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Oh, dont take me wrong, detective, Brander said in a condescending tone that Moncke found extremely grating. Korhonen-Weiss Shift was a most remarkable event, a second Visitation of sorts but an anthropogenic one. Frankly, I did not think Humanity had what it takes.
You sound almost pleased, Moncke replied. I thought the Institute was meant to prevent such things.
The Institute is an organization, mister Moncke, Brander replied, smiling and looking away into a horizon only he could see. And as an organization the Institute is vehemently opposed to the proliferation of xenological artifacts and phenomena. But as a scientist and an individual, I am thrilled. Metaphysical anomalies, or should we say, breaches of causality, were always the greatest mystery. Therefore, in them lies also the greatest prize.
Moncke had sudden flashback of Karis face, swollen from water and decomposition, pressed flat against the window on the drivers side with puss oozing from the hole in the forehead. He stood up and suppressed both an involuntary shudder and an urge to strangle Theo Brander on the spot.
Big enough prize to kill for? he asked after getting a hold of his emotions.
For some, certainly, Brander replied. Although I find it unlikely that such people would go about killing policemen instead of each other. I believe your killer is a stalker.
A stalker? The murder happened what? Three thousand kilometres from the nearest Zone! Almost two thousand from the Pilman Radiant! Marjamäki was not investigating stalker activity and the Institute that has been blocking my investigation every step of the way.
Brander shrugged. Now that you have my approval for your investigation the Institute will not interfere, although I doubt it will be much help to you either. You are digging into things many people want to keep buried. Your friend is dead and you, mister Moncke, are already deeper in that hole than he ever was.
Trying to scare me off now?
Not at all. The Institute has been attempting to get to the bottom of this thing for years. Now you are about to do it and I am waiting with morbid fascination to see who your next enemy will be. That will tell us more about the stalker scene in Helsinki in an instant than what we have been able to find out in two years."
Moncke sat down again, shaking his head.
Youve got to be kidding me. A stalker scene. In Helsinki?
Yes, Brander said, looking at Moncke with a strange glint in his eye. You see, Korhonen-Weiss Shift has not ended. We are now at day +1002 after the event and that idiot Bergman is still sending me papers on how it is all temporary and going to fix itself. If we had known then what we know now the Institute would have requested a nuclear strike on South Finland and trust me, NATO would have complied!
Brander turned to look out of window, his hands folded behind his back. But it is too late now. We let it go and now it is a monster just as impossible to find as it is to kill.
So what did Korhonen-Weiss Shift really do? Moncke asked.
Brander did not say anything for a while. Just as Moncke thought he would not speak at all, the director sighed and began talking, without ever turning away from the window.
Korhonen-Weiss Facility near Pohja in Finland, was a top-secret research and detention facility for lambda-level Changed. The psychics, the parakinetics, the Cursed, you name it. Knowledge of its existence was compartmentalized even within the Finnish government. It was a nice out-of-the-way location in a re-purposed underground weapons depot in the middle of a sparsely populated area well, we had to build it somewhere and that was it.
As he was talking, Moncke googled Pohja with his smartphone. The map showed him a small dot of a town at the end of a long bay leading into the Gulf of Finland. It was surrounded by Swedish-sounding placenames. Nothing special about it, really. At least if you did not count the lack of anything special as something special.
The Facility always was a bit of a legislative problem, Brander continued. The government in Helsinki would not grant us immunity from the Declaration of Helsinki. The project leads would maintain the subjects were no longer human, of course but I doubt that claim would have survived in court.
So the KWS was an accident in this place?
Yes. Both the most severe and the best hidden disaster in the history of xenological research, Brander replied, one side of his face twitching nervously. How it happened is one of those great xenological mysteries. As to what happened, we have a much better understanding, even if it took us a while. In short, the concentrated presence of so many Changed was already having an effect on the surroundings of the facility. Then the entire complex vanished. Gone. Unbroken ground where it once stood. Like it had never even been there.
I dont see how dropping a nuke on something that isn't there would have helped, Moncke commented in dry voice.
At the time we did not either. But the weirdness, the skewed odds of unlikely events, freak weather, you name it. Such things never stopped and were actually getting worse. Then the locals began disappearing and there were reports of shared dreams, nightmares and mnemonic disturbances. That was followed by unexplained fits of insanity, a few mysterious deaths and even the occasional low-impact mutation, like the ones you get from prolonged exposure to the Zones. The next thing we know is that some well-known stalkers have moved to Helsinki and the Russian mafia is dealing artifacts with the biker gangs acting as couriers. So we had the stalkers, we had the dealers, the weird occurrences, the freaks and soon even the cults. We had it all, except
Except the Zone?
Exactly!, Brander exclaimed like he was cursing. The Zone! We could not find it! But the stalkers sure as hell could! By the time we figured it out it was already too late. The Finnish authorities were on their toes but those things had been going on for over a year. The political will for a full-scale evacuation and quarantine just was not there.
Did you ever find the Zone?
It was right there! And nowhere at the same time! The Korhonen-Weiss Shift had split the time-space continuum. We were blundering about in one branch of reality and the Zone was in another. We couldnt see it but the boundaries between the two were weak enough for the Zone influence to seep through and for stalkers from this branch to cross over into the other and return. Remember all the legends they had about a seventh Zone? What Korhonen-Weiss Shift proves is that there can be any number of Zones anywhere!
Brander had to lean on his table and take a deep breath before he could go on. Actually, we think there are two branches just because Bergman said so in his initial report. He had little else than misguided optimism to back it up. For all I know every one of those freaks in the facility could be toying with his own pocket universe right now. And if Bergman happens to be right about the eventual collapse of the KWS, I am not so sure our reality would come on top.
