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27-Nov-2008: Roolipelaaja #18 and God

This was a strange issue of Roolipelaaja magazine. First on page 7, Stenros laments the lack of Judeo-Christian duality in Finnish roleplaying settings for some bizarre reason and finally makes two wrong claims: Firstly, Stalker does not unravel if the setting is approached from a religious angle. After all, many people in the game's world do so, including one of the veteran stalkers in the novel. However, the point of any religion is to explain the unexplained while the point of all science is to question and explore. If the gamemaster adopts a non-contradictory supernatural explanation for the Zone, the atmosphere of the game changes radically and into a direction I have no interest in and is in conflict with the novel, so therefore it is not recommended or supported. Anyone who bought the game is of course free to do as they please with it. His second claim is that Praedor has gods. It is certainly true that Jaconia has religions and they are a powerfull force shaping many if not all aspects of the society. There are also supernatural entities of immense power. However, neither the comics nor the roleplaying game has god-entities in the traditional sense, whether we are talking about polytheistic pantheons or a more monotheistic interpretation.

Praedor, of course, also disproves Mikki Rautalahti's claim on page 33 that atheism and supernatural cannot coexist. I know it is a fairly common mistake to confuse atheism and skepticism but I had thought Mikki knew better. For example, Jaconia has its fair share of atheist philosophers and thinkers, and as religions go, the cult of the Dead God comes pretty close to being an atheist sect.

I guess it is time for me to address this issue once more since Christmas is drawing close. Now, I am a strong atheist, which means convinction that neither gods or a god exist. However, this does not mean refusing to acknowledge that there are phenomena that modern science cannot explain and perhaps never can. Scientific knowledge is a sphere and as our understanding of the world increases, it only means our contact surface with the unknown expands with it and we learn to ask even more questions. And I think that is a permanent state of affairs. Personally, I have seen a ghost twice. I think they were emotion-induced hallucinations but I have no hard evidence either way. And while I would be very much surprised to see a human toss a fireball, I would consider it a golden opportunity to extend the limits of human knowledge rather than as evidence of the existence of gods.

Atheism, by definition, is a belief.

As an atheist, I am convinced that God does not exist but I acknowledge the paradox of trying to prove a negative and have no problem with it. While I regard the non-existence of gods as a fact, I cannot disprove the existence of gods any more than I can disprove the existence of Santa Claus. I would not call atheism a "faith" because it lacks (or should lack, in my opinion) an ideological message. And it is definitely not a religion because it lacks institution, hierarchy or mission. Of course, I guess you can argue otherwise if you look at some of the more militant atheists in the Internet. I also don't feel particularly oppressed by religion. I have attended a Greek Orthodox burial, a Lutheran christening, a Hindu wedding and a Jewish Easter, participating and singing along whenever I could (shaanti shaanti shaanti-hiiiiiii!!!) and enjoyed them immensely. I have also visited my grandmother's grave to apologize for the way some people have spoken of her. I do not believe in her soul but I do believe she lives in my memories just as she lives in my genes.

24-Nov-2008: First Day At Work

Since today was my first day at my new workplace, I guess it is not a (poorly kept) secret anymore. I am now working as a senior designer at Casual Continent. The title is really for my CV since they don't have any other designers I could be senior to. They have a funny street level office with a big window (blinds down, of course), probably an old store converted into a barbershop and later rented out as a small office space. The placement of power outlets screams "barbershop" at me, as does the red and white tiling on the floor. Also the entrance is shared with a beauty parlor and that's the sign hanging above the door, so you could call the office pretty well camouflaged. The contrast with the ultra-modern Recoil office in Ruoholahti couldn't be greater. But the place is growing on me, already after one day. And boy, does a setup like that feel like Indie or what? Come next summer, I think this will be the coolest (in both senses of the word) game studio office in town. Of course, moving away from AAA-games and investor coffers meant a drop in the salary but I was never that desperate about it. However, it also means that for better or worse, my sojourn in the console games industry is over. And I don't expect to return.

In other news, Tabula Rasa (or "Richard Garriott's Tabula Rasa" as it has been rebranded) will close its doors at February 28th next year, bringing the $100,000,000 space adventure by Richard Garriot to an end. The game could not retain more than 80,000 subscribers, which may sound plenty but at 15 bucks a piece that would be like 7 years to make back the development money, even assuming zero running costs. It is another financial MMORPG disaster for the Korean giant NCSoft, who has had two high-profile post-release flops (this and Auto Assault) as well as four MMO projects aborted in mid-development within the last 5 years. Some say the company, which still runs successful games like Lineage, Guild Wars and City of Heroes, has more than halved its profits by throwing money at failed titles and big names. I always suspected Lord British's recent space tourism trip was actually about NCsoft trying to fire him into the orbit. Unfortunately he still came down, so they had to persuade him to leave by ordinary means. I hope he goes back to work on the Ultima series. For the most part, that is what he did right.

Meanwhile, World of Warcraft is crushing all resistance. According to www.gamesindustry.biz, Wrath of the Lich King sold 2.8 million copies on the first day, which is an all-time record for any game, let alone a supplement that does not run without the original product. Before this release, Blizzard was making $1,200,000,000 of pure profit annually. Since the WOW revenues are around 1,5 billion, that means the annual running and post-release development costs for the game are $300,000,000. Furthermore, the subscriber figures are still rising. The reason why so many other MMOs crash and burn is that World of Warcraft has set the bar so high it is simply impossible to reach. The development costs of any MMO trying to take on WOW are beyond the reach of everybody else in the business, so high profile games launch, flutter and fall flat on their face when their hundreds of thousands of subscribers still fall far short of what the investors wanted. Then again, if you don't want to compete with WOW, there is still good business to be had. For example, EVE Online is making good profit with about 300,000 subscribers because the product has been designed to have development and maintenance phase costs on par with that revenue level, which is still quite comfortable. Compared to 12 million, 300K may not sound like much but in reality only a handful of MMORPGs have ever achieved that number. MMOcharts has not been updated since April but it still gives a good idea of what I am talking about.

Now, if only something could save my beloved Neocron...

23-Nov-2008: Epic Fail in Turku!

I've never really shared the fashionable antipathy the rest of Finland seems to harbour for Turku, our oldest city. I think the sentiment it dates back to the 12th century or something along with Turku itself. But now Turun Sanomat, the local newspaper, has said in the person of its editor-in-chief, Aimo Massinen, that Electronic Frontier Finland (EFFI) is an ultra-nationalist organisation with a strong anti-immigrant stance. Actually, EFFI is a politically independent (but in my opinion somewhat left- and liberal-leaning) organisation for promoting the freedom of speech, the protection of electronic privacy and advocating electronic consumer rights. It has never had any opinion of the immigration policies but during the last elections it took a very dim view of the e-voting experiment. And as most of you know, that experiment went even more to hell than EFFI had predicted. But I digress.

One of the local EFFI members got Aimo Massinen on the phone and was told that since mr. Massinen did not have a clue of what EFFI was, he had relied on "rumours" and neglected to check his facts with, let's say, Google. EFFI will undoubtedly demand that the newspaper publishes a correction. Personally, I emailed him and asked very politely where should I go look for these rumours he was referring to, since my own searches were turning up empty. So far, there's been no reply. One idiotic newspaper article is not enough to make Turku the shithole some people claim it is (it is actually a rather nice place to visit, especially in the Summer) but this was a very suspicious event. If I were paranoid, I'd say mr. Massinen probably had a personal agenda in trying to tarnish EFFI's image by likening it to Suomen Sisu ("Finnish Guts"), a genuine ultranationalist and anti-immigrant group.

