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Today, the Finnish parliament voted "no" on amending Lex Nokia to limit the authority of Internet wiretapping to corporations, as opposed to any organised connection provider (Internet operators, housing companies, schools, hospitals, you name it). Basically, this means that when the law passes, it becomes the legislative foundation for any further expansion of Internet restrictions, such monitoring communications and webforums, unrestricted censorship and tracking suspected copyright violators. How? Commercial Internet connection providers fall under the definition of "an organised connection provider" and that means all e-traffic from anywhere can be legally tapped into. Not by the police, mind you, but by commercial interests. And considering how tangled the webs of corporate ownership are, it becomes very difficult to say who can access the information and what can be done with it. Also, the voting records from the parliament, public as they are, make an interesting read. For example, Heidi Hautala (Green Party) has been a vocal opponent of the law lately. Yet she voted against the change. Now, there is a slim possibility that she did it because if the law remains as absurd as it is, it might not pass in the final vote. But if she votes for it also in the final tally, then we know what she and her party are really made of.
The vast majority remains complacent. There is something very Asian in the Finnish character, fitting with the Japanese saying that "nail that sticks out is hit hardest". Individualism is bad, submission is good. I am especially pissed off by those comments where people argue that only those with something on their conscience have anything to fear from any of these recent nightmare laws. Hell, I guess death penalty for shoplifting and strip searches at the cash registers are also okay because only shoplifters have something to hide? I would not want to live in a society where the punishment for any infraction is death, even if I have not planned on breaking any rules. Of course, if you keep adding more rules I will eventually break some of them. But maybe I have been barking the wrong tree. Maybe it is not about evil politicians trying to undermine democracy. Maybe it is democracy itself that is rotting and collapsing from within. And maybe Winston Churchill was wrong.
I am writing this in the dead of night. It's not quite the Hour of the Wolf yet but it is fast approaching. I can feel it. By the time I finish this entry, it is here.
I won't be sleeping tonight until exhaustion knocks me out. It's my lungs, again. The cough is so bad that my Codeine-laced cough medicine can't keep up with it. Hurts like hell too. It's like something was torn inside me everytime I cough. It is my little going-away present from the army. I had pneumonia before military service and soon afterwards we new recruits were made to run around the training ground in -10 degrees or below with nothing but our shirts (and underwear) on. Yes, it was a young über-lieutenant who decided to flex his law-ordained authority since his real authority did not quite cut it. He gave me my pneumonia back and I was hospitalized in Parolannummi. That same month, a recruit in Vekaranjärvi died in a similar abuse of authority and the generals cracked down on it but for me, it was already too late. My lungs got inflamed two more times during my military service. It did not stop me from becoming an undersergeant (I know some dictionaries translate the rank as "corporal" but frankly, the Fenno-German and English military ranks just aren't compatible) but it did give me a spot of scar tissue in the left lung, without the fibrillating hairs that normally toss the crap out.
Lieutenant-colonel Tikkinen, the notorious head of the Parolannummi military hospital, told me back then that I'd be dead in 10 years. Well, in your face colonel, it's been 16 years and I am still here! But although he was a dangerous lunatic for a doctor, he was not entirely mistaken. Back in the nineties or even in the turn of the millennium there were still winters without me getting any symptoms. But now, whenever the cold snap finally comes, I get something. Sometimes milder, sometimes worse. Last spring it came close to killing me because the doctor thought he was hearing the inflammation when he heard air whistling past the scar tissue. The thing with antibiotics is that I *am* biotic myself and I was prescribed so much drugs that it nearly finished *me* off along with the bacteria. But I have already blogged about this so there is no need to go over it again. Death has a grip on us all. And in times like these, I can feel His fingers.
I am scared. So very, very scared.
I guess this is a good time for confessions, eh? At least the kind of confessions I can make to the broader world. Like, having delivered a new batch of Stalker RPG to Fantasiapelit yesterday, what do I really think of the game? My friends know me to be very critical of my own work but then again, all the reviews out there have been positively glowing. What do I think? Well, in short, and despite the single valid complaint I've had, I think it is fucking superb. There is no way you can get me to say this when I don't have a fever and chest pains but right now I don't care if my headstone reads "an arrogant son-of-a-bitch".
When Burger Games was founded, I was inspired by and more than a little envious of the Swedish roleplaying games of the time. They had it all, professional editing, lavish page counts, superb production values and an audience that actually gave a shit. I wanted to match that and create a Finnish line of games to rival them. And I always felt like I fell a little short of that goal. Praedor is my best looking game and I think it is a great game on its own right even without the pictures, although it obviously would not have sold as much. But I still think there is a gap, at least in production quality, between Praedor and its closest Swedish rival (that would probably be Eon).
However, Stalker RPG blows any and all competition out of the water (even if determining what the direct competition might be is a little tricky). I feel (and it is a feeling so don't expect me to give proof) that I have not only reached the level of the Swedish RPGs but I have exceeded them by a fair margin. And I am proud of it. Very, very, proud. And also sad, for I will never write a better roleplaying game. I can't do it, period. My bag of tricks, collected during 25 years of roleplaying has been emptied onto the pages of Stalker. As a setting, it is a kind of be-all-end-all of what I have tried to achieve in all of my games after Miekkamies, published and otherwise. Just like Eero said, Stalker was Burger's final say on the topic. The rest is silence.
However, there is a catch. I just caught myself writing the foreword of a Stalker supplement. Let me quote (and translate) myself:
It's been a year since the release of Stalker RPG and by all Finnish measures it has done very well. Even the sales are closing in on my goal of half of the Praedor sales and it is only the first year versus Praedor's eight! Some might say that the only way forward from here is down. Roleplaying games are nasty things commercially. A well-done rulebook that is actually worth its price tag is all you need for years and years. The players are already coming up with cooler things than I could have ever dreamed of. I've never written supplements for my games because I don't feel that they would really need one. And financially, supplements make even less sense than the actual game.
But the Stalker RPG is not releasing its grip on me. Writing it took me deep inside its world, an alternate reality certainly inspired by the Strugatskis but for the most part (95% by contract) my own. It oozes the kind of atmosphere I have strived for in all my other games: The deterioration of society, the romance of ruins, ultra-tech at the very limits of science, the fall back to rural and tribal ways, conniving criminals, deep conspiracies going all the way to the top and the blackest evil in the guise of ideals or national security. On the other hand, there is great good and sacrifice in places you'd least expect and where all hope should have died out. There are epics of small fates and heroic deeds the world will never know or care about. I don't want to leave this place. I don't want to leave these people: Czar, Butterfly, Doc and many, many other anti-heroes of Toulouse.
I don't want to stop writing Stalker.
Boris Strugatsky and his incredible agent Franz Rottensteiner threw me a real curveball when they gave me the new license deal. I've been too stunned to decide what exactly to do with it. I have been equally at loss regarding to what to include in a possible supplement but then it hit me. You guys liked the stuff in the roleplaying game, right? How about more the same (fiction + fluff) plus some adventures? I am also going scare the living shit out of diceless purists and include conversion rules for Code/X so you can bring in the dice if you really, really must. OR if you have cool stuff for Stalker you'd like to see become part of the canon, this is your chance. I've set myself a goal of 100 pages. If we can exceed that, great. If we can't reach it, I'll keep typing until we can. This is strictly Indie so I am not paying you money. However, free copies, my eternal gratitude and a free meal with beer at Ropecon are on the table. Not to mention the fame and glory.
Rulebook illustrators! Are you still out there?
