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29-Aug-2011: Deus Est, part 2

"I want you to go in that bag, and find my credchip."
"Which one is it?"
"It's the one that says Bad Motherfucker."

Okay, that conversation never happened and actually Adam Jensen is at his most chilling when he appears flat-calm. While the conversation animations could use some polish, the voice acting, contextual response options and a cool dialogue more than make up for it. And on the other hand, the clunky animation makes it easier to read the body language of the other party (there is an implant for doing that for you but I have better uses for my brain-hardware interface).

Deus Ex: Human Revolution is the third game in the franchise and a prequel to the original DE, which is widely considered to be one of the best video games ever. Its sequel, Deus Ex: Inivisible Wars was not a bad B-class scifi adventure game but it was somewhat off on almost every respect and selling it under the DE label was a travesty. Although universally reviled by the franchise fans (frankly, it would have received a much better treatment without the Deus Ex connection), it actually sold more than the original Deus Ex at its peak, largely because it was one of the few scifi RPGs relesed for the original Xbox.

But that is all ancient history now. Deus Ex: Human Revolution is here, hoping to win back some of the love the original game had and probably a quite a bit more because I don't think this game will turn profit at only 900K sales. Released for PC, X360 and PS3, the launch was accompanied by a massive launch campaign that included some of the most interesting game trailers ever:

Sarif Industries Trailer
Purity First Trailer
Cyborgs of Today Trailer

There were also gameplay trailers and storyline trailers and they were good, but if these three trailers are what the next generation of game trailers will be like, I could not be happier.

The game itself is a first-person RPG/Shooter that makes a generous use of the third-person-perspective when taking cover or using special moves and take-downs. It does this often enough to establish the character much more strongly than most FPSs do and yet not often enough to annoy a TPS-hater such as myself. It's a balance. That is kind of a keyword for the whole game, actually: "balance". Everything is in balance here: stealth vs. combat, roleplaying vs. pre-scripted, physical interaction vs. social interaction, hacking vs. athletic feats and so on. Shooter fans will probably be shocked at how little combat this game has but fans of DX1 will understand.

Even the sandbox vs. linearity is in balance. DXHR is a string of sandboxes in the form of hub cities in the dark future of 2027. The main storyline is strong and carried forward by impressive animations and setups but there are side quests for resources, information and the sheer fun of it, as well as a lot of exploration to do. Just remember that your actions have consequences. Nobody cares about the three gangbangers rotting away in the Detroit Sewers but a murder in the wrong place and time can and will come back to haunt you time and time again.

So behave!

Based on the trailers, I was worried that future weapons might be just as horribly underpowered as they were in DX2. Luckily I was wrong. The combat is fast, fluid, dangerous and tactical. There is a big difference between armored and non-armored targets but there are also weapon mods and dirty tricks for overcoming the difference. There are no melee weapons, though, because nothing can compare to the takedown attacks Jensen can do at close range. Anything but a boss or a robot will go down with a single hit, so sneaking up on somebody is almost always a better option than a straight shoot-out. You can also wuss out and taze them from a distance but that stunner thing has only limited ammo available and takes like a year to reload.

As a cross-platform title, DXHR had to be console-friendly. They have brought back the area-based inventory system from DX1 but done away with skills and stuff. Instead, the player has a DX2-style implant tree. Unlike in DX2, however, these implants kick ass and have completely game-changing consequences, like being able to jump from any height, turn invisible for a moment, do multiple-opponent take-downs and so on. There must be close to a hundred different options here, upgraded by Praxis software that you can find, buy and also accumulate by experience as your implants and nerve tissue get to know each other. Some people have complained that the game-freezing menu state is clunky but I like it. Also the number of control keys involved is kept delightfully low by making the special moves largely context-sensitive.

There are some problems. I've seen better graphics than this, although DXHR compensates for it with good level design and excellent art direction. The devil is in the details and the frequent close-ups on people during conversations don't do the game any favors. And while I remember that realistically proportioned people in Max Payne 1 were considered "big-headed" at the time, I would still prefer these people to have slightly larger heads compared to their bodies. Nitpicking, but there you go. The enemy AI is good enough for me but I know that some people will be bothered by it. Won't they always.

Rather strangely, the game also has a couple of major problems with its hallowed balancing. Firstly, the very first mission in the game has so far been the hardest. This is a strange anomaly in an otherwise perfectly balanced difficulty curve but on the other hand, if you can clear *that*, you have learned all the basics and are good to go for anything the first hub city of Detroit can throw at you. Later, as you learn more about how the game works and also receive better tools and implant upgrades, the difficulty curve actually goes down, although the game does a masterful job of making it feel rewarding when you manage to bypass security cameras via airducts or knock-out a guard at a key location and he never saw it coming.

Second, it is an exaggeration to say that you can play as you like. Jensen may be a badass but he is no superman. In combat, he is a ninja, not a samurai. Unless you are being a complete moron when upgrading your implants (pouring everything into Dermal Armor), a frontal assault is not going to get you very far even with the lowest difficulty setting. The game is clearly designed for stealthy and puzzle-based gameplay and in my opinion even more so than DX1 was. Not a problem for me but I guess this counts as misleading marketing. Tsk. Tsk.

Finally, there are the bossfights, already a sore point for most of the professional critics. I remember DX1 having bossfights as well. I shot the first boss in the back of the head by surprise, killed the second boss with a hardwired killphrase I had discovered, did away with the third boss by splattering her brains all over walls with a sniper rifle while stooping on a roof beam... I can't remember what I did after that. In DXHR I've only had one boss fight so far. The game dropped me into an enclosed space with him and I kept shooting him in the face with a revolver while using the game-pausing effect of the inventory screen to heal myself. It was a completely senseless low-brow moment in an otherwise highly sophisticated and tactics-friendly game. Did some marketing asshat demand that there be compulsory bossfights? You could complete the original DX1 without killing anybody and DXHR has an achievement for that... but with bosses excluded. Moronic!

The Internet has also been complaining about bugs and crashes with the launch version but I haven't had any issues. The framerate is decent and since the game likes to do DX2-style confined spaces (but done right; I hope the DX2 team is flogging itself right now) there are no issues with drawing distance cut-offs and stuff. The loading times could be a bit shorter, though.

So, is Deus Ex: Human Revolution any good? I am still playing it and just about to enter the Upper Hengshai, so my opinion could well change in the days to come. But I do have an opinion already.

Deux Ex: Human Revolution is an epic masterpiece that breaks new ground on what can be done and what issues can be addressed in a blockbuster videogame. It sets a new standard against which all other FPS/RPGs and games with multi-threaded storytelling will be judged for years to come. It did not only resurrect the Deus Ex franchise but catapulted it straight into the big league. The stigma of DX2 has finally been erased and Eidos Montreal has proven that the awesomeness of DX1 was not a fluke: it can and now has been repeated. I am hoping, no, praying that there will be DLCs and sequels up the ass, as well as competing franchises seeking to grab their share of the long-dormant cyberpunk markets.

Whew. This was a long review. I hope you found it illuminating.

Final Grade: +5


The hacking minigame DXHR deserves a special mention. After its simplistic start, it has become a game within a game, with its own challenges, tweaks, dirty tricks and rewards. I am hacking everything hackable (and unguarded) in sight and my Adam Jensen must be one of the top hackers around. Although it is very different from HAX, much more straightforward and not supportive of the idea of large and persistent networks, I am busy taking notes. Someone will make a separate game based on or inspired by this. I am sure of that.

28-Aug-2011: Deus Est, part 1

No, it is not a typo.

