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Today is officially the last day of the Summer. Judging from the weather it was actually somewhere in mid-June and for the last month or so it has been colder than it was in last January (17 degrees centigrade here on the coast on January 18th). Scientists are promising wet winters (we've got those already) and dry summers (I'll believe it when I see it). From personal experience I would say that summers and winters are resembling each other more and more, with only an occasional freak spell thrown in (like the drought a couple of years back). When was the last time you could actually drive a car on sea ice here down south? Don't tell me it is all in my head. I have lived here for 34 (approaching 35) years.
Still waiting on the Stalker deal but then again the agent said it would happen in September so they are not even late yet. What is late is Elämäpeli: I have been kind of struggling with its direction again. Maybe I am giving too much thought to a contracted work but then again I don't want to write shit if I can help it. University of Helsinki is actually offering courses on novel writing right now and the best scripts will be picked up by Gummerus, so look it up if you want to get into this line of business. I think it is a brilliant idea and I hope it becomes a regular feature. I am not participating; with my age and background in writing it would feel like cheating, so if I want to do something Gummerus it is only fair I'd do it the old way. That said, I am making plans for the Stalker RPG novel, which I am going to call "Zone novel" to distinguish the RPG setting from the original work. Burger Games is looking for a co-publisher partner for it. While my sights are set on my existing book publisher contacts, I am listening if you're interested.
Yeah, I was supposed to mention this: Strugatsky's agent warned me that using "Stalker" in the title of the English translation of the game could land me in trouble or in any case needlessly confuse the consumers. I have been considering renaming the game brand "Zone", at least in the English version. Technically Stalker: Science Fiction Roleplaying Game ought to be safe enough but I am not going to fight a movie production company over it. In any case, I haven't made a decision yet. Maybe it would be more honest to go with "Stalker". After all, this is a derivative product of Strugatskys' work.
While waiting on Stalker news or to see if the supplement really gets off the ground, take a look at Outpost. It is small, indie and freaky film but I love it to pieces. I would have never imagined I would be able to recommend a movie with themes like these with a straight face but it really is every bit that good. It is also very stalkerish and if the "thing" in question would be a xenotechnological experiment gone horribly wrong, you could use it as the basis for a Stalker scenario. And it would not even need to happen anywhere near the Zones but works as a marvelous example how xenological research, i.e. human activity is making the Zones "spread", even if the actual Zone borders remain constant. IMDB gives Outpost a rating of 6. Not bad for a low-budget indie scifi-horror flick with **** ******* in it but I would rate higher. Much higher.
Portti magazine published its Stalker RPG review and I expect this will be the last major review for the current version. It was very positive, of course. There has not been a single negative review anywhere yet (now, if mentioning this does not spawn some, nothing will). Now I don't debate reviews of my own products and even less so when the review is so positive as this one. Let's just say that I am not entirely happy with it. But still, it is good, one more gold star in Stalker RPG's report card. Even Praedor was not so universally liked. I just wish this love would transfer into sales somehow. Btw, if somebody is interested in a good deal on batch of Stanislav Lem's book in Finnish (or some other languages), the agent would like to clear out his storage. So Retailers, scifi clubs etc. if you are interested, I can put you in touch with him.
See how I am not saying anything about Recoil Games here? Good, I am glad that you're paying attention.
No, not much is going to happen before Elämäpeli is valmis. It took a big leap forward in late July but has been slow going ever since. I wonder how I could lose myself into writing it again. There is not that much left to what I deem the minimum acceptable length but I just need a firm kick in the butt. Nothing else is going to get done before that, regardless of whether I have ideas for it or not. Elämäpeli is already late but the end of this year is the absolute deadline.
Meanwhile, the debate on designing a newbie-friendly RPG continues on Roolipelaaja forums. Somebody wanted me to take part but I am not going to touch that thread even with a ten-foot pole. Those of you present at my Stalker-show in Ropecon know why and the rest of you don't need to know. And really, if you want very simple dice-based rules, kick-ass genre integration, very concise explanations and minimum bullshit all around, Kalle "Syndicate" Marjola is your guy but good luck getting him to participate. If someone actually made made a marketable version of Neo-Troops in Finnish, that'd be the game for young teens. Right now the concept is a little too geeky for mass market, with the genetically engineered varans running around and all that.
No need for me to repeat my usual praise for Syndicate yet again.
Many people think that two RPG authors would somehow make a better a roleplaying game than one. I think it is the other way around and in any case I get enough of this design-by-committee stuff at work. The way collaboration with somebody could work is that they do separate products based on the same franchise. For example, anybody who has read Heimot feels like the game is crying out for supplements with more specific content. I've been thinking about a Heimot sourcebook on space pirates clans and the area they operate in (some wild corner of space with enough traffic going through). Unfortunately my time is limited and my own productions take precedence but something like that could work. But if you want me to include other designers into the same product, you'd better start paying me a salary.
Every now and then I get requests for supplements about this or that. My games are written to work just fine without them (unlike e.g. "Heimot") but I can't deny that the idea of a product family appeals to me. Unfortunately, the suggestions I get for the content are mostly ill-considered, for the lack of a better word. Typically the process goes like this: Some gamemaster is running one of my games and is unhappy with some aspect of his play method or the group's behaviour. He then tells me that he would like to have additional rules that would overcomplicate (in their vocabulary this is usually translated as "more realistic" or "more immersive") a particular aspect of the game, like the Praedor combat. Sometimes they even have suggestions on how to do it and the numbers are so far off that you feel like beating them over the head with a stack of elementary school math books. Since I have already ranted about the numbers being off and people not understanding how algorithms work, lets focus on the previous issue: their perceived need for more rules and realism.
As much as I hate using RPG theory to explain this, I don't have a choice. Maybe the whole concept of roleplaying game theory sprung from the need to explain people that fish don't need bicycles. If your players are gamists and you want them to be immersionists, adding more simulation into the game system does not do anything to solve your problem. For some reason, Praedor gamemasters in particular are prone to this. Last spring I vented about this one guy who wanted to turn Praedor into an FISA/SCA-acceptable medieval fighting simulation, even though such a game already existed (actually, even Runequest has had that endorsement back in the day, which proves to me that these ultrasimulationists do not know what they're talking about). If you want your players' response to combat scenarios be vivid, immersive and varied, your description of the events as a gamemaster must be equally vivid and varied. Just because the game resolution cycles have moved into combat rounds does not mean the gamemaster should give up the atmosphere-enhancing narrative.
Instead of saying "roll for attack", describe the situation, add a few more interesting variables and force the decision to attack, defend, bake bread, whatever, out of the player. It is true that Praedor combat can turn into an attack/parry/attack/parry diced see-saw but if that happens, use the environment to break it up. If nothing dramatic happens for three rounds, change things. Remember, people are swinging heavy and sharp objects of metal around and the combat system measures only hits on the enemy. Have them knock over a lantern and start a fire with a missed swing. Make the enemy clever and have him leap behind an overturned table, giving plenty of extra protection for abdomen and legs. Make somebody pull the rug, knocking everybody over. Panicking horses wreak havoc on the battlefield. Dangerous beasts are lured by the clamor and scent of blood. The ground they are fighting on starts to give way. A missed swing cuts a young tree and it crashes down right between the combatants. Spice it up! I didn't make too much fuss about this in Praedor rules because I assumed everybody had read their Conans and Praedor comics and understood what genre realism was all about. Then again, I was also young, naive and overtly optimistic.
