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25-Aug-2005: Pearls of Wisdom

I actually wrote these first on my workplace staff forum, but thought they might make funny read here too. Little pearls of wisdom from the field of game design:

Games are an industry of smoke and mirrors.

If the player can't see it is broken, don't fix it.

One player has the IQ of a turnip. Player base has the IQ of God!

Stupid ideas are never easy but easy ideas are often stupid.

If publishing board debates for more than 10 minutes, the concept is crap.

If it can't be done, you are just not doing it right.

If something is obvious, check if it needs to be explained better.

In games, blood is to war as nudity is to sex. Banned.

22-Aug-2005: Oh Hell!

Here. Pretty commending review text, but the rating was still only 73/100. For an Airgamer.de rating it is not really that bad and they have never understood strategy games anyway (New York Nights in the strategy category? wtf?) but it is still a bitter pill to swallow. Especially with Darkest Fear scoring so well (go Lauri!). Oh well, perhaps I can redeem my self-image through sales figures. Now if you'll excuse, I am going to go whip myself and roll around in salt.

In completely unrelated news, wouldn't you just love it if the creationist/intelligent design camp would shut the hell up? I haven't had no personal experiences from them for days now but reading news from Kansas Board of Educators makes me want to send them to the far side of the Moon. Well, here is a comic to make the day of any anti-creationist:


Petri has started on the new Praedor cover. I haven't seen it yet, but I am told it will epitomize the high-fantasy/anti-heroism combination so prevalent in the game. Erkka "The Man" Leppänen has sent me two more adventures, which will be included in Praedor v.1.1, pushing its page count way above the originally planned 250. I am still making plans on what I intend to write and contemplating whether I should add the Alabar notes there or not. However, it will be at least two weeks before Petri can finish the cover, so current estimate for Praedor v1.1 release date is somewhere in September.

18-Aug-2005: Women in Gaming (IV)

Here we go again. By now, everybody with a web browser and a little bit of interest in gaming has heard of the WoW-mom incident: a boy posted stuff on a World of Warcraft forum, and her mom, playing a higher-level character, told him off for being up so late on the very same forum. Hilarious as it was, the issue was blown out of all proportions because the idea of a "gaming mom" was something cool and new. What the hell is wrong with people? True, my mom is not a gamer, but if I had had a son when I was 20, he would be 11 by now. His father would be a gamer in a big way. The first-generation gamers are now having kids who are in their teens. For some reason, media still finds it hard to grasp that gaming is a predominantly adult hobby. Just look at the shock over M-rated gaming having "Mature" content in it. Sheesh...

But what is even more interesting is that according to game market analysts, the aforementioned mom does not exist. I have recently discussed the topic of women in gaming with a major investor, who, unlike Trip "What The Hell Do You Know" Hawkings, does not pretend to know anything about gaming. Not part of the gaming generation himself, all he had to go on were the gender stereotypes and what market analysts are saying about women gamers. And the analysts are saying the strangest things.

Player-base surveys have determined that the ratio of women players MMORPGs is over 40%. In mobile games it is over 30%, excluding the USA where they are still hunting mammoths with clubs. In some games, like Sims, it is believed to be over 50%. With only 52% of the entire population being women, it is safe to say that now when gaming is becoming "appropriate" for girls as well, they are playing pretty much the same games as everybody else. While adventure games, sims and mmorpgs seem to be especially favourable, women are also holding their on in Counter-Strike. The one drawback they do have is that games communicate with the player in a certain way and your average male gamer has already played dozens of titles. Your average female gamer is on her third or fourth, so low learning curve is essential. Over time even this difference will vanish.

While it is true that game development industry is almost completely male and could use more gender equality, we seem to be doing a fair job catering to the fairer sex; except when we try to do it on purpose. Games targeted for women have always flopped. But then again, if you would not touch a game with a ten-foot-pole, why would anybody else? And there is always my old point of customer focus groups, and how males are divided into 10+ groups and women are handled as a single, heterogenous entity. That is factually and intuitively wrong on so many levels I want to puke.

So what the hell are the game market analysts doing? They are arguing that the female gamer market is A) a separate entity from the current gaming market (comfortably forgetting that this would mean there would have to be a female-specific gaming media as well), B) largely untapped and C) calls for gender-specific content. This is obviously bullshit from start to finish. Why would they say something this stupid? Why indeed? I have a theory, but we'll have to wait for about a year to see if it is true...

10-Aug-2005: Harry Potter & stuff

I just finished Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, so I am now again up-to-date regarding the HP franchise. In some circles it has become fashionable to dis Harry Potter as un-artistic, childish or blatantly commercial. There are people out there proud of having never felt any interest towards Harry Potter. It is a counter-reaction to global and admittely over-blown fan phenomenon. Then again, if people enjoy expressing their appreciation of something they like, who am I to judge them. I'd rather have more people walking around in wizard outfits than less.

So what do I, the blood-and-guts guy of the Finnish RPG scene and a staunch defender of gory pulp fantasy, think of Harry Potter? Well, the quality and appeal of the individual books varies greatly. Also, the last three books have so much content that some sections and mini-story-arcs outshine others. But when complete, the Harry Potter Epic will form a body of fantastic fiction rivalled only by Lord of the Rings.

Nobody has dared to add anything to LOTR since Tolkien, probably out of fear of Tolkien-purists-turned-suicide-bombers, but I sincerely hope that the HP core will attract other writers to create extensions and parallel storylines, as is the case with Conan, Dune and Star Wars. Add-ons rarely match the quality of the original, but the world of HP is big enough to hold many interesting stories that never get told in the actual Harry Potter saga.

Of course, Howard describes violence better and George Martin has better sex scenes. But while gore, chauvinism and sex exist in the world of HP, Rowling has chosen her genre and writing style, focusing on some things at the exclusion of others. I am happy with her choices, along with hundreds of millions of Potter fans. Go Potter!

In completely unrelated news, the University of Oulu has chosen seven game concepts for its ELVI (Environment for Lucrative Virtual Interaction) program, which offers expert assistance, promotion and the like for selected game development and entertainment software projects. The program has a budget of over 600 000 euros and lobbying contacts can be worth much, much more. Concepts accepted into the program last spring are listed here: http://elvi.oulu.fi/en_concepts.html

Originality and non-contested IP have been cited as selection criteria. It does not really look that way when you look at the chosen concepts.

MobiPet - a tamagotchi for Java-enabled phones. Gee, I bet the mobile gaming market goes ape over that one. Targeted at young girls to ensure minimal appeal.

Cold Game - an educational game about cold research. Yeah, that is all the description we're given. I hope the sponsorship decision was not based on it.

Incognito RPG - now that is an original name. Especially for an RPG based on Viking mythology. I guess they spoke Latin at Valhalla. But no matter, we've been waiting for a sequel to Heimdall some 10+ years now. Meanwhile, check out Dark Age of Camelot if you need an RPG based on Nordic Mythology. And you thought nobody had used Nordic mythology in RPGs before?

BeChameleon - a quiz game, which are usually referred to as trivia games in the gaming industry. This time it is about foreign cultures and customs. If you pick a genre that has already been done to death and has little or no commercial value, make sure you also pick a massively uninteresting topic. Welcome to the fringe markets, baby!

Marketing Game - is an obscure concept. Advergames are usually games built to promote a product, such as LEGO Star Wars or America's Army (if we can think of US Army recruitment drive as a product). My guesses on the nature of the game are frustrated by the prefix "philosophical".

Caf-Pe, Interactive Fittness Systems - the only way this product concept could make any sense is if the computer can be hooked into relevant appliances, such as excercise bikes or heart rate monitors. If it is a collection of informative mini-games about the use of virtual excercise equipment, I am going to puke!

Emerald - is the sole interesting game in the bunch and there is a small but faithful market for non-violent MMORPGs out there. Unfortunately the game description does not contain anything else and the project has no web page of its own. If I made a MMORPG like that, I would base it either on the Hanseatic League, or the 17th century Caribbean. Medieval Venice or Roman Empire could work as well.

Well, even if the concept approval process seems screwed, it is nice that programs like this exist. Maybe they'll come across a good idea one day.

08-Aug-2005: The Final Frontier

These small images of me were taken from the Enter Cruise comic by Aura Ijäs. I am still in process of asking for a permission, but I hope she won't mind getting little extra publicity.

Some of you may have already noticed that I have an EVE Online banner on the main page. How it got there is a long story, but the short of it is that Burger Games is an EVE Online Partner. I advertise them and they talk nice to me, drop carefully calculated hints and rumours, and may even send me some money if I bring them lots of visitors (not bloody likely). I already walked out of EVE once, having decided that if I am going to be a miner, I want to get paid for it. There was nothing to do in the game except take orders from your guild and mine the bloody asteroids. Boooooring. They have now added a whole lot of content and I've been told there were aspects in the game I was not aware of the last time, so I am going to give EVE another go, as soon as the deluxe EVE DVD containing the client (which you can download from their website for free) arrives.

Click the link in the paragraph above to see what EVE is. If you must know, just think of Elite done right, combined with a graphical interface that is the most fiendishly clever smoke-and-mirrors demonstration I've seen in the gaming industry. EVE is actually played by selecting options from tables and drop-down menus. All those graphics the game is so famous for are superfluous. Eye-candy that you could drop without losing any actual features. Brilliant stuff. The only drawback is that the sense of freedom in the game is false. You can only move between fixed points. The space in between exists only for show.

I am a big Elite fan. Huge. I am not giving it a go since I am well aware that my current requirements for a game are much higher and that when I played Elite on my C-64, my imagination made up much of the universe behind the screen. And I was a company fanboy. Firebird, which made Elite, could do no wrong in my eyes. I played their next game "Empire" with gusto just because it was their game. Actually, for a top-down shooter, "Empire" is bloody marvelous. Bloody Hell, I was *so* into the little timeline of history they put in the manual. But the game itself, although a brilliant design for the time, would be a big disappointment if I exposed myself to it.

I've been a scifi fan even before I was a fantasy fan. But it is easier to find the kind of down-to-earth/entertainment-only/still-good-quality stuff I want to read from the fantasy genre. Science fiction types have always been a bit too artsy for me. Come to think of it, Stalker (or Roadside Picnic) is tailor-made for me. You can read it from so many different angles. It has depth and social commentary if you want it. It has adventure and mystery, even gore, if you want it. I often deride literature for only providing a keyhole through which to peek at the setting but Stalker is one of the few books that offer a fist-sized hole. I guess the scifi intelligentsia can find multiple layers of meaning from any book, but hey, this is just my opinion. I've got plenty of science fiction in my desk drawer, but the kind of space flight-sim game or fiction that I really, really like is awfully hard to make. I think I've got it, a good setting and a plausible story or game concept, and then it hits a snag. Some kind of gap or inconsistency that only becomes apparent when I try to write things down.

