Saturday, October 30, 2010

Weekend Update

It’s weekend, the weather is nice and it’s time for my weekly weekend update.

  • DVD to watch: something scary
  • Book to read: rereading Robert Asprin’s “Myth” series
  • Game to play: “The Sims 3”

It’s always nice to have a good time ahead of you … and this weekend is even longer in Germany, because November 1st is a holiday here.

Friday, October 29, 2010

German Suburbs

Yesterday I took my car to a mechanic for an inspection. While it was done – about one hour –, I walked around the neighbourhood. This made me think about the strange thing called a German suburb.

American suburbs are well-known in most countries of this world (in all where American TV series are shown), the strange thing called a German suburb, on the other hand, is not even known very well inside Germany. While soap-operas and TV series set in the suburbs (such as “Desperate Housewives” or even “The Simpsons”) portrait the live of the supposedly ‘average’ American family, the main characters of German soap-operas (yes, they exist) usually live in big cities, downtown in apartment blocks or at least in a flat. It’s more modern and definitely more hip than the German suburb.

The most distinct thing in the German suburb are the houses, small terrace houses (at least that’s the word my dictionary gives me for the German word “Reihenhaus”) set in rows of five to ten, along a footpath leading from the street (where the garages are placed) to the last house. Each of those houses has a small garden (as broad as the house, but not very deep, because of the closeness of the rows), a garage along the street and each is constructed from the same blueprint.

Historically, most of those houses have been build in the Fifties and Sixties and then from the Eighties onwards. During the Seventies, the dream of a wife, two kids, a dog and ‘our own house’ was suspended for a while, but it came back. The terrace house was ‘our own house’, but far cheaper than an individually build one. Germans tend to rent flats or apartments while moving from job to job and town to town, they only build or buy a house once in their lives – once they’re ready to settle down. This house once in their lives for a lot of people was and still is a terrace house.

I have been inside various of those houses in my life and can give you a basic description of their design. The entrance is usually reached by climbing two, three or four steps, because the first floor is elevated slightly (about one meter) from the ground. This way, the basements can be fitted with windows more easily. And why, you might ask now, do German houses need big windows in their basements? Well, because the terrace house doesn’t offer all that much space, for one thing. The first floor usually offers a small bathroom (toilet, sink, maybe a shower – depending on when the house was build) and a huge area that combines kitchen, dining room and living room. Sometimes the living area is lowered a bit, one or two steps, to set it apart from the rest. The kitchen (and quite often the bathroom window, too), face the front of the house, the living area faces the back, where a terrace is leading to the small garden. The second floor and the attic (which more often than not is at least partially converted into living space) hold more bedrooms and at least one more bathroom (two, if the attic is completely converted). Usually, there’s only space for two bedrooms on the second floor, so once the kids are old enough to want a room each (two kinds still are quite common in the German suburb, although statistically it’s 1.3 children per family), either the attic or the basement have to be converted into living space – partially or even full, depending on the number of children and the size of the house. Usually, it’s the attic. But what about the basement and the big windows then? Suburbs in Germany are very social places – and places with strict social rules. You need to throw a party every now and then and the average German (living in the suburb with his 1.3 kids) keeps a room in the basement (quite often with an exit to the garden for summer parties) for this. The party room has places to sit, maybe a pool table or soccer table in it. There’s a stereo and other party equipment around. Quite often the room also sports a small bar where the head of the house can show his prowess at making drinks. The whole room, basically, is a huge status symbol for the happy German suburbinan. The rest of the basement usually consists of storage space (no attic and the garage is used for the car) and the heating system.

As you can guess from this basic description of the houses and of the suburbs, it’s a place for conformists, not for individualists. But deep in our hearts, all of us Germans are individualists. While those of us living in the suburbs know we need to conform to the social rules there, we still tend to bring in as much individualism in as the rules allow. If you walk along a row of houses in the suburbs, you will see that while they all follow the same blueprint, not two of them will have exactly the same door. They all will sport different details around the door (small figures, a name sign – mostly it depends on whether or not the family living there has kids already and how old they are). There’s not much of a lawn in front of the houses (lawns take up space and terrace houses don’t have any space to waste), so quite often the walkway leading from the path to the house will be different for every house. But they’ll all have the same colour-scheme, even after forty or fifty years and at least one new coat of paint. They’ll all have the same paintjob for the garages (which, in huge suburb areas might make up a small plaza of their own – where kids play during the day while the fathers, usually, are away for work).