I am haunted by Tampere. It seems like every time I manage to get out of there, something pulls me right back in. Tracon, Winter Assembly and in about a month my presentation to the local game dev students. I hope that thing will be my last excursion to Tampere this year. It is nice enough on a good summer's day but now in winter they can bury the city for all I care. Just like everything else in Finland during the winter. This overnight trip there did not do much to improve my cough. I am still afraid of getting a lung inflammation and that place must have been the best source of contagion this side of Zimbabwe. Well, working out-of-office allows me to deliver a fresh batch of Stalkers into Fantasiapelit, straight from the printers. I have to give Tampere credit for an excellent collection of B-grade action and scifi for sale in Makuuni (I bought ten!). Also, as Mexican restaurants in Finland go, Pancho Villa wasn't all that bad.
As for Winter Assembly itself, no complaints. I was part of an EFFI expedition there but frankly, I would have probably enjoyed it more as just a customer. Even so it was cool, had the right atmosphere, Puolenkuun pelit was making an effort to convert computer gamers into miniature wargames geeks and for us industry professionals the Game Space Seminar was an nice touch. Sure they had their fair share of academic games researchers on the podium, easily recognized by the fact that the audience was mostly leaning on each other and snoring. But once they got those out of the way and moved on to other industry professionals, it was great. I especially liked the short presentation on the dangers of Innovation by Petri Ikonen, my former co-worker at Sumea and their current Creative Director. For some reason he said it in the beginning that his presentation would be controversial and provocative but during the whole time he did not make a single statement that me or any other professional in the room could disagree with. However, his point on innovation being a good servant but a bad master was something I wish all the people who have approached me with roleplaying game ideas would learn.
Also, kudos to Jussi Laakkonen who summed up the meaning of "casual" in casual games as "accessible" in his own presentation. The academics present disputed it, having just given a presentation about the different factors that make a game casual. However, being IN the fucking industry and doing games, many of them casual, I can confirm that Jussi was right and the academics were wrong. But it did not end there. Jussi reiterated his point from last year's Summer Assembly that the rapid growth on casual and especially social gaming will be the greatest potential in this business in the future. He then went on to explain how his start-up Everyplay is a small casual games studo with keen interest in social gaming. At this point a female member of the audience decided to be the token feminist and asked how they expected to be able to make games that are appealing to women when their five-man team is all male. While the rest of us where groaning in desperation, Jussi explained to her that casual games, i.e. simple motoric, cognitive and resource control puzzles, are popular precisely because they have generic appeal and do not need to be targeted at specific demographics, like i.e. men or women.
It may feel like I am dissing the game researchers here. Okay, I am. But they have one thing going for them. Gamics, ludology, whatever you want to call it, is a young science and the game researchers are still building up its knowledge base. This means they are doing a lot of basic research which is effectively putting new labels to things any industry veteran has known for years and years. Small wonder we all fall asleep when they are talking. However, once that knowledge base has been established, we in the industry can't afford to be complacent about it anymore. Already the Game Space research relied heavily on real-life gamer data and close cooperation with industry (especially Nokia and Digital Chocolate) and their ultimate goal was to create theoretical tools for the industry to use. This is a valuable goal in itself and while it is highly likely that the first generation tools won't be up to much, I can understand the long-term interest both Nokia and DS have in continued cooperation with the research teams. We'll do a retake on this in around 2015 or so.
Game Space research project is what the Hypermedialab in the University of Tampere has been working on in the recent years. I wonder what Peliikka lab in Helsinki has been doing?
The seminar was an insider event but Winter Assembly 2009 made headlines by breaking the Guinness records on both the longest play session of Guitar Hero and the biggest score on a single composition. I was more interested in cybersports and my previous favourite cybersport, the CSS, had to make way for COD4 multiplayer. The COD4 spectator tools, if that's what you can call them, are so much more user friendly even on the lower resolution of the silver screen that watching the game was incredibly easy. Despite the frantic pace, you did not have to strain to grasp what was happening but could instead focus on the screen and the drama in both the sport and inside the players' heads. After all, cybersport PVP is a virtual bloodsport, where the survival and pack instincts of the players are stimulated for the amusement of the spectators. Of course, all team sports rely on this to some extent but at least the cybersport combat games are not making any excuses. The cybersports commentator is also worth mentioning, being right on par with the best of the hockey matches. It would be a dull thing to watch without him. Thanks, Teemu "Wabbit" Hiilinen. I am your #1 fan! Let's do a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. -tournament next year, ok? (Cool music video)
So, after a 2-hour drive I was back in my cave in Vantaa. Two things had happened while I was away: A new Piippuhyllyn Manifesti had been announced and it had even been commended on roolipelaaja forums. But when I tried reading it the bloody website was down! You fucking tease! The second thing was this forum post by sukkamieli. After the valid complaint about Stalker last week, reading this hit me like a piece of rich, dark chocolate... You know I don't like talking about designer intent but enabling people to do and feel like that, it's my designer intent!
Olen saanut ensimmäinen valituksen Stalkerin sisällöstä, tai ehkä pikemminkin rakenteesta, ja se on aiheellinen. Roolipelaamista käsitellään kahdessa kohtaa, ensimmäiseksi Pelaajan kirjassa sivuilla NN-NN, missä keskitytään toiminnan soveltuvuuteen hahmokonseptiin nähden ja jätetään pelaajan oma ilmaisu pelitilanteessa vähemmälle. Asiaa käsitellään uudelleen Pelinjohtajan kirjan sivuilla NN-NN, missä painopiste on pelinjohtajan vastuulla olevissa asioissa, kuten draaman hyödyntäminen, osallistuvan pelaamisen palkitseminen ja pelin tuloksena syntyvän tarinankerrontavastuun jakaminen pelaajien omien kuvailujen ja ilmeisun kautta. Yhdessä ne muodostavat minusta hyvän ja loogisen paketin. Valitus koskee sitä, että erikseen luettuina ne antavat varsin erilaiset kuvat siitä, millaisilla perusteilla roolipelaamista pitäisi arvioida. Ne eivät myöskään viittaa toinen toisiinsa.
Vanhat pelaajani olivat varsin äänekkäästi sitä mieltä, että näin pääsee käymään vain jos pelinjohtaja on ääliö, joten siitä ei tarvitse välittää. Olen itse eri mieltä, sillä teknisenä kirjoittajana tuli opittua, että mikään ei ole koskaan itsestäänselvää. Väärinymmärrysten ja ristiriitojen poistaminen on ohjekirjan kirjoittajan tärkein tehtävä. Tässä tapauksessa kaikki ongelmat olisi voitu välttää, jos Pelinjohtajan kirjassa oleva osuus oli alkanut tyyliin "Nämä ohjeet ovat jatkoa Pelaajan kirjan sivuille NN-NN" tai jotain vastaavaa. Valitettavasti näin ei ole. Minun helppo kuvitella miten joku, joka lukee kirjaa pätkissä useampien päivien aikana päätyy painamaan mieleensä vain Pelinjohtajan kirjassa olleen osuuden. Koska pelisysteemi on täysin kätketty pelaajilta, joku joka ei ole 25 vuotta roolipelannut sääntöirreverentti otherwheren lumoissa oleva old skool-pelinjohtaja, saattaa aiheuttaa tulkinnoillaan pelaajilleen angstia pitkän aikaa ennen kuin tämä ristiriita paljastuu. Valitettavasti tämä on 99,9% asiakaskunnasta.
Minulle soitettiin tänään että Stalkerin seuraava painos (suoria kopioita kolmannesta painoksista) on noudettavissa kirjapainosta, joten mitään korjauksia ei nyt ehditä tekemään. Tämä myös tarkoittaa, että kiitokset-osastossa oleva "Erman" on edelleen väärinkirjoitettu. Sen pitäisi olla "Ermann".
I have had a picture of minister Suvi Linden dressed up as a Nazi officer in this blog before. But honestly, if she had been a member of the Nazi party, she would have been one of those Bavarian idiots Hitler got rid off in the Bierhall Putsch. While many of the ministers and members of parliament promoting Lex Nokia are genuinely evil, Suvi Linden is too retarded to be a villain. She is from the National Coalition party so she should be as evil as they come but apparently she screws up being evil just like everything else! And while I normally would be dead-set of any kind of a national register of village idiots, joining the Suvi Linden supporter list is completely voluntary and I am all for it. If they would not have sauerkraut for brains they would have asked to be removed from that list already.
