This June I am going to have one more print run of
Stalker RPG. And this time in English.
Yes, thanks to the efforts of an eager fan and
roleplaying enthusiast, the text of Stalker RPG has been
translated from Finnish to English. Over the next week
and weekend I will be putting the texts into the layout
and proofreading them. If all goes well (you'll never
know with software this old), the week after that STALKER
- The SciFi Roleplaying Game will go to the printers.
This early print-run of 100 copies will be the
collector's edition, the first print and the sample. If
it gets positive reception I'll probably put it up for
sale as a PDF.
Yes, I love physical books but selling PDFs is just so
Still, judging from a blood-curling scream
that quickly vanishes into the distance my pursuer gets
caught in my carbon net. He will live, unless he dove in
head first. And if he did, he is either an idiot whose
head was never a loss to begin with or a cyborg who
trusted his head plating too much.
Regular readers will know that I have been trying to
write a pulp-literature style cyberpunk novel for quite
some time now. Originally dubbed Dancer, it's
had about a dozen false starts so far (maybe I could
string them all together and market that as a *very*
avant-garde take on cyberpunk fiction... hmm...) and I
was about lose faith. But after a major style and focus
change, the latest iteration, now dubbed Raindance is
all of a sudden 30 pages long and there is no end in
sight. Good or bad, it is going to be something. I am
aiming for an e-book publishing but let's look at that
again at the end of Summer.
I wanted my novel to be set in the HAX game universe
but Raindance is taking suspiciously many
liberties in this respect. Maybe I should start making
the HAX setting Raindance compatible and not the other
way around. Luckily for both, the changes are not that
great and probably nobody but me would know.
Many of the works in this genre have been written in
present tense, as opposed to past tense favored in almost
all other fiction. I combined the present-tense with a
1st person narrative and we experience everything through
the eyes and thoughts of a ghost runner named Kanyah
Belayah. From the top of my head, I'd say she could look
something like this:
Of course, Runners change their appearance and even
genetic makeup as easily as clothes.
The instance blinks out from around me and
I feel like I am falling right through where the floor
used to be. In reality it is just sensory deprivation
before a new, painful reality begins to assert itself. I
remember screaming Bastards! into the void.
What else to say about it? This is where a back cover
text of a novel would come handy. Those are usually
written by my publishers and I've seen rather colourful
ones in the past. But let's give it a go:
"In meatspace, you are just another
"Kanyah Belayah, a hot-shot ghost runner and
data-thief learns that the hard way. Narrowly escaping a
trace hunt and losing her Link ghost, she is caught up in
a conspiracy that thrusts her back into the frontlines of
information warfare. And into the crosshairs of her
"Can a lone Runner make a difference in a
world ruled by megacorps, machine intelligence and
post-human rebels? Can a woman who gave up her name and
identity to escape her past now reclaim the control of
"Raindance is an e-novel set in the gameverse
of HAX Browser MMORPG by Wirepunk. The author, Ville
Vuorela, is also the lead designer of HAX. You can find
out more about the game at www.haxgame.com
or support us by joining https://www.facebook.com/haxgame
Big words. Especially for a book that is yet to be
written. But I am entitled to dream, am I not?
I just finished Honest
Hearts, your second DLC module for Fallout
New Vegas. And seriously, you guys need all the help
you can get. You always were outdone in the gameworld
design by your predecessors (the original Fallout 3 team
at Bethesda) but in Fallout:
New Vegas you proved that you can really work
wonders with storylines, setting narrative and quest
scripting. I've always said the perfect Fallout game
would be the Fallout 3 setting with all the storyline,
mission and balancing redone by you.
But that means that if you fail in the writing
department, you are left with nothing.
And mind you, when the original Fallout 3 team finally
got their shitty writing fixed (Point Lookout
and the Pitt) they were fucking awesome! But I
still would have expected you to do better.
Instead, what have we got?
Dead Money was a pile of ass and failure, an
attempt to do a haunted house horror story with zombie
elements and frankly, squandering all that was good and
cool in a post-holocaust setting.
Honest Hearts takes you away from the
post-apocalyptic setting entirely and dumps into a
pristine wilderness populated by noble savages and Wild
West heroes. And the whole thing looks like it was drawn
by the World of Warcraft terrain artists from blizzard
(Thousand Peaks or whatever it was comes to mind). By the
way, are you going for some social commentary with the
good guys being all members of colored minorities and
reformed white missionaries, while the bad guys are all
white dressed up in LARP gear?
FALLOUT NEW VEGAS: HONEST HEARTS! - Now with 90%
less post-holocaust! Now you too can be a
post-apocalyptic hero without having to bother with some
boring old post-apocalyptic wasteland or ruin.
The one bright note were the survivor diaries in cave
terminals but that's about it. And turning the valley
into a labyrinth of dead ends and frustration did not
make it look any bigger. It was an extremely
hard-to-navigate football field.
The common thread here, starting with the main game
and growing worse with every DLC is the post-holocaust
genre, or more precisely the lack of it. You hate
post-holocaust, don't you? What you really want to do are
Old West adventures, right? I get the feeling that you
agreed to do Fallouts only because you had your backs to
the wall. You did a decent job with the main game but
your professionalism is slipping badly when it comes to
DLC. And future shock? You must really, really hate that
thing. Unfortunately future shock is one of the
cornerstones of post-holocaust and you can't leave it out
without abandoning the entire genre.
You know what I wanted to do in Fallout: New Vegas?
After it was all said and done, I wanted to hop onto one
of those atomic motorcycles and drive east into Capital
Wasteland, where it was still possible to have
post-holocaust adventures and make a living on salvage.
Mojave does not need heroes or adventures anymore. They
are civilized enough to have total warfare between two
states, for God's sake! What they really need is to
reinvent banking. An Anti-Material Rifle (a product of
the re-vitalized mass production of guns that by
definition makes salvage irrelevant) costs so many caps a
back brahmin would die under the load.
