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26-May-2013: A Melancholy Monologue

I've been feeling down lately. Maybe it is because of stress but really, ever since the Xbox One reveal I've had bouts of depression. I am not a shrink so I don't know all the causes but the one thing that really got to me was Remedy's announcement of a new game IP, Quantum Break, which will stupidly, although still understandably, be an XBOne exclusive for the first few years. But that is beside the point. The point is that I am jealous as hell. I am not so cynical that I would not enjoy the glamour of working with games. And really, the big story-driven titles that border on being works of art in both concept and execution are the Holy Grail of old school game design. My own clients work on very different kinds of games for very different platforms and audiences. While I certainly want to give them my best (this advertisement was paid by Burger Games), I am not so profit-oriented that I would not have my preferences. Some things are cooler than others.

Sam Lake, Remedy's creative director, is an old friend of mine, although these days we see each other only rarely. We originally met at the University and he played in my roleplaying campaign for seven years straight. Professionally, he is in many ways my idol and if I could choose to be one other person in this industry, it would probably be him. I know that his job isn't a bed of roses (frankly, my job is probably easier) but still...

At least Sam Lake does not have to figure out micropayment systems and feel like he is the digital equivalent of a crack cocaine dealer. Wow, look at me, it actually took some courage for me to say a controversial thing like that. These days I am working with mostly microtransaction-financed titles because that is where the growth is and thus also where the need for a contracted game designer is the greatest. But while I am constantly trying to learn new things and become a better digital drug dealer, I still feel like I need a shower afterwards. Part of me actually wishes that my repugnance for microtransactions will never go away because I would lose a chunk of my soul with it. Having a game with microtransaction-based monetization means having paywalls and despite what some talking heads in the industry are insisting, a paywall essentially boils down to willful sabotage the gameplay experience to incentivize (read: extort) the player into throwing money into endless sinks. Getting this right is really a mean feat of design but being the best digital drug dealer or pimp in town is still nothing I would want to be proud of.

Sigh. I'd much rather make games with a price tag and the gameplay and content being the best they can possibly be from start to finish. But getting to do what you want is a rare luxury and something us freelancers can only dream about. Frankly, professional game designers would do well to forget their personal preferences and this goes double for freelancers who are always dependent on the existing projects of their respective clients. My simmering frustrations over the realities of professional game development are actually a perfect excuse to advertise a crowdfunding project: Matkailua Pelialalla -comic book, a complete printed and greatly extended version of the cult webcomic that pokes fun at the games industry in Finland and abroad. If you are reading this and can also understand our strange but beautiful Snow-Elf language, you owe it to yourself to check out both the webcomic and the crowdfunding project. It is approaching its first tier now and I really want it to reach at least the second tier because I've really enjoyed the already existing parts.

Stalker novel... well, I am probably looking at yet another rewrite. The events are there but the lead character is startubg to boss me around. And he is not nearly as friendly about it as Vanha Koira usually is. No, this guy is a vicious stone-faced bastard (albeit younger) and the erosion of human society around the Zones means that any restrictions holding him back are crumbling as well. I feel like I should start shooting a mixture of dexedrine and heroin into my tearducts just to understand where this guy is coming from. And to see how the far the hole he fell into will go. I am afraid that my descriptions of the dark recesses of humanity will come off as melodramatic because frankly, I've lived a good, sheltered life. But we will see about all that. Doing the whole thing in English has its own challenges but fortunately that is what editors are for (I expect the editing process to be a rather painful one this time around). In any case, by signing me up to do an English-only e-novel based on the Stalker RPG, Finn Lectura threw down my most challenging literary gauntlet yet. I sure hope I can deliver.

Meanwhile, some people are doing their best to sabotage my writing. Look at this! It is an etnographic map of Arleon, the world of my first published roleplaying game Miekkamies, showing expertly where the greatest nations of that world reside. The Delorians are the most numerous, the Relgians come second, while Tynes and Lavonians share the third place. Ulgors may reign over a vast area but their land is sparsely populated sub-arctic wilderness (sound familiar) so their numbers are low. There are also some Zazaks and Sayarids around but they do not really form nations within the continent of Arleon. Tuomo Sipola, the author of this map, has concluded, quite correctly, that my penchant for old fantasy maps will give me an inspiration to start writing a new version of Miekkamies. It has been discussed a lot on the #praedor IRC-channel but I wasn't really sure if I wanted or had the energy to do anything about. Of course, if my inspiration is sufficiently stoked, I no longer have an alternative. I must relieve my creative pressure somehow or my brain will catch fire.