Yes, I'd like to see Suvi Linden resign. How did you guess?
While the society has been going to hell in a handbasket and I am ever more grateful to the military service for teaching me how to handle Kalashnikov-type assault weapons, Fantasiapelit has sold out its Stalker RPGs and a new print run is in the making. I am just asking the printing company to churn out a 100 more copies of the most recent version, so there are no changes to the content. The price of paper has gone up, though, so I am contemplating a price increase of 2 euros. And to all of you intent on saying that 30 euros is some kind of a magical price barrier you will not cross for any reason, I don't need to know. Hell, I can't afford my own airship either but that does not mean I am going to bitch at the airship manufacturing company. On the other hand, I just received a complaint that the anti-theft patch used by Fantasiapelit is difficult to remove from the cover of the game without damages. That is the kind of complain I do want to hear because it means I can ask Fantasiapelit to look for less damaging alternatives.
Efemeros #2, Sami Koponen's annual roleplaying magazine/generic supplement is in the making. It is geared for Ropecon and lets all cross our fingers hoping that it really makes it. Curiously, his efforts have inspired me to take another hard look at the possibility of writing a supplement for Stalker. While my voluntary supplement artist seems to be otherwise occupied (these things happen when you do stuff as a hobby), there are alternatives, such as the original illustrators. However, writing a supplement would mean dropping the translation project for now (not that it would have progressed at such a blistering pace anyway). But yeah, abt. 100 pages of Stalker lifestyle, fashion and trends. I hear winter camo is all the rage in Toulouse right now but the Institute Border Patrol has begun to round up people at roadblocks just for their clothing. Let's just hope your fake ID is good enough.
I've been toying with the idea of Code/X/FLOW conversion rules (effectively a dice-based alternative system). Maybe I'll put that in the supplement. Having the best of the both worlds (and another round of arm-chair game designers doing mismatched rule expansions for it...)
Turmion Kätilöt is a moderately controversial Finnish heavy-industrial metal band (actually, Rammstein guys are fond of their music and say it is probably what Rammstein would sound like to a person who can't understand a word of German). I first heard them live in Ruisrock and they did not impress me back then. Later I found out that studio quality sound actually lets me discern the melodies and lyrics from the structured, metal-industrial mayhem and I really liked what I was hearing. I listened to them quite a bit when writing Stalker RPG. They have published their latest record as freely downloadable, DRM-free mp3s (the mobsters at Teosto must be fuming). It is not all about being noble and I hear they've had some kind of falling out with their record label. Even so, it is a great deal and I hope to be able to donate these guys something for it.
Burger Games is about to file its enterpreneur tax report and man, I suck at accounting (something the tax officials have duly noted). Still, looking at it I'd say there is about 250 Stalkers out there and this latest print run puts the total for me at over 300. The midway point to Praedor sales is not that far off, actually. The royalties I will be paying to Strugatsky will actually amount to something. It is money well spent and money well earned.
The Priboi Story is a Hungarian total conversion mod for S.T.A.L.KE.R: Shadow Of Chernobyl. It delivers a tight package of existing mods on top of a new storyline, a new lead character and loads of textual content. It's all in sync with the storyline, where it has been a while since Marked One made it to the centre. The Zone remains wide open for exploration but it is also more active and growing. Alarmed, the Ukrainian Army sends in Lt. Priboi to trace down key documents that should shed light on the secrets of the Zone and they even give him a decent machine pistol to start out with (luckily I still found AKSU from the Cordon village). The military is his home faction and scientists and the Duty are allies. Loners are neutral but sometimes cooperate. Freedom is now an enemy and bandits and mercs are still on the KOS list (Kill On Sight).
All the new features I got accustomed in Oblivion Lost are still there, like the repair option, vehicles and the extra monsters the original devs had cut out from the final version. There are quite a few new weapons (like the Russian copy of Suomi konepistooli) and they are quite deadly. To compensate, armour is much tougher than before and wears down very, very slowly. Sometimes I think enemies always have better armour than I do. Two or three hits is usually still enough to take me down, while enemies can shrug off quite a few if hit in the limbs. Beasties are quite tough but fortunately the armour upgrade has even blunted the bloodsucker claws a little (they were hellish in Oblivion Lost). Nights are not as dark as before but weather effects are outstanding. Blowouts are frequent but survivable with the proper set of artifacts. And as for artifacts, there are plenty of them and blowouts replenish them, just as they add monsters and even reanimate zombies.
But what really floored me was a small graphical tweak to look and feel of the old levels: It is summer! The Zone is green and verdant, complete with beautiful flowers, songbirds and birch leaves rustling in the breeze. Granted, they also added an odd building here and there and a couple of rather interesting structures (looks like there is giant icicle in Garbage), but really, the change of vegetation redrew my mental map. Another thing they did was tweak the anomalies. They are now much harder to spot and most of them are deadly. I really enjoyed watching a bandit leap over a fence and get sucked into a some kind of ground-level black hole while a nightly thunderstorm (and those things are impressive) was raging all around us.
Not that I can fault the enemies, though. Mob AI seems to have been turned up a notch (not that it was bad to begin with) and they actually seek cover or even try to outflank you. Lone enemies (or allies) faced with overwhelming odds can panic and start running around crying for mercy (if you can understand Russian). Mutants are a pain in the ass, especially at nights when they seem to form veritable hunting packs and I once got stuck on the roof of a bus, with zombies, dogs and rats literally swarming around it. Blowouts also create interesting monster encounters. Rostok (where the Bar is) was almost overrun by monsters spawning within the compound.
In conclusion, I regret the money I wasted on S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky. I should have split that sum between the Oblivion Lost and Priboi teams as donations. Thanks to them, S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl gives me 2.5 excellent games (I count OL as 0.5 games because the basic storyline never changes) for the price of one, while Clear Sky just smacks of hasty design and blind drunk QA department. To install Priboi, update your SoC to version 1.0005, then install the Priboi 1.1 mod, patch it up to 1.0005 and remember to edit the fsgame.ltx. Let's all join the Ukrainian Army!
After the angst of seeing Tracon overrun with little girls doing the helicopter with leeks (although them doing the helicopter without leeks would have freaked me out even more), the roleplaying game session the next day was ointment for the wounds in my soul. I've had Stalker lying around for years, in one form or another but you could describe it as a battleship that has never fired a shot in anger. Sure, I've been more than happy with the sea trials and the gunnery ranging tests. This time was different: not a drill but the real thing. I was actually gamemastering Stalker just for fun, for mine and others. And believe me, it stressed me out much more than any testing I ever did. Which is why it felt even more great when everything clicked right.
Right there, in the very first session, with characters straight out of the wrapper and a scenario based on a plot stem of a novel. I liked it and the feedback from players was very positive as well, including a statement from Janka that it was the best opening session for a new roleplaying campaign she had ever been in. That's a high praise coming from her. Unfortunately, the only player documentation of their experiences I am aware of is this. Short but sweet, eh? To all who have complained that the setting is too limited of a setting, I'd like to point out that my players are nowhere near the Zones. They started out in Bonn and are now in Kolkvitz, a small run-down town near the German-Poland border in what used to be East Germany or DDR. Kolkvitz is about 2500 kilometres away from Toulouse, although as a prime example of the collapse of heavy industries in the former DDR, it has its fair share of abandoned real estate and industrial ruins.
