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This is purely hypothetical.
If you want my help with something... let's say, my recommendation to support your grant application for an RPG translation project, dissing my work and play style in the actual application, as well as insinuating that I am actively hostile to anyone regarding roleplaying as an artform, is going to get you far. Real far.
About as far as I can throw you.
For the last time: Roleplaying is an expression (or projection) of creativity. Therefore, it is art. If it is not entertaining, then I think that this particular game or session is a crappy piece of art but that is a matter of personal taste. Even if I can't figure out why anyone would be stupid enough to make art that even they themselves don't find entertaining (even through shock or provoking thought) that does not make their creations any less (or more) art. Got it?
It is very rare in my life that absolutely nothing has happened in 10 days. The whole story goes like this: I ran into a problem with Stalker, namely the style and content of the Gamemaster's Book. Targeted at veteran gamers, the customary structure I use in GM instructions was redundant since veteran gamers know all that stuff already. While I was thinking about this, everything else happened: me changing jobs. Having to come up with a new set of mobile game ideas and settings. And last but not least plans for Praedor 2.0 and the publishing deal for Garden of Shadows (which will be exactly like the deal I had for the first book) surfaced. Stalker, already stalled, just got pushed aside by all this.
Three things happened that made me take it out again. First, my primary artist sent me a new batch of good pictures. Then my prototype artist Jani Hämäläinen, originally deemed too cartoony for the game, also sent me some new pictures. They have his customary cartoonish look & feel but these pieces are GOOD:
Somehow, I feel like I had lost the original vision and just got a piece of it back! These drawings will end up in the rulebook, although the overall illustrating style is more realistic and to some extent more ethereal. If I ever get around to turning my "Plague" idea into a game (that would be TAIGA 2.0), Jani will get a call.
Third thing that happened was that today one of the Ropecon organizers asked me about the status of Stalker, obviously hoping it would be completed in time for the convention. It is still possible, but it means getting off my lazy ass and actually doing something about it. Looking at these pictures, it is dawning on me what I did wrong. When writing the gamemastering part, I tried to be sophisticated, on par with the trends of the scene. That attitude just got tossed. If my best fantasy writing style comes from "cheap fiction magazines aimed at young, working-class males of the 1930'ies" (pulp fantasy), why the heck am I imitating Isaac Asimov? I am Old Skool, not Turku School.
Today was the day. I shook the hands of my boss and all the developers and producers present, accepted a parting gift of two game posters and a bag of chocolates and walked out of Digital Chocolate office at Ruoholahti. A brief but interesting chapter in my life thus came to a close. It opened a door into an entirely new field of industry, gave me useful contacts on both sides of Atlantic, taught me more about games, game design principles, target group definitions, software development processes and team management I ever thought possible. During my stay at Digital Chocolate I was the game designer in eight completed game projects and saw two more about half-way through. One of them was the second-best selling title at T-Mobile (major German mobile operator) ever, another was named "the best mobile roleplaying game so far" (thanks Airgamer.de!) and two were some of the first real 3D titles published for the next generation 3G phones. Not that the last two needed much in the way of design.
Overall, it is a pretty good record and landed me three job offers to choose from when I began looking for other work. Bugbear even offered to hire although they had already filled their game designer position. I honestly don't know what they would have done if I had accepted their offer. The offer I did accept came from a small start-up founded by some ex-Chocolates and subcontractors. I'll start there on Monday and I'd love to tell you the name but the papers from Patent and Registry Office still haven't come through. They should come on Monday and then I can drop this secretive nonsense.
So why did I leave Digital Chocolate? Being still under NDA there is not really much I can tell you. I was upset about quite a few things, but the reason I did not stay on to fight them was that I was disarmed. With ideas being handed down from the top, us game designers were "bumped" down a step on the corporate ladder. Key responsibilities like product innovation were taken away and our voice in the company went with them. So did career advancement prospects, or any hope that some of the promises (promise is perhaps a too strong word here) given during the recruitment would be fulfilled. It is not anybody's fault. At the time nobody could foresee the merger with Digital Chocolate in the summer. I never paid much attention to career advancement but I sure as hell haven't been (effectively) demoted before either. Letting me work on sequels to company's old hardcore brands was poor compensation.
Without going into details, let's just say I was a hot item on the games industry job market this January. One application, three job offers. The two other companies contacted me, not vice versa. But if I had stayed on until January 2006 things might have been *very* different. And that's all I am going to tell you.
Me and Petri held a book publishing party at my place yesterday. I sent out about 20 invitation, avecs allowed, and about 25 people we got, thanks to spouses and kids. Some just dropped by but others stayed on, until finally hitting the sack in our guest room at 4.30 in the morning. With its wild and mellow parts, interesting conversation, cheerful guests, good (and abundant) food and warm atmosphere it was perhaps the best party I've ever hosted. But what really took my breath away were the gifts I received. Sam Lake from Remedy Entertainment brought me a hand-made book with empty pages and said he hoped they would be filled. My parents brought me a wallet for future royalties (yeah, right) and an overtly cool guest book where they had already written some rhymes themselves. Everybody in the party wrote something to it.
But then I was issued a parchment, closed with a proper seal. As I took a closer look at the seal, I noticed it was the Skull/Face emblem of Twin Mother, the nomad/rural goddess of Jaconia! Page 176 in the rule book, extremely accurate! I broke the seal and inside was a poem describing me and my moods in Finnish, and signed by a host of friends and fellow roleplayers. If this sounds weird, you should meet the friends and loved ones who wrote it:
Ville vanha vihtahousu
"Onomatopoetic"? I have to look that up. "Word that imitates a natural sound. Many such words have acquired entirely different meanings over time". Err... right. I hope it is a positive thing. Notice how the first letters form "Vanha Koira" (Finnish for Old Dog) When I had read it aloud, they presented me a packet with the same kind of seal. I opened it and could not believe my eyes:
It was a hardcover, perfect-bound copy of Old Dog, with red African wild goat leather covers and gilded title and back cover lettering! The interior was from the original work, although the binding made the book noticeably thicker.
Finally they gave a stone signet with the Twin Mother symbol carved into it. Yes, hand-made, expertly carved. The very same they had used on the parchment and the packet. Bloody hell, I am going to start sending out envelopes and putting a seal on every one of them! The only drawback is that the signet is massive compared to most and it takes a pint of vax or lacquer to make a seal big enough for the symbol. But it'll be worth it.