We old gamers just love to complain: In "the old days" games were more creative, more challenging, more colourful and most importantly, better. I know that I have done this on occasion and I am fairly sure everyone who began playing videogames before 1990 has done the same during a moment of weakness. And there is certainly truth to it.

In the old days games really used to be more challenging. So challenging, in fact, that I usually could not complete them without cheats and the true gurus loved to boast with their grind-earned mad skillz. I loved videogames from the start but most of the time I sucked at them. I am especially bitter about the final tower sequences in the original Max Payne. These days games are much easier or at least have very scalable difficulty settings. As a result, a higher proportion of the players will experience a greater ratio of the content without giving up on the product. Old gamers are livid about the lack of challenge and that completing a game is rarely a feat anymore. On the other hand the customer base has exploded with the reduced threshold and games are making tons more money these days. Making a really difficult game is now a statement and I don't see the mainstream industry returning to the old ways anytime soon.

Games really used to be more colourful. With a palette of 16, 32 or 256 colors to choose from, a smooth gradient between a few different types of greys and browns was not an option. So Laser Squads, Ultimas and even Doom are fought in brightly-coloured universes where nobody thinks it odd to have a blood-red castle with sky-blue towers. Since then, the number of available colours has exploded and curiously games seem to have less of them. War movies (looking at you, Saving Private Ryan!) started the trend of bleeding out colours to make them look more "realistic" and games followed suit. Sometimes it works but most modern games go overboard with this. Unless you are Crytek, making a brightly coloured game has also become a statement.

It is also true that in the olden days, top-tier games were more varied and creative. Games as a whole still are but most of the innovation is taking place in mid- or low-tier games, from where certain innovations or trends eventually trickle up (what?) to AAA-level once the concepts have proven themselves. The reason for this are the horrible development and marketing costs of making an AAA-game. While Indies are free to innovate, the AAA market is concentrated around certain supergenres and the investors who put money into them seek to minimize risks by sticking to these proven concepts, franchise sequels and resurrected legends. It is stagnating the industry and while AAA games make a lot of money, the stagnation is evident in the fact that fewer and fewer games are turning profit. I predict that we are soon going to see an unprecendented marketing budget arms race between the Battlefield and the Modern Warfare franchises. And almost everybody else is going to get trampled in the process.

But were the old games better?

In truth and trying to look past fond memories and nostalgia, no. Some games are timeless (Pirates!, parts of the Ultima series etc.). Other games had ideas, solutions or storylines that still command respect (Future Shock, Syndicate, Midwinter...). But when the modern games industry does get its act together, the 20 or 30 years of evolution and experience start to show. Games like S.T.A.L.K.E.R, Mass Effect, Crysis, Fallout 3 and all their various sequels, iterations and DLCs are modern masterpieces that surpass their ancestral rivals. I could name a lot more games here but there are some titles that nobody but me seems to love (Frontlines, anyone?), so lets keep it at that.

And yes, I do think the new Fallouts to be superior to the old ones. I just kicked the holiest cow around, didn't I? But let's face it: we were all enamored with the setting and atmosphere of the old Fallouts but have you tried playing them now? Or demonstrating them to a modern gamer? If I had to come up with a word to sum up the old Fallout gameplay and user interface experience, I would choose "hellish". And besides, New Vegas is canon, so stop crying already.

All this has lead us to Deus Ex: Human Revolution.

24-Aug-2011: About Competition

I just packed all my remaining version 1.1 Praedors into a box along with some Stalkers. Tomorrow, the lot of them will be shipped to Puolenkuun Pelit in Lahti and Praedor will again be officially sold out from the publisher. Will there be more? As before, it depends on demand. So far, Fantasiapelit has always agreed to order enough of them to cover the printing costs of a new print run. They might do it this time as well or they might not. All in all, I have sold 25 copies of Praedor this year and we are now in week 34, so the sales are slipping below their long-time average of "Praedor a week".

When I reported this latest turn of events on the #praedor IRC-channel, Newsalor commented that there is now real competition in the form of Generian Legendat (from Ironspine). That gave me a pause. Given that Praedor RPG is soon 11 years old, I never saw any of the new Finnish fantasy RPGs entering the market as competitors. The bulk of Praedor sales has already happened and Generia, Bliaron or anything else is not going to have a measurable impact on it. It is far too late for that. Myrskyn Aika came out in 2003, I think. The publisher sold off the entire print run of 1500 copies and Mike Pohjola wrote into the copy he gave to me "let the competition begin". By that time, I had sold close to 500 Praedors and the sales were declining steadily. I did not notice any dip in the demand because of Myrskyn Aika.

And the reason for that is this: Anyone who had bought Myrskyn Aika was more likely to also buy or already own Praedor than someone who did not. And vice versa; in a scene this small we were actually supporting each others' sales by promoting the idea that there was a scene and a Finnish RPG was a viable alternative. Even today, I bet something like 90% of the people who bought Generian Legendat in Ropecon already owned a copy of Praedor. I don't know if the remaining 10% will convert into Praedor owners because of buying GL first but those last 25 games did go somewhere. Remember that I am not advertising Praedor anywhere. If any promotion happens, it is all viral.

Let's say that Finland has 30000 active roleplayers. 20000 of them are playing foreign games, namely D&D and its various iterations and have little interest in other games and genres. The remaining 10000 is the market share we are supposed to be competing over and since there is no sensible way to reach the overwhelming majority of them, I'd say the Finnish RPG market is driven by maybe 2000 potential buyers, every one of them an "early adopter" by tech terms, meaning that their purchase threshold for new items is fairly low but purchase alone does not convert them into active users. This is the market we are supposedly competing over.

All statistics provided by Burger's Asscrack Information Services

Frankly, in a market this small and consisting mostly of experimental gamers, making a game that is in direct competition with another current title is either a failure of the design process or a sign that the author is an idiot. Fortunately, the current generation of Finnish RPGs seems to have avoided this trap. While Bliaron and Generian Legendat are sometimes seen as rivals, the only thing they really have in common is that they both belong to the fantasy supergenre. Bliaron is a sword and sorcery RPG with the twist of having the focus on magic and shamanism (which in turn sets it clearly apart from Praedor even though they both belong to the same genre). Meanwhile, Generian Legendat is a light-toned high-fantasy RPG with humorous and even parodic elements. Should both of these games develop active player communities (as opposed to experimental players), I don't see the two communities mingling too much.

But I would be overjoyed for there being enough roleplayers to form two active communities rather than one...

16-Aug-2011: Scotland the Brave

In short, Edinburgh is the most beautiful city I've ever been in. It looks like Warhammer by day, Dracula by night and Stalker whenever you happen to hit the less polished parts. Somehow, perhaps because of the construction materials, even modern buildings seem to blend into the landscape. Alvar Aalto would be horrified but I sure was delighted. It is also cleaner and safer than London, has almost the same services and the buses run better than the Tube. And it has a couple pounds knocked off its prices compared to its southern counterpart. Still, Great Britain is never a cheap country to visit. I seem to have bought 15 books, 4 graphic novels and 2 CDs of bagpipe music.

Yes, I am a big fan.

Whenever there was a gap between the buildings, you either had an awesome view all the way to Firth of Forth, some epic mountainside to gawk at, or the Edinburgh Castle which is basically the same thing. There are three kinds of medieval castles: "Welcome" castles are either for show or so badly damaged that is all you can say to an invading enemy. Finland has a few of these ruins. "Oh Shit" castles are places to hide and cry in some dark corner hoping the enemy will get bored before your gate gives in. Most of the more intact castles in Finland fall into this category.