Looking back at Saturday in Tracon and the game session on Sunday, I still get a kick out of Kemppi's claim in Tracon that roleplaying adventures would not make good stories. That is like stating that real-life events could not give raise to great legends and fiction. Novelizing a roleplaying scenario is not all that different from novelizing a videogame, especially if you're an Old Skool dude like me and use a plot stem into which the actual events (that would become the "story" if they were narrated) are bolted as they occur. Just like me, a game designer or a narrative designer of a video game has no way of knowing what the player will do. In a videogame the options are limited but still, all the designer can provide is the plot. It is the player who creates the story by playing out the game. No two game stories are identical, even if they were from the same game. One player gets a headshot in early and an enemy encounter turns out to be child's play. Another player is just checking cracks in the walls for secrets when it happens and is caught totally off guard. The plot of the game dictates that they will get through the battle, even if it means a heavy abuse of the quicksave key, so the next event will be the same for both players, even if their experiences of the event and the overall pacing of the story are completely different.
Roleplaying games with their infinite freedom of choice (and I am not talking about D&D4 here but real roleplaying games, with immersion and shit) have an even wider gap between the story and the plot. So wide in fact, that the two can become completely disconnected. This is why if you were to write a novel based on a roleplaying scenario, you couldn't do it from the perspective of a gamemaster or even an outside narrator. In fewer words, the author cannot base his novel on events occurring in actual play. Sure, you can use actual play for inspiration and sometimes a live-fire excercise like playing the scenario proves that some dramatic choices would work better if run differently. But for the most part, novelizing a roleplaying adventure has more to do with "inspired by XXX" than "based on YYY". Unless you're going for a documentary, of course. I am not saying that a well-edited account of a game session from the narrator's perspective could not make fun reading but I think you can only take it so far.
I have stopped playing World of Warcraft and don't feel any inclination to continue. I reached lvl 68 with my best character. Instead, I reloaded S.T.A.L.K.E.R. with the Oblivion Lost mod and made it all the way into Pripyat. Has anyone ever succeeded transforming artifacts in S:OL? It is supposed to be possible and I think some kind of psych protection device is a must if I plan on ever going inside the plant and taking on Koshey. I have also tried installing another total conversion mod called The Priboy Story but could not make it run. Everything goes fine right until the moment you are supposed to move from the loading screen into the game and BANG! You're back in the desktop, with or without a crash report. Bloody shame, really. I am probably buying a digital download version of S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Clear Sky, install some cool mods in that and give it another chance. Then there is this old FPS-adventure-RPG Neuro Hunter I've been fiddling with. Sure, it looks like hell and the "collect-everything-in-case-it-is-ever-needed" old school adventure game methodology is driving me crazy but I still think it is pretty cool. And since Deus Ex has been played to the death and DX2 sucks ass, Neuro Hunter helps with the withdrawal symptoms.
This blog entry has been open on my desktop for three days, so I guess I'll also pack in my impressions of Roolipelaaja #19. As the issues go, it is not my particular favorite but it is not bad either. It has a heavy LARP emphasis but I am not complaining since the few previous issues have been good for us and LARPers are definitely target audience as well. So, without further ado, the Burger read-through of Roolipelaaja #19:
So there. Not the strongest issue we've had but well worth paying the subscription. Keep 'em coming!
I just got back from Tracon (in Tampere) and my yearly quota of little girls in pink dresses and lace has been met. The idea of going to Finncon in July fills me with dread (I'll probably go anyway but holy shit). Tracon has grown. More sale space than ever, more people than ever and the proportion of gamers to otakus keeps shrinking. Unlike last year, now I really felt like an outsider but that's nothing compared to what Miska must have felt like behind the Ironspine sales desk. Just imagine: you have this tall, athletic guy (actually he is quite muscular; if it wasn't for the glasses you'd think he was in special forces or something) and in front of him a desk full of dark scifi action and raunchy cartoons. And he is absolutely besieged by tiny teen girls dressed up as princesses, french maids and kawaii goths, who are all dancing, holding "hug me!" signs and waving leeks like in some bizarre female version of the "helicopter". Roleplayers have lost this battle and Tracon is animefan turf now.
On a better note, Mike's panel on "Roleplaying Culture in Finland" was the best of its kind I've seen. By far, really. For a moment, it actually made me feel like roleplaying as a hobby wasn't dying out but instead the concept and the identity of being a "roleplayer" were changing into new forms (Joc Koljonen proposed this). Thankfully the long, dark drive home gave me time to come to my senses but really, if you weren't there, you missed out on something good. Even though Janne Kemppi talked out of his ass that adventures won't work as drafts for novels (which we all know to be untrue) and I had to ask Mike to try making his roleplaying games for teens a little less appealing to the dirty old men demographic. Frankly, I don't think I could gamemaster Tähti to its intended audience without being sued. It is too realistic for its own good. By the way, Markku Tuovinen reminded us all of Eero's upcoming "Eleanorin Uni" roleplaying game for pre-teen children. I'll probably hate it but in this case it does not matter as he has been playtesting it with 6-year olds. If he can get it right, he will forever change the face of this hobby.
My own contribution to the program as part of the copyright panel, was a much more mixed bag. Having abandoned his provocative stance, Kaj was no longer sure what the panel was about. For the record, that is not a good choice for the first topic. As a result, the discussion was meandering this way and that. And with only one microphone between the five of us, dialogue was not really an option. And finally, when the audience was showing the first signs of life (apart from decomposing), it was over. We had just one hour for a five-people panel with a hugely complex topic that was certain to inspire questions and comments from the audience. Although one person in the audience later told me that the discussion was so chaotic and hard to follow that one hour was probably the most he could take it.
So, yet another Tracon for the books. I am not sure I will attend the next one, though. I feel like fish out of water there. By the way, I met some people from Fantasiapelit and they are probably going to order some more Taiga. I hope to slip in an order for Stalker into that as well, so I could have the 4th print run made. Although Stalker was listed as the #4 best selling RPG product for January, they are out of it now.
Yesterday, I froze my butt off standing before the Parliament Building with around 300 other demonstrators (my estimate, press estimates vary from 200 to 400). We were protesting against Lex Nokia that I already explained here. There is no real hope of making them reject the proposal but I hope we can still get changes in, like removing the right to monitor traffic from internet connections obviously intended for personal use (I would suggest this includes home internet connections provided by employers as well). We were already on our merry way to personalize the law with Kimmo Sasi but then our old pet-hate and the current government village idiot Suvi Lindén came to his rescue by arguing that the law improves the legal status of all participants (wtf?) and that there are more important problems in Finland right now (no, there isn't; the economic downturn will pass in a few years but the loss of basic civil rights is here to stay).
Sigh. At least the Leftist Alliance, Social Democrats and Basic Finns promised to vote against the law and while goofy as ever, Veltto Virtanen (Basic Finns MP) actually scored a home run with his speech. Yes, Veltto, this time we did understand what you were talking about, although it did take you a while to make your point. The same can't be said for the Green Party. Kasvi (Green Party MP and a geek idol) is obviously opposed but the Most Useless Party In Politics has, again, decided to make itself irrelevant. One minister for the proposal, one against, half of the MPs vote for it, half against it. Kasvi has a bit of a personality cult going on among the geek population but I wish people could see past him. Even if he were personally sincere, his party is just waving him around to keep the geeks enthralled. He is just one guy out of many and the rest of the Green Party can be guaranteed to do the exact opposite of what he is proposing. And it happens every fucking time. Just check the Lex Karpela votes and you'll se what I mean.
The upside of it all was getting to be on television and recognizing my pudgy face, bright red in the cold wind, from the crowd. And of course, seeing the fruits of my labour at work: a good number of the signs and placards waved by the EFFI and Pirate Party members present had been thought up by me last Sunday. If that does not get me into Supo's books, nothing will. I mean, what else could they be doing now when even as-of-yet illegal wiretapping of private communications is going to be outsourced to private interests? Are they facing cutbacks? Why don't we outsource the rest of their functions as well. Instead of having to hide an operation, we can disperse it so far and wide it becomes impossible to keep track of who is doing what. Espionage-no longer just for criminals!