Eventually, I want to have a full-colour map of Arleon in the best Witcher-style so I can print it into the back cover of the rulebook. But right now what I need is an inspiring graphical logo-text for Miekkamies. Like having the name drawn in ornamental characters pierced by a rapier and ending with the last "S" as a snake inside a compass rose. Or something else that could double as a tattoo. I am not the illustrator and here for that we should all be properly thankful.


Myrskyn Sankarit playtesting kit came by email. I am preparing my comments from reading it but I would really like to run this game sometime.

18-May-2013: A New Hope

Been a while, hasn't it? Well, I've been working my ass off and hopefully fattening up my bank account for leaner times. Hard to imagine that I once thought becoming a freelancer would be a good way to downshift. Right now it seems that the opposite is true. I've stuck to my guns and split my time 3/2 between two projects (although both of them would have probably wanted me full-time) but that doesn't mean there is any less work. If anything, the schedules are a bit tighter. I am consoling myself with the fact that this current crunch won't last forever (in fact, there is a contractual end in sight) but still, after they suddenly bumped me up from a level designer to a lead designer, one of my old stress-induced "tell" -symptoms has returned. It is a sharp pain at the base of my left palm, as if a nail was being pushed into the fleshy part. There is nothing in that spot, no tendons, no joints, so unless there is some magic acupuncture point right at the spot, the pain is probably between my ears.

I have, once more, quit Skyrim (after 1450 hours). I don't expect this to be any more permanent than the previous times but I hope it lasts over the summer. Not playing a game all the time works wonders for everything else you are supposed to do. Also, playing different types of games allows me to control the general nature of my inspirations. As I was figuring out more stuff for Praedor, including the really quite excellent Bloodguard Campaign I am running right now, playing Skyrim helped me keep my focus on the relevant themes. Now that the campaign is well underway and I want to spend some more time on the Stalker novel, I waited until I got a little bored with Skyrim again, quit and began replaying S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadow of Chernobyl with the Complete 2009/2012 mod (which isn't a very radical alteration; if you want that, Oblivion Lost or S.M.R.T.R. is the way to go). And of course, there is Metro: Last Light waiting for me once I am done with that.

It works. Oh my god it works! Especially in conjunction with my recent real-world visit to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and Pripyat. The novel is moving forward and now that I know how the Ukrainian real-world "stalker" scene predates the game I am more forgiving about them stealing the IP from the Strugatskys. Still, it would have been nice if the GSC had not been such assholes about it and at least acknowledged Roadside Picnic as an inspiration when the game came out. Metro 2033 did that and it owes much less to the Roadside Picnic concept.


Nevertheless, the novel is moving forward and for that I am grateful.

”Prisoner C55838 Moncke J... that is a mouthfull, can I call you just Moncke? Anyway, should you manage to wriggle free please don’t touch the corners”, Grey says. He picks up his tablet which is now complaining about a loss of wireless connection and begins tapping at the screen as if nothing was out of ordinary.
”What did you do?” Prisoner C55838 Moncke J asks.
”At the Institute, we call this artifact the Watchmaker’s Pendulum”, Grey says, nodding towards the objects moving on the table. ”I think the stalker name for it is Hawking’s Balls. The scene is as base as ever.”
”I wouldn’t know, would I?” Moncke says. ”I am not part of it, Grey.”
”Oh, yes you are!” Grey replies. ”We all are. People like you and me, we are the light that casts the shadows they hide in. They would not exist without us and we would be nothing without them.”
”Deep as fuck”, Moncke spits back but is drawn to the dance of the spheres. ”So what does your Ballswinger do?”
”As far as we can tell, it creates a spatial-temporal bubble around itself when the components are moving freely on a two-dimensional plane. We are inside such a bubble right now.”
Moncke looks around again and indeed, the room is ever so slowly growing darker. The slightly distorted corners have a reddish tinge to them but other than that the changes are small and slow.
”Does not look too dramatic”, Moncke says finally. ”Did you make that shit up?”