While the real world has once more done its best to go to hell, I've been tinkering with a kind of intro text for the 2nd edition of Taiga. Judging from roolipelaaja.fi forums, roleplaying games set in Finland seem to be in vogue right now, so I moved the concept to more familiar surroundings. Actually, I have always regretted writing the original Taiga into a desert-/steppes environment. Back then it was an obvious choice since I was partly an imitation of the movie Road Warrior. Unfortunately, so was practically every other older post-holocaust RPG out there. But I am also a die-hard fan of the movie Last Border, a Finnish post-holocaust epic by Mika Kaurismäki. Using Lappland and tundra as the setting was something new, even if it was still rather wastelandish.

But it gave me dangerous new ideas. When my partner kept taking me to her home turf in Kainuu, the possibility and uniqueness of actual taiga as the setting dawned on me. You have to see it to believe it. Take Highway 5 and drive 600 kilometres north. You have these stretches sometimes before and after Kajaani: Narrow and relatively straight, a thin line running through a wilderness of evergreen forests, marshlands and lakes. No lights, practically no traffic, tens of kilometres to the next house. Wild animals crossing the road. Reindeer. Moose. Even wolves and bears if you pick the right spot. And why not a pack of roadgangers, waiting for a signal at the mouth of a logging track, ready to pounce on unwary travellers or government supply trucks with their swift motorbikes and scavenged vehicles now decorated with antlers and skulls. And there is much more you can do. So much more.

So, I wrote this little piece of fiction, from the viewpoint of it being me explaining the past events to you as a player, sometime in 2039. Remember, I am 66 years old here and have been living in this rough and dangerous for 18 years. In such environment I would not have much time left and most if not all of my current skills would be useless. I guess I'd be an old, toothless geezer swapping stories for petty handouts in the corner of some trading station bar:

It's all about lines. Invisible boundaries drawn onto maps, onto the ground or in the 'Net. It's all about which side you're on. The Fall is reality. Nothing can stop that now. All those on the other side of the line, the Emergency Government is determined to see them through this. On this side... frankly, I don't think they expect anyone to survive. The Fall will pick us off like dead leaves.

In hindsight, we should have seen it coming. Fuck it, we did see it coming. It never pretended to be anything else. We made it wear masks of ideals and hype so we didn't have to look at its face. We outsourced our fears to boards of experts, media, Internet censorship, vegans, hybrid car makers, tighter airport security and political circus. And then went on with our small lives.

Every year it got a little wetter and windier. The energy prices spiked up a bit. Graphs in the TV dipped lower. Harvests were a little worse than before. Fishing yields not quite up the spec. Maybe the news on Africa and elsewhere got a little worse and there were more people on the move, more placards on the streets and more cars burning. More wars, in faraway places with difficult names.

When the famine struck in '21, we turned on each other like rats. On paper, it was "a statistical adjustment into the standard of living matching the current economic trends". Out there on the streets, it was a storm, a fire and a war, all rolled up in one. A thousand years of civilization pitted against the survival instinct. Instinct won, hands down.

As social order collapsed and contact with the heads of state was lost, the European Union Emergency Government (EUEG) emerged from whatever hole they had been hiding in. While the world ground to a halt around them, they drew a line between those within and those without, enforcing it with soldiers, tanks, electrified fences and elitist ideologies.

In Europe and beyond, protected zones were established to shelter vital assets and privileged citizens. These Central Sectors were originally meant to be hubs from where the surrounding areas could be controlled. In reality, conditions outside vary widely, from relative stability enforced by patrols and bounty hunters, to complete anarchy of gang, bandits and indies.

Urban areas completely beyond government control are called Free Zones. Often within a stone's throw of the electrified fences, they are now havens for smugglers, fugitives and rebels. Green communes scratch the dirt. Tinkerers trade recycled tech. Anarchist wage war on Central Sectors and smugglers make a killing on what they raid or steal from government depots and tranports.

In Central Europe a patchwork of Central Sectors, Outzones and Free Zones stretches across the continent. And there's an occasional Dead Zone where pollution, warfare or plague have run rampant. Up here, north of the Baltic Sea, there is one more invisible line. Beyond the centres, ghettos, checkpoints and fences lies a thousand kilometres of evergreen wilderness.


Apart from the coast, Finland was sparsely populated even in the best of times. Lonely roads wind their way through the wilds, marshes and overgrown farmland. Fate drove people in the cities long before the Fall did. The few who remained were written off, ignored and forgotten. The government occupied industrial centres and natural assets. Beyond that, their maps were blank.

Then shit really hit the fan. The Euros and their Kremlin puppet found themselves embroiled in the Second Northern War. Facing them across the Arctic Sea were the Asiatic Corporate League, the North American Commonwealth and the fucking ice pirates of Kalaalit Nunaat. There were hot spots from Iceland to Aleutians, wherever there were oil, gas, minerals and infrastructure.

Five years ago, the League invaded Kola Peninsula. They replaced the Euro-Kremlin stooge in Murmansk with one of their own. The EUEG shifted an army up north, right through Taiga, rebuilding roads and railroad links along the way. Then some third party set off a thermonuclear explosion in Murmansk, crapping fallout all over Lappland. Gave both sides one hell of a tan.

Nevertheless, the war continues all along the Arctic coastline. Scandinavia is just one front out of many and after the Murmansk Blast things shifted down a gear. The EUEG holds the Norwegian coast and all of the Baltic. The League hangs on to Kola Peninsula and the White Sea. Everything in between and above the Arctic Circle remains contested to this day.

Not the nicest guys to begin with, the war turned EUEG positively nasty on civvies. Forced conscriptions, child soldiers, slave labour camps, mercenaries, rampant polluting. You name it, they've done it. Even their precious citizens are feeling the pinch. More restrictions, censorship, rationing and shortages. I hear they've got these really harsh purges going on within the C-Secs.

So much for history. The present is hard enough to deal with.

The problem with this piece is that I have hard time fitting a description of the present in there. Ideally, it should pick up from where history left off but somehow all the starts that I've made feel clunky. I guess it's a form of writer's block. I don't really expect anything to come out of these musings but since most of you commended the fiction pieces I added to Stalker RPG, I thought you might find this entertaining as well.

19-Nov-2008: Now We'll See

The Band of Sisters from the Green Party did report Halla-aho to the police. I guess it was too late for them to back down, even though Soininvaara did warn them. Typical Greens, they are not even sure what exactly they are reporting him for but I guess anything goes as long as their critics are silenced. Predictably, Halla-aho countered with his own suit but I don't think his case will fly. Anyway, interesting times. I don't believe expressing a wish for something bad to happen to somebody counts as "exhorting to criminal behaviour", especially if it happened years ago and has only been dug up now since it is politically convenient. JH wrote in his blog two years ago that he hopes certain prominent female politicians in the Green Party would be raped by immigrants because of their contribution to the problem. It is improper as hell but if the case really goes to court, the definition of "exhorting to criminal behaviour" becomes too vague to really mean anything anymore. Personally, I don't think a law like this should even exist. And if JH gets the stick for breaking it, the Internet and political media archives hold more than enough ammunition to really spread the fun around.