Meanwhile I have continued to translate Stalker whenever I have the time and energy. It is hard, boring work but the thought of an approaching game session lightens my mood, as does the idea of going to Tracon tomorrow. Many old roleplayers are dismissing the whole thing as an anime circus and yes, we roleplayers are vastly outnumbered. Nevertheless, we're there and the last time it was good fun too.
My last Praedor campaign was based loosely on my plan for the second Vanha Koira novel. In hindsight, maybe it was for the best that I never wrote the damn thing. It was not the kind of tight package that the story modules in the original novel were but a long and rambling roadtrip through a variety of fantasy cliches. Maybe I always knew it and that's why it never really got off the ground. It also made me a little afraid of trying to write pure fiction again, although there are bits and pieces of game-inspired fiction in Pelintekijän päiväkirja. Which, by the way, appears to have been gobbled up the publisher and they are not responding to my emails anymore. The editor with whom the original publishing deal was made is no longer working there. Maybe his successor thinks the book is too weird to be published by them (BTJ Finland has this factbook focus). I can't say I disagree but if this is the case, I wish they'd come clean about it. That way we could agree to void the deal (the script was late in any case) and I could publish the script myself.
Of course, it was only a matter of time before the writing bug struck again. With the fresh Stalker license in the desk drawer, you have three guesses as to what it is about. Since I also needed plan for my upcoming Stalker campaign, I decided to give the inspiration-based adventure writing another go and WHOAH! It went fast! "Punainen Talo" was criticised for being too railroaded but it was really written as a kind of a tutorial. "Teräsmetsä" is in my standard adventure script format, also described in Stalker RPG. Scenes in the adventure are basically short scenarios, or chapters in a story. I know the approximate circumstances they will begin with and what the probable goes for the players are. However, there is no way to tell how and if the players will get there and to be quite honest, it is more of a rule than an exception that new goals and circumstances will emerge during play. Finally, I don't need dice to cause chaos. Never have. The players are perfectly capable of creating unbelievable and embarrassing events just by their own actions.
While there's no way to know what will eventually happen when we play, as a writer I really like this plot outline. I think it is a tight package of low-SF action and technothriller intrigue, with surprising twists, elements of horror and quirky characters to go around. It is also clearly rooted in the IP of the roleplaying game, rather than the original novel. As a novel and with the level of detail it entails, it would also double as a sourcebook (or at least a source of inspiration) for the existing Stalker RPG fans. So it seems well worth writing and I am itching to do so. Should I really go for it? This would be the first time I would be writing a book without a signed publishing deal under my belt. I'd like to apply for grants again and I wonder if not having a ready-made deal is too much of a hindrance for that. Of course, I already have the blessing of Boris Strugatsky for it and the positive reviews of the roleplaying game in Helsingin Sanomat should count for something.
Maybe this is a stupid question but has anybody else used FLOW as a dramatic tool? Since there is so little game mechanic involved, I find the character creation system in Stalker incredibly effective at creating characters for fiction. Coming from the R. E. Howard school of writing, I prefer strong personas defined by a few dominant characteristics at first and then fine-tuning them throughout the story with the exposition of secondary traits. Vanha Koira is a perfect example of this. I think the duality of abilities and shadows in the FLOW character creation support this kind of thinking extremely well (which is not too surprising since it is based on my own story preferences).
By the way, Fantasiapelit website still says they are out of Stalker RPG. If I run into them at Tracon, I will ask them if they want another print run made. If not, the final sales stand at around 250 copies. If pressed, I might also release some or all of the 1st print-run games back into circulation. That would mean I will no longer assign numbers to the 1st print run copies when asked to sign them. Also the copyright panel at Tracon will happen, after all. It will be from 16 to 17 in the TC room. Somebody must have warned Kaj Sotala that ever since he emailed me his outline of the panel questions, I have been grinding my teeth. Or rather, sharpening them with a file. He has now retracted the most offensive question and apologized for it, promising to edit the whole panel programme into something less provocative. Good for the panel, bad for drama. If that particular question had been asked, I would have made one hell of a scene.
...but now it is out there. Nokia is dictating the policies of the Finnish government by using jobs and tax revenues as a leverage. Finnish ministers and officials are sidestepping existing laws, expert opinion and even the Finnish constitution to create new legislation serving the interests of a single business enterprise. And that, my friends, is the definition of a megacorp in the cyberpunk sense of the word. States within states. Helsingin Sanomat, or at least the reporter in question, will probably pay a price for breaking the wall of silence surrounding government-corporate relationships in Finland. When he sleeps with the fish in the Baltic, I hope he gets some consolation from knowing that the world is a better place if we are made aware of such things. Of course, if you want to be really paranoid, remember that Sanoma-WSOY is also a megacorp. It is the largest media company in the whole Northern Europe and growing rapidly east of the border. Maybe reporting another megacorp's abuse of power is the opening shot for an impending corporate war.
However, I am just a citizen, an employee and a consumer. In that capacity there are four things I can do:
The insane thing about the entire law is that it is all about management paranoia and would not prevent a single incident of industrial espionage. Actually, I am amazed that unions are not more incensed by this because apart from public rhetoric, this law seems to be targeting organized labour instead of other corporate interests. Think about it. You would not email a rival corporation from your work address but you would email the employee representative of your company. Or the company medical services. Or a boss from a rival department. Or the bosses of your own superiors. And that is just within the organization. Have you told your boss you might be pregnant? No problem, he can deduce that from the email contacts and WWW searches. Ditto for sexual preference, religious orientation, taste of entertainment and in some cases even dietary habits and things at home. In addition, the press has its own concerns regarding source confidentiality but isn't it better for the society at large that corporate abuses are exposed? That's where the the interests of the parliament shoud lay.
Reading commentaries or public debate over the issues of privacy, citizens' rights and fair use of intellectual property, I sometimes despair over how complacent and submissive people are. "Think of the children" is one of my pet hates as its users seem to be completely oblivious to everything else. They would probably use it to justify mass murder if it came down to that. "Employer has 100% authority over employees" or "employers should have all the rights because they run this society" also pops up frequently. To me, my employer is a customer. I sell my work to it in return for a fixed compensation, frequently referred to as "the salary". The job contract determines the nature and limits of this relationship. The employer has no right to interfere with anything else, just like it cannot intervene in the internal workings of its corporate partners or subcontractors. I can stomach, with some consternation, the idea that web communication with tools provided by the employer is monitored to some degree. But what if the employer offers the employee an internet connection from home as a job benefit? Would they also have the right to monitor that? I think not. And to suggest similar rights to student organisations or housing companies, where the private use the internet has been the sole idea for the service, is retarded.
Finally, there was this one argument (thankfully just one) about the Parliament being a democratically elected organisation and therefore entitled to the trust of the citizens no matter what their decisions were. This is roughly in the same category as the assumption that something must be right and just if its encoded into a law. Unfortunately, my trust in the parliament has been broken. While it is convenient for me to operate within the bounds of law and social norms, I don't feel like a better person for it. Quite the opposite, in fact. I wish I were braver. I wish I had the courage to do more than the four things listed above and really throw a wrench in their works. Right now, I feel like a worn-down speed bump on the road to hell.
Well, not really. I just busted my left shoulder when I slipped on the ice. Besides, the ballet required to launch the stones properly is not meant for fat walruses like me. Ouch, and now it feels like my left shoulder is twice the size of my right shoulder and stiff to move. I wanted to go to the gym again today but I am probably going to wait a little to see if the arm would heal a litte first.
