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Talk18-May-2015: Ropecon XXII

Feels like autumn already. Why? Because that's how I always feel on the Sunday night when I have returned home from Ropecon. This was the 22nd 'Con and I've been to every last one of them. Barring serious injury or death, I intend to be in the next one as well. I wonder if I'll be at Ropecon XLIV? I'd be 63 years old.

Now, all you jackals are of course waiting for my post-Ropecon report and the well-aimed (or less-aimed) barbs at the various people whose shows I've attended. However, this time the only thing I was disappointed at was myself. I should have agreed to give a presentation or something, or at least run the two game sessions required for free entry. I should have done something. But I didn't, telling myself I was too busy writing the press releases for the French edition of Stalker RPG and all that. Technically true, but there is no real reason why it could not have waited until next week. What's done is done, and what's not done remains not done, but I fully deserve a kick in the pants for this. Koponen kind of delivered.

I am getting ahead of myself. Nobody in the Finnish scene brought anything really new to this 'Con, although Tupilak by Myrrysmiehet and Nordic deserves an honorable mention. It is not a roleplaying game (I actually called it a dice game and Nordic agreed) but the whole concept of Inuit shamans building these magical creatures to attack each other was kind of cool. Especially since it came loaded with details on Inuit animism. Kudos also to Sope for his vastly improved presentation skills. Whether or not the sight of my latex hammer had anything to do with it, Mike and I agreed that we've never seen such an improvement in someone's output between two consecutive Cons. So, my hammer was not needed and I am glad for that.

It was nice to hear good news about Astraterra. It was finally sold out in this convention and with the rate 500 copies in two years its sales are on par with Praedor. I like to think that Ironspine crew is better at supporting their games than I am of mine and that should easily push them past the 1.3K Praedors sold so far. Of course, all we have for now are promises and the free PDFs. Hell, even I do that. If neither of the promised supplement makes it to the next Ropecon, I am going to be really worried.

I don't usually go watch "how to improve your XYZ" -kind of things since they usually boil down to someone telling me that "this thing that you have already been doing for 15 years is officially called XYZ and you should keep doing it". Gee, thanks! It's not bad advice in itself and objectively, there probably was a fair bit of new information I'd never considered. But I don't feel like I have learned anything more than terminology. It is not their fault, nor was there anything wrong with their presentations, so well done, everybody. I am just... not the target audience. 

Despite my annoyance for being overlooked when choosing gamemasters-come-authors for the Sunday's panel, it is hard to find a fault within the panel itself. I usually don't like watching panels but this was one of the best non-joke panels I've seen. So congratulations to the panelists and excuse me while I change my nickname from "Burger" to "Chopped Liver". With the panel so successful, I was getting worried about not having anything to make fun of here on my blog. In that regard, the "Ask the RPG Designers" was a dismal failure as well. Instead of a delightful repetition of the last year's mess, which prompted me to try improve Sope's presentation skills in the first place, this event was lively, interesting, well-run and with a both active and attentive audience.


Koponen, you were my only hope! Surely your ridiculously named "RPG Scene Activism" presentation will give me all the ammo I need! Just like Mike or Eero in the good old days! It started promisingly enough, with Koponen being the very epitome of an angry young man and gleefully refuting an 8-year old quote from me. However, it then became obvious that A) he had a new target for his righteous anger and B) was not about to say anything I would actually disagree with. Basically, he told the lot of us to do more stuff for the hobby. And to put his money where his mouth was, he also suggested quite a few sensible ways to do that, making my pang of conscience even worse. So no ammo there either. Oh, to hell with it, it's official: The worst thing about this year's Ropecon was me. I am seriously considering attending Tracon this year as a penance. Possibly Hitpoint as well, if I am not in Brazil at that time.

Then there is another matter.

I went to see Mad Max: Fury Road on Thursday and... well, let's just say that I can still hear the roar of engines whenever I close my eyes. But I am going to let you in on a little secret: even before the movie, I could hear the roar of engines whenever I closed my eyes. It just got louder. My relationship with the film's predecessor, Road Warrior, is like that of a devout Christian and the Bible. There are other films and some of them are just as entertaining, but only Road Warrior is the Word of God. Fury Road could objectively top it inside my head but still, Road Warrior was there first and has its own reality-based nuances. And there was a time, when all that came together with some other inspirations, references, thoughts and worldviews.


I am one of the most successful RPG authors in Finland. Maybe the most successful, depending on how you look at it (give Miska a few more years and he'll fix that). However, I have also had the greatest commercial fiasco in the history of that scene, or if there have been any bigger, nobody has told me. I am way too embarrassed to tell you the print run size of Taiga and how much money went into it. Let's just say that the Euro conversion has made the whole issue a little easier to handle. Still, anybody else in my position would have considered himself so well-and-truly burnt that he'd never publish another game. We've seen those guys before (and they always are guys, by the way) and that is why we RPG authors try our damnest to impress on the wannabes what the realistic sales expectations really are. Because when that shit goes down, it takes a part of your soul with you. We all know the feeling. I have just lost more of my soul than most.

Should have, would have, could have... it's been almost 20 years and I still find myself going over it in my head, hoping for a time machine that would allow me to slap myself twenty years ago. I guess most of you think I should just be happy with the way things have turned out since then and maybe you're right. My great genre loves are Baroque, Pulp (in all its forms) and Post-holocaust. For my roleplaying game writing, those have translated into Miekkamies, Mobsters & Praedor, and finally Taiga & Stalker. Four hits and one colossal, soul-shattering miss. I keep telling myself that the hits win out and everything that doesn't kill us makes us stronger, but this is an unresolved struggle for me.Taiga V2            

Did you think I've never thought about it?
Did you think I've never written anything about it?

