I want to thank everybody who took part in the long, lively and
sometimes heated discussion on Stalker and FLOW over at majatalo.org.
Overall, it was an inspiring and overwhelmingly positive experience,
with several people expressing their interest and fascination for
either the game or the system it runs on. That was a real morale
booster and I sure as hell could use one right about now. I am
attending a university Swedish course because I want to have the
government language exam out of the way. After that there is very
little to stop me from collecting my BA and getting the hell out of
there. The problem is that it is an intensive course with lectures from
16.30 to 19.45 on four days a week, which is kind of draconian after
the workday. Then there is plenty of homework and finally, I
fucking suck at it! Your feedback suggests that I am doing at
least something right, even if I am a royal loser when it comes to
I just delivered 60 more Stalker books into Fantasiapelit these
Tuesday, so woes about availability should be over. About time too, I
had already lost my #1 sales standing to Dark Heresy supplements. I
held the two top slots for almost a month. Let's see if I can recover
before D&D4 wipes the deck clean. Regarding the sales of that, the
only question is "hundreds or thousands?" I've been hearing good things
about the GM section there and it is about time. Even WOTC must have
realised that unless more effort is made to bring newbies into the
hobby, we'll soon follow Gygax to the grave. Furthermore, D&D4
should be easier and lighter to use than the monster they called
D&D3.5. However, focus is still firmly on tactical action play but
I am waiting for the supporting online applications with interest. In
fact, I am waiting for them with so much interest that it now looks
like Burger Games might get its own.
While I was visiting the local inn I was approached by a stranger
clad in black robes and he showed me wondrous things (no, he was not an
exhibitionist). Imagine a high-detail, tiltable 3D projection map of
the entire world that can be zoomed down into frankly ridiculous
detail. Now imagine all the zones drawn there, into the locations
they're in the rulebook. The French Zone already had the locations and
details of all the stalker rumours from the rulebook filled in, as well
as the hypothetical locations of the places in the Stalker adventure
"Punainen talo" I wrote for Roolipelaaja. Now imagine this system as a
shared database, where Stalker gamemasters everywhere could add
location details as they come up with them and draw upon the creations
of each other. And you could zoom right into any of them, down to a
level where you can see individual cars on the roads as they were
before the Visit. Or start a flight simulator that would fly you over
the zone rendered in 3D.
All it took was Google Earth
and a brainwave by this one guy. I am so impressed I still haven't
found my jawbone. He even got past my heavy-handed misuse of Zone
geometry and somehow forced the features of the Zone Map and the
Toulouse City Map to match (with an acceptable degree of accuracy).
That is nothing short of amazing. Burger Games will offer this project
its full support and re-design the web end of Stalker around it if I
must. And really, if it works, I'll have to write Badlands just to get
to fool around with the near-future map of Africa as well. Burger
Games, fashionably online!
Well, that's stuff to do if I survive the Swedish lessons.
26-May-2008: Give Me A Break
Now that our government is being run by thugs and
idiots and our parliament was proven corrupt, the Finnish courts
(Helsingin hovioikeus, whatever the hell that is) decided that they
must do something to fit in. So they went ahead to prove themselves
ignorant morons and made watching
DVDs on a computer running Linux a crime. This includes watching
perfectly legal DVDs the owner has bought. No, it didn't make any sense
to me either. As a cherry on top, you don't even need a computer to
break the law. A linux-based DVD player can do that for you as well
(Samsung, LG among others), if I read the wording of the court decision
correctly. How can anyone fault illegal downloaders when legal
customers are also being made criminals? Where is the "wrong" in
watching a legally purchased movie on a Linux computer? Who is the
victim in this crime?
I think the real issue is how far apart digital-age
reality and legislation can drift before one of them snaps? It is
already obvious there is little or no contact between the two and
somehow I think reality is the tougher nut to crack here.
Blemish asked why I take such a dim view of the Baby
Troll's latest excursion into the Stalker-thread at majatalo.org. Yeah,
it is a real
to me too. I guess he hasn't been stroking my ego enough lately
(actually, that sounds deliciously kinky in English).
Here is the English version of the main Stalker
If the book print is correct, the third print run
will be out tomorrow. I'll deliver it to Fantasiapelit in Helsinki
as soon as I can. The rest of Finland is up to them. If you're
Pelit and Blacksilver
should still have some.
Supplement is on the drawing board and while
still set in the French Zone, it is sort of building bridges to
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and Code/X. I know the videogame has been the
primary Stalker inspiration for many and let's face it: I've played
more than my fair share of it during and after development. But I
can't include the Chernobyl Zone into the Stalker RPG canon. Please
I've had no response to the request for
translating Stalker RPG into English so I have asked that again. If
there is still no response I don't know what I am going to do. I
might still go ahead and do it on the grounds that it is likely
Boris Strugatsky won't mind and it'd be just a wider interpretation
of his original and rather casual permission. But I'd really rather
have a proper okay.
I have also been asked to do a Swedish
translation with the help of the Finlandssvenskt Kulturfundet. Now
that would be within my rights (this is a bi-lingual country) and
would add a few million potential customers across the Gulf of
Bothnia. I am seriously considering this option.
Now that Roolipelaaja #14 is already old news,
Juhana released the Stalker adventure materials to me and the
adventure that was in the magazine will be published as a
stand-alone PDF on the Stalker website. Actually, I have the stuff
already but I've just been lazy with it.
Speaking of licenses, a little while ago I was asked
for a permission for a Praedor LARP, which I was happy to grant. So
these young enthusiasts (hey, everybody is young compared to me) from
Oulun Interaktiiviset Eläytyjät went ahead and did it, sending me a
batch of photos from the event. Although it is over and done with, here
is the relevant thread.
Finally, here is some free advertising for the movie
Gadkei Lebedi (the Ugly Swans). Based on another novel by Strugatskis,
the movie has been made a sort of hybrid between that and Roadside
Picnic, and it was bloody excellent. GL is one of my great influences
late in the project and helped me to push the project all the way to
the finish. Since I have domain space to spare, here is a good-resolution trailer of
the movie, in Quicktime format.
It is 40 megs, so it won't be there forever. Get it
while you can.
president of Gambia has promised to behead all gays (I wonder if he
means to do it personally). In
Kenya, 11 elderly people were burned alive in their homes as they
were thought to be witches (the article didn't say but I suspect it was
about penis theft again). In
Zimbabwe, inflation has now reached 1000 000% and the government is
taking swift action by
attacking the Anglican church. In South Africa, people
who have very little are beating the crap out of people who have
absolutely nothing to defend their non-existent jobs, women and
booze. Hell, let's not even get started about Nigeria, Sudan, Congo,
Somalia, or any of the other hundred places that are already old
In short, one of the major problems I had with the
Badlands RPG is being resolved by itself. I was afraid
that my neo-colonialist near-future scenario in Africa would have been
seen as racist and demeaning by some. But if the real-world locals keep
this up, Badlands will be reality long before it will ever be fiction.
Sometimes I think that the most screwed-up Sub-Saharan countries should
be told that their failed experiment with independence is now over and
colonial powers are take over again. It is neither right nor just but
at least that kind of stupid shit would be harder to pull off.
Fortunately the setting of Stalker RPG
still remains fictitious. One of the illustrators is pressuring me to
publish a Stalker supplement and he really knows which strings to pull.
I've never published a supplement before and I am not saying it will
happen now but I am already outlining the potential topic and content
with the artist. Time will tell if anything comes out of it but I
thought you might find this interesting. Despite the glowing reviews,
Stalker RPG has not triggered the same kind of flood of feedback,
questions and suggestions that Praedor did. It is always possible that
this is because the scene itself has changed over the past 8 years but
I also take it as a sign that the sales will remain modest despite the
excellent start. Quite understandable, of course, since this really is
a niche product. The few requests for more materials I have received
deal with the Institute and Xenotechnology, alternative settings and
their relevant ability lists and stuff about linking the game with
Chernobyl (and obviously S.T.A.L.K.E.R.)
Now, I cannot add a zone to Chernobyl. It doesn't fit
the rest of the setting and I really don't want to get into any sort of
a dispute with the GSC Worlds game studio. Chernobyl is their
playfield, not mine or Strugaskys'. Of course, I do like the videogame
and have said it often enough. If you really want to have more that
kind of stuff, I can look for places and circumstances in the current
Zones that would have at least some of the same elements. This is
neither plagiarizing nor nothing to laugh at. For great many people,
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was their introduction into the idea and I would rather
build bridges than tear them down.
23-May-2008: My God! It's
Full of Bastards!
I am sure that everyone living in this country (the
least corrupt country in the world, mind you) and not in a coma has
noticed the recent and still on-going electoral funding scandal. Well,
yesterday someone turned on the lights and found this giant cockroach
running for cover: Piece
of News. It is in Finnish, so here is the synopsis:
Anti-corruption laws have been worded so that it is
practically impossible for members of the parliament to get
caught. It requires triple evidence to prove corruption:
Evidence that a bribe was given, evidence that the recipient agreed to
do something for the giver and finally evidence that the intent
to do something for the giver was due to the bribe ("gift") and not for
any other reason. This last part alone makes prosecution
utterly impossible. Curiously, the same laws are much more strict
regarding the bribery of state officials. Throwing money at them the
same way it has been thrown at members of the parliament would land
both them and the briber in jail. These laws were worded and authorised
by the parliament itself back in 2002. In hindsight, the only possible
explanation for the half-assed wording is that the current parliament
wanted to protect what was already a well-established policy.
So much for the least corrupt country in the world
-theory. I wonder why nobody whipped up a shit storm back then?
But this was a new wrinkle. The original scandal was
about electoral funding, where all donations greater than 1700 euros
are to be reported to the ministry of justice. There are two problems,
though. The ministry of justice has no authority to check if the report
is accurate and even if proven false, there is no sanction for cooking
the books. As a result, all sorts of shady characters and elite clubs
have been pushing for various high-level politicians. Apparently, they
have been then rewarded with good land deals, construction permits and
the like. Business as usual, says the government and true enough,
practically everyone in the major parties seems to be in on it.
For example, prime minister Vanhanen himself gave
political support to the construction of Ideapark Super-mall in Vihti,
even though the construction plan broke several policies and even laws
on public transportation and community development. It has now turned
out that the businessman behind the Ideapark plan, Sukari, supported
Vanhanen's election campaign with a modest but tax-free sum of 10 000
euros. For some reason electoral funding is tax-free and keeps pouring
in even after the elections. Hmm. Well, the politicos say it
is not tax evasion and who are we to doubt their words? We voted them
into power, for fuck's sake!
After all this Kalli, a Centrist Party MP whose moronic
statements started this avalanche, looks more like a village idiot
rather than a thug. But I must say I am really impressed by his pearls
of wisdom. Kalli maintains that he did nothing wrong because even
though failing to report your financial backers is a crime, there is no
sanction for it. So, breaking the law is morally justified (especially
for someone in a position of national responsibility) if you think you
can live with the consequences. It is only wrong if you perceive the
consequences to be punishment. Wow! I think the moral horizon of
Finnish politics just exploded.
Along with my brains.
There have been two new developments.
First is the news that Stalker is selling really well
and a third print run (and another box of Taiga) will be delivered to
them shortly, hopefully already before the end of this month. With the
third print run, my sales expectations for Stalker RPG will have been
officially exceeded. I hope that the demand among customers will
continue strong. The rulebook is pretty solid as a stand-alone product
but I have still been wondering about supplemental material. I have
been asked to write more about the Institution, xenotechnology and the
other zones. I may not have enough time but we'll see. The second new
development is that I have asked Boris Strugatsky for a permission to
translate the game into English. So far there has been no response but
if he says yes, I will use Fundable system to collect
preorders and whip up a web page advertising this opportunity. With
enough preorders to make it worth it (200 or so), it'll happen.