I always thought the Praedor RPG in general and the Bloodguard Campaign in particular to be, well, rather adult stuff. However, during our last session, the 8-year old daughter of one of the players stayed with us and attentively watched almost the entire session. This budding roleplayer-in-pink has already been attending the roleplaying club for children at WeeGee and proudly showed me her character sheet. Now, this is the kind of grassroots action and growth I like to see and here is a big "thank you" to whoever runs that club at WeeGee. Apparently, he or she is using a self-made game that has been optimized for a younger player base. I'd love to take a look at that. I'd also love to take a look at Myrskyn Sankarit and run it to its respective target audience (or frankly to anyone to confirm that it works). Mike is aiming for the same target audience as the WeeGee guy/gal but the difference is that at WeeGee they are selling the experience complete with a gamemaster, while Mike wants to productize the game, perhaps even to the extent that the kids could run it themselves.

I can't wait to see how that will turn out.

27-Apr-2013: PRAEDOR - Bloodguard

I've been a gamemaster for a long time. 30 years, maybe? 31? I am losing count.

During those years I have ran all sorts of adventures and scenarios, but the ones that I like best and look back on with most pride are the mega-campaigns that lasted for years. They are huge story arcs stringing up dozens of adventures into a single gigantic, world-shaping continuity. They also tend to be very, very epic, even when the game or setting as such does not automatically support it. They have been named, either by me or by the players themselves: The Castle, Karaganda, Hansa I-III, Loot'Em, Shadowgarden... and now I am happy and proud to say I have finally another one of those going on: Bloodguard.

Truth to be told, I almost always plan for my campaigns to become these epic megaventures. Yet many of them prove false starts or peter out due to scheduling issues, or when it becomes obvious to me that the metaplot wasn't strong enough to hold the campaign up and I thus lose interest, or the group dynamics just go to hell. It is a roll of dice, really, and even if these superadventures are what I am probably best known for as a gamemaster, I actually score fairly rarely.

This does not mean I would not run stand-alone adventures or mini-scenarios and I do enjoy them (hell, Murharyhmä was pure gold on the first time but my attempt to run it again to a different group ended in a disaster). I just enjoy these 100-session megaventures more, especially when the timespans are so long that even the adventurers go through significant evolution as both individuals and as a group. I have by now established that to run this kind of campaign I need to have two sessions a month and the more often the better. Five players seems to be a some kind of optimum as well, although I would probably do quite well with just four. It is true that in my age bracket (around 40), finding the time to roleplay can become an issue. However, if you have players that truly want the game to continue, they will find a way.

Bloodguard began last year as a new Praedor playtesting adventure in the post-next-comic-album Jaconia. It is set roughly five years into the future of the timeline given in the RPG and I cannot really go over the initial scenario without spoiling the next comic book, so we'll skip that. But so far, my adventurers have waded through monster-infested marshes at the foot of a giant volcano, beheaded a baron that was engaged in slave trading with the border bandits. They have fled from a bronze golem inside a forgotten ruin, broken an ancient curse that had buried the city of Mirastar into snow and ice, exposed the conspiracies of foreign kings, fought off Mountain Tribe berserkers and so on. Right now they are trying to settle the differences between Artantean and Twin Mother factions within an exiled Forest Folk Clan in order to enlist their help in assaulting an abandoned Artantean monastery that has been taken over by the very demonic powers it was built to contain. And this is just where we are now.

I like to tease my players claiming that "it is a wrap!" whenever they reach some intermediary goal but we all know it is not true. Not by a long shot. As for pre-made plans, I do have an overall timeline of the locations and major NPCs I want to use, and an outline of what the "other side" is planning (i.e. what would happen if the players weren't interfering). But beyond that it really depends on the players: where they go, who they choose to talk to, what sides do they take. I sometimes make a rough session outline just before the game, mostly based on what happened the last time. But more often than not those notes prove useless and I wing it. It is hard work but it is also the key to Otherwhere, the reason why I am interested in speculative fiction in general and roleplaying games in particular. There are no dead ends in my games, no invisible walls to run into or no choices that could not be taken because I wasn't prepared. You can do anything. Absolutely anything. And while I tend to have a fairly good idea of what you want to accomplish, I rarely know how you are going go at it and get a huge kick from extrapolating the conquences.


I have taken Sirdalud for my pains and it is already making my head spin. As I am writing this, I am nodding off and my subconsciousness is besieging my reality. Fortunately, it seems that my dreams will take me to Jaconia tonight. Sweet dreams!

16-Apr-2013: Kiev, Eurocon, Pripyat

My friends, associates and would-be enemies.

