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Oh, you did not notice that I was gone? I was on a two-week tour of Mexico and Texas. During that I wrote the core for Miekkamies 2.0 (yeah, nobody cares but I have a soft spot for Miekkamies), bits and pieces of some new stories, did some thinking on a certain scifi concept, got a food poisoning from a restaurant in Texas and agreed to take a look at the Debian Linux Distribution installation manual. It makes sense to maintain my documentation skills, after all.
In the meantime, Finland has not exactly been a quiet place either. Approaching the Helsinki-Vantaa Airport we had to do a series of sudden maneouvres to dodge all the flying pigs. Lordi went ahead and won the Eurovision song contest with an all-time score record. I am not a Lordi-fan and if the religious freaks would not have made such a big number of it winning the Finnish selection I would not have cared. But now I just feel like gloating. Long live Lordi! Long Live Metal! And to you critics, bon appetite with your hatfuls of shit.
It is late and jetlag is biting. My body wants to sleep and my mind is screaming it is barely noon (Mexican time). Fallout from food poisoning appears to have altered my diet to a more veggie-based direction. Or more precisely, eating anything but fruit makes me a little sick. I grabbed some salmiakki in the honour of my homecoming and it had the same effect. Majatalo.org is full of new conversation and I feel like a leftover from bygone days.
Stalker is about to get moving and my illustrator, Tuomo "God" Veijanen has again sent me a batch of great new pictures. I also "hired" one of the workplace artists to do me a full-colour cover which hopefully can also double as a poster. More about that when I have something to show. And Stalker really needs a new website but this lazy-ass-bum-of-an-RPG-author I know has not really got around to it.
Well, at least some people are getting things done. Heimot is now officially coming out at the 'Con and there is this new fantasy game Parabellum (Latin though it may be, I think the name is misleading) which I also have to check out at some point. Nobody's said anything too bad about it so I have high hopes. I hereby declare the Finnish RPG development scene officially saved. It all looked very different back in 2000 when Praedor came out.
Somebody likes War Diary: Crusader...
Can't sleep. Don't even want to. Lack of sleep does not come on as tiredness but as something else. Worlds colliding. Stress sometimes does that to me. But even so, there's been a nice turn of events regarding "Wolf Moon".
It does not quite part the Red Sea but this is still great news for me, Rovio and to some extent to the industry as well. Despite the casual craze stuff like Wolf Moon can still catches your eye. Ten-billion dollar industry is still at the far end of a rainbow but there is already room and demand for games like this. I wanted Rovio Mobile to cover all the base harcore genres of mobile gaming but it seems like horror adventures with puzzles is what we do best. Overspecialisation breeds weakness but I am tempted to narrow our focus. Like it or not, it actually boils down to staff. You are best in the kinds of games you have the best resources for.
While the original concept and core play mechanics come from the designer, game design is a collaborative effort of the whole team. Good team knows how to implement your design. A great team also knows when to say "this feature sucks, let's do XYZ instead". Even if you don't agree, it forces you to think things over. And thinking things over can't be anything but good.
I've totally, comprehensively and possibly terminally blown my diet. Well, it was nice to know what the world looks like when you don't have the body of a Hippopotamus. It was nice and comfortable while it lasted. You thin people have it good. Now I have a closet full of ill-fitting clothes again! I am my old self at Ropecon again... a freaking 173-centimetre hobbit.
Some people can control their lives. I just write games.
You know you are roleplaying author when you are both an atheist and designing a supernatural cosmology. But what really brought this topic to my mind was this. Confessions of an ex-fundie (of the Christian variety) who eventually saw the light of Reason. Sigh. This is one of those topics it is impossible to write about without offending somebody. Normally I would not mind but I have otherwise perfectly rational friends who believe in God or the supernatural. So having faith does not automatically make you an asshole, even if the idiots at Asematunneli or Westborough Baptist Church seek to prove otherwise. We'll skip Islam for now.
As I've said before, Praedor has been noted, or perhaps even accused, of being an atheist setting. Its religions are man-made ideologies and institutions. While supernatural beings exist, gods, as they are usually defined, do not. There is no supernatural force listening to anyone's prayers. It is true that both me and Petri are die-hard atheists and the setting probably reflects this. However, there is also the problem, often ignored in traditional fantasy games, that if you use cultural analogs to create your setting (as is almost always the case), the causes and effects which shape the world have to analoguous to our history as well. If you are an atheist, the hand of god is simply not there and Earth religions are perceived as popular ideologies with mundane, not divine consequences. And if the God or Gods were real, the analoguous connection would not exist and historical models and processes would not apply.
Curiously, for a better part of the RPG writing community this does not seem to be a problem. But for me? Hell, I've been trying to come up with a nice supernatural cosmology for Miekkamies 2.0 for ten years now. I have a draft but I am still not happy with it.
Last year when Stafford was here, he mentioned Prince Valiant RPG which he wrote as an introductory game to the much rules-heavier Pendragon. I have both. For reasons best left unspecified I reread Prince Valiant over the weekend and was again impressed by it. It looks mediocre, with typewriter texts and just panels from the comic to lighten it up. At about 120 pages it is only about the thickness of Taiga. On the plus side, the bloody thing reads like it might actually work.
PV is limited in scope to the Arthurian knights as presented by the legendary comic by Hal Foster. There are only two attributes: Brawn and Presence, and about about 12 skills to go with them. When you do something, you toss your attribute + skill value in coins and count heads. Yes, this is the very first "success"-based roleplaying game system. The mental leap to Shadowrun and its dice pools is short but overall there are less coins in PV than there are dice in SR. If you don't know how to simulate coins with dice, you are beyond all help.
The second part I am really impressed with is the carefree freeformity of the system. So *this* is supposed to be the newbie game and "lets-roll-absolutely-everything-Pendragon" is the full version? Prince Valiant is way ahead of its time in Gamemaster/Player empowerment over game mechanics and player contributions to telling the story are richly rewarded in the play examples. In combat, Brawn and skill combine to a coin pool. Then equipment and circumstances are added to this. Using a shield? Add +1 to the coin pool. Wearing heavy armour? Add +2 to the coin pool. Wielding a sword against an enemy with a dagger, or a dagger against somebody with bare hands? Add +1 to the coin pool. No weapon stats. No armour stats. No nothing.