I also received quite a few flowers, a bottle of Irish cream, plenty of congratulations and quite a few handshakes. What can I say? I was not expecting any gifts. I wasn't expecting anything more than your standard invite-only home party. My spouse, my friends, parents and those surviving relatives who've played a part in my becoming a writer... I love you all.
Petri was not neglected either. He was given "the adventurer's kit", namely something to sleep on, something to eat, something to drink... a pillow, a packet of ryebread and what seemed to be a blanket with bottles of exquisite foreign beers with fantasy-themed labels hidden in the folds. And they were taking pictures and videoclips of us. Two artists, stunned speechless. Maybe not the most sought after videoclip in the history of Internet :)
What do you call it when a project is not canceled, but changes into something completely different? Joutomaa RPG by Juhana Petterson is no more. Instead, he is writing what seems to be a very comprehensive guide into roleplaying games. Frankly, I could not make head or tails of his explanation as to what the book will be about, but then again my interest pretty much faded when it turned out that it won't be a game after all. That is why I almost missed his disclaimer that those of us who get annoyed when confronted with yet another version of "roleplaying done right" should get more self-respect. I wonder who he was referring to. Go read his column at RPG.Net if you are interested.
What else..? Oh yes, a certain person from Alterations (roleplaying fanzine published by Alter Ego Society) has been asking me questions like when the Book of Three Kingdoms is coming out. Well, you all know the answer to that. He has also written an article about Praedor, stating among other things that Praedor characters feel more like stacks of skills than real people. As insults go that is pretty good, but fortunately he communicates by email so I have some time to cool down before possibly meeting him at next Ropecon. Besides, the same person wrote about "art-deco roleplaying" and single-handedly re-defined the whole concept of art in his post-Ropecon 2004 article. Foot-in-mouth statements seem to come very naturally to him so maybe he can't help it.
If you thought I listen to just metal, think again. My most recent purchase was the record "Reasons" by Angelit, mixing Sami lyrics, joikhing and pop music themes. I am a big fan of Angelit. Their previous release Mannú was awesome and Reasons is pretty good as well.
I loathe making phone calls so there is nothing new on the book, but I've been writing the plot outline into a Praedor campaign for my regular group (The Creampuffs). It won't be one to one with the book, of course, but I could use some mental stimulation on many of the themes and sceneries. What I can already tell you is that since Vanha Koira had rural atmosphere, Garden of Shadows takes you into the big cities, showing both lavish palaces and wretched slums. There is political intrigue, glimpses into the past and hints about the deeper mysteries of magic. And of course, plenty of action, some drunkenness, occasional sex and quite a few bad puns.
I just finished the Player's Book for Stalker. It is 50 pages long and combines character creation with the kind of setting intro I used in last year's Ropecon presentation on Stalker. Tuomo Veijanen has provided me with plenty of pictures to choose from and there is something on every two pages. What I am now lacking is a good picture of myself (oxymoron, I can't be photographed without me looking like a complete idiot). I could also use a couple of high-quality, high-resolution full page images, but can manage without, if necessary. I am not entirely happy with the equipment list (that is always a problem in contemporary games, but I simply lack the guts to tell players to go look at a mail order catalogue for something. Skill list... well, I can live with this and it probably works. But I still get a feeling there would be a better, or even a perfect skill list out there, waiting to be discovered. Ttrue hole-in-one like the skill list of Praedor was.
Stalker is written for veteran gamers. There is hardly anything serving as an introduction to the hobby and other reference points for novice players have also been kept to minimum. Now I am starting on the Gamemaster's Book which includes game system, combat system, systems for determining encounters, anomalies and artifacts. I am planning to keep the combat system extremely light so that it won't steal too much spotlight from other parts. There won't be a world book as such; just a Zone Book for the European Zone in southern France. If I could manage to build product lines through supplements, supplemental Zone Books on the five other zones would be a natural choice. Unfortunately my plans for supplements rarely work out.
I ran into a curious problem. If you are writing fantasy or most types of science fiction (such as post-holocaust) there is a ready-made template on how the genre is supposed to work. You can expect most customers to be familiar with the genre conventions, no matter how original your setting is supposed to be. But Stalker is Science Horror, a very rare genre in paper RPGs (although surprisingly common in PC and console games). I may not need to write gamemastering instructions as such, since the game is aimed at veterans, but I have to come up with a genre definition and useful genre conventions pretty much from scratch. This can take quite a while. I did not plan for this.
No news on the next novel. Jalava is not responding to my emails and I haven't called them. If my suggestion for a bigger pre-payment in return for a longer script does not generate more interest, I am going to just settle for the same contract as the last time. It won't be a thick book this time around either, but at least it should not take too long to write. Mike suggested I go looking for another publisher since this one made a mess of about everything. Unfortunately Jalava has published all the other Praedor stuff (apart from the roleplaying game) and it is unlikely that Petri would be willing to budge. But we haven't signed a new publishing contract yet, so anything is possible.
And finally something provocative that in no way represents the official view of Burger Games, my employer, or even myself. It is, in fact, completely non-representative and written by a ghost, with me acting only as the medium. It has no relation to actual events or persons and is most probably a symbolic representation of the early politics of Japanese Imperial Dynasty. It may have also been written in code, so that the words displayed here actually mean something entirely different:
At the very real risk of never working in the game industry again, I present this month's Crock of ... award to Keep recruiting fair -thread at igda.fi discussion forum. This thread, written by management personnel, argues that there ought to be a moral consensus that game companies would not recruit people from each other (i.e. headhunting) without the consent of the target's current employer. Yeah, right. They also argue that there is enough new talent on the job market that the experienced workforce need not be fought over (read: suggesting that experienced workforce does not have any value over the inexperienced and therefore does not merit special attention or benefits). Kudos to Mr.GoodLiving for not buying this.
I understand the management's point of view: From their perspective not having to compete over work resources helps to keep employer salaries and other benefits across the industry way below the IT average. This translates into lower production costs. In effect, this suggestion of a moral consensus is about creating a cartel to protect their profit margins. It is illegal, but this is a moral agreement without any signed papers or documents, and thus hard to prove.