Moncke grumbled an obscenity and fumbled with his shirt pocket. Finally he pulled out of a tin case of cigarillos and carved lighter. Brander watched him for a while and then held out his hand for one. His was a non-smoking office but two men smoked in stunned silence, pulling drags from the brown rolls until the glowing ends were burning their fingers. Opening the smaller office windows without a permission from the maintenance was also prohibited but Brander did it anyway, flicking his stump out into the winds. Moncke snuffed his on the cover of the tin case and put it neatly back into the case.
So , he said, trying to get his thoughts back onto the case. When Marjamäki went looking for this mystery installation of yours, he stumbled onto these Zones. Then some stalker got nervous and capped him?
It is a possibility, Brander admitted. But Ill throw you a curveball. We more or less know that the KWS area is limited but it still had a population of around 80000. What if they were branched off along with the rest of reality?
But that would mean hundreds of thousands of new people? Copies? Clones?
Physical reality differs from Zone to Zone. It is a fair assumption that biological realities differ as well, but fundamentally, yes. The Zone or Zones our new-fangled stalkers from Helsinki are visiting may be populated. If stalkers from our reality can move into theirs, why not the other way around? Maybe some of them are territorial or otherwise took a dim view on extra-dimensional law enforcement snooping around.
Are you saying
No, I am not. It is just a possibility. This meeting never happened, mister Moncke. Even the security tapes of your arrival and departure will be erased. I will instruct the Institute to stay out of your way and we will keep our ear to the ground regarding your progress. But other than that, all I can do is wish you luck, in both this world and the next.
Brander did not make a move to offer his hand, so Moncke took one last look at the directors face and found it just as unreadable as before. Thanks for the information, he said with a curt nod. If you can really get the Institute off my back I wont bother you again.
He turned and left. Director Theo Brander switched on his workstation monitor and watched the detective go past the security cams. The suits, clerks and receptionists crowding the hallways were giving the grim-faced and grizzled man a wide berth. There would have to be an inquiry on how Moncke had got into his office but whatever the trick, it certainly was not blending in with the crowd. The man had all the means to become one hell of a stalker and Brander knew he had just promised Moncke a free pass from the Institute.
Just make sure I dont regret this, Brander whispered and clicked the cam window away.
I was writing my Ropecon presentations when it suddenly dawned on me that the interface (and interplay) between the Zone and the rest of the world is really the defining element in all fiction inspired by "Roadside Picnic". The border, the troubled interface between the two worlds is where the rubber meets the road and where the political, economical and even military tensions creating the demand for stalkers become reality. In a way, all of these works of fiction tell the story of that border, the line between "ours" and "the outside". It is there on the ground, in the maps and within the hearts and souls of the people involved.
With one exception: Praedor. Technically, Jaconia is an island of Humanity holding out against the horrors surrounding it. However, it is large enough to be self-sufficient so there is no pressing need for the population to interact with Borvaria. Most of its residents have never seen it and some doubt it even exists. Borvaria is far too remote from the heartlands of Jaconia to really intrude on politics, economics or even geography. Also, in a slow-communicating late-medieval setting there is little or no chance of world-changing discoveries from beyond the border, especially since you already have working magic on both sides of it. Frankly, if you surrounded Jaconia with an impregnable wall, nothing would really change. Of course, the Sorcerer Kings already did that. Sort of.
However, the wall has a crack in it and that is where stalkers slip in.
Welcome to Jaconia, year 31 AV (Age of Valiar), some 500 years before the present day of the comics. Veterans of the Civil War are old now and scarred in flesh and soul by their experiences. It is their sons, daughters and grandchildren who will rebuild this world in their image and rule as kings and princes, having never experienced the long shadow of the Sorcerer Kings. This new generation takes the social order of the post-war Jaconia for granted and the early meritocracy has been replaced with a strict feudal system in less than a generation. Many are seething at their new status in the Jaconian society, although their reasons and desires vary.
In Farrignia, the High King Valiar Mada has just died. His successor, High King Dyrel Mada, is neither the man nor the king his father was and lacks the authority of a legendary hero. As a result, Farrignia's lordship over other Jaconian city states is crumbling, although none of them are in open rebellion. Oh, there are plenty of other rebellions to be had. Valiar distributed the holdings of the Sorcerer Kings amongst his loyal followers and officers. Yet the peasants are often unwilling to exchange one master for another and as the first generation of lords fades away, the cameraderie of war fades with them. Wars between the noble houses are increasingly common and in the capital the royal court is rife with factions, secret societies and treasonous conspiracies. Some seek the throne for themselves. Others seek to merely profit from its weakness. And some seek to topple it, along with the very office of the High King.
The city is also plagued by cults. The Church of Artante has yet to really establish itself and its various sects struggle to find enough common ground for all of them to stand on. While Artante is favored by the nobility and the soldiers, the Dead God's Cult is more popular among the layman. Beggars and thieves worship Tiraman, an aspect of Artante that the proper sects consider heretical, while the constant influx of former serfs from the countryside has brought in some of the worse aspects of Twin Mother worship. Finally, there are demonic cults and witchcraft. Farrignia accepted thousands of refugees from Warth when it fell. They brought with them the secrets and ideas of their homeland. Now their descendants act as high priests and oracles of a dozen of cults and covens.
What of the Demon Knights and the Sorcerer's Council? The Black Room, the Sorcerers' Embassy among mortals in Farrignia, accepts few visitors and the new High King's requests for magical aid fall on deaf ears. From the Council's point of view the Civil War has just ended and Jaconia is still crawling with the followers of the Sorcerer Kings; some unrepentant, some bearing dangerous secrets and some being simply too dangerous to be left alive. Having lost so many of its elders and treasures, the council fears for its very survival. Their kings may be dead but the sorcerers' war continues in the shadows, with the Black Cats living up to their reputation as assassins.
To the north, visible from the towers and the rooftops of the northern slums, is the wasteland surrounding the ruins of Warth. On a clear day, you can even see a jagged line on the horizon: the first pillars and walls of the ruins themselves. Sometimes aurorae dance above it at night and the city residents take it as an ill omen. And for a good reason. It has been only 68 years since the fall of Warth. Some of the greyhairs were around to see it with their own eyes.