One thing that has really surprised me is the stuff
people have been writing about their plans to run Stalker. It's all
bloody excellent! I still maintain that Stalker is no game for
beginners and this goes especially for GMs. But if you are a veteran,
Stalker RPG can give you wings! Of course, people who have got the game
are also more likely than others to get excited about the setting and
überweird science-horror stuff in general. In any case, I am hoping to
collect as many of these adventure designs as I can and put them up on
the Stalker website. And if you happen to have some and want to get it
out in the public, send them over! I will probably do another batch of
Stalker T-shirts for Ropecon and if I like your stuff (and I usually
do), one of those can be yours.
Strangely enough, the person who most often asks what I
will be writing next is my girlfriend. She knows I have itchy fingers
and that my head explodes without a creative outlet. She has stapled it
together enough times already. There is never a shortage of ideas and
concepts and even less time to do it. Every time I have tried to give
an estimate when and if something might come out it has been off by
several years, so I won't be making those kinds of statements anymore.
Currently, Badlands (CyberFLOW) and Pirates of
the Baltic (Swashbuckling with Praedor rules) are on the top
of my mental pile. Badlands would actually make a decent PDF game, if I
had some scifi-buff to illustrate it (just look at all that tech porn
Pirates of the Baltic (which I would
love to call Thule if it did not fall too close to
Ultima Thule (damn, what a stupid name for a Kalevala RPG!!!))
would be yet another 200+ page tome Burger Games has made its
reputation on. I would be resurrecting the concept of Miekkamies with
it and pack it full of secret societies, witch covens, court intrigue
and swashbuckling adventure. But it is a big step and I still have to
get the setting sorted out in my head.
Of course, I know what I should do and it is none of
Welcome to the second math lecture in the Burger Games
University. The topic for today is Damage in Praedor and unlike the
last time, I am not enraged out of my skull. Credible misunderstanding
beats intentional breaking of the game system by introducing impossible
variables any day. Some of this stuff is already covered in the
majatalo.org forum thread about trying (and failing) to find common
ground between The Riddle of Steel and Praedor RPG to build on. But I
am now trying to write universal guidelines on handling Praedor damage
so that the trial and error implemented by many fans of the game can
Praedor has two separate damage systems: Blood Points
and Deep Wounds, corresponding to slow and quick death, respectively.
While you can die when your Blood Points are exhausted, the main
purpose of the BP system is to monitor character's overall performance,
impose penalties from accumulating smaller wounds or bruises, and
finally acting as a panic buffer between various troubles and character
death. There are quite a few blood points but not enough to make the
character invincible. If something costs the char 1D blood points per
hour, the player is worried but has still several hours remaining to do
something about the current state of affairs. Setting the exact number
of blood points was always more or less arbitrary but I wanted the
Average Joe to have more than his Deep Wound level in Blood Points.
Somewhere around 1.5 times the Deep Wound per row would be nice,
although this does not always happen.
For the purposes of combat, the Blood Point score is
strictly secondary, although the penalty dice will obviously have an
impact. The beef is in the Deep Wound system. The average person has a
Deep Wound value of 7 and all weapon damages have been geared around
that. Anything beneath that value is a scratch. It is important to
remember, that while the damage value of a broadsword is 7, the damage
from an average hit is actually 10,5. Rounding up to 11, this is a
high-end second-category deep wound on a person. Increasing the weapon
damage to 8 may not look like much but what it actually does is push
the average result into a higher Deep Wound category. Consequently, the
effects on the target will be much more severe than the 1 point
increase might lead to believe. This is also why armour with low
protection rating can still be so important. Even if it fails to stop
all damage through, preventing a Deep Wound or even downgrading the hit
to a lower Deep Wound category is well worth it.
All this is easily lost on the players, who see only a
linear difference of 1/7 between 7 and 8 points of weapon base damage.
But if you remove the Deep Wound treshold of 7 and fix the weapon
damages accordingly, a different picture emerges. Spear would have a
damage value of -2. Your basic broadsword would be the baseline with a
damage value of 0. A greatsword would have a damage value of +3. This
could be simplified even further if variation from the opponent stats
was completely ignored. Hit from a spear inflicts Deep Wound I, the
same from a broadsword a Deep Wound II and finally a cut from a
Greatsword does a Deep Wound IV, measured by category. You could
abstract these into damage values of 1, 2 and 4, if you wanted.
Logically, for every 2 points of armor protection, the
Deep Wound category is reduced by 1. Since each category encompasses
two points, small variations to optimize weight and cost are possible,
but in theory, a soft leather reduces Deep Wound by 1 category, hard
leather by 2 categories, flexible metals by 3 and rigid metals by 4.
Two-point categories also enable quality variation in armour without
upsetting the overall balance. If a master-crafted piece of armour
protects 4 points instead of 3, there is already a good chance it
knocks the incoming wound down by one extra category, which is a big
Okay, looks like the lessons over for the day. Your
homework is to read your Praedor carefully through and prepare a
three-page essay on why doubling the base damage values for archery
would be bad.
I've lost count how many times I have lectured on the
art of making and designing tabletop roleplaying games. Ropecon,
Tracon, Conklaavi, couple of schools and libraries... you name it. The
curriculum has stayed almost the same: Developing a concept,
playtesting essentials, presentation, production and finally the basic
financials of hobbyist printing. I have just now learned that an
important piece was missing, a key element without which no rules
system can really function. Not Praedor, not FLOW, not D&D. I
always knew it was important but was under the impression this was
something that the Finnish state took care of with its award-winning
education system. At least that's where I learned mine.
Now meet Mr. T.
He is a medieval renactment enthusiast and figures he
knows all there is to know about medieval combat and a realistic melee
system using dice and paper... sorry, modelled with dice and paper, is
his idea of Paradise. He has already found his dream game but nobody to
share his dream with, so he decides to take Praedor, a
testosterone-fueled orgy of violence in the pulp fantasy genre, and mod
that into a super-realistic medieval hackfest. Never mind this makes as
much sense as taking a Ford Fiesta and modding it into an A2 Abrams and
nobody knows what realistic means in this context anyway. The very
first rule about modding a game is figuring out how the game works and
this goes for both setting and rules. In this particular case, the
emphasis was on rules. Now, understanding the rules system, let alone
modding it, requires one key element, a special skill that I skipped
over in all my lectures but that has now been burned into my soul with
red-hot branding iron shaped like a teardrop.
Game design is not rocket science and game systems are
based on simple algorithms that use character-dependent and GM-imposed
variables in conjunction with a random element, usually but not
necessarily dice. However, for any of that to work, those simple
algorithms must be correct. Now, having done only the short
math in high school I don't like calling myself an expert on this but
compared to some people who have proposed rule changes to Praedor over
the years I am the fucking Blaise Pascal. Mr. T. is not an
exception. I am still in the process of figuring out how to present
this in generic terms but for Praedor rules, there are certain things
you just have to remember:
Any rules system is a far-out abstraction of
Skill value of 11 is enough to live on.
There is a reason for that starting skill cap of
15 for new characters.
It is still very good.
There is an excellent table about skill values on
There is also a rather nifty experience table on
They are both there for a reason called
1D6 gives you a linear distribution of
2D6 does not.
And 1D8+1D4 does not pass for 1D12, even in
3D6 probability curve makes a skill difference of
5 very significant.
Hundreds of Praedor players think the system
That includes their characters' shields.
If you can't get the system of your dreams to
work, what makes you think you can do better by modding something
I've told you I don't like stupid questions but
I'll take them over stupid rules changes any day.
Jiituomas reviewed the
Words fail me. Or maybe his blog account has been
We have had our disagreements and they're still there
in the second paragraph but I am not here to talk about that. There is
not much to argue about in the actual review: The weak points of FLOW
(or any system relying so heavily on the GM) have long since been
documented and the treatment of weaker players is ultimately a matter
of viewpoint. More material would always be nice and Institute or
xenotech are certainly no exceptions. One thing that I personally miss
is an Institute logo. Finally, Jiituomas is not the first person to ask
for an index. I've never used one in any RPG ever but admittedly most
rulebooks seem to have one. Oh well, maybe next time.
Sope drew a new panel for Piippuhyllyn
Manifesti over this review. Well thought and quite possibly
the only explanation, but I think my character should look even more
Feedback from Stalker RPG might be sparse but when I
get it, it is glowing. This
one in particular warms my heart. It emphasizes just the right
things, the reasons roleplaying games get made. Reading stuff like that
makes me feel like I have really done it right. Still waiting for
Jiituomas' review to rain on my parade but all these positive feedback
I've got so far has made me cautiously optimistic.
By the way, to counter the criticism
for the choice of font, Jiituomas (of all people) made
the exactly same arguments I was about to make for the use of Comic Sans MS. It
did not work with a two-column layout. I tried that last summer and it
made the page look like a black wall. But with the current layout and
spacing between paragraphs, it is clear, casual, a little gloomy and
matchesthe thick, even coarse lines of the primary illustration style.
It gives the book a coherent look and feel and I have no trouble
reading it. Judging from the feedback, neither has almost anybody else.
Curiously, the one
person to condemn it is a web designer (a graphic artists of
sorts). NiTessine warned already in his
review that Comic Sans MS does to graphic designers what garlic
does to vampires. In any case, graphic designers are not my core
audience and the font stays. Period. I might even make it the official
FLOW body text font.
Between partying with the company prostitutes and
taking joyrides in our employee benefit limousines, we here at Burger
Games have been thinking about Stalker merchandise for Summer events
like Ropecon and... eh... Ropecon. T-shirts would be the obvious choice
but I would like to go beyond that. Nuts and bolts with strings of
cloth of bandage would be traditional, of course, but I have also been
thinking about doing a deluxe version of the Zone map with lots of
eyecandy and then printing it on cloth. We'll have to see what it costs
but I think that'd be cool. And if we get a good deal on that, I can
also see demand for the "big map" in Praedor. Any other ideas and
suggestions are welcome.
I have been lazing through the May Day holidays
(extended by one vacation day so I could stay at home also on Friday).
The one thing I did do was haul what remained of the 2nd print run of
Stalker into the stores. So I am all out and the copies you can get
from the stores are the last ones for now. Of course, when stores run
dry, I will start taking pre-orders from my retailers. If I get enough
of pre-orders to cover the printing costs of a new print run, it'll
happen. For now, I am also fairly confident it will
happen. All the major reviews are now done and they were all very
positive, with Helsingin Sanomat as the cherry on top. Personally, I am
still waiting for Jiituomas to weigh in since I know he will be
brutally honest about any perceived flaws.
Next week will consist of shaping up on some other
projects and getting my room clean and orderly, with the rest of the
apartment hopefully soon to follow. There is one particular project I
have been neglecting, first because of illness and then because of
Stalker; Elämäpeli. And I hate to have people held up in their
efforts because they are waiting on me, which is exactly what has
happened on couple of other things. So move it, you lump of lard!
My younger cousin in the Theatre Academy emailed me
after the Helsingin Sanomat story. She said I looked healthy and
Bohemian in the newspaper picture. That picture was actually
taken in the men's room of Meritähti Restaurant in Ruoholahti
and the whole thing annoyed male customers who found the idea of a
female photographer with a camera in the men's room slightly
disturbing. My face in the picture is actually a reflection snapped off
I don't think a roleplaying game review can get any
better than what Juhana wrote about Stalker RPG in Helsingin Sanomat today. Even the parts I
had been annoyed by in the preview were quite okay once put into
context. Unfortunately I can only link the preview
but if you get your hands on the paper version, look it up. Meanwhile
also NiTessine has finished his own private review of Stalker RPG and
put it into his blog that I
can link. So far, all feedback and reviews have
been very positive but I trust Jiituomas to put an end to
that (not really but I just had to say it for the old times' sake).
Seriously, I had expected the absolute GM authority in
Stalker (with the enumeration system being just a GM tool) to stir up
more controversy and thus more attention for the game, which is always
a good thing in itself. I guess that was a glorious failure. The only
thing resembling criticism has been Navdi's bitter comment
about the review in Roolipelaaja (he wasn't too impressed with the
whole issue). The movie reference makes it all a bit wonky but
otherwise his opinion is clear enough when reading between the lines.
