Screenshot Sims 3, after a high school graduation

Used to be that people my age were worried about their children’s studies, not their own. Not anymore. The age of the MOOC has come!

I signed up for my first MOOC on September 9. (The letters stand for Massive Open Online Course, generally used about university level courses that are distributed over the Internet, usually but not always for free.) This course comes from NTNU, the Norwegian institute of Science and Technology. It is also touted as the first MOOC in Norway, although the College in Molde is supposed to have a full study online this year. I am not sure how to reconcile these claims, but in any case this is the first for me.

Back when I was a teenager, high school was a bit higher than it is now and a high school diploma (Examen Artium) such as I had would have qualified me directly for university studies, I believe. I did take some college-level courses organized and paid for by my employer not many years later. Today you have to have Examen Philosophicum to enter into any further studies, and as I don’t have this, I wouldn’t be able to take an exam anyway. Apart from that however I have followed the course like an ordinary off-site student. The professor and staff have treated us freeloaders like students as well, whereas in larger courses one would obviously not have the capacity for that. (There are American courses with hundreds of thousands of students, if not more.)

In addition to my interest in technology and social development (which the course is about), I also wanted to evaluate the study form as such. I have dabbled in online study on a small scale, improving my extremely rusty little French with Duolingo and my math with Khan Academy, both of which I have written glowing reviews about before, I hope. (Duolingo has later released an Android app which makes it even easier to practice on the go.) But the mainstream MOOC format is one I am not familiar with, and I hope to be in the future, if any.

I generally have a deal with my workplace to not write about my workplace. But that may not last, because my job may not last. It seems more likely than not that my job – and those of my coworkers – will be outsourced sometime over the next four years. I am not particularly worried that I will simply be waved goodbye to by my employer, but what kind of job I will be assigned to could depend quite a bit on my technical competence. Going back to school is not an option at my age, as I would be nearly 60 on my return, and Norwegians have a tendency to retire at 62 (and then be very surprised that they don’t get the same pension as if they had kept working till 75). I hope to work until 75 or until shortly before my untimely death should that happen first, Light send it be not so. But hoping is one thing, doing is another. “Strong souls have will; feeble souls have only wishes.” Which of these categories I fit into should be interesting to find out, at least!

So far, so good. It is not particularly hard, although I have to dodge a few issues as I already have a Twitter account and blog that are … orthogonal in content and atmosphere, let us say, compared to the exercises given. But it is interesting and a convenient study form. I could definitely see myself doing more of this.

Goodbye Neverwinter

Screenshot character screen Neverwinter MMORPG

At least this game does not force you to wear a skimpy outfit. 

One game I’m not going to play “into the future”.

For some months I’ve logged in 2-3 times a day to the Neverwinter MMORPG by Cryptic Studios and Perfect World Entertainment. I stayed online just a few minutes at a time, letting my characters pray and resolve consignment jobs. One of these days, one of my characters reached level 60, the highest in the game for now. And I realized that I had spent about half of those levels by the campfire, and that I had no intention of actually playing the game (as in fighting and doing quests).

Well, I appreciate that they had this alternative playing style, otherwise I would have quit long before. The early game is reasonably easy, but by mid-game you better make sure to spend your points wisely, and later on you better make sure to spend real money on various power-ups. They are small and affordable each, but you need to have a bunch of these or else be an expert on the game mechanics. You don’t literally have to “pay to win”, but it helps.

Either way, given that I don’t really want to play the game, I’m bowing out. It is a technically impressive game, but I am just not the kind of person this game is meant for. Or perhaps we should say, I am not that kind of person anymore. Daily doses of desperate destruction isn’t really something that resonates with my soul anymore. Well, most of the time at least, for which I am grateful.

Sims 3 in the future

Oasis Landing, Sims 3: Into the Future

Oasis Landing, Sims 3: Into the Future

The future isn’t going to be all bad, if Maxis gets their way.

The Sims 4 is scheduled for next year. I have not decided whether to buy it. Most of the expansion packs for The Sims 3 I have bought on sale months after they were released, not because I lacked money but because I felt they were not worth the full price. Even then it took some more months before I installed the last two. And the latest that is out now, Island Paradise, seems completely worthless to me. Less than worthless probably, as I hear it slows down the game more than the earlier expansions.

And that is where it could have ended, had not the Sims 3 developers decided to let the game go out with a bang. Their final expansion pack, to be released in late October, may be the most ambitious of them all: The Sims 3: Into the Future.

The name is a pun, in the sense that it is the last expansion for those who want to stick with this game into the future. But it is also a future-themed expansion where our sims can travel into the future and back, alter the time stream to bring about three different futures, and also make smaller modifications to each of these time lines by the things they do in the present day.