I am not a manager. From the employee's perspective being competed over enables them to negotiate the best possible contract for their work output. This will increase production costs but the increase goes directly into the pocket of the employee. I have hard time seeing anything wrong with that. There has been some headhunting going around and all the effects I've seen have been positive. Offers from outside and counter-offers from the inside have resulted in better salaries, improved promotion prospects and other advantages for both those who left and those who stayed. It also enhanced employee's confidence on his abilities and the overall respect game industry workers get in the job market. We are being taken more seriously now.
So keep hunting! Maybe, just maybe, some day I won't have to listen to the age-old mantra of "working here being its own reward" anymore. Game development is hard work and there is very little glamour in most positions. What the employees are paid for is determined in the job contract. They are effectively selling their work output to the employer, who has no claim on their person OR morals. If they also feel the work is rewarding, that's great but they have no obligation to feel that way. I don't see how offering a person a better deal for his work output would differ from any other target-specific advertising.
By promoting and defending free trade, I am also defending the labourer against the oppression of the capitalist class. I have a political identity crisis.
Here we go. Jalava offered me the same deal as with the first book. I want to write more sheets this time (to make the book thicker) and get correspondingly more money as pre-payment, but that is just a talking point. There will be a deal and there will be a new book. Don't ask me about the schedule, but as usual it all happens at the expense of other projects. Good thing I am not writing RPGs for living. Actually I got quite a lot of money from Vanha Koira because of the City of Vantaa art grant. It won't be repeated this year but on the other hand I do have a job now.
As for the book, I am obviously not going to tell you anything important since most of you are sensitive to spoilers. The working name is Varjojen Tarha (Garden of Shadows) and if all goes well that'll be the final name too. I want to keep up my both praised and hated style of separating segments of a larger tale into distinct stories, or portrayals of events forming a loose chronological succession. Like beads of a string. I am too green as an author to have clearly distinctive literary style yet, so I'll stick to the few personal features I have. The genre will be the same, mature fantasy owing much to the pulp fantasy of the early 20th century. As for the characters... well, Old Dog and Ravenclaw will be there, but they are not my only heroes. If Varjojen Tarha gets half as good reviews as Vanha Koira got, I'll be happy. Maybe people are just trying to be nice, but quite a few have really liked it and nobody's really trashed it yet.
On the whole the book did not give my any publicity (review in Helsingin Sanomat does not count) but I did meet with my old Finnish teachers at Kaitaa High School. I gave them all signed copies of Vanha Koira and received a lot of hugs and encouragement. I also was made to give an impromptu presentation on forms of professional writing to Creative Writing students (they have all sorts of cool stuff at high schools in these days). Usually Finnish students never ask anything but this time I was actually asked a few questions. Very nice.
There has been talk of another presentation at Ropecon, "Gamemaster's Jaconia v2.0" that would focus on all the new stuff presented at comics and books that have come out since the release of the game (and which would make their way into Praedor 2.0 if it is ever written). We'll have to see about that. I am actually quite fond of my own voice and speaking at Ropecon, but I am always worrying if the audience is really interested in what I have to say. Some perverse combination of narcisim and stage fever, I think.
One final note, although from outside the scope of this blog: To make the long story short and stop any rumours, I have resigned from Digital Chocolate, formerly known as Sumea Interactive. My work there will cease in mid-February, after roughly one year and 8 globally distributed mobile titles. I am not going to comment on the reasons for my departure but some of them can be gleaned from this blog if you've read it carefully enough in the past. Some people have asked if I could help them get a job at a games company. I've been happy to point them to the right addresses, but you can find those contacts as easily from www.sumea.com.
And no, I am not dropping out of the digital games industry.
Petri Hiltunen finally received his author's copies of Vanha Koira and was very pleased with them, except for the cover text which he felt made the originally rather three-dimensional looking picture flat. Still, he liked what he saw and was eager for another project like that. Another novel by new, another set of illustrations by him. But I don't know if the readership is ready for it. There are no figures on the sales of Vanha Koira and while the reviews have been positive, it did not exactly made a splash when it appeared. I would love to write another book. I have the story arc, I have the characters, but it is not up to me. It is up to Jalava. If I get another publishing deal like the last one, I am going to do it. And this is a promise.
But as I said, it is not up to me. It is up to Jalava (or some other prospective publisher). I would be happy with Jalava. It is true that he made a mess out of many things the last time around and not least the schedule, but I've been told it is like that in the book publishing business. And Burger Games is not exactly known for its tight schedules either. If you want to influence this issue one way or another, feedback to Jalava is the right address.
Many things are happening at once and my life is in sort of a turmoil... it is a good thing for inspiration but bad for getting anything done. In truth, practically all my work has been stalled for several weeks. My mental batteries are getting depleted. It is also affecting the publishing rate and the content of this blog.
Designer's Notes were intended to deal with BG publishing work and related topics from within the Finnish RPG scene. I must admit that since moving into games industry my daily work has been intruding on this blog. That won't do. Firstly, there is the risk of accidentally breaking the NDA (non-disclosure-agreement) I have with my employer. Second, it is just plain bad form to pour my heart out over work issues on a public medium, no matter how aggravated I am.
From now on I'll stick to ranting about pen&paper games, complaining about failing my own schedules, bashing roleplaying theorists and going over most recent developments in the scene. If there is something absolutely staggering affecting my life you will be informed, but only to the extent if affects my Burger Games -related projects.
On a final note, I have confirmed that I will hold one programme event at Ropecon 2005. It will be called Gamemaster's Borvaria (Praedor players know what I mean). I am also struggling to get Stalker done by RC'05, but if my life does not soon take a turn for the better it will be a tough call. Originally the game was supposed to be done and out by now. Oh boy, good old RPG release scheduling strikes again...
There have been calls for another round of Gamemaster's Jaconia, which turned out to be a bit of a hit last year. If there are more calls I will consider it, but I would have to find a new angle to the subject matter. Maybe focusing on the new stuff that was not there when the game was made. But so far only the Borvaria presentation has been confirmed.
Many people have asked what I listen to or do for inspiration when writing stuff. And while books and movies play are important sources of inspiration, what really gets my juices flowing is music. I have actually played a violin for seven years when I was a kid, two of them as part of an orchestra. I am clearly getting over the trauma since I can publicly admit this. I am not playing anymore, but my love for music and good ear for whether tunes are played right or wrong never faded. This poses a problem too; I don't like live gigs, because I want to get my music-inspired emotions from the music itself, not from mass hysteria, AND bands usually play poorly compared to the studio recordings where they have had the time to do many takes and edit out any errors. Then again, I've noticed that in live performances some instruments, like vocalists, are much more pronounced than in the studio recordings. Sometimes this really changes the song, and often for the better.