Speaking of space-flight sim games, I've been trying out Freelancer, the last of the great free-roaming space opera trader/combat sims made for single player. I really, really, really wanted to love that game. And it began well enough. But they have some kind of a level system in it and every time you reach a new level, the story moves forward, imposing gameplay changes. And I think the game balance is shot to hell. For example, my creative use of Afterburner in the game probably allowed to blast through the opposition faster than the game expected. So, the gradual difficulty increase became much steeper and some say the enemy AI is learns to compensate for player tactics. Which means that even if you come up with an ace tactic, it becomes unusable sooner or later. The trading economy is also shot to hell. If the player wanted to play a trader, he basically could not because the storyline forces him to become something of a mercenary. And the missions are always the same. Go to place X, blast N to hell, go place Y, blast Z to hell. It started out as fun, turned boring and now is so frustratingly difficult that I am giving it up. Shame, really. A darned shame.

P.S. Project Sigma has been shelved. UNSF author is wasting his time on some fantasy project instead of his kick-ass scifi game. EAD authors still haven't come to their senses and published a table-top friendly source book of their live-action setting. Damn it, boys! Unlce Burger is coming to spank you all!

07-Aug-2005: Old Age

I am 31 years old. Turning 32 in just a couple of months.

Some of my friends have contemplated their aging in their blogs. Others have discussed it with me in, either virtually or in person. The topics are always the same: the sense of youth being over, increasing difficulties in motivating your friends or yourself to spend the night out, the effects of parenthood on our social circles and how we matched against our childhood dreams or plans. Oh yes, I too can feel it coming. The race is over and we are now looking at the scores. I once dreamed of becoming a sea captain, but it is now safe to say it won't happen. Future plans are no longer a question of what am I going to do but how am I going to spend the next 35-40 years without getting bored or starved. End is in sight, even if I am not there yet.

Barring accidents, suicides, as of yet undiscovered medical conditions and scientific marvels, I'll probably kick the bucket somewhere around 2040s or 2050s. That means I've got about 40 years to pass time. Now I just need to find something meaningful to do.

04-Aug-2005: Diceless

Before I get started on diceless roleplaying systems, I have an announcement to make:

If you believe in intelligent design or creationism and wish to convert me, don't start with the Anthropic Principle. I am neither a philosopher nor a scientist and don't have a counter-argument to every creationist claim but I can shoot down the Anthropic Principle even in my sleep. I did it again today and it sort of takes the wind out of the debate.

Thank you.

I don't usually dabble with diceless systems and critical tables are a good selling point, but storytelling-resolution system ála Towers of Dusk really put a hook in me. I don't know if it is feasible for a diceless storytelling system to achieve a level of resolution that I would find acceptable, but I am going to give it a try. Combine a gamist setting with a storytelling rules set. This means adding some detail to the Towers of Dusk system. I haven't come up with a name for the system with, but the basic system goes somewhat like this:

We have five stats, translated roughly as Body, Mind, Technical, Willpower and Social. You can probably see the effect of Praedor behind this kind of thinking. Now, each character has 10 things he or she "can do". They can be special abilities, skills, professions or "edges" (as defined in Praedor). They are categorized according to their effective attributes the number of "things you can do" is your value in that particular attribute. So if you know your Martial Arts, Acrobatics and Weightlifting, your Body is 3. Joe Average has a value of 2 in his best stat and 0 or 1 in others. Obviously, player characters are superior individuals with an average value of 2 in every stat.

When your character does something not intuitively successful (doing stuff "you can do" often succeeds without rol... hmm... rating), your description and roleplaying of the action becomes a key factor in determining success or failure. The Gamemaster will rate your Performance (the descriptive quality and roleplaying) and Idea (was the action sensible or not for the circumstances) on a scale from 0 (worst) to 5 (best). If the action is something the character "can do", there is bonus of +1 to both ratings. These values are then multiplied with each other, giving a result range of 0-25 (or 1-30 if the character "can do" the thing). Typical result is 2 x 2 = 4 (or 3 x 3 = 9 for things he "can do").

While the gamemaster can usually improvise the result based on the result (low = bad, high = good, zero = fumble), it is also possible to impose difficulty tresholds that must be exceeded for the attempt to be successful. Note that just like in a roll of dice, the resulting probability curve is not linear. On the other hand, since the ratings are decided by the gamemaster and never told to the players, it is just as easy for the gamemaster to alter his personal rating criteria.

Easy (3) can be done by anyone. Even a complete amateur can do it with little or no effort.

Routine (6) is serious, if also commonplace activity. It is a piece of cake for a professional, but for an amateur it takes some figuring out.

Tricky (9) definitely can be done but there are failed attempts, even among pros.

Difficult (12) this is a tough nut to crack for non-professionals, and even with pros it takes some serious inspiration and good ideas.

Very Difficult (15) is possible to do but unlikely to succeed.

Almost Impossible (18) is so-and-so whether it can be done in the first place.

Impossible (21) can't be done without a bloody miracle.

Absurd (24+) defies description and belief.

If the difficulty treshold is exceeded, the attempt is successful. The wider the margin, the better, the faster and the more decisive the success was. Similarly, a total score of 0 or a score more than 5 below the treshold indicates a failure with especially severe consequences.

Lost for words? Impossible odds? Lacking ideas? If the stat value most closely associated with the task is more than 0, the player can also call for FX (special effects). Stat value is temporarily reduced by one, but the task either succeeds automatically, or is at least made a whole lot easier by some new, gamemaster-dictated development. When the stat value is 0, no more FX calls regarding that stat can be made, so it is best to save FX for dire emergencies (or patch up the consequencies of bad ideas).

At the end of each game session the character receives one stat point that can be used to restore lost stats (not to buy new ones). But at the end of each adventure, a whole story, the character gets back all lost stat points and can learn to do one new thing, thus increasing that particular stat by +1.

Storytelling-resolution of combat is not going to please everyone, but it does have its perks. Firstly, the narrative flow is not interrupted and there is no need to switch to "combat rounds" as opposed to normal flow. The gamemaster describes the circumstances and enemy actions and the player responds with the actions of his character. If successful, the enemy is hurt. If not, the player. Difficulty treshold depends on the toughness and skill of the enemy. For example, defeating a simple lackey can be a routine task for a competent fighter. Success means the enemy is down and out for the count. Then again, if the weapon used by character can't normally pierce the armour the lackey is wearing, or the player uses a weapon unsuited for the circumstances, difficulty increases to "tricky" and the player has to come up with clever moves and the combat may involve several different action descriptions.

Hit effects depend on dramatics: lackeys can fall left and right, but big bad guys and bosses can take up to their Body in wounds before succumbing to it. The same goes for the player. Typically a solid hit from the enemy takes him out of the fight, but he can shrug the hit off with a Body FX-call. When his Body runs out, he is out of the fight too. More specific injuries and their effects on his actions have to be roleplayed out (and ignoring them reduces the roleplaying rating in the task resolution system). I would expect that running combat scenarios using this system takes some practise, but it should be possible to do and the gamemaster can use exact values as to how tough different enemies are and apply more or less exact weapon properties.

Damn! I am going to try this system out! Any name suggestions?

29-Jul-2005: Assembly'05 Report

Plim! I am a comic book character! Enter-team cruise in June has been made immortal in this web comic, which I think captures the mood much better than photos would. If you've ever wondered what journalists do on conference cruises, here is the answer. I wonder if Enter has any work for me ever again...

But to business at hand, which is Assembly'05. This was my second Assembly and once again my employer paid me in, on the condition I write a report of my observations. This is it and there is no point in limiting it to just the Rovio staff. Murphy's Law is the only true universal constant and thus everything really interesting was on Saturday, when I could not make it: Bugbear presentation "FlatOut -behind the scenes", Frozenbyte presentation on themselves and their upcoming (and immensely interesting) Shadowgrounds game, and last by not least "Real World mobile game design" by my colleague and ex-coworker Tim Lönnquist, who also just happens to be one of the top mobile game designers around.

I'll catch them all from the Assembly video archives later, but it is never as good as the real thing. Hmm... I wonder if Frozenbyte were interested in a Shadowgrounds RPG...

So, I was at Assembly on Thursday and Friday. I have very little to say about the latter, but much to say about the former. I caught three seminars on Thursday, ATI Crossfire, Hybrid explaining their OpenGL system for mobiles and BitBoys marketing their hardware IP for mobile graphics accelerators. There was also an amateur game making competition with the nine finalist games shown on the big screen, but let's go over the seminars first.

ATI is in trouble. Big trouble. In so big trouble they are warping reality to escape it. Advances in game graphics are leveling out since current top-of-the-line cards feature just about everything game developers can, want or will include in their games. You can take games to full photorealism and beyond, but who is going to pay for it? How far can the development costs go just so that you could have an extra layer of half-pixel texturing visible when your character presses his virtual nose against a wall in an FPS? Graphics hardware has been a gamer-driven industry for the past 10 years and now cards can deliver far more than the developers can, at least with the present cost structure. Nevertheless, ATI must introduce many new products every year just to survive.

To compensate for the lack of logic, they have introduced the concept of "enthusiast". In short, this is a person who cares about things like having 150 frames per second instead of 50, or that the telephone lines in Half-Life 2 aren't absolutely smooth when viewed from a great distance. ATI Crossfire can deliver that and more using many terribly clever gimmicks. Despite the impressive statistics the real-world improvements they were able to demonstrate were markedly few and far between. You'll get a slightly better 3DMark score, Splinter Cell 1 becomes too fast to be playable and in 3DMark05 the top of the spaceship hangar doorway, which seems a little pixelated when the angle approaches X-axis, is completely smooth. And most importantly, they can show a big list of things ATI Crossfire does and corresponding Nvidia card doesn't.

Most of them won't be noticed by anyone but an "enthusiast". Yippee.

Why do I get the feeling everybody is in trouble here? Hybrid presentation about OpenGL for mobiles and BitBoys presentation on mobile graphics accelerators were loaded with desperate wishes for the 3D breakthrough in mobile graphics in the immediate future. OpenGL ES did not seem to be too shabby of a system, even if it takes 100 kilos and the phones that can run it are still mostly on the drawing board. But it is definitely feasible. The problem lies in the mobile markets themselves. Everybody and their cousin are betting their pants on 3D mobile games, and possible applications and user interfaces. Personally, I would love to see vectored graphics become commonplace in mobile phones. But both Hybrid and BitBoys are making the assumption and that mobile industry will go down the same path as the console game industry.

Unfortunately for them, mobile markets are connectivity and interface-driven, where as the consoles and PC graphics were gamer-driven. It will be a long time, if ever, before gaming is the primary reason for the masses to switch their phones. Unlike in computers, the low end of the device spectrum is not becoming obsolete, but instead the high-end models are moving further and further ahead of the main market. Even if 3D accelerated phones are coming out in 2006, my guess is that they may well never become mass market goods. The whole concept of mobile phones will change into something else before that.

To us in the mobile gaming industry, watching the 3D mobile games bubble grow is nothing new. BitBoys repeated a oft-heard litany of American mobile gaming "truths", half of which already don't apply in Europe. With the athropy of the PC and almost complete consolidation of console game markets, many smaller game developers are putting their hopes on mobile gaming and 3D is all they can do. If the 3D mobile game revolution does not happen, they are doomed, so they are hyping it up whenever they can, hoping to create a self-fulfilling prophecy. It reminds me of the 2000/2001 WAP hype, really. Time scale, 1-3 years, is exactly the same. Everything cool is happening in 2006. Or 2007. Or "by 2008".

