Sep 10, 2018

What If Life Were Like the City Builder Simulation Video Game Cities Skylines?

I don't consider myself a gamer. However, like many kids who grew up in the 1990s, I did have a major hankering for the Nintendo and Super Nintendo. There was one point in my childhood that I almost edged onto sociopathy when I used my best friend at the time just to go to his house to play video games. I think his parents eventually caught on when they realized that Lance had gone out to play and I was left in his bedroom stomping on those pesky Goomba characters that are Mario's constant aggravation.

I stopped playing Mario and advanced onto city builder games

One game did stick with me after my Nintendo phase wore off (by the time I was in Sixth or Seventh grade). I started to play Sim City and - at some point - I discovered a game that my brother had installed on his computer - A-Train. My interest in city builders was born. It's not a big surprise that I fell into city builder type of games. I had (and still have) a fond affection for Matchbox cars. And I always liked playing around with maps; and, my older brother liked maps too; I think at one point he and I - in one of our rare bonding moments - worked on a super map of an imaginary city in which we pasted a bunch of white colored posters together with tape and mapped out our city in number two pencil. It was epic. I think we had a city that was composed of at least twelve or thirteen pieces of poster-sized paper.  
La Grange! Oh how I loved making this city.
I have played all of the Sim City games. But it wasn't until Cities Skylines came out in 2015 that I really saw the potential of a city builder. What a game. What I like the most about City Skylines is that the gameplay is more dynamic than Sim City. First of all, a player has a much larger cityscape to play with and the city feels integrated even across multiple districts and distances. One train station built in the northwestern part of the map can affect what happens in the city center. 

And I am always amazed by the simulation. There is a cause and effect reality to Cities Skylines - and most city builders - that make it playable. It almost kind of feels like real life. 

A story of my own Cities Skylines City: La Grange

There is one city I built in Cities Skylines that I am proud of and still play it from time to time. It is a coastal city. I called it La Grange. I have a crappy Mac Mini that is not designed for serious gameplay so I have to play the game at the lowest graphical level - and I usually try to aim for a city that does not have more than 130,000 people. Of course, I use mods. That's probably the second best part about Cities Skylines (the first best part is naming everything like you are Adam and Eve in the Garden) - you can access a treasure trove of user created buildings, roads, and tweaks to the vanilla game. I particularly like using the multiple track enabler mod so I can have subway systems with double, triple, and quadruple tracks. The automatic bulldoze mod is a must because who wants to manually bulldoze every abandoned building; the same goes for the automatic emptying mod (although it is just easier to not have cemeteries and landfills in your city).
Look at those cims scurry to catch the bus!
The third thing I like about Cities Skylines is that it is essentially a traffic simulator game. Everything and everyone has to move around your city. Tiny tweaks in the gameplay can drastically change your cims' movement (N.B.,  In Sim City citizens are called sims but if you are playing City Skylines they're called cims. Get it?). For example, I recently moved a bus stop at a very busy intersection and all of a sudden there was a sudden, mass movement of people in the game briskly walking to the next stop.


Traffic is a nightmare - I still can't alleviate the congestion at my airport.
It took me a long time to build a good city. The trick is making a decent transit infrastructure to move cims around the city; that includes subway, and bus connections, as well as an integrated interstate highway system. The game has a monorail system which is fun to use but cims do not like to use it. Trams are great as a replacement for buses that use a heavily traveled route. Cable cars, ferries, and hot air balloons are also an option.

Building a city with districts that have enacted policies unique to their district - no heavy traffic or recycling initiatives - can really change the make-up of gameplay as well.


What if life were like a city builder game?

1. Everyone would go to work, go home, and go to ONE park or commercial zone.
2. Your car would disappear into thin air at random times.
3. The bulldozer would be God. Essentially.
4. It would be like that movie The Truman Show. But with more bulldozers and cims.

The developers of this game, Colossal Order, keep coming out with new iterations of the game. The newest one is Park Life - which I really like because it allows you to make a more interactive park system in a city. As with most city builder games zoning is really important. There are residential, commercial, industrial, and office zones. Zones build up around the road network - but as the city grows and the zones max out along the street grid there are often pockets of green space that now I can populate with micro parks and whatnot. 

It's funny. My post is becoming an advertisement for a video game. Who knew my blog would boast of such things! I want to wrap up by saying the toys and games we played with as kids do somehow find there way into adult life. I don't have posters scribbled in graphite but I have a saved game that I love to load up every now and again. So, every city tells a story. I don't play this game every day. I play it as a way to zone out and to relax. It is one activity that I can do where I can empty out work-related stress and just focus on planning my little city of La Grange. I think I need to upgrade my Mac - though - if I want to simulate more cims!

Check out the cityscape of La Grange. Can you spot the arcology?
Another view of La Grange with the city sewer system in the foreground.

It's fun to follow individual cims to see where they go.

I'm obsessed with creating zoos and parks.

Sep 4, 2018

Is Brainstorming Ideas a Good Idea in the Middle of the Night?

I feel like my best ideas come to me in the middle of the night. Or, I'm like "Oh my God! I left the baby on the bus!"

I try to get a good night's sleep. I have a ritual for bedtime. I turn the curtains and turn on the white noise machine. Sometimes I take a Melatonin tablet. Sleep comes easily enough. I'm a deep sleeper but when I wake up I'm awake. It's one o'clock in the morning I'll wake up with a start. If it's a school night I automatically think of something school related. While I don't advise it, I keep my mobile phone next to my bed. Once I use it - it's a death knell to sleep. My brain starts whirring and I start to input ideas into my Google Keep app (I also like Day One Journal).