I listen Musgorsky, Wagner, Sibelius, many kinds of folk music (I am perversely attracted to Mongolian throat-singing), orchestral movie soundtracks, hard rock (or what they used to call heavy metal in the 80'ies; I don't understand the genre definitions anymore) and some pop artists like Alanis Morrisette or Susanne Vega. I am not really interested in lyrics, so the words in a song are not that important, but the vocalist is an important instrument. Although I don't even have to make out the words, death metal growling is a big turn-off for me. Praedor RPG was written listening to movie soundtracks and Celtic folk songs. Old Dog was written mostly to the tune hard rock/heavy metal of the early 80'ies, especially Motörhead. And no, I don't like "Ace of Spades".
While music theorists (heeheehee!) struggle to define the sub-genres of hard rock/heavy metal (make up your minds!), I divide it into three categories: Guitar Torture, Wall Of Sound and Grumbling.
Guitar Torture is usually quite melodic and includes long guitar solos and musical trickery, which I usually detest. Stratovarius would be a perfect example of a Guitar Torture band. I don't usually like them unless they got a really swinging melody or bring something extraordinary to the usual ear-piercing guitar play. Recently the introduction of Opera Metal (bands like Nightwish) has made this genre more appealing. Furthermore, if done *extremely* well, Guitar Torture can achieve musical greatness above and beyond any other genre. Unfortunately such successes are few and far between. Guitar Torture bands also have an annoying tendency to have only one good track per record. The rest is garbade. Just listen to old Van Halen and you'll hear what I mean.
Wall of Sound got its name from a track from Slade by the same name (and with the same effect). It is powerful music that seems to fill up the physical space you are in, or fall over you like a... well, wall. It has to be played reasonably loud and it grabs and carries you off like a raging flood, penetrating every pore of your skin. Most of my favourite songs from Motörhead, Ozzy Osbourne and other old masters fall into this category. But if done badly, Wall of Sound -type of music makes you physically sick and likely to do something damaging to the stereo equipment.
Grumbling is a very difficult category to do well, but bands like AC/DC and ZZ Top have pulled it off (AC/DC has plenty of Wall of Sound -songs too). With almost minimalistic melodies, low tones and heavy touch of jazz or blues, it is an atmosphere adjuster, but does not rob you of your identity like Wall of Sound -music does. It does not create a physical space of its own, but redecorates the one you are in. It is just a matter of taste and where you are if you like the end result or not. That's right; location-specific music. Wall of Sound or Guitar Torture can be listened practically anywhere, but different Grumbling bands require different surroundings and moods to begin with. But when it all fits, it fits like a glove.
Vanha Koira was finally reviewed by Helsingin Sanomat in 5th of January (for those of you living abroad it is by far the largest daily newspaper in Finland and has a pretty conservative tone). To my utter surprise, it was rated excellent! Here is the text of the review article and there was a big picture next to it so it also got plenty of attention. Sorry about the Finnish.
Vanha koira sijoittuu Praedorin
maailmaan, jonka loi sarjakuvapiirtäjä ja kuvittaja
Petri Hiltunen 80-luvulla. Se on on rutkasti velkaa
miekka ja magia-genren klassikolle, Robert E. Howardin
Wow! Not a single downside was mentioned and comparing my pulp fantasy writing style to Howard is one hell of a compliment. I had been under the impression that mainstream media (which Helsingin Sanomat is definitely part of) disses genre fiction like fantasy. I guess I was wrong. Regardless whether the reviewer really means it or this was just a helping hand to beginning author, I could not have hoped for a better review. And in Helsingin Sanomat, on top of all that? I must be going on into my second fifteen minutes of fame here.
As terrible as the events in Asia were, I somehow find the shock over it disturbing, More than a million people died of violence in Central Africa alone last year. Tsunami death toll has not even exceeded the Iraqi casualties of US invasion. Maybe the shock is not about the deaths or destruction but about the idea that the elemental forces of nature have not been tamed after all. The crown of all creation is being contested. Media is applying human psychology on the tsunami. They call it a "Killer wave", implying (at least sub-consciously) murderous intent on its part. Nope, it just a wave. Kinetic energy applied to a mass of liquid. It could not have done anything else but what it did.
I don't mourn the dead. I mourn the living, those who survived only to find their lives, families, plans and dreams swept away. They are the true victims, but there are people like them all over the world. There is very little we can do about earthquakes or tsunamis. I wish we did more about the disasters we can something about.
Compared to all this my own troubles seem petty, but in my eyes they are as big or bigger since they are so much closer. 2004 was a very interesting year: I became an "author" in every sense of the word. I made my entry into the digital games scene and already have seven mobile titles out there. I learned a lot about games, technology, design procedures, marketing and team work. I also learned a thing or two about American corporate culture and the importance of labour unions. But most importantly I learned that trust, once broken, cannot be restored even if you were willing to forget and forgive.
I did not cast any tin this new year, but I already know that 2005 will be a year of tough decisions, hard work, doubts, fears and risks. Burger writing this entry for year 2006 can be very different from the good-natured lump of grease and creativity he is now. TV news announcers would conclude this paragraph with "stay tuned". This blog is not really a commercial venture but any significant events concerning me or scene will be explained (or at least mention) here. Just like before.
Polymancer magazine was so happy with the number of referrals they got from the banner on the bottom of Burger Games homepage that they sent me a free copy of their magazine. Their editor-in-chief confessed that the numbers weren't that great, but decided to send me a free copy of their magazine anyway since "any numbers from Europe are good numbers". It has not arrived yet so I can't review it here, but Polymancer staff have proven themselves good guys (and gals) at every turn, so I hope you keep visiting them. Preferably through my site, of course :)
Eero Tuovinen trashed "Vihreä Kuu" -story in an email, ranking it to be on par with the amateur fantasy short stories published in Finnish speculative fiction magazines. Fortunately he considered the rest to be some of the best Finnish fantasy stories ever. I was pretty devastated at first, although I do agree that Vihreä Kuu is the weakest piece in a book. I recovered more quickly than usual, mainly because being compared to "Portti" or "Tähtivaeltaja" writers isn't such a bad thing. I've never published anything in either of them and let's face it; pulp fantasy is low-culture by definition.