I heard rumours that Fantasiapelit would have run out of Praedor recently. However, a visit to their website told me that while the product has been listed as being out-of-print (technically true), there are still sufficient numbers of copies available in the shops and warehouse. So shame on you who are spreading false information. On the other hand, the website claims that they *are* running out of Stalker. I haven't received any calls for more Stalker and without the customary preorder from Fantasiapelit there is no easy way to finance the print run. I'll give it a few weeks and then ask them what's the situation. After all, we are talking about *ahem* the best Finnish RPG ever.
The Stalker translation inches forward, one page at a time. I don't know how long it is going to take and the anomaly names are a pain in the ass. Also, sometimes when reading my text with the purpose of expressing the same things in English I get a sensation from the Finnish text that I am rambling. However, so many people have commended the writing of Stalker so that either I am the only one bothered by it or nobody else thinks it is big enough deal to be worth mentioning.
Ever since the Motörhead concert in Jäähalli on December 16th, I've been having a some kind of Motörhead high. My Ipod is loaded with every Motörhead album there is, plus the recent Black Ice from AC/DC and nothing else whatsoever. At work, the ample collection of Motörhead in YouTube helps me cope with the stress of the working day. I have also cranked up the headphone volume to dangerously high levels, both to bring back the memories of the concert and to recreate this warm, energetic feeling I've had inside me ever since. I've been a Motörhead fan for a long time but I've never had it this bad. Interestingly, the number of Motörhead songs I find truly brilliant has suddenly exploded. I have had most of these songs for 15 years or more already and since it is unlikely that they would have changed, the change must be on my end. Here are some favourites that were exluded from the previous showing:
Oh hell, this is going to take all night! There is too many...
This blog entry was definitely inspired by the related majatalo.org thread. Somebody might ask why I am not writing this there. If I am going to have to explain the rhyme and reason behind my game's combat design, I want the hits for it on my page. If that bothers you, take a deep breath, have a cyanide capsule and call me when you're dead.
Debates on the supposed realism or lack of thereof in Praedor repeat themselves every six months. No matter what we do or say, after six months or so someone is again about the exactly same thing again. I have explained all this a hundred times before but let's focus just on combat and see if we can come up with anything new. Praedor combat system was never meant to be a realistic combat simulation. Realistic medieval combat sucks ass, just like the Middle Ages in general suck ass. Actually, the whole philosophy of the Middle Ages was "this sucks ass, I wish we could return to the Roman Empire". And if the people living in it said that who are we to argue? The fantasy genre and all its subgenres are based on folklore and heroic tales, not on socio-economical studies on how much the Middle Ages really sucked ass.
In Praedor, the low-fantasy approach to the world at large creates a backdrop where things suck ass, thus highlighting the adventurers as people who A) don't suck ass and B) can change their fate and status with gold, steel and alchemy. That's pulp fantasy for you. In Praedor fiction, there are basically two ways for heroes to die. First is the actual death. Second is losing the special status of an adventurer and beginning to suck ass once more. There is a great scene about this in Kuolleen jumalan palvelija, where young Ferron meets a former hero. Now old, crippled and half-blind, he sucks ass and knows it. Even Ferron's mentor, a famous former praedor from the same party as the cripple, is now falling back into the Suck Ass Club, although outwardly he is doing okay as a rich man's servant. The adventurer in him is dying and his last attempt at reviving it backfires in a physical transformation to a Nameless monster.
Conan the Barbarian goes through the same struggle, although he emerges as a winner. As the King of Aquilonia, he is doing outwardly great but the role of the king has deprived him from the status of an adventurer. By the beginning of Conan of the Isles he is so frustrated with the whole kinging business that he threatens to hurl his crown at the face of a nobleman petitioning for lower taxes. His salvation comes in an adventure that makes him hand over the throne to his son and become an adventurer once more. Thus he no longer sucked ass.
Real medieval combat occurs between combatants who suck ass, with weapons that suck ass and usually for reasons that suck ass. And if they win but get wounded in the process, their prospects aren't all that great because their doctors suck ass. Why people would want to re-enact that in roleplaying games and LARPs is beyond me but they do. There is definitely a business in the way the Middle Ages sucked ass. And like herpes, the realism-seekers come back time and time again to ask the one and the same question: "Why doesn't Praedor combat suck ass?"
Praedor characters aren't superhuman but they are definitely above the average. This is made possible by the low-fantasy approach to the world: when everything else sucks ass, the man who does not suck ass is a god. As a rule, pulp fantasy fans don't like reading, watching or roleplaying characters who suck ass. They tend to go for the hero/anti-hero stuff instead and that is the clientele that the Praedor combat system caters to. It's sole purpose is create a mental imagery of a ferocious battle with dramatic events. Thus spears splinter, axeheads push through the shields and injuries are special events (Syvä Haava) that act as a reward when inflicted on the enemy and a source of drama when suffered by the PC himself (a Player Character to you non-roleplaying mundanes out there). The goal of it all is to create medieval fantasy combat porn, for the lack of a better expression. It's exploitation violence.
In Vanha Koira, I thought through all the combat sequences as they would or could happen according to the rules and then wrote out the sequence of events as a narrative. Unlike Salvatore, I did not waste my breath (and pages) on each individual move but you get the picture. But even when I was still writing the actual roleplaying game, my aim was to make a combat system that would produce good fantasy action fiction if it was written out as a narrative. Everything else, and I mean everything, was subordinate to that goal. The system is well-liked so either it worked or I accidentally got something else right.
In the real Middle Ages, weapon and armour balancing sucked ass. Some things were just so obviously better than others that I think any attempt at realism is doomed... Oh yeah, I forgot. In realistic games sucking ass is the whole point. But I digress. Many actual medieval weapons came into being as a result of formation combat. Praedor adventurers would be mostly single combatants and effective formations even as a group would be rare, so every weapon needed to have its good uses. Or at least some virtue other than being cheap enough to be issued to hordes of peasants.
Mathematically, the game has three weapon categories with three variations each. More weapons and exceptions have been added if they are commonly used in Praedor fiction or fantasy roleplaying games in general (thus the controversial suurkirves (great axe) which has no obvious historical counterpart). There are light weapons that do little damage but are easy to acquire and transport, medium weapons that do medium damage and definitely mark the bearer as a warrior, and heavy weapons that do extensive damage and are rare even on battlefields. The basic weapon of each category is the sword: short sword, broadsword and greatsword, respectively.
Damages for each weapon are estimated on a mental image of an ordinary person receiving a "usual" blow from these weapons. Weapon damage + 4 (probable roll result in a 1st degree hit) was matched against the damage tables to produce an effect that best matched the mental visualization of the event. Having read a shitload of medieval war history (and about the archeological studies of the battlefields in War of the Roses, 1453-1487), I claim that my mental images were more accurate than those of most people. But, it is worth remembering that I also have a long background in pulp fantasy fiction. Based on this damage estimate, using an unarmoured size 7 person as a target, I now had the base damage values. Then I expanded each category with fast, medium and slow variants. Calling the determining factor "weapon length" made sense because it fit most people's assumptions on how the combat event would occur and it was already used in some other games that I liked, e.g. Elric!
For example, a spear is the fast variant of a medium weapon. A spearman always gets to attack a swordsman first but the wound he inflicts is one category weaker. Spear is also very common and cheap and even possible to manufacture by yourself. Hence, it needed a weakness and since it was a long stick the choice was obvious. Battle Axe (Tappara) is the slow weapon of the medium category. I originally meant to give it a full +2 damage advantage to a sword but chickened out and added the two-handed option instead. Swordsman always strikes first at the axeman but if the axeman hits back, there is a 50% chance that the injury is one category more severe.
