Entries sorted by date:


Game Stuff

2011 Winter

2010 Summer

2010 Spring

2010 Winter

2009 Autumn

2009 Summer

2009 Spring

2009 Winter

2008 Autumn

2008 Summer

2008 Spring

2008 Winter

2007 Autumn

2007 Summer

2007 Spring

2007 Winter

2006 Autumn

2006 Summer

2006 Spring

2006 Winter

2005 Autumn

2005 Summer

2005 Spring

2005 Winter

2004 Autumn

2004 Summer

2004 Spring

2004 Winter

2003 Archive

Back to the homepage

29-May-2011: Stalker, International

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 much easier.

25-May-2011: Raindance

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 meatball."

"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 enemies."

"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 her fate?"

"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?

21-May-2011: Dear Obsidian

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 nuts!

13-May-2011: Stupid Motherfuckers!

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 the government.

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.

09-May-2011: 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 grate.

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 tunnels.

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.

25-Apr-2011: My Review of Portal 2

23-Apr-2011: 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 of rednecks.

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 of Black 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.

17-Apr-2011: 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 far.

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.

11-Apr-2011: Decrepit

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 of HAX 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 webcomic. Check 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!

08-Apr-2011: 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.

27-03-2011: Crysis 2

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 videogames.

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 their throats.

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 will too.

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.

20-Mar-2011: 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 vital.

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.

08-Mar-2011: STALKER/Vault Gamma

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 Toolbox Camp.

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. Hearsay. Legends.

But everybody knows one thing: Vault Gamma has just gone silent!

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!

03-Mar-2011: You Can See It From Here

Today's Extra 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 time.

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 weeks.

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.