The world may be laughing and I would now do many things differently, but I do love the setting. The idea of a post-holocaust world without the actual holocaust! The idea of taking the social decay inherent to most cyberpunk settings to such insane extremes that the civilization itself is shattered! Recreating the road warrior scenario in our everyday lives and surroundings, within a generation from now! Recreating medieval fiefdoms and their murderous intrigue in the lamest suburbs of a safe modern city! Turning the whole western civilization into the ultimate failed state, Congo-style!

But I've already tried and now wander in the ruins of my ambition, lost and mad. I still haven't found my way home. Maybe there isn't any. 

Talk16-May-2015: Press Release

In English (FI)

If you come back with swag – it’s a miracle
If you come back alive – it’s a success

If the patrol bullets miss you - it's luck

And as for anything else – that’s fate

Author and game designer Ville Vuorela has signed contract with the French publishing house La Loutre Rôliste regarding STALKER: The Science Fiction Roleplaying Game, and The Hollow Pilgrim, a novel set in the same world. La Loutre Rôliste will translate both works into French and becomes their publisher in French-speaking countries and territories. The roleplaying game will have a whole new French-language edition, while the novel will be a more direct translation. Both titles are expected to come out in 2016.

In STALKER: The Science Fiction Roleplaying Game, an alien civilization has visited Earth, leaving behind six chaotic and dangerous zones. Stalkers are modern-day outlaws who venture into the zone in search of alien technology, also known as artifacts. These strange and dangerous objects have powers and properties going beyond our science and understanding. They are eagerly sought after by governments, powerful corporations and even wealthy individuals.

STALKER: The Science Fiction Roleplaying Game was first released in 2008 in Finnish. Helsingin Sanomat, a major daily newspaper, chose its release as one of the culture events of the year. The game presents a modernized take on the world of Roadside Picnic, a Russian science fiction classic by brothers Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. It was released with the permission of Boris Strugatsky. STALKER: The Science Fiction Roleplaying Game was translated into English in 2012 and is available both on paper and as a PDF. The publisher is Burger Games.

The Hollow Pilgrim is a novel set in the world of the roleplaying game. It was written in English by Ville Vuorela and published as an ebook in 2014 by Finn Lectura. It is available from all major ebook sellers.

    Suomeksi (EN)

Jos palaat saalista mukanasi, se on ihme.
Jos palaat hengissä takaisin, retki oli menestys.
Partion luoti on tuuria.
Kaikki muu, kohtaloa.

Roolipelikirjailija Ville Vuorela ja ranskalainen kustantamo La Loutre Rôliste ovat tänään allekirjoittaneet sopimuksen STALKER: Tieteisroolipelin ja sen maailmaan sijoittuvan The Hollow Pilgrim -romaanin kääntämisestä ja julkaisemisesta ranskaksi kaikissa ranskankielisissä maissa ja virallisesti ranskankielisillä alueilla. Roolipelistä tullaan tekemään kokonaan oma ranskankielinen laitoksensa. Romaani julkaistaan käännettynä sellaisenaan. Teosten odotetaan ilmestyvän 2016.

STALKER: Tieteisroolipelissä vieraan sivilisaation lyhyt käynti Maapalolla on jättänyt jälkeensä kuusi sekasorron valtaan joutunutta vyöhykettä. Stalkerit ovat nykyajan lainsuojattomia, jotka tunkeutuvat vyöhykkeille etsimään vieraan sivilisaation teknologiaa ja jäänteitä. Vyöhykkeiltä löytyneet artifaktit rikkovat ihmiskunnan tunteman tieteen ja teknologian rajoja. Niistä kilpailevat monet valtiot, suuryritykset ja vaikutusvaltaiset yksilöt.

STALKER: Tieteisroolipeli ilmestyi alkujaan suomeksi vuonna 2008 ja Helsingin Sanomat valitsi sen julkaisun yhdeksi julkaisuvuoden kulttuuritapauksista. Peli esitteli modernisoidun version venäläisten tieteiskirjailijoiden Arkadi ja Boris Strugatskin teoksessa Stalker (eng. Roadside Picnic) olleesta maailmasta ja teemoista. Se on julkaistu Boris Strugatskin luvalla. STALKER: Tieteisroolipeli julkaistiin englanniksi 2012 ja on ollut saatavina sekä paperi- että pdf-kirjana. Julkaisijana toimii Burger Games.

The Hollow Pilgrim on Ville Vuorelan vuonna 2014 ilmestynyt englanninkielinen romaani, joka sijoittuu roolipelin maailmaan ja on saatavilla e-kirjana kaikista merkittävistä e-kirjoja myyvistä palveluista. Englanninkielisen version julkaisija on Finn Lectura.

Ville Vuorela

Ville Vuorela, when he was still young and photogenic.  

Talk10-May-2015: Pre-Ropecon

Unlike in previous years, Ropecon is in mid-May (read: the next weekend). It coincides with the fucking Ice Hockey World Championship and the schools are still on, so the level of attendance is anyone's guess. The timing is due to a force majeure. The venue, Dipoli, is being renovated over the summer and the planned changes are not really beneficial to the kind of event Ropecon aims to be. We still don't know for sure but the event may have to look for a new home next year. I've been to every single Ropecon since 1994 and I won't be skipping this one. The programme is out and judging from that, here's what I am sort-of-possibly-if-nothing-better-is-going-on planning to attend:

Fri 20-21: GMless Design And Play - fuck it, I might give it a chance. Hippies.