With the two main reviews honourably out of the way
there is really no excuse not to make a FLOW website anymore. I have
been offered space for it in Mekanismi Wiki
but will have to turn that one down. The site will have its own URL but
I'll keep the content under the burgergames.com directory tree and get
some use of that vast data storage capacity I have. While I would
prefer to keep majatalo.org as the primary Burger Games forum, the FLOW
website may need its own. But this is just talk. Let's see when and if
I find the time to do any or all of this.
I was just informed of a Praedor LARP by
OIEI (actually, they asked for my permission for it; I am not sure they
would have needed it but gave it to them nevertheless). That got me
thinking. Myrskyn aika is the only dual-purpose Finnish
roleplaying-game, written for both pen&paper and live-action
roleplaying. I don't pretend to know anything about LARPing (maybe I
should buy thatLarpinjärjestäjän
käsikirja) but from what I do understand, Stalker would be a
good setting for live-action games as well, or a hybrid campaign where
gamemasters would bring their respective tabletop narratives together
in a LARP event every few months.
Set in the modern world, Stalker is easy to prop. The
gameplay and adventure design is very people- and interaction-centred
outside the Zones and even Zones themselves could be modelled with
lights, fabrics, wires, sound effects and for the posh, a smoke
machine. The system is very light on stats and if Myrskyn aika
could do a live-action conversion, FLOW can do it as well. The setting
itself encourages people to form social units that interact on both
group and individual levels. It all sounds very doable to me but I am
not the expert here.
30-Apr-2008: Am I
I've been asked, on many occasions, what to do in
Stalker when the Zone is no longer the shiny new thing to wow the
players from the moment their characters step across the border. My
response is that this is when the GM pulls his head out of his ass and
starts doing his job. Is your every D&D dungeon going to be a
completely unique jaw-dropper when your characters are on level 10+?
Are your praedors still stumbling around in Borvaria even though it is
their 10th trip? There will always be danger and there will always be
surprises but as people learn, surprises become less frequent, risks
more manageable and their goals correspondingly more ambitious.
I don't see a problem here. Am I missing something?
The only way for the Zone to remain constantly
mysterious would be to have both the stalkers and the players
brainwashed every time they return from a Zone expedition, so that
they'll never learn anything. Read the book for more
examples. Some anomalies and artefacts are already run of the mill,
with playful names issued by veteran stalkers. Some routes are charted
out so that they become far less dangerous to traverse. Yes, the Zone
will lose some of its alien feel and mystery over the play and
it is in keeping with the setting and the genre.
That's how you get veteran stalkers. That is the only way you
can get veteran stalkers.
Whew, I have to take up this continuity issue in the
Ropecon presentation. So far, the outline looks somewhat likes this.
Strugatskis and other history
Sample of Stalker-related products
Setting development and influences
Superstructures (incl. continuity)
Substructures (incl. continuity)
Setting: problems and solutions
Player's view of FLOW
Gamemaster's view of FLOW
FLOW: problems and solutions
I finally have the Roolipelaaja
review in front of me and not because the post system would
have got it to me on time for once. Anyway, Joonas Laakso gave STALKER
RPG 4 stars out of 5, which, I am told, is not bad. The review was
fairly positive overall but I do disagree on one bit and have pages 109
and 110 to back me up. But let's leave it at that; arguing with
reviewers is bad form (and a
videogame industry standard).
Sanomat is also doing its piece on STALKER and that will
come out in the May Day issue. The HeSa review is written by Juhana
Pettersson and while I think it is going to be positive as well, I have
an itch it is also going to be very different from this one. Time will
tell if I have gifts to become an oracle. Jussi Ahlroth interviewed me
today for a sister article to the HeSa review and brought with him a
hyperactive camera lady who terrorized all Ruoholahti by first having
us both squeeze into the men's room at Meritähti Restaurant and then
breaking one of the terrace chairs of Dacca by standing on it. I can't
wait to see which one of the hundred or so wacky shots ends up in the
In related news, Fantasiapelit has ordered all
remaining 2nd print run Stalkers and an unspecified number of Taigas.
So, as far as Burger Games is concerned, Stalker has been sold out and
don't come crying to me if you got to the stores too late (complain to
the stores by all means; they'll order more). Since the second print
run went so fast, a third print run is more than likely, depending on
the number of preorders I get. That would happen sometime during the
In final news, have you ever lamented S.T.A.L.K.E.R: The Shadow of
Chernobyl not being the game they originally promised? Then
Oblivion Lost -mod is made for you! The tired old
shooter becomes a whole new game with this one, with more monster
types, more danger, functioning vehicles, the possibility to use
artifacts as anomaly-spawning weapons, really dark nights, weapons that
actually hit and make holes, monsters that actually pack a punch,
open-ended gameplay with repeated blowouts to keep the zone stacked
with monsters and artifacts and the ability to go to sleep, real
stealth especially in the dark... Works with .0005 version of the game
so you may have to downgrade your installation (.0006 is the most
current game version). Get it from here.
In the silvery towers of the Burger Games Media Company
HQ, thousands of stockholders had gathered to hear the president's
announcement over last year's fiscal results. After the printing costs
and the website upkeep, the figure below the line was whopping 130
euros in the black! But while this might be a poor business to be in,
last year was modest even by Burger Games standards. The most recent
print run (the infamous "blue book" that made me switch the printing
company) of Praedor has still not been sold out. I don't know if
Praedor books are still moving but it is definitely approaching the end
of its run as a sales item and I will not take another print run if and
when the current one runs out. But I am happy to be still in the black.
If that is the measure, Burger Games has had a good run from 2001
This year, my decision to pull back the first print run
of Stalker may break that run. Still, from the looks of it the second
print run is doing well. I am hoping to have it sold out before Ropecon
but that could be a tall order. This time Hiltunen is not involved and
Strugatsky-scifi is a very different (and niche) beast from pulp
fantasy. I am sitting on hot coals over the first official reviews. So
far, Stalker feedback has only appeared in majatalo.org
and my friend Pare's blog.
Next issue of Roolipelaaja has the first official review and I know of
at least one other that is in the works. What I've read so far has been
greatly encouraging but this is a niche game, no matter how
stellar it might be. I am also at the mercy of my retailers. Should the
second print run of Stalker run out and the retailers be reluctant to
order enough copies to cover the third print run, that'd be it.
Hmm... actually not. I do have four unassigned boxes of
books here. Looks like I wont be destroying the 1st print run boxes
after all. They are a fallback option if and when taking new print runs
becomes unfeasible. After all, people are still asking for Miekkamies,
13 years after the fact.
24-Apr-2008: Top of
There are no new reviews but take a look at this:
Those are the best selling items in the RPG category at
Fantasiapelit over the past 30 days. Great, huh? Yep, but also more
than a little scary. Fantasiapelit
has received exactly 60 Stalkers and around 30 Taigas from Burger
Games. If that is enough to put me into both #1 and #2 positions
for the past month, how low must the overall demand for RPG
goods be? No wonder they've been pushed into the back shelves of the
While delivering Stalkers into Puolenkuun
Pelit in Tapiola, one of the staff asked me what
roleplaying games I had played. My first reaction was along the lines
of "are you fucking serious". But he insisted, probably mistaking me
for someone who has just tried out a couple of roleplaying games and
then decided to write his own. I gave him a quick list of the games I
could immediately remember (20+) and his expression went somewhat
blank. But I kept remembering more games all through the evening and
finally decided to write them down. So here it is, in no particular
order, the official list of games that I have played, gamemastered or
Fighting Fantasy/Apshai -RPG
Call of Cthulhu
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
Drakar & Demoner
Traveller: The New Era
That is 38 titles by my count and I may have missed
some. I have read through about 20 more. Games in bold
have been used in multiple campaigns or otherwise played for several
years. My works have been influenced by all of them, sometimes
knowingly but most often not. An outside observer is probably better at
seeing parallels but I have often explained how Legionnaire
gave the original seed that was to become the Praedor system. But it is
an ancestral relationship and my system works much better, nyah nyah
But I could never remember all that on the spot, so
from now on if somebody asks me about the games I've played, I'll just
point them to this blog.
22-Arp-2008: I Has
Yep, the second print run is finished and in the
stores. Those waiting theirs by mail should get them by the end of this
Not doing too good. I got so much better after one week
that the careful observation of rest and diet restriction slipped. Now
I am paying the price. Damn that hurts! But I guess I'll be okay if I
return to a more restricted diet.
We have another
forum review of Stalker RPG and it's not too bad either.
As for the second print run, Yliopistopaino has given next Tuesday
(April 22th) as the new ETA. Helsingin Fantasiapelit and
possibly the brand new Puolenkuun Pelit in Tapiola, Espoo, are
the first ones to get theirs. The remaining shipments will reach their
customers by the end of the week.
There is a spirited
discussion in majatalo.org over modifications to the melee
system of Praedor by a strangely misogynistic The Riddle of Steel
aficionado. For the ignorant, TROS is an overly complicated
combat-oriented fantasy roleplaying game that its fans claim to be the
best ever and everybody else considers near-unplayable. Those of you
who knew Rolemaster fans back in the late 1980s will get a dejá vu over
this whole phenomenon. Personally, I don't understand why anyone who
wants realistic medieval combat would try get it out of a pulp-fantasy
RPG like Praedor but hey, if it sells more
copies and increases public awareness, I am all for it! Besides, it is
discussions like this (or pretty much discussions of any kind) that
make majatalo.org my preferred
No, I don't give a shit about ARMA either. If I
wanted to know something about realistic medieval combat, I'd ask Guy Windsor. Since I don't, I am
asking R.E. Howard.
I have read my first Stalker
review by someone I don't know. It is glowing! It is red hot! I am blushing so hard even my beard is
turning red. Fortunately no-one is around to see it. Making roleplaying
games won't bring in the dough but when something like this happens it
is all worth it. Someone you don't know and who is specifically tasked
with writing a review thinks the game is good enough to warrant both
money and extra work to promote its greatness. I love that feeling. The
feeling of having been able to give someone something unique, something
they didn't have before. The feeling of success.
With Stalker, I risked it all using a radical new game
system that is effectively a rethink of the way roleplaying narrative
is handled, while also going out on a limb with super-niche genre and
setting. To be rewarded like this is extra sweet. It was a huge bet
with long odds but at least with this person, it has paid off. And it
is all happening using one of the shaky 1st print run Stalker RPG
books. This is so great! Especially when I am already chewing my
fingers off while waiting for the Roolipelaaja review of Stalker RPG.
Yes, Roolipelaaja is that important to
The second print run of Stalker should come out
tomorrow. Fantasiapelit Helsinki will be the first one to get theirs.
But now Puolenkuun Pelit has expanded to the capital area and opened a
shop at Heikintori, in Tapiola, Espoo. If it would be okay for PKP to
receive their shipment of Stalker there, they could be in on the game
already tomorrow evening. Assuming the print keeps it word, of course.
I'll take the car to work and prepare both bills, just to be on the
14-Apr-2008: Go with
If Burger Games were a real games development company,
it would right now spend 100+ kiloeuros on a markering consultant, who
would then come up with a brilliant website slogan Go with the
Flow. Since BG is just my hobby publishing label, I am saving my
money and making the decision myself. I first saw this proverb used in
a FLOW-specific context when Olorin
described his Ropecon/Stalker experiences in Ironspine discussion
forums. It is kind of obvious but I like it, in a "Vi åker Jeep" - kind of fashion.
And yes, the flattery helps.
At the risk of my enthusiasm fizzling out if Stalker
RPG gets trashed by Roolipelaaja, I've drawn up some
plans for the FLOW website. The idea is to provide the general FLOW
mechanic and game design tools for free, while actual FLOW games (Stalker RPG and perhaps
some other games in the future) are productized and published as before
(PDFs in the web if free, physical books or perhaps a print-on-demand
arrangement if commercial). For a light and highly interpretative
system like FLOW, the game design tools are actually elaborations of
the design principles I've found to be working but of which someone
else might naturally have better ideas. I expect the definition of FLOW
to get blurred or at least challenged in the near future. Assuming
anybody gives a damn about it, of course.