It is funny; my favourite fantasy genre is a sort of a niche-genre with very few hardcore fans, and I am still devastated when I can't please everyone all the time. Besides, all the reviews have been positive on the whole. Eero's was no exception. All of them found something to criticize and that is pretty much the purpose of critics and reviews, isn't it? If they hadn't, there would have been good grounds to question their judgement. Or sanity.
Believe me, falling apart and pulling back together time after time gets tiresome. New authors are soft, either easily offended or any negative feedback becomes a crisis. Old authors, like Petri Hiltunen, have thicker skins and can just shrug off bad reviews. I've always wondered how they got that way, but I am beginning to understand. After a while, an emotional exhaustion sets it. You get numb, cease to care, see bad criticism as the failure of the critics themselves (even if it weren't true). Utter selfishness becomes the armour for your ego.
I am afraid I am getting there.
As expected, Praedor fans could not wait to get their hands on Old Dog and gave it very good marks:
And as expected, response in other forums has been less enthusiastic, although on the whole surprisingly positive:
But... but... what is this? Loosely translated from the Finnish review by Marko Kivelä:
"...because his text is somewhat Spartan, expanding his vocabulary would not hurt either..."
I did expect them to find bad points but I have long been under the impression that I am using colourful language with a wide vocabulary! I though it was my edge as a writer! Now if you'll excuse me, I'll just go into the corner and fall apart.
There is new material available for Myrskyn Aika; one live-action game plan (don't know anything about those), descriptions of three new realms and some more stuff about two legendary heroes. The LARP piece is a document file but the other stuff opens straight into the browser.
There is also new stuff for Roudan Maa. Well, some of it isn't that new but I just haven't noticed it before. There is an adventure called Hiidensalon tytär, a big article explaining the names and places in the brilliant (if poorly printed) maps, Brilliant, if poorly printed maps in the guidebook contain lots of names and places that have not been explained anywhere before.
As for new stuff for Praedor, well... uh... there is the book, obviously. Seriously, me and Petri have been looking through stuff that's come up over the last 4 years (or came to light with Koston Merkki comic book) and the additions or changes they would require to the original rulebook. Jaconia is and has always been an evolving world. In four years we have figured out or thought up a lot of stuff that just wasn't there back in 2000. That is not just about new material, since plenty of stuff in the rulebook is just plain wrong now. We are still discussing the fate of the game, but what is now certain is that this is the end of the road for the current version. There will be no more re-prints and that's final.
Meanwhile, I am writing Stalker (very slowly but hey, I am my own boss) and doing the layout. Tuomo Veijanen has been busy. With 40+ images half of the rulebook illustrations are already there. While his early pictures were not exactly bad, I think he has now found the tone and style I was aiming for, both for things in and out of Zone.
No news on Joutomaa (a highly experimental roleplaying being written by Juhana Petterson and to be published by Like Kustannus). Not even new Google references or any mention on Like website. All we have to go on is still the news that the game is about Finnish sub-urban angst and that he is going to include a huge section on "how roleplaying should really be done". I hope this means "how roleplaying *this* game should really be done". I'd hate to find out that we've been doing it all wrong for all these years.
Today is the publishing party of Kirjava Ltd's latest translation project, George Martin's Clash of Kings, or "Kuninkaiden Koitos" in Finnish. I haven't read the original English version, but the first book Valtaistuinpeli was excellent and I look forward to early retirement that would allow me to catch up with my reading. Yep, they are having a publishing party, I have been invited and here I am, at home and sick with fever. Not that a low-brow, entertainment-first type of guy like me would have that many friends in the culture circles anyway, but it seems I am always ill when something important happens. They are probably thinking I am a hermit or something.
In remotedly related news, my friend Lasu has reviewed Vanha Koira in his blog. He warns he might have a bias because of our friendship but I still very much value his opinion. Not only is he a genious, but he would also have the gall to tell me if he did not like it. And much to my delight, he did like it and appreciated the style and genre I was aiming for. He also hoped I'd write more in the future. Oh well, we'll see.
We were planning for a publishing party for Vanha Koira too, but Jalava screwed it up. They never gave me the release date and only notified me when it was out already. Maybe there will still be a small party sometime after Christmas, but when, where and to whom remains open. There are so many other things to worry about right now, not least of which are work troubles. I can't really open up on those, although I'd love to. Let's just say that I've seen this in two companies in a row now, so it must be true: Americans have an inverse Midas touch (picked this up from Nemi comics). Everything they touch turns to shit. Gods, I feel tired.
P.S. I just heard that Jalava still has not informed Petri Hiltunen that Vanha Koira has been released. The book has been out for three weeks already. So, if I had not kept calling them about it, they would not have informed me either!
Surprisingly, Eero Tuovinen was first to send his comments. He suggested abandoning the current combat resolution and damage logic to what I believe is called "formalist". This means that there is a single default damage roll, and depending on circumstances some weapons get bonuses and some penalties to it. For example, if default damage was 3D, on an open field dagger damage would be 1D and greatsword damage 5D, while inside a closet dagger damage would be 5D and greatsword damage 1D. Not bad, but no. That would deviate too far from the original game logic, where hitting the enemy with a greatsword inside a closet would be a 5D attack roll, but if you manage to hit, the enemy will still eat a whole yard of steel.
Note that Pendragon uses a similar system when comparing weapon effects against certain types of armor. If I did a game completely from scratch, I would probably at least experiment with Eero's system (to tell the truth, I did consider copying the Pendragon damage model to Praedor in the early stages), but not this time. Eero also commented, correctly, that the difference of 1D and 1D+1 was not great enough to be significant in character's choice of weapons. Those numbers result from the mathematic formula used for figuring out weapon damages (as well as chickening out and screwing it up for some weapons at the last minute).
On #praedor IRC channel people have been busy figuring out probabilities for the new damage rolls and on the whole been happy with them. It reduces the difference between different success levels, but "make 1st level successes worth rolling" because of the greater result range. Some have objected to the greater number of dice, though.
Overall feedback from the book has been positive. There are a couple of clumsy sentence structure, one poor choice of word for a weapon component. I had learned the term "pysäyttäjä" for the sword handguard from an old archeology book, but it appears that the correct term in Finnish is "väistin". Shit. Shit! SHIT!