And off you go! Both sides roll their coins and the difference in heads is subtracted from the loser's coin pool. If it reaches zero, the loser has been defeated. He may have fallen off a cliff, collapsed from fatigue, been run through with a sword, that is up to the gamemaster (Storyteller) but in any case, he is out of it. Of course, this applies only to battles between important people or heroes. If our hero is attacked by a horde of rebelling peasants, take one peasant and add +1 coin for every other peasant that can get within striking distance of our hero. If the hero still wins, he cuts down as many peasants as was the difference in heads. Simple, elegant and supports the idea of heroes being a breed apart from commoners. This is the in-game idea of most level systems too and what Conan does all the time.
Prince Valiant was released by a then-major games publisher Chaosium in 1989. For free-form play and innovativeness, it could have been released yesterday by Arkkikivi. I don't know how all this (freeform damage system in a combat-oriented game? WTF?) combines with the Forge School of Gaming but here in Old Skool we are converts. I am going to use this system (converted to dice, obviously) for something. Anything!
It is the dead of night and the rest of Finland is either drunk or sleeping. I am reading majatalo.org and wondering if I should give up on my Ropecon presentation. Judging from the debate here I am soon going to be ostracized by the Finnish RPG scene for the rest of my days. Videogames and roleplaying games... I've spent so much time with one foot in either camp that I've almost forgotten they are separate camps. This time I don't have all the answers or the canonical authority to back me up on stage. It is perfectly possible that the post-presentation debate shoots me down on all points. Or maybe they'll just laugh me off the stage. Finns are not known to do that but somebody has got to be the first.
Yesterday, Alter Ego held what they call "Minicon". I was invited and eventually succeeded in finding the bloody place. I would chew them out for arranging a public event so poorly but since it was not advertised anywhere I don't know if it counts as public. It was fun to peep in, though, so even with just a handful of current-generation AE activists present it was not a complete waste of time. If I did not know better, I might have thought it was an Arkkikivi.Net promotion event. Indie, indie and nothing but indie, all of it straight from AK.
I made one curious observation there. In ORC everybody plays either D&D or one of the other commercial successes of recent years. Mass-market games, as far as they exist in this field. In contrast, Alter Ego is dominated by Indie (Forge?) intelligentsia and the most mass-marketed game on the table there was Praedor. And even that only because of a new form of play where players enter Borvaria without a gamemaster. I am not saying this is a bad thing. Anybody in the University can become an Alter Ego activist and take the organisation in the direction he likes. If the present activists are into weird games, that is what you get. The two problems they have is that the automatically updating website does removed all references to Minicon on that very morning and the campaign list service does not work.
I don't know if the web-based campaign listing ever worked as a medium but apparently it is still difficult for a new student gamemaster to find players in the University. This is really sad because it is what Alter Ego was founded for.
Tuovinen Senior gave me a copy of Menneisyyden Vangit roleplaying game, which is also available from Arkkikivi website as a download. It is an indie fantasy RPG and would be good enough for anyone if it did not try to be so bloody Indie all the time. Yes, I think the game system and characters might actually even work if they were explained in an understandable way. Instead, the text is weaving this way and that over the red line that the little play examples are the most informative bits. The whole thing reminds me of English literature in the 18th century. But in these days, textual complexity is not a virtue.
God damn majatalo.org is stealing my thunder! I am avoiding the discussion on renewing roleplaying to save something for my Ropecon presentation, but if they keep this up, they may at some point arrive in the same conclusions that I have. Or they can do even better. These people crafty, mind you, even if they are also providing me lots of quotes for the presentation. Not much point in going all the way to Ropecon to say something you've already shouted it across the Internet, is there? I should have never said anything about Arcade Roleplaying in this blog and I am going to shut up about it, starting right now.
In other news, Palladium Games is in dire straits and asking its fans to help out. As much as I feel for fellow game authors, I've always considered Palladium's games to be crap. Reading about Kevin Siembieda always reminds me of the many instances when magazines publishing reader-made material for Palladium products have been threatened with lawsuits. I hope they make it but I won't be crying over them if they don't. Still, if you care about Rifts, this is your chance to make a difference.
Electronic Arts just lost a lawsuit over unpaid overtime ("crunch time" in industry slang) and generally treating its employees like shit. Meanwhile, in Finland the abuse continues, at least in some companies. Fortunately not in my workplace, but as I've said before, certain game companies in Finland would go under if their employees had any idea of their worth and rights, while we are all locked in a fierce competition over skilled labour!
The big thing at Rovio Mobile is now public knowledge. Yes, we acquired Pixelgene and yes, 3D is now on the horizon. It was always on the horizon, though. Right now it is a marketing trick but sooner or later 3D capable phones will be out there in sufficient numbers. And you all know what 3D did to video games... the only difference is that this time I'll be part of it.
Goodbye, cruel world! *BANG!*
It looks like I am not paying myself into Ropecon this year either. Those of you at #praedor IRC channel already know what I am talking about, but to the rest of you might be interested to know that I submitted a presentation proposal to Ropecon and it was accepted.
elää uskomatonta nousukautta valkokankaalta
pelikonsoleihin. Perinteiset roolipelit ovat yhä
kaapissa ja harrastus maailmalla hiipuu. Nyt kun
videopelit ovat korvanneet kirjallisuuden nuorten
ponnahduslautana science fictionin ja fantasian pariin,
markkinoidaanko roolipelejä väärillä mielikuvilla ja
väärälle yleisölle? Onko harrastuksen
kirjallisuusjuurista tullut rasite? Löytyykö
videopelisukupolvesta uusia roolipelaajia?"
Oh bother, do I really have to translate all that?
"Speculative fiction is flourishing like never before, from the silver screen to game consoles. Only traditional roleplaying games are still in the nerd closet and the hobby is fading away in the rest of the world. Since videogames have replaced books as the primary venue through which young people are introduced to fantasy and science fiction, are roleplaying games marketed with wrong image and to the wrong group? Have the literary roots of the hobby become a hindrance? Are there any new roleplayers in the video game generation?"