Those of you who have already bought Stalker RPG have
surely noticed the rather concise piece on FLOW at the start of the
Gamemaster's Book. That section was originally meant to be its own
"Book" but that would have meant moving the character rules into it,
thus breaking the tight connection between the rules and the setting I
am always so keen to promote. I didn't want to do it, so the rules
became part of GM's instructions and players still get to create their
own characters. The way the game system has to be rebuilt for each
setting is precisely what separates FLOW from generic roleplaying
systems. While I can explain the role of abilities and stats in FLOW, I
can't say what those abilities and stats will be or how they are
acquired without the context of the setting. Ability and stat lists are
all setting-specific, along with the decision to use character classes,
professions, whatever, or the loose lifepath method I have applied to
Stalker RPG. I think all this makes FLOW more of a rules philosophy
than a rules system.
Generic Universal Role-Playing Rules Philosophy =
Hmm... Role-Playing Rules Philosophy = RPRP =
Now that sounds much sexier :)
(No, the correct form
(RP)2 isn't sexy
As for the website, I think the main components would
have to be:
- Design overview explains basic principles of
FLOW as an algorithmic but diceless game system and its perceived
similarities and differences to traditional algorithmic roleplaying
- Player's roleis a
vital part of the design overview as it outlines the powers and
responsibilities of a player-level FLOW user.
- Abilities, Stats and Shadows are explained
as both character definining elements and challenge resolution
- Challenge Resolution is the core of the system
and contains basically everything that was at the beginning of the
Gamemaster's Book in Stalker RPG.
- Combat Resolution is not a separate mechanic
as such but usually requires more explaining since it is
completely different from what most gamers have become to
expect by now.
- Character Elements elaborates further on the
units that make up a character in FLOW, primarily Abilities, Stats
and Shadows, but also the way all three are affected and affect the
- Ability Setup is perhaps the most important
sub-category as abilities define what the characters can be,
have or do, or in broader terms what kind of extraordinary
things can or cannot be done in the setting.
- Stat Setup is a sideshow compared to the
- Shadows are usually more freeform than
abilities but they link the ability gains with the creation
method and can be used to impose character class restrictions
if the setting/genre calls for it. High-fantasy wizards sucking
in melee is probably the most common example.
- Creation Method elaborates on different ways to
build a character and assign his abilities, stats, shadows and the
- Assets deals with different ways of
determining start-out equipment and wealth. In some genres the
line between abilities and assets can be blurred, like with
cybertech implants in most cyberpunkish settings.
- Applications would be a collection of files,
documents and links referring to existing FLOW products by me and
others. Currently Stalker RPG is the only one out there.
For a site like this a discussion forum is a must but I really can't
be arsed to A) set one up and B) be constantly monitoring it. I have
been pleased with Kiukkuisen
Oravan Majatalo and made it the "official forum" (yeah,
right) for any discussion on my games. Now if only they had an English
No, nothing new has happened on the roleplaying front
to make me gag. But with the present health problems a gagging feeling
is not exactly a stranger anymore. It is 4.24 am and I can't sleep...
or rather, can't lie down or I throw up on the spot. This time the
avatar image portrays exactly how I feel right now. Remember kids,
that's what you get for eating a slice of bread. Fibres are deadly!!!
So, being neither able to sleep nor to concentrate, what else is there
but blogging? In a video game they would probably call it "idle
The mailman brought me a copy of Playground
Worlds, this year's Solmukohta book. The authors, Montola and
Stenros, graciously decided to send a copy to all Finnish RPG authors
and prominent LARP writers. I have only browsed it through and done
some selective reading, and I also know that Roolipelaaja is going to
review it anyway in the next issue. My notes are more like first
impressions rather than confirmed observations. Written in the dead of
the night while feeling sick.
The very first thing that struck me was the strong
(okay, exclusive) LARP focus. Solmukohta has for many years talked
about broadening its scope to include also tabletop roleplaying games.
So far, this has had little effect on actual programme or publications.
This is not in itself a bad thing. The event was conceived as a
high-brow LARPer meeting and they have every right to meet if they want
to. I just find it a little annoying that the bipartisan propaganda
still didn't hold true, especially since I had contemplated attending
Solmukohta this year. Not a big deal, I know. But it was my very first
My next impression was a positive surprise when another
piece of propaganda turned out to be true. Everybody knows I hate the
academic gaming drivel for which the previous Solmukohta book was
famous for. But this time authors had promised that the book would also
make an interesting read to lay people who just wanted to read about
recent LARP events and trends. They made good of that promise and some
of the articles are genuinely interesting even to a non-LARPer like
myself. So, all in all, not a bad book. I wouldn't have bought it
myself but now that I've got it, I will read it. At at least most of
its articles. I just wish the organizers would A) stop giving people
like me false hopes about the nature of the event and B) would have
retained the old website picture, which was the coolest ever. Maybe
they decided to get rid of it because it had dice?
Another Postcard from Death but they still let me out
of Peijas Hospital today. The idiot doctors at Diacor had slapped me
five consecutive sets antibiotic and soon after writing the previous
blog entry my metabolism gave out. Antibiotic poisoning is not fun and
it takes some serious effort to critically dehydrate a heavyweight like
me. Anyway, they did manage to rehydrate me in the hospital and
basically saved, if not my life, a fair bit of my internal organs. I
opted to recover at home, even though my left kidney appears to have
taken some damage in the process. So, no more swallowed antibiotics for
god knows how long and severe restrictions on diet, including a ban on
both meat and salads. A digestive tract infection of almost
any kind would be major bad news right now. It is actually rather
interesting to have a diarrhea that doesn't smell. No bacteria
= no sulphur compounds = no smell.
Anyway, I lived and just made the finishing touches to
the draft of the second print run of Stalker in drugged-out stupor (as
opposed to the fever-induced delirium earlier). It may have contributed
to the results but also fits the atmosphere rather well at times. The
ETA for the second print run of Stalker RPG is the end of next week. No
promises but then again we are not in a hurry this time, are we? The
next Roolipelaaja magazine will have a review of Stalker based on the
buggy first print run. Drugged-up or sober, I can't catch them all but
I (and some helping hands) have caught quite a few. I can't really
blame the reviewer if he gives the game poor marks for production value
because of the typos but I will be pissed. Who wouldn't?
Once it is out, my focus will shift to writing
Elämäpeli (kind of a hardcore game lately). There is no way in
hell I am going to finish the script by Summer but I expect the
publisher to be understanding to a certain degree. And I am really
looking forward to get back to work. I have a strong need to feel
useful and they've basically kept shooing me off while I have been
sick. Now, with the power of two tramadol pills, I feel good enough to
go back to work tomorrow. Unfortunately, I am also too drugged-out to
walk straight but then again my work isn't about walking around, is it?
Joking, of course, but I am praying (hmm... I am an atheist, who am I
praying to?) that the pulmonary specialist I am seeing on Friday would
give me a green light on the lung and this fucking nightmare would end.
I can't take any more antibiotics so there has to be another way.
Any other way.
But, assuming I am still around, the one thing I would
like to hear from people who liked Stalker RPG (assuming there are any)
is that what kind of supportive/supplemental/iterative material they
would like to see for the game. Being good at ripping off stuff from
other makes makes me bad at writing supplements since almost any other
game product is a supplement for me but Stalker RPG is such an unusual
game that all ideas are welcome. I have also planned to do is to
translate the Flow Core into English and publish it as a free download
(specific games written with Flow would be still be commercial
products). One final thing I would like to do is to make it possible
for anybody to write and publish a Flow product as long as they
acknowledge the source (myself/Burger Games/Stalker RPG). I am not an
expert in licensing schemes but there must be something out there that
fits the bill.
Unless Roolipelaaja really trashes the Flow system in
the Stalker review, expect a Flow-specific website sometime in the near
While I was in the hospital, Mike Pohjola and a bunch
of other Nordic LARPers (including Matrin Ericsson whom the others
hopefully kept in a leash) won the Emmy Award for Sanningen om
Marika in Cannes. Congratulations! I don't have the energy to be
as ecstatic about it as Jussi
Alroth is in Helsingin Sanomat but that doesn't mean I shouldn't
be. This is huge! And I expect even bigger things to happen in the near
future! It will also be interesting to see if things like this will
finally spin LARPing off as an entirely separate scene, unconnected to
pen & paper roleplaying games in any way.
Sheesh, I feel bad! An antibiotic is nothing but a dose
of poison small enough to kill anything but you. I think the
antibiotics I've been fed over the course of this ailment are exceeding
the limit. I can't tell the soreness of my lungs apart from the
soreness of everything else anymore. It's like all my innards were
dissolving into this one churning stew. If somebody cuts me open I'll
bleed more than just blood right now. Spider venom effects, from
In other news, as a perfect storm resulting from a
hurried launch and Murphys Law, I seem to have made a mess of the
Stalker proofreading corrections, especially in the Player's Book. I am
not sure what exactly went wrong but it is obvious that the
find/replace macro has failed in places and I have missed certain
glaring, obvious errors. So what I've basically done now is go through
to the rulebook files, copying the text elements into a real word
processor, read them through, run a word check on them, fixing whatever
errors I could find into the main gamebook file. SnowDog was right, the
Player's Book is bordering on ghastly. The Gamemaster's Book was okay
and the Zone book was somewhere in between.
I didn't expect the game to be perfect but I did expect
it to be better than this, so after a gentle prod from somebody and
some quick calculations on the number of preorders I've had, I decided
to withdraw the first print run of Stalker from the stores (basically
not supplying any more games to retailers except for the 17 that
already got through). Sure it costs me but with all the orders I've
received the cost of witholding this print run and taking another
should leave me pretty much even. And I want it to be good more than I
want it to make big bucks (eh...what?). I am going to put the script
through some more post-production and order the second print-run
sometime later this week. This is one of the advantages of having small
print runs: the opportunity cost for fixing screwups is low. But don't
worry: there is no way in hell I am going to catch all the typos.
So, to everybody who hurried to buy one of the 17 books
already delivered, congratulations. Apart from some artist gifts and a
review copy (ouch, that's gonna hurt) for Roolipelaaja, there won't be
any more of those. And later, when you bring me books to sign, it is a
first print run book, you are entitled to something more than just my
Besides a mountain of typos and a rather embarrassing
misquote of the novel, one of the things managed to fix was the
unwanted greyscaling and therefore pixelating of some of the
illustrations. I am still a little fuzzy as to the cause but I found
that if I open the picture in Windows Paint and convert it into line
art there, Pagemaker and the Yliopistopaino PDF conversion settings
agree with me. The pixelating of the intentional greyscale images
proved to be a tougher nut to crack and unless there is an immediate
breakthrough in the next two days, I'am going to leave them as they
are. At least the Zone Map is readable.
I am going to hold a Stalker presentation in the next
Ropecon (if they let me) and it will be the last one. Bloody hell!
Many people believe it will be a wonderful feeling to
finally get the game book out of the printers. Actually, it is a
fucking horrible experience. This is the "spirit of the staircase"
-moment of the project, when you (and everybody else in the world)
picks out typos, misquotes and logic errors from the text with hawkish
accuracy that was curiously unattainable some weeks ago when the actual
proofreading was going on. Fortunately BG products do not crash no
matter how buggy they are but I still wouldn't mind getting it right
from the start even once. Heh, like that's ever going to happen (just
remember the first print run of Praedor). The prevalence of typos are a
result of a hurried finish that is unfortunately a typical feature in
my games. I tried too hard to have the game finished first for Tracon
and then for Solmukohta, while being sick. Common sense would be a good
thing to have, even for game designers.