Yeah, right. And mobile gaming will be a 3/16/27/100/600 billion dollar industry by 2008, remember? That is rate of bubble growth and when it bursts it'll take the analysts and hypers with it. That is why I focus on games that will sell *now* instead of 2008.

Friday, or today, was quiet compared to Thursday. Microsoft was presenting their Visual Studio development tools in the vain hope that software development for other platforms would cease because they've got the coolest tools. Farbrausch presentation on "Crafting a 3D engine" was a repeat of the .werkzeug presentation given last year. Demo portability would interest just geeks. On the show side, Fast Audio Compo caught my attention. Some of the pieces were really, really good. Especially #5 warmed my heart with a combination of heavy metal sounds and synth beats.

Oh yes, the amateur game development competition on Thursday. Nine finalists, including a couple of games which caught my attention. These are all casual games I would not pay a penny for, but still, Bubbles was nice, "kumoon" was great and "Factory Pinball" was funny. Bogo jumping game was apparently too difficult for the casual genre and "Lynx *something*" demonstrated how a faithful boardgame conversion does not really make a good computer game. You can check them out from the Assembly website, or so I've been told.

This year professional gaming really did leave its mark on the event. World Gaming Championship had taken over the old seminar hall. I could not fit in because of the crowds (and they later closed the doors entirely), but if you want to see gaming turned into a mass sports event, that is where you should look.

I like going to Assembly. There are stands with all sorts of cool stuff, and where else can you buy Tux-mugs or demo-scene soundtrack collections? I bought a new mousepad there and it is freaking brilliant! The old one was made before there were optical mice and had a nasty tendency to whisk the pointer around the screen at random. The arena looks awesome with all those computers, case mods, lights and beats. I don't know why there are lights and sounds, but it is cool. Hmm, perhaps that is the reason. Atmosphere is delightfully geeky, demos and compos are usually very pretty and you can learn a lot from the seminars, even if it is not what the seminar was supposed to teach you. I also occasionally run into friends and other people I know, and with my dayjob I can even afford the overpriced hamburgers or pizza slices.

Still, I guess Assembly was meant to be enjoyed in groups. It can get lonely for a solo-player like me.

27-Jul-2005: Arkkikivi and product placement

Tuovinen Bros. at Arkkivi (www.arkkikivi.net) keep throwing games at me, probably hoping for free marketing and added publicity. And I don't mind, especially if the games are this good. I could not care less about their first release, the Finnish translation of My Life With Master (translated as "Kätyrin osa"). But at Ropecon they tossed me a translated copy of Dust Devils (Piruja Miehiksi in Finnish) and this time they are really getting somewhere with these artsy and experimental games.

Skipping the original history of Dust Devils, I'll just summarize that it is an artsy rules-light RPG about the grim Wild West, in the vein of modern and mature westerns like "Unforgiven". As a rule, Arkkivi focuses on more experimental and obscure games and thus Dust Devil features a card-deck game system, where the winner of the round also gets the descriptive powers usually attributed to the gamemaster. There is a sort of a gamemaster, called Dealer, but his authority over the course of the game is markedly weaker than in the more traditional games. It is not a problem, if you as a Gamemaster are willing to let go of your authority (I am not!) and can be a good idea if you can trust the descriptive and dramatic abilities of your players.

Another important theme is the Devil. Every character in the game, right down to NPC's, has a Devil, some sort of a vice, weakness, trauma or trouble that haunts him again and again. While the description about the concept of the Devil was poor, the examples given were wonderful. How about a rich and handsome gunslinger who can never stop or hope for a better life because there is always someone on his tail? I can already see "the Magnificient Seven" flashing before my eyes! How about being a wealthy and pretty widow, who puts up with an abusive lover because she just needs a man? That is a very believable, very down-to-earth Devil that is common enough even today, yet rarely featured in any kind of fiction.

This system works better than ordinary Flaws or Disadvantages would, because they follow the genre, act as triggers for an infinite range of disadvantages and provide good narrative and roleplaying hooks, assuming the players are up to the challenge. The Devil is a constant force in the character's life, a foe to beat. Succumbing to it is the end of game: death, insanity, retirement, whatever. When the Devil claims the character, he or she is out of the game. Finally gunned down by bounty hunters. Beaten into submission by an abusive lover.

Of course, being a low budget-game Dust Devil lacks flair, glitter, franchise and most importantly content. It contains some narrative snippets from the Wild West life which add to the atmosphere IF you already know the basic history and mythology of the era. Written for American gamers, it was probably safe to assume they know what a Western is. In Finland, I can only recommend Dust Devils taken with a hefty dose of GURPS Wild West or some other easy-to-read reference material. And check the relevant movies.

One final point: An extra star for Eero's "miscellaneous notes" at the end of the booklet. Adding a chapter highlighting the differences between Dust Devils and traditional games and giving out tips on how to best manage a game with such an unorthodox game system was a very good idea. Reading it will save a lot of trouble from potential players. I don't really know how the sales of My Life With Master took off, but I hope Dust Devils does better. It deserves it.

24-Jul-2005: Ropecon Special

Wow, what a Ropecon! Two programmes, being selected to a panel with both BIG-league guests of honours, the Golden Dragon Award, a new Fantasiapelit deal, public commendations on my game design challenge concept, some fellow coming to talk to me about TV productions and whatnot, restaurant chat with Greg Stafford, busty girls in low-cut dresses, Juhana Pettersson finally getting his book out... it is almost too much goodness on one take. This is the Burger's Designer Notes Ropecon Special 2005, a super-length blog entry to cover the event from my perspective.

Friday with Juhana Pettersson

I was told his name is written with two "s". Anyway, Ropecon started on Friday afternoon as usual and Like Kustannus and Juhana Pettersson held a publishing event for Roolipelimanifesti, Juhana's definitive guide to roleplaying. "Blah blah blah". Let's talk about the book itself. It is a 300-page softcover book that tries to cover both tabletop roleplaying games and LARPing as phenomenon and methods. Helsingin Sanomat published a review of it on Saturday's paper and it says pretty much everything I would have said (I read it already on Saturday). The book reeks of "qualitative hierarchy of gaming styles" -thinking that I am so allergic to, but it also contains plenty of solid information on the gaming process and interesting accounts from the history of roleplaying games. It is worth more than the paper it is printed on, even if some of the figures about RPG sales in Finland are *way* off.

Opening Ceremony

What the Hell? Mike Pohjola has written (and somebody else composed) the official Ropecon Song. Unfortunately the lyrics are not available anywhere, but I especially liked the chorus of "expa expa". Insane, really. Not that the opening ceremony delivered by Ego did much to convince me of his sanity either, but it was fun, sheer fun.

This and that

I was going to do a lot of things but got stuck in Dipoli restaurant where I first met an ex-coworker and then a whole bunch of friends and other interesting people. At some point I found myself listening to Greg Stafford's "The Man, The Career, The Games" -speech and was pretty much mesmerized. As I have said I don't really care about guests of honour, but even then Greg Stafford is pretty much on top of the list. Everybody else admires Glorantha. I have hots for Pendragon. Besides being a smooth-talking elderly gentleman, Greg turned out to be something of a mysticist, currently fascinated with eastern religions. It is good we are not cast with the same mould. I really lapped up his stories from the early days of gaming. I would have loved to be there myself.

I also went to see introduction into MMORPGs by Ninnu Hirvonen and liked that too, although I knew much of that stuff already. I am really interested in MMORPGs as a phenomenon, but I am truly fed up with playing them. It'll pass, I guess, and at some point I am going to give World of Warcraft or something else a go. That pretty much wraps up my Friday.

Oh yes: my Friday tally was one epileptic patient and one case of nudity. I've been told there were two epileptics and at least one more case of nudity in the Con, and at least one poorly disguised sex act. The weather must have been a contributing factor. It was raining and while Dipoli wasn't really too hot, the air was so humid that sweat just stuck on the skin. Very unpleasant and I would have liked to run around naked too.


Weather on Saturday was considerably better and the Rock-Paper-Scissors contest in a rubber castle on the parking lot was a truly bizarre sight. The whole event had been organised along the lines of Professional Wrestling, down to cheating, bribing the judges, trash talking and exotic wrestling costumes. It was eventually won by a Swedish girl called Anna, who at some point stunned the opposition by flashing her tits. Or so I've been told: I missed it (waah!)

I also sat for an hour at Jalava's desk, supposedly signing copies of Vanha Koira. I didn't sign any books, but a number of arms, entry bracelets and one T-shirt. Vanha Koira has sold about 500 copies and Jalava told me it was quite good for a Finnish fantasy book. It is still less than the copies of Praedor out there, though. Hmph.

Greg Stafford, again

I went to relax at Dipoli restaurant, which had better menu than ever before, by the way. Then again, when you are on the bottom the only way is up. And whom did I run into? Greg Stafford! We were introduced and had a long chat. I showed him Praedor and tried to explain what it was about and he seemed suitably impressed (or just polite). Either way, it was a very pleasant way to pass time, although I missed a lot of stuff I wanted to go to.

My Finest Hour

At six in the evening I began my Borvaria presentation. It was not as intensive as Gamemaster's Jaconia last year, but we were doing good progress, when Con organisers suddenly came to take me away from the auditorium and told the audience they would need me for about 10 minutes. Perplexed, I followed Anu upstairs and into the big hall where the Ropecon Gala was in full swing. After a stage magician did his piece, Ego got on to the stage and announced it was time to issue the annual Golden Dragon Award for the third time. He gave 5, 4, 3, 2 and then 1-point hints as to who the recipient might be and IT WAS ME. I got onto the stage, received a diploma and a dragon statue and saluted the 800 cheering spectators. For the rest of the 'con I would constantly be congratulated by both friends and strangers.

Now, the diploma is just a laminated piece of paper and the dragon statue is pretty kitsch, but the Golden Dragon Award itself is a big thing. It is the highest acknowledgement you can get in the Finnish RPG scene. Introduced in 2003, I am the Golden Dragon Recipient #3, right after Tudeer brothers and Mika "Magus" Laaksonen. We are the Order of the Golden Dragon. What can I say? If I had not been so confused after being taken away from the Borvaria presentation I would have probably been floored by emotion. Instead I got back to auditorium and finished my presentation. But really... I am a sucker for public recognition and thanks, and it just does not get any bigger than this.

An obscure award from a fringe hobby scene, my ass! This is the fucking Nobel Prize in Finnish roleplaying! It is *that* big of a deal for me! I am going to put it on my web page, my CV, everything! Carry the dragon statue around my neck on a chain!

Oh yes, I also told some people some stuff about running adventures in Borvaria.

Who cares?

Praedor 2?

After the Borvaria thing I went to dinner with a friend and we talked about Praedor 2, or what I would like to see in the next full edition of the game. There is very little chance of doing it anytime soon since I would need a lot of new pics from Petri and he could not find the time anymore.