"RPG author and senior game designer Ville "Burger" Vuorela has studied how videogame design principles and focus group thinking can be applied on pen-and-paper roleplaying games. "Burger's Arcade" deals with Arcade Roleplaying, differences and similarities between the media and personal observations on roleplaying games built on videogame themes and methods."
The presentation will be in Finnish, of course. If you are a long-time reader, you have probably noticed how I've been dreaming about video-game themed roleplaying games and even written some, the most notable of which is Code/X (and to some extent Mobsters). I did not realise it then but what I was actually doing was "studying transmedial game design" and Arcade Roleplaying. Wow! I am beginning to understand what makes roleplaying theorists tick. To discuss things you have call things something, so you get to invent all these cool terms. Note that Arcade Roleplaying has nothing to do with computer-assisted roleplaying. Not that one would exclude the other, though.
Big news at Rovio Mobile and as usual, I cannot tell you anything before there is a press release. That would be tomorrow. Speaking about work, I've been thinking of another presentation proposal, this time for next year's GDC at San Francisco: "Hardcore Corner". With everybody and their cousing going off about casual gaming and connectivity, there is a definite need of a counter-weight. What are the hardcore games really about? Why are/aren't they a viable business and if not, how come companies like we are still around and doing fine? What is original IP for? What is the free beer for? Where are all the women?
You know. Stuff.
Almost ten days since the last entry. I've been busy and can't even tell you with what. There is a lot going on out in the world and my column for Roolipelaajat sucks. I need a topic to rant on and the one topic I had... well, I want to save best parts for Ropecon. Just in case they won't let me, I am going tell you right now that I was going to talk about Arcade Roleplaying, or "applying digital game design principles on RPG design and gamemastering to make RPGs appealing to the videogamer generation". I've been interested in this since Mobsters, but frankly, before Mike Pondsmith said it in the foreword of CP3.0, I did not really think anyone else would care. Mobsters, O:HL, Stormzone, Code/X... they are all experiments with Arcade Roleplaying (cool name, huh? came up with it yesterday). When I get STALKER off my hands it is time to do something big with it.
In the meantime, Cyberblood keeps getting decent reviews and there is a trailer of my upcoming (and first!) horror mobile game "Wolfmoon". I caught a nasty flu on Easter and have been home blowing my nose until it bleeds. But really, congrats to the Cyberblood team. Early reviews were not so commending but we've really bounced back since then.
Yep, Ropecon is coming and my programme submission came at the last minute so they still might reject it. Ropecon is not as desperate for programme as it once was and my piece has absolutely nothing to do with the theme of the year, which is bad omens. It does have quite a bit to do with the second theme of game design but the focus seems to be on boardgames this year. There are no details on the rest of the programme and none of the guests of honour ring a bell. Reading the descriptions they have a conspiracy expert, a boardgame guru and two non-exclusive LARPers. Not bad. There are only so many big names in the industry anyway.
I've been watching Firefly, the scifi TV-series by Joss Whedon that 20th Century Fox cut short after 11 episodes. The package I am watching has some never-aired ones in it so I am actually at episode 11 and still have some to go, and I have to say that the bosses at the Fox are flaming retards. Firefly is excellent and beats even the new Galactica because it does not have to be so bloody epic all the time. The most intense Wild West scenes complete with horses don't sit well with me, but otherwise sets and special effects are top-notch and everyone's acting is way better than in Serenity the movie. Actually, the movie was an asinine throwback of politically correct stone-age science fiction compared to the series. The fact that it is still one of the better scifi movies out there says more about the genre than the movie.
Bonus points for having the cast work and act like a player party in an RPG.
Roolipelaaja-magazine asked me for a column. I never responded but I've actually been writing one for them. It is a funny feeling: much of the same stuff could have and perhaps even should have been said here instead, but if I can help them out by producing content, I will. Maybe they'll turn it down and you get to read it from this blog instead. I am also a bit worried. Saying something stupid in your own blog does not demean anyone but you. Screwing around in somebody else's work is going to bother them too. I know they got editors to weed out the garbage but hey, editors are only human.
Rumour has it that Games Workshop's sales curves are finally taking a dip, which is why they are banking on new mediums. Warhammer Online is going to be Guild War on steroids for all player-killers out there and I hope it gives a shot in the arm of the roleplaying game as well. Games Workshop has had a long and illustrious history of putting RPG content it its smaller boardgames like Necromunda or Inquisitor, but Warhammer RPG remains the one and only actual RPG property they are still holding on. I've commended the Warhammer World before and I can do it again: it was a stroke of genious. Unfortunately GW has been trying to dumb it down for the past 20 years or so.
I would count the days to the release of Heimot but unfortunately I have no idea when it will be. Miska has asked me for an advertisement into the rulebook. I am not that good with graphics but I'll come up with something. Heimot is going to be "the thing" in the Finnish scene this year (what Dragonbane?) and my expectations are high.
When Praedor came out I often had to explain why there were no magic users in the game. Nobody has asked me that for ages so I guess everybody knows the answer by now. In retrospect, giving players alchemy as a replacement worked surprisingly well and although Petri had never thought that alchemy would play such a big role in the setting, he has been pleased with it afterwards as it not only keep traditional hack'n'slashers happy but also blurs the line between magic and science. I mean, an alchemist can know a number of supernatural recipies, yet be fascinated by the behaviour of quicksilver in a glass tube. For the commoner both phenomena are sheer magic and that is pretty much how we wanted it to be.
I've always been bad at my portrayals of high-fantasy magicians. It is like there is a switch that makes people interested in magic users and the role of magic in the setting and mine has not been flicked yet. My characters have always been warriors and rogues, and sometimes techies or pilots when playing in non-anachronistic settings. Even in MMORPGs I tend to go as far as to avoid magic-life buffs if I feel it does not fit the genre. PSI-Monks in Neocron were a pain in the ass for me, even when they were on my side. Praedor has been praised for its combat system and it alone has actually sold quite a few copies. Now, quite a few people have said they liked the alchemy system but I don't think anyone bought it just to get their hands on that.