This is not simply a stuff pack that give new skins to familiar objects. Sure there are some, like the hovercar and hoverbike. But to a large degree, sims in the future interact with the world in a fundamentally different way. There is an Advanced Technology skill that is common to a great deal of the future objects. Not having it makes even everyday actions like showering or moving around difficult, but having it makes some other skills unnecessary (like cooking, as you can now get your food 3D-printed). The game also introduces vertical flight with the flight packs. (Even witches’ broomsticks in Supernatural were basically a motorbike with a new shape.) Even sleep has been scienced: You can now program dreams in some detail, to achieves specific effects.

The simbot (robot) from Ambitions has expanded into a myriad of forms and these are now known as “plumbots”. These can be designed in a great deal of detail, with a bot creator comparable to the sim creator. Their personality can also vary, from fairly simple to human-like to having unique traits and abilities only available to bots. Achieving the skills and getting the components to make the most advanced plumbots is a quest in itself, but luckily you can also buy bots at a specialist shop.

The world seems to be the largest yet, with a full town and a large surrounding countryside with desert and small habitations. Those who just barely get the game to go round now should probably save this expansion for their next computer. But I am sure we will know more when it is released.

The notion that actions in one town (the present) leads directly to changes in another town (the future) is new and intriguing. Even if you don’t opt to make the future into a utopia or dystopia, your life in the present will determine the fate of your descendants (if any), and you can visit them in the future and see the consequences of your life! I hope that this will have a positive influence on young gamers who play the game during their formative years.

Overall, the topic interests me more than most, and judging from the previews it is done with a solid unified style that gives a great sense of immersion in a future world. Supposedly it is set hundreds of years in the future, but the technology seems mid 20th century to me – just around the time of the Singulary. Perhaps we’ll keep playing this game until then? ^_^

Sims 3 University town won’t load

Screenshot Sims 3 University Life

Proof that the problem was solved, finally!

This post is for those who play The Sims 3: University and when their sim goes back to university, the load screen just stands just before the finish and it never completes. This happened to me. I even let it stand for about 10 hours and it never completed. I was about to give up and reset the whole neighborhood when I found this advice by Summerrainajk on the Sims 3 forum. I tried it, and although I did not get the same message, it worked!

What I did was before leaving for University, I pressed F5 and chose to edit town. Then I selected the University town in the upper left corner, and moved a house there. I am not sure it was necessary to go that far, I think just adding a new bookshelf in the library is enough, but since I did not get the message that all actions would be canceled, I went all out. Then I saved and returned to my game, and now my Sim went back to uni without problems. I was actually surprised by how fast it loaded, so perhaps there had built up some slowness during his earlier visits as well.

Hopefully most people will find this on the Sims 3 forum, but you have to log in to read there, and I suppose many people will have lost their password or may even have changed their email address, in which case they can’t recover the password. When I started the Chaos Node, I had an email address given by my Internet Service Provider. Then they were bought up, and you can guess what happened. So any place I did not remember to change my email address in time, or where they did not have a policy that allowed you to change your email address and keep the same account, I was locked out. Hopefully I can help someone this way. But it is all  thanks to Summerrainajk, and if you share this solution be sure to credit them and not me!


Oh, and one bonus not-really-cheat for Sims 3 University Life if you also have Sims 3 Seasons: The super Simmunity lifetime reward, which is fairly cheap at 7500 points, protects against nausea as well as flu and allergy. You can get freebie chocolate and soda at orientation, as much as you want, and they will feed you quickly when you are hungry, give you a sugar high positive moodlet, but without the nausea moodlet you would otherwise get. So it is a great snack! ^_^

Sims 3 Supernatural

Screenshot Sims 3 Supernatural (witch on broom)

Young witch Harriet Porter knows how to fly a broomstick! 

Supernatural was the other expansion pack for The Sims 3 that I bought on the big sale in March, but did not install until September. There was a reason for that, of course. In this case, the reason was the zombie apocalypse. From the early days of the expansion, there were numerous horror stories about the game devolving into a desperate struggle for survival as endless waves of zombies rose from the ground all day, all week, turning all the nonplayer characters in the game into zombies as well.

This turned out to be a bug caused by saving and exiting the game during full moon. (It is a game feature that zombies appear during full moon, although they are supposed to revert the next morning, and certainly not spawn continually until you move your family to a new town.) Evidently none of the beta testers had tried this… Anyway, EA later patched the game, but my skepticism remained. Besides, I had plenty to do in the game as it was, and I am not as much of a gamer as I used to be, I guess. (Well, if you don’t count the 2-3 hours a day I traipse around outdoors playing Ingress. But I count that as exercise, sounds more virtuous than gaming.)

Eventually, I decided to give Supernatural a chance, since the game was ruined anyway by Seasons. (This was before I turned off rain and thus the frequent thunderstorms which made it risky for my sims to go outdoors.)

Supernatural was a pleasant surprise! It actually makes the game easier, if you have a supernatural character in the household, but not so easy as to be an “instant win button”. Each of the supernatural races has its own benefits, and there is a new alchemy craft that is very powerful but challenging at higher levels. You can now also create three of the earlier supernatural types, which in the past had to join the family during gameplay: Ghosts, genies and vampires. Vampires are slightly improved from the Late Night expansion. New types are werewolves, witches and fairies. Alchemy is available for all sims, even the plain human type.