Warth is vast. A single city, almost like a single structure or a palace that was 300 leagues long and 200 wide. For one hundred years its untold millions knew nothing of hunger, poverty, labour or death. No one seems to know what really went wrong but when the uncontrolled gates ripped the city apart and turned its inhabitants into monsters, the remaining sorcerer kings assaulted the city from all directions. They forced the gates shut, tore down the demonic temples and scoured the ruins with fire and sorcery.
Today, Warth is a wasteland of ghosts, shadows and ancient curses that can drive travellers insane at night. Few of its abominations risk daylight but they are there, ready to pounce on whoever intrudes upon their territory, disturbs the secrets of their bygone masters, or looks edible. Praedor parties venture into the ruins by day and retreat by nightfall. Many camp out in the stretch of wasteland between the ruins and Farrignia. The city guards appreciate the ring of watchfires between themselves and the monster-infested ruins, while the city itself appreciates the treasures of Curarim being brought to their doorstep.
The Quarter of the Blue Shield within the Second Wall, where also the Black Room is located, defies social order by allowing adventurers to enter if they come bearing treasure. This part of the city has acquired a nickname "Street of Wonders" and it is a bazaar for anything that has neither a name nor a true guild: magic items, enchanted crystals, monster parts, caged Nameless Ones, alchemical potions, you name it. Praedors and other adventurers are milling about, greeting and fighting each other with equal gusto. Nobles wearing elaborate masks hurry to their secret meetings or to fetch potions and herbs from one of the alchemists. Long-robed sorcerers glide past terrified street vendors, easily discerning real enchantments from baubbles and snake oil. Human scholars, once trusted servants of the sorcerer kings, now sell their ancient maps to treasure hunters and study runic patterns on ancient blades.
The Street of Wonders is the beating heart of the Praedor subculture in Jaconia. It is also another kind of border, the interface between the court intrigue, occult conspiracies and the ambitions of landless and often ruthless adventurers. Just like in Warth, the real monsters come out at night. Small wonder that some people have taken to calling it "the Cutthroat Corner".
Due to popular demand, the English-language Stalker RPG now has its own website. It is very simple and lightweight (I hate web design) but I hope to grow it into a stockpile of Stalker-related information and supplemental material. Hopefully most of it submitted by players and fans.
I will never forget this night. Never. First, Vyöhyke, an indie movie production by some dudes in and around Karjaa dropped my jaw to the floor. Then the RPG.Net review for Stalker RPG finally happened and kicked my jawbone so hard I still haven't found it. I was so emotional during the drive home it is a miracle I did not drive off the road! But first thing first.
Vyöhyke... yes, it is an indie production with a shoestring budget.Yes, everybody acting in it is an amateur. Yes, they edited it in their garage or something. Yes, it is filmed in locations around the town. They got this showing at Bio Pallas mostly through connections, although I am told they have actually had a premiere showing earlier this year. We only learned about this showing of Vyöhyke by accident. Because of the subject matter, we decided to drive all the way to Karjaa just to see it.
And somehow they pulled it off. Although clearly inspired by the videogame, they actually went for something much closer to the original (and thus the RPG) setting. There are plenty of good ideas here and some of the zone anomalies... man, I've been there. I've seen them with my own eyes. And if Stalkers were Finns, this is what they would look, sound and act like, in all their understated rudeness (okay, they are pretty good actors for amateurs). The story is fresh too. The setting is pretty much what we all know and love and the core elements of the story are strictly canon but they really took a fresh angle to it. Finally there are some great new ideas here. Things that make me kick myself for not thinking about them. My only gripe is sound editing. There were sometimes gaps between sound cuts; not disturbingly bad but enough for you to notice.
I love Zone Finland. I love it so much I am probably going to think up one myself. Finland is not on the real Pilman Radiant, so it cannot be one of the original zones since I am sticking to the Stalker RPG canon. However, as already demonstrated in the novel, there are many ways to spread the influence of the Zones far beyond their borders. Some infinitely worse than others...
To the mainstream media, shame on you for not paying attention to this movie. Especially in the wake of Iron Sky, you should have been on your toes for things like these. To every science fiction club in the universe but particularly in Finland; go and organize your own showings of this film. You are all fans of the stalker concept, one way or the other. Contact the production team, I am sure they will be delighted at the extra attention since like most Finnish artists they suck at self-marketing. And to every one else, if you are reading this, it is highly likely that you will love this little (110 minutes) film or at least its subject matter.
Find it! Watch it! Feel it! Exploit the hell out of it!
Whew! As I said, when the lights came on and the projector stopped buzzing, I was missing my jawbone. Unfortunately none of the production team were there but I chatted with the owner of theatre and with the father of one of the guys in the dev... sorry, production team. I also gave the latter a copy of Stalker RPG to take to the film crew. A well-deserved gift. Then we said our goodbyes and began our long drive home through an idyllic late-spring night. I love the night-time horizon this time of the year. Although the Sun has set, it is just below the horizon in the north, lighting up the skies and silhouetting the world against its orange-and-cyan glow. On the passenger seat, Leena was declaring the awesomeness of Vyöhyke to the world via mobile IRC.
Which is when she was pointed to this, the first and so far only RPG.Net review of Stalker RPG. To sum it up:
If you dare cross its borders, evade its anomalies and break with convention you will escape with priceless treasure.
She read the whole review aloud to me and I almost drove off the road, screaming "Nike!" (victory). Not only is the review glowing - 4 on Style and 5 on Substance is right up there in the "Fucking Brilliant" category - but it was also written by a true wordsmith. Who is this guy (or gal?). An English professor at the University of Cambridge? This is not just a review, it is a piece of art! A gem of literary expression. To paraphrase Yathzee, "holy bum nuggets!" what a review! This guy may be a nobody in RPG.Net terms and this might be his first and only review but you still can't helped but be moved by his sheer passion and inspiration for Stalker RPG. I haven't been this tingly about a review since my then-nemesis J. T. Harviainen called Stalker RPG "Fucking Brilliant" in his own review when the game first came out.