Miekkamies: Auringon valtakunta is one of the serious candidates for my next game and it would not let me off so easily. It is a swashbuckling fantasy game running on Praedor game system and would need to have concise game-mechanics incentives rewarding players who assume the swashbuckling frame of mind. It is a genre realism thing and swashbuckling simply requires that things work out in a certain way in that kind of setting. This kind of thinking would not have hurt in Praedor either, even if stylistic objectives are less distinctive. Basically, it boils down to good ideas. If you as a gamemaster want to break the rut of blow-to-blow combat, lets reward players who do things differently. If the player describes a cunning new way to attack the enemy to catch him off-guard, make the enemy defence +1D more difficult. If the player makes use of something in the combat environment description and uses it to beef up his attack (I frequently use an example where the character topples a bookshelf on top of his enemy), make his attack -1D easier. And if the player does nothing new, after three rounds the enemy gets a hang of his tactic and starts getting defence bonuses against his attack, or devices a cunning plan or strategem himself.
In other news, Ephemeros came in the mail. It is Sami Koponen's new RPG content journal for the Finnish scene and it probably breaks some kind of a record by royally pissing me off already on page 10. Sami comments that in Stalker, stalkers do not identify with the oppressed victims now living as outcasts in the Border Area because they are themselves living outside the normal society. I am now lamenting my poor writing skills because I thought I had described the Stalker setting in such a way that these Outcasts were also living outside of the society and were very much part of the social, financial and political environment the stalkers operate in. I even wrote adventure examples and scenario seeds from that perspective, so either I had the game printed with invisible ink or I suck as a writer and promise to never write anything again.
Another thing that bothers me is the price tag. This thing is something like B4-sized and has 64 pages. It costs 20 euros per copy. Next to it on my table is Stalker, A4-sized, 242 page monster and it costs 29 euros. That makes 20 euros kind of steep for a magazine, don't you think? Finally, the texts are mostly bone-dry. Especially Sami, whose two articles start the whole thing and thus set the tone, could use some low-brow fantasy or porn fiction writing excercises to get rid of his current academic tone. Also the layout and my eyes have some kind of a disagreement. I would use a smaller font and probably two columns instead of the single 3/5 column with the border-side textboxes jutting into it. Then again, the elven lady on the cover is cute as a button. I'll give it two stars just for that. So, is Ephemeros worth it? Only time will tell. I am definitely not the target audience but I wish they find their readership because it is true that the "E" deals with stuff that has been mostly neglected in Roolipelaaja. Besides, little competition might do Roolipelaaja some good. For this issue, my twenty euros go toward supporting Finnish initiative in the scene. Maybe by next issue I am already paying for the actual content.
It's been a week since Ropecon and the dust has started to settle, both at home and outside. I've been on vacation and as usual, I was supposed to do all sorts of things but there hasn't been enough time between sleeping, watching movies, barbecuing and playing videogames. Next week it is back to the grind and somehow it is always easier to grind everything else along with it. Working life has its own rhythm that is affecting everything else as well. Like that bloody book thing, Elämäpeli. It feels like my whole life had been put on hold, just waiting for it to get done. There are a million interesting things out there I could write but that thing is the only one with a deadline attached (the end of this year). I'll make it but I really should have got it done before the summer. I keep telling myself it was delayed because of my illness but the truth is it was delayed because it took me a year to figure out what the hell I was going to write about in it.
Speaking of writing, I have finally been talking to Strugatkskys' literary agent (he was in Austria, not in Germany) and I really like this fellow. Mister Rottensteiner turned out to be a sensible guy with just the right kind of let's-get-things-done attitude. Basically, he is makes things happen on the basis that everything is possible and it is his job to figure out how. Not yours. He is still working on the contract he will send me in September but we have already agreed on all the basics. In short, the contract will grant me superpowers:
Yes, you read that right. Up and away, Burger Man!
Actually, there is no magic at work here. Unlike the makers of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. videogame, I want to be able to say that my Stalker RPG product line is based on the works of Boris Strugatsky. The contract establishes a financial and judicial model for it. Since the setting of the game is different from the novel, the royalty fee was set very low and is tied to sales (as opposed to coughing up advance fees like my current publisher is doing with me), so it is virtually risk-free for me. In the end, I had always expected Strugatsky to want a cut of the action when he realised that the roleplaying game was not just a fanboy daydream. I just didn't expect him to settle for so little.
So, Stalker RPG novels, anyone?
Meanwhile, on my videogaming front there have been two new developments. First is that I tried playing FEAR again, this time with a better better graphics card and it wasn't half bad. What struck me as odd at first was the spartan cleanliness of the environment. Interior levels, build from rectangular blocks. Sparse furnishing and even they are usually blocks. You could build each level easily from folded paper and apart from an occasional texture, the whole thing had a Half-Life 1 feel to it. I am not a graphics whore but it did take some time getting used to it. Then again the enemy movement, pathfinding and AI routines are superb and my guess is this is because of the simple level design. By using rectangular shapes and very little room clutter, the level designer has been able to define logical cover points, AI-routines are easy to implement, drawing distance problems do not exist and the enemies do not get stuck in the geometry or mis-interpret their lines of fire. On the surface, the game might look a little dull (and the skyline textures are awful). However, the meat and bones are the combat encounters and they are brilliant. They were also tough as hell, until I figured out I was expected to lean on the bullet time mode key.
Second, my girlfriend's work colleague invited us to have trial accounts in the one and only World of Warcraft. Actually, this was the second time I tried the game. The first time around I made a Tauren shaman and was bored out of my skull. This time I made a dwarven hunter called Kruber and it was a much better experience. After four days I am on level 16 and I think I am starting to see what makes this game tick. Firstly, it is accessible as hell. Tutorial has been built right into the quest structure and while its got talents and skills coming out of your ears, they are fed to you in very small increments and form a logical continuity.
Second, the pet system is worth a million players right off the bat. Your pet is not just a damage mod. It levels with you, it can be taught new skills and it must be kept happy and loyal by fair treatment. This last one is a stroke of genius. Since a happy pet does 125% damage, you actually care about the little thing and I've become emotionally attached to mine (a level 16 bear called "Nalle"). Who would not want a bear that comes to you when you whistle and loiters around when you are fishing, because feeding it fish is the easiest way to keep it... err...him happy? Brilliant stuff. My very own built-in tamagochi.
Third, while some might call WoW graphics outdated, I would call them homely. It has this "Smurf Village" look and feel to it. There is no abrasive bump mapping to rub salt in your eyes and the colours are bright and distinct. Also, all the shapes are a little rounded, making them easy to look at and giving them this Tim Burton -movie feel of being from a fantasy land, or a dream. Besides monsters, there are non-aggressive animals and downright cute critters about. Inns are really places you wish you could spend some time in reality (or would like to model in a LARP). The dwarf homes are very cozy and furnished in Victorian style, with all sorts of small items everywhere to make me feel warm and fuzzy inside (if I could, I myself would live in real-world apartment furnished in Russian Antique style). And when the devs do want to scare you, the scenery is something straight out of Grimm's tales, instantly recognizable as menacing even if you haven't played a horror game in your life. The escapism factor is right through the roof, even for someone who normally has little patience for the fantasy genre or videogames.
If Pixar made a high fantasy adventure film, it would look like WoW. I am beginning to see where the 500 million dollars of pure annual profit Blizzard makes out of this game come from and I am seriously thinking about contributing to that myself.
I was there, of course.