Finally, there are "Fuck Off" castles, where you can stand on the ramparts, moon at the enemy and see them weeping in the shadow of your mighty walls. In Finland, the only castle in this category is Olavinlinna. Scotland has quite a few of them and Edinburgh Castle definitely fits the bill. The bloody thing sits on a bloody mountain the middle of the bloody city and just running up the bloody Royal Mile to attack will kill half your army before reaching the very formibable gates.And it is in very good shape. Before the serious introduction of artillery, Edinburgh Castle had never fallen to a siege (it had fallen to treachery a couple of times).

These days it houses a couple of museums, the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Space Marine Chapel from Warhammer 40,000. Oh, sorry, the Scottish National War Museum. But honestly, once inside you can't really tell the difference, except that it honours several chapters and in place of the Primarch is a symbolic stone chest. The place is larger than most churches and it is obvious that the Scots take their wars very seriously (and with pride). It is quite a culture shock for someone born and raised in Scandinavia where everybody is supposed to believe in World Peace. No such illusions here.

Hmm, the Internet seems to have no pictures from inside the place and photography was strictly forbidden. But I was very impressed and I think you would be too.

Food was great but then again, Great Britain has the best ethnic food anywhere. I did not try haggis though, not because I would have found it somehow disgusting but because the whole stuffing is loaded with onion. I did try a deep-fried Mars bar (a Scottish specialty of the modern times). Waste of perfectly good chocolate if you ask me. And finally, the Edinburgh Festival was there. Sightseeing did not leave us much time for the thousands of plays going on but we did see Still Life. I still don't what it was about, though. Maybe Danish LARPers get more out of it. On a better note, Cory Doctorow gave an excellent speech in the Edinburg Book Festival and I got him to sign my copy of "Makers". We also saw The Elephant House, where J.K. Rowling wrote most of the Harry Potter - series. It was always packed, though, either by Harry Potter fans or aspiring young writers looking for divine inspiration.

Scotland is cold and wet. We had all sorts of weather over the week so pack up some extra clothes and carry a jacket in your rucksack when you go out. Also, the city is pretty vertical at times, so good walking shoes and a rudimentary understanding of public transportation is recommended. On the other hand, taxis are easy to find, know what they are doing and cost about half of what they would cost here. Also, while the military bagpipers up in the castle are great, the street corner pipers are a mixed breed. You have been warned.

All in all, it was a great, if a fairly expensive trip. I hope to return to Scotland one day, perhaps on a writing vacation. And finding a cheaper place to stay in even if it is the festival season!


I also have the priviledge and honour to watch The Bully Factory, a short film based on my novel Häirikkötehdas. Personally, I think it was great and I really hope it gets shown in all the relevant film festivals.

08-Aug-2011: Curtain Call

Unemployed, day 8.

Assembly is over. That is what the Sunday is really about there: watching the event keel over and die, spasming. My favourite day of the Assembly experience is Friday. The whole thing is full swing and the construction is complete: yet families with children haven't arrived yet and the howler monkeys haven't had time to throw their poo all over the restroom walls (I am exaggerating but not by much and strangely the 3rd floor restrooms were in horrible shape compared to the much busier 2nd floor.)

Usually, my Summer ends with Assembly. This year is an exception: I am still unemployed and having no obligations here, will add another week of summer by going to see the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh. After Eurocon, Finncon, Ropecon and Assembly I do feel a little beat but I was going to Edinburgh anyway and I'd rather take it with a festival than without. My spouse says the city is also hiding excellent bookstores but I refuse to believe her.

So far, all the festivals have been great. Having laid off deflated me a little in Finncon and I absolutely hated riding a bicycle in the centre of Turku. But I can't blame the festival for those. Eurocon was a real gem, Ropecon was great and this was a kick-ass Assembly. Let's see if whatever festival programme we end up seeing in Edinburgh can match that.

As for my next job, I've been putting feelers out, both as a potential employee and as a game design/production consultant through Burger Games. We'll see if there have been any bites when I get back from the Land of Bagpipes. Sure, there is lot of interest and "I'll get back to you on this" but as always, nothing is real until it is signed. I find the whole process a bit awkward since it also means pitting different options against other and ending up telling other interested parties "no". It was much easier when the industry was not experiencing a boomtime and there was always just one credible option.

On the roleplaying side, the big project of this Fall is naturally the English translation of Stalker. I'll get the first batch back from the proofreader at the end of this month and it'll give me pointers for things to watch out for while I finish my own proofreading round. So don't start holding your breaths yet. I've also been toying with the idea doing a real science fiction RPG in the post-holo/street scifi vein. I know that some people have asked for a HAX RPG but my main problem with is that I don't really see a way to compete with existing cyberpunk/near future franchises.

In short, the benefits of creating a stand-alone game as opposed to modding one from Tech Noir, FLOW or even the venerable CP2020 are negligible. And I have a confession to make: When writing or planning the storylines I get this creepy feeling that this world would work well with Shadowrun if the most blatant fantasy elements were removed and many other non-genre influences were obfuscated with spec-tech, transhuman gimmickry, nanobabble and epic Deus Ex-style conspiracies. There is a layer of mystery in the setting, a whiff of the improbable about the whole thing. And I want to keep it that way.

Meanwhile, there is another sound in my head, still faint but growing louder. It is an old sound, one that I thought had gone silent years ago. It is the heavy wheels on red gravel, mixed with the howl of jury-rigged hydrogen engines. I once gave it away to Casual Continent for some spare change but now that the company has folded it must have escaped. If it reaches the nooks and crannies of Labyrinth of Night we will never find it again.

05-Aug-2011: The Second Round

Squeeze shit really hard and you get Tough Shit.
Squeeze it even harder and you get a Diamond.

- Ancient Burgerian Proverb

For reasons nothing short of waterboarding will make me reveal, I have decided to give The Real Men's Playground -team a second chance. And quite probably a few more chances to go with it. Their Ropecon presentation was craptastic (and badly off-topic for the event) but in certain very rare and specific circumstances all this is forgivable. So, in a possibly first case ever, I am officially retracting my earlier condemnation. Consider me "somewhat annoyed" instead. And picture me looking at them with a disapproving frown while trying really hard to hide my newfound curiosity.

In other news, I am at Assembly. With two days and two great bands (Machinae Supremacy and Press Play On Tape) and a number of great seminars down this is already shaping up to be my favorite Assembly ever. The only thing lacking from the Perfect Assembly Experience is a presentation by Mikko Hyppönen. Unfortunately there is none this year and really, you could improve anything by adding a presentation by Mikko Hyppönen to it. <3

Since we were without Hyppönen, we had to settle on having absolutely killer computer seats this year. The best ever, really. I am going to get those every year from now on. While not following the programme, shopping, eating or helping out at the Electronic Frontier Finland stand, I have been sitting there hammering away at HAX 1.1 features. Sure, we (me and the Wirepunk Lead Programmer) are still far off from 1.0 but I am running out of stuff to do. The bloody thing has been designed and I am waiting for production to catch up (and monitoring progress, of course). *sigh*

Rovio and Supercell are out in force. I am actually hoping to catch up with some of the Supercell bigwigs tomorrow. After all, I know them from Sumea days, I am still unemployed and Supercell is hiring. Besides, Gunshine.Net is interesting as hell. And it will be even better if they can execute on my proposal of making the hotkeys available also from the numeric keyboard. I am left handed and running my fingers on the top-row number keys while fiddling with the mouse does not come naturally to me. As for Rovio... well, I do love the huge bird plushies they have. Plus the hilarious Kill All Audio and Pigs cutscene they made for Assembly.

And even the weather has been great!