Other than typos, I think the covers are too thin which
strangely wasn't obvious from the draft print-out. The greyscale
resolution issue in the PDF conversion remains to be resolved, as well
Pagemaker's obstinate belief that GIMP-edited line art images have
actually more colours to them. On the plus side, the finer paper is not
nearly as thick as I was afraid of so even the character sheets are
still usable (if someone actually still photocopies those). Also, the
Zone map is readable despite resolution issues and reaching quite close
to the binding. There are no major layout issues that I could see
(apart from Mike going berserk over my choice of fonts, as usual). The
typos annoy the hell out of me but in the big picture they are just
that: an annoyance. What matters is the content, the concept, the game.
There hasn't been much feedback on that yet but the little there is has
been positive. Which is good, because fixing any of it would have been
a lot harder.
In related news, I was, and still am, sick. This may
have contributed to the absence of wonderful feelings lately. I have an
apparently chronic lung infection that despite the doctors' encouraging
words does not seem to go away. It's been ten weeks now and I am on my
fitfh antibiotic. But it is still there: coughs, constricted breathing
(physical exertion is killing me) and moderate fever that see-saws on
either side of 37.5 and sweats up all my clothes. I can feel the
rawness of my left lung with every breath even now, whilst sitting down
and writing this.
is out, sort of
I have some good news and some bad news. The good news
is that Stalker RPG is out there... all 17 copies of
it. By the way, that was the bad news. Yliopistopaino had a
mechanical breakdown and churned out only enough content for a couple
of dozen copies. They glued covers on 20 of them and gave them to me as
I was getting ready to bit their heads off. I kept three and took the
remaining 17 into the Fantasiapelit store in Helsinki. I am hoping that
the print gets its act together next week but for now, those 17 copies
are all there is. I've had all sorts of shit happening with printing
companies before but a catastrophic mechanical breakdown on a pre-set
publishing date is something new. Either somebody is sabotaging my
efforts or having too many copies of Stalker RPG in the same location
In truth, while this was odd, it didn't come anywhere
near my biggest printing disaster ever. That was the 100-copy run of
Praedor I personally took from Tampere to Ropecon, only to notice at
the Dipoli parking lot that the rulebook font was completely different
(and near-unreadable). So, no Praedor at that Con (2001?), although
there are some handed out copies of the failed version still floating
around as collector items. That time, it took the bloody idiots in the
printing company only three weeks and two more draft prints to sort out
thep problem. It turned out to be some kind of a funky glitch in the
printing machine drivers that forced the substitution of document fonts
with its own.
I also carried a box of Taiga into Fantasiapelit. They
took pity on me after the Roolipelaaja interview and decided put Taiga
back into sale as well. So this is how the Burger Games catalogue looks
like right now:
*Only at Fantasiapelit Helsinki or webstore.
Looks like we are having a sale on ruins, desolation,
despair and social decay!
Ugh. I feel terrible. I've been ill since the start of
February. I have an old injury in the lungs that is a magnet for
inflammation in the winter. This time it is bronchitis and I've had the
fucking thing for two months now. I've eaten four different types of
antibiotics and sometimes I am having doubts if I can really shrug it
off this time. Besides the constant need to cough up fluids from the
lung, I am constantly short of breath and even now it feels like I am
breathing around an obstacle inside the left lung. Usually I am okay as
long as I don't move around. Today even that doesn't make me feel too
kosher. I hope it is the antibiotics (Azithromycin). I am sick and
tired of being on a sick leave so I am trying to arrange things so that
I could work from home this week.
(Update: no go on home working and fever raising its
ugly head again, which means I am going to see a doctor again tomorrow.
I wish I had a way to listen to my lungs by myself.)
Okay, that wasn't too inspirational. Change of
I caught an accidental glimpse of the Discovery Channel
series Everest: Beyond the Limit and was immediately hooked,
despite the best efforts of the incredibly irritating Finnish
commentator. To get rid of that babbling idiot, I obviously downloaded
the whole first season from the Net. Since I pay for the whole
Discovery Channel package (basic, Civilization, Science, Travel, Animal
Planet) I don't feel too guilty about downloading interesting but
already-broadcasted stuff that I've missed. It is definitely a service
the Discovery Channel should have but since they don't, Pirate Bay will
be the consumer service here. Season 1 package is rumoured to be a
tracked torrent, though, so take precautions.
Why am I talking about this? Because the series'
resemblance to the concept of Stalker has nailed me into the seat.
There is this immensely dangerous place (210 dead so far, I think),
where people lose their strength, gain wounds that don't heal, go
insane as their brains are deprived oxygen, freeze to death, get heat
stroke (I didn't know it can be 30+ on a snow covered slope at 7000
metres), fall off cliffs and into glacial crevices, get buried in
avalanches and so on. Hundreds of tough people want to go and maybe
only dozens have what it takes. There is this old veteran stalker (Greg
Child) who is assembling a team to go up to the summit. He has this
bunch of trusted regulars and potential new recruits whom he tests by
sending them up on trips in and around the outskirts of the Zone. But
they are not the only group in the Border Area and some of the others
have already entered the Zone. And some will never return. The only
thing missing here are the artifacts. Anomalies are in plenty.
With absolutely breathtaking views, Everest is
also an excellent way to pass time while waiting for the Deadliest
Catch to resume.
30-Mar-2008: The Next
The sad truth is that I have hard time imagining myself
publishing another RPG book after Stalker. I am getting old (something
I am feeling especially strongly now that my bronchitis returned), I
don't have even the kind of free time in my hands I had back in 2003.
Writing books is becoming increasingly important and even Burger Games
is shifting its focus on other kinds of games that actually make money.
Also, the roleplaying scene is both shrinking and fragmenting (you
might disagree but even subjective reality is reality to the
subject) and I don't really feel like re-adjusting to it. I won't
stop thinking about games and I certainly won't stop writing games
material. It's just that the effort of actually doing a complete
rulebook is something I can't promise to undertake again. And after
reading the forum feedback from my adventure in Roolipelaaja I am not
sure I even know what to write anymore. People seem to want everything
tailor-made just for their preferences. Despite Wille's
best efforts, ripping off and modding otherwise incompatible
adventures for inspiration and source material is a lost art.
Of course, my drive to write RPG stuff is unlikely to
go away. It is a counterweight to my day job in the videogames industry
and I like being my own boss every once in a while. In retrospect, this
idea of a counterweight to videogames may have played a big part in the
development of Flow as well. Despite being an algorithmic rules system,
it focuses on stuff that computers cannot currently replicate and
probably never will. You can write a fully automated combat simulation
system using the Praedor combat system if you have the player and
monster stats. Doing something similar with Flow is fundamentally
impossible. You simply cannot model any aspect of Flow with computers,
regardless of your resources. I have always regarded roleplaying as a
form of interactive literature, even though it is spoken aloud. Flow
builds exactly on the strengths of literature and expression, drawing a
clear line between a simulation and a roleplaying game. It is a very
I think I now understand what makes diceless RPG fans
tick. But while most diceless RPGs try to distance themselves from the
mainstream, I am hoping that Flow can become part of it, enabling
smooth and even casual transition from diced to diceless roleplaying
and back again. And I really shouldn't call it diceless. The
next Flow product, if any, will probably apply dice quite a bit. But
the character creation and the task resolution systems, the dual core
of the game play mechanics and where the genre realism gets made, will
always remain diceless. Having said all this, Oh Boy will I have egg on
my face if Roolipelaaja rates Stalker badly. We've just had the March
issue, so I think the next issue will come out in May and is bound to
have a review of Stalker RPG which, rightly or wrongly, puts Flow as a
whole under review as well.
This morning I greenlighted Stalker RPG, so it is now
officially being printed. Just to Recap. The first run is 100 copies
and so far the only confirmed retailer is Fantasiapelit, although I am
sure there will be more, eventually. I am not even making plans for a
second run before the first one is sold out. There is still something
borked with the greyscale pictures but the Zone map is so large now
that it should be readable. I am also going to put a high-res version
of the map onto the Stalker website as soon as the game is out. Another
sore point are the char sheets that reach a little too deeply into the
bind but then again the pdf
sheet is already available on the Stalker website and
nobody photocopies these things anymore. Other than those fortunately
few and actually only very mildly pixelated greyscale images, things
are looking good. And I love the cover. Especially the back cover looks
much better in real life than it ever did on the screen.
It is a hefty book, too. A tad thicker than Praedor
1.1. I think, because of the superior paper, and weighs nicely. Covers
are robust and the whole thing is good for hitting your players over
the head. Do not throw it: if it hits corner first, it might actually
do some damage. Yliopistopaino has promised to have the books ready by
next Friday, April 5th. Now, it is possible they are already done on
Thursday and I will obviously bend over backwards to get them to the
closest store right away, but Friday is the official date. If they miss
it, they will have to compensate me for the delay so I think they'll
make an effort.
I know at least some of you are interested in this
stuff and I feel like writing, so here we go. Yliopistopaino moved much
faster than I expected and sent me a draft of the book already today. I
have always dreamed of passing this stage without any need for changes
but I have never pulled it off. Here are the issues I found:
As the paper is of higher grade than in Praedor,
it is also stiffer. The inside margin, same as in Praedor, is now
too narrow to make the book easy to read. I increased the inside
margin, which meant moving the content column a little to the left.
This lead to some lay-out re-design with images but it only took a
couple of hours. Character sheets are still a little borked by this
but in this time and age havi ng the pdf sheets on the website
should fix it. And Flow sheets aren't that complex anyway.
The PDF conversion used by Yliopistopaino brought
a couple of nasty surprises with grayscale images. Even though I
reworked them and increased their resolution, the pdf versions were
still downgraded and appear slightly pixelated. This is most
visible in the Zone map but it annoys me in couple of other
pictures as well, if the greyscale images has thin lines. Effect is
less disturbing in pictures with toned surfaces.
Some line art pictures surprisingly enough turned
out to be greyscale images when the PDF gave them a workover. Then
GIMP turned on me. For some reason, I can no longer make 2-bit
images (line graphic) with it. It thinks the picture has been
converted to line graphics and when you throw it into Pagemaker,
the PM thinks it is a greyscale image. There must be something I am
doing wrong and I offer a fantasy kingdom to anyone who can make my
Photoshop 3.0 LE work again (it got fatally borked with the Service
Pack 2 upgrade to Windows XP some years ago). I tried to retouch
the pics even if they were greyscale images but in the end I don't
know if I did them any harm or good.
Two tables had shifted out of the place. Easy
Some of the pictures from Tuomo have skewed
rectancular background shadowing. They were meant to be cut and
framed but since GIMP is so badly gimped, I couldn't do it. It may
look a little funny but lets call it a "stylistic choice".
If there were anything else wrong, I missed it. None of
the issues were critical and the book probably would have been
acceptable as is, even without the inside margin fix. However, having
fucked up the 1st print run of Miekkamies with this very same problem
in 1994, I am never, ever, taking that risk again.
What happens now is that I have already resubmitted the
new content files to the print today and they will probably have
another test print available tomorrow. I'll drop by at Teollisuuskatu
to take a look at it and if there is nothing seriously wrong, give it
the greenlight. Making the books will take five working days so if all
goes well and the printer's not crowded, the books should be out on
Thursday next week. No promises, though.
Of course, now I am spotting an occasional
typo as I am going through the PDFs. Sigh. Let's just all agree that
they are anomalies.
is in the Print!
Since the Crusade
Against Old Skool (honestly, go forth and
multiply!) was not laying siege to my castle this morning, I
managed to deliver the Stalker RPG materials to the print. Any errors
that might still be there are thus promoted from "bugs" to "features"
but of course I'll be reviewing the test draft first. Unless there is
something drastically wrong with it, the first 100-copy print run of
Stalker should be ready by the end of next week. I'll try to deliver
the first order to Fantasiapelit
in Helsinki on the very same day. It'll take about a week or so for
other branch shops to get theirs. I have set the end-user price at 29
euros, including VAT.
Stalker RPG will be my closing statement in the
discussion over whether or not RPG products should reflect the authors'
gamemastering styles. I don't think they should but Stalker RPG
does reflect my gamemastering style, whether you find that
important or not. Either way, it should not make any difference in the
usability of the game content (I hope, I myself might be blind to these
things) and I hope that people from all schools of roleplaying find it
worth looking at. I know DII's (Designer Intent Idiots) certainly will.