The final nail into the coffin of Honest Hearts was
the outro. Fallouts end in slideshows with narration,
depicting the fates of people and factions you have
interacted with. It was pretty damn impressive in Fallout
3 and downright beautiful in New Vegas. But it can also
be a fucking train wreck if it is self-contradictory!
Yeah, for not turning the two good tribes into
tree-hugging hippies I have sparked tensions, cold war
and occasional violence between them. Boohoo! And in the
next four slides they A) unite their forces against
big-ass gangs from up north, B) work together to help
expand trade and open new routes through their territory
and C) intermarry. The sound you just heard was your
moral message imploding.
Have you ever wondered why there are so many machinima
movies and even live action plays based on Fallout 3 in
Youtube but almost none (I haven't found any but I trust
there must be some) based on Fallout: New Vegas? It is a
thing called atmosphere and for genre fans it
translates into immersion. The only videogames to have
done post-holocaust atmosphere better than Fallout 3 are
the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. trilogy and Metro 2033. And while New
Vegas, excluding the DLC, is not bad at creating an
atmosphere, it is the wrong genre! And it is getting
worse with every DLC you are putting out!
I am rating Honest Hearts a -1 and that is only
because it is a supplement to a +3 game. But the more I
have to deal with this shit, the better Fallout 3 is
starting to look.
I know you guys are still going to put out one more
DLC and that you are the likely candidates for making the
next full Fallout game. I wish you wouldn't.
Post-holocaust isn't your strong point and I fully
understand that. Hell, I am a game designer and half of
the time I am working on things I could not care less
about. We are all professionals here. But do you really
want to bang your head against this wall? If you keep
working on projects you hate, you are going to hurt
motivation and even lose people.
So talk with Bethesda or even Zenimax, the guys above
them and see if there is something else you could do.
Maybe a Western game, or something along the lines of old
adventure games. Or fantasy, you have a good track record
in fantasy games. Star Wars license is probably too
costly but mixing fantasy with space opera on a new IP,
wouldn't that be great?
Then the original Fallout 3 team could come out of the
closet, take a few pointers from your work regarding
storytelling and setting cohesion and do what they
clearly know and love to do: make open world
post-holocaust games. I'll bet having to make that
piece-of-fantasy-shit Skyrim is already driving them
Before we get started...
I didn't vote for the True Finns. I voted for the Left
Party (sheesh, that sounds stupid in English). Now the
True Finns have, after promising their voters that they
would never, ever, support the Portugal Bailout Deal,
shocked the entire political establishment by actually
keeping their promise. Despite their sweeping victory at
the polls, they will not join nor support a government
that would pass the PBD. It is probably the first time
ever a political party has stuck to its principles in
this country and the rest of the political establishment
is accusing the True Finns of betraying their own
voters. Including the Social Democratic
Party who conveniently reversed its opinion on PBD
("turned their coat", as the press puts it) the
moment someone hinted them at the possibility of being in
Gentlemen, Ladies and the Gormless Idiots who make up
the Green Party!
What the True Finns did was not betrayal. It was
keeping your promises and sticking to your principles,
which, as their opponents have claimed, is truly an alien
concept in the Finnish political system. But in my eyes
the problem is not that the True Finns
are introducing alien concepts into Finnish politics. The
problem is that honesty and principles have become alien
concepts in politics in the first place.
And a symptom of the problem is that these fucking morons
who accuse True Finns of betrayal even think
they have a moral leg to stand on.
Governments come and governments go. It is the parties
and ideologies that are supposed stay
firm, giving the voters the option to choose what kind of
a palette of ideals should be in power. If the parties
then compromise their principles and ideology just for
the sake being offered a seat in government, they cease
to be meaningful choices to electorate and voting loses
all meaning (as the Green Party in particular should know
by now). What the True Finns are doing is the way
things should be. It is not how things are
but whose fault is that, I wonder..?
True Finns still won't have my vote. What they do have
is my respect. Which is something the people who have my
vote rarely receive. That's definitely a symptom of
something as well. And it is a good thing this whole
debate is being conducted in the Internet and not live,
because if someone came up to me and spouted the same
garbage I've read from the Internet today, I'd slap them.
Gamma Vault, part 1
You have dealers and then you have dealers. Johara
Mesri was an exception, a lady geek who loved tinkering
with the artefacts that stalkers brought her. Over the
years, she has quietly become one of the leading
xenoengineers in the world and probably the only one who
works out of garages and with third-world tech hidden
away in shacks and hideouts. Payouts are poor but if a
stalker wants to keep his distance from the seedy
underworld of Toulouse, Mesri is the best bet. Rich? No.
Influential? No. Well-known? Yes. Respected? Hell yes.
Aziz and Henri agreed to meet her on a strip of
industrial no-man's-land, just off the border of Monaco.
The night was wet. Early rain and now a fog turned
everything black and glistening masses. Mesri never
showed up but two gangster thugs did, in a souped-up car
that really didn't match her style. They claimed to be
sent by her but didn't know the password, so our stalkers
told them to get lost. They texted Mesri and agreed on
another meeting deep in Monte Carlo. But our stalkers had
their guard up and sneaked up on the location, spotting
the previous thugs now clumsily preparing an ambush
before a small restaurant.
Aziz dropped a potted plant (someone was trying grow
weed on the restaurant roof) on one and Henri stabbed the
other with some stun drugs. They popped the trunk of the
gangsters' car to hide the two sleeping beauties and
found Mesri, wrapped up but otherwise alive and well. The
gangsters turned out to be thugs sent by a rival dealer
Guide "Calcaro". They weren't really out to get
Mesri but just to screw up an appointmend she had
arranged with some very interesting people. Whether Guido
would have extended such merciful courtesy also to
Mesri's stalker allies is anyone's guess.