EA has done a good job of making alchemy different from the two previous liquid amplifiers, mixology (drink mixing) from Late Night and chemistry from Generations. Alchemy is generally the most powerful and varied, but requires special ingredients instead of just time and skill. Of course, if you have maxed all three skills, you are well into superhero territory. Actually since the drinks, concoctions and elixirs are sharable, you could have three members of the household work toward one skill each and all could enjoy the results. Even with these boosts, however, your sim is still vulnerable to lightning strikes and the occasional meteorite.

Werewolves are the least super, and most natural, of the new sim types (or “life states” as the game calls them). In fact, if you turn off the lunar cycle (which you can do in the settings panel) your werewolf could go through life thinking themselves a normal sim, just blessed with a hidden talent for athletics and a longer than average natural lifespan. (Much like my own family, now that I think about it…) But come the full moon, the truth can no longer be hidden: Your sim transforms into a shaggier version with an uglier face and bigger teeth, and starts loping around on all fours. You can also trigger this transformation at will once your were-sim is at least a teen, but you cannot transform back during full moon.

Werewolves tend to transform if angry and win fistfights reliably. They also have a bizarre “hunting” skill that is actually collecting. They can “hunt” for insects, gems and seeds on a particular lot. The outcome is somewhat random, but increases with their skill. They level up through transforming, hunting and howling at the moon. They can hunt in packs, but this is a lot of stress to organize unless you have a werewolf household. (Which you could get through normal breeding – the trait is inheritable – or biting your roommates to turn them into werewolves.)

There are few downsides to being a werewolf. Left to themselves they will occasionally rummage through the garbage bin, scratch the furniture and sniff other sims inappropriately, but it is a small price to pay for living 50% longer and dragging home many of the ingredients needed for alchemy.

Whereas anyone can brew elixirs, only witches can cast most spells. Your sim can be born a witch, or gain the ability through an elixir. They will learn new spells automatically as their power increases, which it will by casting spells or playing with magic, basically making small visual effects with their wands. Yes, witches need wands, and the quality of the wand influences their chance of success. So does having a familiar (cat or smaller animal) around.

The witches have a magic (mana) meter, much like mages in sword and sorcery games. The higher the reserve, the better their chance of success at difficult spells. If a spell fails, the result could be a fizzle or the opposite of the intended effect. For instance, the most basic spell is conjuring an apple, but a failure could cause a poisonous apple to appear. Luckily you can see the difference at a glance. And since your witches soon learn to transform any small object into another (random) object, the poison apples could end up becoming a gem, a seed, or even a fish in a bowl!

At the highest level, a witch can raise the dead as zombies. This sounds like a dubious activity, but luckily there is also a powerful healing spell that can heal zombie-ness. So with two successful spells, the witch can bring your dead sim back among the living. Of course, should the spells fail, the cost might be dire for the witch…

Zombies may not be fast runners, and not the brightest candle on the menorah, but it may not be a fate worse than death either. Apart from shuffling around trying to bite their fellow sims, they seem to more or less go about their lives, just more slowly. They don’t exactly kill their victims either, but there is a definite risk of becoming a zombie if you have one gnaw on you. Zombies can not be created in the Create-a-Sim, but can be created by elixir or spawned at full moon.

In contrast, vampires seem to enjoy their undeath a great deal more. They have all their superpowers from the Late Night expansion and more interactions, and you can now make sunscreen for them with alchemy. (If you don’t have Late Night, no worry, you can still have vampires with Supernatural.) There is even a lifetime happiness reward that make them immune to sunlight and stops their aging completely (they already age very slowly). This reward makes them glitter conspicuously, though…

The final new sim type is fairies, which has the five times longer adult lifespan of the vampire, none of their aversion to daylight, some spellcasting powers and the ability to run auras that benefit themselves and those around them. They also come with Green Thumb as a free bonus trait. Oh, and they can repair things without the handiness skill. Also, they can fly. All in all a pretty good package, offset by a tendency to play pranks on everyone unless you keep a close eye on them.

If you get the impression that fairies seem ridiculously overpowered, that is not far from what I try to say. The epic lifespan alone is a force to be reckoned with: Plop down a family-oriented fairy couple on a lot and go play another family, and after a few generations there are wings everywhere. Fairy children grow up as fast as other kids, but their adult lifespan lasts for generations. (So do the vampires, to be honest, and they also tend to take over town. But they have some pretty harsh drawbacks, while fairies have a great time and only irritate those around them.)

All in all, Supernatural adds a great deal of variation to the game, makes it somewhat easier if you “milk” the new features (and if you have patched it to avoid zombie apocalypse), and is as close as we come to a “superhero” expansion pack for those who develop their characters to the utmost. Surprisingly this expansion shoots up to one of my all-time favorites. Recommended!