Here, in the presence of untold virtual witnesses, I hereby recant and apologize for everything negative I've ever said about the (mis)management, chaos and confusion of the Finnish science fiction convention Finncon. My understanding of these things has been skewed, my expectations have been wrong and my interpretations have been false. To atone for my foolishness and slander, I will from now on only praise Finncon when it deserves it and remain silent when it does not. For I have stared into the abyss of science fiction convention organizing but the abyss did not stare into me, for it was blind, mute and deaf. Frankly, Eurocon 2013 in Kiev did not only lower the bar. It dropped the bar into a pit and I have yet to hear it hit the bottom. I am sure this Eurocon will be talked about for years. I hope it will also serve as a warning to others and be cited as a counter-example when lecturing on convention organizing in the future.

This was the third time I actually travelled abroad specifically for a Eurocon. The first time in Stockholm was great because of its attendees, Ian McDonald, Hannu Rajamäki, Charles Stross and others, who managed to turn every event into what could best be described as an educational and inspirational stand-up comedy. My second experience, last year in Zagreb, Croatia, was spot on in everything that counts, including the weather, which I agree is beyond the responsibilities of the organizers. Eurocon 2013 will remain a mistep in this record but I guess there has to be some or the statistics would fail. And as annoying as it was, it was not bad enough to drive me away from Eurocons altogether. I have already signed up for a double-slam of Loncon (Worldcon 2014 in London) and Shamrokon (Eurocon 2014 in Dublin) for next year.

On the plus side, Kiev itself was quite beautiful and bleeding history out of every orifice. I've seen people kiss mummified monks, stood in front of the Golden Gate of Kiev (my personal Conan-moment), understood how subway systems in the former Soviet Union could be expected to survive a nuclear attack (holy shit they are deep!) and both seen and touched a real spacecraft Vostok-4,which was only slightly roasted on the re-entry side. At night, the combination of old and new with a tasteful dash of decay thrown over it made Kiev a pretty good candidate for a cyberpunk city, while during the day the old centre is rivalled only by Edinburgh in looks. Price level is about one third of that of Finland, the old market halls are exotic experiences for a western tourist like myself and even the pickpockets I met (they did not actually manage to steal anything from me) put on a pretty good show of being poor Orthodox monks begging for money.

On Monday, we left town for a tour of Pripyat and the Chernobyl exclusion zone. That was... influential. Atmospheric. Haunting to some extent. With a dosage of 0,007 millisieverts I can also call it very safe as long as you don't do something stupid. For some reason the radiation seems to concentrate on moss. Also, in one of the rooms was a shredded firefighter glove that really made the Geiger counters squeal. I think I had only a vague idea of how an urban environment deteriorates prior to this trip and some of the buildings were truly scenic inside. However, tour-based access to buildings has been restricted because this winters' record snowfall caused many collapses and the guides estimated that as soon as the first foreign tourist gets seriously injured the place will be locked down again. I have photos of the trip coming up but in short, if you visit Ukraine and are a scifi/post-holo geek, you owe yourself a trip into the Zone. There are many touring companies to choose from these days but our guides, who also provided us with plenty of old and new information and treated both the Zone and its current residents with great respect, are highly recommended.

We were also briefed on the post-urban explorer culture of "stalkers" that has sprung up in and around the exclusion zone. I think I have now a better understanding why GSC named their game franchise S.T.A.L.K.E.R. The Ukrainians were calling thrill-seeking intruders venturing into the Exclusion Zone stalkers long before the game came out and GSC probably wasn't trying to cash in on the Strugatskys but to market the game to its home audience and in Ukraine, where the word "stalker" had become to mean a specific thing. Only when the marketing was extended outside the country and to peoples and cultures who did not have any knowledge of this already existing subculture, the idea that there might an Intellectual Property with Roadside Picnic conflict came up. Granted, GSC should have seen it coming but since when did geeks think about such things? So, I am willing to accept that they acted out of ignorance rather than malice and although they still refuse to acknowledge their debt to Roadside Picnic, I am a bit more forgiving towards them now. By the way, once the videogame franchise had become popular, thrill-seeking gamers wanted to become stalkers themselves but unlike the original urban explorers, they were looking for trouble, souvenirs, and quite often had really fantastical notions and overblown expectations on what they might find within the Exclusion Zone. It is fitting that the original stalkers call this new breed of urban explorers "The Vidiots". I should include them into the RPG setting as well...

