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29-Nov-2004: Female Feedback

I got positive feedback from "Most Priced Asset" entry from a female digital media student, who commended the entry and said that she was glad that someone working in the games industry was taking women seriously, both as potential co-workers and customers. As delighted as I am to get this kind of feedback, it is also a sad demonstration of what the attitudes and prejudices in the industry really mean. Instead of the many game companies in Finland coming out and promoting themselves as equal-opportunity employers INCLUDING positions in game development, there is just me. A disgruntled, middle-aged male game designer.

Maybe it is the age. The average age of my co-workers at Sumea Studios is 25 and they persistently claim that they don't know any gaming girls, despite the fact that 40% of all PC gamers are female. That leads me to the conclusion that they don't know any girls to begin with. Having been dejected nerds since their early teens, they have adopted a principle that none of the fairer sex can understand, let alone share their hobbies.

Ok, this is sarcasm, but the attitude problem is very real. I would imagine that in the next few years many talented female applicants will be turned down from jobs in game development just because of gender prejudices, thus driving them away from the industry altogether. The recent rise in female gaming happened despite of (rather than because of) the treatment women have been given in industry focus and marketing. Now that women are playing the same games as men, self-proclaimed experts on why women aren't playing games are still trying to enforce the old prejudices. It is a doomed effort to avoid having to admit that they were wrong from the day one, and also in large part to blame for the slow start electronic gaming has had among women.

As much as I hate recruitment quotas, this is one place where such a quota would be useful.

28-Nov-2004: Here is the cover

This is what you should be looking for in the bookstore:

26-Nov-2004: Old Dog is out there!!!

Old Dog came out of printers yesterday. I got my author's copies today. It will spread into the stores sometime next week, right in time for Christmas. The book is surprisingly thin, with only 160 pages it is about the same thickness as Taiga. I expected it to be bigger, given how much actions and events there are. Either I am misguided and a lot more than I remembered is packed into your average fantasy novel, or my short-story -oriented writing style keeps things moving at a greater pace. Strange, it did not feel like that when I wrote it.

Although Petri isn't at his best with colour images, the water colour cover is OK and I like the strong contrast. Pitting Old Dog against a werewolf on the cover was not perhaps the smartest move. Someone will now think that "Dog" refers to the monster. However, the publisher's decision of putting a dark, dull-red lettering on the front cover does not make any sense. It is hard to read the name from the cover. Other than that, the book is white and conveys a neat, if not exactly top-production-quality impression. Somehow, I get a feeling that there ought to be more of these books. A series, or corpus of Praedor fantasy. Who'll write them, I wonder.

There are people out there who spend their time looking for errors in movies. They will undoubtedly notice some in the illustrations as well. So then Aric has an eyepatch in pictures from before he lost his eye. No biggie. Two illustrations switching places bothers me more, because one of the pictures is a potential spoiler and neither makes any sense regarding the image text. Other than and a couple of typos (or more curiously, typo markings which haven't been edited out of the text), it is all cool.

Curiously, the first story I was so anguished about earlier does not feel bad at all when I read it from the book. In fact, it feels bloody great! I guess the medium really is part of the message. Well, this is it. Alea jacta est. My book is finally out there, like a bullet shot out of a gun. It can't be recalled, edited or censored. Any errors or bad choices of wors are there to stay. I like my work and hope you'll like it too. If there is enough of you, I might even write something more.

23-Nov-2004: Most Priced Asset

Let me describe you a scene that would shock even the most hardened digital games designer: a bunch of single males in their mid-twenties talking about "games that women would play". Nothing wrong with a little mental excercise like that. But unfortunately these guys also make decisions based on age-old misconceptions like "women like games with growing and nurturing themes, not violence or competition". Bullshit. By and large, women like the same games as men do, but because of its tech/nerd background, gaming has been seen as a "male hobby" and it has taken 30 years for it become socially acceptable for girls. And now that they do game, they play the same games as everyone else.

40% or more of Sims players are female said a study I read about on BBC website. But forget about dollhouses. Almost an equal proportion of GTA: Vice City players are women. At present your average girl gamer is older than your average boy gamer, but I expect the difference to smooth itself out in the future. There is no killer application to "awaken the sleeping mass of women" into gaming. They are already awake and playing. You want female customers? Make good games, not gender-specific crap.

I've ranted about this before, but I brought it up again because I like to feel vindicated. I've been talking about gender equality in gaming for months at my workplace and to my delight, the latest issue of Game Developer (a journal published by IGDA, International Games Developer Association) backs me on this in the editorial. So drop your kiddie simulations, garden tycoons and other crap. We've finally got women into gaming and we sure as hell don't want to drive them away again with (covertly) misogynist concepts.

My workplace, Sumea, is looking for a game designer. They are hard to come by and even harder to rate when you view the applications or interview the applicants. I sincerely hope we get a female designer this time because she would have greater authority to tell the those single males to shut up on things they clearly don't know anything about. Hey guys! Try 5+ years of steady relationship before you go around telling people what it is that women really want.

For reasons covered by NDA, I've been really stressed at work lately. Strangely, the one thing that made me relax was even more work. Enter magazine contacted me again and asked for 4-sheet review/tutorial of Mozilla Thunderbird 0.9 for their January issue (I think). It was very different kind of work from what I do in the office hours, but it also allowed me to flex some professional muscles I hadn't used for quite a while. I am a writer. Whether I am a novelist, technical writer or journalist is immaterial. What matters is that they liked what I wrote, so I've still got it. Got what? Skill, professional touch and an occupation to return to should something go wrong. You'll never know.

No news on the book. I've been thinking about calling Jalava, but I pestered them so much during the pre-payment crisis that I really don't want to do it again. Keep your eyes peeled if you go into bookshops. If they want their piece of Christmas action, it should be out right about now.

Some news on Stalker. I did it. Ditched the entire character generation section. I am now rewriting it, inserting it into the setting intro. I am also compressing it, because I expect Stalker clientele to be veteran gamers, not newbies who need everything explained in detail.

18-Nov-2004: Literature and Beverages

It is my pleasure to inform you that any existing classifications of literary genres and writing styles are hereby declared obsolete and should be discarded from both academic and common use. Instead, styles of writing can be defined by the alcoholic beverages they resemble.

Ok, it was a joke. But this is a funny thing that came to mind in a recent party when I was appraising a piece of literary fiction written by a friend. I could not avoid describing her work as "sparkling wine", as it was light, bubbly, cheerful, social and yet not without some bite or edge to it. And although I don't like sparkling wine and social dramacomedies are not my cup of tea, I could tell that her work was good and certainly top of the line for its respective type of drink.

That made me think about other styles of writing and genres of fiction. What of my work, what of Old Dog? After a while, I decided that Old Dog aimed for the Irish Whiskey category with Howard, but fell short and ended somewhere in the class of very dark malt beers, like the kind Old Dog used to serve in his inn (no, there are no news on the book). Moorcock serves his stories with absinth and sugar (it used to be pure absinth like Lovecraft, but Moorcock has mellowed a little as he got older).

Tolkien is mostly Scotch Whisky, but sometimes lapses into the Red Wine category with most of the fantasy produced today. Of course, no two wines are the same. George Martin is very dark red and expensive, while Salvatore has slipped some vodka and cinnamon into his to turn it into glög. Ursula Le Guin is expensive white wine while Frank Herbert comes in cheaper varieties. Arthur C. Clarke is gin and Alexander Dumas the Elder is fine champagne.

My friend in the sparkling wine category shares the shelf with Anja Snellman, although her bottle is a little flat. William Craig, of whom I am a secret admirer, is American Whiskey. Put some ice in it to make it whiskey-on-the-rocks and you have the script for Max Payne 2 by another friend of mine, Sam Lake. Praedor in general is lager with a touch of herbs, it is just my works that are making it darker and malty. Astrid Lindgren is mostly apple juice, but some works get into the more adult varieties, like mead. Tove Janson is all mead on Moomin and sparkling wine on other work.

Well, this was a pretty pointless entry, but at least there is some food... er... drink for thought. Cheers!

17-Nov-2004: End of Elitism

Elitism is a nice thing to have. You know it is not right and might not even be true, but still the secret knowledge that the social group you belong to is above the (perceived) masses gives you a warm feeling inside. It also gives a common point of discussion for you and your friends, namely deriding the "mundanes", however they are defined. Yeah, it is a really nice thing to have. It is also a bitch to lose and I just lost mine. It is now official: roleplaying and to some extent reading degrades imagination and narrows the mind. The average roleplayer is not above the masses but somewhere between mollusks and 5-yeard olds on the intellectual scale. I am so disappointed and embarrassed to be included in the same social framework that spontaneous combustion would be a relief.

It began innocently enough. Everybody knows the Moomin and some people (not including many roleplayers, it seems) even know that it is not a Japanese anime series but a body of brilliant books and cartoons created by Tove Jansson. Like her or hate her, I don't care (and neither does she, being dead and all), but if you don't know who she is, do the world a favor and cut off your head. Well, somebody starts a thread on Moomin at the literature group of majatalo.org. It soon becomes apparent that most people there haven't read the books or even knew that they existed. I can only conclude that they've never gone to school. Then some of them choose to express distaste for topic and thread concerning "children's books", which makes me wonder:

A) How could have they missed an entire thread's worth of debate on the finer points and more adult themes of the books and comics?