Fir 21-23: Myrrysmiehet Esittää 2015
- I have two objectives for this one.

  • A: To satisfy my curiosity about the future plans of Myrrysmiehet Corp.
  • B: To check if Jukka Sorsa has improved his presentation skills from last year and bash him over the head with a foam mallet if not.
Fri 23-01: Suurkaupungista Örkkivuorille - "From The Big City To The Orc Mountains", a presentation about traveling in a pseudo-medieval settings, assuming no teleportation or Pegasus Express. If this is any good, it is going to be very helpful for my writing.

Sat 11-12: Terveisiä Astraterrasta - "Greetings From Astraterra". I am a big fan of Astraterra (a scifi-adventure RPG for children... and me) and can't wait to hear about their future plans. Maybe even be part of them, who knows?

Sat 14-15: Pelaamisen taito  - "The Skill of Gaming". It is competing with an LGBT panel on gender in games, though. Tough call.

Sat 15-17: Miten roolipelataan hyvin - "How To Roleplay Well". I am not too old to learn something new here. Too obstinate, perhaps, but not old.

Side note: I wish I knew if Antti Eronen's scifi-warfare presentation is a whole new thing or a repeat of his earlier presentations. 

Sat 18-19: Uppoutumisen psykologia - "The Psychology of Immersion". I also do this stuff for living, you know.

Sat 20-21: All the Mistakes We've Made - well, obviously.

Sat 21-22: Historian epäonnisimmat matkat - "There But Not Necessarily Back Again" - the most unfortunate journeys in history".

Sun 09-10: Charlie Ei Surffaa - if this presentation on the already legendary Ropecon RPG campaign wasn't in the dead of night, I'd watch it.

Sun 10-12: Pelinjohtajasta Kirjailijaksi - "From a gamemaster to an author". Very interesting, highly topical and perhaps I even get to see some "real" authors. In a "What am I, canned cheese?" -kind of way. Yes, I confess to being a little miffed that no one thought to ask me. I guess I haven't been a gamemaster and an author long enough.

Sun 12-14: Kysy Roolipelisuunnittelijoita Roolipelisuunnittelusta - "Ask RPG authors about RPG design". Another chance for Jukka Sorsa to show he has progressed as a presenter. Or get hit with a foam mallet. Or a real one, depending on how pissed off I am after the previous panel.

Sun 15-16: Hyperstorm - scifi RPG project kick-off. - This is supposed to be a reboot of the Heimot Universe. Fine. Make it a good one.

Sun 16-17: Roolipeliskeneaktivismi - "The RPG Scene Activism." Sami Koponen promises to explain what the hell he is talking about and do it in an uplifting manner. Okay, I'll bite.

Sun 17->: Grilli Toro - My traditional "end-con" feast, hopefully with a choice group of hungry companions.

So here we go. I might not make it all of them, or I might make some last minute changes but for now, that is the plan. Niilo, is this what you were looking for?  

Talk02-May-2015: Blockbuster

The writer's block after chapter 13 lasted 48 hours.

Just 48 hours. I've gotten suspiciously good at breaking through my writer's blocks. If I could keep up this rate typing, I could finish two brick-sized scripts a year. In Finnish, of course, don't expect me to be this quick with The Green Room. My upcoming fantasy novel Käärmetanssija ("Snakedancer") is now at the same length as The Hollow Pilgrim, or about 280 pages in a reasonably large book format. The story still has some ways to go, so 300 pages is easy and 400 is feasible, if a bit unlikely. I like to think that I am already writing the last third of the story. My tactic with writer's blocks has been to just power through them. I would not have started this novel if I didn't have at least a vague idea of what was happening in it, so even if blocked, I can still write a sort of bare-bones thingie and keep reworking the already existing parts of the story. Just never stop writing. Never, ever, stop writing. When my inspiration comes back, it is sometimes hard to be ruthless with the text that's already there but it has to go. That piece of crap isn't really there to advance the story. It is there to hold the door open when I come back to it.

Writing is a lonely a job. I am very grateful to Housemarque, who just booked me for a months-long gig involving working in their office a few days a week. I feared it would slow me down but actually it sped me up. I might be a closeted introvert but still, the lack of social contact over the past year or so was literally driving me crazy. Working in an office, with sort-of colleagues (I am still a sub-contractor) turned writing from a desperate excuse of a day job to a way to rewind. It has worked beautifully, or at least the test readers seem happy. Of course, the boost to my finances didn't hurt either. I know there are supposed to be literary scene meetings and writers' discussion clubs but to hell with it! I don't really have that much to say about writing in general, everybody else is always way more into short stories than I am (for me, anything under 100 pages is a fucking brochure) and discussing on-going projects is pointless if we haven't read them our selves. Sometimes, well, often, I wish that my test readers were a little more critical but that is not a discussion either. But I am going to need an editor soon and he'll probably have more to say about my book than I am really prepared to hear. 