It is hard to write Flow stuff without the designer intent showing
through. But don't let that get in the way of using the game just as
you like. After all, your ideas may well be better than mine and since
Stalker is not aimed at beginners, you're the expert on your own needs
Regarding beginners, I think Stalker RPG is actually a
great game for introducing new people to the hobby as long as the
gamemaster is up to speed. It has by far the lowest player learning
curve of any of my games and in theory the player would not need to
worry about the rules at all. All the player needs are the abilities
and shadows of the character and even those are developed as part of
the character history. Requirements for the gamemaster are not that
easy and I am sure there will be very mixed feedback on that. To me,
the Flow system is what I have always been thinking about behind the
scenes, except that randomness has to be inferred from character
actions rather than dice rolls. But that is an Old Skool thing and I
can believe that some people will find strange, mentally exhausting or
perhaps even unfair to the players.
Any last-minute regrets? Oh yes. I would have loved to
include more sample characters, complete with pictures. I would have
liked to have had the time and energy to write two or three full length
adventures, similar to the style and scope to the one I wrote for
Roolipelaaja. The game lacks a basic tutorial adventure, so I should
bundle a copy of Roolipelaaja #14 with every rulebook because "Punainen
Talo" is just what the doctor ordered, especially when the gamemaster
is still a little unfamiliar with the setting. The Stalker Genre Guide
in the Gamemaster's Book is so long and rambling that parts of it must
feel like fluff. And even though the game is meant for experienced
gamers, somehow I find myself explaining what I consider to be basic
stuff, like narrative tools for tension tweaking and the use of modular
scene flow in adventure design. I think everybody does that but it just
hasn't been codified anywhere before.
My biggest regret is marketing Flow as a diceless
system from the start. I just somehow fell into that particular niche
and never got out of it. Mike Pohjola warned me about this some three
years ago and I should have heeded him back then. If I ever make
another Flow game, I won't be making the same mistake. The task and
drama resolution system, character creation and combat are all
diceless. But dice can still come handy, making gamemastering easier
through tables or "shit rolls", as well as enabling more tools to
support quick improvisation of NPCs and locations.
Then there is stuff that people will complain about but
I assert my right as an author to do it my way. Mike will be livid over
my choice of a sans-serif font for a print product (he didn't handle
the fonts in Praedor too well either). Some people will think the 3/4
single column layout is a waste of space but I did try out the 2/2
double column layout in the Ropecon draft and the pages turned into
depressingly dark walls of ink. Even if the current layout is
un-Burgerish, it is lighter and easier to read. And I like the style of
the interior art even when it is blown up to full page size, so shut up
already! I would have also liked to have a little more complicated
framing or background patterning but you can only do so much with
digital printing. Finally Eero will probably say it is a confused
product and confuses the hell out of everyone else.
How Roolipelaaja will rate such a strange game is
Last week, I asked my boss if I could get Recoil Games
to sponsor me a ticket to Winter Assembly 2008 in Tampere. He was
reluctant since Winter Assembly 2008 is all about gaming and not at all
about the demoscene, which I in turn thought strange since games are
what Recoil is in business for. In the end I went there as part of the
Electronic Frontier Finland troupe, acting as the driver and minding
their stand every now and then. The event lasts three days (and still
continues as I'm writing this) but we were there only for two. It was
held in Tampere Exhibition and Sports Center, previously known as
I have nothing bad to say about Winter Assembly
2008. Since the focus was on playing games and there was
no seminar programme, I was afraid I might be bored since the only
computer I dared to take with me doesn't run anything published after
2004 (we had a computer slot since my girlfriend, being smart as a
button, had booked one). As it turned out, I was wrong about getting
bored. Winter Assembly is small enough to have everything happening
more or less in the same space. You leave the computer tables, walk
through the shop area oggling at various pieces of hardware and look
right to see if there's anything going on on the main stage. If there
is, just climb some stairs to the spectator seats, go to the lobby for
some fast food or some excellent robot fights (only today), or head
back to your computer slot and keep on gaming.
It is probably old news to Assembly veterans but this
was the first time I've had a computer slot in any Assembly. I am
definitely getting a computer ticket for the next Summer Assembly as
well. It is an excellent base of operations for the whole event and if
I can get some friends to come with me, I am set. That'll probably make
me the oldest computer ticket holder in the whole bloody arena but what
the hell do I care?
Aside from gaming and shops, the two main forms of
entertainment at WA are the pro-gaming tournaments (plus the totally
awesome dance mat compo) and the robo fights. Pro-gaming is about some
shooter, usually Counter-Strike Source, being turned into a team
sports. The commentator and the camera director (choosing whose screen
is shown at any one time) are a big part of making the hyper-fast
tactical reflex shooter match palatable but once you get it, it is a
great spectator sport. I've been to Summer Assembly and they've had
them too but I have never watched them before since they were somewhere
in the backstage. Here, they were on the big screen, the main stage and
the occasionally cheering and occasionally dead silent audience could
not be missed.
WCG (World Cyber Games) should have its own channel in
the cable. They almost do!
However, I prefer the Finnish commentators of Peliliiga. Cyber games need
wrestling-style commentators who are almost a show in themselves.
Listening to WCG commentators are like listening to a hockey game, not
a battle of life, death and frags. Anyway, if Burger Games had any
money, it would be a cyber sports sponsor.
Robot fights also took me by surprise. I am a Robot
Wars fan but unfortunately the series has been since then cancelled
(like Scrapheap and all other good Euro-shows). There, the bots had a
maximum weight limit of 100 kilos. Here, the series were 25 kilos, 6
kilos and 450 grams. Against all expectations, the miniature series was
the most interesting. I was expecting to see small boxes pushing each
other around and some of them weren't much better than that. But there
were some that really looked like clockwork toys from Hell (still
trying to find a picture). Rotating blades and the super-bot with a
vertical spinning hammer looked really impressive. More importantly,
the little weapons generated lots of force compared to the weight of
the bots. Bits, pieces and sometimes whole robots went flying. I
remember one fight which ended with one toy-sized robot lying mangled
against one side of the arena. A loose wheel rolled lazily across to
the other side. Scaled up, it would have made a great movie scene.
Roleplaying games are not really in the core competence
of either Assembly but I got to chat with some guys from Puolenkuun Pelit at
their shop stand. PKP was there to sell videogames, some accessories
and Warhammer stuff, with a demo game to go with it. The guys confirmed
my suspicions that the RPG side of PKP was almost non-existent these
days. However, even if PKP would not sell Stalker, their staff would
buy it. I got a little price cut on Lost Planet on the promise
of signing their Stalker rulebooks at the next Ropecon. Of course, the
other 50 euros worth of old games my girlfriend was buying could have
had an effect on that as well.
All in all, I like conventions and Winter Assembly 2008
was (and still is) a good one. It is heartily recommended to gaming
geeks who have enough life left in them to step outside. This summer,
I'll buy a computer ticket for the main Assembly and bring some serious
hardware with me so I can play S.T.A.L.K.E.R. and whatever new stuff I
buy on site. Actually, maybe I should reconsider my hardware moratorium
and upgrade my mainframe this spring... just a little, of course :)
Aww, the baby
troll is back! Apparently, I am alsoin
danger out there.
This stuff is based on a roolipelaaja.fi
threadbut is too off-topic to have it there and
even I am not a big enough asshole to start a new thread where
Iwould be discussing
"Eli minua siis ihan oikeasti kiinnostaa tietää,
miten vaikkapa Vuorela tai Fredman roolipelaavat, ja sitä kitkerämpi on
turhautumisen kokemus, kun miehet julkaisevat seikkailuita ja jopa
roolipelejä, jotka eivätkuvaa heidän
pelityyliään. Samasta syystä odotan Stalkeria kieli pitkällä: Vähänkö
siistiä, jos sitä pelaamalla voi oppia Vuorelan pelityylin ja jopa
Or, in the lingua franca of the modern world:
"Honestly, I am really interested in how somebody
like Vuorela and Fredman roleplay. That makes the fit of frustration
even more bitter when they release adventures and even
roleplaying-games that do not depict their own play style. This is why
I am waiting so anxiously for Stalker. Wouldn't it be cool if you could
learn Vuorela's playstyle and even repeat it by playing
Jesus. Fucking. Christ.
What exactly am I selling? A roleplaying game? Or
I am not writing adventures into magazines or even
roleplaying games to exhibit myself or promote my play style. I publish
content for players to apply their own playing styles on. I wrote the
adventure to give the reader a gentle but controlled entry into the
world and concept of Stalker. To help him learn to ride the bike before
the training wheels come off. To arouse curiosity and promote the
product I am hoping to sell to customers, who will or won't make the
purchase on the basis of how the game and its mechanics suit to their
needs, interests and preferred playstyles. I, myself, am not
part of that equation!
It pisses the hell out of me that I can't do a thing
for the scene or publish anything without it being a fucking statement.
Not that I am alone: people cancel their subscriptions of Roolipelaaja
because everything else they print is also taken as a statement. For a
bunch of rats trapped on the deck of a sinking ship we roleplayers sure
are high and mighty!
Remember Vanha Koira? I wrote pulp fantasy
because I wanted to entertain! If somebody in the readership also got
something out of the self-exploration, aging crisis and search for a
purpose in life that are all part of Vanha Koira inspiration,
fine, but that shit is strictly secondary. If you don't like pulp
fantasy but bought the novel anyway to do a deep analysis on my aging
crisis, don't come crying to me if you feel the book didn't give you
enough to go on. STALKER has by far the biggest gamemaster section of
all my games. But if you really want to know something about
me as a gamemaster, there are only two options:
1. Ask my players
2. Come out and
This week's Finnish National Stupidity Championship has
been won by former
WinCapita investors, whose idea of a good business proposal was
"let's give thousands of euros to some dude who says he has a computer
program that guarantees a 400% return of investment". As stupidity
goes, that is a fairly good achievement also on international scale.
But it gets better. Angry for losing their money, the investors are out
for blood. Unfortunately the WinCapita people have already left the
town, so the investors have no one else to shoot but each other. The
National Bureau of Investigation has expressed wishes that they
wouldn't do it but reading between the lines they seem to agree with
the common consensus that these idiots would not be a great loss to the
In the featherweight amateur series, some people (okay,
one people) have claimed that the one-line mention of an "Artefact of
Invisibility" in the published STALKER adventure was directly from
D&D (and a coarse plot device on top of that). They are apparently
oblivious to the fact that the core quest of the scenario was to fetch
a Wand of Healing and that the novel the whole thing is based on also
features the Bracelet of Strength, the Lantern of Slaying, the Rod of
Confusion, the Spikes of Phantasmal Force and the Orb of Wishes, just
to name a few. Actually, D&D magic items coupled with
pseudoscientific descriptions and slightly odd or sinister twists make
fairly good STALKER artefacts. Most of the Zone artefacts have no
immediate practical application, though, and a good number of them are
also dangerous to handle. But really, what the fuck did you think the
artefacts are? Just because STALKER approaches everything from a
pseudoscientific angle doesn't make supernatural things any less
Unless you are a creationist.
Roolipelaaja, at last!
My copy of Roolipelaaja magazine arrived today,
approximately five days later than everybody else, including retailers,
got theirs. Juhana has defended subscriptions by saying that retailer
sales do not really bring them any money but honestly, I can't put up
with a five-day delay. Living in Myyrmäki, West Vantaa, I should be
able to get my paper at least the same time as someone living in the
trackless wilderness of Pihtiputaa. Fortunately, I have only the
mailing process to be pissed about. The magazine itself is great! The
one thing I don't really follow is the attitude that all games are set
North America and this is bad. Of my games, only Mobsters is set in
United States for obvious historical reasons (my one long adventure
with that game, "Murharyhmä", was set in Helsinki in the spring of
1931). Taiga is set in West Siberia, while STALKER mostly takes
place in Southern France. My two cyberpunk ideas are set in Mexico and
Africa. I can't connect with this idea. But let's get back to the
Reading the editorial I can see someone wiggling his
ears between the lines but never mind. Positive thinking is a virtue in
itself. Then Mike bemoans the lack of Finnish mythology in fantasy
roleplaying games in his column that for some reason has been applauded
in the forums. Okay, it's not bad but we've heard this stuff before.