Then there are the special weapons, included because they are used in fiction, other games or are just so damn cool. Morning star is one of them. It is a medium-category weapon but the length of the chain and the ability to strike around shields and defences made it tricky. I could have had a whole bunch of extra rolls to depict this effect. Instead, I retained the medium category damage but gave it extra speed for being so damn cool. Sounds great, eh? A little too great, actually. Morning star needed a good drawback to compensate for the speed increase. Mentally visualizing the battle, the choice was obvious: you can't parry with it. If you have a shield and face someone in a single combat, it is a great weapon. But lose the shield, and you're in trouble.
Finally, there were some overall tweaks. Everybody has seen documentaries on how much damage a longbow can do. But did I want every battle in the game to be a firefight with pieces of wood? Nope. So I reduced the damage to give melee weapons a strategic advantage, even when combatants are lightly armoured. I made clubs cheaper but slightly worse in their properties, while all axes have the edge in damage and the drawbacks of shortness and occasional (but rare) breakage. Swords are the best all-around weapons and unless specifically targeted, they are damn near unbreakable.
Is it realistic? Probably not. But at least it does not suck ass.
It is amazing how nervous I am about translating the Stalker RPG. You'd think I'd be nervous about my book (the publisher is still sitting on it but said it will be processed sometime this spring; I just gave them a little kick) but no. All I can think of is whether or not I can keep the English translation as fluent and colourful as the original text. I am doing the hard work myself and then let a native speaker and a language expert to play the editor on it and colour it red with corrections. That's how it always happens anyway. To get myself back into groove I reworked the stuff I had already translated and employed more powerful tools. One of the reasons I do so much of my writing in Pagemaker is that MS Office and Pagemaker seem mortal enemies and porting text back and forth is a pain in the ass. Now I am using Open Office and have no problem whatsoever, so I am extracting text into OO, doing the translation there with the help of its proof-reading tools and woefully inadequate dictionary and then porting the finished result back into the pagemaker file. There is again a glimmer of hope that next Ropecon might see the unveiling of Stalker - The Science Fiction Roleplaying Game.
In related news, trying to arrange the first session of my new Stalker roleplaying adventure is like herding cats. I am on the verge of giving up and writing a novel about instead. Stalker and FLOW can improve roleplaying in many devious ways but in my age (and the age of this particular group) nobody seems to have time for anything anymore. I actually wrote an anti-family and anti-children rant in here but deleted it in the interests of public safety and not losing the few parenting friends that I still have. But sheesh! People actually go through all that crap voluntarily? We are slaves to our instincts. That's the only explanation.
Meanwhile, this crawled out of the woodwork. I read the foreword where the author confessed that she was inspired by Forge and had an unhealthy attraction to Ron Edwards. Like all Forgers, she is trying to fix something that was never broken in the first place. This hasn't prevented them from having an occasional good idea, so maybe Aulos is a really good game. But my interest in it took a bullet in the head right at the gate so I would not know. I can't understand where this idea, that having a normal gamemaster-player relationship somehow excludes the players from building the story, is coming from (Edwards?). Anyone who has ever played a decent roleplaying campaign knows it's bullshit (hell, it does not hold true even for computer games). Still, some people keep repeating it like a broken record. Maybe it is the same as with the hare krishna-mantra, where monks are trying to purge the world of negative energies by repeating the same line over and over again: Hare krishna hare hare krishna krishna hare hare hare rama hare hare rama rama hare hare...
From the looks of it, both monks and Forgers still have some work to do.
Last weekend I watched Eden Log, unfortunately at the wrong time and in the wrong company, since we were expecting an action film. Instead, it turned out to be a highly atmospheric French scifi-flick with a strong artistic touch that reminds me of Tarkovsky's Stalker. I know some of you just decided to give it a pass but I thought it was very interesting and provided inspiration for Stalker adventures. More so than Tarkovsky's Stalker, in fact. Tarkovsky built beautiful scenes and a haunting atmosphere but he was never too keen on the playability of his setting. Eden Log has also a lot more action but I still would not call it "fast-paced".
If I were to hold a Stalker RPG -themed movie night right now, I would probably start with selected scenes from Tarkovsky's Stalker and a creative discussion about them. Then we would continue with Ugly Swans, Eden Log and Outpost, while drinking vodka and eating sausages. I hope we can add Travolta's Roadside Picnic to the list when (and if) it comes out.
Sometimes it feels like nothing important ever happens anymore.
My next public appearance will be at Tracon (February 7th, Tampere) in a panel discussing copyright issues with some other people and sponsored by the Pirate Party (Piraattipuolue in Finnish). For the record, while I think a lot of stupid shit is happening in the name of the copyright law, I would not give up the concept entirely. Created works are property of their creator and the creator deserves compensation for their use. However, the present protection time of lifetime + 75 years is complete nonsense. I'd like a protection time of 25 years and I can accept the author's lifetime as a benchmark. Anything beyond that is just Disney-inspired bullshit. I have to make a will that releases all my works into public domain when I die.
Oh yes, Tracon. We will no doubt trip over small cosplayers again but apart from that I've always liked Tracon as an event. It's small, eager, not too much program and plenty of stuff for sale. Then again, I am going to London in March so maybe I should be saving my money. Anyways, looking at the programme chart, I think it would be nice to see the "web roleplaying panel", "suomalainen roolipelikulttuuri" (if nothing else, I can throw rotten tomatoes), Miska's ENOC/RTP presentation and... what the hell? The panel I am supposed to attend is not listed? Okay, I honestly don't know what is going on with that one but maybe someone will tell me in due time. Then there is the workshop for turning your favourite Anime (which in my case would be the Ghost in the Shell: SAC) into a roleplaying game, organised by the infamous Eero Tuovinen himself. I can't cope with three hours of Forge and Eero has yet to impress me as an RPG designer but then again, he is making an effort to link the roleplaying and animefan communities. That in itself is a very worthy goal. I hope he pulls it off and does not confuse anybody too badly. Actually, it is from somewhere between a disgrace and a fuck-up that Anime/RPG crossovers haven't been the primary focus of Tracon ever since the anime theme was first included. For example, Mike Pohjola has written at least one published manga comic already.
Speaking of Mike, he noted in his blog that Stalker RPG had been selected as one of the art experiences of 2008 and wondered if I am still irritated when roleplaying games are discussed as art. I already replied to him but for the sake of clarity, Helsingin Sanomat listed Stalker RPG as one of the cultural experiences of 2008, with the word "art" nowhere in sight. As I've said before, I do entertainment. If somebody finds art in it, that's their problem, not mine. However, since both art and entertainment are culture, Helsingin Sanomat got its categories straight anyway.
I just received a long letter from a Mobsters fan in Australia. It was one of the longest fan mails I've received but he basically wanted to show his appreciation for the game and the overall design. He also expressed wishes to see the game in printed format some day. That is unlikely to happen, although Alter Ego once published a small print run of Mobsters as a special issue of their Alterations fanzine. He has somewhat better odds of getting his hands on the Deluxe Edition sometime in the future, because I still have the files on my hard drive. There have also been quiet calls for a re-print of, out of all things, Miekkamies. I don't think I have the files anymore (I think it was done with WordPerfect 5) but of course the pages could be scanned somewhere. Anyway, if someone wants to put together a collection of early Finnish roleplaying games and include it in there, come talk to me.
Did you know that Mobsters is 11 years old now? And that in next December, Praedor turns 9? And Burger Games turns 12 in a couple of months. Taiga is 14 years old. As for this blog, it turned 5 on September 27th, last year.
Yet it feels like all that happened yesterday.
Declaring something or other the best ever is often the fastest way to cause a row within the related scene. Apparently this holds true even when everybody more or less agrees on the choice. Lacking a bone drill I failed to get my point across but the entire exchange is here (in Finnish). Read through, contribute and wonder how can anyone be ever entitled to an opinion again. Collateral damage has already spread outside the forum but I think the lesson here is that whatever you mean does not really matter in comparison with what you are saying. Oh well, life goes on and they would not be the Forge Fans if they did not have their feet in their mouths. I wonder how the rest of the progressive roleplaying community is doing? Theory buffs haven't said anything really stupid since Ropecon'07 and me and Jiituomas almost get along these days. I've seriously contemplated attending Solmukohta one of these years. It would probably come to blows if I did but at least I could claim to have been open-minded.