The big meet was at a yacht docked in Port Hercule.
Guido was already there and did nothing to hide his
disappointment when Mesri finally showed up. He didn't
even ask about his bumbling thugs, which were still
forcibly asleep in the trunk of their own car.
With the arrival Mesri, the summit could properly
begin. A shadowy figure, literally because it was only a
silhouette cast by a videoprojector, explained them that
he was the only survivor of Gamma Vault, an Institute
base from within the Zone that managed to operate for
years. According to him, the Institute is hunting down
survivors and ex-members of the project. In retaliation,
he is meeting with artifact dealers and giving them
access cards to Gamma Vault. It was a bidding contest and
Guido claimed this keycard for 100K euros.
Later, when they had left Port Hercule in Mesri's own
Volkswagen Beetle, she told the stalkers that it was
actually better to have Guido keep the card because it
was fairly certain to contain a tracking device. It
certainly looked high-tech enough for that. Perhaps even
xenotech. What Mesri and the stalkers had gained was
knowledge of the vault's existence, its approximate
location and the fact that connecting routes between the
Vault and the Barracks in Toulouse ran via the subway
system. There had to be other ways to reach that route,
using service tunnels, sewers, subway tubes and Roman
catacombs from elsewhere in the Zone.
They left the Beetle at a gas station and were
smuggled past the checkpoints and into the Border Area
inside a truck trailer. Finally they ran on foot across
an abandoned industrial zone and into the northern end of
Montaudran Airport, where Mesri had one of her hideouts
in the cargo hold of an abandoned freight jet. There, she
introduced the stalkers to her secret weapon, something
that would help them keep pace with Guido even without
the card. It was a crude and frankly quite suspicious
pair of xenotechnology gadgets that could teleport matter
and even living beings between them. She had never tried
teleporting anything across the Zone Boundary but was
sure it would work. Our stalkers were less certain.
Next they went scouting for news and to spy on Guido
(including planting an audio bug into his apartment with
the help of a bribed cleaner). It turned out that while
Guido usually favoured Junkyard Crew, a thuggish stalker
outfit with a reputation of ambushing and robbing other
stalkers in the Zone, he was unwilling to trust them with
the Gamma Vault keycard. Instead, he was in talks with
Komsomol and Rouge Noir, much higher-level groups, which
pissed off the Junkyard Crew to no end. Nevertheless,
this wrangling over trust and deals was slowing down
Guido's expedition, so our stalkers could get a head
start on theirs.
After consulting Imam, whose mosque was also a
training ground for young Sufi-Islamist stalkers, our
heroes were able to plot an underground course to the
Boundary at the Laboratories, then bypass the security
measures and finally plant their half of the teleporter
into a space between the security devices and the
Boundary itself. After that, all that was required to
enter the Zone was an iron saw to cut through a rusty
They followed the drains until a Flutterer anomaly
forced them onto the surface and into the suburbs just
west of the old laboratories. Here they managed to find
their way to a subway station, even though they lost one
nut to a Fossil Factory and the station main entrance was
blocked by a Void Bubble. They dismantled part of an old
air exchanger and after dodging a Fireball, dropped down
from ceiling vents. One of the vent covers even had an
artifact stuck to it. They were now in an old line B
subway station, with posters of Backstreet Boys leering
at them from the grimy walls. After getting their
bearings, they started moving north along the subway
Then they were hit by a Rolling Sparkler. Aziz managed
to flee back to the station platform but Henri, still in
the railpit, got burned. He survived but will have the
metal buttons and zippers of his clothes tattooed onto
his skin for the rest of his days. They waited to see if
the Rolling Sparkler was a regular occurrence. Apparently
it wasn't, so went back into the rail tunnels and reached
the next station without an incident. The station after
that would be back across the boundary, so if they were
to find a connection to the north, it would have to be
along the remaining section before the Boundary.
However, before they could go on, Aziz wanted to
inspect what appeared to be the body of a dead stalker at
the opposite side of the platform. Although he used hook
and cable to draw the body to him, that still exposed him
to a Miasma that covered the other side of the station.
He became violently ill. Henri dragged him away from the
corpse and fed him medicines until the symptoms began to
subside. Still, with Henri's injuries and Aziz running a
fever, they decided to call it a day and began the long
trek back to their teleporter. They still had not dared
to try using it to move across the Zone Boundary. Not
without testing it on a live animal first.
And that concludes part 1, played aboard on Viking
Gabriella for two evenings.
My Review of Portal 2
The Final Solution
Why am I not in a moral panic over the Basic Finn's
election victory? Because over the years we all agreed
that our increasingly redundant parliament was full of
traitors, morons, thieves and assholes, right? Why would
pouring in some assumed racism and proven populist
extremism change anything? Besides, things could hardly
be worse. We are governed by a corporate shadow cabal
with National Coalition and EK as its fronts. The rise of
rural/suburbanite loudmouths is not going to change that.
I predict that much to the disappointment of the media
and the liberal left the world will not end, Finland will
not turn into a dictatorship built on Rural Fascism
(wtf?) and the aid deal for Portugal will be passed by
the parliament even if it is a fucking stupid idea (yes,
I know they can't drop an old EEC country from the Union
no matter what). And I'll eat my shorts if Finland's
steady progression towards a tax haven with
government-sanctioned corruption gets derailed by a bunch
I doubt it is even going to last to the next
parliamentary elections. Coming face to face with the
realities of power tends to do that. But I'll go mad if
this moral-panic-induced shouting match in the media and
the Internet does not end soon. Kudos to Hitler. At least
the fucking Nazis knew how to shut people up!