Since we are on the subject of prosecuting thought crimes, I think it is time for me to come clean. I don't have an opinion on the Green Ladies (apart from them being morons) but I am fervently hoping that Suvi Linden would get sucked into an LHD-generated black hole. And after the e-voting debacle she can take Tuija Brax and Anne Holmlund with her and the world would be a better place for it. Do the police inform you when you are being investigated? Am I waiting for a phone call, a brown envelope or a visit?

17-Nov-2008: The Cost Efficient Edge

Mike Pohjola was the first and so far the only one to react to the previous entry. He presents his counterarguments in his blog and while I obviously disagree, he used to be Jesus so you'd better check it out.

Meanwhile, I've been thinking about a point I first made in majatalo.org in the 7DS thread. Since I am up at 5 in the morning and sick as a parrot from the garlic I ate yesterday, this is the perfect opportunity to elaborate a bit more: So far, Heimot has had the highest production quality of all Finnish roleplaying games. In three years it has sold roughly the same amount as Stalker has in about 8 months. Stalker RPG is a much rougher-looking (I think it is beautfiful but then again I have this post-holopunk fetish) softcover roleplaying game with a much more niche genre. By far, really. Finally, both games have sold several times more than practically any roleplaying game in Finland this millennium (Praedor appeared in 2000 so it is not in the count), apart from mainstream bestsellers like D&D and WoD. I would argue that without a strong brand, 200-300 sales is what you are going to get for a good game. Would Heimot have sold more if even more resources had been put into the production values? I don't think so. Stalker matched it with a much lower production quality and much fewer resources. By the way, I am assuming that the Burger Games brand power (what?) and the extremely niche genre of Stalker pretty much cancelled each other out: "Hmm, a new game by Burger, cool... but it's some weird shit... let's roll up a Praedor character instead".

In Sweden, Neogames and especially Järnringen publish top production quality stuff with print runs of 1000+. Apparently they also generate enough revenue to keep a staff of a few regulars around (or then they've really fooled me). I used to regard their games as examples of what my publications should be like but not anymore. I have my own style and I am happy with the current level of production quality in Burger Games. It pleases my eyes, is cheap to produce and appears to be good enough for the fans. Of course, it is nice to do a little better every time but since I am not living off this stuff, there is only so much I am willing to spend on it. Now, the author-hopeful of 7DS talks about investing 5000 euros or more into the production quality of his game which enables him to do pretty much anything as far as printing techniques go. And absolutely nothing if he can't find willing artists. While I'd really like to see the end result of something so expensive, it is not going to raise my bar. My strategy is simple: talk to people, find an illustrator who gets as fired up by your game idea as you are and give him as much creative freedom as you can. There is no telling what you'll get but for me, Stalker RPG was really the best case scenario. Tuomo Veijanen did far more art for STALKER than I ever dreamed of. He established the rough style that supports and feeds the famous atmosphere of the game and also had direct influence on content design by including his own ideas into the images. If I liked them (and I frequently did), they were included into the game. Sure, throwing real money at the art can get what you want. Probably even with more polish and shine. But I'll take soul and ideas over polish and shine any day.

Sope, the author of Piippuhyllyn manifesti, commented that all Finnish RPG authors should aim to match the production quality found in Swedish games. I disagree, because although their production quality is great, there is also such a level as good enough (and there is more to Swedish RPG production than the fancy hardcovers we are now fussing about). More importantly, if we raise the quality bar, we will also have even less aspiring new RPG authors because the titles they are using as benchmarks will be beyond the reach of their skill and resources. As long as we are not in this for money, we have an obligation to them. And finally, do we really want to look like the Swedes? I know some people complain that our roleplaying-games are too Americanized to be any good but we know it's bullshit. All Finnish RPGs, no matter how much of a fantasy heartbreaker they are, have always had a special edge to them. Even the Finnish translation of Cyberpunk 2020 makes good use of it, turning a watered-down setting in a broken scifi game into something so edgy and cool it was scary.

"The Finnish Edge".

Now there is a concept that could really use some serious thought (and branding).

16-Nov-2008: More Braindead People

What's going on? Is this the Moron Month?

I am a leftist liberal (although pro-nuclear and certainly not a pacifist) who voted for the Leftist Alliance in the last municipal elections. But if this bashing of Jussi Halla-aho continues, my commitment to freedom of speech will override my preference for political leanings and I will become a Basic Finns supporter just to hit back at those morons. For the record, I oppose any and all restrictions on freedom of speech, including those currently set in the law. While this means tolerating any idiot who can put together a coherent sentence, after reading JH's writings I have to say that he knows his stuff, he knows his audience and he knows his legal limits better than his opponents. Hell, my blog is probably more criminal than his but you don't see Green Party ladies threatening to sue me for it (let alone for something I wrote here two years ago when this blog arguably had more teeth).

Jussi writes provocatively since that's the only way to blog. However, I agree on his basic points: He wants a better screening of immigrants based on their true needs and what those people can contribute to the Finnish society. He wants tighter and in some cases enforced integration of immigrants into the Finnish society, best achieved through compulsory education courses on language, laws and culture. He opposes the preferential treatment of immigrants in social policies, the culture-sensitive interpretation of national law and the ideological tilt that skews the public debate. Nope, I don't see a problem here. Not so surprisingly, neither do any of my immigrant friends. This is not rocket science and they are not morons. If I was active in politics, I'd include all of the above into my otherwise leftist pro-wellfare state message.

Jussi Halla-aho has been elected into the city council of Helsinki with a huge vote tally and I am sure he'll do a good job. I couldn't have (and wouldn't have) voted for him in this election but when they demand that he be silenced or prosecuted for what he has been writing, they are treading on my toes. Even if I didn't like what he is saying, I will defend his right to say it.

12-Nov-2008: I See Braindead People

While Maracon in Oulu is trying to break the Finnish RPG scene out of its hibernation and everyone else is busy LARPing the dead, I set myself the task of making STALKER: The Roleplaying Game a reality. Hell, if I am going out of this business, I want to go out with a bang. The English translation of STALKER is just what the doctor ordered. However, assuming it ever gets done, the logistics of selling a roleplaying game internationally are daunting. My best bet were print-on-demand services like lulu.com, where you first browse the catalogue, then pick a book and finally order it. Lulu will then print out the book and send it to you. Perfect for a hassle-hater like me, right? Well, just as I thought I was getting a good start on the project, this came out. Lulu.com is far from being the only such service out there but it is the biggest and the best known. Unfortunately they have obviously decided they had too many customers already and trimmed down their operations to just mainland Europe and USA. Unbelievably asinine move. Whatever outfit I will go for when the translation is done, lulu.com won't be on the list to choose from unless that pricing is fixed.

However, it would take more than a moronic book printer to ruin this day. I have signed up for a new job, the one that I feared had collapsed. They got their shit together but asked me to keep the name out of the spotlight for a while, so wel'll save that for later. All I can say is that it is something I've enjoyed doing before and look forward to be doing again. It is also a massive paycut compared to Recoil but that was always coming. It is still a a good deal as far as the Finnish game industry is concerned.