The one real downside to this writing spree is falling behind with my videogames. I quit Defiance after the mission-critical bugs broke my back. I haven't even started up my Pillars of Eternity and made only a half-hearted attempt to play Shadowrun Chronicles, which came out day before yesterday (I backed it in Kickstarter, years ago). Lots of problems with that one, by the way. Content issues are fixable but the format just doesn't lend itself well to MMOs and it does a really poor job at explaining anything, especially if you haven't played the single player games. I still love those, by the way. But the overriding problem is that I just don't feel like escaping the reality via gaming. I feel like I want to escape it by writing and running the occasional RPG session. Verivartio campaign has been running for three years by now. I am seriously contemplating starting a Stalker RPG campaign to run alongside it, even if I am not 100% sure yet what rules to use with it. Anyway, my casual mention of the prospect in  Facebook provoked such a positive and far-reaching response that I feel flattered.

I just got back from a cruise to Stockholm with my mother and no, I don't regret a thing. While there, I made an interesting find in Scifi Bokhandeln: Mutant - Year Zero RPG, the hard cover English translation of the 2014 revival of an old classic. It is very different from the previous Mutant RPGs, which have for all intentions and purposes been Old Skool RPGs. In my book, the new 300+ page Mutant is the physically largest Forge RPG ever. To sum it up, running your own setting and adventures with this game is optional (although still feasible). Instead, there is a very powerful metaplot that sample adventures and character classes/archetypes are pressured to follow. You also "sort of" play the ark the players come from and finally the classes smack more of My Life With Master-type of forced role allocation rather than classes or professions in the traditional sense. The metaplot is not bad but if you are not into such things, you are shit out of luck. Which, incidentally, is the biggest reasons I usually don't care for Forge games. Well, that, and the incredibly arrogance of the Forge fanboys in the past. They seem to have gone strangely extinct of late. Maybe the OSR trend ate them all for breakfast?

That said, MYZ also has a lot of things going for it. The dice pool-based system isn't all bad, the metaplot setup is both workable and avoidable, and game does such an excellent job at wasteland exploration mechanics that I am going to rip the shit out of them for my rules of exploring Borvaria in Praedor RPG. I suppose Stalker RPG gamemasters could also get a kick of out it, even if there are fewer synergies between the two games than I originally thought. Yet another really valuable nugget was their attempt to include the descriptions of character ideas and actions into the mechanics, FLOW-style. They failed but not before giving me some ideas on how to handle that in the latest version of EBB rules.

Originally, I was just thinking about straight-up bonuses but consider this: The default task resolution roll is just that, the default. But if the player explains his character's idea and there clearly are benefits to it, the player gets to roll two task dice (D10) and pick the better result. If his idea really rocked, he gets to roll three D10s. Similarly, if the player's description helps to underline why this solution is so typical of this character and deepens the drama, go ahead, roll two ability dice and choose the better one. Hell, if everybody at the table was blown away by the exemplary roleplaying, roll three and be damned with it. These are major benefits but hey, we did want to reward special effort and give the players some additional tool to control the fate of their characters. And the beauty of it is that if your character doesn't have a suitable ability to back up the idea, no amount of whining is going to give the player bonuses for trying roleplay a trait his character does not have. Yet, the added dice for good ideas are still available. Anybody can get flashes of genius, even when doing things they usually don't care about.

I like the way that sounds. At least on paper.       

Talk25-Apr-2015: Defiance

I am now through with Defiance, a shooter-MMO from Trion that is supposedly paired with a scifi television series by the same name. Although it is an MMO, it was a surprisingly good solo-play experience. Even the group battles didn't feel forced or awkward. The world, non-sensical as it was, was visually interesting for a post-holo buff like me and the action gameplay was really solid, easily on par with some of the third-person shooters out there. Of all the MMOs I've ever played, Defiance had the best overall controls. They are still not perfect but when encouraged by this experience I tried some other MMOs, I suddenly remembered how fucked up they usually are. There are gameplay reasons for it but if you ask me, that is just bad gameplay design. But I digress. Defiance is free-to-play game but the paywall is in no way intrusive and you can experience pretty much everything for free. I did drop a few bucks for a DLC bundle just because I like to reward good work.

Of course, it wasn't all smooth sailing or I'd still be playing. The progression system is fucked. You get ego points to upgrade your implant powers but there is like 500 of them and only a few slots for any powers to be active at any one time. Thus you very easily (and early) on max out the few powers you really want to have. Then you have your EGO rating and game somehow tries to balance itself according to it, complete with loot. Better guns, better shield units and... well, that's it, really. Weapon mastery and vehicle mastery systems that make you better through usage are great and I'd love to see them expanded into the whole game (Fallout New Vegas: Project Nevada!) but as it stands they are easily maxed out as well. So yeah, pretty soon there is nothing more to go on than the story and in an MMO, this is unforgivable.

Fortunately, the story is good, in a cheesy early 90s kind of way. They use your in-game character model for the cutscenes, which works great and these action-laden cyberpunkish-post-holo-science fantasy stories form an enjoyable continuity. Season 1 was all soloable, right down to the last mission. Unfortunately, they are also frequently bugged, sometimes forcing you to restart missions after getting really deep into them. And sometimes there is just no solution. I rage-quitted when in the middle of my third attempt at an insanely difficult end-season bossfight the enemy suddenly teleported inside an impenetrable forcefield in the level geometry and never left, apparently stuck in some animation loop. As this was already my third attempt at this frustratingly difficult battle, I had to choose between quitting the game and punching the screen in. It wasn't my first but and the Internet has horror stories of a whole lot more. If I were Trion, fixing those would be my number one priority since this is the main storyline we are talking about. But for some reason, Trion appears to disagree.