Yep. That's me, restricting the freedom of speech in
favour of political extremists (their left/right
orientation is still being questioned). And they did not
even have to bribe me to make me turn my coat; it was
enough to just annoy me to a sufficient extent.
Speaking of politics, many of my friends have recently
joined the Leftist Party. If they do come up with a
pro-nuclear support group I might be tempted to join
myself (despite the local chapter bravely trying its best
to keep me at a distance). As for now, their energy
policy is still being dictated by the same people who
thought the Red Army only fought for peace. Maybe I
should write a blog entry on my increasingly complex
views on nuclear energy? While I am pro-nuclear, I think
global capitalism is emerging as the biggest threat to
nuclear safety. For the record, Fukushima incident does
not really show on my radar and trust me, we are going to
see a lot more of those before I
(statistically) close my eyes for the last time sometime
in the 2040's. Besides, people living glass houses should
not throw stones. Given the ancient granite bedrock we
live on and the water we drink we are all dead men
walking compared to the Japanese.
So much for reality. Sucks, as ever.
I am drawing up plans for the first two sessions of
Gamma Vault and it looks suspiciously like our brave
stalkers would not even get to see the zone during the
cruise. I really hope they want to keep on playing
afterwards. I like this concept and in some ways it is a
return to the very roots of Code/X, the so-called
"Half-Life RPG". I have always been a huge fan
Mesa Facility :)
Hey, maybe the Institute uses wooden crates because
they don't have magnetic and conductive properties? On
the other hand, that would apply to plastic as well.
Damn. But crowbar... that is a traditional Stalker tool
if I ever saw one. And you can even throw it if you run
out of bolts.
The Highest Praise
Yes, I read it. To quote Jiituomas:
A thank you, once again, to the original book, the
Tarkovsky movie, Lopushansky's "Ugly Swans", C.
J. Håkansson's "Fjärilen från Tibet", and
especially Vuorela's wonderful game for the campaign.
After three years of running it twice a month, I am more
than ever certain that it's (at least in my opinion) the
best tabletop role-playing game seen on the market so
His three-year Stalker campaign has finally come to a
fitting end and he is now scrolling the end credits. And
when an enemy (although a former one, in this case)
praises your work, he is unlikely to bullshit you just to
be polite. I liked reading about his campaign
"Orchard". I am also happy to have been able to
contribute something to it, even if it was just the
rulebook. I am sad to see it go but nothing lasts forever
and it is always better to quit on a high note than wait
and let it fizzle away.
I haven't had much luck with my own RPG campaigns
lately. Deathwatch is cursed with scheduling issues and
playing a campaign once every two months tends to erode
the narrative. Both my original Stalker campaign and the
subsequent Stalker Japan fizzled out because of players
moving out of town and having various other real-life
crises. "Saatana saapuu Rääveliin", an
extension to my past late-medieval myster-adventure never
happened because we could not get the whole party
together ever again. People at my age have so many other
priorities that trump roleplaying that having a steady
campaign seems hopeless.
I know some people are turning Forge products in
desperation. I am not going to do that but as much as I
woud like, I can't blame them. But unfortunately for me,
it is the long campaigns that interest me as a gaming
form. One-nighters can still be fun in an Arcade RPG
sense but they always leave me nostalgic for the older,
better days. Just like there was a golden era to this
hobby that is now long gone, there was a golden era to my
personal participation in it as well. My heyday lasted a
little longer but it eventually ended somewhere in the
middle of the last decade.
Somehow, I always knew that Stalker RPG was going to
be my swansong. When it came out, I wrote here that I
have put everything I knew about gamemastering and
running roleplaying games into it. That was in 2008 and I
don't think I have learned anything new about
gamemastering since then. It felt like I had been this
bottle of information that got poured onto those MS Comic
Sans-typed pages. As a result there so much stuff on the
pages it is dripping out over the edges. And I feel like
an empty bottle.
Since Stalker RPG, I have made some half-hearted
efforts to turn the HAX setting into an RPG as CyberFlow.
And I guess Berlin
Zero counts for something (it is pretty neat; my
personal Fallout and I hope to return there some day).
But what I have mostly been working on is HAX MMORPG.
And that, coupled with some fringe interests like a novel
on the subject, seems to be extent of my passions. In
pelilauta forums, Sope
is calling for more games suitable for beginners.
Sure, it is a noble job for somebody else. I've
done my part to keep this scene goin..
I am going on a cruise to Stockholm in May. Me and
some friends booked cabin aboard Viking Something and
after a hearty dinner and a trip to the tax-free, we will
stay in the cabin to play Stalker for as long as we can
remain conscious. And it is the same deal on the way
back. I did a lot of these "roleplaying
cruises" back in the nineties but I have a lot more
riding on this one. It may be one of the last roleplaying
adventures I will ever run.
Something popped in my knee yesterday. I was climbing
up a short flight of stairs and felt it go, followed by
the sensation of someone hitting it with an arrow. The
pain flared up again today, so strong that my leg buckled
underneath me. Luckily, I was both using a crutch on that
side and have been training my upper body strength. It
feels like my knee does not really heal anymore. There
are just these levels of discomfort and it stays on one
until there is some procedure (most recently the
cortisone injection). Unfortunately I just lost a level
in that game and took a major step backward. Before
yesterday my knee was doing fairly well but it was still
a level short from normal. What if it never heals
properly? And even after I hand these crutches back to
Diacor, I will be lugging a walking stick along wherever
I go for the rest of my life?
So, this is what old age feels like.