With that, my vacation is over. March and early April were really hard on me because of that whole Lead Designer thing but it seems that things are going smoothly now and I probably won't suffer Karoshi before it is over. I'll drink to that.

22-Mar-2013: Lead Designer? WTF?

Those of you who have been observing my Facebook Wall know that I was just made the Lead Designer in a customer project where I had been contracted to be a half-time designer for a few months. This was completely unexpected and not a little flattering (if my client is lining me up for a recruitment pitch, he is doing a fairly good job). Also, this whole thing coincided nicely with Richard Garriott's (AKA Lord British) claim that most game designers suck. I guess it depends on your definition of "suck" but in truth, most game designers are rank-and-file workers in the games industry. There are just as few geniouses and idols in game design as there are in programming. Less actually, because the pool of game designers is much smaller than that of programmers. But you don't always need a genious. For example, I am probably someone Garriott would not even spit on but in my case, being able to create a coherent game concept out of the customer's rambling stream of consciousness has often proved useful.

Of course, if there is one thing that freelancers don't really get to do, it is managing people within the client company. By definition, freelancers are outside helpers. They are consultants managed by the lead designer and this layer of interface and detachment keeps them separate from the rest of the workplace community. Which is fine because freelancers have different interests from in-house designers. We have other clients with their own goals and crises. We are constantly looking out for the next good gig. And ultimately there is the vanishing act, moving on to other projects and adventures once the current project goals have been met. You will never have our undivided attention. Well, you could, but it will cost you extra.

Being made the lead designer threw a huge spanner in the works. There was no reason for me to say no: the client had done his risk assessment before asking and I was already committed to the project; to see it through while working 20 hours a week. If taking a few steps up the ladder is what it takes, so be it. Of course, I'd like to be paid extra for the added responsibilities but this is the games industry and that is just not the way it works. And I am genuinely intrigued. There is the lure of the challenge, the titillation of power and the appeal of the added responsibility. I like being directly and personally responsible for my handiwork and one of the coolest things about being a game design mercenary are these frequent trips outside my comfort zone. Deep down, I like being forced to learn, adapt and find the approaches to the subject (or to what the customer really wants) that others have missed. It makes game development a game in itself.

Still, my hands are shaking a little right now. It has been years since I last managed other people and I have never done that in somebody else's company. Besides... well, this was a bit sudden, don't you think? Like, after one week on the job. At least they agreed to remove the hour cap from my contract. It is almost like getting a better deal, right? Right?

Okay, I am so not going to comment on that but there is one confession I'd like to make. After nine years in the industry, I still think being a professional game designer is the best and coolest job in the world. Despite all the hardship, the increasing cynicism of my colleagues and the ugly things I've witnessed, the games industry has never lost its glamour in my eyes. But don't believe the press: if it is money you are after, go rob a bank.

21-Mar-2013: The Nations of Arleon 2

Delorians are not the only nation to claim South Arleon as their home.

The western shores facing the Grey Sea belong to Tynes, a race of merchants, sailors and artisans that seem to have adapted or even thrive in the chaos the collapse of the Delorian Empire has wrought. Their homeland is Tynnshae but you can run into them almost anywhere. To understand Tynes, you must know something of the Imperial history. In ancient times, the western shores of Arleon were dominated by the mighty kingdom of Dynnbraeth. The early Delorian Emperors made war against it and archivists of the time describe it as a savage kingdom of great warrior-kings and high priests of dark and blood-thirsty gods. The two realms were locked in a bloody stalemate until the Twelve Gods intervened. Much of Dynnbraeth sank beneath the Grey Sea and Emperor Verian III was finally able to conquer the remaining Tyne kingdoms during the Second Dynasty. Uprisings, heathen revivals and outright rebellions were a regular occurrence well into the Third Dynasty, though.

That is ancient history now. Tynnshae is a land of merchants, craftsmen and sailors. Its excellent ships bridge the northern Arleon with the Delorian kingdoms in the south, make risky ventures across the Blue Sea into the few Sayarid ports still open to visitors and have sailed as far away as to the orphaned Imperial colonies in Atzla, far across the Green Sea. Today, the southern lowlands of Tynnshae are every bit as sophisticated as any of the Delorian kingdoms and while their cities are few, Dunnport and Auborn rival any of the Delorian capitals in size and splendor.

