International Literary Books Are Here

intlliterature111

Reading and writing has always been a part of my life.  This blog has particularly been an enriching journey.  While my Dead/Live journals were a great place for me in school to express my feelings about my student life, this blog, M&M Mariam Books, has been a place where I can share my thoughts while at the same time produce content my adult self can be proud of.  This blog is still in its youth, but it’s quickly growing.  I’ve seen great success with this blog, more than I could have expected. I think there is no time better than now to introduce the next great thing I will be doing with this blog.

INTERNATIONAL LITERATURE FOR EVERYONE

The world of English literature will not be exhausted by me anytime soon, but in my quest to read the best of all literature I don’t want to limit myself.  I would like to add new types of written works into my reading repertoire.  I will be focusing on Spanish and Arabic literature, along with English/American Literature.

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Those who have been reading this blog for some time now know I have an Asian background.  I have a profound love for classical Arabic literature.  The Arab civilization is large, with a long history, and a rich language.  I think the best works are from antiquity (aka The Golden Age) 750AD-1250AD, however many modern Arab or MENA writers like Tariq Ramadan, Umm Zakiyyah, Maryam Mahmoodian have added diversity to the genre.

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In addition to Arabic, lots of my neighbors are from various Latin countries, like Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Dominican Republic.  I’ve had Spanish friends and also attended school with Columbians, Ecuadorians, and Brazilians.  One of my favorite writing inspirations is Andrea Balt, a young lady from Spain who runs the WriteYourselfAlive write-a-thon.  Spanish writing hails way back from 14th century Andalusia to the Latin American countries: from  Miguel Cervantes’ Don Quiote to One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

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THE ENGLISH BOOKS ARE HERE TO STAY

I have a great love for English books as I dedicated 4 years of college to study it, so those videos on my YouTube channel and posts on this blog will not go away and I will continue commentating on English books. However you will be seeing more posts and videos on Spanish and Arabic literature.    I hope that you are as excited as I am for this addition to my blog.  I am not limiting my blog to English, Spanish, and Arabic literature, however I would like to do justice to each of these first before moving onto others.   All cultures have something positive to contribute to our own and I’m honored to be bringing those cultures to my blog.

Building Story Worlds #2: Assets in Cities:Skylines Workshop

blog series building story worlds

Last September I started a series on this blog called “Building Story Worlds.” My initial intention was to write a number of posts on how to create cities for story-writing purposes. The idea started when I saw the great work Sim City fans were doing on Simtropolis’s City journals. Some of them are truly high quality and updated regularly, such as every week or every few days. Many city-builders have created elaborated stories of revolutions, political upheavals, overthrowing of kings to be replaced with republics, romantic love stories, and changes in cities like added canals, country border alterations, subway systems complete with maps, magical beings tampering with the human world, and cities from the future. Some city-builders are quite creative story writers as they’ve built entire stories around their artwork.

wheel of tiem mape 1

Wheel of Time Map

I’ve always liked maps, architecture, and pictures of cityscapes and played Sim City off and on throughout my teens and 20s. But my first love was story writing. So last year, shortly after the release of the new Cities: Skylines (you can find my game review here), I decided to build cities for my story worlds and share my creative process with you, if that’s right up your alley (along the lines of my Art of Creativity Series which you can find here). This series will be focused on how Cities: Skylines encourages my creativity as a story writer.

Assets in the Cities:Skylines Workshop

Stories need sharp, clear images to be enjoyed. If you’re reading a book, the author must be able to create that image in her reader’s head.  For video game designers, it’s all in the digital graphics.  Graphics in video games like Skyrim and Final Fantasy have improved their graphics greatly over the past decade, and the newer Dragon Age has had to live up to a new standard of color and graphic detail, since its inception in 2009. Since the advent of Sim City 4, in 2003, so have city-building games. In Cities:Skylines, you’re able to have more control on the shape of roads, the mountains and rivers in the landscape, and zoom onto the Cim people on your streets. I still think Cities:Skylines (CSL) doesn’t quite capture the appeal and beauty of its predecessor, Sim City 4, or even some buildings in Sim City 2013, but the functions of the new game make it more playable, and build-able for creative people like me. However, the assets being built by designers, including a former Maxis-employee, known online as Gula, has up-scaled the ability to build large, sprawling, powerful and pleasing cities for all players.

Today, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite assets up to this point:

Joseph Chamberlain Clock Tower by BlockHeadGames

chamberlain tower

Space shuttle by Aeon / & Ares V Rocket by dadofu

space shuttles 1

Regal Theater by MrMaison

mrmaison the new regal theatre

Mad Tech and Fox Industries by Populous

madtech and fox industries

Stadium by Drosovilas

dorosvilia stadium

The Achilles Tower by Visu

the acheilles tower

Kingdom Tower by Gula

gula's kingdom tower

I also get ideas for my cities from YouTubers like TOVlogs and ASilksWorld.

There are lots of others I like and use, as I have close 750 assets and 6 mods, however, these are the ones that stuck out for me as I was making my choices.

My only frustrations with user-made assets are 4 things:

  1. No Name to the item

 

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No Item name on Steam Workshop or User interface.

  1. No picture in the User Interface

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    No picture and no item name on User interface.

Sometimes I download parks or Unique Buildings, but more often it’s parks, that don’t show up on my User Interface.  With 7,000+ assets and hundreds of parks, it’s often too difficult for me to find the park I need when I’m neighborhood planning, which makes me want to quit for the day to the point where I don’t want to come back to the game for a long while. I feel like city building in a professional game should be quite seamless — which I think Cities:Skylines does really well when it comes to the road flexibility — but a simple thing like no picture in the user interface, even if it appears on the Steam Workshop — it’s near impossible to build a city without a picture to the asset, doubled by the fact that the Vanilla game doesn’t list the name of the item in the User Interface.  All you get is a picture, unless the asset developer doesn’t upload a picture — which means, no picture, no item name.