Praedor combat system has won praise and applause, but it is not without its faults. Firstly, the two-action-system causes problems since most gamemasters allow characters to delay their blows, attacking later than they ought to. If an enemy attacks and hits, they have the best possible parrying stats left. If the enemy misses, they can perform their own attack without any penalty dice. My recommendation is that all attacks must be performed when they are due and can be neither hastened nor delayed. The player may choose not to attack, but this means forfeiting that actions for the current round.
Secondly, beasts and monsters are underpowered in some areas and overpowering in others. As they can only defend by dodging, they are easily cornered and killed since most characters have two attacks. My recommendation is that beasts and monsters do not suffer penalty dice for successive dodges, nor are affected by the rules on retreating and horisonal space. However, multiple attacks on successive speed phases are deadly. No greater reach than II should be allowed.
Thirdly, players like the damage system because it creates graphic results, but I have received negative feedback on the narrow scale of the damage results. For example, a level 1 hit with a broadsword has a damage range of 8-13. To an unarmoured man this would always be a Deep Wound, and there is 1/6 chance of the open-ended roll making the injury lethal. No grazes, quick stabs, slashes or little draws of blood. I've been studying a non-opended damage system that would still retain the carnage and ferocity of the original combat system. The damage rolls below are for 1st level successes, additional levels bring a die each to the roll.
Rolls are not open-ended. This is how they were figured out: In the old system, the average damage roll from a 1st level success with a broadsword was 11 (7+3.5, rounded up to 11). To compensate for the lack of open-endedness, the average damage roll in the new system is 12. Damage scale extends up to 19 (and down to 4), but the probability of scoring that high is 1/216, which is actually less likely than the chance of scoring so much with successive open-ended rolls. Second level success increases the average result to 15 and the scale to 25. Third level success inflicts a damage roll of 5N+1+damage bonus. I wonder if anyone can survive that? On the other hand, people rarely survive third-level successes anyway.
This system would have the benefit of including both scratches and making 1st level hits something to be afraid of. It would also help to differentiate between "warrior" weapons and others. The drawback is that by differentiating warrior weapons from the rest, we also make certain weapons decidedly inferior. Game designer in me cries out for balance, but in truth, some weapons are inferior to others. However, there are tricks we can play, like the attack speed. In the old system it was based solely on reach. By making lighter weapons correspondingly faster, they can still be improved.
Finally, one thing I always did want in the original system but never made it there were weapon- or weapon-type specific specialties. For example, axes are good for hacking shields to pieces, while swords are considered to be more effective against soft armours since they can be cut open. Clubs and maces pack a lot of energy upon impact, easily staggering the enemy and hammering armor joints out of shape. Warhammer was designed to knock holes into armour. Laws governing the evolution of weapons in our world also apply to Jaconia.
Any thoughts or observations on this?
BTW, you can still get Praedor RPG from Puolenkuun Pelit.
Praedor RPG has been sold out again. This time our primary retailer would not accept the kind of arrangement that made the last two print runs feasible. They did not say no to the game as such, but the truth is that sales have slowed down to a trickle for the past year. I guess the market saturation point was at a little over 600 copies. I am pretty happy with Praedor sales and even happier about the fact that the game is being actively played and new campaigns and concepts are being constantly developed. For me, customer reaction and sales are the only objective way of measuring the goodness or badness of an artwork, although I am the first to admit this does not apply to art made for shock rather than pleasure. Maybe I should refer to aesthetics instead of art from now on.
Still no bad reviews about the book (maybe it has not reached the right kind of audience yet). Saruwine (author of Tasnar) commended it at Risingshadow.net, although he had two gripes: format (which I can't do anything about) and that the overall story comprises of semi-separate short stories sharing a common storyline and continuum. This I won't do anything about because I love it! You can expect to find it in most of my future novels, if there will be any. While Petri is the creator, I am now officially an author and part of the only real Finnish fantasy franchise. We are currently making plans for action figures...
This both will and won't be the end of Praedor RPG. Unfortunately everything planned for Praedor is away from Stalker, so my schedules are all shot to hell. Well, if I don't have anything to show by Ropecon´05 there is no point for me to show up at all (ok, there is still "Pelinjohtajan Borvaria" -lecture, as "Pelinjohtajan Jaconia" last year was such a triumph).
Some new stuff on this site: Kalervo Oikarinen has made new PDF forms for those who don't have the resources to photocopy essential hit and damage tables from the Praedor rulebook. The short story "Old Dog" has been removed since a new and improved version of it has been included in the novel. I haven't written anything new for Stalker since I am supposed to do an essay on Transmedial Games for Master's Course on Games Research and Design.
Anything else? Oh yes. In all likelyhood I won't get to visit GDC Mobile 2005 after all. Our company submitted two presentations, one was accepted and there has been no comment on the other one. When it is confirmed, I am going to post the presentation material somewhere else in the web. Like on this site. Not that anybody but me would be interested in story design for mobile games.
Yesterday I was in the funeral of my friend's wife. I hate funerals, but I guess nobody loves them. Even if I did not know the deceased, I still get teary-eyed because I often know the other people present and feel empathy with their sorrow. I have no problem with attending religious services even though I am an atheist myself. I am there to honour the deceased and the sorrow of those left behind. My stand on the religion itself is irrelevant. This was a Lutheran funeral and a nice, short, ascetic affair. Priest had chosen his words well regarding his rather secular audience.
I am planning another Praedor campaign (and a book, but that's just hypothetical). Unfortunately Christmas is such busy time that it is unlikely I can get it started.
I just deleted a big-ass reply to the Dogma 2004 thread at majatalo.org and replaced it with a debate withdrawal announcement. Basically it means that I lost (or conceded) the debate but I just know my original response would have provoked Mike Pohjola even more (and resolved very little as he probably would not accept or understand my stand on the issue). Although I like being provocative, I don't feel like severing my relations with a fellow roleplaying game author on what is after all a personal (and insignificant) observation of a poorly defined genre. The problem with forums is that you are not just out to explain your view to the other guy, you are also out to impress the audience. With me, that makes the language I am using sharper than it ought to be.
Mike, if you are reading this (and I know you occassionally do) and still want to continue, we can do it via email.
More importantly, I ought to learn when to shut up. When I see things I don't like (dogmas, manifestos, self-proclaimed game theory gurus, you name it) I usually have a negative response, BUT... with the written medium as my weapon, I am always using heavy ammunition from the start. Maybe they are biased, but folks on #praedor described my debate with Mike as "a breath-taking spectacle of two master fighters duelling about something where they are both wrong". No, I don't know what they meant by that. But right or wrong, what it does show that since I want my text to pack a punch, I resort my writing skills, and as a result, any issue gets blown out of proportion.