I have often wondered why open displays of magic feel so alien to me. It could be my atheist/sceptic worldview, or that I am more interested in historical analogues and modern history-writing does not see much magic there. It could be that magic-user portrayals in R.E. Howard's works were not too glamorous and unlike the rest of the 80'ies gamers, I think Raistlin Majere is a loser. Even the revered Tolkien lets me down in this department: Gandalf's spell-casting ability seems anything but consistent and the Finnish translation somehow managed to tone down the other, surprisingly common incidents of spellcasting so that I forget they were there. Your kick-ass, lightning-hurling, fire-spitting and teleporting wizard just does not seem to be there in the fiction.
Like all of you, I also read the reviews stating that Quake 4 was a mediocre game. So I kept putting off buying it until one of my trusted friends argued to the contrary. So I went out to the store and bought it and it became painfully clear that the reviewers are flaming idiots who would not know a good game even when it is thrown into their face. Anyone who gave Doom III something like 83 points and then gives Quake 4 just 80 should get their head examined. This IS the game that Doom III should have been. This is also the game that Starship Troopers should have been. It is not Far Cry (nothing is) but in my FPS gaming experiences Quake 4 is on the 4th place (the others being Future Shock, Far Cry and Half-Life) and the only such game within 12 months to make the list. Starship Troopers was fun but only because I love the franchise.
Whereas ID Software tried turning Doom III into a horror franchise, Raven Software understood that the point of Doom/Quake family games is to kick ass. In Quake 4, the opening intro alone kicked my ass to heaven and back. Then, they gave me the standard infantry weapon of the game and sent me off to the front. Holy Hell! This thing actually hurts the bad guys! I storm down stairways and corridors, gunning fist-sized holes into my enemies before ducking for cover to reload and letting my team mates take over for a while. Action is fierce, visceral and I can almost feel the recoil through my mouse. There are vehicles, gunnery, airpower, weapon upgrades... Although I am playing the game on low graphics settings...
Wait a minute! This is LOW? This gorgeous-looking, near cinematic-quality, well-lit up, smooth-scrolling, large-space piece of graphical goodness on the screen is LOW? Okay, I have no idea what the high settings look like. I can't even imagine what they could look like. Quake 4 runs beautifully on my somewhat outdated machine as it is and I cannot think of anything more I would want of the graphics. I would like more open and multi-approach levels equal or close to those in Far Cry but I don't think switching graphics to HIGH would give me that. As straight-forward shooters go, the level-design is good, for the most part intuitive (there are a couple of sore points, though) and for a modern shooter this is a long game.
As a cherry on top the setting has the same kind of appeal to me that Halo did (it did not make my top list because of the screwed-up level design). This is basically re-telling the tale of human-Strogg war of Quake 2 but this time they do it right. The game has same the combination of epic and grit as Halo did, but while Halo did the space opera thing better than... well... anyone, Quake 4 went for the Aliens/Starship Troopers -angle and aced it. I do pity the transfigured soldiers I am facing. I am disgusted at the cruelty of the Strogg. I get the sense of desperation, the do-or-die attitude of Humanity on a brink of defeat. I am part of it. For home, hearth and rye bread.
(Apple pies doesn't have any symbolic value in Finland)
As the cherry on top of "being too tired to do anything important" the date of publication for Varjojen Tarha at Jalava website has been changed to "cancelled". As surprised as some people have been, it is merely a confirmation of how things have been de facto. There was never any contract on Varjojen Tarha, neither with me nor with Hiltunen. Communicating with Jalava was so difficult that I stopped asking for one and without a contract I did not prioritise writing it anymore... and I guess you can see where this is leading. After it was six months late, Jalava pulled the plug and I think they were within their rights to do so even with all the confusion. The book itself, one-third completed, has not gone anywhere. Maybe it'll pick up again when Petri starts working on a new Praedor album. He has been planning one for years.
It was kind of my readers to write me and tell how they liked Vanha Koira. But sometimes I do wonder if they ever told anyone, their friends, relatives, internet buddies etc. about reading it. I thought games publishing was a bad business but Praedor RPG has outsold Vanha Koira by 2 to 1. As for money, all I've seen coming from the book is still the pre-payment. Page per page and even taking the writing time into account, the roleplaying game was a much better deal.
The unspoken question here is that what was the value add of having a real publisher? On paper, it is the wider distribution. In reality, the only tangible benefit was the prestige. I believe I could have achieved this level of sales (400 and something) on my own, with Burger Games selling through Fantasiapelit and other channels. That would have associated the book more with the roleplaying game than with the comics but then again the comic association did not seem to happen either. And I would have had more say on the cover and layout (although I did like the two-column text). Publishing rights for Vanha Koira revert back to me by the end of this year. Hmm.
Anyway, this book thing really got me down, like it probably got a few Vanha Koira fans too. Yeah, I've got plans to fix things. Publish my own books. Write novels and Praedor adventures together so that you'd have a short story and the "dungeon map" in the same package. Novelize the roleplaying game. That'd be a cool way to produce supplements. But who is going to have the time and energy to write them?
I've often said that doing game stuff has become more difficult now that my games and hobbies are sort of drawing on the same battery. It occurs to me that my jobs were more like a hobby (or "stuff" I had to do to be able to make games), while games were the profession. Now fiddle with game development all day long and when I get home it is easier than ever to do something else. Believe, playing games is a whole lot different experience from making them. But you've heard all this before.
There is another thing about my job that I really haven't bitched about, mainly because I long pretended it wasn't a problem. My contract states that all ideas belong to the company. I've got a separate agreement on being able to use their non-digital rights as I wish, but the ownership stays with the employer. It also means that the employer can dictate all changes and developments to the IP and unilaterally decide what the digital applications of the given idea will be. Frankly, this bothers me much more than I expected it would.