Early on, I marveled at how exploration worked in this game. Basically, the game is peppered with quest locations and even if you don't pick up the actual quest, arriving on the scene triggers it. For quite a while, the game manages to sustain a delightful illusion of stuff happening everywhere. You know, Otherwhere, the cornerstone of my gamemastering ideology in pen-and-paper RPGs. There is sufficient variety between them but unfortunately the event for a particular place is always the same, so once you've explored to your heart's content, it breaks immersion and gets repetitive. Still, there is a good system under here somewhere, something that wouldn't go amiss in a single-player game either. The downside is that quest and exploration rewards aren't that special. Once you've locked onto your favorite gun and used some arktech to keep the rating up with your own, the excitement over finding yet another motherfucking rifle is limited. The game promises to have some crafting but really, the system is largely useless and there is no sense of salvaging anything.

Finally, there are the mass events. Arkfalls are incidents alien debris falling from the sky and being infested with foes or monsters. Then there are Volge invasions (evil and nasty alien motherfuckers) and few other types of events that are shown on the map and draw in players far and wide. These massive battles can sometimes be awesome but the kind of multiplayer action I liked the most is when you chanced upon the same quest location with some other players. There is no grouping, no communication, no hassle. You jump right in, start doing stuff and killing enemies and everybody benefits in the end. It may not be entirely fair if latecomers also get the default mission completion rewards (there are some performance tiers) along with those who started the whole thing but it works and keeps the gameplay interesting. It is also pretty much the only form of social contact you will have. Nobody speaks in this game, probably because established parties use voice communication. There are no real social hubs and no auction houses. Sometimes players call out to sell stuff but I never figured out how that worked since there is no way to tell which guy on the screen said what.

There. Lots of good stuff and something bad about all them. Still, I don't regret the time spent with Defiance and it was really inspiring for Rovers. But it feels like a missed opportunity, just like every other MMORPG I've ever played. Obviously, there is something I subconsciously want from MMORPGs that the games so far or perhaps the entire format has been unable to deliver. Before this, I have played Anarchy Online, EVE Online, World of Warcraft and Neocron. They all had their moments, they all hooked me for a while and you could really see what made the experience special for some people. But... meh. Something's amiss.

Final Rating: +1

It would have been a easy +2 for Defiance if the frequent and infuriating mission bugs hadn't let me down so badly. Another +1 could have been earned easily with a little more ambitious and RPGish design. Maybe that would have then detracted from the action, I don't know. But I did play the game, I did enjoy most of my time there and I am not sorry. It was a positive experience and the concept of the game is much more interesting than the concept of the TV series. Why didn't they make a TV series out of Ark Hunters? Mind boggles.            

Talk22-Apr-2015: Zone China

If there is one Zone that hasn't received any love from Stalker RPG fans, that would be Zone China. No one has even asked me anything about it, until now. The Finnish map I originally used to place the Zones lists the closest town as Saysu but to be honest, none of the English map services seem to know the place. Probably the Finnish map was just plain wrong or it the placenames are transcribed differently in English. However, as for where Zone China is, if you are using Google Earth, it is HERE! Just right click on the sphere and you can adjust the graphical properties, like just outlining the bloody thing without a fill. Still, the fill kind of fits, since the Zone is constantly obscured by caustic clouds. It also sits right on the edge of the Gobi desert between China and Mongolia. No great cities were lost inside it (some habitation and watering systems were) but right now it is about as accessible and hospitable as the surface of Mars.

Unlike in the other Zones, the Institute doesn't wield its usual power around Zone China. Although China is a signatory in all the treaties affirming the Institute's status and sovereignty, it still insists on guarding the border with its own army and the Institute representatives are effectively security advisers and research project coordinators to be conveniently ignored, if necessary. If the Zone were any easier to access this would be a major problem but as it stands, stalker excursions into Zone China are few and far between. That said, it happens, especially from the northeast through the corridor between China and Mongolia. That area is Gobi Desert to begin with and often falls under the shadow of the Zone's multicolored clouds. Many Chinese soldiers would rather rebel than be stationed there and they patrol the border against Mongolia only reluctantly. Stalkers dash across that stretch of Gobi desert in souped-up vehicles and heavy-duty protective suits. It is a bit like exploring the surface of another planet but at least there is little or no competition. Areas close to strange rock formations now growing out of the desert floor have proven rich pickings and as hard as navigating Zone China is, the expeditions often target these formations.

Because of the open terrain, expeditions in the west and south are near impossible without the cooperation of the Army. But it happens, although there are disturbing rumors of officers marching convicts or penal battalions into the Zone with the promise that anyone coming back with something valuable will be let go on the spot. Research permits into Zone China are hard to come by but foreign scientists are sometimes attached into the state-sponsored research projects. Recently, researchers have been drilling holes into the desert floor at such an angle that they eventually cross the border. A full-scale access tunnel is likely to follow.    

Talk13-Apr-2015: Fast Brain-eating Zombie

I am not really a car person but I used to want a Lamborghini Aventador. You know, for the sound, the speed, the looks, the hell of it. Then we bought a used car for 2000 euros and lo and behold, I don't really want a Lamborghini anymore. Really, I am a true fan of our current car, nicknamed Fast Brain-eating Zombie according to the three letters of its the license plate. I've never driven, let alone owned, a car as badass as this. And small wonder, it is in great shape, expertly tidied up and it used to cost something like 500K Finnish Marks new. Make that 80K euros in today's money. It shows. The interiors are the roomiest I've seen this side of SUVs, there is very little engine or tire noise, it boasts cruise control, powerful air conditioning, excellent audio system, side-mounted airbags, electronically controlled driver's seat... you name it, it's got it, assuming the technology was around in the 90s. It's engine originally had 240 horsepower and still packs a mean punch. In fact, taking off from traffic lights is sometimes awkward since you easily spin the wheels. I read that the top speed is electronically capped at 249 kph, not that I would ever dare to drive it that fast. I also read that it was partly designed by Porsche. Figures.