Aging is not just physical. Take political opinions,
standpoints, worldview and values, for example. Some of
them I deduced by myself. Some of them mirror those of my
parents or other upbringing. Some where shaped or formed
because of my studies or having discussing them at depth
with friends, mostly in the late 80s and throughout the
90s. Now the 2011 election is nigh and even if I am not
running for any office, the media around my and my close
social circles are buzzing with debates on various
complex issues and value judgements. I have plenty of
opportunities and the occasional invitation to
participate but I simply cannot be arsed! I am stuck with
the choices I've already made, 10+ years ago. It is not
because they were be right, especially informed or
someshow eternally wise. I just feel it is not worth the
effort to look into things anymore. Worst of all, I
acknowledge all this and it is basically watering down
every ideal and conviction I've ever had. I've become a
cynic at life.
While painfully hobbling towards the
ah-so-very-distant railway station today, I was stopped
by some dude selling Greenpace memberships. I
have to admit that at first I provoked him to argue with
me. But then I looked at his face. That pretty, smooth,
wide-eyed and naively self-assured face. I kind of...
held back after that. I think he is both wrong and stupid
on most counts but I did not want to ruin it for him. I'd
rather have him stay happy and have sex with hippie girls
(or guys, I don't have a gaydar and you'll never know
with the green anorak crowd). Not that a rebuff from a
single customer he met on the streets would have really
ruined it but eventually encounters like this will wear
down his shield of idealism. If nothing else, he will be
so disappointed with Humanity at large he will make the
leap from idealism to cynicism. So I made my excuses and
moved on. I hope he counts that as a victory and feels
empowered by it.
As a final testament to old age and middle-class
conservatism, I ran across two Romanian beggars, an
elderly couple straight out of a Balkans postcard.
Instead of sitting on the ground with their palms up,
they had harmonicas and were playing very simple
tunes and taking stiff dance steps to the music. There is
not much to say about their playing and even less to say
about their dancing but I unloaded all my coins on them.
Why? Well, for all its faults it was a spectacle. A very
East European spectacle, if you will. And compared to all
the other beggars out there (and there were a few even in
sight) these two were actually working for living.
This is very conservative for a Leftist Party voter
(yeah, I considered voting Basic Finns to just be an
asshole but then they had to start making statements of
their own) but what do you do? Most people develop petit
bourgeoisie attitudes when they grow old and/or
acquire property. And according to this
I've always been there :)
I wish I had news about my next book "Dancer".
Actually, I have been writing the storyline missions
for these past few days. It is both very creative and
very challenging, especially with the heavy constraints
of the game. We can't afford to create mission-specific
game mechanics or complex editors. Instead, I have to
give a meaningful narrative framework to a fairly small
set of mechanistical goals and have it form a
"decent", if not always "good" story.
Frankly, it is a good thing that in games nobody will
crucify you for taking narrative shortcuts in the
interests of gameplay.
Our chosen medium for the purely narrative content is
the HAX Facebook gallery for examples.
I am currently writing the comics script for the last
storyline mission. At the risk of revealing spoilers, it
starts with the ghost runner lurking in his hideout,
trying to sit out an epidemic that is sweeping the street
sector he had his hideout in. But when the sector is
quarantined and there is no sign of help coming, he
starts looking for a way out. His best hope are the
Canals down at the water level. This is Pirate territory,
home of the shadowy clans and strange cults that control
organized crime in Terminal Complex. Canals are deadly
even on a good day, so he breaks into a Pirate-operated
network to find or create meatspace security holes he
could slip through. He fails but gets noticed by one of
the Pirate "doctors" who offers him an ominous
deal... and that's all, folks!
New Fallouts, retrospective
Yes, the new Fallout games are like a drug to
me. I always return to them, even though I have played
them over and through a dozen times. My Steam
refuses to log hours spent playing Fallout 3
(probably one of the many mods I have changed something)
but it must be close to 300. And it does a much better
job at luring me back than New Vegas. I just
ignore the storyline and lose myself in the scrounging
through Capital Wasteland and the DC ruins. It
is also fairly easy to avoid the main storyline in Fallout
3, giving me the impression of a game where they
first designed this delightful open-world game engine.
The storyline was pretty much an afterthought once they
had first proven this could mechanically work.
In New Vegas, you can't really get away from
the story and it feels like there is much less to
explore. This is an illusion created by the high-level
areas which are effectively closed to you for the early
part of the game but you will feel it. And sometimes, now
that I have experienced the main storyline, the way it
rubs it into your face even when you don't want it is
bloody annoying. Of course, the story, characters and
factions are much stronger and the world is built around
them but... Mojave is just a desert. It is not a
post-apocalyptic wasteland. Capital Wasteland in
Fallout 3 can occasionally rival S.T.A.L.K.E.R. in
atmosphere and mood. The New Mojave Wasteland
doesn't come even close. For some odd reason, Capital
Wasteland also looks better although this is helped by
the terrain geometry of New Mojave Wasteland
looking like absolute shite on the scale of a fucking
Western Hollywood epic.
Then again, the moment some Capital Wasteland NPC
opens his stupid mouth, the balance swings the other way.
Now that I have seen how logical, well-knit and immersive
the social narrative of New Vegas is, everybody
in Capital Wasteland seems completely mental.
They have absolutely no connection to the setting, make
constant cultural references to things that do not exist
and give the lamest excuses for the quests. I know that Moira
Brown in Megaton is a pet hate for many gamers and
sure enough, she is horrible. But I reserve a special
hatred for Brailee Ewers in Arefu. She lets the
player in when the player lies that he is a "Postman
delivering the Spring Mail-Order catalogue". What
the fuck? Was she cryogenically frozen back in the good
times and thawed out just yesterday? A world with any of
that happening has been ashes for generations! At least
Moira Brown knows there is a fucking post-apocalyptic
wasteland out there and does not make idle references to
things she cannot possibly know!
If I didn't know this was all just bad writing, I'd
suspect the whole Capital Wasteland had been secretly
populated by runaway androids trying to pass off as the
natives. Fortunately, in Fallout 3 the NPCs are much
easier to ignore but it still bugs me to have its great
atmosphere fall flat on its face with every last bit of
dialogue. To be fair, there is one exception to this: Bigtown.