Despite the waning urge to give the programme team a whipping, I am going to let it slide. Despite the asinine time slot at 16.00 on Friday I had a decent audience, about a hundred people. And somebody, I think it was Stenros, softened the impact further by telling me it was a crying shame that they got the auditorium while I got room 26. Yeah, I agree on that but it is all ancient history now and everything turned out allright, or at least decent, in the end. My biggest complaint would the sparse scheduling of all of my appearances but this was self-inflicted. Nobody forced me to say "yes" when Syksy asked me to attend the Speculative Games Panel and it was really fun. I just wish I could have had the Friday evening off so that I could have crammed a game session or two in there. I have to redeem myself next year and focus on running scenarios instead of attending the speech programme. I have a feeling that the GM list was not exactly overflowing this year either.
It was all rammed home rather painfully when on Saturday afternoon a cute young lady approached me in the parking lot and asked if I was gamemastering anything this year ("Sunday, perhaps?"). She did not fit my typical fan profile so I can only assume that she had attended some of my sessions in the past two years. Anyway, she was very visibly disappointed when I told her that I wasn't and expertly rubbed it in: "Aw come on... you are one of the only two really good gamemasters here..."
Sheesh! Pwned! What do you say to something like that? All I can say now is that whoever you were, I promise to run some scenarios next year, okay? Flattery really is my Achille's heel.
As usual, I saw a fraction of the programme I had intended to see but this time around Keltsu discussions were much better and numerous than before (and included subjects like Miekkamies 2.0). Of the programme that I did see, two things stood out. The first was "Sauron as a statesman", a somewhat misleading title since it was mainly concerned with the socioeconomics of high-fantasy worlds. Nevertheless, the concept of orc-based economy for Middle-Earth villains was great. The second surprise was Mike's "The Art of Roleplaying" where he basically went over his own projects over the past years, explaining how they went and why did he make the choices he made. A couple of years ago Eero Tuovinen stated that Mike was "mini-Ville" (that's me) and this seems to have catched on. I did not think much of it before but after this presentation I can assure you it is not true. Like it or hate it, he is doing his own thing and I walked away from his presentation with a couple of new tools and a bundle of weird ideas. I believe that was the whole point of his show, so I'd rate it "bloody excellent", one step down from "fucking brilliant".
His concept of "Rabbit Hole Entry" into the gameworld is particularly good. I have always followed Campbell's Hero's Journey in my adventure design (just look at how even my game settings are built!) and they usually do have a similar stage in the beginning. I just never paid that much attention to it before. To me, Mike's Rabbit Hole sounds like an excellent tool in adventure design and getting campaigns started, especially when all the characters are new. This is definitely something I should have included in the Gamemaster Book of Stalker. Some of the concepts are already there (like the beginning of Punainen talo demonstrates) but Mike made it a very concise, distinct and easy-to-grasp process, with obvious immediate benefits. While I don't value immersion above everything else like he does, I still think it is damn important to a good game. Rabbit's Hole is a what Mike calls a ritual: an almost symbolic play sequence where the sole objective is to cross the realworld/gameworld and player/character barrier as a deliberate, conscious act. It fits the Stalker atmosphere like a glove and I think it would be very useful in other genres as well.
Mike also succeeded in making me think of arranging a Stalker LARP and even giving me a clear idea of how the plot, characters, goals and the environment should be set up, which I think is a surefire sign of an impending psychosis (in me, not him). For the record, all Martin Ericsson, a much greater LARP guru, ever did to me was make me think of him as a deranged and potentially dangerous idiot, in a "mad-and-smelly-cult-leader" sort of way. And getting past Mike but staying on the topic of LARP gurus, I also had numerous run-ins (and one joint panel) with Jiituomas. I do confess our mutual enmity has been lacking "oomph" lately but I maintain that it was not a conspiracy (regardless of what Sope's "Piippuhyllyn Manifesti"-conspecial is hinting at). It is true that I sold Jiituomas a Stalker T-shirt and no, they are not available. The shirt was a retroactive bribe for his glowing Stalker RPG review and long-standing enthusiasm for the project.
Ilkka Leskelä heads the Official Miekkamies Fan Club (as the sole member of this rather exclusive club). He is also an exceptionally good line-art-illustrator and shares my enthusiasm for maps (unfortunately we do not share the drawing skills). Miekkamies 2: AURINGON VALTAKUNTA was a divine gift from the Aztec gods when I was in Mexico two years ago and I didn't even drink anyone's blood to get it. Basically, staying in the fierce Mexican sunshine a little too long, I suddenly came up with a parallel (and also co-existing) setting for my first published roleplaying game and how it could be made sexy, marketable and a potential future setting for my fantasy-writing urges. Ilkka was very excited to hear about it and frankly, if we can come up with a good-looking map of Atzla, the dark continent southeast of Arleon, I will be unstoppable (and will use Praedor game mechanics as the base).
What else... good food in Keltsu, better than usual. And the Chinese food tent in the parking lot rocked! Dipoli felt less crowded than before, making me wonder what the final attendance figures will be. Bought new RPG material books from Fantasiapelit booth and sold them a box of Stalkers that I think they should have ordered already before the 'Con. I think this puts official Stalker sales to 200 sharp. Black market sales are not included. There were also more cars than ever, so I guess the average age of attendance is rising. Bought Leena a wicked dagger with a triagonal cross section.
All in all, a good show. Just a little hectic so soon after Finncon and Assembly.
This is a good time to write the closing entry about Assembly´08 because I have the workday today to compare it with. Yep, Assembly wins. Hands down. Seriously, it was probably the best Assembly I've been to (my first one was in 2004 so the sample is not that large). Having the computer ticket down on the floor really rocked and the seminars I attended were excellent. There were also more vendor booths than ever and working at the EFFI desk, boring as it sometimes was, did let me talk to some very interesting and colourful people. Puolenkuun Pelit sold me the Shadowgrounds Soundtrack CD on a discount and after I bought a small USB keyboard lamp from Jimm's, working on a laptop in the darkness of the arena floor was a breeze. Unfortunately, laptops began disappearing again this year, so in the end I unplugged mine from all the cables and took it with me whenever I left my computer place. That kind of defeated the purpose of having a cheap-ass laptop with me. If I was going to be this careful I could have just used our much better Pepsi Vaio instead.
Not all the people I talked to were so happy about the seminars. Apparently the invitation-only session by Nokia sucked and as a cherry on top the Nokia suits were cocky as hell, pointing and laughing at the geeky passersbys while eavesdropping nerdtalk in surrounding tables. I did not see it but I heard enough about it at work today to believe it is true. Also, the median quality of demos and intros seems to be slowly going downhill. Fewer participants and less effort... the few old schoolers still at it really stood out but Fairlight warned that they won't be doing this again unless someone else outperforms them next year. Honestly, I think the demoscene is on its way out, being overtaken and perhaps consumed by the gamer subculture. Laakkonen wished for more demo contest participants next year but I doubt it will happen.
Speaking of games, I feel real sympathy towards Secret Exit. The same kind of sympathy I have for Introversion Software. They are both unabashedly indie, always doing their own thing and willing to endure hardship to escape the clutches of the publisher-developer relationship. Sometimes it bites them in the ass but every time somebody says the age of garage game design is over, I'd like to beat over the head with a web browser that has either SE or IV homepage open. I wish I had that kind of guts.
But now Assembly is over and done with. Ropecon looms large on next weekend and I used my insomnia last night to add a 15-slide Burger Games presentation to my Stalker show. Which, in itself, also needs more work. Gaah. And by the way, Fantasiapelit just bought my last Praedors, so the dreaded "blue edition" is on its way out. I don't know if there will be more. Praedor is selling so slowly now that the first 60 copies I need to sell to cover the printing costs would suffice for a couple of years. I'll do the exact tally later but I believe this latest sale puts the total sales at little over 700.