I really thought the passage about a scene guy lamenting the wilting of roleplaying hobby referred to me. After all, no one else in the potential "scene guy" community is doing it. The last time we discussed this, Mike said that the hobby has never been so popular as it is now. And Eero has, on numerous occasions, declared that the hobby is on the treshold of a revolution and a leap into a new, brighter future (which is spearheaded by the Forgers, obviously). I really wish there were transcriptions of panels I could refer to. I also wish I could share their optimism, although intuitively I feel like the shrinking of the hobby has been slowing down lately. At the grassroots level, playing roleplaying games is a cheap and easy hobby for the creatively inclined. Sure we've lost a lot of audience to the MMORPGs but maybe some of them are slowly coming back. It would not be enough to keep a high-cost monster like D&D afloat but we small guys, can cope with anything.
In other news, just as my Stalker campaign is finally (but slowly) getting underway, I may have to concede that the Stalker supplement is not happening. I've been waiting on my volunteer supplement artist for almost a year now but I can guess his dayjob has put more than he can handle on his plate already. So all that stuff is now officially postponed into the indefinite future. Even so, here is some new stuff for you:
Toni Åman made this official emblem for the Institute and as far as I am concerned, it is henceforth canon:
Toni has also made this nifty Google Earth tool with the French Zone data from the rulebook already filled in. I may have published this here before but it was so cool it won't hurt anybody to do it again. The zone may be a little off here and there along the edges because there are ever so slight differences between my 2D maps and Google Earth's true 3D depiction of the area.
Kalle Marjola dropped by. We discussed Syndicate VI and watched a couple of suitably themed movies. We also more or less agreed on the setting, or basically the part of the overall setting we are focusing on in the "rulebook". I have a secret and perverse plan of making our stuff more or less compatible with Kolmas Orleans, even if it is about a completely different part of the world. I am keeping my hands off the system but that does not stop me from debating it with Kalle. His choices and goals are clearly different from mine, so the end result should be something very interesting. And while we are getting old and he has a kid and all, I could feel a lot of pent-up creative energy inside him. That is a feeling I am very familiar with and believe me, it can be very relaxing to let it all out. For him writing Syndicate VI might be just what the doctor ordered. For me it is a bit more laborous since I have so much more on the drawing board. But still, I hope that I can reveal more detail about the S:VI setting sometime soonish. We are in the final stages of the concepting phase but it won't last forever.
This is from today's Helsingin Sanomat, as part of an article listing the most important culture events of 2008:
I am Ville Vuorela and I approve this message. Very flattering indeed. Freely translated, the article goes somewhat like below but there really isn't a good English translation for "elämys":
STALKER IS THE BEST FINNISH ROLEPLAYING GAME
It is a marvelous skill, taking a film or a book and creating a living world around them. Then you go and write a book about that enables other people to create such a world as well. Ville Vuorela did it, using the Strugatskis' novel Roadside Picnic (1972) and the film Stalker, directed by Andrei Tarkovsky (1979). Stalker is the best pen-and-paper roleplaying game ever made in Finland and will provide many, many exciting experiences for years to come.
New Year came and went just like all the previous ones. The roleplaying scene, which in my opinion has been strangely quiet all year, has quieted down even more. You'd think we're bears, sleeping out the winter. I just hope that there will be somebody left to wake up when the spring comes. I am already looking forward to the next Ropecon. Then we'll see if last year's slump in attendance was just a fluke or the start of a long downward slope. Between then and now me and Kalle should be able to finish Syndicate VI. I also have some hopes of completing the English translation of Stalker and BTJ Finland gets the script of my next book finally sorted out.
I have mixed feelings about the book. It is not really a novel and it's not really a fact book. An oversized biographical column like that would be justified if I was a celebrity. But I am not. While Pelintekijän käsikirja seems to be winning me more fans and lecturing calls all the time, its claims are practical and easily applied or tested. Not so with Pelintekijän päiväkirja that deals with opinions, impressions and personal experiences. Sure, I have more than my fair share of insane stories to tell. But so does everyone else who has ever worked in this completely mental industry. Unfortunately Matkailua pelialalla hasn't progressed for two months but even from the little there is, I can say everything changes and yet all remains the same.
Oh well. It was the publisher's idea to write it, so justification and finding a target audience are their problems. Not mine.
I've been super-lazy with the Stalker translation. Early on there was a good sprint but I'd need like nine more to finish the bloody thing (and then someone who is both a native speaker and knows a shit about writing has to work it over with a red pen). In the meantime, lulu.com has gone bananas with delivery costs so I don't have a plan on how to sell the damn thing. Oh well, if I were in this business for the money, I would not be in this business. It's just like the trainer said at Game Industry Finance Training: if everybody did things according to a business plan and a risk analysis, there would have never been a single rock band. I had hoped that Stalker would inspire fans to write their own stuff and expand both the rules and concept but so far it has not really happened. Not surprising really; the only Finnish RPG that actually had this effect was Praedor. I wonder how much new stuff would have come out for the Finnish version of CP2020 if the Internet had been around during its peak?
Syndicate VI is doing a little better, thank you very much. And if all goes to hell, at least there is someone else to share the blame with. The core rules will come from Neo-Troops but the real challenge is to extract Kalle's one-of-a-kind ability to gamemaster red-hot action scenes and turn it into a set of guidelines and tips on how to recreate the effect. Whatever the outcome, it will definitely be a rules-light game, so Phoenix Command fans can stop holding their breath now. I am hoping to make it into a 64-page A5-sized booklet like Mobsters. It would then be released as both a downloadable PDF and an enhanced convention publication, much like Syndicate 3 thatwas published as a special issue of the Alterations magazine. My job in the development, besides acting as a technical writer for Kalle's rules design, is to figure out the background. There is really not much point in recreating the same setting over and over again, so I will go for the "Badlands Europe" vision I described earlier. Besides, the 64-page format forces me to keep things short and sweet, which is good. Real good.
Speaking of cyberpunk, I just read "Kolmas New Orleans" by Touko Kästämä, Ville Takanen and Emi Maeda. It kicks ass but could use a larger boot. I like their version of a soft corporate coup in the former United States (now the Corporate States of America) and the idea of a no-man's-land in the Caribbean coast is milk and honey to a "rustpunk" fan like myself. Central and South America feature prominently in the setting and personally I would have moved the focus away from the USA altogether. Maybe there could be The Free City of Havanna, a wretched hive of scum and villainy but backed by the political muscle of non-CSA corporations active in Latin America (now probably at odds with CSA over the status of Mexico)... hmm... this is starting to sound like Badlands but what the fuck do I care: The collapse of law and order in the no-man's-land along the coast of Gulf of Mexico creates a soft underbelly through which smugglers, adventurers, mercenaries and terrorists have easy access into the CSA mainland, making Havanna the black market capital of North America. Many of the scenarios consist of securing your street cred in Havanna and insertions into the CSA through the Caribbean coast as corporate warfare and the global underworld are beginning to merge...
Whew. As you can see, that stuff gives off ideas and THAT is the definition of good source material. There could be more of it, though. And the supplement is in a desperate need of a map (both the region and the city). And finally, the cover image, while stylish, is such a blatant rip-off of the dude in the cover of CP2020 that it borders on plagiarism. Tsk tsk.
"Piippuhyllyn manifesti", the webcomic parody of the Finnish RPG scene, is back! "Roolipelikaupunki" (RPG City) is the mental landscape of the scene and the setting of our adventures. There are also location-specific strips (including one about me) and I expect the list of places to grow in the near future.