This is the reason I've been digging so deep into my desk drawer ever since joining Sumea. Ideas and IP dating from 2003 are mine, period and whatever I can do with them is only limited by the non-competition clause. For example, Code/X is based on O:HL, INFRA is just an advanced version of Stormzone, any derivations of or sequels to Taiga are mine to abuse and my next big fantasy publication, if there ever will be one, is going to be Miekkamies II. Then again, the idea and potential digital applications of "Towers of Dusk" belong to Rovio Mobile, should they ever claim it.
I've been too tired to write anything real after the trip so there is nothing new to tell you. INFRA is distracting me from more important things and I am only slowly getting a hang on my work again. By the way, Darkest Fear 2 got 91 points and "Ice Cold Award" from mobilegamefaqs.com. Congrats to Lauri and the DF team and do try out the game if you have a chance. Rovio is almost single-handedly keeping the adventure game genre alive on mobiles and we've got more in the pipe. This would not be a bad focus for us.
I just heard that Mutant Chronicles gets made into a film. This is important because it is not a "videogame movie" but a "table-top scifi-RPG movie". I had heard the name before but did not connect it with the game until I now saw the plot synopsis. Mutant Chronicles is the RPG arm of the now defunct Warzone miniature game series, the first serious challenge to Warhammer's hold on miniature gaming. Mix Doom, Bladerunner and Wh40K and you've got it nailed. It is not the best setting but it seems that the angle they are taking might actually work. There is this megacorp boss, a ruthless explointer, powermonger and dictator, whose world and convictions are suddenly thrown into turmoil by events easily guessed by all players of the game. This is NOT the approach I expected. If done right it actually might not suck.
Starcraft: Ghost has been shelved indefinitely (not cancelled, but I would not hold my breath). I feared this might happen, as MMOG development tends to become a vortex that sucks everything into it. This may well mean that there won't be another Starcraft game ever. Where is my World of Starcraft, damn it?! On the other hand, Sony Online Entertainment is losing the Star Wars license and industry rumours put Bioware (makers of Knights of the Old Republic) into the receiving end. Nothing has been confirmed yet. My interest in Star Wars was well and truly killed by Phantom Menace but Star Wars: Galaxies was also an honestly awful game. Bioware has plenty of experience; they can't screw it up that bad.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is vapourware. Auto-Assault Beta got crushing reviews from my friends and unfortunately on many points I care about. Planetside can be played on grunt-level for free. That game is really a graveyard of missed opportunities. Some story detail, some scripting, some actual character development and it'd really be something. Let's take the engine and do World of Starcraft with it, okay?
I think the next videogame I am buying with my monthly videogame budget is Total Overdose. After all, I am going to Mexico in May. I just I had got Boiling Point working on my computer. Well, after the next upgrade.
I just got back from Game Developer's Conference in San Jose, California. This was my first trip to the United States. Flights were a killer. I actually like travelling with jet aircraft (for reasons best left to psychiatrists) but the two 15-hour flights with two transits (Copenhagen and Chicago) taxed even my fondness for jet travel. But yes, I'd do it all over again. Since my employer paid for the trip and the GDC Pass I am not going to tell you about the conference. That stuff belongs to Rovio Mobile. What I can tell you about are my impressions on the world's last remaining superpower.
It was not a long stay and I did get to see very little in or let alone outside the city of San Jose. But from what I did see, my first impression is that I love the place. I use to say that travelling is an excellent way to learn to despise other countries and cultures. This time it did not happen. Quite to the contrary. Of course, their toilets are dysfunctional, electrical wiring in the hotel was ready to blow and you did not have to go farther than the convention centre backyard to see that the American Dream is not shared by everyone.
How very Finnish of me to start with the bad things.
On the plus side, people are friendly, helpful and easy-going. Sure, smiles and small talk are partly facade but they are also part of the general mindset. And even if a smile is faked, it does make me feel better when everybody around me seems to happy enough to be high on drugs. I've never, ever, encountered friendlier cops, let alone firemen who would cross the street to ask if a puzzled-looking tourist needs help. I remember having a long chat with the local cops about what Game Developer Conference was and if it was worth visiting, and almost had a heart attack when a mischievous border guard official pulled a prank on me suggesting I could not enter the country because the photo in my passport looked too young. "Just kidding!". Sheesh! I had thought the US Border Patrol had no sense of humour.
Food was beyond excellent and unlike the English, Americans understand the meaning of "fresh". A slummy-looking hole-in-wall Mexican diner where only one staff member knew any English had the best Mexican food I've ever tasted. The local Italian restaurant beat those in Rome hands down. Johnny Rocket's hamburgers are something to kill for and even the double whopper I had at San Jose Airport Burger King was the best fast-food item I've eaten since Snacky days (and from another planet compared to my previous BK experiences in London). Besides, they are not squirting mayonnese over everything so the burgers actually taste like something. Portions are massive but nobody expects you to finish it off (unlike in Finland where it is impolite to leave anything on the plate: try doing it in the 'States and you'll burst).
Besides, food (and most things in general) is cheap, refills are usually free and wherever you go the service is exemplary. Coming from a non-service culture I did not really know what good service meant before I now got it. Wow! It was the second time ever I've been happy to leave a tip (the first was on my first visit to Olde Hansa in Tallinn). My only sore point is that I could not find an American-style steak place. Steaks are a midwest/Texas thing, while California is a hamburger country. From what I saw, Americans do not have the concept of Tex-Mex food. It is either Mexican or it is not. And after all the bad things I've heard about public transportation in the US, I was pleasantly surprised to find San Jose trams to be cheap, easy-to-use and running late into the night all week.
As a final touch, I think America appreciated my appreciation of her and gave me a parting gift. On my day of departure, the skies cleared, temperatures soared to the low twenties and air was crystal clear all the way from the Pacific to Michigan. I did not get to go to San Francisco on foot but I've seen it, the bay, the city itself, Golden Gate bridge, the Rock of Alcatraz. Then came rugged ridges, valleys, prairies and finally mountains with white caps of snow.