Sunday and the setting workshop

Sunday opened with a couple of dozen of congratulations as I tried to get from the front door into Room 25 where I was supposed to hold a workshop on building a setting. It went smoothly, even more smoothly than I expected and nobody in the audience left before the end. Risto Ravela showed up to make some noise (if he is present the audience activity is effectively doubled) but apart from commenting things already discussed in the presentation he made pretty good points. People felt that my triangular model for designing settings and the mindmap-approach to geography and culture design were useful, perhaps even eye-openers. Unfortunately we also had a long discussion over the virtues and morality of orc-killing, which wasn't really part of the topic. I shall never mention orcs again.

Greg Stafford, yet again

Next programme was Game Design Challenge panel with Bill Bridges and Greg Stafford. We'd been informed the night before that we would have present an ex-tempore concept for a roleplaying game about romantic myths. At first, I panicked, since my games are about blood and gore, but then I realised that the campaigns I run contain more than their fair share of romantic elements. It was comparatively easy to strip away the action part to see what kind of a romantic game I would be interested in (although only in a closet with lights turned off). The result was Towers of Dusk and I was later told by some women that it was a really marvellous idea, especially with the diceless system I devised (me?! a diceless system?! Who are you and what did you do with the real Burger?)

I'll put the concept draft for Towers of Dusk at the end of this entry.

It was the best Con panel I've ever been in. Usually when I am put together with GoHs, I am such a small-time crook compared to them I don't really have a say about anything. But this time I had plenty to say. Somehow, it was an even playfield, although you would not think so with Mr. Werewolf and Mr. Glorantha sitting at the table. At the end of the panel I got Greg to sign my newly bought copy of HeroQuest and then gave him a copy of Praedor (from the very first print-run), which he of course asked me to sign. He can't make head or tails of the text, but he can look at the pretty pictures.

Praedor v1.1

I was informed Saturday night that Fantasiapelit wanted to speak to me, and over the course of the day many of them approached me and told me to do a new print-run of Praedor. There has been enough demand for it, so the old deal is on, once more. But I am not going to do another print run of the current edition. This will be Praedor 1.1. I want a new cover, I want to integrate PDF materials from the website archive into the game book, I want to proof-read the text once more and there are some layout issues the printing house hoped would be corrected, like the heavy black sidebars. Perhaps I will include some of the adventures as well. But no new writing or else the schedule will be shot to hell. Even now a lot hangs on whether Petri can find the time to do a new cover. Not enough new stuff to make the old print runs obsolete. But enough to make you want the new one.

Cover was the only thing Greg did not like. Can't say I blame him.

Closing the shop

All good things must come to an end. Although I though there were fewer people this year, the number of attendees from ticket sales was the same. Come to think of it, I've though there are fewer people around also last year, and the year before that. It is probably a throwback to Paasitorni throngs. Anyway, as long as there are enough people to give us Ropecon also next year, I am happy. Ropecon is my favourite time of the year, although I never get to hear more than a fraction of the lectures I'd like. So a quarter past six the closing proceedings begun and little after seven I walked out of Dipoli. It was all over.


Somehow, Saturday is my favourite day of the Con. There is no opening hassle since everything is already in full swing, and neither is there this impending sense of the approaching end which depresses me a little on Sundays. Good things always happen on Saturdays.

And now...

Towers of Dusk -the Romantic RPG

Developed for Ropecon 2005 Game Development Challenge

Imagine the Venice of Myth, early 18th century. City of carnivals, idyllic places, beauty, art, decadence. Gondolas slowly drifting along channels. Mist veiling the bridges where disguised lovers meet at night. Graveyards where rival lovers fight a duel at the first light of dawn. It is the Era of Love, the waning of the swashbuckling Baroque and the beginning of the Age of Reason that would eventually be destroyed in the madness of French Revolution. It is the age of Thinkers and Poets, Lovers and Tragedies. The Age of Giacomo Casanova, as it is told in Romance novels and dreams of love. Giacomo's legend was preserved but he was not the sole romantic hero of his era.

Characters are gentlemen and nomenclature, or if they are female, they live double lives, wearing masks of honour to hide fiery hearts. With money and standing they do not have to concern themselves with the mundane, but instead strive to win the favour of their love, to conquer or give, depending on their taste and view of their desires. Every adventure is a Romance epic. In an all-male character group (assuming there are no homosexual characters) they might be both friends and rivals in pursuit of favours from one of the ladies that are the light of Venice. In a more mixed party they might have more diverse aims, but are pledged to help and advice one another and might get embroiled in each others' romantic troubles.

All characters are based on a character description, outlining his looks, style, strengths and weaknesses. Then there are five stats: Body, Soul, Charm, Power and Wisdom. Body represents strength, health and agility, a rare virtue in these days. Soul is the soul of a poet, the creativity in words and arts. Charm is the beauty of body and mind, the pleasantness of voice, the skill in dance and etiquette etc. Power is authority and will, the ability make others do what you want, to control an organisation, to face danger without flinching, to beat the bureaucracy and seize the leadership. Wisdom is the learning of school, from arithmetic to philosophy. Wisdom lets you remember a poem, Soul to alter it to your current needs and Charm to present it in a way that will open a gate into the heart of your amour.

You have 10 points. At least 1 in each stat and no more than 3, at this stage. The points tell how good you are in things concerned with that stat, while your description tells where your interests really lie. There are no more precise skills than that. 1 equals poor, 2 equals average, 3 is good, 4 is excellent and 5 is elite.

When you want to do something, you describe your actions. If your description is good, plausible and fits your character, the situation AND the genre, you should succeed or at the very least pass the test. The gamemaster might want to look at the stats: with a low stat you'd need an excellent description to complete a difficult task, while a high stat would let you pass with fewer words and poorer expression. But the main focus should be on roleplaying: good roleplaying should be rewarded even if it leads to poor results. Maybe you failed because of your actions, but with good roleplaying and a good description of what you do, you should still achieve something.

If your character fails for the difficulty of the task or your blushing or lack of words, you may still pass the test by expending one Romance point. That point is marked under the stat most relevant to the task and you can only use as many Romance points for it as is the stat value. If you run out of Romance points before the end of adventure, you'd better roleplay and describe your actions exceedingly well, or concede defeat.

When each adventure ends, typically after 1-3 sessions, all Romance points are restored and those characters who achieved their goals, whether by heart or by loins, can add one point to one stat. The maximum stat value is 5.

Romance points can be regained during the adventure by Great Deeds. It can be an idea that turned a seemingly hopeless situation around, or achieving a major goal on the path of love, although while not the ultimate prize, will give the character a taste of paradise. But these point returns should be used sparingly, and only when the character does or achieves something the whole group will remember for a long time.

Combat: Oh dear, what would a Romance novel be without a duel between the lovers. Again, it is about descriptions and roleplaying. Defeating the enemy is a descriptive task like any other. The gamemaster describes the enemy, the player describes the action of his character. A convincing description will cause a hit upon the enemy, perhaps even several if the player account of events is great. Typical a hit reduces Body stat by one, while a clever move might reduce it by 2 or 3. A stab in the back or a murderer's cord around the neck will mean instant death, although not without a chance for last words or message, perhaps drawn to the ground with the character's own blood.

At Strength 0, the character is bed-ridden. At -1 or less he dies, usually in a very tragic, heart-wrenching manner. If his last words were worth remembering, the next character has one additional stat point. Wounded characters will heal a point of Strength each week, and perhaps an extra point if brought a mystical poultice from the alchemist’s store.

Remember, it is all about roleplaying and romance. It is perfectly possible to play this game without any reference to sex. But who would want to?

This game is dedicated to my cousin Milla, who thought it would be great!

23-Jul-2005: Greg Stafford

I have this problem with RPG celebrities. I am not really interested in meeting them. When I do meet them, they usually turn out to be great guys (like Mike Pondsmith), but even if I like their games, I don't feel like I would or could gain anything by seeing them live. I am not opposed to the policy of inviting guests of honour at Ropecon: quite the opposite actually. Conventions must have them, they are usually great speakers, majority of the people wants to see them and they don't bother me.

That said, Greg Stafford was on top of my list. He is most famous for Glorantha, which I personally do not care about one bit, but also wrote Pendragon, which is a hell of a game and one of those looked into when writing Praedor. More importantly, he headed Chaosium, and as a company Chaosium rocked (despite being notorious for not paying their artists and external designers in time). Greg Stafford is a voice from the Golden Era of gaming, the time before Magic: The Gathering bled away the customer base and the print quality of major game releases was still within the reach of small-time entrepreneurs. Like me.

Hindsight is good. Nostalgia is even better.

21-Jul-2005: Eve of Ropecon

It is actually July 22nd already, but I haven't gone to bed yet. Tomorrow it happens: the 12th Ropecon. Magic number for Germanic tribes. The only new thing I have to show is Code/X and even then there is no Code/X-specific program, although I will be dealing with similar themes in Gamemaster's Borvaria. It is pretty popular for a non-commercial games and many people have commended on its suitability for introducing new people into the hobby, mainly because of its thematic similarity to videogames. I have long held a belief that in these days gaming industry should look into videogames instead of books and movies in their search for new customers. D20 Warcraft was one the best ideas anyone in this industry has ever had. Too bad that your average World of Warcraft noobie can't make head or tails of the idiotic D20 game system.

Code/X popularity has got me thinking about a "Super Code/X", which would be a commercial product with a fully detailed setting setting and use a simplified version of Praedor as the game system. And then there is, of course, the parent project of them all: Stalker. You could actually say that just as Juhana's Joutomaa -roleplaying game turned into a book, my Stalker roleplaying game has turned into Code/X and the unnamed project I am henceforth referring to as "Super Code/X", even if some people may guess what it is about.

An idea: Since writing Stalker as a full game feels too cumbersome at the moment (for reasons already explained on this blog), I could release it as a supplement to Code/X. That would justify the shorter length of the book and get that project off my to-do list. Hmm, this is worth thinking about. After all, "Super Code/X" is almost equally weird but it would be entirely my own IP.

People ask me the strangest things these days. Somebody emailed me the other day, telling that his player group wanted to found an official roleplaying society and asked what the tangible benefits from such a move would be. Well, it all depends on what you are doing. If you are doing things with other organisations, the state, or commercial entities, being a registered society is about the only way. If it is really just about you and your gaming buddies, it has little meaning beyond an ego boost. Don't get me wrong: Ego boosts can be really cool. Think about Burger Games. With a release rate of 1 game per 4 years, do you really I couldn't have handled that as a private person instead of company? That's right: having Burger Games does make certain business aspects easier, but for the most part it is there just for the sake of image. Having your own RPG publishing label is just *so* cool.

By the way, HALO: Fall of Reach -novel ain't bad. Licensed game novels have come a long way from the shitty Battletech books of my youth.