I did a recount, this time from the billing. That put the official sales of Praedor at 841 copies, a full 100 more than I remembered. 900 copies of the book have been printed. The missing 59 are author copies, reviewer copies, gifts and the occasional below-the-counter sale.
The first two days are over and I am at home just after midnight, slowing down and taking it easy until giving in to Sandman. It's been a good ride so far. I have a machine spot down on the arena floor and I swear to Gygax I've never found a better place to do digital games design in. People around me are chatting, playing games, watching web TV and you name it, pouring inspiration into me and it just explodes into ideas on the screen (with the help of my fingers). I need a better machine to write with. My old Rovio-Acer has been surprisingly good these past days but the keyboard leaves something to be desired. I am planning to get a new laptop sometime soon and keyboard ergonomics are a major factor.
Anyway, my Assembly programme consists of working at the computer place (or checking out the compos when they show some on the big screen), touring the first-floor walkway to get food or check out various booths, listening to a choice of seminars and helping out at the EFFI (Electronic Frontier Finland) stand. There are plenty of booths this year and besides them guys from PAF have been advertising their new online gambling group for potential recruits (including me, it seems). As for the sales booths, Puolenkuun Pelit was there, running a 24-hour Warhammer miniatures gaming table and with a videogame selection that scarcely fits in a truck. They also had three roleplaying games on display: D&D 4, PRAEDOR and STALKER. I don't know if they have sold any but I am very, very flattered. I have also been recognized and stopped by a number of people wanting to thank me for a Ropecon game session or something like that in the distant past. And it looks like I've got fans among the PKP staff as well.
The seminars I've watched have been truly outstanding. I have never, ever seen a more honest company and business case presentation than Kahrama's and Jethro's Indie start-up for dummies, using themselves as the dummies in various warning examples. The triumphs, the setbacks, the pitfalls and the outright stupid decisions from the 18-month history of Secret Exit were all there. Any venture capitalist would be appalled by that kind of brutally honest presentation that but I am applauding. My opinion on Secret Exit was much improved. And I can now understand why a certain prominent businessman in this field told me that if he were to make a bet as to which of the new generation game developers in Finland was going to make it, SE would be his number one pick. Yeah, mine too.
Then Jussi "Abyssi" Laakkonen surprised the hell out of me with his Sell your Friends vs. WOW epic mounts: the game industry at change -presentation. My impression of him has previously been mixed at best and his presentation last year was a joke but this year he redeemed himself. Laakkonen has just started a new company called Everyplay that focuses on developing and monetizing social gaming. I was expecting a company advertisement sessions but apparently he had saved all that for a private session later in the evening. Instead, he gave a pretty good analysis of the current and future trends in the global gaming market and what these different types of games mean from the "sales category" point of view. I disagree with his definition of a game (basically he makes no distinction between a game and a play, which I think is crucial) but that is nitpicking compared to the wealth of useful information he had prepared. He concluded by asking everybody to rethink their position and concept of games. The next 30 minutes I sat at my computer place did not yield much text but helped me sort out a number of problems I had been struggling with.
The one seminar to rule them all was Mikko Hyppönen's (from F-Secure) Fighting Organized Online Crime. I've seen Hyppönen do this stuff before. I think it was in 2004. Back then, I was already impressed by the way he could convincingly present one of the most tedious jobs in the world (anti-virus and IT security development) as a combination of James Bond adventures and Matrix. Still, I was afraid this year's presentation would be a repeat of that. I could not have been more wrong. New content, new stuff, a much darker and more dangerous world, complete with cop cases, actual spying files, security cam footage and the like to prove it. The guy is a masterful orator, a top-notch storyteller and has an excellent sense regarding when and where to make his most dramatic statements. I was glued to much chair from start to finish and hoping that a fairy godmother would turn me into a TV producer with a production-slot for a hacker-themed technothriller series. Honestly, look his stuff up from the Assembly web.
If my cyberFLOW game ever comes out, I will personally invite (or bribe) Hyppönen to give this presentation at Ropecon. It would knock the socks of every cyberpunk and agent drama fan in the room. The Finnish dark future gaming scene would never be the same again.
So much is happening or has already happened that I decided to break the silence. Elämäpeli stands at 160,000 characters which is about 3/5 of the intended length but I haven't written it for over a week since I was on vacation up north, in Hyrynsalmi. Russians won the competition series of Swamp Soccer again! Waah! And Swamprock ran out of hot sausages, which in Finland is totally unforgivable for a mass event. On the way back we stopped at Finncon and it was the best of its kind I've been to. Sure, the otakus were out in force but I have already grown accustomed to them and the attendance of the actual Finncon programming was at least acceptable, if not lavish. Breaking all the promises I had made to myself I came home loaded with books, including Kadonneet kyyneleet, Mike's new (and first) fantasy novel. I haven't finished it yet and what I've read is not by any means bad... but like everything else Mike has been doing lately the novel is aimed at teenage girls.
Umm... yeah. I think he can have this market segment all to himself. Speaking of writing, Jukka Halme wished I would write more, especially Praedor. That was very encouraging because Jukka has been the first reader of scripts would-be authors keep bombarding book publishers with. He already knows more about hopelessly bad literary crap than I will learn in a my entire lifetime and if he thinks my stuff is good, it is a serious recommendation and a big morale boost. I don't know how he knew it but I really needed one. Things haven't been so good lately, despite Stalker and all that crap. Not good at all.
Stalker RPG has finally dropped off from the Fantasiapelit top-10 list and I don't think it will return. All in all, the official sales are less than 200 copies, about half of what Praedor had sold in the same amount of time and the spike is already over. It is a niche game and therefore the figures are not entirely unexpected but I'd be lying if I said I didn't hope for more. It is unlikely there will ever be another print run and this has somewhat dampened my enthusiasm for translations as well. We'll see. I really need to get into contact with the Strugatsky agent in Germany about the English translation if I want it done but right now it feels more than a little pretentious.
Things are not helped by the timing of the Stalker/Burger Games presentation at Ropecon. It is on Friday, 16.00, in room 26. Four'o'clock? Room 26? Thanks, I didn't really feel like talking about Stalker anyway. Suddenly everybody is a fucking mindreader. I am extra upset because I had talked about this with the programme team and they promised to see what they could do about having the presentation on Saturday. Obviously, they couldn't do anything but they could have at least told me, instead of me having to find this out by scanning the Ropecon programme listings for my name. Let's hope I am in a better mood when the Friday is really here. On a better note, there was a fairly lively discussion about FLOW at majatalo.org while I was up north.
Roolipelaaja #16 came out and for once it was waiting for me to come home and not vice versa. It is a revolution-themed issue with its own official feedback thread. Being the bastard that I am, I am writing my feedback here instead. But don't worry. Many of the commentators on the feedback thread found this issue more controversial than I did.
The cover is reminiscent of Soviet Art, except that the guy in uniform needs a shave and a bigger jaw. Letter from the editor has Juhana lamenting the state of the industry but seeing some hope in the smaller socially and culturally divisive LARP-influenced publishing scene of today. I agree but I find it funny because little over a year ago he and Mike were arguing for the opposite. Stenros surprised me by first hitting the nail on the head on the inherently controversial nature of traditional roleplaying games then scoring a bullseye by stating how my games have this undercurrent of wanting to escape outside the bounds of the society. He cites only Praedor and Stalker as examples but he could have easily listed all my published games (and all the games I will ever publish). I think this "political escapism" of mine is worth its own blog entry some day and it is definitely something that sets me apart from every other Finnish roleplaying game author that I know of.