Some people, especially the more bohemian ones (artists, freelancers without families) and the more success-oriented ones (yuppies, dinks), abhor the German suburb with its conservative principle (wife, kids, dog, house) and strict social rules. Other people love it, because deep in the heart the German suburb never changes.

The Sims late at night

This week (yesterday, to be more precise) the new “The Sims 3” add-on, “Late Night” (German title, but I guess it’s the same in English) has been released. I had waited for it, because I’m always eager for new add-ons, but I never expected that many changes in the gameplay.

The first visual difference I spotted after starting the game, once the add-on was installed, was a small symbol in the lower right corner of the saved games. Nice, little houses. I moved the mouse pointer over it and it told me this was a small town, great for families and people who planned having some. I started a new game and found a new neighbourhood with a different symbol. Some skyscrapers were lingering in the lower right corner of the picture of this neighbourhood. This is, because Bridgeport is a city with skyscrapers in the center, with combined public places and with loads of clubs (three types of them). The new city (that’s now town any more) also has something completely new (apartments have been around in “The Sims 2” with the last official add-on): Underground. This way, movements inside the city are much faster.

I won’t go into detail about the new clothes and hairstyles available with the add-on. There’s always quite a lot of those (and this time, most clothes are very hip, as they’re meant for clubbing) as well as of new furniture. But there are changes in the building mode (platforms for rooms, good for bands, fountains and indoor pools – meaning pools on upper floors). One big change is visible when you enter the “Build your Sim” mode. In addition to general weight and muscles, there are two more sliders around now (one for male characters): muscle definition (from ‘anything there?’ right up to ‘Wow, Mr. Schwarzenegger!’) and bust size (from ‘male or female?’ to ‘Pamela Anderson’).

When you reach the actual character generation (choosing characteristics, life wish and likes of your Sim), you’ll find that the zodiac signs are back (but they’re to determine who would fit with your Sim best as a love interest). There are a few new characteristics and there’s a great new feature: If you don’t like the five life wishes you normally can choose from, you can now open a little window by clicking on a sixth field and choose the wish you want from the list that appears. Great!

Once inside the game, I bought an apartment (cheaper than a house, so more money for real good furniture) and took a closer look around. There’s one more career (movie, ending up as a star director or star actor), there are new abilities (mixing drinks, three more instruments – bass, drums, keyboard/piano), but the most important changes are the clubs and the fame system – one wouldn’t work without the other.

A Sim can gather fame during his or her life. This way, he or she can become a star – there’s a rating from one star to five. A star rating has different effects on a Sim’s life. First of all, it virtually opens doors, those to the more exclusive clubs or VIP areas in a club. Some are open to all people, for some you need one, two, three, four or even five stars (but there’s a lifetime gift that will take care of that and open all doors for you even without the star rating). Gathering fame means impressing VIPs and befriending them. A career (high level, especially in the movie career) will also increase fame. The more famous a Sim becomes, the more people will recognize him or her – that means positive aspects (free meals, gifts from companies) as well as negative ones (Paparazzi, wrong accusations). Imagine dancing on a table in your underwear and the next morning the whole city knows, because you’ve been photographed and there’s an article in the newspaper. (By the way: Newspapers are really useful now, because they also tell you about the hot spots every day – the clubs were you’re most likely to meet stars and have a good time.)