Burger Games has a STALKER ad on page 11. I had wished the roleplaying
game would have been out before this magazine. Unfortunately that
didn't happen because some
idiot decided to implement indiscriminate media censorship
and both myself and the proofreader had to take to the barricades (in
defence of democracy, the freedom of information, free speech and
anything else that is good in this world).
I like my interview (apart from the pictures which I
always hate). It is a lot longer than I expected. I know we had a long
chat, Juhana and me, but I was expecting something like a 1.5-page
article along the lines of "the old fogey isn't dead yet and STALKER is
coming". Maybe that's still the gist of it but I like what I see. All
six pages of it. It is followed by a look into the game-related news of
2007, with different Finnish scene celebs bringing up their news picks.
Suomi-pelit describes potential settings for roleplaying games
set in Finland. I could have added a few more to that list but they
never asked me. One thing that strikes me is that apart from Mike's
contemporary superheroes, all these hypothetical games are set in the
past, recent or distant. I would have had one for the recent past, one
for the present and one for the future, with genres being Western,
Survival Horror and Cyberpunk/Post-Holocaust, respectively.
Wille Ruotsalainen's piece of Fenno-Ugrian monsters was
solid gold. I would have preferred a couple of more pages of that but
even now it was very nice to get a list of his literary sources. I am
so going to get that first book on the list. In
contrast, when Sami Koponen next lists a bunch of Finnish roleplaying
games from the past, he curiously omits Miekkamies from the
list. With 200+ copies sold that is inexcusable. I could also comment
on his ideological crusade on behalf of the Forge School but with
Koponen the fanaticism comes as part of the package. Juhana's Tracon
article was far too short and he politely omitted the invisible but
huge rift between the gamers and the otakus. I am not sure the two
crowds really mixed and we roleplayers were outnumbered by 10-to-1.
This is not to say I wouldn't have enjoyed my time in Tracon. And our
Weird LARP-stuff... I should say I skipped it but I
actually did read the article about LARPing in Israel. Freaky stuff.
Arkham Horror review was okay but boardgames do not really set my world
on fire. Mielen äärirajoilla about the mental effects and
processing of shock and mental traumas was good reading. You can treat
the Zone Ability as a kind of a sanity meter in STALKER, with the
eccentricity increasing little by little, as the normal world starts to
lose its grip on the character. Kiintiönainen was solid gold.
All the experiences described there rang a bell, although I had been
the gamemaster rather than the subject. I used to prefer having at
least two women in my co-ed gaming groups because it made the entry of
the usually rookie females into an otherwise all-male hobby easier for
both of them. But that hasn't been a problem in over a decade and I
hope Tiina Lehmuskallio will notice the same as players get older and
wiser. The Endless Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons lists the
now mostly defunct game worlds published for D&D over the years.
Nothing wrong with that.
Punainen Talo ("Red House") is an expanded and
polished version of my last year's Ropecon scenario for STALKER,
especially the latter run. It is a tutorial adventure into the setting
and as such reads as somewhat railroaded. I wanted to make sure the
reader would get as vivid picture of the setting and events as
possible. When I am writing adventure notes for myself, I usually make
a list of important people and factions, outline the initial
circumstances and do thought-drafts of a couple of potential locations
the characters are more likely than not to end up to during the first
one or two sessions. For the rest of the adventure I wing it,
improvising as characters start to alter their surroundings in
unpredictable ways and force the other factions in the adventure to
respond. I want to have a good story but I don't have a fucking clue as
to how that story will go. So to me, the claim that players in a
story-driven game are passive observers is a crock of shit.
Vampires in Rome (WoD review). Well, that had to
happen. Ideasta roolipelaajaksi- Pelisuunnittelijan käsikirja,
a review of Toni Mannonen's guide to game design leaves a mixed
feeling. Tuomas Pirinen gave it high praise and 5/5. I refused to
review it because having written Pelintekijän käsikirja I
would have been pre-disposed. Personally, I didn't enjoy reading
Pelisuunnittelijan käsikirja. It was dead-dry and hopelessly
academic (despite his background with Air Buccaneers, Mannonen
is a researcher, not a game developer). However, if you can cope with
his style of writing, reading the book doesn't hurt and the design
excercises are especially good. But 5/5? Oh well, Tuomas Pirinen
is a professional game developer. Let's trust him on
Finally, Mika Loponen reviews Dragonlance: The
Movie. Unlike him, I thought the books were stupid already when
they came out (I did force myself through the first two trilogies) and
I am not the least bit surprised he hasn't been able to return to them
as an adult. However, even I was surprised at how crappy almost any
caption of the movie looks,sounds and feels like (check
it out). Loponen aptly compared it to the cheap-ass Saturday TV
cartoons of the 80's. Sheesh, they were horrible!
All in all, a very good issue of Roolipelaaja. Keep it
up but mail it earlier!
Frontlines: Fuel of War
Everybody and his cousin are reading Roolipelaaja
#14 which has my interview, a STALKER-adventure and who knows
what else ultra-cool in it. I haven't seen the mag nor the interview
draft yet. For some reason, I am always the last person on Earth to get
any of the magazines I have a subscription for. Sometimes three days
later than the rest. People have gone postal for less. So while
everyone else is happily commenting in the forums and actually know
what they are talking about, I am restricted to making polite coughs
and appreciative ho-hums in the background.
Since I cant review the magazine before I actually get
it, let's talk about Frontlines: Fuel of
War. It is a first-person shooter set in
late 2020's when oil is finally running out, sparking an all-out war
between the Coalition (the West) and Red Star Alliance (the East) over
the Caspian region oilfields. The single player game recruits you into
Coalition forces and I have just been sent to the suburbs of Moscow as
we are just about to invade the city. Winter is coming on and I have a
feeling this military expedition doesn't go any better than the
previous ones for invading Moscow.
The game storyline is divided into distinct chapters,
which are unlocked as you play them through. They have various missions
and sometimes multiple levels, so the 10 or so chapters actually give
you a fair amount of gameplay. Once unlocked, you can always choose the
chapter, mission and difficulty level you want to start playing from.
You are part of a squad called "Stray Dogs" who seem to be able to do
all sorts of things with a variety of weapons and military vehicles.
You are not in command, though, and cannot interact with the others in
any way. They hang around you, comment on things, give and receive
orders from each other and while somewhat sucky in combat on their own,
they provide good supplemental firepower if you are already shooting at
the enemies. They also get constantly killed but are somehow
replenished, apparently by new guys running in from the rear.
All the gear is believably futuristic andvarious kinds
of remote-controlled drones are important tools in the Coalition
arsenal. Small arms pack a reasonable punch and you can also drive
cars, tanks and helicopters. The battlefields are open areas and I have
only run into the invisible wall once. Unfortunately the going can
still be pretty linear in some levels as the level design forms choke
points through which you must past sooner or later. But most of the
time there are alternative routes and tricks you can play, like
circling to the rear of the enemy using rooftops and dropping a hand
grenade into their fire position.
Damage modelling is based on "soft hits", which means
that you accumulate damage fairly quickly but also heal almost
instantly if you can get into cover for a spell. There is no damage
indicator, other than blurred vision, heavy breathing and heartbeat
just before you die. Enemy rocket launcher guys are a pain in the ass
but I guess that's realistic. If you die, you have a set number of
redeployments for each chapter, making you one of those guys running up
from the rear to join the fight.
The game runs okay and looks reasonably good on minimum
settings. Undoubtedly a more top-of-the-line machine would get
something more out of it but I am happy with the graphics. 3D maps of
the progress of the war and cinematic cutscenes from between missions
are of good quality and set the tone well. And some of the missions are
downright epic. I think the word that best describes the experience of
driving a heavy tank while the fiery wind of a tactical nuclear strike
is blowing all around you is Awesome. Overall, the battles are big,
noisy and chaotic. Just what I like.
Since I like the game, I saved the shitty parts for
last. The AI is decent but far from flawless. Some of the levels are
too small and linear. Since the single player campaign is not meant to
deliver a story experience but a succession of missions, your gear is
reset at every intermediary goalpoint, which annoys the hell out of me.
Flying a helicopter is sheer frustration and failure, while the
landscape could use a little more variety. Maybe if I could add some
vegetation... but that reduces the framerate below acceptable levels
for a shooter. Also, because of the mission menu rather than continuing
the story, there is no real emotional attachment to the character or
the NPCs, other than the embedded journalist (I could write a book
about that guy).
Controls are mostly configurable but the few exceptions
(that are also not listed in the control keys) bug the hell out of me,
like the forced binding of left shift to running, meaning that
left-handed players will never run. And I had look for help in the
internet before I figured out that while "use" makes you grab a mounted
gun or climb into a vehicle, only "E" makes you get out again. The game
has occasionally crashed on me and some of the graphics are bugged at
distance. There also some sound bugs that come and go.
Finally, and this is the biggest problem: This game was
made for the multiplayer and the single player campaign follows the
same logic. Crash your chopper at the landing pad? Wait for a while and
another one will drop out of thin air. Tanks are mysteriously
teleported to wait for you when you have just penetrated enemy lines.
All missions are about reaching a series of strategic points, which is
probably the core of the multiplayer as well. And the levels are
clearly built for multiplayer matches and then tacked onto each other
to form a chapter.
Still, I'm enjoying myself and getting my money's
worth. Moscow, here I come!
Since Call of Duty 4 was not available on Gamersgate, I
Fuel of War instead. Despite it being clearly a
multiplayer-first title and that I had to play with low settings and
decreased resolution, it blew me away. The only thing it could have
done better is to incorporate some adventure and freeroaming elements
into the single player missions but I can't blame them for sticking to
their genre. Difficulty curve on "Casual" was just right for me, so I'd
give myself a life expectancy of about 3 seconds in the multiplayer.
But what I liked most about the game was that it reminded me of
BADLANDS, one of my favorite game ideas of all time.
Back in 2003 BADLANDS was a serious
alternative to STALKER when I was thinking what to do next. Without the
Stalker-license from Strugatsky, BADLANDS would have probably
won. Even though it lost, it was to have a huge and lasting impact on
how I would view dark future roleplaying games. Its effect is visible
in all my subsequent dark future/scifi ideas and some of the themes
have wormed their way into STALKER as well. It was also supposed to be
the contemporary/scifi-application of the Praedor system and had I been
writing that instead of STALKER, I wouldn't have gone diceless.
In a nutshell,BADLANDS is set in 2051, in a
typical cyberpunk world with heavy influences of Mecha. The world is
ruled by five superpowers, including the EU. Third world countries have
either been reduced to vassal states or have fallen into (today's Congo
is a good example but back then I was thinking about Somalia). Starved
of resources and in the grip of social upheavals (such as the cyberpunk
revolution), the superpowers have granted political concessions to
powerful corporations in return for energy and goods. These are the
megacorps, politically sovereign economic entities and powerful players
in the global politics. In Sub-Saharan Africa, megacorps have carved
out their own enclaves along the coastline. In the interior, corporate
mercenaries, local warlords, superstate intelligence services and
renegade tribes are waging a bitter war over oil, minerals and
The player-characters would have formed a mercenary
team that does gigs in corporate Africa. The whole thing was very much
under development when STALKER suddenly got real and I dropped
BADLANDS. In retrospect, there should have been something more
to the player role but the writing never got that far. How about
revealing that all the corporate enclaves were actually android states
controlled by a super-smart renegade AI? Or that African superstitions
and their concept of occult would have been true in some shape or form
(technoshamanism!)? Or what if the player-characters would have been
Ghost In the Shell-type cyborgs, initially controlled by and then
rebelling against their corporate masters? Or maybe there would be
mutant lifeforms, rampant gene-engineering experimentation or somekind
of an evolutionary quake taking on in the depths of the dark continent,
the access to which would have been the real goal for the corps all
We'll never know.