So, I am doing the English translation of STALKER myself. So far it has been surprisingly easy going. Much easier than creating text out scratch like I'm doing right now. As is always the case with fiction translations, the objective is not translate the words but the context but it is still the same game; no additional content, no rule changes, no major text changes and the same layout to the extent it is possible. This is also my final chance to see if something can be done about those stupid greyscale images. They are just fine when I print them out from Pagemaker files. Somehow the PDF conversion scews them up. When it is done, I am will burn some money on a native-speaking translation specialist to have it looked through and edited where necessary. It is way cheaper than commissioning a full translation. As always, Burger Games gets my services for free, keeping the costs down. This is something nobody else should expect.

Since I like to bitch and moan about the lack of Finnish roleplaying games, it is only fair to pay some attention to 7DS. Sadly, the one thing that most projects discussed in Majatalo.org project forum have in common is that they rarely amount to anything (UNSF being the delightful exception that makes the rule). It is only logical, of course: If you knew what you were doing, why would you ask for advice on a web forum? However, this guy is not a complete newbie and he is willing to invest quite a bit into his game, so the finished product could be something interesting. For example, he says that he has budgeted about 5000 euros for a print run of the first 100 copies. That alone is several times more than what I would be willing to pay.

10-Nov-2008: Update

I am writing this in the middle of night so the date is actually November 11th. But since nothing's happened today, who cares. I would have wanted to write that I signed up for a job today. Unfortunately signing of the job contract was moved to Wednesday so I can't. Also, I'd like promote the excellence of S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky here but the level design falls completely apart at Limansk and that is also where the enemy detection and AI bugs really come to bite you in the ass. So I can't do that either. For fuck's sake, stick to S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl. It is way better than this bug-ridden clusterfuck that can't really decide if it wants to be an open world game or not. Meanwhile, I've been hearing good things about Fallout 3. Assuming that my machine specs out, I'll be switching to that soon (especially since Gamersgate moved the appearance of 7.62mm to February and my steam-powered 1.8 GHz DualCore differential engine could not even get Far Cry 2 to start).


While it is nice to have a verbal agreement on a job, it is not really happening until the job contract is signed. I won't be starting until the 24th, so having it signed would have given me two full weeks to put my feet up and not worry about a thing. I don't really think they are going to pull the offer before Wednesday. But still, the best deal is the done deal.

Another thing, and one that has been bothering me for much longer (about a year now) is the lack of roleplaying inspiration. Once I got the Stalker RPG out of my system and off my desk, I have felt like a run-down battery. It is as if I had always had this limited (although a fairly large) amount of things to give to the RPG hobby and now I've given it. Maybe Stalker RPG says everything I've ever wanted to say about playing and gamemastering roleplaying games. There is nothing more to be said on my part. I can still dream up settings easily enough but to pursue them, either through gamemastering or productizing, feels like too big of a step. True or false, I also get the feeling that nothing's happening in the scene. No new and interesting games are coming out (no, translations of surrealistic Norwegian indie games still don't count), there are no events worth mentioning, the most issue of Roolipelaaja didn't really strike a chord with me and so on. I have tried to become more active and butt my nose into more forum conversations and such but it has not really made me care. At least in the good old days somebody would make me angry about something. I've also had a few flashes of inspiration on adventures to run but I can never hold onto them. Everything sinks into the quicksands of apathy.

It is affecting this blog too. Intervals between the entries are growing and since I've been doing very little RPG stuff, what little I write is not really relevant from the roleplaying point of view. Instead, there is more and more stuff on computer games, which is not surprising since that is where my bread and mortgage payments come from. Not being part of that scene is not an option.

I don't know. Maybe I should just close shop and go.

05-Nov-2008: Happy Birthday...

...to me.

I turned 35 yesterday (sometime after 4'o'clock in the morning, I'm told). According to statistics this is the midpoint for someone like me. While my blood pressure is surprisingly good for someone with my waist length, let's face it. It'd be a miracle to get past 70. While Americans celebrated the occasion by electing a new president, I ate a large pancake and immersed myself into the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone. Yes, S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky has been out for a while now but this was the first time I actually got to play it. With around 7 hours of play under my belt I feel I am entitled to some first impressions:

Things they got right:

The Zone is as immersive as ever. I liked the sparser population of of SSoC better but it still works and the magic, the atmosphere, is still there. The game is a prequel to the original title, combining old and new locations, which nicely gives a bit of history to places you "later" visit in SSoC. Weapon upgrade system works like a charm and armor upgrades are not far behind. I am enjoying this game and will be playing it for quite some time.

Things they got wrong:

The gameplay starts from a newbie area called "Swamps" and it is a piss-poor idea. Reminds me of the sad newbie areas in most MMOs. To get out of there, you have to run the gauntlet of a machinegun tower. I made it with two attempts but this has been a game killer for some and it is just plain bad pacing. The mission system on the whole is so hideously broken that it alone is responsible for 90% of the bugs. The whole game would do better without it and it really pains me as a game designer to see something that is designed so badly and should have made the eyes of any playtester bleed. Really, stay away from the missions if you can. The new targeting crosshairs are horrible. Many of the weapons are desperately underpowered and the enemy visual detection system is broken making them unbelievably perceptive and accurate even in pitch darkness. Player bleeding system feels like an unnecessary add-on compared to the original, which was a downright scary system. And the new HUD and interface screens are ugly and non-functional. I would have retained the original and especially the radiation warning system used to work much better. Now the first indication of radiation trouble can be dropping dead all of a sudden, especially in the swamps. For some reason even the visual effects of radiation have been omitted from the swamps. If it is a feature, it is a damn stupid one. Thankfully, they return later in the game.

One thing that was almost a game-killer for me was the new artifact search system. In the original SSoC, artifacts are visible objects in the level. Sometimes they were a little too easy to get as they were right out in the open but at other times they also encouraged exploration. You checked out train tunnels, drain pipes etc. just in case there were some and if you saw them from afar, you would try to navigate through a maze of anomalies to get to them. Now all this is gone. Instead, artifacts are invisible unless you chance right on top of them. They are found in anomalies and you can switch your gun to a Ghostbusters-style detector that shows the rough bearing to a nearby artifact. Since these are invariably in the middle of anomalies and the three artifacts I have found were The Suck, I am not feeling encouraged to go look for them. I almost never check out anomalies with my detector and don't bother with that much exploration anymore, especially if anomalies are present.

Finally, Clear Sky lacks the smooth touch of the SSoC storytelling and design. Cutscenes are sparse and lack artistic vision. And your character is a featureless Brick Shithouse named "Scar" who would be right at home in the cast of Gears of War. There is even some shit how he is "special", resistant to the emissions. This is a huge drop from the mysterious, obsessed and Tarkovskian "Marked One" (spoiler alert and watch in full screen mode) in SSoC, who was not special in any way except for his strange mark and having come from the death truck while alive. He was also an amnesiac, hunting a guy named Strelok based on a clue in his PDA. Eventually he turned out to be Strelok himself. Scar is on the lookout for someone called Fang for no good reason whatsoever and I am not really interested in what he is thinking.