  1. Poor quality 3D Art
  1. hot dog heralds

    Blurry Hot Dog Herald Delivery Truck

  2. Countless Ugly Billboards
countless ugly billboards

Countless ugly billboards on Vanilla buildings.

As a user, I get very frustrated when an asset has ruptures, is poorly thought-out, or just sloppily assembled. I’m not a visual artist, so I cannot imagine the effort needed to put together near-perfect 3D art for a video or PC game, but I can tell you what bothers me as a player. The game is still new and I’m sure it will go through its fairshar of setbacks, but I don’t see lots of quality work on the Steam Workshop, for things I need in my cities, like space ports, medieval style buildings, a variety of houses of worship, stylish hospitals, police stations, and schools. My asset needs as a city-builder, much like others on Simtropolis, run the gamut of history and time. I see lots of poorly sketched assets and few really great designers. I think there’s more graphic design talent out there but I don’t see enough good content, yet, for me to consistently play and build, say a few hours a week and build elaborate and exciting cities for my characters to live, work, and play in. The incessant billboards on my beautiful Vanilla-game buildings are also still quite repulsive. Where are all the decent 3D designers hiding and why aren’t they building for Cities:Skylines?

I still think Cities:Skylines is a great game, as I am still playing it.  Like Sim City 4, I think if users keep creating good stuff and game developers at Colossal Order keep delivering on their promises, this game will have a long run, quite possibly as long as Sim City 4 (12+ years), or more.

As far as this series of blog posts go, I’m not currently writing a novel, but as a writer, the ideas don’t stop flowing, so I’ve decided to dedicate my creative energies to my world building, with CSL as a tool. If you’re interested in more game-specific content, I’ve started a blog dedicated solely to technical Cities:Skylines material and can be found on Steam as Fearless Mayor.

Thanks for reading and have a great Thursday =)

EDIT: An earlier version of this post said I had 7,500 assets, in fact, I have 750 assets currently I’m subscribed to on Steam Workshop.  

Blog Series: Introduction – Building Story Worlds by M&M Mariam

blog series building story worlds

Cities:Skylines Can Do Way More Than Just Build Cities

Ever since Cities: Skylines was released in March of 2015, it has sold 1.5 million copies and came out with its first expansion last week. It’s almost mind boggling what this game can do. I am thoroughly excited about it! But I’m not the typical demographics for this type of game.

I am a middle and high school English teacher by profession. I taught for 6 years and did some youth work until I became seriously ill in 2014 and was bed ridden for two months. Since then I’ve been blogging, vlogging, writing about books.

I started playing Cities:Skylines after I was unhappy with the Sim City re-boot that came out in 2013. Personally, I don’t think the name of the game (CSL) does it justice. You can really do more than just build an urban city using the game designed by Colossal Order.

Most Cities: Skylines users are gamers who just enjoy playing video games. I wont deny I’m a fan of Super Mario and logged hours and hours of it as a kid, but Cities: Skylines can also be used in more ways than that.  It can be employed in a middle school social studies classroom to teach kids about the functions of a city, natural resources, sewage and plumbing, garbage disposal, urban and suburban life and architecture. For a writer like me, I can create worlds with breathtaking geography and intriguing city life.

For example, you can build worlds for your story characters to live in, stories such as:

  • a boy gets lost in the forest searching for the Fountain of Life which has healing powers to cure his dying sister
  • a suburban girl joins an all-male rock band specializing in pop-punk music
  • two parents travel to an medical research facility on another planet in search of a scientist to genetically reverse their child’s Asperger’s disease
  • a man seeks complete financial independence as the newly appointed CEO/president of a corrupt multi-national corporation

These are just a handful.  The story ideas are truly plentiful!

In Cities:Skylines with the help of its map making tools you can create waterfalls, tropical paradises, urban masterpieces, mountain villages and military worlds. I’ve still yet to experiment with desert, jungle, and dystopian worlds — however, I have confidence with this game and a little creativity, it can be done! Many of the story worlds you and I have in mind require mods and assets, but the list of items you can add to your city are virtually endless with what the online Steam community has been producing over the few months this game has been out. Also, they’re very easy to download. Like my Instagram tutorials from last year, I will be posting some easy-to-use tips on downloading the best assets. For someone who does not have the talent of an visual artist (like me), this is the perfect tool to build story worlds.

Here is some work I did with the recent “After Dark” Night Lights update release:

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Pre-“After Dark”

I’m not the perfect nor most talented city-builder, I could stand to learn a few tips and tricks — but I feel Cities: Skylines gives me the tools I need to experiment with world concepts. It’s very exciting! I don’t watch lots of of Let’s Play videos, except when I first started playing the game in July and had no clue what I was doing. I have watched Fluxrance, TOVlogs, Asilksworld, and StrictCoaster in the past.  Since the game seems to have few limits, it helps to share good ideas with other city-builders on YouTube.  It’s a lot like Sim City, but significantly different as I wrote in my review. I also like looking at City Journals on Simtropolis.com, which I also found to be a very helpful city-building community.

In this blog series, I intend to look at this game with the eyes of story writer. I enjoy playing the game, and thrill at come up with fantastic ways to put my characters into difficult situations in their worlds and then write them out of it.

I will be posting my review of the “After Dark” expansion next week, so look forward to that as well as this series.  If you play Cities: Skylines or come up with any specific tutorials you’d like to see, please leave me your requests down below in the comments.  Meanwhile, take care and enjoy the week!

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