20-Jul-2005: Timo Saarniemi In Memoriam

Opettajani, innostajani, kollegani ja Kaitaan lukiossa olleiden roolipelikurssieni sponsori Timo "Texi" Saarniemi kuoli 14.6.2005 Paimion sairaalassa, lyhyen sairauden murtamana. Hän oli 62-vuotias. Texi oli ristiriitainen hahmo jo koulukaverieni keskuudessa, mutta minä pidin vanhasta nahkahoususta kovasti. Onneksi vein hänelle Vanhan Koiran nyt keväällä niin että hän ehti nähdä sen. Ja hän oli otettu ja samalla ylpeä siitä miten vanha oppilas elätti itsensä kynän kärjellä. Hänen mielipidettään Vanhasta Koirasta en koskaan ehtinyt kuulla.

Rumba-lehden foorumilla kiistellään Timon ansioista, puolesta ja vastaan. Joidenkin mielestä hän oli aito runoilijasielu, toisten mielestä rasittava poseri ja meuhkaaja. Harvat, jos kukaan, keskustelijoista on tuntenut hänet henkilökohtaisesti. Minä olen. Ja se oli etuoikeus ja kunnia.

Texi oli ihmisenä kuin kiihdytysauto: innostuessaan hän pääsi nollasta sataan 0.5 sekunnissa, muttei koskaan mennyt kovin pitkälle. Hän ihaili ja väitti yrittävänsä samaistua Jim Morrisoniin, ja hänellä oli tunteellisen rokkitähden ajatusmaailma. Vain musiikki puuttui. Hänellä oli myös ainutlaatuinen kyky suhtautua kaikkeen uuteen innostuneesti, erityisesti jos se liittyi taiteeseen ja kulttuuriin. Siinä missä minä kuittasin hiphopin roskana, hän ihaili sitä varauksettomasti vaikkei ymmärtänyt siitä yhtään mitään. Hänen tapansa glorifioida asioita joista ei tiennyt mitään ärsytti monia, mutta toisaalta se oli hyvin kannustavaa. Hänestä mikä tahansa luova idea kannatti toteuttaa, oli se järkevä tai ei.

Lukiolaisena ihmettelin hänen meuhkaamistaan kaikesta mahdollisesta, mutta olen sittemmin tullut siihen lopputulokseen, että hän teki itsestään pellen antaakseen oppilailleen rohkeutta ilmaista itseään; kirjallisesti, näyttelemällä, roolipelaamalla, miten tahansa. Sen sijaan että hän olisi rakentanut opettajana auktoriteettia, hän veti showta, jonka tarkoitus oli murtaa suomalaisille kovin tyypillinen "en mä kehtaa" ajattelumalli. En usko oppineeni äidinkielestä yhtään mitään hänen tunneillaan, mutta Timon rooli siinä että uskallan aukoa päätäni julkisuudessa ja rummuttaa omituisia harrastuksiani ei ole vähäinen. Roolipeleistä yleiskiinnostuneena hän järjesti monena vuotena roolipelimuotoisen kurssin Kaitaalle, äidinkielen soveltavaksi työpajakurssiksi ja samalla antoi minulle ensimmäisen kunnon työpaikkani. Alter Egon kokouksissa hän kävi joskus vakoilemassa, ja oli läsnä mm. laajentumiskokouksessa 1997.

Ja tämä kaikki koskee vain minua. Timo tuli Kaitaalle opettajaksi 1970, kolme vuotta ennen minun syntymääni. Hän on ärsyttänyt ja innostanut tuhansia ja taas tuhansia oppilaita. Opettajilla on aivan käsittämättömän paljon valtaa ja vastuuta kasvatuksessa. Pelle tai ei, Timo käytti sitä oikein.

Lepää rauhassa, Texi. Olet ansainnut vapaalippusi Doorsin keikalle.

19-Jul-2005b: Veristä Hopeaa

Erkka Leppänen, already high on my list of good people, has further improved his standing by sending me his Praedor-adventure "Veristä Hopeaa" (Bloody Silver). In the typical Erkka fashion, it is a well-written, easy-to-run adventure combining action, cunning and tantalizing glimpses into the lives of ordinary Jaconians. In fact, I can't fault the adventure for anything, except perhaps for the lack of supernatural elements. But who needs them?

I made the adventure into a proper Praedor-style PDF. You can find it from the Praedor webpage library, but here is a direct link for the impatient:


19-Jul-2005: Making Waves in Mobile


Well well! Darkest Fear by Rovio Mobile has been reviewed at Airgamer.de. For the very first game of a completely new company, 86% and Airgamer Award ain't bad. Especially when you know that 86% is the second-best score ever awarded to an adventure game and tied with my Fantasy Warrior 2: Evil, which was voted the best mobile adventure game in Germany for 2004.

86% and Airgamer Award for the very first title. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Congratulations, Lauri!

Congratulations to the whole Darkest Fear team!

17-Jul-2005: Code/X v0.7

I am calling this release of Code/X version 0.7 because I have not made any additions to the Gamemaster's book. Still, take a look if you are interested in this kind of thing. I've tried to combine skills and edges into "specialisations" but as of now the specialisations read like sets of sub-abilities (or skills). For version 1.0 I hope to blur the connection between a speciality and a skill by adding special abilities and character features (edges) to the list. Unfortunately that will probably mean adding specialisation descriptions, increasing the length of the book and ultimately the size of the pdf file.

(After a while)

Ok, Character sheet changes completed. I am now going to put it on the web:

Code/X, version 0.7

Here is the old one for comparison: Code/X, version 0.6

16-Jul-2005: No Tomatoes

After enraging their entire fan- and customer base, making themselves the villains and laughing stock of many web forums, comics and gaming industry news sites, White Wolf withdraw its licensing policy. They will probably go at it again with reworked conditions, but as of now it is off the table. I guess I won't be throwing tomatoes at Bill Bridges after all. But still, I can't believe they did not see that one coming. What they were thinking? What was Justin Achilli thinking when instead of trying to explain the reasoning behind the policy he labelled everyone opposed to it as criminals and thieves? Legal and fair are not the same thing.

Ropecon is less than a week away and I've prepared materials for both of my pieces: Creating a Setting -workshop and Gamemaster's Borvaria -presentation. The former is intended for people with at least mental designs for their own game settings and I hope to have an active audience. I've never run a workshop before but I was told it was kind of like running a school lesson. I've done those, so that is the format I am aiming for. Hopefully with a little more enthusiastic audience. Gamemaster's Borvaria is a good old-fashioned presentation using 34 pictures taken from the game. I originally intended to use other Praedor sources as well, but then decided against it. The presentation will detail what sorts of information I have been able to glean from the game, just like in Gamemaster's Jaconia. There is a wealth of it. One thing that isn't in the game, though, is how to run adventures in Borvaria.

Thanks to thinking I had to do for Stalker and Code/X I now have a procedure for planning and running the kind of scenarios I have envisioned for Borvaria. Unfortunately I did not have them when I wrote the Borvaria section into Praedor RPG.

Code/X 0.8 is progressing nicely and the game definitely benefited from a re-write. I know that there will be some griping about the Ability system which has replaced Attributes and Skills, but it works in WHFRP and Haven: City of Violence, so it should also work here. Actually, if I were making an MMO or an MMORPG, I would use a same kind of system (although not necessarily with the same kind of numeric values: MMOs require a wider numeric range to give character progression more longevity). Combat system is becoming more and more streamlined. If I've got the balance right, it will definitely kick ass. Decreasing the injury treshold range was also a very good idea, as it enabled an entirely new and much more adventurous way for handling explosions. And the rules for burst fire and automatic weapons will be contribution to the progress of civilization. Put me up for a Nobel prize if they work in the playtest session.

If there is one thing I would like to have right now, it is illustrations for Code/X. I am actually tempted to use game screenshots from all the games I've used as inspiration. Obviously, the image copyrights are a problem here. Since Code/X is distributed freely and there would be no attempt to hide the origin of the pictures, the distributors might, correctly, regard it as free advertising and let it be, but there is no way to know. And I am not going to use Stalker images, as those are strictly for Stalker. *sigh* Damn this heat. I really should stop playing submarine warfare simulations and get on with re-installing Pagemaker 7.0.

Speaking about games: the trailer for "Darkest Fear" by Rovio Mobile is now out and as I said, it looks pretty cool. I just wish they had start with lighting effects and not pushing boxes around or getting unexplained damage from the dark. But we are learning and mobile game trailers are rarely this sophisticated. There was an interesting (and illuminating) incident last week: an Italian mobile games site published a review of Darkest Fear, giving it 9/10. Hooray! Unfortunately, they had never seen the actual game and rated it purely according to hype, screenshots and marketing materials. While we at Rovio are very proud to receive such high marks for our first releases, personally I do have problems in taking it all seriously. Unfortunately, this sort of thing is very common in foreign games media. Finland is the only country where honesty is a virtue and not a fault.

13-Jul-2005: Steaming Jungles

The official trailer of my soon-to-be-released mobile game design War Diary: Burma is out! Unfortunately it is almost all gameplay and no dramatic cinema. Frankly, the as-of-yet unreleased Darkest Fear trailer is way better, but as mobile games go, Burma trailer still rocks. It is the first game trailer ever released by Rovio Mobile and I think it is a good start for a company this young. And there will be more! Much more! Back when I was still at DChoc, I was told the markets are closed and small companies like us have no chance in Hell getting distribution deals. Back then I believed it, but now, six months into Rovio, I can only wonder what they were smoking. Still not convinced? Keep watching. It won't be long now.

It is the middle of July, the height of summer. Vantaa is sweltering in a heat wave of slightly under 30 degrees. Whew. It is times like these that make me consider getting an air conditioner for the bedroom. Then again, there are twelve months in a year and you would only use it for a month or two.

Some of you are waiting for Stalker. Well, there is little I can do now that Pagemaker 7.0 seizes up on start and won't open the files. I'll probably have to re-install the whole program. Code/X, done with Pagemaker 6.52, works nicely and I'll get back to it once I get the material for Ropecon presentations off my hands. I am hoping there would be version 0.8 before the Ropecon. I wonder if anyone will bring me a stack of printed-out papers to sign. I am also writing one other thing, originally requested by a small, red-haired girl, but it is growing into a kind of "Stalker in hard science fiction space setting". You'll probably never get to see it but we will be having fun playing it in the near future.

Stalker is alive and kicking on another front. One of my ex-pupils from Kaitaa High School has informed me that he intends to run a Stalker LARP next Fall or so. He would like to use the "official Finnish Staker setting" and I will be sending him the player's guide as a PDF as soon as I get the stupid program working again. Grr! He even offered me a role in the larp, but I am not a larper so I declined. Still, I am always happy to help my little pupils (all grown up now and with better salaries than mine) to make it in the Big, Bad World. I'd guess there will be more information about this when the time comes.

8-Jul-2005: Bill Bridges And My Middle Finger

Now here is a puzzle for you: When Ropecon invites someone from the RPG industry to be their guest of honour, is he there as a private person or as a representative of the company he works for? Bill Bridges in this year's Ropecon is an especially tricky case. He is the designer of Fading Suns and I respect that. But he also works for White Wolf Publishing and I am sorely tempted to shout "Fuck Off!" during his guest of honour speech. I won't, but the temptation is there. It would be unfair since Bill Bridges is unlikely to be behind the most idiotic thing in roleplaying I've come across since Martin Eriksson. Ok, this is worse than Eriksson. Actually, this tops about everything.