I was glad to find a Mobsters review and a commending one at that. However, I protest the complaint that the game has gaps the gamemaster has to fill. What the fuck is the gamemaster there for? If I ever publish something in print again I'll have it bound with human skin taken from the backsides of lazy GMs! And yes, the PDF is hard to read but they didn't have computers back in the Jazz Age! Print it, staple it and read it! Actually, I should publish all my PDFs like that and put an end to this screen-reading nonsense.
Like everybody else, I too dug the article about Russian revolution with all its stages and processes. Great stuff, even if the Antarctica article is still on the top of my list. The propaganda article that followed was not that great but I think it has been bashed a little too much. Then there is LARP stuff, some completely unplayable indie RPG concept, nifty stuff about OpenRPG and a bitter disappointment when the bees and flowers -article wasn't about sex. Of the game reviews, Spirit of the Century looks like it was tailor-made for me. Tales of the Gold Monkey, woohoo!
Then there is the big, controversional D&D 4.0 review and as always, proponents and opponents of the game clash in flaming confrontations all over the web. I feel like a total outsider in this debate since I never liked D&D in any of its incarnations (although Cyclopedia Rules are better than most). There is some argument whether opponents should have been allowed to review it in the first place but I think if the reviewers have played or are actively playing some other version of D&D, they are entitled to write about the new one as well since there is something they can compare it with.
All in all, not a bad issue. Not the best but by no means not the worst either. I haven't had any trouble with pages falling off but then again I may have been handling it more cautiously after reading about it. But one thing that struck as funny in this issue (and no, I am not offended and I am sure it was not intentional) is the feeling that I am dead. With veteran RPG authors dying left and right, somehow the few references made to me and my games in this issue makes me feel like I was dead too and they are now talking about my legacy to the scene. Maybe nobody else gets this vibe but I did and it was freaky.
IF I DON'T OPEN ON THE FIRST RING, STOP RINGING OR I'LL KILL YOU! IT MEANS NO, IT MEANS I AM NOT HOME, IT MEANS I DON'T WANT TO SEE YOU! FUCK OFF! I AM WRITING! LEAVE ME ALONE!
Yeah, I am hammering away, writing Elämäpeli like my ass was on fire. Nothing much is going to happen here before it is done. I am sorry but check back here every few weeks. Nothing lasts forever.
The Dutch have a saying: "We make our money in Rotterdam and we spend it in Amsterdam". Fortunately, I still had enough left for the ride home. My week at the houseboat is over and I am already planning to go again next year. The whole thing has a kind of a summer cottage -feel to it. I have this love/hate think with summer cottages. When I got a little older, I didn't like my parent's summer cottage anymore because they were effectively going into hiding for the summer. Thus the place had been selected for maximum isolation with very few modern comforts. At Ideaal II in Amsterdam, we had four computers (one resident, three laptops), our own WLAN, a big-ass gas stove in the kitchen, a fridge and there is even a jacuzzi in the bow bathroom. While staying there, if the two (or three) restaurants across the street are not enough, tram- or busride to the city centre takes ten minutes (and can be walked in a pinch), while a centre-wide ticket for public transport costs only 11 euros. Tram coverage is excellent so I still haven't even used the Amsterdam subway system. Renting the boat for a week cost 1570 euros. Split five ways it makes 43 euros per night. Quite reasonable, I'd say. Especially with such good company :)
It was a great trip and unlike the first time, the weather was fantastic. I am slightly sunburned but wow, it was like tropics at times. We rented a car and did a little tour outside the city as well, seeing places like Utrecht, Antwerpen (Belgium), Hague (cyber-city if ever I saw one) and also the massive flood wall the Dutch built across Zuiderzee to keep the North Sea at bay. Helder Naval Museum was also really cool and my less gravitationally challenged travelmates enjoyed a brief stint in a vertical wind tunnel at Rosendahl. Yes, you can fly in those things and you don't even have to flap your wings. I ate slightly stronger space muffins this time and unlike the ones last year, these were actually pretty good as muffins go. I still didn't notice any effects, except that much later that night I woke up for some reason and tried to turn in the waterbed, only to find that I was so dizzy I couldn't tell which side was which. By morning also that feeling was long gone.
Amsterdam has something for everybody and the Benelux as a whole even more. Although the Dutch didn't make it into the Euro 2008 finals, we nevertheless went to see the match in a cozy local pub. Watching the excellent game with such an eager and participating crowd was a great experience. While party animals would probably want to head to the Red Light district, I was more into game shops, bookstores, sampling the local cuisine (some of the most international of any European city) and checking out the last few museums we missed the last time around. Next year the Seafaring Museum will be open again! Yay! On friday, I went to Spui to check out the bookstores (American Book Center, Waterstone and the Academica Bookstore), only to find that every Friday they also have a book market right there, in the street between the bookstores. I managed to get my hands on a Dungeonmaster's Guide from the first print of the 1st edition AD&D (YES!!! I am a colossal nerd!!!) Other than that, I stocked up my selection of contemporary cyberpunk (marketing freaks call it post-cyberpunk but it's only because they think a new genre would make a good marketing tool).
The downside of it all was that I am not in a very good shape and after wearing out my legs I began to have all sorts of other ailments. I also got a bad case of heartburn after eating at an Indonesian restaurant which is not entirely unexpected considering what happened this spring. I really can't digest all that I could before. This time around I also ate much more sensibly but even so, Atkins begins today and the excercise regime tomorrow. Otherwise my legs simply won't heal.
While I was out of the country, SNIPER: Art of Victory arrived, in a surprisingly flashy sleeved package considering it was an 8-euro budget title from City Interactive and part of the same production line as Code of Honour. To make the long story short, City Interactive has published a string of budget shooters using the venerable Chrome Engine (which I happen to love) and this time tried bolting some new features to it, like the whole sniper mechanism and surprisingly entertaining bullet camera ála Sniper Elite. While their trees still suck, I am fairly pleased with the scenery, although judging from Chrome: Specforce the Chrome Engine could do much better. Structures and human characters are okay, if not exactly up to the Doom III leprosy standards. The architectural design of WW2-era Russia reminds me comfortingly of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
But while the production quality is good for a budget title and some of the new features are excellent, I'd still like to tear the game designer a new one. The AI is, simply put, retarded. To compensate for this, after being alerted enemies immediately take cover and start shooting, with some kind of a psychic vision telling them were you are regardless of obstacles or terrain. This kind of defeats the whole point of playing a stealthy sniper as opposed to some kind of a Rambo. More importantly, even I can come up with half-a-dozen mobile game-quality fixes to this problem. What the hell were you thinking?!! (Budget, most likely...) Honestly, there is more to sniping than the scope view, shaky hands and a bullet camera. Sniper Elite gets it right and I absolutely love that game. At the time, I hoped it would have begotten a new sub-genre of sniper games. No such luck.
I am doing my "traditional" summer retreat trip to Amsterdam for the second time and I wouldn't be too surprised if I did it the next year as well. Me, my girlfriend and a bunch of other friends have rented this boat as our living quarters in Amsterdam for a week. Last time around I tried space cake twice only to find out it had no effect on me whatsoever. Maybe I'll try something stronger this time. It's just that I can't smoke anything. My lungs are screwed even without it. So what's in the programme? Dining out, day trips to museums and flower markets, basking out on the sundeck and playing Stalker if it rains. I have a new adventure in mind, something that'll support the upcoming supplement. People have already written jaw-dropping accounts of their Stalker adventures in majatalo.org. I'll be hard-pressed to match those but let's see what can do. For the record, my adventure starts from Berlin. And yes, that's nowhere near any of the Zones.