B) If they are not interested, why do they read the thread, let alone participate in it, asking for it to be ended? Does our interest in Moomin take something away from them?

Okay, anybody can do the above. But what happened next really made the floor drop from beneath my feet: Someone jokingly suggested a Moomin RPG and I, having often thought about it, commented on the suggestion. That provoked a chorus of protest, with people who claim to have multiple braincells arguing that Moomin or adventures in Moomindale can't be played because "Moomin are too clumsy to be thieves, have too short arms to be fighters, are too dumb to be wizards (despite the fact that the Moomin Mother occasionally works magic in the books and comics) and that even teletubbies would be more believable".

More believable as what?

Christ, these people are supposed to be creative and have vivid imaginations, yet all they could think of was Moomins as a D&D adventuring party!!! What the Hell? Don't they know any other genres of fantasy? Don't they know that Moomins are not the sole inhabitants (and potential characters) of the proposed game? Don't they know any other genres of fiction in general? Where the fuck did they get the notion that Moomins are heroic fantasy? At this time and age, can't they come up with any other content for adventures than battle, wizards or thieving? Since when has Moomindale been part of Forgotten Realms?

An average 5-year-old can come up with a Moomin adventure with more content than that! I actually have the bare bones design for couple of them. Works of Tove would make a great game, refreshingly different from the standard tabletop-RPG fare. More importantly, it would open new doors and bring in new kinds of people into the hobby. And most importantly, it could help cure the tunnel vision many hobbyists seem to suffer from.

I have newfound respect for Arkkikivi.Net and their goal of translating avant-garde roleplaying games into Finnish. Even if you are not interested in such experimental games, looking at them might broaden your horizons and help you understand that there is more to P&P roleplaying than just experience points and damage dice. Really, there is. Like it or not.

15-Nov-2004: News Blues

Early Fall is one of my favourite times of the year. Late Fall is perhaps the least favourite, especially when accompanied with all that is going down right now.

One of my closest friends is leaving for Japan. For all intentions and purposes, he is not coming back. It is a brilliant career move and I am happy for his great opportunity, but also sad to see him go. I am getting older and this event marks yet another end-of-an-age for me. I will miss him and I will miss the times spent with him even more. He leaves a black, cut-out hole into my tapestry of life. It feels like you are not supposed to have friends when you are getting middle-aged. He threw a farewell party for himself and his wife, but I really did not get a chance to talk with him with all the crowd and noise around. And what could I have said? I am not good with touchy-feely crap even without the crowds.

Vaya con dios, amigo. The rest is silence.

Ever since debating the issue of genre-specific game systems supportive with Eero Tuovinen, I've had a writer's block on Stalker. Please don't take it out on Eero. I want to delete and rewrite the entire character creation section, but on the other hand we are talking about 40 pages of completed material. I don't want to lose it. So I've done neither, or nothing else concerning Stalker for that matter. It can be safely said that even if I regain my hold on the project tomorrow, Stalker won't be finished in early 2005. The next logical goal is Ropecon'05, of course. I hope Juhana is having better luck with Joutomaa (and he'd better, since he has a real publisher breathing down his neck).

Speaking of publishers, the last time I heard something of Jalava, they indicated that my book would have gone to printers last week. Whether that is fact or publisher-talk, I don't know, but they ought to be in a hurry to get it out before Christmas. I'll keep you posted, but knowing Jalava, you might find the book in stores long before they bother to tell me it is out. I wish to fate (sometimes believing in gods would be useful) they really named it "Vanha Koira", or I am going to have a fit. Well, at least it looks good.

Since Stalker is blocked, I've been writing Taiga 2.0 instead. I haven't yet decided if it is going to be a commercial release, a free PDF game, or just some shit I am going to post to the web. Or all three. It is very different from the original game, both closer and farther away from your stereotypical post-holocaust setting. I do think it will make a better game, though. Original Taiga was in many respects what I would now call a holocaust game. The setting was still undergoing the process of collapse, instead of struggling to get back on its feet. There were also a whole bunch of elements I wanted to throw into the setting for special effects, but did not really know how to or if they belonged there. As a result, there are some "half-themes" in the game, neither included or excluded, but just hinted at. Well, it took me a decade to figure out what I really wanted with the post-holocaust genre, but I think I've got it now.

In the next entry, I am going to talk about the relationship between genres of fiction and beverages.

10-Nov-2004: Fuzzy Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was a little company of dwarves that made gold clocks. Times were sometimes hard, but their clocks were good, so they slowly grew, befriended many great lords of their kingdom and made good profit. Eventually they were the best in the kingdom. Their leaders often looked beyond the borders of their realm but to expand into the great empire that lay beyond was too big of a step, at least for now.

Then a great lord from the empire came to see the little company and told them that he liked what he saw. "I have a company too", he said. "I will give you gold if you join me and together we can bring your clocks to the empire and grow even richer and greater." Heads of the little company were thrilled by the proposition and flattered for having the attention of such a great lord, and accepted his gift of gold and promises.

When the heads of the small company went to tell the good news to their underlings, on whose skill and labour their fortunes rested, many were impressed. But some of them, scarred by evil memories or cursed with eyes that could see past the glittering gold asked what would become of the clocks they've made and the friends they had. "Have no fear", said the heads of the company. "For the great lord has seen our clocks and told us they were great. We shall make clocks as before and make new friends in addition to those we have."

Thus the little company became a part of the other, a remote extension far removed from the heartlands of the empire. The great lord even kept some of its banners, for he knew that many looked upon them with favourable eyes.

But the great lord broke his promises. He refused to take their old clocks to the empire and turned down plans for new clocks as soon as they were proposed. He had his own designs for clocks, but having built only castles before, they did not work too well and sold only little even in his native empire. Dwarves in the small-company-that-was had made clocks for a long time and saw what was wrong, but the great lord was relentless and one by killed off the designs the small-company-that-was had built its name and wealth on.

When the heads of the small-company-that-was asked him why, the great lord told them that the tastes of the empire differed from those of the kingdom, and being a greater lord and a native of the empire he would always know best, whatever the sales might be. Their friends in the kingdom meant nothing to him and he mocked the clocks the dwarves had made, calling even the best of them "marginal products of local appeal that won't be repeated".

In truth, the great lord had no need of another company, nor its friends or clocks, but of only servants who would do as they were told. He had chosen the small-company-that-was because not just because of their skill, but because the kingdom was poor and the dwarves there would ask only one loaf of bread while in the empire they'd ask two.

Thus the small-company-that-was was no more, and the dwarves working there lost their friends. No more were they asked to speak or dream up clocks that would be the pick of the kingdom, but only to listen and build clocks according to the whims of the great lord. Where they had once worked out of joy, they now worked out of fear and hunger, for the kingdom was poor and without the single loaf of bread they would have nothing. Of all the promises only those of greater future remained, binding them to their workshops like chains. But late at night, after long days by the forge and anvil, they woud lie awake and wonder if the chains really were golden... or only coated with fool's gold.

05-Nov-2004: Final Review

Jalava sent me the book layout version for check-up today. If I OK it, it goes to printers next week. What will happen after that I don't know. Taking another look at the text after a pause of several months was... well, revealing. My personal assessment is that the first story, "Green Moon", is somewhat weak. If I had the time, I would re-write it. Green Moon was written at the request of the publisher and I had to come up with a plot on the spot, and it shows. If I had time, I would work over its text once more. There are some clumsy idioms, cumbersome sentences, repetition and mild symptoms of the "sitten" disease, which I have otherwise managed to avoid.

I hope the readers find it interesting as it introduces one new culture to Jaconia, but I don't blame you if you find it a bit amateurish. Or modern. Or spartan. Fortunately it is only 16 pages long. As for the rest of the book, I am happy with the quality. It has just style and colour I want to get out of my fantasy setting.

Mike Pohjola once asked why I am so keen on criticizing my own book or my talent as a writer when I am supposed to sell myself to the public. Now that I think of it, I believe it is because I don't see readers as customers, but part of a larger "Praedor" community where I am just one of the contributors. Petri, Praedor-comics fans and those playing the roleplaying game all add content to this amorphous thing called "Praedor". I am just exchanging notes with them about the content I've just provided.

31-Oct-2004: Old Dog Rocks!

I went to Helsinki Book Fair just to see Petri. He had told me he had the illustrations for my book with him. I never expected anything but the best from the maestro, but still his little art show with A4-sized ink drawings hit me like a sledgehammer! I have a vivid imagination, but Petri has an even more vivid drawing hand! Old Dog was different from what I had imagined, but he was still so much himself that he really came to life the instant I first looked at him. I would like to write more books about him and the others, just to see more art like that. Outstanding work, even for Petri Hiltunen! I was, and still am, really, really impressed!