03-Aug-2011: Bliaron RPG Review

I don't want to do this. I really don't. But I try to keep my promises. And I have only read the game through, so don' take everything I say at a face value.

Bliaron RPG is the latest high-budget RPG book to come out. It is a fantasy RPG by the Northern Realms, a bunch of young guys originally from Kainuu, I think. The book is slightly over 200 pages with black-and-white interior and gorgeous, if misleading, covers. The pseudo-celtic motif does not really portray anything and neither does the name: Bliaron - the Heritage of Kalthans (yes, I translated that). Bliaron is the name of the game world and Kalthans an ancient and now extinct race that left behind highly magical relics and a bunch of legends that play a prominent part in the Bliaronian cosmology. I would not have gone for a full fantasy name when working with original IP (Praedor was a well-established brand by the time I got to it) and definitely the sub-header or cover image should have been more informative. As it is, it says absolutely nothing about the book.

The story intro in the beginning made my eyes bleed. The script font they used works just fine on white but not on the parchment grey they put it on. I still haven't been able to finish the introduction story without my eyeballs bursting. Other than that I have no complaints about the layout. It is a clear two-column setup with an ornamental frame. The inner art makes a good first impression. Later, that impression takes a hit when you realize that all the pictures are close-ups or portraits. There are no sceneries, street views or larger events. Also, the body proportions are frequently off, giving me the impression of a young and not very experienced (but all the more eager) illustrator. If graphical design had matched the layout design that would have been great. Then again, people living in glass houses should not throw stones...

The authors of the rulebook appeared completely stunned when I asked them about the role of characters during their product presentation. Fortunately the rulebook is a bit clearer on that. You can do any kind of character you like but basically if you don't do a wizard or some magic-using hybrid character, much of the book will go to waste. Unless you belong to a somewhat fascist wizard's guild, your magic-using character will be a heretical outlaw. If you are into conspiracies and stuff, playing a guild wizard is a valid option. For more regular adventuring you should go with an outlaw. I would have liked to see more effort put into assembling an adventurer party but then again writing that into the RPG rules is almost a personal fetish of mine. With an experienced GM the character building process should go off with out a hitch but I can imagine newbies being confused by the lack of guidance or easily adaptable models.

I am prejudiced against this system. You roll your stat's worth of D10s, pick the highest result and add your skill to that. However, Atomic Highway uses a similar method. I hated it but I concede I might be in the minority here. The bigger problem is that the writers are chronically bad at explaining stuff and somehow manage to muddle their examples so that I can't make head or tails of the numeric flow. With a system this easy, that is something of an achievement.

The most rules-intensive part of the system is obviously magic. The game uses a single-axis magic system where you pick the type of magic you want to cast and the effect determines difficulty and cost. Apparently, all magic actually comes from summoning spirits to do your bidding but it works just like regular spell magic. There are some texts on how GM should make the spirits whimsical or hard to handle on occasion, tempered with a notion that most spirits are dumb as an anvil and do what they are told. The game system does not support spirit initiative at all. This is a major design flaw. If spirit magic is such an important part of the game and the cosmology, its quirks should also be supported by the game mechanics. Now the whole thing comes off as poor man's Ars Magica but without the medieval charm. Generian Legendat did not focus on magic but still its rune-based magic system wipes the floor with Bliaron's.

Don't get me wrong: There is an idea buried here, potentially a very good idea. They just haven't been able to dig it up.

The world of Bliaron is a surprisingly small chunk of land (roughly the southern half of Jaconia) that is modelled after various bronze age cultures (the civilizations are roughly comparable to those in ancient Middle East and everybody else is an unwashed barbarian of some type). Maps don't have scale indicators but in the setting presentation the authors explained that the distance between the northern and southern hubs was 300 kilometres and that it took trade caravans four weeks (28 days) to move between them. That would mean that the caravans travel at a breakneck speed of 1.3 kph for 8 hours a day. Hmm. Maybe they haven't invented the wheel yet and have to drag their loads across the Great Steppe? Also, this postage-stamp -sized area has plenty of different geographical features, radically different climate zones and vastly different cultures. And no horses. Everybody rides some sort of lizard thing instead. This is not credible and I pointed this out in the product presentation. To their credit, the authors did not argue but suggested increasing the distance between the hubs to 3000 kilometres instead. And suddenly the whole world began making a lot more sense. House rules ftw!

On the plus side, the setting descriptions have been written just the way I like them. Not too much detail but an evocative tour through different regions, major population centres and distinguishing features. It's all hooks and building blocks for your imagination. Nobody can write down all the stuff you can extrapolate from them and that is how you write a setting work when you only have a single rulebook.

Bliaron is a perplexing mosaic of good ideas, horrible amateur mistakes and brilliant writing. It smacks of a game idea that got started when the authors were something like 12. The idea remains a bit of a turd at its core but has been patched up and polished over the years as the team got older, wiser and more experienced. For me, it does not have that one great hook or distinguishing quality that would make me play it but then again I am a hard customer. It is a shame that the magic system feels so half-hearted when it is really supposed to be the core of the game. And that the setting was apparently conceived by an idiot, even if it is then written by geniouses.

There is a good game buried somewhere underneath. With some tinkering, houserules and reworking the character concepts and the magic system you probably could make it work. How about just ripping out the system and using it in a fantasy Egypt or something? This is not a dead-end of a game. There are definitely possibilities.

Final grade: 0 (scale runs from negative to positive)

Bliaron is by far the best "bad game" I've come across. Northern Realms, don't stop here. I think your next game will be awesome.

02-Aug-2011: Flamemail!

Actually, it was more like Whinemail. Flamemailing, such a powerful phenomenon in the mid-2000's, is something of a lost art these days. Social media killed it by making it so much easier to be an ass in Facebook than to compose an evocative email that honestly drips with venom. I've received some really good ones, albeit it has been years and years since the last time. I still regret not archiving them.

However, the basic message has stayed the same to this day: "You are being disrespectful in your blog, please stop" (okay, forget the "please" part), followed by an long-winded explanation as to why. And no, I won't stop. But I promise you I will only react. I am pretty thin-skinned when it comes to roleplaying issues but you still have to put in some effort to get through it.

As a rule of thumb, there are four blogworthy ways to do that:

  • Do something really, really stupid, although except for Crimes Against Humanity, all deeds in this category have to hurt the roleplaying scene in some way to be really relevant. Writing something infuriatingly inane and pretentious in a magazine is a good start.
  • Evangelize and oh boy, we are talking! Promoting the exclusive superiority of a playstyle, methodology or a school of thought is how I got most of my victims, to the tune of 90% or more. Forge fanatics, Turku Schoolers, überlarpers, I don't care. When you come out laughing at us ignorant savages, I will boil you alive.
  • Spreading misinformation about my games is a rare but certain way to get stomped. It is a tricky category and sometimes I make mistakes. I try to avoid arguing with product reviews and honest opinions. And if people have made an honest mistake about a rule or a process, it is just fair to be cool about it. However, spreading obvious and intentional (usually with an agenda) misinformation will be dealt with mercilessly, both here and in other mediums. You can still find the Praedor math arguments from majatalo.org. I will defend my portfolio and that's final.
  • Insulting me in a way that is both visible and relevant to the scene will also get your ass some well-earned spotlight. The problem with this category is that some gamer geeks have the social skills of a sea anemone and get this deer-in-headlights look when called out on it. Any lesson is wasted on them. I also admit that I am far too sensitive in this regard for my own good, especially if you happen to press just the right buttons and not even know it.