Hmm... 7/10 if you have played the original, 8/10 otherwise. In comparison, the original SSoC is 9/10 in vanilla form and 10/10 with the right mod (I recommend the Oblivision Lost) and it still looks good. With a high-powered machine and DX10 Clear Sky is supposed to have some new magic tricks up its sleeve as far as graphics go. But me, I play it with DX9, full details but the dynamic lighting turned off. Just like SSoC, it runs smooth as butter on a low-specs machine and still looks good enough for me. And if you like sandbox shooters, add +1 to all the ratings.

30-Oct-2008: CPR, again

Looks like one of my employment prospects collapsed. It's not a crisis but you wish things would just work out every once in a while. I am feeling the blues. It is not all doom and gloom, however. In better news, yesterday I gave a presentation on storytelling in videogames in the University of Helsinki and the audience told me they liked it. The event was arranged by students from the Aesthetics department and further lectures will be held by people like Mike Pohjola and Tapio Berechowsky (I hope I got the consonants right there) on various other game-related topics. In even better news, the Stalker contract came, was signed and mailed back to the literary agent, so it is a done deal. Now I can start thinking about what to do with it, including the Stalker RPG novel. I already have a draft outline of the story but how do I brand it as "Stalker" and still yet keep it separate from the original? Now that is the question, not to mention the logistics of actually making the translations happen.

While I've been looking at game business, licensing contracts and IP sales from Burger Games to digital media, the Finnish RPG industry seems to have died on me. Again. Actually, I feels like it turns belly up every time I look away. And no, translating some Norwegian art-game into Finnish don't count. Ironspine could help me out here but I have no clue as to when or if any of their new products (or expansions to its old one) will be released. So what the hell happened? Praedor, when it came out, kicked up a surge of new high-production-quality games (whopping two, the quality of Parabellum is... a matter taste). But Heimot set the bar so high I am still not aiming for that level. And the the surge fizzled out. Star Wreck was a joke and there is only so many times you can tell it. Tähdet was an interesting experiment that didn't really work as a roleplaying game and even less so as a commercial product but at least it was an interesting read. Like some kind of an absurd futuristic youth culture magazine, which must have been the objective. It did give me a number of ideas for FLOW, though.

Even if prospective RPG authors have been sitting on their thumbs since last April (when one of them apparently did something), the scene is still out there. Apparently some of them survived Ropecon, because Maracon has been announced for 14th to 16th of November, which sucks because that was the one weekend in November I had already booked full. Those people up north had something funky going on in Oulu last spring, if my memory serves right, so maybe I can attend that if they do it again next year.

I know I shouldn't but I am tempted to try something new. Between a novel, Stalker translations and the digital media hurdles there is more than enough to do, as always. But there is this one thing I want to try out: Praedor: Modern. You already saw the one set of conversion rules, from Praedor to Cyberpunk. I'd like to take the idea further and convert the pulp fantasy rules system into a quick and streamlined mechanics for handling modern challenges such as firefights or Code/X -style horror. People already like the system but I don't believe in direct ports, so I have to figure out what makes a rules system for a modern setting tick.

27-Oct-2008: Running Around

What a weekend! And it is not over yet.

Between Kirjamessut and Alternative Party, I've been running around since Wednesday and staying up until 4 in the morning. Electronic Frontier Finland had its best stand ever at Kirjamessut and it really paid off. All the events we had participated before were largely preaching to the choir (Assembly, Freedom Not Fear, Open Source-thingies) and some members objected to the idea of going to Kirjamessut on the grounds that it did not fit EFFI's profile. Well, YLE, Teosto and Kopiosto were there, so why the hell would not we go? Leena picked e-books and e-book DRMs as our primary "book fair"-themes and got several several gadgets (including a wonderful e-book reader called BeBook) on loan, while Kierrätyskeskus lent furniture for free. Our sofa and reader drew the crowds and the upcoming municipal elections with the electronic voting experiment provided other topics for discussion. It all worked out beautifully.

It was a great experience, very effective in reaching out to new audiences and I strongly believe we will do it again. Personally, I also managed to grab hold of the new head of publishing at BTJ Finland and exchange a few words about the Elämäpeli script. They obviously had not done anything with it because of Kirjamessut (it is their busiest time of the year) but the script has been submitted, received and the gears are turning so hopefully it will come out sometime this winter. Finally, Food Fair was right across the corridor and moose sausage with cheese is bloody excellent.

Come Friday evening, my attention switched to Alternative Party. It is a computer geek/demoscene/art tech -event at Kaapelitehdas, with everything from demo competitions to live techno bands. Their vaunted Steampunk theme was just a sorry sideshow but on the whole the event was just the right size, very atmospheric, distinctly artsy and noticeably more mature than Assembly. Unfortunately the compos had a disturbing tendency to degenerate into a comedy of errors as technology failed and demos built on XP would not run on Vista. But although the actual Fogscreen compo failed to the extent it had to be cancelled, they did have one of those up and running right in the main hall entrance and it was very cool, high-tech and quite cyberpunk. Actually, the whole event was very cyberpunkish, even if the organizers tried to shoehorn the Steampunk theme wherever they could. On the whole, Alternative Party is the perfect counterweight to Assembly but I wish they'd be a little less hardcore with the demos and filmed them instead of trying to run them in real-time. Some familiar faces picked out from the crowd: Rauhala, Nurro, Smolander, Jiituomas, Mike Pohjola, J. Kasvi and a bunch of other people who said "hi" but I have no clue as to who they were.

19-Oct-2008: Gag Order

Sometimes it feels like I am not allowed to talk about anything anymore. All the details on what happened or is still happening with Recoil are covered by an NDA. All the job prospects, interviews and pulling of strings are confidential as well since I am not applying to be a burger-flipper but a game designer (and not exactly junior one at that). I have a secret project that I hope will keep me fed, clothed, warm and dry sometime in the future but nope, I can't talk about that one either. I've been consulting one other project for pretty much good will and free meals but I am not at liberty to discuss that here either. Nobody's given the gag order but that's just the way things are. On top of it all, pretty much nothing else has been happening. I've attended my first intensive period of the Game Industry Economics Course and liked it but what's there to tell? Business is business, whether you're selling game development or sausages.

I found some 3rd print-run Stalkers from a box and Fantasiapelit promptly bought them all. The game is selling slowly but surely and they did not rule out the possibility of ordering a 4th print run if and when their stockpile runs out. I hope Puolenkuun Pelit has also been doing but the sad truth is that their volume of RPG sales is much lower than even the fizzling figures at Fantasiapelit. So no holding breath for their re-orders. Contractually, the way for foreign translations has been cleared up but Strugatsky's agent told me that the papers were lost in the mail and that it was not an unusual occurrence with the Russian postal system. I believe him. When and if the papers do arrive, I still have to figure out who will do the translations. Theoretically, I could do the English translation myself but that will take a long time. Maybe too long... but then again, what is a year in the RPG market? A friend visiting from New England told me that there are a lot of roleplaying events there, like small cons where the objective is to play the games. Running sample sessions of Stalker has always been the best possible way to advertise it because the players have recommended it to their friends.