Petri told me that some people had asked him whether my story (he has obviously read it so that he can make illustrations for it) is any good. His response was that he is not the right person to judge it because he is just so happy that someone has written a book about his world. Well, our world now, as he explained it to Samson (another important Finnish illustrator and comics artist). I hope he wasn't just being polite. As for myself, I have quietly grown more confident about my story and think that it captures both the setting and the genre I aimed for very well. Together with the kind of art I've seen today it should Rock. With a capital "R".

We discussed briefly the possibility of doing another book, but that is not really up to us. Go ask Jalava about it if you want something to happen. If the issue became current, I would have to make a diffuclt choice between continuing the adventures of Old Dog, or presenting entirely new characters. I've been planning teaming up Old Dog and Ravenclaw with Oran Ortec, a major personality from one of my roleplaying game adventures. On the other hand, an entirely new story and character (countess Ciara Ciral) would better let me explore different aspects of Jaconian culture.

BTW, I have the same problem with my book stories that Petri has with his comics stories: I never seem get around to sending my characters into Borvaria. I just don't find it interesting enough. Why the heck did he name this brand "Praedor" if we never see any praedoring being done?

27-Oct-2004: Thoughts and News

Eero Tuovinen has been making more noise than usual and I think he has brought up some interesting points, whether you agree with him or not. Of course, he shares the rpg-elitist style of presenting personal preferences as absolute truths, but let he who is without sin cast the first stone. I am of course referring to a debate in sfnet.harrastus.pelit.rooli:

Laajemmin: Praedoria ei voi voittaa tässä lajissa niin kauan kuin ei ymmärrä
mikä tekee siitä paremman: pelissä pitää olla selkeä aihe, ja materiaalia
joka tukee sitä aihetta. Praedorin tapauksessa tämä aihe on
sisäänrakennettu, implisiittinen kampanja; hahmot ovat praedoreita, jotka
ovat tietyntyyppisiä seikkailijoita, jotka tekevät sitä tiettyä juttua, joka
on laajasti selitetty kirjassa. Se, että peli tukee myös tätä yleistä
fantasiahaahuilua ei vie siltä pois sitä etua, että sillä on määritelty ja
tuettu tarkoitus.

Thank you very much, that is very nicely said and holds true for Praedor. I don't think that selecting a preferred topic or a goal for a roleplaying game always improves it, but I do admit that now when I consider myself well versed in the "standard" genres, having this kind of handle makes it easier to approach the game. However, I wonder if it really attracts more customers than it repulses (and that is the sole objective way for measuring game quality we have). Most people in these days approach games through the setting, and the games are identified by them. For example, if you are using Praedor rules when playing in Hârn, you are "playing Hârn with Praedor rules". Then again, if you are using Harnmanster to play in Jaconia, most people would refer to it as "playing Praedor with Harnmaster rules". So the game world equals the game itself for most people.

I suspect I'll never do a game without a "handle" anymore. I am getting too old for "the best fantasy/scifi world ever!" games. Besides, messing around with computer and mobile games is clearly affecting my thinking. Stalker is pretty avant-garde, but I keep having this perverse desire to make more rpgs out of computer games. Maybe this is what happened to Nordic. After Astra, he had burned himself out and settled for little stuff like Kalmo from then on. Of course, being a sucker for public attention, it is much more difficult for me to stop. And doing games in Finnish has the advantage of being a the biggest fish in the pond, even if the pond is very small.

Petri called me today to say that the art for my book is completed (hooray) and that he is handing it over to Jalava at Helsingin Kirjamessut on Sunday, but he wants to show them to me first. I guess I am going there, after all. He is also backing my suggestion to have the book titled "Vanha Koira" (Old Dog) despite it being somewhat non-standard name for a fantasy novel. He is even made an inner cover illustration that promotes the name, so it will be very difficult for the publisher to change it. Clever man. He always was.

23b-Oct-2004: Post-holocaust

Just flexing my post-holocaust muscles...

Pandemic spreads at the speed of a jet plane, hitting first the very countries that could have actually done something to step it. Early strains are devastating, killing within 24 hours of the first signs of symptoms. Rescue workers and paramedics die along with the patients. Panic and chaos overwhelms all attempts to maintain order. Civilian governments collapse and military forces take matters into their hands. It is too late to set up quarantine zones. Attempts to establish concentration camps for rounding up refugees fleeing the plague-stricken cities fail. The plague has struck practically every major population centre first and then spreads outward, carried by the very people trying to flee from it, at the speed of a bullet train.

Society is collapsing. Global networks of commerce, communication and politics fall apart. Industry grinds to a halt. Communal technology fails. For a while looters and rioters on the rampage in the half-empty cities, but the plague soon ends that as well. There are rumours of warplanes spreading chemical agents or even dropping tactical nuclear weapons to create kill zones to prevent halt the masses of refugees. There are even darker rumours, of people being burned at stake for their rumoured heresy and sins. Or ritually sacrificed to appease new (or in some cases very old) gods. Some say that the infected are spreading the disease on purpose to have their final revenge on the world. With a global fatality rate of 99% or more it hardly makes a difference.

After three months, the silence is deafening. The world, the big cities, powerful countries, industrial might and organized religions… they are not there. There are no governments. There is nothing for any government to rule over. Wolves prowl the silent motorways. Ships drift ashore, bones of the crew already picked clean by rats and seagulls. Skies are empty, radio frequencies hear only the beeps of automated systems, or an encrypted chatter of indeterminite origin.

That was over half a century ago.

Today, wilderness has reclaimed the land. City streets are choked with weeds, grass and young trees. You have to dig a little to reach asphalt. Steel structures are red with rust, concrete green from moss and algae. One by one the windows and glass panels give out, their frames crumbling or rusting from the bite of three dozen winters. Concrete walls are green with moss and algae, or chipped where water has entered the structure and frozen. Sewers have long been blocked with leaves and debris, creating pools of stagnant water and weeds that will eventually turn to pockets of marshland in the indentations. Wildlife is abundant. Streets-turned meadows and new wetlands are good grazing ground, while buildings, sewers, tunnels and pipes provide plenty of shelter for creatures large and small.

Outside cities you can still see the outline of the old highway network. Raised above the surrounding terrain or surrounded by ditches, the roads are scourged by winds and rain, clearing them from leaves and other debris. Even where the roads have disappeared, there is rarely enough dirt for trees get rooted on and even light traffic disrupts the light vegetation easily. Many tribes or bartertowns also make an effort to keep the primary routes clear. There is one thing they can do little about, though. Freezing and thawing of three dozen winters have caused widening cracks in the blacktop. At worst the surface of the road can give away beneath a vehicle, causing severe damage. Such pits can be filled with gravel but when close to the road’s edge the entire side of the road can fall into the ditch. Eventually even major motorways will become unusable but that is still decades away.

Suburbs and countryside have been swallowed up by wilderness, leaving almost no trace of their existence. Fields have turned into gentle plains, thick with grass, hay, reeds and young trees. Ditches and riverbanks are surrounded by meadows of birch, maple and willow, while pine and spruce are creeping in from the forest edge. Sometimes the old drainage channels have become clogged and fields are flooded, turning them back into the lakes and marshes they once were. Houses have all but disappeared into the woods. They are still there, abandoned and eerie, sometimes partially stripped down by those seeking construction materials for tribal villages. They are shunned by most for the fear of the Plague but sometimes used as temporary shelters by travellers, or as hideouts by gangs or scavvies. Less sturdy than city structures and vulnerable to forest fires, they are often in a very bad shape due to rot and mould.

Old factories, power plants, harbours and other structures still stand tall above the treetops like pyramids and temples of some long-lost civilisation. Leaking and rusty, they are often in poor condition and machinery is beyond repair, but it will still take centuries or even millennia for their walls and chimneys to fall. Level roofs are now covered by grass. Weeds have sprung up from, every conceivable crack in the walls and concrete, but sometimes toxic chemicals leaking from rusty pipes and containers have turned industrial zones into utterly lifeless wastelands or even poisoned entire rivers. In contrast, deep underground structures, like mines, subway tunnels and even some underpasses are mostly intact, but slowly filling up with groundwater. Flooding often blocks movement from one part of the tunnel network to another. Still, underground spaces spared from flooding are often just like before, if a little dusty.

Industrial zones are avoided for the fear of pollutants, but not to the extent that old population centres are. They rarely hold remains which would carry the original strains of the plague. But only scavvies dare to venture into old tunnels.

23-Oct-2004: Turbulence

I rarely go over personal issues here, but these are turbulent times. Social groups are beaking up and forming within my circle of friends and acquaintaces. Many are angry or hurt for being excluded from the new groups, while those included and taking part of the decision process are hurt for being labeled unfair, tyrannical, treacherous or worse, not for their decisions on including or excluding people, but for the very mechanism used to resolve the issue. Fortunately the furor appears to be ending. I have a four-point flaw that says "total incomprehension of social dynamics and distraught friends" and have been watching all this like I was standing behind a soundproof glass. Seeing everything. Understanding nothing.