When I return, it is back to the grind for me. Recoil decided against me or anyone else having any more summer vacation in July. Oh yes, you'd be surprised to know how often shit like this happens in the games industry. Of course I am annoyed but trust me, they had a reason. On the plus side, I hope I can have all the lost three weeks of vacation in August since some friends are coming over from Japan. Judging from all the shit they had to go through to get the plane tickets I am fairly sure they'll swim across the Arctic Ocean on their next visit. Having vacation also helps Fincon/Assembly/Ropecon participation. By the way, I have been recruited into the Speculative Games Panel. Let's hope I won't cock that up because there is a pretty twisted logic to that apparently chaotic show. Kudos to Syksy for coming up with something like that.
By the way, I passed the compulsory Swedish test for university students. Compared to what's now left between myself and a BA, that feat is on level with climbing the Mount Everest and then finding out you still have a couple of grassy knolls in Wales left before you can call yourself a mountaineer (too much Everest: Beyond the Limit, sorry). If all goes well, I should be out of that bloody university before next summer, thus limiting my study time there to 15 years.
Finally, I just tried the PC version of Gears of War for 10 minutes. Then I had to stop because my eyes exploded. Unlike many movie critics out there, I have no problem with the shaky-cam style of modern action films. Yes, it screws up atmospheric settings and masks poor choreography (did I get that right?) but it does convey the sense of adrenaline rush, fear and immersion extremely well, like a very good reality show/documentary. Just look at the latest Opilio Season in Deadliest Catch and you'll see what I mean.
The camera is so close to the hideously ugly protagonist that the angle of the shake makes the image move far too much. This also happens whenever you move or turn, which in this game is surprisingly rarely because you mostly hide behind cover, then take some damage to give some to the enemy and duck back behind cover again to magically regenerate. While colours are bleached to the point I want to cry, bump mapping is so abrasively heavy that my eyes get sandpapered and tears roll already before I get the chance. Maybe this works better on the lower resolution (and greater viewing distance) of a television but if so, we have no reached the point where console games and computer games diverge into their separate species.
The same also goes for the gameplay. Even though Rogue Trooper (a fucking excellent third-person-shooter-console-port that did not stick chopsticks into my eyes) had the same "hide-behind-cover and take iron-sight aimed potshots at the enemy", it did it so much more smoothly and without breaking the PC gamer intuition of how things ought to be done. Gears of War, on the other hand, is content to coming up with keyboard replacements for the constant "press X or die/get stuck/fail/suck" puzzles that console gamers obviously consider an achievement to complete.
Luckily I did not buy Gears of War but loaned it from work instead. To play it, I nevertheless had to create an Windows Live account and if that stops the game from working for anyone else at work I am going to firebomb the nearest Microsoft office. I am now going to put it away and never touch it again (apart from returning it to the office), while waiting for mailman to deliver me my copy of SNIPER, a £5 budget game set in WW2 and using the Chrome engine. Looks like it could have some of the same charm that Sniper Elite did. At least the headshot bullet-camera-slowdowns are there but unfortunately the trailer did not reveal if hitting the target would produce the same delightfully gory effects as in SE. There is something really satisfying about seeing your bullet fly half-way across town and smash some rooftop-skulking German's nose in!
I still haven't read the D&D4 but everything I keep hearing about it warns me not to touch that thing even with a ten-foot pole. But I have read the GSL (Game System License) that Wizards of the Coast is pushing to replace the older OGL (Open Gaming License) and I know to stay the hell away from it as well. I work in the videogame industry and that is known for its rotten deals but What The Fuck is this? The only people who should be interested in this kind of a deal are WOTC subcontractors who already have a separate agreement about WOTC covering the development costs. GSL has been thoroughly analysed (and substituted for toilet paper) in a thousand places already and I have nothing to add. Parts 2, 6 and 7 are deal killers for me. Everything else ranges from bad to American legalese, which are not all that different after all.
Everybody in the D&D fandom is still waiting for the Fan Site License, which, I guarantee you, will suck. How do I know that? Because needing a fucking Fan Site License in the first place means that you suck, bad. There are laws to protect your IP and if somebody doesn't care for that, they sure as hell aren't going to care about a Fan Site License either. My guess is that Hasbro wants to impose the GSL content control (part 7) also on fan sites and strengthen its hold on any derivative IP published there. And I wouldn't be too surprised to see WOTC repeat the notorious attempt by White Wolf to claim ownership and policy control over the actual (and private) game sessions as well. It is only logical now that they are already seeing D&D as a videogame.
Burger Games (and Old Skool in general) is well known for being on the cutting edge of new trends. Therefore, to not to be outdone by WOTC, here is the Burger Games License (BGL) for using my game systems in your games.
This Burger Games License Agreement (the License) is offered by Burger Games, a Myyrmäki corporation (BG). The License applies to the use in third party publications of certain proprietary elements of BGs roleplaying game products, specifically the algorithmic game systems of Stalker, Praedor, Code/X, Mobsters and Taiga (collectively, Core Rules). Please read this License carefully. Returning it signed to the Burger Games office will cost you to a postage stamp of a value determined by your location and the weight of the letter, thus binding you into no sort of obligation whatsoever apart from paying the postage with any form of currency applicable in the part of the world in which you are present.
1. Effective Date. The License commences immediately after licensee has made up his mind about using any of the Burger Games' Core Rules or a derivative of thereof in his or her upcoming product. Should there be any changes in the time-space continuum affecting the timing of this decision, the Licensee will notify the nearest physicist and exhibit moderation in his abuse of the time paradox.
2. Updates and Revisions to License. Burger Games may update or revise the license at any time to no effect whatsoever. Licensee is responsible for checking out the Designer's Blog from time to time in the unlikely event Burger Games has actually lost its marbles and claims that a mathematical algorithm no longer produces the same result as before, upon which point institutionalized mental care for BG will be a valid option.
3. Licenced products. The license granted in part 4 is for use solely in connection with Licensee's publication, distribution and sale of roleplaying games and materials that contain Licensed Materials published in a format perceptible to human sensory organs with or without the use of advanced tools. Really, if you need to read this part of the license to understand this you are fucking retarded but for some reason it is always there.
4. License Grant. Subject to Licensees compliance with all of the terms and conditions of the License, BG grants Licensee a non-exclusive, non-transferable, non-sublicenseable royalty-free, worldwide license to utilize the Core Rules in Licensee's own IP. The licensee is allowed to copy non-fluff material from the Core Rules or make references to BG products as long as Licensee's product is not based on BG intellectual property.
If you want to do something related to IP owned by BG, you have to ask for a separate permission. But the game mechanics of the Core Rules can be used, copied and further developed at will.
4.1. Acknowledgement. If the Licensee uses this License and therefore is, well, a Licensee, it would be very nice indeed with sugar on top to acknowledge BG and the product the Core Rules were used from in the Licensed Product credits. FLOW can be referred to as FLOW but other BG Core Rules ought to be referred to by the name of the game they were taken from. Failure to do so will make Burger feel depressed and he will mope for hours. Meeting him in Ropecon or similar events may result in being treated coldly or even the Licensee being subjected to verbose insults.