We passed over salt plains and dried-up rivers just north of Death Valley. Then came an entire valley of huge barracks (clearly visible 11 kilometres up) and hundreds of what must have been missile silos. Then a place with craters that made me think it was the Nevada nuclear test range (I don't really know) and finally the Rockies themselves. Beyond them lay winter, snowy plains of the midwest, usually boring but now turned strange and magical with shadows stretched long by the setting Sun.
Darkness and clouds waited for me in Chicago and curtains closed on America. But as uncomfortable the 9-hour flight across the Atlantic was, I watched the stars above Greenland in awe.
You remember my ancient comment on Stalker not having as many pictures as Praedor? It is not true anymore. For page count, Stalker has just as much art. If I can't use them all, I'll make damn sure you'll get to see the best. My lead artist for this project is Tuomo Veijanen and he just sent in another batch of pictures. I don't know him personally but he has stuck with Stalker through thick and thin, my artistic blocks and long periods of inactivity. Whenever the project shows a spark of life, he sends me more pictures. And they are good pictures. Especially the big landscape takes are awesome. I don't know what drugs he takes for inspiration but I got to get me some. For example, here is a look into a prison, perhaps partly run by the Institute:
If somebody tells you that illustrations in a game book do not matter, it is only because he is either blind or has tried to write one himself and could not find an artist. The images in the book not only convey a thousand words' worth of new information, but also set the tone and feeling of the game. Tuomo Veijanen has done lot to set the tone of Stalker RPG. It is sombre, almost melancholy and strangely calm even when the pictures describe action scenes. There is a certain style, certain abnormality if you will, to the characters and human shapes, while his mutants appear more human than I would have drawn them, highlighting similarities instead of differences. When you have the book in you hands, do look at the pictures. And more importantly, try to feel them because that is where the information is. Let your imagination fill the gaps in the text and pictures and voila! You are there! The Zone, the Border, the whole World of Stalker.
I don't have a fitting reward for Tuomo. Like all my artists, he works on promises of free beer, fame and author's copies of the game book. I can only praise him here in the blog, hoping that it will some day matter to somebody somewhere. In these three years I've given up on STALKER many times and he hasn't given up even once. I guess that makes him the better man.
Anti-copyright: Every now and then somebody says or does something that really leaves you speechless. This time it was Valtanen from Sony BMG. I have actually been to Mobile Monday many times. Now I really regret I missed that one. Since many phones double as mp3 players, Sony BMG apparently wants that songs downloaded to mobile phones should be separately billed for "listening" and "ringtones" licenses. At present, a downloaded song or a ringtone costs about 1 euro from most mobile operators. In the future you would get just the downloaded song but it would cost 2... no, 3 euros! Ten songs per CD... that would be 30 euros for a CD's worth of content. Mobile content providers are not complete idiots. I am not so sure about Sony BMG.
(For the record, I would like to pay for the song data once and then use any device I like for listening it).
Of course, working in mobile content business myself (luckily Rovio composes all its music internally), having somebody outside the industry tell me "cut the crap and focus on marketing" when you are trying to have a discussion on better business models pisses me off. But you know, since the discussion is already this non-intelligent, that would be a good advice to Sony BMG as well. Unless pissing off your former customers and possible future allies is "marketing". Really, if the music industry in its present form is obsolete, it is not the responsibility of the people or all the remotely associated branches of media industry to cover your expenses.
In the normal world, companies who can't cope with changing markets go bankrupt. In the music industry they just tweak the laws to create additional sources of revenue by leeching other industries.
In other news, I just deleted three and a half pages of STALKER. Small deal but of course every little setback reduces the chance of getting it done in time for Ropecon. Who cares? Miska and Heimot will be the big star this year. But I digress. It is my own fault, really. I am accustomed to this leisurely pace of game writing. When you suddenly have a deadline, you don't have any tools for speeding up the process. I tried to skip parts of the genre tools in the Gamemaster's Book by copying the setting description format used in old WoD. You know, first a short intro and then paragraphs on what you must do as a Gamemaster to get the real WoD(tm) look and feel. Tried and failed, unfortunately. Looking at the more or less finished result, I decided that I hated it. I have to do things my way or they won't get done. That includes not being so pushy with a particular genre or atmosphere.
Then I am getting to a really comical part. Since the game is diceless, I am avoiding the use of dice even in situations where they would be helpful to the extreme. It is fucking ridiculous to create random selection tables with shaky mental randomisation rules when you could do it all with a roll of dice. Oh well, it is the other side of the coin. And bloody stupid. If you play STALKER and want to use dice somewhere, this is the place.
The tables I am talking about are for determining anomaly and artifact properties. The basic idea of is simple enough. With three tables of 10 variables each, you can create up to 1000 combinations. I am planning on using two tables with 28 variables each, giving me 28 x 28 = 784 different combinations. That is 784 different kinds of anomalies and from a separate set of tables 784 different kinds of artifacts.That and a little creative thinking should provide the gamemaster with a practically limitless variety both. I am planning on giving about 50 anomaly and artifact descriptions based on the novel, the film and my fuzzy brains.
The more observant of you may have noticed that 28 corresponds to the characters in Finnish alphabet. Yep, for most of you it is actually easier to form random character pairs than random numbers. And I do mean pairs. If we had three characters, you would start drifting towards meaningful combinations and words, skewing the already bloody awful odds even further.
Today I received some rules questions on Praedor. I think it has been about a year since I got them last. I did a bad job at responding but the core of it is that Praedor combat is based on the same kind of skill rolls like everything else. Tables on pages 52 and 53 show you how to compare the offensive and defensive results. Old news to most of you but I just had to say it aloud.
Praedor is also about the only real piece of news I have. New project at work is tapping into some of my accumulated creative energy, slowing down STALKER again. But even if it crawls, it is still moving. By the way, the original novel is something of a rarity now. You would not believe how hard it is for some people at work to find it even on Amazon. Except in Russian, of course.
Arkkikivi.net also has stuff about Praedor on their forums. It seems that Eero and somebody called "Sam!" are the only people writing there but they write a lot. They've titled the main discussion thread as "Praedor played right" and there is also an interesting (and glowing) report of playing it according to Simulationist principles.