For the record, I have been included the new social group in question and invited there by a friend. I am not in the habit of turning down invitations from my friends and the decision is not intended to imply a stand on the issue (there must be one, although I don't get it) one way or the other. I would also love to be able to say to any potential critics that I do not care what they think about me joining the group, but that would be a lie. There are quite a few people I care about and that includes their thoughts about me. An acquaintance with whom I've had a somewhat turbulent relationship in the past (and hopefully an improved relationship in the present) wrote to her blog:

Individualism is all fine and dandy, and so is intellect, but we are creatures of emotion as well - inevitably - and trying to leave that out of the equation is just ridiculous.

I could not agree more with this particular sentence. I exist, therefore I have social obligations... no, needs, concerning those I co-exist with. I don't care if being condemned for joining this new social group is justified or not. I just want to retain my circle of friends in and outside the new group and will be doing my best to rebuild bridges, sooth hot tempers, being apologetic and so forth. Perhaps I will eventually lose friends over all this, but I am not going to give up on any of them without a fight. To my friends and acquaintaces: You want to get rid of me? Get some pepper spray and a restraining order. I just like you too much. <victim mode>After all: it is all your fault: if you weren't so bloody wonderful people I would not need go through all this.</victim mode>

Gods, I am such a wuss!

Ok, enough with the touchy-feely stuff. In the previous entry I promised some Stalker art for you to see and now I am going to deliver. Here are some pics from Tuomo Veijanen:

20-Oct-2004: Miscellaneous

Previous entry about the state of the industry did result in some feedback about the growing importance of indie games (which is probably true and as such a good thing) and a piece of information stating that Holistic Games (Fading Suns, remember?) has announced its secession from the D20 camp because the D20 label has become a hindrance to sales. It is the quality thing I was talking about. Another interesting result was that Eero Tuovinen (the guy behind Arkkivi and the present lead editor of Alterations) emailed to me to say something about Indie games. Not only could he explain his points clearly this time, but I also agreed with them. That is a definite first.

Speaking of indie games, Arkkivi focuses on translating pretty strange stuff that certainly has a lot of innovation and artistic value, but in my opinion do not really appeal to the masses. Kätyrin osa, whatever that is in English, is a perfect example. Some people apparently get a better kick out of it than they would from cocaine, but that is a very narrow customer segment. If indies are to become a major factor, they will have to take on wide-spectrum games and genres, feeding the masses with what the masses want, while retaining enough innovation and edge to separate themselves from the old games and take the hobby forward, even if in small steps.

There is a great need for games that even novices would find easy to approach. And guess what? I don't think I am ever going to write those. But if the industry wants to survive, someone must eventually do it. And instead of attracting fantasy and science fiction reader geeks to gaming, the new optimum target group are computer and console gamers. The mental gap between MMORPGs and real RPG's isn't that big (I can already hear a storm of protest). I would like to see more bridges built between them, and heck, Kalle Marjola's Neo-Troops could be used to run anything from Counterstrike to Halo cooperative multiplayer roleplaying scenarios. It is just the old intellectual snobs like me (and Turku School, and virtually everybody else who is making a lot of noise in the scene) who want to stick with difficult concepts and genres that actually require the player to do some reading.

Indies pack a punch, more so in real RPGs than in electronic gaming. This is because of the lower production costs. If you have a good idea, some skill and a reasonable amount of cash, producing a print run of books is not too difficult. I have a few of the more recent such games on my bookshelf: A/State, Fates Worse Than Death and Haven: City of Violence. A/State combines cyberpunk themes with a very, very post-modern setting that borders on the apocalyptic. On top that, the hardcover(!) book looks really good, although the digital paintings the illustrations were taken from are even better. Check it out! Fates Worse Than Death is another stab at Cyberpunk genre and already reviewed on this blog. It features a post-modern tribal society occupying the future Manhattan, left outside the mainstream urban society because of unrest and civil wars. Loads of content and a good handful of good ideas there.

Haven... well, the mood of the game is good for an adventure along the lines of Sin City comics (by Frank Miller. If you don't know what I am talking about, run to the nearest quality comics store and find out). It is just that the game system commits a seppuku already in the character creation section and is already dead by the time we get to the combat mechanics.

In the next entry we are going to have an art show. Tuomo Veijanen has drawn me a bundle of Stalker art on the condition that "if the game makes profit, I want something". While not the full-page pictures I was planning to have as the core of the graphical outlook, Tuomo's pics are very good and I want to share some of the best with you. And Tuomo, don't worry! Even if Stalker does not make any profit (or comes out in 2010 and everybody who has been asking for it has already died or converted to scientology), you are going to get something. A free artist's copy, if nothing else.

Speaking of art (and forgetting the indies), the mobile fantasy adventure games I've been working on in my dayjob at Sumea are about to be released in Germany. Airgamer.de has published some pretty cool pictures about them. Fantasy Warrior 2: Good & Evil are the latest game releases "written by Ville Vuorela", so if you like my stuff, this is your chance to get hold of it!


17-Oct-2004: What's Happening?

In the RPG industry? Absolutely nothing. And small wonder, there is hardly anybody active anymore. The international RPG publishing scene consists of WOTC/D20 camp (which is of the best examples how you can bury yourself alive in dung), Steve Jackson Games (whose "new releases" page makes me want to cry) and White "We-Want-You-to-Buy-All-Our-Games-For-The-Second-Time" Wolf Publishing.

The good thing about the D20 industry is that when you have such an output volume, not everything is crap. I've heard good things about some items being real gems, like D20 Conan. The bad thing is that overall, a high output volume combined with very low production value and bad ideas results in an overall increase of crap in the industry. This heap of crap is eating away the customer base for the D20 gems out there. It is also hurting the industry, since newcomers to the hobby have to dish out 50+ $ for rulebook for their favourite license, only to find that is most likely quickly made trash written by people with neither vision nor talent to create a game system that fits the setting or genre.

Or, if by some chance the book they bought turns out OK, there is a high probability it can't be played without the D&D3.5 set of three books, which adds about 100$ to the price tag. Either the publishers have gone totally bananas, or they have concluded that since the US fan base is aging, the average gamer has a thick wallet and would not think twice about 150$ price tag. Right or wrong, by planning their pricing accordingly, they are doing their utmost to make sure that there are very few new gamers indeed.

As for Steve Jackson Games, I can only wonder if they have reached some kind of saturation point for GURPS. They have supplements about everything, so it is no wonder that coming up with new topics is difficult. I have previously noted with some satisfaction that they are shifting from universal genre sourcebooks to product lines, so instead of having GURPS: *Everything* they have GURPS: Traveller and GURPS: Transhuman Space, which have their own lines of setting-specific supplements.

This is a welcome move away from the universal game system ideology which I so deeply detest. But right now all the RPG stuff they are planning for the last quarter of this year and January 2005 seem to be new editions of the existing core rulebooks. For someone like me who likes the supplements but dislikes their core rules, their new releases section is bad enough to bring tears to my eyes.

White Wolf is re-writing the World of Darkness and since I am neither a fan nor an expert on it I can't tell if it is a good or a bad thing. My personal experiences from White Wolf games are negative to the extreme, but on the other hand I do find the concept fascinating. Maybe I should try running WoD sometimes, to see for myself what it is that draws people to it. From the industry perspective they are doing a cash-in with the new editions on all their rulebooks, while starting another metaplot cycle for the whole of WoD.

*Sheep mode*

Such blatant profit-mongering is BAAAAAAAD!

*/sheep mode*

The sad fact is no one else is doing anything. In fact, there does not seem to be anyone "else" around anymore!

I have one bright piece of news, though:

Mike Pondsmith is back in P&P RPG business so hopefully Talsorian Games will pick up again. Their plans for Cyberpunk v3 (which Pondsmith discussed with me at Ropecon *some year*, or more precisely when we left Dipoli and went to have dinner at Grill Toro) and the whole "cyberpunk is dead" ideology behind it make me cringe, but I am still going to buy it. I'll even forgive him his involvement in Matrix Online if Talsorian starts to show signs of life.

10-Oct-2004: Mysticism

sf.net.harrastus.pelit.rooli newsgroup has a discussion on the relative merits and flaws on rolling a figure under a value, or adding the skill value to a roll and trying to exceed a treshold figure. Sampo Smolander, who usually knows what he is doing, went as far as to declare the latter system the pinnacle of RPG game system evolution. Well, as the author of the first and foremost Finnish game system using the former type of game mechanics, I obviously disagree, but my distaste about the discussion has more to do with my distaste for roleplaying game theories in general.

Since my thoughts on the subject degenerated into yet another rant against roleplaying theorists, the rest of this entry has been hidden. You have now been officially warned, so if you take the effort to read it and are offended, don't come crying to me. If you have read my blog before, you already know what I think.