Of course, not all people are equal and for many their status has changed over the years, usually for the better. I will take a lot more shit from somebody like Miska or Mike than I would from a random loudmouth because they have the game designer and scene credentials to back their shit up. Some people I like, no matter what their credentials. Sometimes I see budding talent or otherwise promise for the future and do my best not to discourage them. And certain people I need, whatever their virtues or flaws. They all get preferential treatment. Life is not fair.

Not that there has been any kind of treatment of anybody for ages. The Schools of Roleplaying live on only in the jokes of Niilo Paasivirta. Roleplaying theorists have finally realised that evangelizing about them was not winning them any friends and now only come out only when they have practical applications to show us. The RPG magazines are dead. Forgers have stopped being pretentious assholes and started writing games instead. I don't have to like their games but they are certainly contributing. Did ÜberLarpers die off or something? I never run into them anymore. As annoying as they sometimes were, a full extinction was not what I had in mind. My guns have grown silent and Sope, the author of Piippuhyllyn manifesti is complaining about the same thing. No arguments, no new comics. I am also doing so much videogame stuff these days that the point for this blog is a little hazy.

Still, if you have broken all four of my Cardinal Rules, some of them often enough to earn the Lifestyle Achievement, while having zero or negative impact on the scene, odds are that I am not your friend. Maybe my cold shoulder or a casual verbal jab is rude and uncalled for when unprovoked. But give me a reason and I will bury you!

Yes, that's me! All soft, cuddly and round!

31-Jul-2011: The Ropecon Report

I am back. Back from the non-euclidian corridors of Dipoli, back from the sweaty crowds and the swords of duct tape flashing in sunlight. This year I did three programme events: the presentation on Stalker translation, the hero's path as it winds through my games and finally hosting the panel on heroism for our various guests of honor. It was a full set and I consider my free three-day pass to Ropecon 2011 well and truly earned.

I started off by watching Petterson and some danes present the Dream of a Yellow King, a compilation of single-session artsy roleplaying games/scenarios from the Danish gaming convention Fastaval. Sixteen of the best had translated into Finnish. Put together, they made a pretty hefty book. That stuff is not really my cup of tea and I did not buy it but I like to appraised on whats going on in the scene, so my hour certainly wasn't wasted.

Fantasiapelit is selling Burger Games product at Ropecon and every time they forget to bring either Praedor, Stalker or both into the convention. It is almost a running gag now: I go check their stand in Kaubamaja, complain about the lack of my games, Jyrki Tudeer comments on it somewhere and they quickly drive in a few books from their warehouse. I just can't understand why I have to go through this thing every single time! I am not selling my games in Ropecon myself. I am not competing with them. But no! They bring Heimot with them, even though Ironspine is selling the very same book just a few metres away.

Then it was time for my own Stalker translation presentation and what do you know? I think I had an audience of 12, with close friends making up 7 of them. I was a bit let down by that even though I knew that A) my presentation overlapped the opening ceremony and B) I've been giving Stalker presentations since 2003. There wasn't really anything new in this one.

At the end of the talk my friends grabbed me and took me to Keltsu for dinner, which was nice but it also meant missing out Witches and Knights release presentation by Sami Koponen and Tuomas Kortelainen (for games Pyöreän pöydän ritarit and Noitahovi, respectively). I don't have either of them but the word on the street was that Noitahovi was rather promising. The word on the street also found Sami's decision to make an Arthurian roleplaying game a bit puzzling and the game system somewhat odd but I trust the usual critics will deliver their verdict in due time.

I got back from the dinner just in time for Ironspine's presentation Generian Legendat (Legends of Generia), another entry in their Ready-To-Play game series. The presentation was good enough but I am not a big fan of humour games. Besides, they were sending mixed messages as to whether or not the game was a parody of traditional roleplaying games. What I did pick up from the presentation was that just like ENOC made me stop working on Code/X, Generia with its cave world threatened almost did the same for NOMAD. Thankfully the genres are different even if many of the methodologies are not. And I almost flipped out when Miska mentioned having contemplated something that sounded like a carbon copy of Miekkamies: Auringon Valtakunta, which has been described in this blog a few times before. But my personal paranoia aside, I am slightly worried about Ironspine. For a roleplaying-game author, humor games are usually the beginning of the end, a sign that enthusiasm is turning into mockery and bitter jokes. I have this nagging fear that we might not see another RTP game and tried to talk them into making an RTP-version of Heimot. Seeing that game really fly might rekindle their spirits.

The next new game was Bliaron and Oh My God! These kids could not sell water to a camel! I am seriously thinking about giving a presentation on the art of giving product presentations in the next Ropecon. Bliaron basically triggers every alarm I have in my head about a game project being on the rocks. It was like watching my 14-year old self rambling on about some irrelevant game feature with little or no understanding of what the audience really wanted. As for presenting it, they made every mistake in the book and a few others that are still to be written down. Later, I ran into Sami Koponen who told me, with an apparently straight face, that Bliaron would be the game to take Praedor's crown as the best Finnish fantasy RPG. Sorry guys but there is no worse omen of doom than being liked by Sami.

Still, I bought Bliaron and a proper game review will appear in due time. The book is beautiful, the production quality is high and judging from later events I believe we will hear more from at least some of them (okay, Antti Lax but that is pretty much it). I think 35 euros is a small price to pay to keep new talent flowing into the scene. After all, I am clearly on my way out and someone has to take that crown sooner or later.

If I were stranded on a deserted island, Markus Montola would not be my first choice of a companion but at least we could discuss location-based gaming. Markus gave an absolutely stellar presentation on Shadow Cities, a location-based game for the i-devices. I tried out the early prototype back in the day and did not think much of it. However, things have changed and Markus did an excellent job in creating a palpable sense of mystery and wonder about the whole setup. Let's call it "a magical reality of mobile devices". Wirepunk will be taking notes (for HAX) and personally, if I had an i-device I might actually play this thing. As it stands, I'll have to wait for the Android version.

And that concluded my Friday. The Bliaron affar was a slap in the face but the Shadow Cities presentation more than made up for it. I did not give a shit about the game before but now I really hope it flies. It won't be another Angry Birds but I can see millions of people playing and paying for it. Myself included.

Onto the Saturday and a Thai breakfast.

I would have never thought it possible but the Bliaron guys (well, Antti Lax and some waste of oxygen) kicked off strongly with their presentation on Creating a Roleplaying Game World. It is not how I would have done it but they were not asking for my opinion anyway and the process was good enough. This time they also managed to present their stuff in a coherent way and had topical slides that the audience actually found interesting. I went there expecting another train wreck but it was a good presentation overall and an absolutely brilliant one when compared with their earlier fiasco. Maybe the scene does have a future after all?

I spent the next few hours hanging around with friends instead of doing anything constructive and even got to sign one copy of Praedor, or as they put it: "The best roleplaying game in the world". Those guys had self-made Praedor T-shirts on and I donated them the sole remaining original M-sized Praedor T-shirt. I also went to see Frank Mentzer's presentation on his new company Eldritch Enterprises but I am not a D&D player so it was not very interesting.

At six in the evening it was my turn again. Hero as a Profession took the audience down the hero's path as it winds its way through 18 years of roleplaying games: from Miekkamies to HAX. I think it went pretty well as there were enough audience to get me fired up and they were active right down to the end. And they should: Ammattina Sankari may have well been my last Ropecon presentation. Everything else has already been said over the past 17 years.

Just like like on Friday, the presentation concluded with a retreat into Keltsu and a lavish dinner with friends. We spent hours there, going over the differences between my various games and between my games and Bliaron (I had just bought it). We only returned to the 'Con for the Videopelien verhon takana -presentation quite late in the evening.