I decided to stop for gas, not because it would have ran out but because I had to stop driving for a while and let it all sink in. If the movie had made my jaw drop just an hour before, this review had now kicked it away. I don't think I am going to find it again any time soon.
My knee is acting up again. It has been over a year since I fell on it and while the doctors were convinced nothing was broken, it has not been quite right since. This most recent episode began with a six-story climb to the Housemarque offices because the elevators were not working for some reason. I did not feel anything then but that night the pain returned like an arrow to the knee. Fortunately, it did not putt me off from adventuring.
I have played Skyrim for 717 hours. Not quite 10 times the average yet but it will happen. I have created 10 characters, played four of them to the bitter end and currently my fifth character is looking to put an end to the Stormcloak rebellion. I have also re-installed the game three times. Adding mods tends to destabilize the game and removing the mods does not always fix it, so once I narrowed down the mods I want, I did a clean install and added just those. Right now the game is again stable as a rock but at some point I will start experimenting with content mods again and the cycle begins anew. I still haven't cracked the secret of playing a mage, so my characters are warriors, thieves and assassins. I am currently playing an all-out warrior and finding that I really, really, like the much maligned melee in Skyrim.
700+ hours is deep in the MMORPG territory and frankly, learning to play the way I like Skyrim best has been even more important than mods. As any good sandbox the game is what you make of it. Unfortunately experimenting with differing gaming methodologies and self-imposed restrictions is not part of the current videogaming culture but if you truly go out of your way to roleplay in Skyrim (a task not made easier by the idiotic handling of quest narratives), maybe you can find the sweet spot where the game entertains you almost indefinitely.
I know I did.
The melee in Skyrim has been much maligned, especially in comparison with Demon Souls. However, I have never played a better fighting game. The problem is that in the beginning melee is shit and the first impressions are really bad. You don't do much damage, you run out of Stamina after your very first power attack, your blocks suck, timing is difficult and the whole thing feels like a hassle. It is no wonder that the game took on a beating on that, even if it was unjustified in the long run. However, when your blocks actually stop damage and you have both the Stamina and perks do have slow-downs during the enemy power attacks and then to bash them with your shield, it is a whole different ball game.
There they come, a motley crew of bandits and scum. You run at them with your shield held high (block runner perk) and feel the impact as their arrows thud impotently against it. As you come up on the first enemy, you leap into the air and push your sword right through his chest with the sheer weight of your body. He goes down and you get your shield up just in time to receive the jarring blow from the warhammer of the next guy. You keep defending and circle around, keeping him between you and the archer. And there he goes, doing a power attack with his mighty hammer. The world slows to a blur. You smash your shield into his face before he can complete his swing, then drop it for a power-attack counterblow. Still in slow-mo, his head goes flying even as his friend shoots an arrow into the back of the stumbling, headless corpse. Blood, blood everywhere (mod). The archer draws a dagger as you get close. You kick his knee from under him and plunge Dragonbane into his throat, then turn to meet the chief who almost knocks you over with a swing of his greatsword...
I would like to have more the kind of trading of blows I sometimes have with enemy bosses but the cinematics when I mow down his henchmen and minions make me feel very badass. Slow-mo when blocking during the enemy counterattack is a vital melee perk, especially when facing multiple tough foes. You also might want to knock that attacker just off balance and then take out his support while he is recovering. In addition, both Bethesda and the modders have come up with new and aesthetic kill moves and I have a mod to force them whenever the basic criteria are met. As a result, the Battle of Whiterun, which is part of the civil war storyline, was really epic. There were arrows flying all around me and ricocheting off my shield. My lady fighter in her black ebony armour was almost silhouetted against the burning the stables and catapult impacts while dancing a deadly ballet with the Dragonbane sword in hand, cutting off heads, puncturing lungs and breaking necks with vicious shield strikes.
Then there are my house rules:
No fast travel (unless it is absolutely necessary to fix a bugged quest). This simple self-imposed restriction actually changed the whole game. Sure, it is slower but firstly there is a lot out there that is not in the map symbols and second, it makes you plan your expeditions: "If I go to A, B and C, I can reach D at nightfall spend the night there...". The essential mods for this approach are:
Quests first. If I am on a quest, I am not sidetracking it to explore every new map symbol that pops up. In short, I am limiting myself to whatever content is essential at the moment, instead of scrounging through everything. Earlier in the game it also felt realistic. Since combat is so dangerous until hitting very high levels, I tended to stick to the roads and going exploring was a calculated risk. However, if I do get a location on your map due to someone conveying rumors or giving a minor quest, those places are fair game and I plan my routes from one quest point to another. These essential mods are not really that essential but recommended nevertheless.
Roleplay! If I am playing an honourable warrior, the only thing the thieves' guild is going to get from me is a fist in the face. Sometimes I sneak a little but often I take the Companion's advice and face my problems head on (and with a very good shield). Unfortunately I can't kill Brynjolf but in short, I am not doing the storylines that do not fit the character. Unfortunately you cannot complete the Gauldur quest without joining the Mage's college but other than that you can let the other factions stew in their own mess! The absolutely fucking vital mods are:
Finally, I jack up the difficulty level as high as I dare. After so many hours I'd love to say I can play Skyrim on "Master" but sadly, no. I usually start out on Adept and even then levels 15-20 are a struggle. Later on, especially after reaching 100 in Smithing and Enchanting, I can increase it all the way to Master without feeling too suicidal but enemy wizards remain a challenge.
So, if you want to get 700+ hours of fun out of your Skyrim, these were my two cents on how to do it. Wandering around Skyrim has become a hobby in itself for me. The game somehow manages to mix the best attributes of hardcore and casual gaming here. The content is very hardcore but I return to it time and time again, setting myself small intermediary goals of climbing mountains, exploration or spilling some more Thalmor blood. I wonder if I will ever give it up for good.