Let's take my view of battle as the cornerstone of fantasy genre. Let's assume it was globally accepted as the overwhelming explanation of fantasy and universities around the globe were erecting statues in my honour. What would it change within the genre itself?
That's right. Absolutely nothing.
I wrote a piece about the role of combat in fantasy roleplaying in the Dogma 2004 thread at Majatalo.org today. I also expected hordes of immersionists and art-deco roleplayers (no, I did not come up with this myself) to voice their protest and announce how they have always been interested in all the other things about the genre. To my surprise, there was only one, and to my non-surprise, he was the person who had posted the idiotic Dogma 2004 declaration in the first place. I am not going to translate the thread into English, I am sorry. Let's just say that from my perspective Dogma 2004 is yet another attempt by someone to enforce what he feels are superior methods and ideas regarding table-top roleplaying as a universal standard for the whole scene to follow, or at least compare itself to. Supporters of Dogma 2004 claim it is only meant to provoke discussion and forces nothing on nobody. I obviously think they are lying, but whether on-purpose or sub-consciously, I cannot tell.
But back to the violence. What I said about the role of violence in the fantasy genre has lot to do with the previous blog entry. The core idea is that whether they admit it or not, most players are drawn to the genre, be it games, books or films, by violence. It is all about building dramatic tension and then unwinding it through combat. With movies from LoTR to Alexander, Hollywood is living through an unprecedented period of sword & shield carnage. But there is a precedent. The mythology and semi-historical works the genre is based on are built on the same thing: emotional investment in a conflict. Those who have played with me know that I do much more stuff than just combat and I am especially fond of court intrigue. Still, it all builds up to an epic confrontation, resolved through active conflict. Not always combat, but something very active and shocking nonetheless. That is what the genre is about.
However, roleplaying is not confined to fantasy. As the base of the genre changes, so does the spectrum of available themes. Many players are still looking for action, though, and conflict remains a key plot element, but it is no longer crucial to the genre. With good planning and gamemastering skills, it is possible to run a horror (or Cthulhu) game without an active conflict and still have swell time. A science fiction game can avoid the cliche of aliens and space marines without compromising the very definition of science fiction (I've actually thought about a constructive game about the terraforming of Mars, although it would still have local conflicts). Of course, any of these themes can be made the core of an adventure in a fantasy campaign, but if they become the core of the campaign itself, we are no longer talking about fantasy. I should say IMHO (In My Humble Opinion) but what the hell.
While my book was not rated "bad", I've met the first reader with lots and lots of negative feedback: my own mother. Grown up reading adventure books and having read most of Tolkien's production to me when I was little, she is not too fond of (or aware of) the pulp fantasy genre I was aiming for. Much of the feedback comes from genre contrasts between pulp fantasy and high fantasy. Too much lewd behaviour, too many grotesque scenes, too lowly (worldly) characters, too little idealism or noble aspirations.
Then there was stylistic feedback related to the way I take the story forward and the way pulp fantasy is written: It is written in a hurry, there must be plenty of events is less amount of text than in other formats. The original works of the genre were sold as booklets at newspaper kiosks, not as brick-sized novels that can continue for volume after volume. I like the freedom. If I am not interested in writing about something, I can skip to the next interesting events. Of course, the time between did happen and can be referred to by the characters. Also, if I am not sure whether to include a long dialogue or deliberation of someone's thoughts somewhere, I don't. Simple as that.
The definite upside is that the story is easy to read, keeps moving and even the most impatient readers do not have to flip pages when the going gets slow (yes, I do that and so do many others). The downside is having a thin book. Cranking up the bullshit generator would have added pages, but I would have been hard pressed to include new plot elements. So, it would have all been padding and frankly, I am not interested in writing uninteresting stuff. Let the WOTC fantasy authors do that; they get paid by the number of words.
As for characters: high fantasy characters are used for symbolism, to convey noble ideals and demonstrate Biblical frailties. Tolkien took this further than most, but it is there even in books about Drizzt or Dragonlance. Pulp fantasy characters are not symbolic. While often superior to the reader, at least physically, they are fundamentally on the same level, making it easier for the reader to identify with the lead character. Aragorn is an unreachable image of everything that is good in Humanity in the classical sense, but Conan is what the working class male of early 1930'ies likes to feel like; Free, strong, virile and handsome. Instead of being born to a long line of predestined kings, he can make his own destiny and break through the social barriers with will and sword. Aragorn's crown is handed down to him through millennia of ancestry. Conan grabs it from the hands of a king he just killed.
Finally, mighty as Conan is, his presence or non-presence has no impact on the fate of the world as a whole. There would have been other kings and heroes, and all that he accomplished will be destroyed in the cataclysm that turned Hyboria into our world. Similarly, no matter what Old Dog accomplishes in Jaconia, old age will still claim him and there would have been other heroes, kings or fools. High fantasy requires epics, while pulp fantasy worlds live on with or without the hero. Personally, I think that is what takes high fantasy characters beyond our capacity to identify with them, while bringing pulp fantasy characters closer to us. Mighty or not, they are leaves adrift in the winds of fate, just like ourselves. Old Dog gets drunk, gets laid, goes to take a piss after a hard night of drinking and gets saddle sore every now and then. That's why I like him.
My mother hopes that my next book will be high fantasy. Sadly, that is highly unlikely. Of all my gameverses, Miekkamies was closest to high fantasy in style (although with considerably swashbuckling thrown into the mix). To me, Jaconia is a pulp fantasy world with some very low fantasy elements. And as for Taiga or Stalker... where are the lofty ideals and pre-ordained heroes in those?
Before and since "Most Priced Asset" -entry I've talked with a number of women wondering if and how they might get into the game industry. I am no recruiter, but my workplace, Sumea/Digital Chocolate, is hiring. It is not a paradise and there are a number of things I am not happy about, but as for entering the game industry it is the best bet. So, having made that leap and worked in the industry for little under a year, I'm going to give you a few tips. These will come handy to members of both sexes but the agenda behind them is getting women into game development.