5. Requirements and limitations. This license covers only game systems (i.e. Core Rules) and NOT any of the setting materials and IP. I am not kidding. Well, not all the time. Burger Games can decide the fate of its Core Rules by itself but for example, the IPs of Stalker and Praedor roleplaying games are not under BG control. Using setting elements as well as the game mechanics may result in the Licensee getting into all sorts of real trouble with a far less forgiving third party than BG would have been. If in doubt whether something infringes upon IP or not, ask!
5.1. Logos. For printed works, it would be nice if FLOW would always be written with its logo font (Croobie). Also the Burger Games logo text (Luftwaffe) can be used in credits and the like but this is not a big deal.
6. BGL Product Conversion. If the Licensee has previously written games using his own rules, he must give up on them upon starting to use the Core Rules, unless he finds that his old rules work better for the given circumstances or he comes up with a new ruleset of his own and wants to try it out. The Licensee is exempted from accrediting Burger Games in the production credits of the Licensed Product if the Core Rules have not been used and the product is therefore neither a Licensed Product nor its author the Licensee.
6.1. No backwards conversion. Licensee acknowledges and agrees that it will not publish a product pursuant to his own game systems that features the similar title, product line trademark or contents as the Licensed Product, unless the product is found to be fucking awesome by an impartial review board comprised of the Licensee and no one else whatsoever.
6.2. Licensee Termination. In the event that any portion of a non-Core Rules product is manufactured or published by Licensee or a third party affiliated with Licensee, after the first publication date of such a product Burger Games may immediately congratulate the Licensee of publishing a new product without the whole affair having any connection to this License or being any of BG's bloody business in the first place.
7. Quality and Content Standards. The nature and quality of all Licensed Products will conform to the quality standards set by the Licensee, as may be provided from time to time. At minimum, the Licenced Products will conform to community standards of decency and appropriateness as determined by the Licensee in its discretion. Without limiting the foregoing, all Licensed Products are free to do whatever they will with graphic depictions of violence, sex and minorities, with the following considerations:
A. Acknowledging (but not necessarily obeying) local legislation
B. Requirements of the genre and product focusing
C. Common sense and good taste as much as Licensee can say to have them
Without limiting the foregoing, Licenced Products may contain whatever the Licensee wants and if someone has a problem with that, well, then they have a problem. Of course, if they happen to be authorities or take the Licensee to court, then the Licensee has a problem. In no circumstances will it be BG's problem and anyone claiming that can fuck right off.
8. Compliance with Laws. If the Licensee wants to take on the System, BG will cheer it on from a safe distance with a suitably muted voice. Your call, really.
9. Right of Review. BG has the right to acquire samples of Licensed Product from the gaming store or the Licensee himself by paying for it with a form of currency acceptable to the store or the Licensee. However, any gifts of Licensed Products from Licensee to BG are accepted with gratitude (and a positive mention in the BG Designer's Notes blog).
10. Blahblahblah. With the model contract being 7 pages, BG cuts it off right here, hoping to encourage everybody with the fire of inspiration burning in their eyes to turn their ideas into new and interesting roleplaying games and related products, Licensed or otherwise.
The university Swedish lectures are still taking up my evenings on workdays, although we're finally approaching the end. As a result, I haven't had the time or energy to write much of anything since the summer began. But seeing this thread at majatalo.org was such a morale booster that I just had to write something.
I am a sucker for good reviews, a trait which I believe is shared by all roleplaying game authors anywhere. Stalker RPG has had more than its fair share of good reviews. More so than Praedor, actually, even if by this time Praedor had sold about 1.5 times as many copies. But I digress. That thread, a game session report with both GM and player commentary explaining the finer points, was really something. And their adventure seems both great and very, very "stalkerish". Sope already pointed out the existence of a Zone in Turku in his webcomic but I think it is proven that there is one in Forssa as well. I mean, those guys couldn't have come up with all that just by themselves, could they?
<insert a huge smiley here>
Also, the flow of events in their adventure doesn't seem very railroaded despite the absolute GM authority imposed by FLOW, so I consider that issue settled. Finally, there is the comment about the game system by a player, who has only experienced it through playing the game. He liked the campaign, he liked the game system and he liked the character creation method. Finally he says he cannot wait for the next session. Reviews don't get much better than that, even if most of the credit goes to the gamemaster in this particular case. I made the brush and paints but this was his painting.
It is the dream of every indie RPG author (I am supposed to be one, you know) is to get his game reviewed in rpg.net. I occasionally check it and a couple of other sites out to see if any of the English-language reviews of Stalker RPG would have made it there. Of course, there is not really much point in reviewing a non-English game there and the site might even have a policy against that. I don't honestly know. But I hope it'll happen if and when the Stalker RPG gets translated into English.
I have some more news on that, btw.
My package to Boris Strugatsky reached the right people but I've been told that the author himself has been hospitalized. He will take a peek at it once they let him out. I don't know any specifics but I'll keep my fingers crossed and hope for the best. Boris Strugatsky is already 75 years old and I really don't want to write yet another obituary this year. On a more positive note, it looks like someone on their end is breathing much easier now that Stalker RPG is obviously a book and not a videogame. I had also included documentation of my 2003 exchange with Boris Strugatsky that ended in me getting the license. This time they skipped that whole issue and just told me to get in touch with a' publishing agent in Germany about the rights for an English translation.
What this effectively means is that unless Boris himself tells me to stop, the supplement and the Swedish translation plans are on track (we have two official languages in this country so it is covered by my original license). I haven't contacted the agent yet but I will when the bloody Swedish thing is finally over and done with. I mean, what's the worst thing that can happen? Curiously, I have now learned from two independent sources that the copyrights for Soviet-era works are in chaos and most publishers consider them public domain. They'd probably ignore his publishing agent but I won't. I don't really expect to get all excited about this English translation thing but if it happens, that guy is bound to have good connections.
Interestingly, back in 2003 a WSOY lawyer confirmed that the company has absolutely no clue as to who owns the rights to what as far as any of the Soviet-era works were considered. In the old system, all rights went to a government department instead of the authors. Today, the Russian government hasn't made a decision to return them to the authors but neither have they made any moves to re-establish the said department. So it all remains in a legal limbo.
Roleplaying game designer (or "RPG author" as we say here in Finland) Erick Wujcik passed away on Saturday evening, June 7th. He was a profilic writer for Palladium Games, with whom I have a unilateral love-hate relationship but that is beside the point. The reason I am mentioning him is his diceless roleplaying-game Amber. I've never played Amber and didn't like the rules or the concept. Even so, having now published a diceless game system myself I think I understand better where Wujcik was coming from. Erick was the Ropecon guest of honour in 2004 but I didn't get to talk to him and didn't really care. I did notice him running a lot of games and being an outspoken and generally friendly late-middle-aged guy. Exactly one year later, in the Game Design Challenge of Ropecon 2005, FLOW was born and Wujcik and I would have had something in common. Greg Stafford wasn't interested and now Wujcik will never come back.
The importance of Amber for me is that it popularised the idea of diceless roleplaying systems (I count Castle Falkenstein as a dice system in this context). Without it I would have probably never thought it feasible. Wujcik may have done it differently but he also did it first. Amber became an esoteric classic, if not exactly a hit. It is one of those games everybody knows about but few have actually seen and even fewer have played. It is also one of the favourite systems of my friend Sam Lake, although I've been told that his gamism-oriented players found it hard to swallow.
Kevin Siembieda, who came out as an asshole during the golden era of the roleplaying hobbyist press, wrote a very commending epitaph for Wujcik.