Clubs come in three different varieties. The most simple one (where you can usually enter without any fame) is the bar. Bars are places where people come together after work to have a drink, maybe eat something, listen to a band (you can have one yourself, providing you find some other people playing instruments well), dance, play some games and talk. The next one up is the discotheque. They usually are partly open to the public (or people with low star rating), but all have their VIP areas where you can only enter once you’re famous enough. Discotheques usually don’t have an area for a band to play, instead they have a bigger dance floor and a good music system (and some special effects machines). The highest type of clubs around are lounges. Usually you don’t get in there unless you have a star rating or bribe the bouncer with a lot of money. They employ professional people to play music, have a good bar (every club has a professional bar where people can buy different drinks and some food and people with the mixing ability can work as barkeeper, too) and offer everything for a good time. There’s also a vampire lounge around – because vampires now enter the world of “The Sims 3” (after ghosts in the main game, mummies in the first add-on and robots in the second). The vampire lounge (“Plasma 51” in the German version) offers a basement with two special ‘beds’ for vampires, but upstairs also a nice place to drink (drinks with interesting names) and chat – even if you’re still a human.

Vampires in “The Sims 2” were a nasty lot – I never managed to befriend them. Vampires in “The Sims 3”, on the other hand, can be quite nice. They are ‘normal’ inhabitants of the city with jobs and a family. They drink blood plasma or eat special fruits to still their thirst (which replaces hunger after the change), but they can also drink from a human, if they are friends with him or her. They can change humans into vampires, too (either, because they decide, or, because the human asks them). In the list of relationships vampires are visible, because they have a red frame around their portrait. Apart from avoiding too much sunlight and garlic and sleeping on a very special ‘bed’ to rest, they lead pretty normal lives, but can move and learn faster at night and can read other people’s minds. Outside the list, vampires can be recognized by their red eyes and fangs that show when they talk … oh, and by the blood plasma they might be drinking, because they’re thirsty.

The new Sim I created to test the city and the new gameplay actually has a rather friendly vampire as a love interest.

There are many changes in the gameplay with the new add-on, but they are good on the whole. You don’t have to become a level-five star to have fun, you can stay a normal person (the bars are fun and open to everyone, so is at least some part of most discos around). But the options for a Sim’s life have skyrocketed with “Late Night”.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Another year has passed

Almost without notice (even from me), my main blog here has reached yet another special day. No, it’s not post 1,000, thought that’s not far away, either. It’s the fourth anniversary of my blog.

In October 2006 I decided to start my own blog, inspired by a blog I found by chance, a blog that doesn’t exist any longer. Most of my posts then were fuelled by anger. My anger about politicians who didn’t know anything about computer games, but saw them as the most evil thing in the world. My anger at fashion magazines that made women believe every slightly natural build was already ‘fat’. My anger at many, many other things as well. Most of this anger has died down considerably over the last four years. Not because all those problems have gone – no, they’re still around. But I have changed a bit. I have learned not to get all that angry. And the blog has changed, too, because I have. I have turned it into my personal diary in some ways.

You still won’t find all my personal thoughts and ideas here. I’m not going to write about intimate stuff. But by now this blog encompasses most of my hobbies (except for writing, as I now have my own blog for this topic) and I put in funny pictures I stumble over while browsing the web. I post about computer games and books and movies and TV series. I do my regular (well, mostly regular) Weekend Update. I post about those topics related to society or politics I find interesting, important or far too annoying to simply ignore. I have separated my normal rants and thoughts about society and politics from all topics related to feminism in its many forms. For those, I have a third blog. Things are looking up in many ways.

I seem to be over my burnout that raged during the last anniversary of this blog. I can’t say for sure – you never know whether something like that will come back. I am quite happy about the current shape of my main blog here. It’s less aggressive, there’s less moaning and bitching around, but at the same time there’s more in here for everyone who might pass.

So, happy fourth birthday to my blog! May many others follow!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Weekend Update

It’s Saturday morning (well, over here) and so it’s time for another weekend update. What am I going to do this weekend?

  • DVD to watch: no real plan, admittedly, probably some horror movie
  • Book to read: still working on “Exit Mundi”
  • Game to play: I need to seriously put in some time with “Cooking Dash – Dinertown Studios” – I’m last at the Diving Bell Pub October Challenge

I will enjoy the weekend and have fun – even while ‘working’ on the challenge.