Game industry of today is still relatively young. Many women I've talked to have assumed that there are some kind of studies that will prepare you for it. This is not true: while programming studies will help you land a job as a game programmer or a game engineer (fancy title for people porting games into different profiles), people I've talked to are looking for more creative jobs. And these jobs have no established training paths leading to them. I am... well, me. You know my background. The other designer has graduated and earned his professional expertise as a TV scriptwriter. We landed these jobs via personal contacts and there is really no objective criteria for determining what makes or breaks a game designer.
But know this: There are next to none experienced game designers out there and since it is a big job with big responsibilities, choosing one is very difficult. Digital Chocolate is not the only company looking for a game designer and since prior experience is no-go, there must be other ways to rate the applicants. In my case a long career with roleplaying games, stories, game mechanics and publishing was a winning combination. Having created something relevant proves not only that you have ideas, but that you can also carry them out. That is what we are looking for and this is what the other companies are also looking for.
Of course, designers are, and should be, a bit flaky. Out of their minds. The balance between creativity and business interests is hard to maintain. We are supposed to have ideas that nobody else has had before but that are risk-free. Ok, I'll come clean: it is a mess where product strategies change at the whim of clueless bosses and sales personnel suffering from a bad case of tunnel vision. In other words, your standard IT project. Producers exist for creating order out of chaos and that is another job where I would like to see more women.
Game designer comes up with a game concept and specs, programmers make it work, artists make it look something and the producer makes sure that it all really happens and that the outcome bears at least some resemblance to what the management originally greenlighted for production. In practise, producers have the power to interfere with almost anything in the project and they play a big role in determining what new game concepts are being considered for production in the first place. As with game designers, the pool of people with prior experience from managing game projects is non-existent. Experience from managing people, or IT projects in general, will get you started.
Last Friday the management sent me an article "On Girls and Video Games" written by Jess Bates. First she ignores the fact that 40% of console game players are already women, then goes on to describe physiological and psychological differences as to why women don't like most videogames and repeating almost every stereotypic assumption ever made on this topic. Fortunately she is probably an American, because stating any of these assumptions to a Nordic woman would most likely get you a black eye. I want more women into the industry to shut these idiots up. I've had it with talk of gender-specific content and creative segregation between the sexes.
However, she has one point. She complains that requiring all applicants for industry jobs to have "passion for games" enforces the current game stereotype of a young, male, no-life geek. While it does not turn out that badly in reality, it is true that this is the mindset the management is thinking about when writing these job ads. Maybe breaking out of this box would be the real triumph here. We need someone who likes games but still has a life. Is it you?
P.S. Don't take the application deadlines too seriously. If we can't find a good candidate by the time it expires, we'll just keep looking.
Wife of a family friend passed away last Monday. It came as a bolt out of the blue. No warning signs, no nothing. Her husband found her dead when he came back from work. Last week we went to movies together, this week she is no more. Gone. No more smiles, no more conversations, no more nothing. Or, "the rest is silence" as Shakespeare put it. Some of my friends have already discussed this in their blogs. I am doing so too, hoping that it would give me some sort of understanding of what has happened.
But what the hell can I say? What is there to talk about? Death? Death was, Death is and Death will always be. I wanted to console my friend and ended up just sitting there like an idiot, at loss for words, excusing myself from the conversation by stuffing my face with things I should not if I want to keep what remains of my weight loss. Thankfully there were other people around to keep the conversation flowing and the host brought up the incident himself from time to time. Maybe the occasion as a whole consoled him and helped him process his sadness, even if I was useless.
Of course, when I wrote Old Dog I did not know any of this would happen, but death is still one of the key themes in the book. A lot of people die in it. Sword & Sorcery and the more ancient genre of Germanic mythology it descends from, is a violent genre. But the lesser people must die that the heroes might live, conveying the reader a sense of power, an idea of being able to overcome death. Identifying with such a hero promotes the idea of being something special, that you would somehow be the exception to the rules applying to the rest of Humanity. These stories help the reader defy the greatest fear: fear of Death.
The sensation is even stronger for the writer. I am no exception. While Old Dog is pure fiction and "entertainment first" is my credo, there is a piece of me in it. I did not intend it and I did not get to choose the piece, but it is there. Otherwise, I could not have written it. Old Dog and his adventures are built of my dreams, desires, wishes and wants, as well as of my fears, frustrations, disappointments and the long shadows already reaching out to me from the grave. Unfortunately, I am also likely to take criticism of it personally, because you are not criticizing just the book, but of everything it is built from. My fear of Death.
But me defying the fear of Death does nothing to bring her back. It is all smoke and mirrors. What a terrible, terrible thing.
Entries from Autumn 2004 are accessible via link to the left.
I donated a copy of Old Dog to my workplace book collection last Friday and yesterday one my co-workers commented that while the first story was cool, but... damn, what can I tell you without spoiling it for someone? Nothing. Well, let's just quote: "Praedor stories are not known for happy endings". Another comment came from a person who is writing a review for Helsingin Sanomat. Although he declined to tell me what the review is like, he assured me it will be positive that he had liked the book. The review will come out during this month but he could not say when. I'll keep you posted.
If you think I sound anxious, just wait until I get the first negative comments or reviews. There will be some, believe me, and that's when I'll break apart and swear never to write anything else. Fortunately I am a spineless worm whose oaths are not to be taken seriously and my spouse is very good at putting my self-image back together. And of course, there is this one friend of mine who can make me do or promise anything in return for her wonderful low-carb (and extreme-fat) scones.
Stalker has been moving forward and Tuomo Veijanen has been promoted the lead illustrator through sheer industriousness (what can I say when someone dumps 47 pictures into my mailbox, many of them very good). At this rate Stalker WILL have as many illustrations as Praedor. Veijanen is not a hot sales item like Hiltunen, but I am very happy with our arrangement and I think you'll be too when you see the pictures in action.
There have been some design changes. Stalker relies more on attribute values for doing things and there are only about 30 skills (dubbed abilities). Character creation system is now stalker-exclusive, although experienced gamemasters can easily adapt it to other uses. Frankly, that is the kind of people I expect to be playing Stalker. There are no attribute rolls; instead the player is given a pool of points to be distributed between seven attributes, with Education as the new attribute. This removes any need to mess around with background profiles.
I do have a problem, though. I really, really don't want to do Edges and Flaws, but doing a random events table as in CP2020 feels stupid now that even attributes are no longer rolled. What I would actually like to have is a system close to the "perks" system of Fallout. However, I don't expect this to be what the customers want, so game designer and marketer in me are still fighting it out.