It is a long read, but the main point is that if any activity involving White Wolf games also involves money changing hands, even when it is on non-profit basis, organisers must belong to WW's Camarilla player organisation and adhere to its rules of conduct. If the game is continuous, such as a campaign, also players must be Camarilla members. This applies to both live and tabletop gaming. They use entry fees to LARPs as an example but the actual policy applies to any transaction, right down to pooling money to buy pizza. Furthermore, Camarilla rules of conduct are extremely restrictive (no minors, no public consumption of alcohol, no touching of any kind etc.). For tabletop gaming these restrictions are just plain silly, but as for LARPing, they are inherently incompatible with the Nordic style (as defined by several people who have tried explaining it to me).

As icing on the cake, Camarilla membership costs you about 20 bucks a year, has no tangible benefits for most players in the US, let alone in Europe. To make matters worse, the organisation has a bad reputation and track record on almost everything. Subscriber-based non-digital roleplaying games, anyone? This opens up a whole new can of worms for the entire industry.

As stupid as the TSR submission guidelines were, they never took a stand as to how their products were to be used. Once you bought their game, it was yours and you were free to use it for toilet paper if you liked. Just like if you buy a hammer the manufacturer is neither responsible nor in control of what you do with it. White Wolf attempts to establish control and partial ownership over not just the hammer, but whatever you make with it. Camarilla fee is effectively a license to play the game, and you would be legally bound to the code of conduct specified in the license agreement. If this move substantially increases the Camarilla member base, you can expect similar moves from other gaming companies and further curtailing of player and hobby-base rights. How any of this can be enforced is a good question, but the possibility is there.

Maybe in the future if you play a commercially released roleplaying game and write a really cool campaign for it, the license agreement you agreed to by simply buying the game gives the game publisher not just a copyright and trademark ownership over the rules and setting, but to the actual content of the derivative work (your campaign). And if your campaign and playstyle do not conform to whatever politically correct garbage the publisher has for a code of conduct, you could be sued for a breach of licence, forced to pay compensation and be legally prohibited from running the game ever again. WW policy for pay-for-play games has the makings of it all. If successful, it is the future of roleplaying.

I've seen the future and it is dark.

5-Jul-2005: Polishing My Halo

It is now proven: Ruthlesness and Greed *can* be used for good!

They are negotiation about "Halo -the movie". You may have heard of this video game, or its sequel, innovatively named "Halo 2". You may also know that the vast majority of movies based on games suck. The only good one I can think of is Resident Evil (the first one) and only because it incorporates so many of my fetishes in a stylish fashion. Hollywood has been treating game intellectual property like cheap garbage and I'll never forgive Ubisoft for selling movie rights to Far Cry to such a third-rate director as Uwe Boll. Last year games made as much, if not more, money as movies, and Hollywood loves to do cheap, half-hearted films when a hit game has already taken care of ideas and marketing. I think the upcoming movie about "Doom" will prove my point and Remedy doesn't seem too thrilled about the Max Payne movie project either.

It was only a matter of time before Hollywood would come for Halo. After all, the big "H" is possibly the hottest and most instantly recognizable intellectual property in gaming right now. But they were in for quite a shock. Halo is owned by Micro$oft, not some two-bit developer or a publisher desperate for extra publicity. The Evil Empire of Computing slammed its huge fist on the table, presenting a long list of non-negotiable conditions on the use of Halo name and franchise. The exact terms are unknown but are rumoured to include a massive production budget and giving Bungie (the original developer) complete creative control. In short, Halo -the movie is to be done right or not at all. That alone is said to have made most of Hollywood to drop out of the negotiation rounds. Some remain, probably the only studios with enough assets and talent to pull it off. This is the most promising start for a franchise film I've ever seen.

Of course, MS did not do it for the sake of art. Whatever you think about their products, they've always known how to make money and are not called the Evil Empire for nothing. But this time their greed means we get a better film. The reasoning is so obvious it is amazing that other game publishers haven't thought or cared about it: As intellectual property, Halo is probably worth close to a billion. It is the next best thing to Star Wars in the mainstream science fiction. It does not really need extra visibility or advertising. It has depth in the market and all they need is width. They've already got books and toys. I'd guess a roleplaying game is probably under consideration somewhere (assuming even WOTC can cough up enough money for the license). Doing a crappy movie would reduce its value, not add it, so there is no point in doing one unless it is superb. So greed can be a powerful force for good.

One day I have to analyze here what I really think of Halo as a game and a setting. It is not an easy thing to explain, since while there are some glaring design issues, it is clear, at least with Halo 1, that Bungie and MS have stumbled onto something big here. Something epic. Larger-than-life.

In other news: the first playtest sessions of Code/X are over and done with. Two sessions, both aboard MS Mariella during a cruise to Stockholm. We had fun and players commended the game, but I made several alarming observations: first, the system begins to break down with multiple dice. +1D to the roll is acceptable, +2D is not. Second, system is still heavily skill-based, adding needless detail as the skills required during the scenario were actually quite few. Third, the attribute range from -2 to +2 was felt to be too limited, have a poor resolution and render skills almost useless compared to the attribute values. Fourth, the damage system was cumbersome. Using only 5s and 10s would make it easier, but so would overall reduction in the damage scale. It is apparently faster to count 5 x 7 than it is counting 5 x 17. There is also something funky with the way explosions are handled. Whether I can do something about it or not is another matter. Oh yes, semiautomatic weapons fire was also hard to handle.

System as such was easy to use and nobody had any trouble creating a character all by themselves. The concept was thought to be marvelous for this kind of quick scenario-based play where it is unlikely the adventure will continue beyond one or two sessions. Characters were able to deal death as good as they got. Two out of four died, but not before taking the bad guys with them. Encumbrance system was thought a stroke of genious, being easy to use, realistic and highly illustrative all at once. There were some issues on what items were of what size, though. In a perfect world the equipment list would have size notations, but for now you just have to deal with it yourself.

So what am I going to do? A lot. Re-write the game mechanics. Flip the roles of attributes and skills the other way around. Reduce the damage range and simplifying the combat rolls, especially for semiautomatic weapons. Introduce "shit happens" die into the game rules (originally conceived by Kalle Marjola). Throw away the skill description lists because an ability-based system no longer needs them. Maybe re-think the equipment list and expand the weapons list with ideas taken from D20 Spycraft. Redefine and expand the rules on determining item sizes. Complete Black Files and monster listings. Develop a more benevolent system for treating injuries and more detailed rules on drugs. And that's just for starters.

I am sorry that you have to wait for Stalker but I hope to return to it as soon as I get some vacationing done this Summer. As I've explained, my current work and commercial game projects drain the same mental batteries, and I prefer to excel in the one activity that pays my bills. When Stalker project began, I was still just a corporate drone, with no emotional or creative attachment to what I was doing. Unfortunately things changed just as I began writing it. But it is not a total loss. The more astute among you may have noticed curious similarities between Code/X and Stalker, and it is true. Code/X is a sort of "Stalker Lite", with less depth and more action, but they share the idea of crossing the boundary into unknown. The whites of maps. I like the concept so much it will probably be a major theme in all my future works.

3-Jul-2005: Stroke of Genius

Back when Rovio was still in the Helsinki School of Economics and Business Administration start-up facilities, we had a next-door neighbour called Frozenbyte. It seemed like a small, one-room software start-up with a laid-back attitude and young employees. I often wondered who they were and what they were doing. I still don't don't know who they are, but I know now what they do. It is a bloody marvelous-looking PC game called Shadowgrounds. But we've seen scifi action shooters before. What makes SG such a stroke of genious is that the developers have used brains instead of processing power.

Based on the trailer, SG has an angled top-down perspective view into 3D-modelled environment, with the character standing in the middle of the screen. You control the guy with keyboard and he can turn 360 degrees with the mouse, irrespective of his direction of movement. Those of you familiar with Harshlands know the drill. The 3D playfield reminds me of Alien Swarm mod for UT2004, but is of course more richly detailed and completely destructible if you have big enough weapons. Trailer had beefy explosions, lots of stuff breaking apart, nasty monsters blown into chunky kibbles and a glimpse of a cooperative two-player mode.

The genious part is that it is a full 3D game with all the goodies, but elevation differences within the game are pretty small, trimming down the required playfield size. Because of the perspective, there is also no need for the Coolest Wall Textures Ever, as there is no danger of the player pressing his virtual nose against the wall to study it. Not only does this make the game more cost-effective to make, it also frees processing power for the really cool stuff, like destructible environment. The scent of truly cool stuff... now when I smell that last? Lack of bells and whistles about the controls makes playability tweaking a breeze (they'll probably send me an envelope of dog shit for saying this) and separate aiming and movement add a whole new level of action and tactics opportunities.

And best of all, the game should play well even on your average home PC instead of contributing to the senseless technological arms race that plagues the PC shooter genre. Multiplayer glimpses looked really cool and reminded me of Diablo 2 cooperative multiplayer. I am really looking forward to playing the game with my spouse.

Shadowgrounds should be out by October this year. I don't know if it has a publisher yet or what the Frozenbyte strategy is, but this game really deserves attention. While I am a true FPS fan, I would not mind one bit if innovations like this became wildly popular, helping the ailing small-scale PC game development scene to survive in the shadow of the consoles. Besides, while Shadowground looks like a pure-breed shooter, that perspective and game mechanics could be combined with adventuring and roleplaying content. Top-down 3D evolved from isometric-perspective games and Fallout-trilogy springs to mind...

Next entry will be about Code/X playtesting results but I need to draw some conclusions from my observations first.

29-Jun-2005: To the Assholes at Novalogic

You were at one time one of my favourite game developers. And from now on I am not going to give you a single cent! You are bastards, plain and simple. And a textbook example at that. I've already ripped the heart out of your tech support contact in Finland, but my lust for blood has not been sated and hence this public letter. As a long-time friend of the Delta Force game series I was delighted at the unveiling of Delta Force Extreme: good stuff from DF1, albeit simplified for the modern (read: moronic) gamer, with up-to-date graphics and nicely animated surface vegetation. Publishing a new version of an old game with just touch-ups (and cutting features from the original) would otherwise be morally objectionable, but you saved your face by giving it a reduced price tag, about 2/3 of the price of an actual premium game.

DF:X was the first Novalogic game I enjoyed playing on Novaworld servers as a multiplayer game. Cooperative multiplayer games were my favourite, with Sniper Deathmatch as the close second. I was pretty good at it both, too (I suck at regular deathmatch). Then, I stayed away for about a week and BAM! My account no longer exists. Well, if you had a one-week idle allowance before deleting an account as inactive, that would just be idiotic but forgivable. Instead, you changed the Novaworld policy so that the ownership of DF:X (which is your latest release, in case your one and only brain cell already forgot) no longer entitles you to a Novaworld account. Only your premium-priced games entitle you to that now. This is bloody stupid. But on top of it all, you never informed DF:X Novaworld account holders about this change.