I will definitely run Stalker sessions in the next Ropecon. The girl in the parking lot in this Ropecon alone ensured that. I just wish I could have my own room somewhere. And when the contract arrives, it brings with it the right to turn my Stalker RPG novel idea into reality. I won't be able to resist the temptation, since I've got the overall plot pretty much sorted out. Now how to describe it without going into too much detail... if it was made into a movie, it would be Antikiller meets X-Files. I just need to come up with a good name for it.

09-Oct-2008: Bouncing Back

Just as I was despairing over Stalker RPG translations, I was informed that Boris Strugatsky has accepted the foreign language deal in its entirety. Papers are already in the mail and when they arrive, I will be sorely tempted to start writing a Stalker RPG novel on the spot. Unfortunately, somebody ought to do the actual translation as well... I have no idea whatsoever how to the sell the stupid thing once it is translated. Something like POD (Print On Demand) might be the answer. And before somebody suggests it again, I do not and will not have anything to do with PDF sales. I have enough trouble with selling data files in my day job. My Stalker novel will feature stuff that is also expected to get into the Stalker RPG supplement "Teräsmetsä", if it ever gets done. And if it doesn't, the novel would have a dual purpose of being both entertaining and source material for new adventures. How it will be published is still up for grabs but some kind of co-publishing deal between Burger Games and any of the small Finnish speculative fiction publishers is the best plan I have.

I also attended the IGDA Pub Night on Tuesday at Cafe Cuba. System Club was closed down so that's the new IGDA venue from now on, in Erottajankatu 4 or something. Quite a few people already knew I had left Recoil but they were under the assumption that it was because I had found something better. I set them right and they were all properly sorry, offering few helpful tips as to where to send my applications next. I also fulfilled my promise to drink at least one farewell beer and My Gawd it was awful. Thankfully Samppa, the senior level designer at Recoil, bought me some Salmiakkikossu to wash it down with. Horrible stuff, the beer. I came in late because I had attended the Wapit Christmas Party earlier that evening but the place was still packed. Unfortunately not all the people I had hoped to see were there but it was still definitely one of my better Pub Night experiences.

I have just finished rewriting my Curriculum Vitae. All that remains is to decide where to send it to. I have always used the old-fashioned extended format CV, with a one-page cover letter followed by the essential lists of jobs, education and portfolio. These days most people seem to go just for the lists but I like including the letter as it proves that I can write stuff and adds some meat on the job listings. Besides, just one page in big, readable font is short enough for anybody to take a glance at without being bored. I am also fairly pleased with my portfolio this time around. 17 mobile games (and 12 of them having won multiple review awards), five roleplaying games and three published books isn't bad. However, there is no Earth No More. That would have been the crowning achievement. A pity, really. I hope they still get it done and not just because I want to mention it in my CV.

One good thing about my "sudden vacation" is that I have an opportunity to try to get back into some sort of shape. Last spring's illness and the overall stress (to which I respond by eating; maybe I should have switched to smoking by now) have left me fat and weak. Now I have all the time and none of the excuses, so I am following a regime of gym and 4-kilometre walks on alternate days. And of course, avoiding candy and fatty snacks with varying degrees of success. My arms might be sore from yesterday's gym session but I welcome the pain. It tells me the muscles are there, making me feel stronger already. Besides, I read from somewhere that as long as the pain lasts, the muscles keep consuming calories.

While I've been busy with my work troubles, two things have happened. Firstly, Roolipelaaja #17 appeared. The red-black ninja issue has been commonly hailed as the best one yet but I don't know. Somehow it leaves me cold. It is not bad and there is nothing offensive about it but... somehow, for me at least, there is no spark. Nothing to catch my interest. I did note, however, Juhana's editorial on how the low sales figures of Finnish RPG products came as a surprise. It's not that I would not sympathize but really, I fucking told you. I am glad we are all on the same page now, even if it took you guys a year to come around. This is exactly why Rolemaster dishes out experience points for pain. It is also why my creative ambitions have expanded beyond pen&paper RPGs. For me, Badlands is an IP (immaterial property, or in some context a franchise). I might make a roleplaying game out of it but that would not be the product but its application. And a rather insignificant application in the current market.

The second thing that's happened is much more positive: Motörhead released a new album called Motörizer. Little more melodic than the previous album Kiss of Death, Motörizer is one of my all-time favourites. Two songs in particular, English Rose and Thousand Names of God stand above the rest (sorry about the sound quality but there was no actual music video of that available). The whole album is great background music for the adventures of my orc rogue in World of Warcraft. This is orc metal, really. And ideologically, Motörhead lyrics have always been about as far as you can get from Manowar.

Motörhead is on stage in Jäähalli on December 16th. And I am there, of course.

05-Oct-2008: Soul Searching

It's been a few of days now and I am settling down into my new life. Thanks for all the supportive emails. Actually, this sounds like I was a TV star and got thousands of supportive messages when announcing I was going into rehab. What I got was more than one but less than ten. Good enough. A recurring feature in these emails was the question "what next". Damned if I know. Global economy is having a meltdown and games industry is not as immune as it once was. With games being so expensive to make, many financial operations depend on the availability of credit, either from banks or investors. That has dried up, a sure sign of hard times, making expanding businesses and founding of new premium studios difficult. There won't be another Recoil Games anytime soon. My expert on gaming markets recommends that I take it easy for the next two months, lay low and barring some miracle opportunity just watch the situation develop. If the worst comes to the worst, I will get some job somewhere and frankly, I agree. I just prefer jobs that I like, even if it means that giving them up is traumatic and I have to re-discover myself every time. If I was a millionaire, I'd do one of those solo crossings of the Atlantic some of the leading businessmen are famous for. Since I am not, I have to find that ocean within me.

So, what next, like most of you asked. While Samuli did a good job on my job certificate the fact remains that I did not ship a single AAA-title. Now that would have been good in the CV and it's usually a requirement for AAA-positions, apart from some very unusual specialist jobs. And of course, I would prefer to stay in Finland, so the list of AAA-studios is not long to begin with. There is nothing wrong with foreign assignments but it's a young man's game, or rather a lifestyle choice someone like me would find very tricky at this stage. On the other hand, the time spent tinkering with consoles has given a new appreciation of the perks of working with non-AAA titles (mobile, flash, browser, mid-budget etc.). First of all, the development times are shorter so something actually gets done every once in a while. There are more game styles, genres, representation methods and gameplay hooks to choose from, even if you are doing subcontracting. And most importantly, the production teams are not scared shitless every time somebody has to make a decision, so lo and behold, decisions actually get made! Also, with non-AAA studios there is less tendency to assign decisions to an ad-hoc committee in the misguided hope that sharing the responsibility somehow reduces the risk.

This is not to say I would not like an opportunity to work with another AAA-level project but I think something in the standard developer-publisher business model is broken and increased costs are making it worse. And personally, when looking at the increasing production costs across the board I'd say we are not getting enough in return for all that money. For me, videogame graphics reached the "good enough" level already in 2004 with the original Far Cry. All progress in graphics since then has had more to do with stylistic choices rather than actually improving something. And if we are going to spend all that extra money on development budgets anyway, couldn't we just retain that level of graphics and focus on smooth gameplay and a good story instead? <Insert the growling of enraged graphics artists>

If I had 500K in the bank, guess what I would do? Okay, maybe that was too easy. But the funny thing is that even if I had millions, I would do the exactly same thing, with the exactly same concept and the exactly same budget.