Friend of mine recently asked if I really felt that the theory discussion had nothing to give to the roleplaying, using an interesting term: "I-feel-box". My understanding of it his use of the term is, that he felt that academic approach to roleplaying enables the player to step out of the I-feel-box and valuate methods, genres and playstyles objectively. My overall response to that and the game system issue is that everytime the theorists assault some hapless aspect of roleplaying, I get a feeling we are studying some animal by reducing it into its basic elements. This is about as useful as stating that a lion consists of carbon.

I know you live by a book of rules/but anyone who needs a book is fool.

-Motörhead: Lawman

Roleplaying is entertainment. Roleplaying is art. To analyze it, to divide it into schools and theories, to douse it in the poison of fancy-sounding terminology is to deny its very essence: creative expression. I have not yet met an RPG theorist who would not use his theories just to valuate roleplaying methods so that his personal prefences would appear as the most advanced and progressive out there. And this goes for Ropecon guests of honour as well. It probably is possible to present an objective account on the spread and appearances of different playstyles over the years (introduction in to RP theories at last Ropecon was pretty good), but sooner or later the idea of evolution steps in and instead of branching we get a hierarchy. Blech!.

I hate issuing universal truths about anything. There is always someone who can prove you wrong and then someone who can prove him wrong and so forth, but I'll present one for you now: There is nothing outside the "I-feel-box". You can't exit it, just as you can't exit your own mind. Everybody agrees (well, almost everybody) that there can't be an objective definition or valuation of art. Why are they then searching for an objective definition and valuation for roleplaying? Actually, I can think a number of reasons, but none of them are too flattering so we'll leave it at that.

I am an atheist. I am a skeptic. I believe in the power of science and technology. I am a game author whose games aren't exactly rules-light. But I still don't believe there can be a rulebook on reality or even a rulebook on roleplaying in general. Creativity and art are the spirit world of the modern age, where we can still cross the treshold from the world of laws and numbers into the world of dreams and mysticism. Art and creative expression in all their forms are supernatural made reality, miracles that you can see, or hear, or taste, or touch. Sometimes all at once. To understand them is to kill them. Fortunately I don't think you can, but why would you even try?

8-Oct-2004: PEP talk

I have no clue whatsoever as to what PEP is an abbreviation of, but PEP talk means an encouraging commentary or dialogue from your boss intended to raise your morale. I am usually pretty immune to that kind of stuff but last week, in the company Fall party there was an exception that makes the rule. My project boss for the last two game projects at Sumea was blind drunk. He has no recollection of the evening's events, including this one. But as he swayed and stumbled (I am told he never falls), he suddenly grabbed my shoulder, and gave me the best PEP talk session I've ever received. And it worked, lifted my spirits, improved my morale and I am still feeling the effect.

I am not doing the kind of crazy hours that other people in IT industry are so proud of, but I was still pretty fatigued about the two projects, felt that I had been useless for the past month (I am not that good at tweaking and balancing as I would like; in RPG rules it is pure math and thus easier) and that the whole game industry sucked. Then my project boss explained to me how our team was solid gold, how my story designs for the game really rocked and that there basically wasn't anything he would not tackle if he could do it with this team. I have an automatic mental block that is activated if I hear too much praise, but in this case it failed to activate. Seriously drunk, the team boss could not have lied even if he had tried. True or not, I believe he meant every word he said, and he said it all very well for someone who could not stand up straight. The next day he did not remember any of this, or anything at all about the latter half of the evening.

Except for the downs caused by ketosis, I've been riding on the high of his words for the whole week. I wish our world-famous U.S. CEO could do the same. If I had not busted my knee in that same party, it would have been my best company party experience ever.

7-Oct-2004: Hazards of Dieting

In August 2003 my weight was 130 kilograms. In August 2004 my weight was 106 kilograms and at its lowest point in late April it has actually been as low as 98 kilograms. It is now around 107, and being a short guy, I am still very gravitationally challenged. Anyway, losing 23 kilos in a year ain't bad. My leg ailment also healed and I can now walk for miles and miles without any pain. Don't be fooled by that 98 kilos, though. Good part of it was dehydration due to high fever, the real low record of my weight is probably 102 kilos, so I've taken a hit of about 5-6 kilos during the late spring and summer.

How did I do it? Low-carb diet, with lots of protein and some fat. Downsides? Zombie mode! Cravings for sugar will pass, but the truth is that human brain runs on sugar, sugar and nothing but sugar. It can survive with the sugar it produces on its own, but that means cuts in performance. No biggie if you are doing something monotonous (like documenting a hardware application for CRF) and an absolute disaster if you are doing something creative (like writing fiction, a roleplaying game book or game designs for Sumea). I did not think much of it at the time, but when my diet was cut short by high fever and the need to regain fluids fast in April drove me back to standard diet, this is what happened:

  • I wrote 2/3 of my book in just one month

  • I wrote the 35-page intro in Stalker RPG at the same time

  • I started another Praedor campaign

Besides, I had already been cheating a little by having a chocolate bar at work lunches, or else my job as a game designer would have become possible. When the ketosis is happening, your mind feels numb. Like you weren't fully awake all the time. You'll get accustomed to it eventually, but creativity, artsy stuff, coming up with new concepts and descriptions just does not happen. You also don't play as much video games, because you can't focus for very long periods of time. Your mood is low (it picks up after two or three months, but you are still more prone to depression than before). As for roleplaying, forget it. I know a whole bunch of people claiming to have fun and larp while on a paleodiet (eating only pre-mesolithic cuisines) but at least they have berries on the list.

I've been trying to restart my diet since August, and behold! Only ten pages of Stalker have been added and I can't make up my mind on the Edges/Flaws system, which conveniently provides me an excuse not to do anything! If I keep this up, nothing will ever get done, but at least I'll live longer and have a more sexy butt. Yay!

6-Oct-2004: Praedor sold out! (again)

Puolenkuun Pelit just bought every last copy of Praedor I had left of the last print run. It is sold out! Again! As to whether there will be another print run (fifth? sixth?) I can't say yet. It depends on demand; if Fantasiapelit remains convinced that the article would sell, however slowly, there will be one. If not, that was it for Praedor and the franchise continues in comics and a novel, which may someday get a sequel, IF people like my writing style, or find Old Dog as likeable character as I do.

4-Oct-2004: Decisions, Decisions

Problem with running Burger Games as opposed to being a private RPG author (thanks for the prestigious title Mike!) is the need to comment and promote your on-going projects. That was the original purpose and one of the present purposes of this blog. To tell the truth, this blog has become a lot more personal than I intended. Originally it was supposed to have marketing tone and style, without anything negative being ever said of anyone or anything. Boy, did I fail that or what?

I am angry old man, who just happens to have a wider-reaching medium at his disposal than just shouting from the window. This used to be the most read page on the BG website, with over a thousand hits a week, but I haven't checked the statistics for a while. It is also been a while since I've received any comments, good or bad. Maybe I've scared or pissed everyone off by now. Bad for marketing, good for artistic freedom.

A strange event occurred in September. A group of schoolchildren were visiting Sumea and after being given a tour of the company and some presentations on our games, they were asked if they had any questions. For a while there was an eerie silence, familiar to us all from Finnish classrooms. Then one of them asked if he could see me. Well, I showed up and he asked me to sign his copy of Praedor. My coworkers were absolutely stunned. It seems that my fifteen minutes of fame aren't over after all.

No, Stalker is not ready, but two fantasy adventure games designed by me are going to be released soon. Just go to Sumea homepage and look at the "coming soon" banner on top of the page. I am the lead designer of Fantasy Warrior 2: Evil and the story designer for both games. As mobile games go, they are probably the longest and deepest pieces of interactive fiction this side of N-Gage, and I am proud of them. Real proud.

Speaking of Stalker, I am still struggling with those damn Edges and Flaws, and getting really, really tired of the subject. What I am going to do, take five: Instead of separate categories of good and bad stuff, the player gets 10 points he can invest into character specialties, like contacts and such. It is mostly good stuff, but every specialty has its drawback, the stronger the more points have been invested into it. For example, if you have powerful friends, you are also likely to have powerful enemies, because your friends already have enemies of their own.

Now it is time for a little guessing game: What is my favourite non-fantasy genre? What... how did you know? Well, I have to see how Juhana's Joutomaa turns out first... oh well, what the hell. Nobody plays that genre anyway, so who gives a damn what I do. In the meantime, when I have been stuck with Stalker, I've been making plans for a netrunner-specific 1-on-1 cyberpunk RPG. Of course, I have dozens of these unfinished minigames on my hard drive. I start out small and make good progress, until the setting suddenly explodes out of all proportion. Then they cease to be small side projects and take too much time and effort from the main projects, so they have to shelved. I am especially sad about the fate of INFRA, but no, mapping out an entire planet and its colonies, with or without terraforming, does not fall into the "small project" category anymore.

2-Oct-2004: One-on-one roleplaying

I began playing roleplaying games with just one friend and for the first few years it was just us two all the time: one player, one gamemaster. First we played a pen-and-paper version of Temple of Apshai and then began incorporating elements from Dungeons and Dragons. Then came Cthulhu, Stormbringer (Games Workshop edition) and Rolemaster. There was no adventuring party: usually the character travelled alone or with just one NPC friend (effectively a player character for the gamemaster), which of course had detrimental effect on in-group roleplaying.