I gave you my email address when I signed up for Novaworld and I've received your ads and press releases (which were quite welcome until now), but no notification. Nothing of the sort. Perhaps you did not think DF:X owners with Novalogic accounts would be interested in the slight little detail of their fucking accounts getting deleted since they had the audacity to buy a less-than-premium-priced game? I would have been pissed off even if you had notified me, but not nearly to the extent I am now. Not by a long shot. I actually happen to own every one of your premium-priced PC games on that list. Every single one. I could get past your blockade if I wanted to and see if you still offer any servers for DF:X in the first place. But I am not going to. I am not going to touch you even with a ten-foot pole.

Of course, I am me. Rabid gamer with 50 euros worth of games per month as a job benefit. If you do something really astounding for your next game, something beyond the pale (like DF2 was, and to some extent still is), I will regret and perhaps even go back on my decision. But nothing less than a gaming miracle will do, and you've been going downhill for a while now. Maybe a good kick will help you get where you are going a little faster.

26-Jun-2005: Code/X and Stuff

I told the cruise participants to download Code/X themselves and make their own characters without GM supervision. I've received first two of the four characters in the group and apparently it is working. We have a grizzled ex-military medic and a bad-mannered ex-spec-force sniper with little regard for law and order. When the test play is over, I am going to make them sample characters in the rulebook. Excellent work by the players! I hope it will be matched by the game author when version 1.0 is pieced together.

Other than that, preparing for Ropecon and possible stint at GDCE is taking my time. World Creation Workshop (although I would prefer "setting" as it encompasses more than the pseudophysical reality of the game world). I would also like to make plans for Assembly, but they still haven't published the seminar schedule. Bah! By the way, Ropecon schedule has been confirmed and the programme team has made a point of *not* putting me into the Burger Slot. Instead, Setting Workshop is on Friday 18-20 in Sali 25, and Gamemaster's Borvaria is on Sunday 12-14 in Sali 26.

I am supposed to provide a list of event requirements, including possible limitations on the number participants in the workshop. As Sali 25 probably won't be the biggest place out there and I've planned the workshop to be a kind of dialogue between me and the audience, I'd place the limit on about 30. How it is enforced is anybody's guess. Other interesting stuff I am going to go watch is Antarctic (fri 20-22), Verkot, roolit ja pelit (fri 22-00), Pyssyt ja puukuulat (sat 14-16), Fantasiapelit 20v (sat 20-21) and Verkkoroolipelit (sat 21-23). But check out the programme for yourself.

24-Jun-2005: Deliberations

"So Ville, while you still have 30+ years to fuck up your career, you are now doing better than ever. Rovio Mobile just greenlighted yet another of your concepts. No other game designer in the industry has this much authority in their respective companies. It is also beginning to look fairly likely that you'll be speaking at GDC Europe in London next August. How did you do it? Was it plain luck, good professional skills, or was your earlier expertise as a technical writer something you could build on?"

"It was networking."

"Networking? As in Internet?"

"No. Networking as with social networks and reputation. It is the people you know and the people who know you."

Interview is imaginary but everything said in it is true. Back in school, counselors always talked about developing good professional skills (to the point of open hostility towards the Arts). My father has always stressed the importance of an academic degree, in my case a BA or an MA. Well, that cake has been baking in the oven for 12 years and still isn't done, and I've been in white-collar IT jobs for 5 years without any formal professional education. While neither the councilors nor my father were lying outright, they also missed or deliberately omitted the most important thing: networking. Assuming you've set your sights above being the grocery store clerk (no offense, but I really do feel bad for you whenever I go shopping) the people you know and the people who know you make or break your case. Why didn't they tell me that at school?

In other news, Code/X will have its official test session aboard a ship to Stockholm next weekend. It is a typical game cruise: one session on the way there, another one on the way back. Good company, cheap booze and you don't have to put up with the drunken idiots that give Stockholm cruises their bad reputation. A-class cabins are optimal for a gamemaster and three players. We have four players, but I think we'll manage if we can keep the door open for a while (that means putting up with some drunken bozos asking if we have a party). Here is the scenario intro, unfortunately just in Finnish:


As Code/X scenarios go, I'd believe this to be the usual format: the play starts when the characters are already en route, the location is exotic, unknown and rumoured to be dangerous. No specifics are given but everybody assumes trouble, so they've equipped accordingly and have a certain mindset about. I found that I liked this combination of 30'ies pulp adventure hero tales (old cargo plane, rogue pilot, uncharted waters, Pacific islands) and modern science horror even more than I thought.

22-Jun-2005: Forgotten Gem

Have you ever heard of a shooter called Devastation? No? Thought so. "D" was a first-person shooter developed by the sadly now-extinct Digitalo and distributed by Novalogic, better known for the Delta Force series. Using a heavily modified Unreal engine, it came out in 2002 and was a "first" in many respects: one of the first FPS to really have physics modelling for the many objects lying about, one of the first FPS to try to actually model human skin (without bump-mapping) and one of the first FPS to feature AI-controlled squad mates that would supposedly respond to orders in an intelligent fashion as a crucial game element.

In some respects, Devastation was also "the last". Although built for multiplayer, the single-player campaign was ambitious, intriguing, extremely long and with one of the best plots I've come across (Future Shock, another game nobody but me has ever heard of, is on the top of my list. Deus Ex comes as close second; there is a separate category for interactive action movies, clearly topped by Max Payne 2). I am easy to satisfy plot-wise, but usually games fail even that. Far Cry was an excellent game in all respects but between you and me I admit it: the plot, though not without some merit, sucked. Devastation plot does not suck and actually has some moments which are on par with the post-holocaust-desperation-nirvana brought on by Future Shock in the early days.

As a shooter, it is as slick and smooth as Unreal 1 and suffers only from hyper-accurate enemies, underpowered weapons and completely brainless squadmates. The supposedly AI-controlled team mates are the greatest buffoons I've had the misfortune of having to drag along in any shooter. When you don't need them, they are usually clustered around you, blocking doorways and impending movement or lines of fire. Then they spot an imaginary enemy somewhere and the automated attack routine takes over. It does not matter if the entire squad is in "follow mode"; when the shooting starts, they run off, often in different directions.

Regen unit proves not only a handy plot device, but a necessity for compensating the suicidal behaviour of the team. They run against laser gates, grinding down their hit points. They stand still, foreheads pressed to a wall, while an enemy stands behind them and fires a round after a round into their backs. At least in Delta Force your squad had the decency of getting killed early on and thus got out of the way, but if one of these goons dies before you have secured a regen unit, it is all over for that mission.

Ok, that sucks, but what really rocks is the plot and the setting. In the late 21st century, the world is big, bad and ugly. Big corporations run the show and things like personal freedom and democracy live on only in the dreams of street rebels and resistance fighters. You're one of them, a white-haired misfit called Kyle, who gets his hands on a corp datadisc and follows clues of a conspiracy around the globe. The world seems suitably banged up (the reason for apparent global collapse is never explained) and there are some great post-holocaust scenes, even if the world as a whole is mostly about grimy streets and semi-abandoned industrial complexes. There is a delightful touch of decay to everything.

And it looks really good. Apart from bump-mapping, which I don't like anyway, it is mostly on par with contemporary shooters. Game levels look excellent and the cool, realistic colour palette helps to create authentic-looking surfaces and textures. Granted, it is a world of mostly rectangular shapes and water effects are a dodgy by modern standards, but that is about the only complaint I have. In street scenes the boxy shapes have been brilliantly masked with debris and clever design.

Devastation was an early pioneer of the current wave of squad-based, physics-modelling FPS games but it never got the attention it should have. Not even from me. Seeing how much they actually got righte makes me sad, because nonexistent marketing, crappy sales (and probably a lousy deal with the distributor) forced Digitalo under already in 2003, soon after the release. With all its faults, Devastation has been great fun. If it had been the start of a franchise, trying it out would have been the beginning of a beautiful friendship for me. Even now, it is a great inspiration for a post-holocaust or a dark future setting, albeit one that takes some understanding of political science to grasp.

Digitalo is no more, but there is a quasi-official game site with some forum messages even from 2005:


But if you find it and try it out, remember that I warned you about the squad AI.

19-Jun-2005: Very Interesting Project (V.I.P.)

Since I have accomplished nothing lately, it is a high time to look at the accomplishments of others. This month's V.I.P. award goes to Miska, who has really knocked my socks off with his plans for a dark space opera game. Being an obstinate and arrogant fool, I nowadays find it difficult to run games designed and written by somebody else, but this game, when completed, could, should and would be the exception that makes the rule.

Some of you may remember how I once adored a roleplaying game based on Starsiege: Tribes. Well, the game had one big weakness which was the focus on warrior societies and adhering to the limitations of the videogame setting. But fundamentally it was a good idea. Now it seems that Miska has come up with a similar idea on his own and he is actually doing it right: dark, post-holocaust flavoured space opera, new cultures, religions and ideals in the form of disorganised human tribes, mysterious alien races, the loss of Earth to instill a sense of rootlesness, and furious action right up to the level of Matrix and Chronicles of Riddick. As long as we get to use guns instead of slow-motion kung-fu, I am happy.

Heimot -project exists in the form of a web forum, but there will be electronic and hopefully paper publications in the future. And most importantly, it is all in Finnish!


There remains a number of problems to be solved, though. Reading the forum I could not get a clear picture of how the interstellar society works and what were the actual effects of closing of hyperweb since FTL travel seems to be possible even without it. Or, what is the role of players? What do their characters do? Is there a dedicated social class of adventurers transcending cultural, social and tribal boundaries (as in Praedor), or do the players and gamemasters have to find campaign specific applications for otherwise regular trades and professions (as in Traveller)? Curiously, a class of professional adventurers, which us usually poorly suited for scifi, could actually work in Heimot -setting.

No actual rulebook, game mechanics or equipment lists exist yet, but it is good that the author has begun from the setting. Bloody marvellous, actually.

15-Jun-2005: Code/X v0.6

Sorry about the delay, there was a break in the ISP service, but everything is up and running again. The main topic for today is Code/X which is in its version 0.6 and perfectly playable. Background is largely missing, with only two of the five black files experiments written and none of the monsters, but if you can come up with stuff by yourself, you should do fine. I made some format changes, like switching back to standard A4 for easier printing (there were a few requests for this) and reverting back to Pagemaker 6.5 because the PDF conversion in PM7 does not work (which sucks). You can download the current version of Code/X from here and I will be replacing it with newer versions as they get done, so watch this blog.

When and if Code/X gets fully done, I'll make it its own game pages. Note that player and gamemaster sections haven't been clearly marked apart yet, so if you're a player and you don't want to be spoiled at all, stop reading at the character sheet. Another thing worth noticing is the lack of illustrations. I can't draw but if somebody wants to draw something, be my guest. There is no reward I can offer other than worldwide publicity.