I am baaaaack!
And have a splitting migraine brought on by evil spirits for all I know. Eurocon in Zagreb was great and not just because the city was hit by an epic heatwave just as we got there. It was like if you had taken Finncon and Ropecon, put them together and boiled them down to their bare essentials. The guests of honor were great performers and fans were eager and active. This was also the 34th SFeraKon, so the Yugoslavian SF fandom has been around for a long time. Now that the country has split up the Croatian market seems a bit too small to support a scene but then again the eagerness of its fandom makes up for its other shortcomings.
Charles Stross, my favourite guest of honour for any SF-related event was there and charming as ever but now he has a rival. Dimitri Glukhovsky, the author of Metro 2033 and a shitload of other things was there too and he signed my copy of Stalker RPG (the English translation). He is a huge fan of the Strugatskys and a great and inspirational speaker. Finally, his decision to open the world of Metro 2033 (Universe of Metro 2033) to other prospective writers is the stuff of legends. I really, really, like this guy. I guess now I have to read the book too and not just play the game...
All in all, it was a great convention. Eurocon 2011 in Stockholm was such a great event that we signed on for EC2012 in Zagreb. Now that was such a great event that we have already signed up for EC2013 in Kiev. I am starting to see a pattern here and would not be surprised if in Kiev we would go sign up for EC2014 in Dublin (probably as a London-Dublin double whammy since Worldcon 2014 is in London just a week before).
Berlin was a more mixed back. Re:publica had more to do with Internet activism than fiction and entertainment but there was a lot of good stuff and some bad stuff, mainly due to misleading programme descriptions or less than stellar speakers. Unfortunately by then my legs were so shot that just walking around became an excercise in pain tolerance. Oh well. At least I got to see the Brandenburg Gate and a friendly street vendor stamped my passport with every imaginable stamp you could have required to move back and forth between East and West Berlin back in the bad old days. If they ever return, I am ready!
Oh yeah. Almost forgot.
Croatia is a lovely place but bring your own spices. My theory is that using spices in foods was somehow identified with the Hungarian raiders and therefore patriotic Croatians avoid it to a religious extent. Your average Finnish grub is like eating hot thai compared to most Croatian foods. I almost laughed out loud on the first day when "hot" kebab sauce turned out to be the same tomato-based stuff Finnish kebab vendors peddle as "normal". For Croatians, the "normal" was some creamy paste obviously meant to alleviate the furious aroma of... the pita bread, maybe?
Stalker RPG (the English version) has been out in a print format for two weeks now. You can get it from lulu.com and it is also cheap at $29.90 since all my plans to bundle it with the PDF version came to naught. I also cut the price of the PDF to $19.33 on drivethrurpg.com. The exclusivity deal has been cancelled so don't be surprised if the PDF becomes available from multiple sources soon.
There are still no reviews out that I know of and I feel a little bit let down by that. However, there are still some people out there asking for a review copy. Oh well, what do I have to lose?
Literature and fiction conventions have the side effect of awakening and encouraging my usually abused and neglected inner speculative fiction author. After Glukhovskys Q&A session at Eurocon it was just impossible for me to not write something, so I began writing a Praedor novel based on my running Verivartio campaign. It had a good start and so far my inspiration is holding up. However, I do intend to the rewrite the very first battle scene which starts at page 7 of the script. Hey, this is pulp fantasy. If the script has less than one violent death per every 10 pages, I am doing it wrong :)
I already put up the paragraph describing my protagonist up on Facebook but in case you haven't read it, here you go:
Mies ei ollut heitä juurikaan pitempi, mutta leveät hartiat, tynnyrimäinen keskivartalo ja paksuja hirsiä muistuttavat käsivarret saivat hänet näyttämään jättiläiseltä. Miekkaa ei noihin lapiomaisiin kouriin voinut kuvitellakaan, mutta leveässä (ja myös pitkässä) vyössä roikkuva sotavasara sopi niihin hyvin. Hänen kasvonsa olivat arpien ja ryppyjen kirjomat ja hiusraja paennut takaraivolle, mutta jos tukka olikin ohentunut, tuuhea poskiparta ja muhkeat viikset olivat sitäkin paksummat, etenkin nyt kiukun pörhistäminä. Kaikki miehessä oli suurta ja karkeaa. Jopa hänen pitkä ketjupanssaritakkinsa näytti tavallista paksummalta. Kunnioituksenosoituksena oikeusistuinta kohtaan hän piti kypäräänsä käsivarrellaan, mutta silmikon kaaret oli taottu vihaisen koiran irvistykseksi ja tuomarista tuntui että koira tuijotti häntä suoraan silmiin. Mitään muuta sovinnollista miehen olemuksessa ei sitten ollutkaan.
Any guesses? :-D
Oh boy. A roleplaying campaign covered by an NDA as it contains information that can't be outed before the supplement is on the shelves. So here is a censored version of the campaign intro included in the first session date iteration mails:
It is the year XXX in the Age of Valiar. XXXXXX XXXXXXXXX XXX has ended with the XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX....
Oh fuck it.
Anyway, the first session, probably taken up by lot of character tweaking, is a week away and I really need to finish up the Book of Witchcraft by then. The core text is there but I need a few tables and throw the thing together into the Praedor layout. Which brings me to a new and interesting problem: I have been asked if Praedor could have slightly larger font since my audience is aging and 40-somethings lack the eyesight of 20-somethings. I am tempted to try out Comic Sans there as well but actually the current font is 10-point technical. I won't redo the rulebook but changing something like that for the supplement is not entirely out of the question. So what should it be, what should it be... nah, maybe I just a dullar and up the text size by 1 point.