On the other hand, the gamemaster had unlimited bandwith and issues like rules complexity did not really matter. The game setting around the player felt complete, extremely complete. Wherever you went, wherever you looked. This sense of "otherwhere", that the fantastic setting has a life of its own all around the characters, has always been my goal as a gamemaster. Players may or may not enjoy the adventure as such, but if the otherwhere is not there, from my standpoint the session has failed.

Young as we were, our early games were mostly about describing fantastic visions or events rather than gaming. But after those first stumbling steps, we actually took one-on-one gaming pretty far. We did not know at the time, but it was a valuable intensive course on the more advanced gamemastering techniques.When I began to play with groups as a teenager, I was already way ahead of them in the way I described settings, built dramatic tension, devised plots and handled major NPCs.

The unfortunate side effect was that I was disappointed at the player experience. Not having had an adventuring party around me before, I was not really interested in the other characters or the social dynamics of the group. I tried for years, but it just did not work out. Instead, I wanted to explore the settings, to see it myself, to send my mind and soul there and smell the flowers, peer around corners and trying to soak up the local atmosphere. I wanted to live there, like I did in one-on-one games. Since gamemasters in a group game have to divide their mental and expressive bandwith between three to six players, they could not possibly meet my expectations regarding the Otherwhere. Some people apparently find group dynamics and interaction more interesting than the setting or story, but my characters, in RPGs and MMORPGs, are always loners.

Group play is the established format of table-top roleplaying. All roleplaying games out there assume there are multiple players and that the characters form a group, so that there can be both individual and collective interaction with the setting. And me, well, I am the Gamemaster. That way I can still send my soul into the Otherwhere, even if I always can't convey the sense of it to the players. Besides, altering the setting on the fly, or handling the full cause and effect of character actions on an adventure design are creative challenges I really thrive in. Brains can have orgasms too.

Now that Burger Games board of directors is still debating the design philosophy of Stalker, my mind has begun to wander on things I could do in the meantime. One train of thought is that since there aren't any one-on-one games on the market, maybe I should make one. Of course, any of the existing games can be played with just one character, but is there anything that a one-on-one game can do and a group game can't? At least not very well?

Oh yes.

Agents: James Bond is about James Bond, without persistent sidekicks.

Epics: You really want to push boundaries of any given genre? Hercules went to Hades alone, Han Solo is the only Star Wars character with any charisma and Arhurian knights don't take group quests and Slaine is not really at the same level as his dwarf.

Cyberspace: Remember in CP2020 when the rest of the group started yawning when the netrunner hooked into the 'net, effectively splitting up the party? Well, what if the party isn't there? What if the other characters are just NPC bodyguards and thugs guarding the player-hacker during the run? Sort of Cyberpunk/Ars Magica conversion. I actually have been thinking about a MMOG set in Gibsonian cyberpsace, but with this idea I think the concept could work in a roleplaying game as well. But only if its one-on-one.

24-Sep-2004: Cultural Statement

I just saw Petri Hiltunen's latest movie "Warlord of Saturn" (Saturnuksen Sotavaltias), a tribute to the Finnish science fiction stories of the 50'ies. It was every bit as horrible as the Hollywood B-scifi movies of the day, and that was exactly what the film crew had intended. We, the audience, almost choked with laughter. The movie is somewhere between comedy and parody, and definitely one of the funniest I've ever seen. You can soon get it on DVD from Pieni Leffakauppa and I have a sneaking suspicion that the price tag is not going to be too heavy. Also don't forget to check out Petri's earlier movie, the western "Prince of the Rockies" (Kalliovuorten prinssi). Camp rules!

Our monthly award for the most idiotic statement goes to Alterations 3/2004. There was an article about Ropecon-04 where the writer (name censored, go find the magazine if you want to know) criticized the programme, laying the blame on the Ropecon institution. If you want to know what I think about that, look here. After pushing his head firmly between his buttocks with the asinine article, the writer then decided that he can do better than all the thinkers and philosophers of the past 3000 years and declared: "[For roleplaying to be art]There must be content that is only revealed during the play, a message."

So, either he is especially bad at expressing himself, or he is suggesting that "stuff X cannot be art if it does not convey a message or an agenda as part of the process of experiencing it". Well, thanks for clearing that one out, Writer. It was a tough race between you and the person at majatalo.org literature thread who said "Humour cannot be art". Now that was pretty stupid, but Writer really wiped the floor with his combination of getting the article into a respectable publication, completely misunderstanding the point of conventions and finally pinning down the definition of art. It has eluded Humanity for as long as there has been culture, but don't you worry. Writer has ended the debate. That concludes our September contest and no new submissions are accepted until the next month.

23-Sep-2004: I, Wapitee

I usually don't talk about deeply personal stuff here, but after just seeing Riot On! I just felt I need to say something. Let it out. Those of you who know my personal history also know that I was first recruited into ICT business by Wapit in late summer 2000 and that I remained there until the bitter end as a technical writer. Those who don't know probably don't give a shit, but either bear with me or go read something else. Mato Valtonen has already described the rise and fall of Wapit in his book "Noh, sano naakka kun nokka katkes", which has also been translated into English (by what name I cannot even begin to imagine). I don't want to refute anything he said, but you must understand that his viewpoint is from the top where you can see far. My viewpoint is from the bottom but what I could see, I saw at point blank range.

Wapit was no Riot Entertainment. We had wild parties, but nowhere near that wild, and we did not make sex films, although I would not be surprised if some workplace loving took place. We weren't a content provider, but a software development house making tools for delivering content. I was especially fond of a program called Information Broker which enabled you to insert different kinds of information templates into WAP. I built a mobile cocktail recipe service with it, just for fun. Workplace atmosphere was the best I've ever experienced and relations between the management and employees were close and informal. I've never witnessed such honesty and openness in keeping the employees up to speed on current events, good or bad. First and foremost it was a team effort, and because of the atmosphere, many of us (70+ people) stuck to it to the bitter end, trying to defend that unique community.

I was happy at Wapit. I liked the people there, I believed in the company aims and products, I was happy with my salary and the workplace location was the best ever (at the corner of Simonkenttä and Annankatu). I wanted it all to continue and was willing to make sacrifices for it, like delaying my salaries when the company began run out of cash. Mato refers to "someone" suggesting it in a company-wide crisis meeting. It was me. Out of little over a hundred employees, over 70 staid on and then helped to clean out the office when it was All Over.

So, all flowers and sunshine? Yeah, right. Best workplace ever, but nothing was perfect. There was disaster in the air long before anybody said anything. I did a quick survey of the staff list at some point and found that we had two managers for ever lower-level employee. Hiring was frantic and misfired from time to time, especially when not hiring programmers. There was to be a team of technical writers, first me, then four more as part of a larger department. Then somebody had the bright idea of forming a specific department just for technical writing, so we were all transferred and given a boss. Two weeks later the boss was snatched away and one of the tech writers was assigned to the role. I will call her Miss M.

Up till now I had overseen the final check-ups on our marketing materials, but they soon got themselves a "professional", who could not tell the difference between RGB and CMYK colour spectrums. We produced a series of poorly written and graphically fucked-up brochures on a schedule that did not allow corrective prints to be made before major events. Neither prospective investors or customers showed up and I can't blame them. Then Miss M. decided that she was too valuable for ordinary technical documentation and assigned all her workload to another female tech writer (who had some workload of her own), on the grounds that she needed to create a company-wide documentation template for word. That takes me about a day but she did nothing else for the next two months, until she produced a completely non-functional template that even she herself could not make to work. She resigned under dubious circumstances and the tech writing department was dispersed, with each of us assigned to a different product. I was put into Information Broker team.

By this time the fortunes of the company had already taken a turn for the worse. The free cola had been cancelled and further expansion and recruiting halted. There were no lay-offs, but some rats already escaped the sinking ship. After the first meeting where we were informed of the dire circumstances, we somehow summoned a lot of fighting spirit and went to a lunch afterwards. Then, upon returning to the office, we got the word that details of the meeting had been submitted to a tech-industry news service, probably by a dishonest (or thoughtless) employee. It was like a punch to the guts. The point of our fighting spirit was trust, a sense of community. This was a major blow to it.

After being assigned to Information Broker team I learned the noble art of twiddling my thumbs. The preliminary documentation of the existing product was easily done (granted, I am a machine when it comes to writing) and further changes even more easily updated to it. I did the cocktail recipe WAP application with the product and it was actually adopted as a demo application by the marketing. Other than that, the company had a drastic overcapacity of technical documentation bandwith. One by one the other writers fled, until I was, again, the only tech writer in the company and determined to stay on until the end.