In other news, Rovio Mobile has made a splash at Airgamer.de again, this time with a German preview of our upcoming Darkest Fear -horror game. I can't really claim glory for the design (other than assisting the lead designer at times) but it is one hell of a game anyway. Dynamic lighting, with moving lights and shadows reacting more or less naturally to their surroundings, has been one of the Holy Grails for mobile gaming. Many have sought it but never found it. Even more people were saying it can't be done in non-3G phones. Well, we've proven them ALL wrong, thanks to the ingenuity of programmers (note: not designers)! This is the industry of smoke and mirrors, boys and girls. After seeing dynamic lighting work even in S40 phones I am convinced that anything is possible. It is not a matter of "if", but "how". There are actually two previews of Darkest Fear, with the more recent one being just a bunch of screenshots. I happen to think that the new screens spoil the game too much, so you are only getting a link to the first preview.

I have two confirmed Ropecon programmes: Gamemaster's Borvaria, and World-Building Workshop. As is my style, they'll be pretty straight-forward, hands-on affairs in the Old Skool style. I haven't seen the official Ropecon programme yet, but what I've heard through the grapewine has been so incredulous I won't bother repeating it here. See for yourselves. Then I am planning one unofficial event: after Gamemaster's Borvaria I am going to Keltsu to eat pizza and talk about Praedor 2.0 to anyone willing to listen. Basically: what I would have done differently, what new things me and Petri have learned, devised or found out from existing materials since 2001 and how do the comics and novels relate to the roleplaying game. Remember, there is no official Praedor canon and everything is subject to change at any time.

10-Jun-2005: Back in Town

I've just been to a cruise to Stockholm with some folks from Enter magazine. It was a good trip, although the mere memory of the slop they serve in Viking Buffet is enough to make me cringe. I met quite a few new people, which is always nice. One of the people present, named Auri, if my abysmal name memory serves me right, was the artist who draw this picture (you may have to scroll down a little). She drew a hilarious comics-based diary on major trip events and best conversations. We all had to draw something to the end of the story and I was really ashamed of my drawing skills. We were given some facts and figures on Enter magazine and the Finnish monthly/bi-monthly journal industry in general. It was pretty interesting stuff and editor Kilpi was a true expert in skipping over the dull parts. It was one of the few business presentations I did not fall asleep on.

Others had boardgames with them and in retrospect I regret not preparing a short RPG scenario for them. I played some Finstere Flure with them, but the best game of all was "Werewolf" party game which is too complicated to explain here. Nothing to do with WoD, though. I also discovered that I am really bad at Mario Kart and reasonably good in Monkeyball 2 Tennis. I did have some time of my and wrote a newbie-friendly Praedor-scenario as my friend Vera has a friend she wants to introduce to roleplaying games. When it has been run, I promise to publish it on Praedor web page. Anyway, it was fun cruising with you guys! Thanks a lot!

Frankly, I've though up a lot of stuff for Praedor over the past year. Every book, adventure, inspiration or adventure seed defines and expands Jaconia a little bit more. One area, tradition or a cultural feature at a time. I've also been inspired by the excellent soundtrack of Kingdom of Heaven. I would say that 13th Warrior was my Jaconia soundtrack for the souther, Kingdom of Heaven is my Jaconia soundtrack for the north. It features both traditional late-medieval church music as well as more exotic, Arabic themes. Since the northern realms, especially Farrignia, are like the society of Imperial China set in Renaissance Italy, medieval music, orchestral scores and little exotic pieces are just what the doctor ordered.

05-Jun-2005: World War 2 in Colour

I have seen a lot of war movies, read a lot of books and completed quite a few University study weeks on World War 1& 2. As a result, I have a peculiar problem: I find it difficult to imagine either World War in colour. Now, I wasn't there, but some rare colour documentary and a couple of veterans have claimed that when they (or at least WW2) were fought, the world had pretty much the same colour scale as today. Unfortunately, after seeing seeing too much b/w documentary and film, my idea of WW2 is fixed on greyscale. To make matters worse, after Saving Private Ryan, also contemporary movie directors have begun bleaching the colours of war movies. Kudos to Pearl Harbour (air raid scene in Director's Cut is a tribute to Peckinpah even if the rest is crap) for breaking the mold and displaying bright colours, be it blood and blue ocean.

I've been trying to fix this defect by watching full-colour war films made during the Golden Era of the genre in the early 70'ies. While the war adventure movies (Dirty Zozen, Where Eagles Dare) are actually quite pathetic, the more documentary-like war depictions (Battle of Britain, A Bridge Too Far) are excellent. In fact, they are in many ways superior to contemporary WW2 movies. I've been wondering what they are doing differently, and concluded that directors had better access to war veterans, were not afraid of being politically incorrect in their portrayal of people, and did not have the post-Vietnam moral obligation to stress the overall inhumanity and wrongness of war itself.

Present-day war films usually have this omnipresent sense of tragedy. Directors avoid scenes of overwhelming joy or triump, whereas these early films followed the ups and downs of the war veterans' accounts. Sure, World War 2 was hell, but the allied troops celebrating the capture of Monte Cassino were far from traumatized victims with hollow cheeks and a thousand-yard stare. Again, kudos to Band of Brothers for getting many things right. But it is a TV miniseries, not a film. Good war film, or a good war novel, is not about a message or pathos, but about the small triumphs and tragedies of individual soldiers. It is supposed to be a tribute to the acts of heroism and tragedies of failure that may well have occurred, but never got into history books. After all, every soldier and veteran is the lead character of his personal story.

It also occurred to me that my fascination with post holocaust and survival horror genres may stem from being a war film fan since I was little. War films are a kind of combination of both. Monsters or Men: with smoke, fire, uniforms making people look like robots, it does not matter. There are scenes of great destruction, landscapes of utter devastation and appalling displays of human brutality. Then again, there acts of kindness, amazing demonstrations of the strength of the human spirit and eventually peace and reconstruction, even if in some more tragic films that peace can only be found in death. I've actually played a scifi war RPG for many years in the past: Legionnaire (FASA, part of Renegade Legion franchise), and later used the same setting with Shatterzone rules. I loved the gravtanks and characters usually got to drive around and trash things. Those were the days...

Anyway, here is my top-10 in war films, in no particular order:

  • Das Boot, any version (goes without saying)

  • Apocalypse Now (my way to get high without drugs)

  • A Bridge Too Far (modern grit, old-style colours)

  • Battle of North Atlantic (almost too good to be WW2 propaganda)

  • Battle of Britain (if only somebody added some modern effects)

  • Black Hawk Down (unfortunately just the Pentagon version of events)

  • Iron Cross (philosophy, gore and Sam Peckinpah)

  • We Were Soldiers (WTF? This film is great! I still can't believe it?!?)

  • Patton (you'll have to see it to believe it)

  • The Longest Day (best attempt at D-day so far)

If you are a friend and want to see any of these, just ask me and I'll arrange a showing. I don't have Longest Day yet, but just wait and see.

Looking at the list, you'll probably notice that some high profile war films are missing. Band of Brothers does not count since it is not a movie. Some otherwise good films (like Talvisota or Stalingrad) just did not make it into the top-10. But Thin Red Line, Full Metal Jacket, Saving Private Ryan and the lot suck if you ask me. There is something fundamentally different in the way I look at war films and the way modern, established movie critics do. And finally a special entry to the list:

  • Air raid scene in Pearl Harbour Director's Cut

It is so good that I almost forgive the rest of the movie.

01-Jun-2005: "Summertiiiiiiiime...

...and the weather is freeeeeeeeezing..."

Sheesh, June the First and the quicksilver is at 6 degrees centigrade! In spring I thought I wanted to live in in Finland from March (most beautiful winter weather right up to the end of the month) to late September and then flee to the tropics. I'll have to make an exception for June. Hell, even Iceland is warmer than this. June 2004 was freezing too and the cold snap continued well into July. August was pretty good. When Assembly'04 had no interesting seminars (where is the seminar programme for ASS'05, btw?) and I did not want to make another round of sightseeing, I was sunbathing outside without a shirt (to the shock of all the girls who had smaller breasts than my hairy ones). I actually did manage to get a nice tan. Hopefully it will be the same this year but that is for the weather spirits (Ugga Mugga! Totem Hippo!) to decide.

Last night, Code/X reached beta stage. It is playable and I printed out the first pdf-version of the player's book. I would not need more than that but to make a game out of it there must be some more meat on the bones. I should run a test session or two to see if it works and balance out the weapons. I would also like to try out a little setting experiment with it:

Ever since buying Unreal II for 3 pounds and finding out what an awesome game it was, I've been thinking about a suitably gritty space opera setting to achieve the same feeling of... desperate epics? I don't know what to call it. Unreal II and the universe behind it was just that. Actually, it was pretty close to a "corporate space" scifi theme I've been thinking about, plus nasty aliens, cool weapons and little less scientifically restricted approach to extraterrestrial life (Acheron, a planet covered by a single organism and surrounded by a belt of its spores was a super-cool idea). The official timeline of Unreal universe is quite interesting and playable up to the year 2291. That is when events move to "Unreal Tournament" -phase and developing a setting where bloodsports matches between humans and aliens are possible means throwing all style out of the window.

Things got really interesting when I saw Pitch Black (staring Vin Diesel as "Riddick" for the first time). Unlike the official sequel, Pitch Black was good scifi/survival horror flick and Riddick, while ultra-dangerous and cool, was not the stupid superman he was in Chronicles of Riddick. When I saw PB, I immediately thought that the movie was set in Unreal Universe. It was the same kind of a flash intuition that made me decide that 13th Warrior actually took place in Jaconia, somewhere in the kingdom of Angar. It all boils down to Coolness. If you don't do hard scifi (in which case I would write INFRA) or weird scifi (Stalker), then cool scifi (Unreal/Heavy Gear/Battletech/Shatterzone) is the way to go. Star Wars and Star Trek pretty much own space opera.

By the way, some of you may know that I once talked with Columbia Games about making an updated version of the High Colonies RPG. They wanted it to be a D20 game and I am not touching the system with a ten-foot pole, so nothing came out of it. However, a lot of material prepared for that went into INFRA. Sometimes I wish I could just stop working and concentrate on writing. Playing games, watching movies, reading books, and writing.

Speaking of games, I got really scared today watching the trailer of First to Fight. US military has been relying on gaming to boost its recruiting for a while already, but while the freely distributed America's Army made no secret it was an ad and avoided current political issues, FtF is a fully commercialized package of Join-The-Marines and presenting "War on Terror" in the best possible light and with a docudrama touch that will make it the official reality for less well-informed players. That is what the developers, assisted to a great extent by the US Marine Corps, are probably aiming for.

First to Fight is an FPS, but the character also leads a squad who respond to his commands. I liked Freedom Fighters (shouldn't that be "Insurgents" in the current political vocabulary?) a lot, so this kind of game might appeal to me. The game features Marine squad action in present-day Iraq and Afganistan, with scenarios taken from the real combat experience of over 40 US marines. Real. This stuff is real. The battles were real and the game does not just glorify the armed services, but the Neo-Con worldview behind War on Terror. While there has been gossip on the politicalization of the gaming industry, this is the first time I've actually run into it. There was once a parliamentary debate in Finland over a C-64 game "Raid over Moscow". The game was blatantly pro-US, but it was not too serious about it. First to Fight is serious. Dead serious.

And the most disturbing thing about FtF is that I may actually buy it.