The northern half of Tynnshae is cold, mountainous and remote. Steep cliffs and stormy waters around the mouth of the Bay of Relgia have claimed countless of ships. These cliffs also hide sea caves and hidden coves for pirates and wreckers. On land, banditry is rife and the fortified clanholds are bitter rivals over pasture, mines and the few roads linking the Highlands to the south. Many of the northern lords, also known as thanes, pay little heed and even less taxes to the crown. Some openly shelter pirates and bandits in exchange for a share of the loot. Once can only wonder how the kingdom of Tynnshae has not split asunder along the foothills of the higlands. Delorians would be at each other’s throats for much less.

Tynes tend to be of medium height and slimly built, although many are also taller than the average Delorian. Many have blond features, green eyes and yellow, black or red hair. Even city-dwellers in the south sport tattoos on their arms and chest indicating their lineage and ancient clan affiliations, but what is a quaint little tradition in the south can be a matter of life and death in the north. Other than that, the southerners shave their chins and in other ways imitate the Delorian clothing and style. For northerners, braided hair and bushy mustache are a source of both pride and brawls. The traditional attire for northern men is a knee-length wool skirt. Women wear long dresses but occasionally wear this skirt as well, especially if they have taken up an occupation normally associated with menfolk. During my visits to Tynnshae, I think saw more female mercenaries, traders and adventurers than ever before.

Tynes have retained their strange native tongue but most of them speak Delorian as well. They have also adopted the Delorian script since ancient times and precious few can read the old Dynnish glyphs anymore. Although Tynes pray to the Twelve Gods, the Delorian Church has very little authority in Tynnshae. There have always been witches’ covens in the misty woodlands and I have even heard rumors of forbidden cults still worshipping the Dynnish Gods of Old.

19-Mar-2013: The Nations of Arleon 1

It's been a while since I've last done a precise count of my sales but I think that by now the combined sales of the Finnish and English versions of Stalker RPG have exceeded those of Praedor. Thus, Stalker RPG has become my best-selling RPG to date. I know it is still peanuts to some but for a diceless game of such a niche genre I think that is pretty good. Go me! Now, if only I could get my writing back on track but some things just can't be forced. Actually, that is a lie. Anything can be forced but I am not desperate enough yet. I know now what is going to happen in my story and I just wish I had done some drugs in my time so I would know what it feels like. Not that I am going to start now but in some things you just can't beat personal experience.

So, while I am waiting for the correct inspiration to kick back in, I have to get the wrong ones out of my system. So here we go, once more returning to Miekkamies and the world of Arleon.


As a scholar and a seeker of truth, I must admit that the history of the Arleon does not always match the reality we live in today. We draw our knowledge of the past from ancient writings but since the beginning of the Delorian Age, these have mostly been written by Imperial scholars and the occasional Relgian sage. Thus, events involving those two nations take precedence and some white-robed novice could be forgiven for thinking that nothing else ever happened. Yet the present-day Arleon is home to nine nations, set apart by blood, language, customs and in many cases their gods. Five of them actually claim their homeland on Arleon and four have crowned kings in my lifetime. The rest hail from foreign lands, although the Ulgars were a presence already during the Age of Heroes and some of the Sayarid clanholds in our southern cities were founded during the Third Dynasty and have been living here for over a thousand years.

The most numerous of all nations of Arleon are the Delorians, to which I also belong to. While the Age of Darkfire was a savage blow, we still claim much of the south and rule the kingdoms of Cadonia, Ravincia, Adelonia, Leonne and finally the Imperial City of Delon itself. We are heirs to an empire that once ruled three of the four corners of the Known World. Today, relics of that empire still very much define the Delorian nation. Despite their wars and petty rivalries, all Delorian kingdoms acknowledge the undivided Delorian Church and the status of the Imperial City of Delon. The commoners are famous for clinging to tradition and old-fashioned ideals, while our royal courts, with bloodlines already tangled by two millennia of Imperial history, are infamous for their decadence and intrigue.

Pure-blooded Delorians are said to be lightly built, pale in complexion and to have dark or brown hair. In these days, pure blood can only be found in some branches of the old Imperial family and it runs thin. Different royal bloodlines can now be recognized as readily by their abnormalities and hereditary ailments as by their coats of arms. Moving beyond the walls of the ancient palaces, the average Delorian of this day and age tends to be of medium height and build, with dark features and a tanned skin, although the complexion grows lighter towards the north. Foreigners often comment that Delorians have beautiful features and are both pious and hard-working. Personally, I would add that we seem to have a knack for arts of all sorts, even if there are pretty horrid exceptions to this rule.

