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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.
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.
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...
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.
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 alchemists 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!
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.
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.
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.