The last couple of nights I've woken up with lyrics from the Scissor Sisters stuck in my head. It's not uncommon for me to browse my Amazon.com purchases. Yes, I know. I hate that I do that. It's nervous energy. Once when I was sick in bed I wrote up an entire emergency lesson plan so my substitute teacher would have something to do for my students.

I wasn't always this way. As a kid and as a teen I went to sleep before eleven o'clock and woke up at quarter past six in the morning. I had a bus to catch! Times were simpler then; or, more accurately, I think when you're young you're preternaturally ignorant to the ways of the world. It's the paradox of youth. Young people are so into themselves that they've inoculated themselves to certain things. It's partly because adults have constructed a world - a youth culture - to protect them. It's not to say youth are not stressed but there's a qualitative difference between being a dependent and then becoming a tax-paying adult.

Aug 14, 2018

Why I like Fifth Century Thinkers like Socrates and Confucius


Confucius and Socrates Represent a Renaissance of Thought
I was trained to begin with Socrates. But what about Confucius standing next to Socrates? Confucius was Socrates’s contemporary. "They probably never met," you say. A Queens taxi cab driver told me their meeting was possible – how could there have been such a confluence of ideas in both East and West without either Socrates or Confucius never having met? The fifth century before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth was a renaissance of thought. It was a time of emerging thought, of dynamic ideas that would forever change the course of human history.

Aug 10, 2018

What does the Great Wall of China Have in Common with Supermarket Swivel Chairs at Checkout?

Guard Tower, Great Wall, Simitai, China © 2017
When I was sitting at this sentry gate at the Great Wall last Summer with our school group - I first thought about the many soldiers who had to man their posts at these gates. Then I thought about swivel chairs (which I will explain in a bit).

The wall is dotted with guard towers like this one in the Simitai portion of the Great Wall north of Beijing. How did the soldiers get up here - what was the supply line like when they had to stand guard and maybe were hungry? How many men or women had to stand guard here? What whispers were spoken? What tragedy was befallen?

I am also sad that Airbnb canceled its prize of a night at the Great Wall. It was a thing and now it's not.

I am then reminded of today's workers who have to endure jobs where you stand in one place for like eight hours. It boggles the mind that in the United States grocery store clerks have to stand at their posts. Wouldn't it be a great idea if we gave workers at our grocery stores sleek work chairs that swivel? 

In Belgian supermarkets, clerks use ergonomic swivel chairs.

Aug 2, 2018

Short Time Lapse Video of the Garbage Train that Runs from Bushwick to Virginia



A CSX garbage train rolls underneath 41st Avenue in the Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens. Waste collected by New York City's Department of Sanitation is picked up by the train in Bushwick, then it wends its way through Middle Village, then into Elmhurst and in Astoria, it crosses the Hell’s Gate bridge where CSX takes that trash to Virginia - the home of cheaper cigarettes.

Jul 31, 2018

Today is Harry Potter's 38th Birthday

Harry Potter turns 38 years old today (and yes, I am keeping up with the birthday of a fictional character). Also, it's J.K. Rowling's 53rd birthday. If you don't know what I am talking about, then you can pick up a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and start reading.


Greig Roselli Wears a Harry Potter themed Halloween Costume on Halloween in New Orleans, Louisiana
In 2008, I dressed up as Harry Potter

Our lives have run parallel, Harry. When you were 11, you were on your way to Hogwarts School of Magic and Wizardry. I was in Sixth Grade set for middle school in Louisiana. At 38, you were a husband with three kids and slightly depressed working for the Ministry of Magic. At 38, I was gay and single, working as a High School English Language teacher.


Where do our storylines lead us now? Will J.K. Rowling write stories about a forty-something Harry Potter? Has the world had its full of Harry Potter and his wizarding world?

Jul 30, 2018

Three Observations from People Watching on a Recent Trip to Washington, D.C.

*** Two women from Nanjing ask me how to find the track in Penn Station for their Amtrak train to D.C. The women are surprised I know how to say "Hello" in Mandarin. Coincidentally, I am boarding the same train, so I help them out. *** Two deaf teenagers have an in-depth conversation in sign language at the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metrorail station. Their signing is rapid-fire, and they apparently have a lot to talk about. I feel happy for the two of them. *** Two would-be customers in the food court at Penn Station at 10:15 in the morning are slightly miffed that KFC and Pizza Hut aren't open yet. *** When I board the train at the Anacostia Metrorail station, I notice two five-year-old kids seated side-by-side on the train. One of them wears a charcoal gray t-shirt that says: "Cheer up, Dude."

***

In the East Hall of Union Station, waiting for a friend, I watch two professional photographers take photographs of the station. I am inspired to take my own. Creativity is contagious.


A mural of a Centaur killing a stag in the East Hall at Washington D.C.'s Union Station
A centaur aims his bow at a fleeing stag



***

I slightly embarrass my friend in public by shouting out exuberantly - "Hey, miss you!" - to the official portrait of President Barack Obama, whose likeness hangs in the National Portrait Gallery.

Image Credit: Greig Roselli © 2018 East Hall, Union Station, Washington, D.C.