The Delorian society is quite conservative and the breaking of social norms is frowned upon. Yet there are many great adventurers, pirates and bandits of Delorian blood. Many have become vagabonds out of necessity. Our kingdoms are awash with impoverished nobles who have lost all but their names; some to the Age of Darkfire, others to the displeasure of the present-day monarchs. Our cities, ancient and crumbling, are overcrowded and many failed apprentices must seek their fortune elsewhere by fair means or foul. In the countryside, the peasants struggle to survive in the shadow of the Curse and the constant warfare between our kingdoms is not helping. Adventuring, soldiering and banditry are all ways to escape an ill-starred fate, even if only for a moment. For some, taking up the sword may also be a way to reclaim the old virtues and win the favor of the Twelve Gods.

It should be noted that while the Empire never ruled all of Arleon, its influence is still felt far beyond our borders. All of Arleon uses the Imperial Calendar now, as well as the old Imperial weights and measures. All coinage this side of the seas is based on the Imperial standard and even the Relgians have given up their heathen runes in favor of the Delorian alphabet. From the Copper Isles to the boyars of Gorodia, traders and ambassadors greet each other in the Delorian tongue and gestures. Our nation may be waning but even if it should die today, it would take millennia before it was forgotten.

09-Mar-2013: Where is my Vantasia?

Libraries in Espoo have this Espoon Fantasia -thing going on for them. I think it is mostly a PR campaign aimed at library-minded consumers of speculative fiction and why not? Espoo already has the annual Ropecon and unlike Finncon, it does not move around, so the second-largest and least urban city in Finland is a hot spot of fantasy and science fiction culture. Then there is ESC (Espoon Scifi ja Fantasia) that first popped up in my childhood neighbourhood of Soukka and now seems to have moved to Leppävaara. They hold meetings, movies, roleplaying games, a DVD library and Secret Group Sex Orgies. Well, not really, since we are not living in the golden 90s anymore.

Looking out to the west through my work room window, I feel jealous. I am in Vantaa, the fourth-most populous city in Finland. Where is our science fiction and fantasy society? Are our libraries doing anything? Do the roleplayers, authors and other scifi freaks in Vantaa have any connection to each other? I mean, the Tudeer brothers who run Fantasiapelit hail from Vantaa but still, to my knowledge there are no hobby organisations to that effect in this city, or else they are flying so far below they radar they might just as well not exist. So where is my Vantaa-based fantasy club ?

Where is... Vantasia?

I know what you are going to say next: If you want it done right, do it yourself and sure, been there done that. Nobody starts a society alone but Alter Ego, the Roleplaying Society of the University of Helsinki, was my idea. I also helped organize Ropecon from 1996 to 2000 and have been visiting it ever since (still plan to, although I am contemplating being just a GM, especially if Mike's Myrskyn Sankarit comes out before Ropecon and he would like some help to run that thing to as many people as possible). As for founding "Vantasia", I am not ruling it out. But I am old now. Past my prime, creaking with rust and buried in the kind of work that makes me all middle-class and boring. And I am a hipster, because apparently everything everywhere ever makes you one. I'd like to know if there are some other fantasy and scifi nerds in this town.

In other news, being a decent game designer (I hope) did not make a good and attentive accountant. Aaand enough about that before I commit a Seppuku with a ballpoint pen. It was not anything big or drastic; just very, very embarrassing and I can only blame myself for that.

I also unmodded my Skyrim. Yes, all 90+ mods of the most recent iteration removed, the game uninstalled, the game folders deleted and then I re-installed the Vanilla Skyrim with all the DLCs and absolutely nothing else. Honestly, I had forgotten what the unmodded Skyrim even looks like, so the game basically reinvented itself for me by becoming itself again. Yes, that made perfect sense, didn't it? Anyway, it looks surprisingly good on its own but I guess you have to be from the Nordics yourself to appreciate that. After looking at all the colour-saturated and extra-bloomy landscapes for so long, the cool palette of Vanilla Skyrim struck me as realistic. It feels cold and Nordic and very well-suited for a viking-themed fantasy title. Those colors and that pale sunlight is what it is like up here. Come over and see if you don't believe me. However, it is somewhat off-putting for generic high-fantasy, so I can understand players from the more southern and sunny lands wanting their blazing sunlight and screaming colours back.