Volvo 850 T5R

Not bad for an old Volvo station wagon, eh (not ours but the same make, model and color)? Yes, we have spent two grand on an old but intact (and polished-up) Volvo 850 T5R from 1996. Since then, I have learned that only around 5000 of these monsters were ever made. It is a rare and prized car and we were really lucky to land one at such a price in such a condition. Of course, it is an old-school Volvo, so everything in it was made to last. But unlike its predecessor, which was a Volvo 240 from 1992, this thing was the top of the line back in its day. It was something that bank managers and lower-level executives would drive. The sense of luxury has also withstood the test of time and you can feel the high-end on all the little knobs, switches and twists of the wheel. Everything is where it is supposed to be, everything works, everything feels good and right. I guess this is what owning a Rolls-Royce must feel like. And the power! Oh, THE POWER! If you can see a gap anywhere in the traffic when driving down an adjoining lane, you can catch it, no matter how fast the traffic is moving. And if you want to pass someone, put pedal to the metal and Fast Braineating Zombie flies past with a roar that can only come from a fucking dragon. The acceleration pushes you back into your - admittedly - very comfortable seat like you were taking off for space. I never knew I wanted this much power until I got it.

It really cost us only two grand, so assuming it lasts four years (the previous one did seven), it was a good investment. But when the day comes, it will be very, very hard to walk away from this car. It is too good and you just know you'll never find anything to match it EVER again. Not with our price range.

I love you, Fast Brain-eating Zombie. And I can't wait to do the 1200-kilometer Kainuu roundtrip with you this summer.

Talk06-Apr-2015: Silver Lining

Bronchitis really sucks. After two and a half weeks, I am mostly recovered but there is still the odd dry cough and I run out of breath really easily. But I survived, yet again, and this was one of the worst. There is bronchitis where only the doctor can hear the rasping of your bronchial tubes. Then there is bronchitis where you can hear it, especially when breathing out or lying down. But when it is so bad that those around you can hear it too, you've reached a whole new level. I wonder what would have happened without antibiotics? Bed-ridden for six weeks? Death or brain-damage by slow asphyxiation in my sleep? People still die of this thing, you know. Especially the elderly, the malnourished or those already racked by other illnesses. When waking up in the middle of night, struggling to cough your lungs clear so that you could breathe, it is easy to see why. It is why I call these things "Postcards from Death".

You'd think falling ill would have given me plenty of time to write. Actually, the opposite is true. I did my best writing when I was going to the gym three or four times a week and riding 10 kilometers on my bike on the off-days. I was feeling food, I was feeling strong and I had none of the usual small aches, coughs and wheezes to distract me. I could think more clearly and overall felt more positive and energetic about everything, even if my weight wasn't going down the way it should. I like to think that I was building up muscle to replace lost weight, which is certainly true to some extent. In any case, it all fell apart with this latest bout of illness and I can't see how that could have been avoided (and I am going to punch the living daylights out of the next person telling me to eat garlic or something). It is a cycle I've experienced again and again: I get an exercise routine going, my diet starts working out, I get good at both, I feel great and possibly lose some weight and WHAM! I hit a brick wall in the shape of some lung disease, usually bronchitis or segmental pneumonia. It takes a good while to recover and then I have to rebuild my physical and mental routines from scratch all over again. I don't know how many times I can still do this. It costs me 1D6 SAN on every iteration and I'm not getting that back.

It's not all doom and gloom, though. Snakedancer did move forward and currently stands at 374K characters, which is within 100K of the total length of The Hollow Pilgrim. The finished work will probably be over 500K, so we are looking at my longest novel to date and we are, thankfully, already way past the half-way mark. Chapters 10 and 11 were, and are, tricky to write as they are the points around which the whole story pivots. My test readers enthusiastically ok'd chapter 10, which was great. I really hope that chapter 11 gets an equally favorable response since the story is now moving into an entirely new phase. And remember, Petri can still veto the whole thing. Snakedancer is now venturing into dangerous territory regarding the franchise. Frankly, it is going to places the RPG wouldn't go. Sometimes I wonder if it also needs more explicit sex scenes. Sex sort of happens, since it is an everyday part of human life and relationships, but as you may remember from Vanha Koira, I like my sex scenes low-key and I am more interested in the post-coital emotions than in the physical act. Should I contract Juhana Pettersson to write me some juicy fuck scenes? ;)   

Another piece of good news is this little thing here:


Doesn't look like much, does it? Small, ASCII graphics, nonsensical... Actually, it is a really big deal. It is a procedurally generated map tile for Praedor The Videogame. Different characters represent grids belonging to their respective areas, showing which areas border which other areas and how all active areas in the tile are accessible, even if by sometimes convoluted routes. For example, if the player has explored the northwest corner (X) and resolved whatever challenge there was, he can now choose between moving east (O), or south (#). In the final game, that may mean choosing between a suspiciously well-preserved temple (likely to house undead) to the east, or picking your way through a patch of Wild Magic to the south (a random encounter to the Nth power). Thanks to this little image and its kin, we now know that our procedural map generation works, producing varied and enjoyable tapestries of active areas and inaccessible gaps ad infinitum. Our Borvaria can truly be endless. More importantly, if this part of the plan had not worked, nothing else would have either.