Now that turned out to be probably the worst presentation I have had the misfortune to attend in the entire history of Ropecon. It's three guys who claim to have insider knowledge on games industry but couldn't give a presentation to save their lives. Their slides are riddled with factual errors, they claim to have worked in the industry and yet have no idea how the game sale statistics are compiled, cite historical events wrong and riddle the whole thing with stutters, interruptions, toilet humor and lame jokes. The leader claims to have been the boss of Sense Games for two years in Kuopio and now complained bitterly how the industry is evil, greedy and cares only about money. Basically, the guys are on a tour to promote their website. After watching this crap for an hour, I am not touching that website even with a ten-foot pole and I am not linking it here. As a shiny turd on top, the whole thing did not have anything to do with roleplaying games whatsoever. Digital or otherwise.

Newsflash! Making videogames is expensive, so as business enterprises studios have to watch the profit margin very carefully. It is a hard business, it is a very competitive business and for every breakthrough there are a hundred failures. It does not make the business inherently evil or greedy. The industry is what it is, shaped by investor relations and the consumer response. You can carve out a niche in it but if you can't stand the heat, stay the hell out of the kitchen! Or become a garage developer like Wirepunk. The downside is that you will be at it for years and years since you need a dayjob to support yourself. My dayjobs are in the games industry, so I kind of get the worst of both worlds. And you know what? I would not have it the any other way.

Ropecon Programme Team, I don't know what the hell you were thinking but you owe me an hour of my life. I was so mad driving home from Ropecon that evening that I almost crashed.

Come Sunday. I missed most of Vihan Lapset (website down?) product presentation (trans. "Children of Hatred") but it sounded damn interesting and I trust the developers. The game uses the FLOW system (known also from Stalker) and I hope to have much insider knowledge about the project soon. Unless it turns out to be a complete turkey I will also be helping them out any way I can.

My Ropecon ended with me hosting the Definition of a Hero panel for the guests of honour. I think it went well but you would have to ask the panelists for an unbiased estimate. There was nothing very interesting left in the programme so I concluded my Ropecon there and drove off with the loot: Bliaron, Punaiset Hiekat, British Flag, a DDR T-shirt, a couple of cheap films and I think that is about it. These days I am largely self-sufficient when it comes to RPG stuff, after all.

So there. I'd rate this Ropecon a solid 8. They were looking at 9 because of the ample programme palette but the fucking videogame fiasco sunk it.

25-Jul-2011: Idiots Among Us

As I was taking it easy up north with neither obligations nor a good net access, things took a turn for the worse in Norway. As everybody knows, a right-wing ultra-religious would-be-crusader decided to start his crusade closer to home and butchered almost a hundred people with a car bomb and by going on a killing spree in a Labour Party youth camp. He wanted his 15 minutes of fame so he could shout his message at the world and I am really glad that the Norwegian police decided to hold the trial behind closed doors.

The scale of the atrocity stunned everybody but having recovered the Internet pundits went to work. The first round was tracking every possible name in the killer's 1500-page manifesto and then having the said politicos and ideologues deny all connections to Breivik. Most of them also condemned the act. Fair enough; I have hard time believing any of them would really advocate massacre of their people as means of promoting anti-immigration and conservative policies.

Unfortunately, there was the inevitable second round. Norway does not have a monopoly on idiots. Since it all happened over the past few days, I trust Mikki Rautalahti to give an adequate summary. And if you liked that, you are going to love this little exchange between Aamulehti and a disgruntled reader.

Finally, there are the conspiracy nuts. This is a Finnish site claiming that Breivik did not exist before the incident and the whole thing is a CIA cover-up for the benefit of a world conspiracy the goals of which I just could not be arsed to read-up from their bullshit of a website. Oh... it seems that everybody is in it except the right-wingers and that is why the attack was made: to demonize various right-wing groups. Since I am politically on the left, work in entertainment and media industry and my spouse is even a party member, I guess I must be part of the conspiracy then.

Never mind.

09-Jul-2011: Ropecon Programme

I got back from Netherlands just in time to read the freshly published programme schedule for Ropecon 2011.At first I got a bit of a shock when it seemed as if they had dropped my hero presentation from the programme. But it was there: Saturday 18-20. And it is in the Auditorium? I am impressed!

I wish I could be just as impressed with myself regarding the Stalker translation. The launch event for the English version of Stalker has been booked on Friday from 18-19 and I sure as hell hope I have something to launch by then. The problem is that I am going to be away from my tools for almost two weeks between today and Friday the 29th and I am definitely chickening out on editing the thing (the layout is now complete and next step is to do one more proof-reading round and then send the whole thing to a trusted editor for re-checking).

The reason for this delay is that Stalker is my best roleplaying game and as far as I am concerned, the best roleplaying game overall. Thus it would be really nice to get the international version right the first time, so if I have to wimp out with the Ropecon release, I will. In that case, I will be just giving a presentation on the English version of Stalker and everything else I have talked about with Boris Strugatsky's book agent (like writing a Stalker novel). Besides, the presentation is just one hour long and in Klondyke so who gives a shit? And if the game is not released by Ropecon, it will be released soon anyway. By the way, the Stalker presentation will be in English, no matter what the programme says.

My third piece is running the Definition of a Hero -panel on Sunday at 12.00. Believe it or not, it is the second panel I've run in my life so yes, things can get interesting. I have much more experience on presenting stuff (having just been in Netherlands to do just that for two days). I already know that Niilo "ConText" Paasivirta will be following my every move but personally my biggest piece will be Professional Hero (Ammattina Sankari) presentation on Saturday evening, where I will be looking back on my old games and how the role and status of the protagonist has developed over the years. Everything else is... well, favors for the Con organizers.

But what other events will I be watching?

On Friday, the following things struck a spark of interest:

17.30 - 18.00 Opening Ceremony

It would be given, if I didn't have to run into Klondyke right after that.

19-20 Noitia ja Ritareita -julkaisutilaisuus

Same space, right after my presentation. Lots of new games coming out in this 'con, so it'd better rock...

20-21 Generian Legendat -julkaisutilaisuus

...because if it doesn't, I won't be around to see this.

22-23 Shadow Cities - taistele kaupungistasi

I had hoped for years that the gap between electronic and tabletop gaming would be bridged. At this Ropecon it seems to be happening. This is but one of the many videogame-related presentations but definitely the most interesting one for me.

23-01 Warpstones of Time

If I am still awake, I want to hear this piece on the RPG scene in Poland. The timing is difficult, I agree.

And we move on to Saturday:

12-14 Keskiajan katolinen kirkko

I hope I can make it. Few things in the world history are more interesting than the machinations of the medieval Catholic Church.

16-17 Historian eriskummalliset sankarit.

"The strangest heroes in history" - this is close to the top of my list.

21-23 Fantasy roleplaying now and then

Yep, being the author of two Finnish fantasy RPGs I am definitely interested in hearing what the Big Boys have to say about this field.

23-01 Videopelien verhon takana: pelialan syntejä ja problematiikkaa

I've never even heard of these guys before, which is probably why they are giving this presentation. They seem to run some kind of videogames-related blog portal.

And on Sunday... oh shit. I am stuck in the hero panel for 12-14 and everything interesting seems to coincide with that. Oh well...

15-17 Grilli Toro

Big meat on a mountain of fries, with some horse-radish butter melting on top. It is the perfect ending for any Ropecon.

As you can see, my Con programme has quite a bit of gaps in it. This is not necessarily a bad thing: some of the most interesting things in Ropecon ever have been the table debates in Keltsu. Or there might be something really interesting going on outside and I get stuck watching that instead of running to the next event. Unfortunately, interesting things happening elsewhere is not a justification for skipping any of your own entries to the programme....