Even the snow looks better than in most of the snow mods and trust me, this comes from somebody who has seen quite a bit of snow over the years. The only visual I am really missing is the extra ground foliage and grasses. Earth looks good enough in the woods but out in the open, the smooth planes of flat grass texture look a bit jarring right now. Just keep moving and you'll get used to it. It is nothing I can't live with it. In the end, the graphical improvements available by mods actually change very little. They look very good in the posed screenshots but usually there is also a host of problems, especially with contrast control.

Another positive surprise with Vanilla Skyrim was combat and kill animation handling. While I miss the Dance the Death acrobatics a little, the Vanilla Skyrim is now using killmoves to great effect and you usually get at least one in every battle (typically the final kill). When the game first came out, kill animations were very rare treats but the developers had a change of heart and I think the system works fine now. Sure, I could use some more variation in the kill animations but at least the frequency is good. However, the level 10-20 difficulty bump has not gone anywhere. It is like the autobalancing somehow pushes ahead at this point, making everything really difficult all of a sudden. But then it stops there, so if you can climb over this particular hill the rest of the game rarely poses a challenge. Still, levels 5-15 levels remain a superb experience and some of the fights I've had have been truly epic. It is a pity the tension does not last.

Well, that's all for now. I am working for a new client that actually wants me to show up in the morning, so it is bed time at Burger Games for now. Happy spring everybody! I hope it gets warmer soon.

03-Mar-2013: Elder Scrolls Online

I'll admit it; I am a very late convert regarding the Elder Scrolls series. For most of its history the TES games have been too awkward to play and too deep in the uncanny valley to interest me and for all the roleplaying I do, my relationship with computer roleplaying games has always been apprehensive. Some MMOs and lately Skyrim have managed to get through to me, probably for the very same reason old-school CRPG fans look down on them. And I did try, believe me that I did try. I have played Planescape Torment and both Baldur's Gates but out of all old-school CRPGs, only the Fallouts made an impact on me. And the original Deus Ex, if you count that as an RPG (I think there is still debate over that). Playing Skyrim did inspire me to take another look at Oblivion but... nope.

But as a Skyrim fan and a games industry professional, the Elder Scrolls Online hypefeed fills me with apathy punctuated with occasional outbursts of nerd rage. It feels like Zenimax is setting itself up for failure and they know it, but they have committed too much into the project to pull the plug. Thus they keep pouring money into the pre-launch marketing to whip up enough customer interest to get at least a decent user spike at launch. mmorpg.com has been the saddest example of this, with the site publishing rather obviously paid-for positive blog posts almost every week, which are then thoroughly panned and mocked in the comment threads.

Their core problem is that the development of ESO started six years ago, in 2007, when World of Warcraft was at its peak. The game was obviously designed along those lines, which is usually a surefire sign of investor meddling. Zenimax made the project public in the afterglow of Skyrim, hoping to benefit from that game's positive buzz and 12+ million sales. They appear to have been surprised by the almost uniformely hostile fan response. Zenimax has been busily "skyrimizing" their screenshots and trailers ever since but frankly, they haven't been able to shake off that early themepark-MMORPG feel. Also, the setting is a clone of Dark Age of Camelot to a disturbing extent. Daggerfall = Albion with its Arthurian/Celtic themes, Ebonheart = Midgard, vikings and shit, Aldmeri = Hibernia with elves and fairies. And both titles will have territorial conquest as their endgame PVP.

Elder Scrolls Online has its defenders and they can have their own blog for why they choose to believe in it because I really can't think of a single reason. What I do know is that a much larger proportion of TES fans, myself included, fears that ESO will drain development resources from the single player titles, or as the micropayment models become increasingly the norm, ESO might even become the umbrella platform on which future TES single player content will be released. Bethesda has denied the former and made no comment on the latter but stranger things have happened. Besides, once ESO is up and running, launching new TES single player titles is commercially problematic since both games would draw largely from the same customer pool and would be thus compete with each other. And if they didn't, that would only mean that ESO had already flopped.


My other problem with the game was that in the setting there was no real reason for Daggerfall and Ebonheart factions not to team up against the Aldmeri Dominion. I was then told that the Ebonheart Pact only exists because of Dunmer manipulation of the Nords and it is in the Dunmer interests to keep the Nords and Bretons apart. Alright, I guess that would work if the Nords are really fucking stupid.