Although the map placement for its assumed purpose
is asinine (teenagers making the run from Little
Lamplight to Bigtown? Yeah, right), the writing and
characters work well. The residents feel somewhat
believable, they are in the grips of the same future
shock as you are and the whole place not only fits into
the wasteland but also reeks the same gloomy atmosphere
that pervades the rest of the setting.
All in all, Fallout 3 still wins this race.
It is the better game of the two. If I buy a
post-holocaust CRPG, I want a fucking post-holocaust
setting in it. Fallout New Vegas fails at that
and for all its other merits, this is inexcusable. Now
there is a *lot* wrong with Fallout 3 and I know
that a much of this stuff has been done right or at least
better in New Vegas but still, if you bring a
car to a motorcycle race you are going get disqualified
no matter how well you drive.
I gave students in the University of Helsinki a
lecture on game design today. It was arranged by Lambda,
the student organisation for theoretical computer
science. The attendance was good, audience participation
even better and I think the whole thing was a big win for
everybody. It is a bit funny, having a short-math high
school student lecturing these people about applications
of mathematics in game design but I had a lot of fun
doing it. Judging from the feedback, the feeling was
mutual. Thanks, Sampo, for organizing this.
Next I will start preparing notes for Vault Gamma, my
upcoming Stalker adventure. I am actually going to run
the first two sessions on a cruise to Stockholm. If the
players like it, we might discuss continuing the
adventure once we are back on dry land.
Yes, I play a lot of shooters. And while I generally
dislike computer RPGs, you can sell one to me easily if
it is in shooter format (Fallout 3/NV) and not shit
(Borderlands). I don't even mind linearity if is
well-made (FEAR 2) but prefer wide-pipes (FEAR 1, Far
Cry). S.T.A.L.K.E.R. was obviously a full sandbox but
those are difficult to do well (although I wish more
people would try). My preferred perspective is
first-person (FPS), although some third-person shooters
(Sniper Elite, Freedom Fighters) have made it onto my
toplist as well. Since 2004, shooter games have begun to
age fairly well. Far Cry is not too hard on the eyes even
today and Crysis (2007) remains the
unmatched peak of graphical quality and draw range in
Some hardcore PC gamers think Crysis
was also the best thing since sliced bread. My opinion on
it was more mixed. It was certainly beautiful; more so
than any other game ever. And the levels were vast. The
problem was that it was not a very good game. You were
given this supposedly kick-ass nanosuit that protected
you about as much protection as a wet t-shirt. The suit
feature controls were clunky and unintuitive, the enemies
(most of them dressed in wet t-shirts) took 10 rounds to
the chest and 2 to the face before dropping and the
stealth/visibility algorithm was so bugged it often felt
like the game was just trying to piss me off. The
technical requirements are monstrous even for today.
So I was a bit apprehensive about Crysis 2,
a cross-platform sequel to Crysis that already has
hardcore fans up in arms for A) not being situated in a
tropical jungle, B) having a much simpler suit interface
and C) having less controls and graphical options than
the fucking Space Shuttle. Yes, I know. The downfall of
hardcore PC gaming is truly a tragedy.
However, I am personally inclined forgive Crysis 2 all
of the above because the game is good.
Actually, I think it is great. It may
not look as good as its predecessor but neither does the
real world. It looks good enough, exquisitely detailed,
sufficiently gritty and profoundly awesome. The
devastated New York feels more post-apocalyptic than many
settings of that actual genre (looking at you, New Vegas)
and there are many great, if scripted, scenes of
wide-scale destruction. Enemies still take quite a bit of
damage before they go down but then again you can dish it
out and it feels more logical this time because they are
either heavily armoured stormtroopers or alien
cybershells. Headshots do count.
Crysis 2 plays smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, that it
makes the graphics programmers of every other game I own
look like morons. While graphical settings are very
limited (are many vocal PC gamers seem butthurt about
this), the engine clearly optimizes itself well to
less-than-godly machines and offers big, sprawling
arena-like levels without ever making you feel like you
are lost. Partly automated (or rather
"context-sensitive") suit controls are quick
and intuitive and you'll soon be wearing the nanosuit
like a second skin. And this time it truly feels
bad-ass. You can yank mounted weapons loose and wield
them by hand. You can take on machine gun fire or drop
off from rooftops whilst in armour mode. You can jump up
floors and do pretty awesome parkour whilst in a
firefight, or leap across streets at speed. And I just
love sneaking behind enemies while cloaked and cutting
Sometimes you get a jackpot: a cluster of enemies on
the far side of something heavy but movable, like a car
wreck. A kick from your a power-armored leg sends that
car flying and it squashes the lot with a satisfying
crash. The suit also looks good (the
car ad-style opening intro was mouth-watering)
and I can only admire the bravery of CELL soldiers (the
human enemies). I would run like hell (and still fail to
get away) if I saw a glimpse of this thing. Vehicles and
bigger aliens do pose a serious threat though, as does
the environment or getting cornered by grunts at the
wrong time. The sense of threat is palpable, even at the
lowest difficulty level.
The story is good videogame fare which is not much of
a praise in itself. But it is functional, superficially
complex and marries alien invasion with FEAR-style
corporate maneouvring and military politics. It all
revolves around the nanosuit and its suspicious
resemblance to the alien species you are fighting. Saying
that I liked it probably counts against me if I ever want
to work as a game writer again but I admire its pure
functionality. It is clearly a German design, just like
the game itself. In the Internet, Crysis 2 is considered
buggy but I've had bug problems only twice in these 17
hours. I also seem to have blissfully ignored the AI
anomalies some are whining about so chances are that you
The solo campaign is said to be 10-12 hours long.