Newsalor reported that Solmukohta guests at the Week in Finland Event displayed a distinct lack of interest at my games, which I tend to take a bit personally as far as Stalker RPG is concerned. Praedor RPG, yeah, that I can understand. No elitist tosser will touch that sweaty bundle of pulp-fantasy goodness even with a ten-foot pole for the fear of catching the disease of actually being a gamer for a change. But Stalker RPG? Come on, you pretentious oafs, it's not like you are ever going to see a better roleplaying game.
There are none.
Well, I am settling into my latest contract as the story and game writing subcontractor for Housemarque (funny enough, their CEO Ilari Kuittinen was the very person who in 2006 granted me the EU Specialist Certificate in Game Scriptwriting). It is only about a day a week, so there is plenty of me left for other contracts (hint, hint) but that is actually enough for me to get by with my redneck lifestyle (and having paid off my mortgage last year). As long as the other contracts fail to materialize, though, I have a lot of spare time in my hands. So far that time has mostly been taken up by Skyrim and the Stalker PDF troubles but now I sense them shifting into more productive use again. The immediate beneficiary is the Praedor supplement.
For reasons I cannot specify here, I named my playtesting campaign Verivartio ("Bloodguard") since "kingmakers" was so overused. Now, do you think that would make a good name for a second Praedor-themed novel? With Vanha Koira shoehorned into it, of course.
I have a new contract with one of the oldest operators around. Not a very big or very lucrative contract but it will last a long time, is enough to live on and leaves me plenty of time to spare. So freelancing it is and my return to the proletariat has been postponed for now. Also, Stalker RPG has almost made back its translation costs but I am still waiting for the proof copies to see if the whole clusterfuck of making a PoD (print-on-demand) version available can be sorted out. Drivethrurpg.com has a bad print quality and the paper is so thin it is effectively translucent. Lulu.com version was perfect, comparable to the Finnish version but I'd really like to sell the pdf+print version as a single package from drivethrurpg.com. Maybe the whole point is moot, though. Stalker RPG sales have dried up since the start of April and we are still waiting for the promised reviews.
As for roleplaying games that actually do sell, my primary retailer Fantasiapelit has ordered new print runs (read: bought enough copies to cover the printing costs) for both Praedor and Stalker (Finnish). I haven't done an exact count yet but I think this print run will officially push the Praedor sales over the 1000-mark. It is a high time we got a supplement out there.
As for the supplement, I've been writing the playtesting campaign notes, which fortunately includes detailing all sorts of locations, problems and conflicts for the target area that can also be used in the supplement itself. The supplement as such shall remain unnamed but it won't be too difficult to guess, especially if you have been following #praedor on IRCNet. Writing this thing has been suspiciously fun; playtesting campaigns are usually things of necessity that you have to put up with whether you are inspired or not but this time my fingers are flying on the keyboard. With its epic dimensions, convoluted controversies and half-a-dozen competing factions, this is turning into my personal Game of Thrones, albeit with much more action and adventure thrown in.
I am also trying out a new way to write my campaign notes. This is a webform plot, rather than a linear succession of events and challenges. I am writing scenarios, about a half-a-page each, which can happen in any order. Complething most or all of which are required to reach the ultimate ending, though. The scenarios are not independent from each other: they are interlinked via clues, npcs and intermediary goals. Events in one scenario and especially the reputation the characters have acquired will affect other scenarios, so even though the sequence and progression is driven by player decisions and character priorities, the whole thing should form a logical continuity when played. I do believe this kind of narrative structure would make it possible to have convoluted, plot-intensive adventures in videogames as well, ensuring that the players will experience 95% of the content and thus getting value for their money while not actively being forced to follow a linear path. A Cloud Narrative, really.
I am naming my campaign Kuninkaantekijät (transl. "Kingmakers"). Do you think that would make a good name for the second Praedor novel?
I saw Iron Sky on Tuesday evening and liked it a lot. As a comedy, it was quite good and for a comedy with Nazis on the Moon it was bloody excellent. Reading the bad reviews, I get the impression that its critics have never seen a good comedy before and now they don't know how to deal with it. Iron Sky has a lot going for it but it stands out of the crowd already by not being shit.
Turns out that there already exists a Finnish fantasy novel called Kuninkaantekijät. I have to come up with something else.
As a proof that image is everything when it comes to smoking, I'll let you in on a little dirty secret. I've never smoked in my life but time and time again, on moments like this, I miss having a cigar.. or rather, idolize the image of me puffing on a cigar to calm my nerves and trying to come up with a new perspective on some problems. In short, my freelancing career took an arrow to the knee. And not just because I've been playing too much Skyrim. For some reason, the idea of me puffing smoke rings and figuring things out on the wings of a nicotine high is comforting. Especially when compared with the real me who frets, sweats and has his round smoke-free face glowing red with stress-induced blood-pressure.
Since we are already knee-deep in confused metaphors, imagine a sweet deal, a huge gig, a golden carrot of a freelancing contract laced with jewels. It is just dangling above the horizon and tempting me to swim further and further out into open waters of entrepreneurship to get it. And just when it seems I have made it, the string holding it up is cut and it drops behind the horizon, leaving me stranded in the deep blue sea. Things that sound too good to be true usually are and looking back, the shore is just a dark smudge on the horizon by now. It is long way to swim. Good thing this apartment is paid for and I am generally debt-free. Otherwise there'd be sharks in these waters.
So, what do I want to do? What can I do?
I just attended Pocket Gamer Mobile Mixer in Tampere and talked to the marketing guy from Rovio. And he was right: I could probably get a job there. They are doing great and oh boy did we skeptics get egg in our face with the launch of Angry Birds Space. Everybody and their cousin wanted to see what the Rovio's next new title would be like and it is fucking great. There was nothing that innovative about the original Angry Birds, fun and functional as it was. But in my opinion, ABS catapulted Rovio out of the one-hit-wonder category (I sometimes blame myself for it being there, having had a hand in many of the old games that never became hits). The new game is innovative, approachable, easy and complex at the same time. And it is great fun. No one knows if the original Angry Birds miracle can be repeated but AB Space is such a great game it deserves to become a hit on its own right. In short, Rovio nailed it. With authority. Skeptics, myself included, can now shut the fuck up.