Finally, and this came as a bit of surprise, I tried a MMORPG and I liked it. I've long been interested in Defiance, because on paper it kind of reminds me of Rovers RPG, or rather, what I would like Rovers RPG to be at some point. Released in 2013, it has been out for a while now and has had time to get its rough edges smoothed out, so I finally decided to give it a go. Now, Defiance is also a TV-series/MMORPG hybrid and while I like the genre, I never got past the pilot episode in the series. To my immense disappointment, they did not focus on Ark Hunters. However, having now played the game a little, I wonder if I should really give the TV-series another chance because I was having fun? To make the long story short, Defiance is a post-holocaust MMORPG where humans and survivors of a coalition of alien species are struggling to survive on uncontrollably terraformed Earth. Some groups coexist happily or even form mixed communities. Others, not so much. Frankly, the backstory remains a bit opaque and the game does a really poor job at explaining it.      

Let's move on to the positives. First of all, this game would be a perfectly decent open-world third-person shooter even without all the MMORPG hassle. Ark Hunters, who venture out into the wasteland in search of alien technology and other goals (where have I heard this before?) remind of me of Vault Hunters in Borderlands 2 (frankly, there is more than passing resemblance to Borderlands here) and the action flows far better than I expected of a MMORPG. This is a third-person shooter with roleplaying elements, some special powers and an over-the-shoulder camera that does not annoy the hell out of me (achievement unlocked)! Headshots do count, the enemy aim can thrown off by rolling the ground, crouching helps to provide cover and jumping works better than in most single-player action titles. You can sprint, drive vehicles, throw grenades, acquire perks like inflicting more damage from elevated position (my favorite as it legitimizes terrain exploits) and loot the hell out of everything. The challenge level is high but not impossibly so and you can go solo quite a bit. But this next bit sealed the deal.

If you want me to take an interest in your game world, make exploration matter. There are storyline missions with cutscenes and all that crap in Defiance but I've been having a blast with Dynamic Events. Let's say I chance upon a battle between players and some enemy creeps. Maybe it is about hacking some old computers, rescuing captured EMC soldiers, restarting an old generator or whatever. By partaking in the battle, I am now also taking part in the mission. As the mission concludes by our collaborative actions, I am rewarded alongside with the rest of them, with some hierarchy depending on goals or kills achieved during the mission play. I can enter the scene at any time and I can leave the scene at any time. There is no pre-grouping or other hassles that turn me off in most MMORPGs. I was there, I was a positive influence on the mission and everyone benefits. It is multiplayer content, player competition and meaningful exploration all at one go. Bravo! I just wish the enemies would never respawn in the location but that heavy instancing would go into the Guild Wars territory.  

Defiance is a free-to-play game and we all know what that means. However, it hasn't been into my face with it so far and at the time of writing there is no paywall in sight. Most reviewers credit Defiance as having one of the most benign F2P models out there, with no actual content cuts for those playing the game for free and lot of the purchase options being cosmetic changes and XP boosters. I can't vouch for all of that yet but I am going to keep playing. If I also keep having this much fun, I am going to throw some money their way just to show my support and get myself a new hat.

In a post-holocaust setting having a cool hat is really important.   

Talk22-Mar-2015: This Sucks!

Whoah! Judging from the symptoms and my body temperature, this springtime flu is trying to turn into a full-on bout of segmental pneumonia. I really don't want to go to the doctor with it because they'll just prescribe me more antibiotics. I guess there is nothing anyone can do about the root cause, the scar tissue in my lung but fuck it all! I am getting really frustrated because I was healthy, got plenty of well-balanced exercise, felt good about my diet (could have lost some more weight though, but then again, I was definitely building up muscle) and SMACK! Sore throat on Tuesday, full-on flu on Wednesday and now I am struggling to breathe with a fever of 39 degrees or thereabouts. There is just no way to win, is there? I had to cancel an important meeting over this and while it was the right thing to do, I feel like damaged goods.

At least the weather was nice last week and we were treated to both northern lights and an 80% solar eclipse over the capital area. Could be warmer, though.

Käärmetanssija stands at 340K characters. This is twice the minimum length of a novel and within 100K of the total length of The Hollow Pilgrim. Writing has been going so well it now looks like the alpha script would be complete before Summer. My test readers have been eating it up and like what they see but it lacks a publisher and I still haven't decided whether it actually needs one. Getting it to the stores and all would be cool but Vanha Koira didn't exactly fly off the shelves back in 2004, not even with Helsingin Sanomat's glowing review. If somebody wants to talk to me about publishing it, I'm listening and open to suggestions. Thankfully, those are decisions I don't have to make just yet. Somehow, I must badger Petri to do me a fitting cover image on the cheap.

Funnily, I am not sure I would have had the self-esteem and impetus to write it if it wasn't for that god-awful fantasy novel I bought from its hapless author at Helsingin Kirjamessut last year. Amateur authors (well, are there any other kind in speculative fiction?) often regard their own work in the worst possible light but after reading that novel, my first reaction was obviously "WTF is this shit?". And the second reaction was the realization that even if I wrote my novel by banging my head against the keyboard, I'd still do better. I've never attempted anything like Käärmetanssija before, with its more complex plot, emotion-driven character development, non-aversion to touchy-feely crap and really, really deep setting exposition. It is very comforting to know that even if it all went to hell, it still won't be the worst Finnish fantasy novel out there. 