Hell, I am currently 17 hours in and only now on my way
to the climax of the game, so we might be looking at over
20 hours of single-player fun here. I have really enjoyed
myself and in these days anything over 10 hours is great
value for a solo FPS! I will be buying any and all DLCs
coming out for this game. I also hope that the rabid
Crysis 1 fanbase is not loud enough to put Crytek off PC
development altogether. It is true that console
crossovers have simplified or dumbed down many PC gaming
franchises but sometimes, just sometimes, that might
actually be an improvement.
So, in short, I give Crysis 2 a rating of +4. This is
one of the best games I've ever played.
About the rating system: I've done a lot of
thinking on how to improve the current rating models used
in game reviews, as people nowadays tend to think that a
game with a score of 60/100 is craptastic even though it
is numerically above average.
I settled on a scale of positives and negatives.
As a rule of thumb, if I found the game worth playing, it
will always get at least +1 despite all its faults. If I
would neither play nor recommend the game, the scale
starts a -1 and goes down from there with a review
description to match. I don't have hard limits up or down
but +4 for Crysis 2 is pretty darn good.
PAX East (and Boston)
Boston is a smaller, cleaner, safer and ultimately
much less cool version of London. Of all the places I've
been to in the US, it is also the first one that actually
feels old. It looks really nice, though, and I guess it
would look even nicer in the Summer or Autumn. The public
transportation is workable, even if a bit iffy (why do
the digital billboards on stations state the date and
time, instead of when the next subway train is arriving
and what train it will be?) and the taxi drivers are
totally clueless and depend mostly on their clients' GPS
phones. I shit you not. And jaywalking. Boston is the
jaywalking capital of the US, even when right in front of
the traffic cops. The maximum penalty is a $1 fine so the
cops won't bother.
Boston has a suspicious lack of small cafes. Instead,
you have these horrible Dunking Donuts -joints
everywhere and I've had my lifetime quota of American
doughnuts after just one. Trust me, Arnold's
Doughnuts is sheer gourmet compared to the
"real thing". All in all United States is a
fairly cheap place to stay and visit, further helped by
the weakness of dollar compared to euro. I bought a pad
computer (Archos 101) and bunch of other stuff for my
home workstation, while Leena got herself a Mac laptop
and an Amazon Kindle for joint use.
Extra special thank you to Lidya & Osya and Satu
& Jan, who let us stay in their respective homes and
eat their foods when not out hunting. My knee was bad
when we arrived and all that walking and stairs did not
exactly fix it, so having places to stay and rest it was
The first weekend there was taken up by PAX East, a
gaming convention organized by the authors of Penny
Arcade and known for its broad spectrum and Indie
friendliness. If Ropecon ever runs out of steam, I would
probably try to replace it with something like this. The
main expo hall (other three were tabletop gaming tables,
food court and a morning queying up area) is a perfect
example of what I would like to see. At the core of the
hall were the stands and booths of the major videogame
publishers, easily navigatable by the virtue of being
fucking huge (and don't get me started on the gigantic,
flying inflatable Pikachu). Around them were smaller
booths: games education on one side, Indie games on the
other and everything from minis to roleplaying games and
accessories taking up the rest of the space. The theme
was "gaming", without setting the hard
boundaries we Finnish roleplayers tend to be so proud of.
Sigh. Ever since the turn of the century I have hoped
for Ropecon to become a little more receptive to digital
forms of roleplaying and adventure gaming, from solo
adventures to MMORPs alongside with the traditional RPGs.
In PAX East I felt like somebody else had felt the same
way and actually had the resources and energy to do
something about it. I just wish I could have attended the
speech programme. Smaller conventions have their upsides.
Curiously, the small-press Indie RPG crowd instantly
recognized my accent as Finnish (while some in videogames
crowd once asked if me and Leena were talking to each
other in Elvish). And how did they do that? Well, they
all knew Eero Tuovinen and he had the same kind
of accent, although it was much stronger. I even bought
some of their games: Forgean crap every one of them but
damn if I don't appreciate the effort.
PAX East was sold out. Even for the huge size New
Conference Center, there was a shitload of people around
and hundreds of them were always queying up for whatever
speech programes or game demos there were in the
conference halls. I could not stand in line for that long
and apart from an interesting (and Wirepunk-relevant)
panel on using Kickstarted to boost Indie game
development, I missed the speech program because the
lecture halls were always full. There were huge lines in
the expo hall as well and for the life of me I cannot
understand why anyone would stand in line for 3,5 hours
just go get a brief play session of Portal 2. But
otherwise the Expo Hall was my main takeaway from PE. I
really enjoyed making as long rounds there as my knee
would allow. I also hope to utilize my observations in
booth construction sometime in the future.
I am already thinking about Eurogamer Expo
(London, next September).
RIP my Rovio Mobile stock (2005-2011). Rovio Mobile
was a nice place to work in, I met a bunch of wonderful
people there and the deal by which they finally got rid
of me was *very fair* indeed. I wish them best of luck
and hope to read news of them becoming a listed company
in the near future.
Not writing roleplaying games anymore is actually
liberating. You don't have to play nice with the greater
public or fake interest in debates and trends. Behind all
the masks I am forced to wear I am actually a very
narrow-minded person. For roleplaying, I've always done
my own, literature-based, description-heavy
"otherwhere" thing and I am not even interested
in anything else. This is also the reason why I am not
that interested in being a player either, unless I know
the gamemaster prefers a similar style and is good enough
to pull it off.
I write games that suit my purposes and it is a happy,
even if not-an-entirely-unplanned-coincidence (and a good
pitch) that these games tend to be fairly liked overall.
I think it says that there are either plenty of
roleplayers like me out there or the toolboxes have been
good enough to be adapted into a variety of playstyles.