In unrelated bad news, the deal about Stalker RPG translations has effectively stalled. The agent remains optimistic but apparently the author is sitting on it, deliberating the ifs and buts of his Roadside Picnic deal with Paramount. If the worst comes to the worst I'll have to ask if I can pull "a S.T.A.L.K.E.R.". Since the setting of the roleplaying game is different from the novel, it is possible to make a new version with all references to Strugatskis and the relevant novels and movies edited out. This is what GSC did with the videogame S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and yes, I agree it is lame to the extreme. But I can see why they did it. I am just a hobbyist RPG author and can take this waiting and uncertainty easily, even if it is annoying as hell. But a game studio of 50 employees and a publisher breathing down their necks can't take "maybe" for an answer. I have already made some plans for what the edited Stalker RPG would be like. I would probably rename the game "ZONE: Science Fiction Roleplaying Game", reposition the other zones all over world (and maybe alter their number as well), move the Visit back a little so that the zones would have been there for 20 years. The Institute would probably have to be renamed as well. It would be a shame to lose the examples with the events or characters in the novel but that can't be helped. Other than that, it would be the same game (barring new ideas while editing). I could even keep calling the player-characters "stalkers".

Still, I'd prefer not having to do any changes at all.

30-Sep-2008: Recoilless

There is no nice way to put it, so I won't try. I got the axe and so I am not working at Recoil Games anymore. Not entirely unexpected if you've been reading between the lines here but still somewhat surprising in its suddenness. This morning I went to work with plans and schedules for the rest of the week and then suddenly someone pulled the plug. Jarring experience for sure but I will recover. As the brass saw it, recent changes had made the position of a narrative designer obsolete, so they axed it. I might disagree but it's not my call. To their credit, they did their best to make it smooth and easy. My parachute wasn't golden but it will still give me a soft landing. So, that's two years marked off the calendar. All that remains is to figure out what am I going to do with the other 35 years or so.

27-Sep-2008: Drawing Lines

Our delightfully (if still sporadically) alive #praedor IRC channel witnessed a small debate today on what can or cannot be done within the context of Praedor rules. One of the chatters had had a session where the open-ended damage system had resulted in a tamed hawk killing an armoured knight on the spot with a hit on the chest. The gamemaster had explained it by holes in the armor left by a previous engagement but still the idea of a hawk swooping down from the skies and burying itself into somebody's chest was slightly disturbing. My solution would have been to describe the knight being distracted by hawk clawing at his lap. This would make him fall from a great height, tumble off a horse breaking his neck, stepping into a bog and his heavy armor pulling him under in seconds, or any other number of sudden, unfortunate death. Counter-argument to this was that in these cases it would not be the hit in the chest that really killed the knight, nor did it match the deep wound description. My counter-argument to that was that the hit in the chest still occurred and the end result of immediate or near-immediate death was the same. This is where I draw the line against pure simulationism, even in Praedor.

I learned it decades ago watching Richard Lester's Three Musketeers (the movie that pushed me over the edge into writing Miekkamies). Swordfights in that movie had none of the theatrical finesse usually associated with rapier fighting and were more of brawls than anything else. In one of them, Porthos tossed his sword up in the air and while his confused opponent looked up, smacked him in the head with a stone. I would count that as an incapacitating but a non-lethal sword hit to the head (Deep Wound +3, I believe). Use of the sword was an important part of the attack and it ended in incapacitation according to the rules. Now, in most simulationist rules this would have been a complex double-action of player deliberately decreasing his odds by tossing his primary weapon in the air, the opponent making a roll against being confused and then the player making a melee attack with the stone with any applicable off-hand/second action penalties. It would never happen. For me, entertainment always trumps the rules and that is where my gamemastering methods and traditional simulationism part ways. Praedor was written to appeal to the old school simulationists. Of course, I run it my way like I run all simulationist games but it can still be played as a fairly strict rules-bound simulation. Such was the case of the hawk and the knight.

If you want to see what life is like on my side of the line take a look at the FLOW system. The gamemaster could conjure the scenario of a hawk making a knight tumble off the wall and plummet to his death without blinking. It would not be a creative and rule-bending interpretation of a very unlikely event but simply the most logical choice if the knight would have happened to be anywhere near a suitable drop. Granted, you still might have had to expend a stat point to make that happen (as a stroke of luck). Depends on the genre, really.

Then, yesterday, I came across this.

I guess Päivi Räsänen has been drawing lines as well. I am not a very vocal atheist and have no problem with the state church or teaching religion in public schools. If anything, it seems to keep fundies on a leash and general attitudes moderate. This text by the leading Christian Conservative in Finland is the first time I have seen any them actually try to change the status quo. Christianity would not be a religion if its followers did not consider themselves better or priviledged compared to non-followers but Räsänen implies that the non-followers are also a threat to public safety. In the United States, they call political rhetoric like this "Politics of Fear". In essence, instead of building bridges between the groups that make up the society, you burn them, in the confused hope that isolation would mean safety. And that's where I draw the line.

Meanwhile, the Finnish police is said to be on the lookout for Hate Communities in the net. This is based on a moronic assumption that people who are abused at school or otherwised ostracized by their peers can form social groups encouraging violent retaliation. The flaw with this logic is that the lack of social groups was what these people suffered from in the first place. Actually, I think the effect of joining such a group would be therapeutic if anything. There are "Hate Groups", of course, usually bands of right-wind wannabes opposing immigration or embracing supremacist ideologies based on race, nationality or the colour of your underwear. Those have long been under surveillance but I guess the police must take part in the general paranoia or face accusations of not doing anything, even if there is nothing they could really do.

23-Sep-2008: First-Person-Shooter

Today, a deranged 22-year old student Matti Saari walked into a school of applied sciences in Kauhajoki and opened fire. He killed 10 people and wounded three. He also threw Molotovs, setting the school on fire at several locations. Two or three of his victims might have actually died of carbon-monoxide poisoning rather than bullets but that doesn't make him any less guilty. He also fired shots at the caretaker and the police responding to the emergency. After one-and-a-half-hour rampage he finally shot himself in the head and died three hours later in a hospital in Tampere. Ironically, he had been questioned by the police yesterday over some shooting videos he had posted on Youtube but was allowed to retain both his gun and license. There is a public outcry against this but I actually understand the police officers involved. No crime had been committed and Matti probably appeared calm and composed under questioning. After all, this was no schoolkid but a 22-year old adult male. The requirements for confisticating someone's personal property, even something requiring a government license, are strict. I don't see how the police could have acted otherwise.

Matti left a suicide note declaring his general hatred for humanity but the incident bears a striking resemblance to Jokela school shooting last November, when Pekka-Eric Auvinen gunned down 9 people. He also tried to set his school on fire but being an idiot and probably panicking, he failed. Finally, he shot himself too. We know very little about Matti's motivations but Pekka believed himself to be a superhuman in the master race sense of the word. He also expressed hatred for the world in his suicide note but wished to set an example for others that would eventually lead to a bloody and rather aimless "revolution" in Finland. Auvinen's mother was a vocal eco-fundamentalist and quoted to have wished for the destruction of humanity for the sake of the planet. I think I see where Auvinen was coming from. By elevating himself above humanity, he was able to act on his mother's message. Psychiatrists could have a field day exploring that angle. I don't know anything about Saari's upbringing but this was a copycat killing that actually surpassed the original. After 11 months, Auvinen got his followers.