All this theory is making my head spin but they liked it and that's what counts. Eero and I might disagree on occasion but he does know his stuff when it comes to theoretical analysis (or then he is a hell of a writer and I am easily fooled). In many cases he has interpreted the game to be much more complex and well thought-out than I intended but what the heck. Let's all think I am a genious.
In any case, it is nice to see old warhorse up and running again. The sales have slowed down but this was only to be expected. Praedor v1.1 did make it into the black and the total Praedor RPG sales are about 750. Not bad for an Indie game (using Eero's definition of having the author and publisher be one and the same).
In other news, I had a dream about INFRA! I had a dream I was watching what could be best described as a movie trailer about the setting of INFRA!!! Now how cool is that?
There must be something wrong with my eyes. Every time I look at the Roolipelimanifesti -thread at Roolipelaaja.fi, I see dozens of entries where people are pushing their opinions (read: subjective realities) on each other as the truth. Now Janos thinks I am plain wrong and also quoting things out of context. I re-read the thread and I am still seeing things. A quick, statistically non-relevant poll among friends proves that my eye troubles are apparently contagious. But it is all there, maybe you have better eyes.
Oh yes, I almost forgot: :-)
I've run into this phenomenon before. You say something offensive, then put a smiley in the end and voila! Nobody has any right to be offended. Or, you establish a dogma or a qualitative hierarchy but remember to add an almost derogatory "of course, everybody can do what they like"-clause, affirming both your open-mindedness and superiority at one go. But hey, if it works for them, it is only fair that it works for me too.
Speaking of offensive, there is now a much better thread about sex in roleplaying games (and its use in related works). I incorporate a lot of historical analogues into my games and therefore also historical depictions of sexuality are important "related works" for me. After reading so many mainstream history books Procopius' "Secret History" really shook me up. It might not be true but I wish we had similar contemporary exposés of other historical periods as well.
While there are roleplaying games which do not avoid sexual themes as such, sex or sexuality as an in-game goal is pretty much unheard of (I guess you could play FATAL like that). It can become very important in Pendragon, though. If your knight has been unlucky in marriage and has no heir, I guess you could try to save your house and lands by conceiving and recognizing a bastard. Abducting and raping someone (I am assuming that the character is male here) to get offspring does not sit well with the Code of Chivalry, but would not be out of place in Arthurian legends.
I have one game on the drawing board which is an exception to the rule: Towers of Dusk. The idea was to roleplay romantic myths and my chosen setting was the Venice of romantic myths, in the days of Giacomo Casanova. Beautiful, decadent, fading. The characters would have been a group (a secret order, in this age of secret orders) of libertines of either sex and high breeding (money not an issue). They would pursue pleasure and romantic conquest: the more difficult, the better. Rape, exploitation and prostitutes are out of the question. All love would have to be willingly given and although the aim is sex, the focus of the game is in the process of seduction. First finding out what tempts the target, then perhaps dispatching a rival lover in a duel, or by conspiracy. How to be introduced in the best possible light, how to arrange yourself and your target as romantic and alluring times and places as possible, how to conspire against the would-be guardians of her (or his) virtue etc. etc.
Now, if something will get your players' cheeks red, it is the group play of Towers of Dusk. One by one, they would lead the attempt, choosing their target and setting their sights. When the rest think it is a worthy goal, they would agree to help him: a female character seduces the target's manservant to learn her secrets. Someone with artistic talents offers to paint her picture, hopefully a nude portrait, so they will all now what is at stake here and know that there are no hidden deformities. Someone well-connected will found out about guardians, plans for marriage, possible rivals etc. One with a strong arm does away with the rival in a duel, or masquerades as a footpad from which the current leader then "saves" his chosen love. Romantic? Hopefully. Hilarious? Probably. Accident-prone? Definitely.
When it is all said, done and hopefully consummated, the actual sex might not be really relevant anymore. The game is in the chase, not in the catch. Then the group would choose its next leader and the process would repeat itself. However, the setting is not static. An ill-considered offer of marriage can return to haunt the characters at a later date, as can the fruits of their pleasure (children, you dolts!) Suddenly an inquisitor comes to town, sworn to rid Venice of its filth and sin. Or the jealous lover attempts the murder of one of the characters: Venice is, after all, a heaven for paid killers. And if you bed the daughter of a powerful merchant, you may well upset millions worth of trade agreements, land grants and the like which all hinged on the marriage. If they get the ear of the Doge, death is preferable to the fate that awaits you in the lead chambers.
Finally, you can add a dash of mystique to it all. What surprises does a dark-eyed princess from Transsylvania have? If your natural talents fail you, turn to tarot, gypsies, alchemists or even the Devil himself. If your stealer of hearts goes on a sea voyage, will his heart be stolen in return by the song of the sirens?
And don't even get me started on the possibilites of in-group drama, character conflict and counter-seduction. Love is a dangerous thing.
The discussion thread about Roolipelimanifesti in Roolipelaaja.fi forum is becoming an interesting collection of things each of the participants, myself included, can or can not understand, accept, condone or include in the definition of roleplaying. Regarding the original topic it is going absolutely nowhere but the discussion itself is a pretty interesting. So far it has been declared that "masturbation is part everyday life for characters", "all human activity should be given the same status as combat", "sex is not an appropriate topic in a roleplaying game", "dungeon crawling cannot be roleplaying", "addressing topics that are sensitive to players is valuable in itself", "violence is bad", "immersionism is good", "munchkinism is bad" and "politically incorrect topics are giving ammunition to the admittedly withered anti-RPG circles". As usual, everybody is trying to pass off his opinion as a universal constant and hence the conflict.
What I find confusing is that nobody is making any mention of different genres. They talk about playstyles, methods, gaming ideology... do they apply the same methods and ideology right across the board to all genres? What goes for a Cyberpunk character goes also for a Star Wars character? Am I the only one who even uses genres anymore? Because my answer to most of the claims described above would be "depends on the genre" and this is especially true for masturbation.