I've often wondered if I could buy or beg my old concepts away from the Rovio archives. I'd really like to get Wolf Moon back. Personally, I think it is the best "hardcore" mobile game ever and the concept would rock on other platforms.
Remedy has just announced it will put up 20 new job postings next Friday; this may have something to do with Rovio buying up Futuremark. I always thought FM was a subsidiary of Remedy. However, my AAA design experience is limited to occasional consulting and a stint as a narrative designer for Earth No More at Recoil Games. Besides, I think Remedy might already have all the writers and generalist designer it ever needs. Anyway, I'll be reading their list very carefully. Did you know that I have actually worked for Remedy for about a week in the 90s? I helped them package and file away their extraneous game projects when they decided to cut everything else but Max Payne.
Or I could remain a freelancer. There always were other opportunities and alternative contracts. Bit and pieces, small streams, gold nuggets hidden in the river sands. They are a far cry from the Golden Carrot of my dreams but maybe enough to scrape a living of sorts. I don't have kids or an expensive lifestyle. And I really like being a freelancer.
Does that make me lazy or irresponsible?
My given name is Hakylakh. The stormcloaks have named me "Stormblade". I am sure the Legion has other, equally colorful if less appreciative names for me. I am a Bosmer, a Wood Elf by blood, although I have never set eyes on our ancestral homeland of Valenvood.
I was but a girl during the Great War in Cyrodil. The Thalmor murdered my father for he would not betray the Empire. The Imperials murdered my mother because they thought she would. I fled into the hinterlands and lived as a poacher, smuggler and a thief, hunting beasts and stalking men of all races with fat purses. By the time they caught me the war was long over and my body had developed the contours of a woman.
They were going to cut off my hands but instead, the prison commander took me as his personal slave and plaything for two long years. When he learned I was with a child, he had me poisoned to suppress a scandal. I lived but my child perished. Even today I do not know whether to be vengeful or thankful. All I know is that when he finally came to retrieve my corpse, I cut his throat with his own dagger, stole his keys to the thousand locks of his prison and fled.
I had just made it across the northern border into Skyrim when the Imperials caught me. They did not know who I was or what I might have done but decided to put me on the block anyway. Then the first among dragons, Alduin, attacked Helgen and thus saved my life. How fitting that I should later repay him by taking his. Honestly, if not for Paarthunax's wisdom, I could have not raised my hand against him. Stormcloaks helped me escape Helgen that day and I have helped them ever since. Later on, even some Imperials have proved worthy of my mercy.
But none of the Thalmor. Not one.
Turns out that my coming to Skyrim was foretold. I am the Dragonborn, a half-sister to Talos himself by the dragonblood we share. Now that the Empire has been driven south beyond the Pale Pass and Alduin lies dead at the very gates of Sovngarde, some regard me as a hero, others as a living god. In truth, I am but a champion of the gods, not one but many.
I answer to the whispers of Sithis, the Void Before the Beginning, for only he is free from the shackles of fate. I run with the thieves of Nocturnal, the Lady of Luck and Shadows, for shadows have always been my sanctuary. I shoulder the responsibilities of Talos, although what the ancient enemy of elves really thinks of me I do not know. Even the Companions of Ysgrimmar look to me for guidance and I gladly give it, for I am that which they strive to avoid. I have nothing but respect for their choice.
In Cyrodil, I was a hunter of beasts. In Skyrim, I am a hunter of people. I have claimed bounties on a thousand bandits, pursued Legion patrols across the frozen steppe and both ambushed and been ambushed by Thalmor assassins. And if one has the courage to call upon Sithis to commit murder, or the Companions to bring about justice, I am the weapon in their hand. I find it easy to kill. So very easy. Living, now that is the real challenge. Of all the homes I have in Skyrim, the house by the lake in Riften is dearest to me. And I am very fond of Balimund, the sturdy blacksmith of Riften, who cares little for the murky politics of his hometown, or indeed my own dealings with the Thieves' Guild there. But to be married is to be owned and no man may own me again, so it is sweet little Sylgja from Shor's Stone who warms my bed and caresses me to sleep.
You asked and now you know. Of all the dangers of Skyrim, I am the deadliest. Of all the predators lurking in the shadows, I am the fiercest. But if you see me coming, be at ease. For if I wanted you dead, you would never know I was there.
-Skyrim, 568 hours into the game
I know the insistence of certain people in the Praedor FB group that Praedor RPG (or really, the entire Praedor corpus) should be translated into English and published is meant as a joke. However, it is starting to piss me off. I am just about to introduce major canonical changes into the game world, along with an entirely new rules for player-excercised magic. Should we drop all that in favor of re-releasing material that has already been out for 11 years to an audience who does not really give a shit? Our existing customer base already has all this stuff, so they would not care, while the name and brand recognition of Praedor outside the Finnish geekdom is so poor that the Praedor RPG would be standing on exactly the same starting line as all other obscure fantasy RPGs in drivethrurpg.com.
Also, parts of the rulebook would have to be re-written. You liked the GM advice section in Stalker RPG? That's good because by my current standards the GM advice section in Praedor RPG is fucking atrocious. Back then my approach to it was that "come on, I can do this shit so everybody can". Also, the upcoming supplement contains information that will replace whatever is being said in the core rulebook. In Finnish, this is easy. The rulebook has been out for a while and you can view the supplemental changes as a form of errata. For the English version, all the old content would have to be dug out from the rulebook while painstakingly scouring the rest of the text in both the core rulebook and the upcoming supplement for obsolete references. The new material would then have to be written in as the new canonical truth, altering the layout and picture distribution.