02-Jul-2011: Heatwave

My parents were concerned that the on the top of this blog is improper for a serious CV. No shit? In case you have forgotten, it is a portrait of me by Jukka Rajaniemi, fashioned after the film posters for Conan the Barbarian (incidentally one of my favorite movies of all time). We were both working at Rovio Mobile at the time and this picture was the company's parting gift to me when I left Rovio.

It was a great gesture, really. I honestly prefer this picture to any golden handshake. It is definitely something unique, combining my girth, hardcore gamer tendencies, weightlifting, taste for cola-based soft drinks and musical preferences into a single picture.

Damn, I should start adding this picture to my official CV as well.

Whew! I just got back from Helsinki Pride march and an almost 30-degree heat. It was my first Pride march ever and just like with thousands of others, it was the last year's tear gas attack that made me do it. Before the attack, I was under the impression that our sexual minorities were mostly free from oppression and the remaining issues could be resolved with political debate. Then a fucking Act of Terrorism proved me wrong. I am not a very tolerant person but I tolerate sexual minorities and rainbow families a hell of a lot better than I tolerate right-wing idiots throwing tear gas into dense crowds with women and small children.

As for lesbian and gay adoption, rainbow families sure as hell can't do worse than regular families. Damn, I would even support adoption rights for singles if the option was on the table.

Work on editing the English translation of Stalker RPG continues. I just hit page 170 and I think there is like 50 to go. I try to get that stuff off my hands and into the printers before I leave for Netherlands next week. I am not in a real hurry with the start of the PDF sales but I need to have a few physical copies with me at Ropecon, especially if we are going to have the launch event there. How and when I am going to do the slides for my presentations or prepare talking points of the panel only the Great Spaghetti Monster knows.

Bioshock 3 - yawnorama. I wonder how many negative votes you have to get in gametrailers.com before they toss you out of the service. I certainly did not win many friends in the commentary when I asked why they are all so hyped up about this game. This and all the other trailers I've seen look both senseless and boring to me, which is pretty much the worst thing that can happen to a game trailer. But hyped they are and Bioshock 3 was even awarded as the Best Upcoming Game or something at E3. In my opinion, Bioshock 1 looked a hell of a lot more interesting and I was not personally too impressed with that either. Am I getting a faulty feed from some other game? Or did the Illuminati implant everyone else with mind-control chips and mine somehow shorted out?

On the other hand, I downloaded Complete 2009 mod for S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl. And last night, I finally returned to 100 Rad Bar.

Welcome Home.

22-Jun-2011: L85 Game Designer LFG

Thanks for the title, Zds!

Yep, here we are again. After almost three years as a senior designer and later a producer, I was axed from Casual Continent along with their entire first-party game development business. If you want to know the details behind the decision you will have to ask them directly. All I am saying is that although I wished that some of the options we discussed for continuing the business would have come true, I have nothing but respect for the way my employer handled this. I wish him and all the guys well in their rapidly growing "other" business endeavour. Unfortunately it has nothing to do with games.

As a result, I am looking for work or at least interesting projects to do consulting on through Burger Games. I don't expect nothing much to happen during the Summer but it would be nice to have something going on by the time it starts getting cold and dark again. I hate the EU format CV I usually fill in, so here is my CV in a blog format.

I am Ville Vuorela, 37 years old and an almost graduate from the University of Helsinki with English Philology as my major and Games Research & Design and Academic Entrepreneurship as my minors. I also have plenty of study credits on Archeology, Medieval studies and British and Irish studies. Outside the University, I have the EU Specialist Certificate on Game Scriptwriting. I am fluent enough in Finnish and English, can cope in Swedish and would not starve in Germany either (I actually worked in Düsseldorf for a while in 2001).

I have been a full-time game developer for 8 years. I started with mobile games as a game designer at Sumea Interactive in 2004 and then moved to Rovio Mobile (AKA "the Angry Birds guys") in 2005 as a senior game designer. I then worked as a narrative designer for Recoil Games in 2007-2008 when they were still making Earth No More for the next-gen consoles. When that project folded (ask them), I was picked up by Casual Continent in November 2008, first as a senior designer for various in-house and customer projects. Since January 2011 I've been working as the producer on Crown of Byzantus browser MMO. And as you may remember, I was just laid off. Officially, my employment at CC will terminate on July 31st.

I also teach games development and design. In these past two years I have run both game and level design courses for the game development study program of KAJAK in Kajaani and lectured about game design at ADULTA, KEUDA, SCORE in Tampere, the University of Helsinki and most recently at Otava Opisto in Mikkeli. I have already been booked give a lecture on the topic in the University of Turku next Fall. I am generally thought to be a good lecturer in both Finnish and English. Since practise makes perfect I also try to do public speaking whenever I can. Come and see me go at it in Ropecon 2011! I am giving presentations in both Finnish and English, as well as managing an English-language panel for the guests of honour.

Writing for the Enter magazine was an employer-sanctioned second job during my mobile design days. I wrote combined instructions and reviews of the free software that came with the CDs they attached to the magazine covers. The lead editor thought I was really good and my contacts in the book publishing world result from this job.

I used to be a technical writer for the IT and pharmaceutical industries. I have worked, either as an employee or as a consultant, for companies like ABB, Geological Survey of Finland, Wapit, InBitOn, MatchEm, DNA, Netikos Finland and CRF Box. This is where my skill at writing understandable documents and specifications comes from. I believe in strong documentation, I believe in concise processes and I have shamelessly ripped off every good practise and policy I've come across in all the places I've ever worked at. Actually, most people who might consider giving me a job will probably have seen specs written by me before, so advertising them here feels a bit silly. Still, it is one of the specialty skills that differentiates me as a game designer.

During the Dark Ages I worked as a teacher and youth director. Yes, back in the primitive 90s, when I was still a bright-eyed student in the University of Helsinki dreaming to graduate as an English teacher one day, I worked as a substitute teacher for some of the comprehensive and high schools in Espoo. I taught A-level English, Finnish language and even International Education. I was also hired to manage the roleplaying club for the students in my old comprehensive school for a few years. Those were the days...

I have written five roleplaying games, two of which are national best-sellers. The release of the latest, Stalker, was elected by Helsingin Sanomat to be one of the Cultural Events of 2008. The game is based on the world-famous scifi novel Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky. The English translation is coming out this summer and the PDF version will be on sale worldwide.

I have also written four published books. Two (Pelintekijän käsikirja and Elämäpeli) are about game design and development, while the other two are a fantasy novel (Vanha Koira) and an autobiographical extended pamphplet Häirikkötehdas, which is currently being turned into a short film called Bully Factory in the UK. I am currently working on my fifth. It is a novel called Raindance, an epic tale of net-based information thieves and secret conspiracies in a dystopic near future.

As part of my hobbies, I have two businesses: Burger Games for publishing my roleplaying games and more recently Wirepunk Partnership, a joint project between myself and three friends from the IT sector. We all have dayjobs elsewhere, so Wirepunk only exists in the net and whenever we can arrange a workshop for an evening or a weekend. Working on almost zero budget, we are making HAX, a browser MMORPG of cyberpunk information criminals. My upcoming novel Raindance takes place in the HAX setting. You can find out more about HAX here: http://www.facebook.com/haxgame

And by asking me, of course.