The end was a bitter struggle to save at least parts of the company by selling them to a third party. It was watched with great interest by factions like Nokia. In fact, my uncle who has big boots and an even bigger wallet at an unnamed Finnish mobile phone manufacturing company kept calling my dad to ask "how I was doing", probably hoping to catch some info on the state of Wapit. Actually we thought we had made it, when the lawyers of the prospective buyer pulled the plug. That's it. Over and done with. I've seen some pretty big business gurus from ABB to Electronic Arts, but I've never seen them in tears before or since. Well, we were informed of the failure of sales talks, first informally and then formally in a company-wide staff meeting. It took a month before the doors closed. We played ball games in the corridors and helped to carry furniture and equipment to where they could be evaluated and sold to prospective buyers. Then, around midday on a sunny day in June 2001 me and my girlfriend left Wapit for good.

Of course, no story ends that easily, but it is tale for another time.

22-Sep-2004: Jysäys and Praedor

There is a new Praedor comic around. Jysäys is a comics magazine by (contrary to what I said earlier) Isihei Oy that focuses on European comics scene. In every issue there are four full-colour pages of a whole new Praedor comic. I don't know much more about it (and what little I know I can't tell you)., but you can get the magazine from any well-stocked department store. My local S-market had it, so it can't be very rare.

By the way, my prepayment from the Praedor novel was exactly three months late on 20th of September. Yesterday the publisher informed me that they could not pay it because they had lost (yes, lost!) my tax card, which I had personally delivered to the office three weeks earlier. Read my lips: I am pissed! It is good that Jysäys is published by Arktinen Banaani. I don't know if they do books, but if I ever write another Praedor novel, I am going to offer it to them first.

And no, I don't give a damn if my present publisher (Jalava, in case you had a lobotomy since last week) reads this itty bitty piece of criticism. If the sum was any greater I would sue the clowns for breaking the publishing contract. But I am such a nice guy...

20-Sep-2004: Burning the Midnight Oil

My games have been using a point-value-based Edges & Flaws system at least since Taiga, maybe even in Miekkamies (can't remember right now). Since I am not a fan of completely point-based systems, I have had separate mechanisms where attributes are rolled and Edges and Flaws are then selected from a separate point pool. It works well in fictional settings because it makes incorporating fantastic abilities and fiction cliches into the characters easier. But I have a problem with it in STALKER.

What are modern people like? What extraordinary abilities they have? Where are the enemies lusting after our blood? To me, modern world is not just a setting, it is also a genre. Being a non-theorist, I usually have had just two guidelines to my game designs: consumer preferences and gut feeling. Sometimes they conflict, and greedy as I am, I must confess that gut feeling wins every time. Game writing is a creative endeavour and there is only so much even I can do against the "will of my soul" (bloody poetic).

What this boils down to is that I am going tear open the already finished character generation system of STALKER, implement something new in place of Edges & Flaws, and take it further and further away from Praedor. I will probably play tricks the with the character's age. Years of adulthood become a resource pool you can invest into perks, which have their corresponding ups and downs (instead of having clear-cut "good stuff" and "bad stuff" like Edges & Flaws). It is easier said than done, but it is my goal.

Contemporary RPG gurus look down on gamism, but I will break the taboo and confess that one of the coolest things in Cyberpunk 2020 were the annual event rolls. No balancing, no choices, no conforming to a pre-written character history or any other artistic crap. Just you with the dice, trying to luck it out. These completely random events could make or break a character, or at the very least put one member of the party at a staggering disadvantage. Furthermore, extinct romantic relationships had no effect in the game, but what teenage boy does not dream of sex with ultra-cool babes? At least the character had gotten lucky, even if we had not. Back then I always played 25 years old characters if I could. He was young enough not to be a walking dead but old enough to know something about life. Or so I thought.

Now, at 30, I feel like a walking dead and still don't know anything. But don't worry; there won't be annual event rolls in STALKER. I just wish there were...

17-Sep-2004: Stay. The Hell. Away.

Every fall I get to read some pretty idiotic stuff about my favourite summer event: Ropecon. This fall, I've read things like "Ropecon is a bad event because there is nothing in the programme that would interest ME", and "Ropecon is bad because it has been overtaken by children with pixie ears and poorly made cloaks", or "Ropecon is bad because the larpers terrorize everybody else" and so on. What I ought to say is that these people are a few braincells short of a pair, but let's analyze these claims for the sake of argument.

"Ropecon is bad because there is nothing in the programme that would interest ME" is a stupid thing to say, not only because it makes the speaker appear a self-centred moron (to avoid this, drop the "Ropecon is bad because" -part from the comment and you have a valid observation), but because it implies that the speaker has no clue as to what a convention is. I've seen it often. People come to Ropecon like it was a rock festival. But in a festival the organizers arrange entertainment for the visitors. In a convention, the line between organisers and visitors becomes blurred. It is an event to those who want to do or give something to the community, and those interested in what they have to offer. The staff does not arrange the events, but is there to provide the event organisers with means and space to do their thing. It is scene meeting, not a party.

If there is nothing in the programme that would interest you and you don't want to arrange an event yourself, stay the hell away. It is not the organisers' fault if YOU don't know what to do with your time.

"Ropecon is bad because it has been overtaken by children with pixie ears and poorly made cloaks" is what you typically hear from people who've never been there. Frankly, if you find a few people dressing up in home-made fantasy costumes offensive, both you and Ropecon are better off if you don't come. Come to think of it, it is probably best if you stay away from public events altogether. The idea behind a hobby convention is that people make up their own fun and programme. One aspect of fun is bonding, creating a sense of community or tribe through similar interests, often expressed with physical signals that enable tribe members to locate and identify one another. These people then sit down to play an RPG session, listen to a presentation, play some cards or try their hand at miniature wargames. How the hell are they "overtaking" anything? The only ones bothered about it are a few whiners who always "heard it from a friend" or something. Come see for yourself or shut up. In fact, just plain "shut up" will do.

"Ropecon is bad because larpers terrorize everyone else". Well, I am no larper and have very little patience with larper elitists, but come on! They do their stuff, look cool in their well-made costumes, are willing to put tremendous effort in their presentations, workshops and games, all held in a specifically assigned part of Dipoli. Apart from a certain idiotic incident this Summer, they have behaved. What exactly constitutes terrorizing? The only time I've been disturbed by them was during hippilarppi last year, when five participants danced around Dipoli proclaiming their love towards the universe and giving people hugs at random. The entire disturbance lasted for about a minute and I was hugged by a cute hippie girl. Boy, am I terrorized!

Ropecon is a great thing. It is a great event, a great institution and a great bunch of people, regardless of whatever conflicts of personality or ideology they have, with me or each other. Theory is nothing, practice is everything. I have always had tremendous respect for people who get things done. These people do. and it is these people, both staff and event organisers, who make it happen. They are there because they feel they have something to give to the scene, and to ensure that they or others have the opportunity to give it. If you are not interested in what they have to offer, come offer something better yourself or stay the hell away. I am sick of your whining!

13-Sep-2004: Old Skool

I am sometimes called old-fashioned, relic or a throwback for my views regarding gaming, and it is true. I created my playstyle with just one gamemaster and one player, and regarded roleplaying as an interactive form of storytelling, with similarities to the form of storytelling I was most familiar with: literature.

Of course, nobody plays roleplaying games for 19 years without many changes; age alone will take care of that. And unless you are totally braindead after all that Coke and heavy metal music, you are bound to pick up new influences and tricks along the way. Still, although I have tried different method and styles, I've always returned to my original, literature-influenced storytelling style, the "Old Skool". Fortunately I have always been able to find like-minded players and even after 19 years Old Skool Roleplaying is still going strong!

Here is what you need for a proper Old Skool session:

Gaming can get exhausting, so it is best to kick off with a healthy meal. If you are the gamemaster, don't forget your rulebook (the one with most street-cred), dice and skulls.

Any gamemaster has the soul of a poet. He must be in the right mood...

...while players often have the right attitude to begin with!.

And what would a fantasy adventure be without damsels in distress and fair maidens to be rescued from the clutches of dragons...

12-Sep-2004: Playtesting results

I am back from my cruise to Stockholm and playtesting Stalker rules. Operation: Half-Life is much more action-oriented than Stalker, so the focus of the playtesting was character creation and combat system. We made the following observations:

1. Dividing skills into common and non-common is a good idea, but my definition of common skills is counter-intuitive to most players. There ought to be more non-common skills, but the cost of learning them in skill points should also be reduced.

2. Weapon damages are basically okay, although they could use more variance. They are also quite deadly (targets get incapacitated easily, even if dying from a single shot takes a little effort). Drama rules, like that only damage rolls against enemies are open-ended, might be needed.

It all depends on the mood gamemaster wants to have. If Stalkers are considered heroes and physical combat plays an important part in the game, making it less deadly for them serves a purpose. In my games it won't, but not all are that thrilled about the train ride scene in the movie "Stalker".

3. There is only so much you can do about getting shot. Praedor combat rests heavily on skill vs. skill comparisons, but that does not really cut it in a firefight. Modern world is firefight-intensive and usually who goes first, wins. Rolled initiative is a must, as opposed to fixed initiative I've been using now. It is a dramatic effect and I will implement the system used in Taiga, where better initiative rolls yield more actions per round. That means increasing round length to 10 seconds and dropping weapon-specific intitiative modifiers, which personally bugs me. It is one more roll. I am dropping the defensive roll against being shot at. That should keep it reasonably fast.