All in all, we are talking about twisting and turning over 400 pages of text. And if I were to do all that, why would I bother releasing a supplement in Finnish at all? Most of my customer base here in Finland is also fluent in English, so separate publications for both languages are not a sensible use of my resources. An English translation would mean dropping the Finnish product line, even though more of the source material would continue to appear in Finnish so I would be under pressure to have all that translated and re-released in English as soon as it comes out. Meanwhile, I would also be eating into the sales of Petri's existing publishers and dodging ninjas or falling anvils every time I walk out the door.
My god! It's a trap!
Every translator in the known universe feels underappreciated because people really have no clue how much effort and thought process that goes into translating fiction (which is what most of my heavily fluff-laden rule texts are). People tend to think translating is about replacing words. If this were true, every translator in the world could be replaced with dictionary-matching machines. No, what the translator does is translate ideas and atmospheres between two different cultures and spheres of consciousness. This can be even harder than writing the original work because you cannot stray too far the original and the target language might not even have the words or even the very ideas the original author was going for. Yet despite all this, the text also has to be fun, free-flowing and feel so natural you would never know it was a translation.
If we would pay translators what they are really worth nothing would ever get translated. The only reason we have world literature is because these people humbly shoulder the disregard and even scorn of the general public while pulling off feats of creative writing that the original authors could never match. And we haven't even gotten into the proofreading part yet.
Case in point: Stalker RPG. A single body of text, with perhaps 30% of the text volume of Praedor 1.1. Nitessine did the raw translation, producing what I would call "mostly functional" text. It is in English, it is grammatically correct for the most part and having read more than his fair share of roleplaying games, Nitessine was also likely to get specialist vocabulary right. It was smooth and free-flowing in most places and mind-bogglingly awkward in others, so enter the 2nd round of translation, i.e. me. As far the text is concerned, I am the guardian of the Designer Intent. In the end, I was also the guardian angel of proper terminology, some abbreviations and a number of English-language idioms. So I go over the text, intervening and re-writing stuff where necessary and then making sure the sudden changes in text length don't screw up the layout. I'd like to think all the changes I made were for the better but in any case, as the product owner and the guy who gets to greenlight the edits, the responsibility for the entire content rests with me, even though Nitessine put far more hours into it.
When I am done, enter Aki Saariaho, an English teacher, a veteran roleplayer and a black belt nit-picker. He is The Lord of the Red Pen. Aki would go through the texts in detail, mark out the obvious errors and pointing out inconsistencies or where he thought he could not understand what me or Nitessine were trying to say. I would then go through his suggested fixes, agree with most of them, re-edit the text to either include or circumvent them, re-edit it some more to preserve the intended layout and so on. As before, the greenlighting and the final responsbility rests with me. This process would go on and on, until on one fateful day in the beginning of this month, we were done.
All in all, this took about a year. Stalker has 244 pages of loosely packed text and pictures. Praedor 1.1. has 240 pages of much more tightly packed text and pictures. So much more tightly that it alone has probably two or three times as much text. Supplement, hmm, 150 pages. Rounding up, we are at 400 pages, or four to six times much more text. Getting Stalker RPG translated took about a year. If the supplemental material is ready by 2013, we would be celebrating the launch of Praedor - The Roleplaying Game About The Adventurers of Jaconia (Christ, that sounds lame!) in 2019. Just in time for Praedor RPG's 20th birthday, in fact.
I'd much rather stick with the Finnish supplement right now. Although... making the English translation would allow me to change the body text of Praedor RPG into Comic Sans...
Welcome to your almost daily lot of Stalker RPG news! Today, we are happy to report that the print version pdf was accepted by the Drivethrurpg.com printing service and if the now-in-the-mail sample copy turns out alright, Stalker RPG will also be available as POD (Print-On-Demand). And hopefully the thousands who looked at the product page but did not buy it, or the 3500 who apparently downloaded the rulebook from Torrentz.com see the error of their ways. Or I get 10 more sales because a few people on IRC have said they are waiting for the dead wood edition. Oh, I should not really complain. It is moving and what the hell I was expecting from diceless game in a niche genre anyway? It is very hard to remain objective in these matters, especially when you yourself know you have accomplished something great.
For example, I am very much aware that the 3500 torrent downloads of the rulebook, if true (those sites are not very trustworthy) do not represent 3500 lost sales. But you tend to do that little royalty calculation in your head every time you see that figure. I can understand why some video game devs take it very personally.
On the advice of Nitessine, I have also submitted Stalker RPG into the Ennie Awards competition. It was accepted and while winning the thing is certainly a long shot, I can use every last bit of extra visibility. The game, as we all know, is gorgeous. Anyone who reads it and is even remotely open to the concept will be hooked. Getting people to read it... well, that is where the 3500 torrents, or the couple of dozen PDF vouchers sent to drivethrurpg.net reviewers come in. And when someone does read it, we get feedback like this.
In other and surpisingly non-stalker-related news, Alan Wake (by Remedy) sales on PC via Steam have now exceeded their total sales for the title on XB360. You won't hear me gasping in surprise since I told them (and you) that this would be the case already when the xbox 360 exclusivity was first announced. I am sure Rememdy had a perfectly good reason for it at the time but since I don't know what it was, I am going to say "ha! told you so!" with all the smugness I can muster.
My Stalker RPG adventure Gamma Vault is now coming to an end. Next I will probably gamemaster Praedor again, first time in years. And for this adventure, I will need a permission from Petri and then signed NDAs from the players...
Four sales. Yay!
I'll let you know when the English version is in the black, even ignoring all the volunteer work.
I've been asked for a print-on-demand option and sure enough, Drivethrurpg offers one. The problem is that the layout and files have been made according to very different specs and especially in the content pages the margins are roughly half of what the printing service would recommend. They also don't support my beloved Pagemaker and warn that non-standard pdf-creating tools may cause unexpected surprises.
I've done what I can and submitted the cover (made to spec) and content files (made to spect to the extent possible) into their service. If they pass the preparation stage, I will order a proof copy for myself. If that is okay, we are good to go on the print-on-demand. However, I am afraid it might be April before we have a definitive answer on that.