Meanwhile, positive reviews of the D&D 4.0 have begun to appear in the net. I went with the first wave that was pretty negative but remember: I don't know jack. I am not a D&D player and whether something really is or isn't D&D is beyond me (with the exception of Cyclopedia Rules). I also won't be buying or playing D&D4 so all I am saying comes from other people's reviews. For the sake of balance (and to keep Shaman42 happy) here are some positive reviews:
The jury is out there and I guess it will be out there forever. I hope that D&D 4.0 will sell like cocaine because really, it would pull the whole market up with it. Not by much but every little bit helps. One out of ten D&D players will eventually want to try something else and that makes up the rest of this market. By the way, there is a surprising amount of venom against D&D as well. I didn't think I'd find such prejudice and hate from aintitcool.com. Just check the comments on the review and you'll see what I mean.
STALKER is doing well. Puolenkuun Pelit ordered some more today, bringing the official sales up to 187 copies. There is some black market trade going on so the total is in excess of 200 but I wouldn't know anything about that, would I? There has still been no word from Strugatsky and his associates and until there is, the supplement and Swedish translation plans are on course. I received an upgraded version of the rulebook map today. We've been thinking about printing it on cloth in larger size to be sold separately. I am also waiting to hear more from the online support thingie. I can't really rush anyone I am not paying money to but hey, when it is up and running in some form, I'll give that guy a... eh... a Stalker T-shirt! I found some medium-sized shirts from the bottom drawer. He might get one anyway though since he also did me a great Institute logo. You'll find it in the supplement.
Well, the the 4th edition of Dungeons & Dragons is out now (officially termed D&D4) and by most reviews (here is one but by no means the only one) it is a cock-up of epic proportions. Dungeon Master Guide is often commended for its advice to novice gamemasters but everything else has apparently gone to hell. Reading the reviews, "downgrade" is the word that comes to mind. Many things that are otherwise mechanic-independent, like the evocative descriptions for monsters and the like, have been cut out. And if the WOTC excuses for some of the changes are true (like giving up half-orcs because their very existence implies rape), we are back in the darker days of T$R when their moronic ethics code dictated the content of novels, adventures and supplements. On the other hand, WOTC as a company has a racy history including but not limited to drug-fuelled orgies. For a long time (until now), their respective D20 lineup seemed relatively free of politically correct bullshit. I see the hand of Hasbro behind this latest policy change and if so, it's the end of the WOTC as we know it.
I am not a D&D player and the last edition I had any respect for was the D&D Cyclopedia Rules. I hated the d20 system from the outset and the crap it spawned must have contributed to the industry's current decline. Even so, I pray to Holy Gygax that D&D4 will sell like cocaine. Like it or not, D&D is the flagship of this industry and everything else happens in its shadow. If it fails, we are so fucked regardless of what games we play. Basically, the entire business of pen&paper roleplaying games would have to start again from the attics and this time there is powerful competition from the digital side. Right now, the D&D3.5 is our last, best hope and it looks like the goons at Wizards of the Coast are doing their best to kill it off.
This will be a hardcore summer. Here are some news.
I am working through June and taking my vacations in July but I am also on a university Swedish course, tagging three hours of lectures on top of my workday four times a week. It really sucks the life out of me. I am also in a very bad shape, almost as fat as in early 2003 (read: very) and have all the associated ailments, like back and knee pains. Stay fit, people! You don't want to end up like me! In July, I am first going to Amsterdam and maybe Kainuu and Finncon towards the end of the month. Then there's Assembly and Ropecon coming up. Looks like I need a walking cane to survive all that. I am planning on switching back to Atkins in July (tried for one day just now and almost went postal in the Swedish lecture) but it'll be a while before there are any results from that.
As for writing on my spare time, Elämäpeli takes priority now, hopefully giving my artist ample time to work on Stalker supplement imagery. Besides, writing my book gives me opportunity to work on new and more experimental stuff in good conscience, something which I've always found to be stimulating. Since there has been no word from Strugatsky and his publishing company, my plans for a supplement and a Swedish translation of the main rulebook are still on. It is quite possible there will never be anything that would pass for a response. Maybe I can take that to be a response in itself.
For me, summer is post-holocaust/scifi season (and after years of Praedor I feel like taking a small break from fantasy anyway) and for some reason, Badlands has been growing in my mind again. Maybe it is because Fantasiapelit brought Taiga back from the dead for a while. Badlands is pretty much what Africa could be in the Taigaverse, with some more cyberpunk thrown into the mix. Badlands is pretty well thought through already since I almost went for it back in 2003. That and my close association with the videogame industry gave me a revelation of sorts I'd like to share with you.
Some weeks or months back there was talk in roolipelaaja.fi forums on what (and if) the Finnish roleplaying scene is. Now, I definitely feel there is one, complete with its own specialized media. In any case the conclusions of that debate are not the issue. But should there be a scene? When advocating for Arcade Roleplaying (which had no small impact on the development philosophy of FLOW) the idea was to build bridges between roleplaying and other forms of adventure entertainment. But why the hell is there a gap between them to begin with? If you have a website focusing on, let's say, action-scifi, why are the relevant roleplaying games not listed alongside with movies, books, comics and videogames? Nowadays people who play action-scifi roleplaying games and people who play action-scifi videogames are two distinct crowds but at least in Finland this was not always so (largely thanks to Cyberpunk 2020).
These days, if somebody did a roleplaying game on HALO, I doubt if he would even think of marketing it to the fans of the videogame series. Instead, he would target the existing roleplayer community and we would have a lose-lose scenario where existing HALO fans would lose out on an immensely powerful way to enjoy their favourite setting while the game's immense, once-in-a-life-time brand power and creative support would be utterly wasted on a few old and jaded roleplayers.
I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I have managed recontact Strugatsky through his publishing company and will be sending him a copy of Stalker RPG tomorrow. Looks like the previous address I had was bogus, or writing the address with Latin characters made some slavophilic postman throw it into the Neva river. But with this new address, written in Cyrillic, it should reach him.
The bad news is that quite a lot has happened since 2003. Strugatsky has withdrawn from public and Tristar Pictures has acquired all screening rights for "Roadside Picnic". Whether that agreement covers pen&paper RPGs is one thing (and whether they really care is another) but here is the worst-case scenario, nagging the back of my mind: Although I had the permission to do my Stalker before Tristar acquired the right to theirs (I think), what am I going to do if Boris Strugatsky himself tells me to drop the Stalker RPG in preference to the Tristar Pictures license? Argue with him?
I have more riding on this thing I had planned on. If all goes well, there will be extra web support and quite likely a supplement coming out this year. There has been talk of doing an English or a Swedish translation, possibly both. Maybe I'll even release the Tunguska version at some point to dabble in Victorian/Edwardian scifi and use the wave to build my own IP on top of the Stalker concept. If Strugatsky pulls the plug, none of this will happen. I may even have to recall the 3rd printing. No big deal, though, as nothing in this scene will ever be. I doubt there would have been need for the 4th printing anyway, at least without the translations. If I recalled the 3rd printing now, it would basically leave me at the black line. It'd just be a pity. A waste.
I am not saying the bad stuff will happen. It is just that reading between the lines, I think somebody on their end panicked when he saw the word "game" and the concept of pen&paper roleplaying games as opposed to videogames was not clear to them. I believe that sending them a copy will put them at ease but anything is possible. We'll know soon enough. If they want Stalker RPG to disappear, I am sure they'll be quick to tell me about it.