They call me Burgeri for "obvious" reasons. Yes, I am short, round and heavy. Actually, I look and weigh like a World War I mortar shell but my spouse, Leena Romppainen, also says that I am warm, soft and less likely to explode on contact. I used to do a lot of muscle excercise and but these days I prefer doing cardio, such as riding 10-20 kilometres on a bike each day. I still like the feeling of having muscles but cardio makes my brain feel better and having a working brain is a must in this business.

Highlights of my career are many but since events and developments remain undocumented, lets talk about games. Personally, I consider these titles to be head and shoulders above the rest in my portfolio:

I wrote the story for both Fantasy Warrior 2: Good and FW2: Evil but I am officially the lead designer of the latter. The Link-style mobile adventure won quite a few awards, including some obscure vote in Germany for being the best mobile roleplaying game of 2005.


War Diary: Torpedo took reviewers by storm in 2006 and even serious submarine simulation websites took notice. Nobody had thought a non-silly submarine combat game could work on mobiles, let alone be this good!


Wolfmoon is my most decorated title as far as review awards are considered. Personally, I consider it to be one of the best mobile titles by anyone ever. And yes, it is a Mobile First-Person Adventure game of betrayal, murder, werewolves, strong female characters and Indian mythology. It was way ahead of its time back in the day but today the iPhone gamers might like it better.


Burnout Mobile for EA Mobile is yet another case of the impossible being made not only possible but good. Although the project was finished after I had left Rovio Mobile, it is my concept and design. Presenting the concept to the disbelieving EA officials in their European HQ in the UK was a personal triumph. Reading the reviews was another.



Crown of Byzantus. It feels funny to talk about it now but in a market full of Travian clones we wanted to make a Browser MMO of medieval warfare that actually was about war and not farming or building log cabins. Well, it was my first browser MMO for adults and we did many things wrong. CoB did not set the world on fire but it had an iron core of fans that validated our core assumptions about the genre and the mechanics. And it looked gorgeous. *sigh*


The next game would have built upon those lessons and been so much better. So much better!

All in all, I have worked on 25+ mobile titles, 3 next-gen console titles and 5 different browser games with persistent world features. They are not all that great but the only game I am really ashamed of is the mobile version of Need for Speed: Carbon. For tools, I have mostly used Microsoft Office and Open Office programs, as well as SVN version control systems. I am also pretty good with Adobe Pagemaker but nobody cares about that anymore.

A list of recommendations is available on request (meaning I should probably compile the damn thing) since I am not going to publish other people's email addresses right here, for heaven's sake! So if you need to know more, either contact my old employers, check my Linkedin connections or ask me.

So, are we game?

20-Jun-2011: Eurocon 2011

It is late at night and I've just gotten back home from Eurocon in Stockholm. It was a three-day event of panels, presentations, milling about and dodging the rainy weather outside. Good thing that Stockholm's tourist attractions are already old news: we saw none of them and instead hid inside the Student House of their University of Technology.

And for three days I walked amidst giants. The official guests of honour included Elizabeth Bear, Ian McDonald, Jukka Halme and some Swedish dude I've never heard about. But also Hannu "Quantum Thief" Rajaniemi was there, along with Charles "Accelerando & others" Stross who insisted that everybody call him Charlie. For an aspiring cyberpunk writer like myself this was pretty much The Dream Team and as sugar on top, the lot of them turned out to be excellent speakers and panelists. Programme after programme I just sat there and tried to turn into a sponge so that I could absorb every last bit of information revealed.

The programme was very much about writing skills, genre tricks, applications and other practical stuff and very little of what others usually call "fandom" and I would refer to as "useless". The Friday panel As You Know, Bob was alone worth both the plane tickets and the admission price. I don't think I've ever followed a better panel and every aspiring fiction writer should have been there with me. The topic was deceptively simple: how to do exposition and infodumping in speculative fiction without boring the reader to death. The panel leader had presupposed that info-dumping would be a bad thing and our expert panelists were delighted to prove him wrong. With authority, I might say.

Lots of good stuff in that programme: scifi in Latin America, Rajaniemi vs. Stross -interview, Cities on the Edge (by the authors of the Transhuman Space -supplement by the same name), the great-general-debate-without-a-topic and so forth. Maybe a traditional scifi-fan might have been disappointed because actual scifi-topic programmes were sparse but I certainly wasn't. And I spent the late evenings hammering away at my mini-laptop, writing and editing Raindance. We brought home enough books to last for months (although e-books were the subject of an intense discussion, events like these still have to settle on selling dead wood).

Unfortunately, walking with giants has the side effect of driving it home how small I really am. My goals are certainly low: action-oriented cyberpunk you might expect from a game novella or a kiosk softcover (a living descendant of pulp literature). There guys are like world-famous gourmet chefs, while I am still striving to become the hot dog vendor. And so far I suck at it. I ramble too much for pulp fiction and the genre is so much more active and dynamic than fantasy it always feels like the strings of the story were slipping through my fingers.

This is like learning to play a new instrument. I have learned to doodle with a couple of other instruments already and it helps but still there is this learning threshold of getting the basics right. Not to mention the fact I am actually handicapping myself by trying to write pulp rather than straight prose. In pulp fiction, you can't just stop and start mulling over the sociopolitical evolution of microstates within the Complex, or how autonomous cyberweapons are replacing traditional weapons in the underworld. Things either are, or they aren't.

You have much to learn, grasshopper!

10-Jun-2011: Turmoil

As usual, everything happens all at once. Stalker translation, my novel, a thousand issues at work. Some of them big enough to impact my life for years. Mine and quite a few others. I was hoping to take a long summer vacation like last year but it is starting to look like I have to flee the country before I get some rest. Well, that's games industry for you. You have to take the bad with the good and sometimes they are indistinguishable. I am stressed out as hell about making to Eurocon, Finncon and the thousand places I've planned to go to this summer. Yet I would die to get to do some of the stuff I am doing now. And I might be out of a job before the summer is over.

Interesting times, interesting times. Without Rovio's recent minority shareholder cash-out I would be a lot more nervous than I actually am.

I am currently editing the Gamemaster's Book of Stalker RPG. The ultimate deadline is getting the print version out by Ropecon but I hope to be much faster, of course. So how good a translation is it? Let's be honest: it is a fan translation. Sometimes I wonder if I could have done it better myself but the real answer is no. I wouldn't have done it at all. There is nothing I can do about people bitching about in the Internet but do that to my face and I am going to find your copy and shred it.

And there is the other thing, of course.

Doors on both sides look all the same to the naked eye but who is using naked eyes anymore? They are marked with bright Virtuality icons. Room code, function, occupants, entry permissions. I am running only a guest level authority so most of ICU is out of bounds and the doors are framed in red.

What I am really talking about is referred to as "enhanced reality" these days but it sounds stupid. For now, I am calling it "Virtuality" but I am thinking of a more unique term like "hypertag" or the like. Not a big deal but is making me scratch my head quite a bit. Inventing a little newspeak is not only a cyberpunk cliché but honestly hard to avoid because you need to introduce future shock into your work somehow.

I nod and lean back. As the edge of the blanket creeps up, Kleon turns his eyes to the ceiling.
“Oh, have mercy. I got out of Mamba just two weeks ago. I am working off my probation here.”
“I am going to buy stuff, Kleon. I need you to deliver them here.”
“So? Doctor Grohl already said okay.”
“Some of it can get you into trouble if you are caught.”

Vanha Koira was occasionally praised for its realistic sex scene between two older people (actually I thought it as a sort of post-sex scene but nobody else seemed to make a difference between the two). I am actually fairly uncomfortable writing sex scenes for some reason but Raindance is the perfect opportunity to practise. Pulp fiction, even cyberpulp, requires a certain amount of erotic tension. I should really give my protagonist bigger boobs.