4. Burst fire is not working as I hoped. The original system was that burst is resolved like a single shot, except you can re-roll one of the dice (as it is easier to hit with a burst) and you score degree x 1 hits on the enemy (typically 1-2 hits out of the five rounds fired). I don't know what I am going to do with it, but I have to do something.

Curiously, a firefight/weapon realism-heavy game called Millennium's End declares boldly that it leaves the effects of automatic fire for the gamemaster to resolve. Just like that. Either you fire a single shot, or the gamemaster tells you what will happen. Curious gap in an otherwise rules-heavy game.

08-Sep-2004: Little bit of STALKER

STALKER playtesting begins officially this Friday, when me and some friends go on a cruise to Stockholm and use Stalker rules to play Operation: Half-Life on both nights we are at sea (no, the drunks staggering along ship corridors do not bother us at all: quite the opposite, actually, since they are much like headcrab zombies). This is the first time the system of STALKER has actually been tested in play and the focus is obviously on character generation, action scenes and combat resolution. I'll let you know how it went.

Since it has been a while I have provided any new Stalker material, here is a gift to blog readers: STALKER character sheet. For some reason my PDF writer has begun to make very large PDFs. This is quite confusing since the whole of Praedor fit into 900kb and now the character sheet alone takes 505 kb. Sorry about that. I'll have to re-check the settings.

06-Sep-2004: UNSF: Where is the Setting?

UNSF (no, I wasn't kicked in the balls) stands for United Nations Space Force and has been dealt with in this blog before. The game is now in its third version and can be downloaded from here:


You need a PDF reader to get it. And apart from incredibly stupid Finglisms (mixing English and Finnish in words and content), I am really starting to like the game. It deals with the adventures of an elite military force in 2280 and reminds me of a mixture of 2300AD, Cyberpunk and Aliens. Three good things combining into one awesome. The author has been blessed with contacts to good illustrators and since he does not have to worry about printing costs, some of the stuff is fully coloured. I could well use this game myself (although professional pride will not let me) and the art alone is worth taking a look at it, if you have any interest in science fiction.

I have two beefs with the 103-page rulebook, one minor and one major:

1. My minor complaint is that if you are using justified alignment in your text columns, use hyphenation. Otherwise it will look like sh... well, the way it looks right now. It is also irritating read and really whispers "low quality" to a first-time reader. Little proofreading would not hurt either.

2. My major complaint is the setting, or more precisely, lack of. I recommend that you guys don't write a single piece more about technology, weapons or spacecraft, but focus on setting. Setting, setting, setting, nothing but setting.

People like me have no problem with adding a lot of detail by ourselves, or integrating Hegemony with some other suitable scifi environment, but you don't make freely downloadable action games for grizzled old veterans. This is a game to be played at Ropecon, surrounded by coke bottles and popcorn bags. Boys (and girls, hopefully, although none are mentioned), if you ever get your stuff together and do to the setting what you have done to art and technology in this game, you have a winner. A big winner that will draw even old geezers like me from our lairs to go on "another bughunt". Hey, we have been drooling watching Aliens for 18 years now.

05-Sep-2004: Oops! I did yet again!

For the fifth thousandth time (because someone was stupid enough to ask about it): I don't have anything against (or for) the academic study of roleplaying games and even game theories would be acceptable if the game theorists did not get up to my nose so easily. The reason for this is that a high (or more likely just vocal) proportion of them uses game theory rhetoric to promote their personal style of gaming by labeling it as "progressive, advanced or mature", at the qualitative expense of other styles. I am opposed to that and it colours my view of the whole bunch. Perhaps unfairly, but it does. Period.

As to whether the academic study of roleplaying and/or formulation of game theories is really useful to anyone (another question presented to me earlier by an old acquintance on a bad day) I am prepared to leave the issue unresolved. It has not been useful to me and it will take some convincing before I look at them again. I feel that they are going in circles (presentation in Ropecon did not bring anything new compared to similar events in the nineties) and upon expressing this I've been told that I just don't understand anything about game theories (having studied them for a better part of the last decade) or roleplaying in general (I guess it is normal for people to do something for 19 years and write four books about it without really knowing anything). Maybe the theorists will eventually come up with something useful but in the meantime I am going to trust my gut instinct as to what will or won't work. And maybe roleplaying as a cultural phenomenon ought not to be studied by roleplayers, but by outside observers unbiased towards any genre or method.

Oops, I did it again, talked about game theories here. Neither I nor the game theorists need these disputes, so the next time somebody asks me a question about this topic and provokes me into saying anything about it, I am just going to kill him (hint: using the word "roleplaying games" exclusively about live roleplaying games in my presence is a good way to depart from this world). I have an Indian saber from about 1780 with still enough edge to do the job.

In other news, in my opinion the most ingenious game designer/writer in Finland is Kalle Marjola. Why? Because of all the game/RPG designers in Finland he has the best eye for designing simple, balanced and functional mechanisms, and because of the whole bunch he is the only one without any other agenda than providing maximum entertainment for the game audience. No force-feeding of genres, ideas, methods or values. And trust me, he is the only one who can do it like that. Besides, he has a much wider repertoire: board games, digital games, card games etc. and he really gets stuff done. Maybe Burger Games ought to license his products and start publishing commercial versions of them.

Obviously the next question is what agendas me and my other colleagues have. Well, from what I've seen and heard, it goes something like this:

I have two motives: Firstly, I fall in love with a setting or a genre, get visions of it in my head to then do the game to convince other people that the chosen setting and visions are the best ever and everybody should play them (although I consciously accept that not all people are interested in all genres, that does not stop me from hoping). And when it is over and done, I suddenly lose my interest and change the "best ever" genre like it was a shirt. My second motive is fame. I am a sucker for my fifteen minutes of fame and linking my name, face and persona with a famous setting or a hot genre is the next best thing to sex.

Mike believes firmly in the superiority of role immersion as a gaming style and wrote Myrskyn Aika to both promote the style and to provide a framework for fantasy adventures using that style. Of course, what the author intends and what the consumer gets out of the game are two different things. Some MA players have adopted immersion-oriented playstyle, while others just use the setting as they would use any other fantasy world.

Wille Ruotsalainen considers it a cultural injustice for us to play games based on foreign mythology, when we also have a mythology of our own. Roudan Maa is about correcting that injustice. He is also undoubtedly bursting with pride about being the first game writer whose take on Fantasy Finland is on equal footing with foreign fantasy settings. And believe me, every bit of that pride is well-earned. If he just expanded the map to stretch from Birka to Holmgård (Novgorod) and thus include Estonian and Scandinavian cultures to the setting, it'd be perfect. Unfortunately he is also hampered by his limited experience on the design of actual games, as opposed to mere setting materials (not enough racial differences in Iron Age Scandinavia to merit background attribute changes in Praedor system... I am still laughing at that one).

If Joutomaa really has more than a hundred pages of gamemastering instructions, it is a safe bet to assume that Juhana has something to say about gamemastering. I just don't know what it is yet.

If I were evil, I'd say that the writers behind EAD and Pelagaya LARP setting are commercially oriented. They are creating their own hard-science-fiction IP that they can later sell to game, TV or book publishing companies. It is a great and detailed setting and certainly worth a lot of money to someone, somewhere.

I think that covers the main RPG-material developers in Finland right now. There are some others, but they either haven't got anything done or can't market their ideas well enough for me to take real notice. If you feel you should be mentioned here, drop me a line and tell me where do you get your kicks as a game writer.

04-Sep-2004: Summer is Over

And thus we bid farewell to one of the best summers ever. It was not too good weather-wise, but I still regard this summer as one of the best ever: great Ropecon, exciting Assembly, a marvelous trip to London, good ice-cream, the company I work for did not go bankrupt or announce lay-offs (that's a first!). The only downside is that gained 5 kilos. Still, it means I lost 25 kilos over the last year. I can (and hopefully will) live with that. I also wrote 100kb worth of blog notes, which isn't too shabbily either.

Note to aspiring writers! Getting a pre-payment from the publisher is like squeezing water from stone. Mine is more than two months late and they promised and swore they would pay it last week. No prizes for guessing whether they did or not.

I'll be playtesting the combat system for Stalker soon, using it as a substitute system for the next two Operation: Half-Life sessions. I am going on a cruise to Stockholm with three friends and O:HL will be the evening's entertainment the way there and back.In Stockholm we'll visit the museum of naval history and Scifi-Bokhandeln to check if the Swedish RPG scene has pushed out something new. They probably have, since it's been a while I last visited them.

I am planning a new layout format for Stalker. It is currently using the traditional two-column layout applied in Praedor and the same body text fonts. Less text per page and a change of font will probably make it clearer. I am also not happy with the style of writing I've used. Somehow the existence of Praedor haunts the text, as if there were subliminal references to it. There should not be. This is an entirely different game.