Meanwhile, the general public is out for blood and going for the usual suspects from the government to videogame violence. Roleplaying games have been absent from this discussion, which is both a relief and a disappointment at the same time. Curiously, these days it is the defenders of videogames who always fire first. "Oh great, now they are going after us gamers again" reads in one of the very first few messages on the Helsingin sanomat discussion board. Sure enough, they did, but only after ten more entries. By the way, surprisingly many people are also asking why the government is not doing anything about the troubled youths. Even if the government did restore funding for mental health services to pre-depression levels, it'd take a decade before there would be any noticeable effect. The post-depression generation, or more specifically the nutjobs among them, are lost for good. Globally, Finland made headlines. BBC News web service put this on its frontpage and Al-Jazeera did a surprisingly large and detailed piece that included interviews of various locals from Kauhajoki and some pacifist nutjob from the Peace Alliance.

As opportunity marketing for Pelintekijän päiväkirja goes, things just became interesting. In the book, I am addressing videogame violence from the standpoint of game development and marketing, making some rather controversial statements. I believe them to be true and both the games industry and the customers act accordingly. But I'll be damned if either one will ever admit it. Most likely Pelintekijän päiväkirja will sink without a trace (okay, with a few hundred copies sold) into the overcrowded book market but if it comes to the worst, I'll end up in television defending my hypothesis on videogame violence against a friend or a colleague (possibly even from Recoil Games).

That'd be great for sales, though.

21-Sep-2008: It's Done!

It's done. In the bag. Over with. At the last leg I changed the name of Elämäpeli back to Pelintekijän päiväkirja to emphasize the connection to Pelintekijän käsikirja. After countless of hours of work, writer's blocks lasting weeks at a time and sheer desperation over the time limits imposed by grants received last spring, the script was finally completed last night. It is a short book, with a total length of 253000 characters, slightly less than in Pelintekijän käsikirja. Then again, it does not have the game listings in the end so the actual content portion of the book is quite a bit longer. I expect the editor will send it back with comments and suggested corrections at least once, so there is no telling when the thing will go into print. I don't expect it to be done in a month, so it is likely we'll miss out on Kirjamessut. That's okay because I prefer to loiter in the Alternative Party that weekend anyway.

Pelintekijän käsikirja was easy to comment on publicly and it has drawn a crowd. This time I am not really sure what to say about Pelintekijän päiväkirja, other than "why are you asking me when you've got the damn book". It is a work of opinion, visions, commentary and literary blogging. The editor-in-chief who originally commissioned it is no longer working for the publisher and I can't expect the new guy to have read Pelintekijän käsikirja, so it is anyone's guess what the publisher commentary on it will be. I presume they will go through with it but there could be any number of change requirements. While BTJ Finland has tried to made its portfolio lighter and popularity-oriented, it is still a stretch to call Pelintekijän päiväkirja a factbook. You could call it an autobiography without straining too much but it is not exactly that either. Whatever the hell it is, I know some of you reading this blog will get it. I hope you'll like it as well. After all, it has been eating away the content of this blog for almost a year now.

12-Sep-2008: Bad Plans

It has been a while since I've last updated my blog but don't worry, I am still here. There are just lot of things happening at the same time and many of those I am not at liberty to discuss. Those of you in the games industry have probably heard the "general rumors". I am not going to take a stance on those but frankly, I am not happy. Then again, who is? On top that, I have a flu. It is on its way out and the medication I've got would kill a rhino but it still sucks. Especially when my girlfriend caught it as well and she would have had better things to do.

At the time of writing, Elämäpeli stands at 210K characters and still defies description. Maybe it could be likened to those political commentary books the Americans are publishing by the truckload ahead of elections. This time it is just about games, game design and working in the game industry? When it hits 250K it is gone. Sent to the publisher and I don't want to ever see it again (which I will because if the publisher is going to go through with it they'll run it by an editor and I have to react to comments suggested changes). Anybody who liked Pelintekijän käsikirja will probably find it interesting and I'd guess that goes for people who intensely disliked Pelintekijän käsikirja as well.

So, the summer is gone but I did get to see a summer blockbuster, namely Mummy III. Everybody knows I am a big fan of the first Mummy by Stephen Sommers and that glow carries me through the admittedly inferior sequel as well. Unfortunately this is where I draw the line. Maybe it is the stupid script, lackluster acting or an amazing ability to de-exoticize pulp adventure locations (a fault the last Indiana Jones film suffered to a great extent). Or maybe Hugo Pratt was right and pulp adventure ends at some point during WWII. He is thought to have said that Corto Maltese dies from the first bullet in the first battle of WWII, although I've also read that he will "vanish" in the Spanish Civil War. Either way, Pratt thought he would take the pulp adventure genre with him and judging from both Indiana Jones 4 and Mummy III, he was right. The one exception that makes the rule in this case is Sahara. Critics hated it and I think it did not do too well in theatres but I fucking loved it. Period. If I can get some of that feeling into Badlands, I'll be a happy man.

The Finnish RPG scene seems to have fallen off the face of the Earth after Ropecon. Either that or we are still reeling from the realization that Mike Pohjoja is Jesus (btw, that and some of writings give me a feeling that he has had quite an identity crisis; luckily I got mine at birth). There is absolutely nothing going on anywhere and even the forums are largely quiet. The one thing that sometimes beats the dead horse to spasms is the pros and cons debate over D&D4. While I have never been a true Dungeons & Dragons player, I had a very interesting discussion about the 4th edition with Sam "Max Payne" Lake. As a roleplayer he is rather squarely in my camp but he is gamemastering D&D4 to his old buddies (most of them from Remedy these days, I believe). D&D4 is the high budget realization of the Arcade Roleplaying Method: near-instant set up, player investment is minimal, rules are exceedingly simple and the whole thing is geared up for hack'n'slash adventures without any pretentions of depth. The truth is that as much as we Old skoolers see roleplaying as an ambitious art, players are happy with surprisingly little. D&D4 designers thought "why bother with the rest of it, then" and created what is effectively a boardgame with a narrative. Sam finds it easy to run and his old group loves it, making it easy for a busy single parent like him to enjoy the social aspects of a hobby. He would not play it himself but that is beside the point, isn't it?

Sam is one the few people whose opinions on games really matter to me. Based on discussion I'd say the D&D4 has split the hobby between its new (or very, very old) format and the narrative adventures me and my buddies immersed ourselves in the late 80's and throughout the 90's. Neither approach is going to go away but I fear D&D takes the cake as far as player numbers are concerned. It could be the silent majority of gamers never wanted anything else than what D&D4 is giving them. But I want and the games written and sanctioned by Burger Games have and always will reflect that. I have been playing a lot of World of Warcraft lately (after years of hesitation I took the plunge and yes, it is a superb game) and that's where I get my kicks from for easy hack'n'slash. My roleplaying games, especially Stalker, thrive by focusing on things that videogames can't do.

Still waiting for the Stalker contract to come in the mail. If it is not there by the end of this month I'll have to take it up with the agent again.