Writing Käärmetanssija has also been an excellent substitute for playing games lately and I've been able to just power through any writer's blocks (from now on this will be my tactic for dealing with them). I don't need to return to Skyrim for a fix of escapism when I can just drop into Jaconia and see what my protagonist is up to today. There have been couple of exceptions, though. Firstly, the superb Hand Of Fate, which has also been very inspirational regarding the still very hypothetical Praedor The Videogame... but I digress. Check out the trailer:

Yes, it is a digital CCG with third-person action scenes and I love it. If it had a setting I could adventure in, instead of my deck being the only persistent element, I'd love it even more but hey, that's where Praedor The VG can come in.

I also began playing Legends of Grimrock 2. I've had it on Steam since it came out but this is the first time I've actually played it. It is really good but I just wish it also had a Might & Magic X: Legacy -style setting to it. Right now it is a collection of puzzles and dungeons (open-air and enclosed). Nothing wrong with that but some backstory or a city to explore would enrich the experience quite a bit for me. Right now it sometimes feels like a fantasy version of Portal, except that GladOs is just dropping me letters to find instead of talking to me with her sexy, sexy voice.

My discourse materials about R.E. Howard and Conan the Barbarian are done and yes, they include a section on Heinrich Himmler. Now, all I need are A) my voice and B) some audience to present it to! Yeah, it sucks to be sick. Really. And the rasping noises I hear from my lungs when breathing out are driving me crazy! It's fluids churning in the lungs, bubbling as they are pushed into the thinner tubes and then air is forced through them. I can hear them loud and clear, especially when lying down. I can't sleep, I feel like coughing all the time just to clear it away and it is driving me nuts!

Morning update: Ever feel like you'd like to dig your lungs open with a spoon? That's me, this morning, with 38 flat on the thermometer.

Talk11-Mar-2015: Woe on Middle-Earth

I've said that "J.R.R. Tolkien taught me to love fantasy literature but R.E. Howard taught me everything I know about it". While most critics love to highlight their differences, there are actually quite a bit of similarities as well. Had Howard not killed himself, they would have been contemporaries during Tolkien's most active period. That would have been interesting. But I'll save the details on that for a discourse on Conan that I want to give to one of my friends who has not yet seen Conan The Barbarian (1982). And as everybody knows, no one is to be taken seriously on anything, unless they have seen the original Conan The Barbarian. Whether they love it or hate it doesn't really matter. 

I am a big fan of The One Ring RPG, despite having never played it and not really trusting its system. As a result, I am collecting all TORRPG stuff I can lay my hands and the mail service just delivered Rivendell. While named after the home of Elrond, it is really a world supplement about the eastern half of Eriador, the land west of Misty Mountains. What first drew me to TORRPG in the first place was its vivid depiction of Rhovanion, the lands east of the mountains, presenting many interesting sites, ruins, cultures and habitats both large and (mostly) small. This is the default setting and it works because it managed to overturn many of my concerns about Middle-Earth was an RPG setting. In short, it managed to convey the impression that shit was happening. That you can go out there, do stuff and somebody gives a damn.

Rivendell brought the old problems crashing back. If Rhovanion is like North Europe during the early Iron Age, the eastern half of Eriador is a fantasy setting where a neutron bomb has gone off. While the supplement makes an occasional mention that no settlements bigger than a fortified farmstead or a small hamlet exist between Bree and Rivendell, the actual region descriptions emphasize that "no one lives here", or "men abandoned this place long ago and now only wolves remain", or that "only the stones still remember the elves" and so forth. In fact, the only other settlement on the map is Bree and you have to go as far south as Dunland to find anybody else. They do pull the hill-men of Rhudaur out of their asses at some point but fail to provide even the simplest picture of how or where these human servants of the Witch-King of Angar live. Sure, I'm guessing Rhudaur but that's about it. Apparently they are now also converging on Carn Dûm, all three of them. They are not given as a possible player culture, nor are the Dunmen, the Bree-folk and whoever else is left. Just the rangers and the High Elves. 

Don't get me wrong: Rivendell is a beautifully written, edited and illustrated supplement that tugs the heartstrings of a Tolkien fan such as my self. But it is a fucking train wreck as a roleplaying game setting. Yes, the Dunedain rangers are out there keeping the north safe from orcs and monsters. But "that north" is completely empty and apparently no one is using the roads either, so why bother? And while Bree and Bree-land are prominently marked on the map, there is no description of Bree in the whole fucking book! I know that by the end of the Third Age the Middle-Earth is supposed to be in dire straits but this is ridiculous! It already bothered me in Lord of the Rings that all the maps were basically expanses of white with some mountains thrown around the edges. Why don't they just let Sauron have it since he really wouldn't be bothering anyone? The only way the depictions in this supplement make any sense if there is another supplement in the works that covers Bree, Shire and the western half of Eriador. And somebody actually lives there and gives a damn about the rest.

I am not regretting my purchase but after reading this book my imaginary adventurer goes straight back to Rhovanion. I think Eriador was supposed to be civilized and Rhovanion the "Wilderlands" but at least in TORRPG, they've got it the other way around.  


Stalker RPG
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Ville Vuorela - The Hollow Pilgrim – A Stalker RPG
                Novel: New Roadside Picnic #1, e-kirja
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Vanha Koira
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