09-Mar-2008: Turku Ramblings
Got a gloomy and foggy glimpse of Turku yesterday while
helping EFFI to set
up and run their stand in the Open Software Day. The event was both
very small and short but our stand was still busier than some I've
attended to in Ropecon. Practically everybody came to chat with us. For
the past two weeks or so the State of Finland has done an excellent job
of driving home the importance of organisations such as EFFI, and more
importantly, the ideals they hold. But as much as I love to hate Suvi
Linden as a misinformed idiot, a good deal of the public anger should
really be directed at the previous government. That's where the
censorship decision, the original mistake, was made. The present
government, ministers and the law enforcement just fubar'd the
Unfortunately, all the censorship hassle is also
interfering with the proofreading of STALKER since both myself and the
proofreader are pretty active about the censorship and digital
liberties. The game is done when it's done. I just hope the elastic
scheduling didn't ruin anyone's plans for anything. It won't be long
now. I just don't know how long.
It was a two-hour drive to Turku, so that's four hours
behind the wheel, plus some of the idle time behind the table. A lot of
time to think, while looking at the blacktop streaking towards you,
until it comes a blur of grey and black lines. I've been trying to
imagine what the response to STALKER will be like:
I expect the first print run of 100 copies to sell out
fairly quickly and the second print run to last for years. People in
Arkkivi forums will find the setting and character casting interesting
but condemn the rules as imprecise and finally burn the whole thing at
a stake because of the absolute GM authority. Mike Pohjola will
probably love it and Juhana will like it as well. Designer Intent
Idiots (DII) will have a field day because the big-ass GM section also
covers the genre definition but they are too stupid to form an opinion
of the game as a whole. Finally, the general consensus in the forums
will be that I have finally gone barking mad. However Old
Skool-friendly the rules might be, the diceless rule-system will be a
showstopper for some. Others will find FLOW beyond the expressive
skills of their players or the level of involvement is more they can
handle. Those who can make it work are in love. It will be a really
mixed bag of reviews and feedback, I guess.
Old Skool... I originally brought up the idea of Old
Skool roleplaying method to mock the manifesto-fundamentalists of the
time (looks like that era is long gone by now). Since then, it has been
adopted as a legitimate term for forum discussions over playstyles. I
have no clue as to how they define it now but some people seem to think
that "Old Skool GM" is a somekind of a boss
monster that can only be defeated by waving your dick at it. If so,
I want to know my hit dice and treasure type. And remember, it is
"Skool", not "School". Whether STALKER really follows the "Old Skool"
play method, I don't know. It is certainly different from anything I
have ever done before, Maybe its definition is best left to people who
actually use play method definitions. I think in terms of genres and
settings. The play method is none of my business.
06-Mar-2008: Mind Games
Sanomat has assembled a cast of semi-celebrities (do we
have any other kind?) to convince people of the virtues and necessity
of information tyranny by the government (also known as the net
censorship). 56% of them (39,2 people out of 70) haven't got a clue as
to what they are talking about, either socially or technologically and
17% were too stupid to understand the question, leaving just 27% who
saw censorship for what it is, even through all the child porn
propaganda. I'm pissed at the newspaper but it actually did improve my
opinion of the average Finnish semi-celebrities. They're not all idiots
but given the sensitivity of the topic, I would not have believed this
many would risk their reputations and careers for something as simple
and old-fashioned as the truth. Hats off to those 27% but why must the
good always be outnumbered by the evil? Or the stupid?
(Also known as "the Hitler Card" in debates but I
can't help the feeling)
Within 10 or 20 years our society will be in the hands
of a generation who actually understands the digital age. The optimist
would think them to be more enlightened than present-day politicos and
abolish unjust information control systems. The realist... oh well. We
already live in "interesting times", quoting an ancient Chinese
proverb. They are certainly not going get any less interesting.
On a lighter note, Mike Pohjola sent me a pile of
corrections regarding Sanningen om Marika being an Emmy
nominee. It is good to know that somebody actually reads my ramblings.
But here we go again, having checked the facts from the source this
time: Sanningen om Marika was produced by the production
company P, founded by Mike Pohjola and Christopher Sandberg. LARP
scripting was done by others, including Martin Ericsson (whom
I personally detest but is nevertheless a major mover and shaker in the
Nordic LARP scene). Actually, the whole scripting process might make an
interesting read as it mixes the processes and requirements of LARP
writing and TV scripting.
Furthermore, the Interactive Emmy is handed out already
in April, at a gala in Cannes, so we will know the winner well before
the next Ropecon. My wish for a white limo and Mike in a pimp outfit
can still happen! Win or not, I expect the nomination alone will mean
more projects are underway. I asked Mike about and got a hint that
something even bigger might be in the works. I wouldn't be surprised if
he assembles his next production team at Solmukohta and announces the
project at Ropecon. Mike also requested that if his show gets the Emmy,
my congratulatory steak meal for him would be switched to something
GYGAX IS DEAD
The inventor of Dungeons & Dragons and the father
of the roleplaying game hobby, Gary Gygax has died at home last night.
He was 69 years old. Whatever we think of his games and his views on
gaming, he was the first and nothing or no one can take that away. We
gamers wouldn't be here without him and even the Penny
Arcade knows that. I offer my sincerest condolences to
Gary Gygax's friends and family. And I will pause and bow in reverence
before my D&D Cyclopedia rulebook.
Unfortunately the death of Gygax overshadows another big
story: Swedish TV-show Sanningen om Marika,
written by Mike Pohjola, is one of the nominees for the international
Emmy Award (the TV Oscars in United States). That's awesome and should
it win it would be beyond awesome. I already promised Mike a steak in
Toro if that happens but then learned the whole thing takes place at
the end of the year so we'll have to wait until 2009 to party. Anyway,
I hope the nomination alone is enough to spark enough interest to make
more of such shows. And I hope to see Mike coming to Ropecon 2009 in a
white limo and dressed as a pimp.
Being already a full-time employee of the audiovisual
industry I have no real TV aspirations. But if I lived in a fantasy
world where all dreams could come true, there would be a Stalker-themed
TV show based on the background material and setting I've written for
STALKER. It would be a decidedly European/Russian tv-scifi/horror show
set in the French Zone and its border areas. Given how the setting is
entirely contemporary, even the budget would be manageable. I am sure
there are enough derelict industrial zones and crumbling Maginot
bunkers for it.
I just read Blood River by Tim Butcher. It is
a description of his travel through the modern Congo, using the route
originally taken by the famous explorer "Dr. Livingstone, I presume"
Stanley himself. I was going for that same kind of "failed state"
atmosphere feeling as you get in that book. Of course, in Congo the
immense scale of things is something you cannot really replicate in the
Zone border areas but the stark contrast between the border areas and
the modern European society surrounding them should more than make up
Actually, this trailer
of the upcoming Sierra videogame WET has some of the spirit I
am going for, if you ignore the combat and switch the organ with an
artefact. I love the airplane hideout and high-tech-low-tech mix. The
French Zone cuts right across a vast Airbus manufacturing plant just
Northwest of Toulouse. Maybe I should have included that part in the
city map. And a hot babe sunbathing naked (depends on trailer version,
actually) on the plane roof... well, summers are really hot that far
south, even if the presence of the Zone has cooled the region a
Looking at the trailer, it occurred to me that while
FLOW by default doesn't support wire-fu too well because of skipping
all the detail, the idea/roleplaying/ability system behind could be
easily adapted to wire-fu, if the combat were structured and paced
differently. This would mean introducing combat rounds and adding a
layer of complexity and detail. What FLOW method would bring to the
equation is for players to come up with their own stunts, describing
how they would use their surroundings and respective abilities to their
advantage. Every victory over the enemy would reduce his defence score,
until at 0 strength the attack hits home, fully and finally. Since
actual abilities are not hindered before the final blow this could make
some epic duels. And more importantly, any trick would only work on
enemies who have never seen it before. Repeat performance would be
heavily penalised or outright failure, promoting constant innovation
and creative use of the environment.
I don't think wire-fu would suit STALKER and I am fed
up with watching it on film. But that's how I'd do it. If I needed
Sanomatkeeps editing both the story and headline
as angry feedback keeps rolling in. The original headline and story are
no longer there.
Most media agree that over 500 demonstrators showed up
which is pretty huge in the Finnish scale of things. This time they
didn't even halve the number, like they did when reporting the Lex
Karpela demonstration. However, Helsingin Sanomat still wins
the award for distorting information. The headline reads: "500 oppose
the web censorship". See the problem? Just the petition for Suvi Linden
to resign has been signed by 13,000 people but HS thinks (okay, tries
to suggest) that everybody who opposes web censorship was out there
today. Conventional political logic goes that for every activist there
are 100-1000 sympathisers. I wouldn't be surprised if the real figure
of censorship opponents would by closer 500,000. It is huge but still
too few regarding seriousness of the issue.
Sad to say but the child porn smoke screen works. If
people were asked if they are supportive of unmonitored government
censorship of the World Wide Web, they wouldn't be too keen on it. But
add the child porn issue there and many people lose the ability for
rational thinking. Well, nobody can blame me for not calling it. I hope
the politicos take a break now in stupid announcements. This blog needs
more games and less vitriol.
My sick leave is finally ending (about time!!!) so here
are some postcards of places I've been to while it lasted...
The bus ride was long so we needed to camp for one
night. All I needed was a pack of sausages.
We finally got to the hotel on the second night.
Lucky for me, the bar was still open.
Some guests take their drinking seriously.
Loved the boar chops. The cook said it was an old
The next morning I toured the beautiful
Regarding the Internet censorship, Tapani Tarvainen
from EFFI really says
it all. Censorship has no place in a democracy under any
guise or excuse. I don't understand why the press has not been more
opposed to it. Censorship is a weapon targeted at mass media. Child
pornographers are unaffected and we geeks know how to circumvent it,
but if allowed into the government arsenal of control methods, it is a
knock-out punch for the media every time it is applied. While Suvi
Linden ought be tried for the betrayal
of the state instead of merely being asked to resign, I'd
settle for the abolition of the censorship system. I might even live
with making the "government filter" a voluntary option for individual
users, rather than Internet operators.
The anti-censorship demonstration is on next
Tuesday, March 4th, in front of the Parliament Building at 13.00. I
urge everyone who prefers freedom and democracy to show up. That's the
Frankly, I always knew this time would come. The shitty
fact about history is that it never ends. There will be new conflicts,
wars, trends and counter-trends, tyrants and peacemakers, supression,
oppression and struggle for freedom. For my part, I would have
preferred the status quo regarding the freedom of information in my
lifetime but first Lex Karpela blacklisted certain topics of public
discussion (do you have any idea what you have done?!!!) and
now we have the web censorship carried out in a way that basically
amounts to information tyranny by the law enforcement. Child
pornography is either a smoke screen, or a certificate of colossal
stupidity and naivety on the part of the lawmakers. Both laws are gross
injustices and enable much worse.
Now I know how terrorists and freedom fighters are
created (yep, not much difference between the two). Faced with an
unpleasant and enforced norm from above, people ask themselves "Can I
live with this?". If yes, they might protest but in the end will
conform, which is what the power elite seems to be counting on.
Conforming can happen in many ways, like in the case of Lex Karpela
where the poor enforcement of the idiotic law allows things to continue
as they were. But if the answer is no, things take a different turn. In
a seemingly democratic society there are sanctioned avenues of dissent.
If those are exhausted without a visible result, the protest continues
using non-sanctioned avenues of dissent until the injustice is
corrected, or more frequently, the protester is forcibly removed from
the society as a terrorist.
Of course, any book on political history will tell you
as much. But this is now personal. I haven't made my decision and
hopefully never will. But should the demonstration and some subsequent
efforts fail to influence the legislation and practise of the
censorship, the society and state will have lost my moral support. And
given the current political climate, that is all I dare to say.
Happy springtime'08, everybody!