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29-May-2008: Thank You

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 Swedish Grammar.

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.

Evening update:

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 mystery 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 news:

  1. 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 desperate, Puolenkuun Pelit and Blacksilver should still have some.

  2. 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 understand that.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

24-May-2008: Bad Lands

The 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 news.

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.

17-May-2008: Plans

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 in UNSF! Marvellous!)

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 the above.

15-May-2008: More Basic Math

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 stop.

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 freaking bonus...


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.

12-May-2008: Do Your Homework

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 reality.

  • 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 page 33.

  • There is also a rather nifty experience table on page 84.

  • They are both there for a reason called "balance".

  • Skill value of 30 means that your GM sucks.

  • 1D6 gives you a linear distribution of results.

  • 2D6 does not.

  • And 1D8+1D4 does not pass for 1D12, even in Praedor.

  • 3D6 probability curve makes a skill difference of 5 very significant.

  • Hundreds of Praedor players think the system works.

  • 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 else?

I've told you I don't like stupid questions but I'll take them over stupid rules changes any day.

11-May-2008: Fucking Brilliant

Jiituomas reviewed the Stalker RPG.

Words fail me. Or maybe his blog account has been hacked.

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 surprised.

09-May-2008: Afterglow

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.

04-May-2008: That's That!

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 a mirror.

01-May-2008: The Review(s)

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 Missing Something?

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.

  • Powerpoint trailer

  • Synopsis

  • Strugatskis and other history

  • Sample of Stalker-related products

  • Setting development and influences

  • Ideological content

  • Superstructures (incl. continuity)

  • Substructures (incl. continuity)

  • Setting: problems and solutions

  • Player's view of FLOW

  • Gamemaster's view of FLOW

  • FLOW: problems and solutions

  • Future FLOW

  • Q&A

29-Apr-2008: STALKER Reviews!

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).

Helsingin 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 newspaper.

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 Summer.

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.

26-Apr-2008: Fiscal Year 2007

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 onwards.

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 the World

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 Helsinki store.

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 both:

Fighting Fantasy/Apshai -RPG conversion
Call of Cthulhu
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
Dark Conspiracy

Cyberpunk 2020
Fantasy Hero

Ars Magica
Miekkamies v2.0
Drakar & Demoner
Traveller: The New Era
Twilight 2000
2300 AD
SLA Industries
Star Wars

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 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 Stalker

Yep, the second print run is finished and in the stores. Those waiting theirs by mail should get them by the end of this week.

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.

20-Apr-2008: News Update

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 forum.

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.

18-Apr-2008: Good Marks!

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 me.

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 safe side.

14-Apr-2008: Go with the FLOW

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 = GURPRP?

Hmm... Role-Playing Rules Philosophy = RPRP = RP2

Now that sounds much sexier :)

(No, the correct form (RP)2 isn't sexy enough.)

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 game rules.
    • 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 variables.
  • 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 setting.
    • 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 above.
    • 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 lot.
    • 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 language section...

12-Apr-2008: Impressions

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 animation".

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 impression.

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?

10-Apr-2008: Round Two

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 future.


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.

08-Apr-2008: Withdrawing Stalker

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 Praedor.

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 signature.

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! About time!

06-Apr-2008: STALKER Post-mortem 1

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.

05-Apr-2008: STALKER 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 creates anomalies.

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!

31-Mar-2008: Inspirational Everest

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 subject.

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 Step

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 un-Burgerish product.

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.

27-Mar-2008: STALKER Green Light

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 fix.

  • 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.

26-Mar-2008: STALKER 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 and preferences.

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 anyone's guess.

24-Mar-2008: Winter Assembly

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 Pirkkahalli.

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.

21-Mar-2008: Voi Jeesuksen veturi!

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 myself.

"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 toisintaa sitä."

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 Stalker?"

Jesus. Fucking. Christ.

What exactly am I selling? A roleplaying game? Or myself?

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 play

19-Mar-2008: Stupidity Championship

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 gene-pool.

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 supernatural.

Unless you are a creationist.

17-Mar-2008: 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 paper:

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 panel rocked!

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 this one.

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!

14-Mar-2008: 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!

12-Mar-2008: BADLANDS

Since Call of Duty 4 was not available on Gamersgate, I bought Frontlines: 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 bioresources.

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 along?

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 execution.

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

Helsingin 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 vegetarian-friendly. :)


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 for it.

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 little.

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 it.

04-Mar-2008: Information Warfare

Note:Helsingin 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 family recipe.

The next morning I toured the beautiful countryside.

02-Mar-2008: Gloomy Spring

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 stakes!

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!