And just to make sure that I come off as a complete
hypocrite I'd like to point out this gold
nugget from the Great Toolbox debate at
Pelilauta. I really like Nuurori's Toolbox vs.
Machine analogue, even if I am totally in the
I am not searching for a better toolbox (or a machine)
because I've found it: STALKER/Flow. That
was yet another journey I had to make alone and usually
by defending my stance whenever it came up in the debates
of the late majatalo.org (hi Tanan!). I cannot
write a better roleplaying game than STALKER and in my
ever-so-humble opinion, no one can. They may yet unearth
a better roleplaying-game from the tombs of the Atlantean
Kings but to write one, no. It cannot be done.
What? My blog, my subjective reality!
I have to admit that it was a little annoying to see
Jiituomas unlock the game's potential faster and to a
fuller extent than I have so far been able to do.
However, the fault lies with the Man and not the Game. Oh
man, JT has done some really great things with it. Things
that I am still only hoping to match.
I am planning a new Stalker adventure for the spring,
starting sometime in April: Vault Gamma. Somewhere
to the south of Steel Forest (a larger Zone France
location defined in an earlier adventure) is the
Institute's response to Airbus' claim on the Zone, a
permanent base and laboratory within the Zone, mostly
underground and linked to the Institute facilities at the
Barracks via a network utility tunnels, Roman catacombs
and the Toulouse subway systems. Very little is known
about Vault Gamma in the stalker community. Rumours.
But everybody knows one thing: Vault Gamma has just
Whatever happened there, the authorities, the stalker
groups, the agents and the corporations involved in
xenological research are climbing all over each other to
get there first. An entire laboratory complex housing
years' worth of artefacts, samples and research data, now
lost in the Zone, slipped free from the grip of the
Institute and sitting there ripe for the taking for
whoever gets there first.
If they can find it.
If they can reach it.
If they can enter it.
Now what could go wrong?
That's all folks! Now I am off to United States and
PAX East in Boston!
You Can See It From Here
Credits at the Escapist webzine really
hit home, especially for me. Yesterday, I was at KAJAK
(Kajaani University of Applied Sciences), concluding my
lecture course on level design with a face-to-face
lecture and a half-day workshop. I was roleplaying Gabe
Newel on the hunt for a young and eager studio to develop
a new 2D or 2.5D game for the Portal franchise. The
student teams were startups and small studios competing
for the contract (which is actually pretty close to the
truth). They had to prepare a presentation on how they
would turn Portal into a compelling 2D experience and use
design examples to demonstrate how the essential Portal
features would be presented in their hypothetical title.
I also gave them a brief presentation on how to make
product pitches as opposed to supposedly objective
presentations (been there, done that, with Burnout
Mobile being the crowning achievement). Each team
then had 5-10 minutes to pitch their concept and level
designs to me and their respective teacher. This was
graded ad it went great. I really like teaching when the
students actually give a damn. Kajak game students have
always delivered for me and they really threw themselves
at the task. We all had great and hopefully educational
In my ever-so-humble opinion, KAJAK game studies are a
full light-year ahead of competition. Despite their very
remote location they have hundreds more applicants than
they can take in and these people are coming from all
over the country. If I ever returned to teaching, I would
love to have it be there. Of course, it would also be
nice to relocate the whole course to somewhere closer to
civilization. Then again, maybe there is a method to this
madness of having it so far out on the frontier. Even
though far removed from all the big centers and the bulk
if the games industry, they are getting better results
than anyone else.
Of course, looking at these youngsters I am also
seeing my downfall. I belong to the old guard of
self-taught geeks and even there I am a latecomer. I was
30 years old when the good old Sumea first gave me the
opportunity to work in this field full-time. I am 37 now.
The future belongs to these gamedev graduates who will
outnumber the old guard in just a few years. If I and the
other teachers have done our job right, they will enter
the industry with a better and more varied skill set than
the old guard ever did. Like it or not, we are on our way
out, either driven into more managerial positions (hmm, I
*am* a Producer now) or out of the industry altogether.
Unlike young people often think, turning 30 is not the
end of discovery and dreams. However, it is a transition
point between future expectations and making do with the
realities of the present. The End is still quite far off,
of course but I'll let you in on a secret. This may
terrify the younger readers. At my age, if you squint
your eyes, you can see the End from here.
My attempts to write Dancer have so far been
an excercise in frustration and failure. So why am I so
upbeat about it? Dancer is a book built on a
franchise. While HAX is nowhere to be seen (yet)
it is getting there and we have a pretty good idea of
what the overall setting will be, even for topics outside
the focus of the game. So, I set out to write a novel set
in the HAX setting but a setting does not a story make. I
tried to base the story on some of the loose and
disjointed ideas I've used in the storyline missions but
while I am as good as ever at writing evocative scene
descriptions, I was hitting a brick wall. Have been for
Last night something clicked. I had just returned from
Kajaani and still riding high on all the good feedback
and praise I got. I had also started to read Vernor
Vinge's Rainbow's End during the flights. It is
a cyberpunk novel and while Vinge is not writing the kind
of stuff that I want to write, he is definitely writing
with the same ink if you catch my drift. Anyway, suddenly
it all came to me and not just for Dancer but for the
whole HAX storyline: The lead-up to the events. The event
flow during the game storyline missions and how the
storyline missions in HAX link to the same wider
continuity as the novel. The fractions that spin the web
of intrigue Kanyah is getting tangled in. The way out,
the revelations and finally the conclusion.
I am writing that down right now.
Once this master synopsis document is done, I will script
the event flow in the novel and pick the right moments
and opportunities for the HAX storyline missions to link
up with it. Of course, it can all still go horribly wrong
but I really want to try this.Writing prose so that no
one is paying for it is actually a novel experience. The
last time I did something like this was when I was just
beginning my studies in the University of Helsinki.
You don't want to know how long ago that was.