Now, including masturbation into the game and into the rulebook are two different things. I tend to avoid overtly sexual themes in the actual rulebooks because I sell them and want the widest possible audience. Furthermore, a rulebook cannot cover everything and my logic for devoting more space to combat than masturbation is that most of us know how to masturbate but few will ever get to fight monsters or shoot with a raygun. Success or failure in masturbation is also not a life-and-death issue for the character and it rarely holds the same kind of suspense than a good combat encounter does. Besides, shaking the dice just does not feel the same.
I have rarely scripted masturbation into the adventure framework but yes, there have been some. For example, if you want to communicate to the players that an NPC is in love (or at least in lust) for a PC, have the PC walk past his door at night and hear him ecstatically moaning the PC's name. Obviously, if the PC peers in through the keyhole, there will be a genre-dependent description of masturbation taking place. Also, if the NPC has a tattoo in the inner thigh that you want the players to know about, our Peeping Tom would probably see it right there and then. If the description of the scene is not too arousing, the player might actually take notice.
In 19 years of roleplaying I have probably had about three obvious instances of player characters masturbating and a number of cases where it was perhaps hinted at by the player ("I am going to bed and dream of...") but skipped in the gameplay description. This is because most masturbation occurs when the characters are alone and the action has no relevance to the rest of the group or the adventure as a whole. If the player gets a kick out of knowing that his character has masturbated, good for him and I am not blocking it, but it is not on my A-list in terms of relevance.
If I did have to describe it (the usual implications and fade-outs would not work for some reason) or the situation would seem to be leading to it, whether or not it would happen depends on the genre. Masturbation fits some genres better than others and is completely out of the question for some. Looking at my games, the inclusion or exclusion of masturbation would go somewhat like this:
Miekkamies: Yes, there is masturbation, but only in a suitably romantic circumstances while dreaming about your true love (of the week...). No genitalia would be described. I would focus on the sensations and the fantasies the character is having. Masturbation in Miekkamies is strictly private business and any exposure to outsiders would be accidental and scandalous. Somewhere between Three Musketeers and Casanova, I suppose.
Taiga: Yes and it would be no big deal. In tight-knit gang communities everybody knows what pornography is used for. The description would start with the idea or mental image the character is masturbating to and then describe the physical action. With male characters I would probably focus on the rhythmic movement and strength as opposed to the visual appearance of genitalia. Female characters would probably have a more subdued description as there is less physical activity involved. Or maybe I would try to describe the scene erotically, from the perspective of a hypothetical, sexually compatible bystander who is getting turned on.
Mobsters: Masturbation is not part of the gangster/film-noir genre. I would allow for a few exceptions, like when lovemaking is interrupted and the partner has to leave in a hurry leaving the character frustrated. But even then I would not focus on positive feelings but the whole affair would be just curtains closing on a failed evening. And for the PCs, masturbation is a strictly private affair.
Praedor: Definining my stance on masturbation in Praedor is surprisingly difficult. It is definitely not part of the pulp fantasy genre but the all-female whipping scenes R.E. Howard was so fond of do imply masturbation while causing injury to others. Praedor is modern pulp fantasy and sex plays a big part in some of the stories aimed at adult readers. There is no single case of masturbation but while in conflict with the genre, it does not seem out of place with everything else that is going on. In my campaigns there has not been a single explicit case of masturbation but quite a few implied ones. If it did come to that my description would depend on the character and his home culture. Barbarian from the mountain tribes experiences masturbation differently from a decadent noblewoman of good breeding. I'll cross that bridge when I get there.
artifaktit ja Vyöhyke ovat vain välineitä. Todelliset
tavoitteet ovat Vyöhykkeitten ulkopuolella ja stalkerit
vaarantavat henkensä ja vapautensa muuttaakseen
maailmaa. Militantti terroristijärjestö etsii
superasetta vallitsevan yhteiskunnan kaatamiseksi.
Pakolaisten ja Muuttuneiden kohtalosta huolestuneet
yrittävät vapauttaa pidätettyjä ja löytää ne
laboratoriot jonne monet ovat kadonneet.
The excerpt above is from STALKER and yes, we are so far in the project that I can publish tiny pieces of it every now and then to pique your interest (or kill it, if you don't like that stuff). This progress has happened at the cost of my EVE playing and neglecting my corp. I am sorry for that but MY game does come before somebody else's. Speaking of games, the let-down of the year is not Cyberpunk 3.0 but a freely downloadable South Korean MMORPG "Silk Road". Its downright erotic trailer and extremely interesting topic really got me going but then it turned out to be your typical Korean Kung-Fu fighting game. I want to cry. Silk Road would be provide a wonderful Conanesque historical fantasy setting to a game... also on paper and dice.
By the way, STALKER really needs a new web page.
In related news, after the release of S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl was been pushed to 2007 and part of the development team (artists) laid off because "their part of the game is done" (read: "as a company we are fucked but THQ keeps the project going in hopes of getting something back"), many of its fansites are closing down. For all intentions and purposes the computer game is now officially vapourware and I won't believe otherwise until it hits the stores. Pity, really. Here is one of the many excellent fan sites to the game and I can feel this guy's pain. His site is bloody awesome.
The first issue of Roolipelaaja -magazine came in the mail and I am overjoyed. The very existence of such a media is a good thing and I am going get my hands on every issue that will ever come out. I was a bit surprised to find it not printed on glossy magazine paper but instead of softer paper and the size reminds me of old Donald Duck magazines. I guess it is the cost. In any case, it has this warm fanzine feel to it, much like Tähtivaeltaja.
Like with most magazines, the first issue has "something for everybody" -feel, which inevitably means that there is also stuff that I don't like. However, just because I detest anything with Martin Ericsson in it does not mean that the Prosopeia LARP article is bad. And an extra star for the MMORPG material. If I had started a roleplaying magazine, I would have had MMORPGs as an equal part of the content. Mikki did not feel that way but it is nice to see they are included. The scenario "North of Moscow" fits my current mood perfectly, Mike's "More and Better" makes me feel sorry you can't bundle a clone of him into every book of Myrskyn Aika and even Eero is making perfect sense in his article about Indie gaming. Yeah! This rocks!