alone. (Also, the hardcover is totally gorgeous, if a book’s aesthetic is important to you.)

If you’re not a fan of Who, read the Begin, End, Begin anthology instead — you won’t regret it.

 


Review: ‘The Awkward Path to Getting Lucky’ by Summer Heacock

A humorous novel about a cupcake shop owner with a physical ailment that’s kept her from having sex for two years, and the desperate antics that ensue as she tries to overcome it.

Having sex wasn’t a big priority while Kat Carmichael’s successful cupcake shop was taking off. But when she realizes that it’s been nearly two years since she and her boyfriend, Ryan, have been intimate, she makes a pact to break her dry spell-and cure her vaginismus, a muscular condition that can make sex physically impossible.

Out of guilt, Kat calls for a break in her relationship with Ryan, so that he can see other people while she attempts to fix the issue on her own. She throws herself into physical therapy, but soon discovers her solo mission is more complicated than she anticipated. Fortunately, Ben Cleary, the shop’s best (looking) customer, is also a physical therapist, and volunteers to help out.

As time goes on, however, the boundaries Ben and Kat have set between friendship and love quickly become blurred, leaving her more confused than ever about what to hang on to and what to let go.

I haven’t read a lot of chick lit before, so this book was a brilliant way to expose myself (har har) to the genre. It is hilariously funny, with a “what can go wrong probably will” vibe and a self-described Type A main character who doesn’t like to ask for help and regularly blurts out what she’s thinking and then regrets it later.

I love Kat. But I especially love her in the context of her friends/co-workers at the cupcake shop: feisty best friend Shannon, edible-glitter-obsessed bisexual Butter and shy bride-to-be Liz. The four of them are frequently bawdy and always frank with one another, and after Kat reveals her condition to the others in a truly giggle-worthy conversation, they band around to provide moral support and sex toys to help with her therapy.

The burgeoning relationship with Ben is adorable. He’s earnest and more than a little awkward, though he generally takes things with good humour. However, he’s not a doormat and when Kat crosses the line he isn’t afraid to tell her so. Despite everything, their romance is actually touching and sweeter than one of Butter’s cupcake recipes. I ship them so hard!

As for Ryan, I was prepared to hate him, as I assumed was traditional, but — although he’s not my type (or Kat’s, really) — he is good best friend material. It just takes both of them a while to figure that out.

Summer is great at setting up awkward situations and then letting the humour roll, but where she truly shines is in writing dialogue. Kat, Ben and Ryan are also all nerds, which warms my heart. This book is a great read for anyone who likes to laugh, isn’t too prudish, and wants to read about cupcakes all day.

It even comes with some of Butter’s recipes at the back, you guys. It’s basically perfect.


Review: ‘Fangirl’ by Rainbow Rowell

Cath and Wren are identical twins, and until recently they did absolutely everything together. Now they’re off to university and Wren’s decided she doesn’t want to be one half of a pair any more — she wants to dance, meet boys, go to parties and let loose. It’s not so easy for Cath. She’s horribly shy and has always buried herself in the fan fiction she writes, where she always knows exactly what to say and can write a romance far more intense than anything she’s experienced in real life.

Without Wren, Cath is completely on her own and totally outside her comfort zone. She’s got a surly room-mate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

Now Cath has to decide whether she’s ready to open her heart to new people and new experiences, and she’s realizing that there’s more to learn about love than she ever thought possible.

I read my first Rainbow Rowell novel last year: Eleanor & Park is exceptionally well written, albeit darker than I was expecting. Maybe I was subconsciously misled by the fact the author’s first name was “Rainbow”? :p

Still, when I heard Rowell had written a novel about a girl obsessed with fan fiction (aka fanfic) about a series of books inspired by Harry Potter, I was definitely keen. Those are two brands of geeky subculture that I’m familiar with; I experimented with fanfic when I was in my 20s (although when I say it like that it makes fanfic sound like illegal drugs or something!) — and Harry Potter … well, duh! I haven’t been living under a bush.

Fangirl blew me away. I’ve really fallen in love with the subgenre of YA that is geeky contemporary over the past few years, and this book is another addition to that shelf. Rowell’s writing shines here, both in the day-to-day tale of Cath’s life and in the extensive excerpts of her fanfic. I was just as hooked by her take on her Simon/Baz fic as I was by her main storyline. Happily, Carry On, the fanfic story that Cath works on throughout Fangirl, is also now available as a novel — a fact so meta that it makes me grin. I’ll definitely be buying it as soon as I can.

As for Cath, it’s hard not to love her. She struggles with anxiety, which is made worse by her twin, Wren, effectively abandoning her as soon as they hit university. Her father is bipolar so Cath spends a lot of time worrying about him — and Wren has her own issues, which she seeks to forget about through her new party lifestyle. At times, as much as I understood what she was going through, I wanted to shake Wren till her teeth rattled; she has moments where she is particularly mean-spirited. The times that Cath stood up to her were some of my favourite parts of the book.

There is a romance here, though it’s hard not to name names without spoilers. There are a couple of different males on the scene, but this isn’t a love triangle in the traditional sense. One of the guys turns out to be a selfish a-hole and the other is a sweetheart. There’s no competition. And that’s all I will say about that.

As far as other characters go, I adored Reagan, Cath’s roommate. Despite how prickly she is, she takes Cath under her wing in a “tough love” way that it’s hard not to love. Also, Professor Piper receives a notable mention — she’s the sort of supportive writing lecturer I wish I’d had when I was at university. (And I love the way Rowell handled the storyline as it related to Cath and Wren’s mother. So realistic!)

Fangirl is a story about stories, about getting out of your comfort zone, and about finding out who you are. I love it.