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Cutting the Cord
It is over. It is out. It is done.
Crown of Byzantus opened up to the public on two
servers today, one in English
and one in Finnish.
There were some "incidents" with it but overall
the launch was a success and the new content slid into
place quite smoothly. Or who am I kidding? Me and the
lead programmer crunched over a week, including the whole
of last weekend to make it work. And now I am faced with
the most difficult task in game design: acknowledging and
accepting that it is time to stop. Sure, I would like to
change things more. How about a different glory award
scale, one that would not depend on the enemy step system
working (which was a tad buggy today)? Whatabout some
extra limits here? A little boost there? Adding a
progress bar to that corner..?
Some of that will happen in the near future but for
the most part the game is there, with all its perks and
flaws. If something is skewed now, it is likely to remain
skewed for a long time and if you can take advantage of
that, well, the more power to you. Programmers have been
wisely (and quietly) discouraging me from introducing
further tweaks for some time now. The game is what it is
and further changes are cosmetics and some added content
to prolong the user cycle. We are now pretty focused on
the first half of the level spectrum. Over the next weeks
and months I would imagine the content development
focuses on the upper end of the spectrum, helping to
retain long-term players.
One thing that never ceases to amaze me is the
aggressive passion of the Crown of Byzantus regulars. It
stunned me already in Beta. The game is designed to be
like Mafia Wars. You check in at long intervals, play
away the accumulated Legend points and get back to the
dreary grind that is your daily life. The colourful
graphics serve partly that purpose as well.
But no. These people keep their browser windows open
all day and within minutes or seconds of receiving a
Legend Point, make a move and then the waiting game
begins again. It reminds me of the hunting tactics of a
crocodile. Had I known this from day one, we would have
made a different game for them.
Oh well, that's the next game.
Yep. It is time relocate Crown of Byzantus into the
"updates" section of my workflow and move on.
We've already had one person complaining that the game is
nothing like a football manager game he was fond of and
another person complaining that Finnish games are all
shite unless they're made by Remedy. Given the general
nature of gamer feedback you can take that as a sign of
having done something right. Unless, of course, you ARE
Remedy AND making a browser-based fantasy sports game on
I have good news for S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
fans. Call of Pripyat played through?
The awe of desolation turning into boredom? Missing the
monsters and mayhem from Oblivion Lost,
or running through dark forests in a panic with something
growling and breathing at your neck all the time? Can't
get it up except after taking a controller out in a
knife-fight? Have wet dreams about looting corpses for
medkits and ammunition?
is the answer!
While I liked Call of Pripyat the way it was the first
time round and its sense of desolation had a certain
meditative romance to it, my attempts to keep playing the
game past the end (it is technically open-ended ) soon
faltered. Once I experienced the game the first
time-round, there just wasn't enough content. Fortunately
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games have a very eager (and skilled) core
fandom of modders and parts from all three games in the
series are apparently interchangeable. Already
well-versed in the secrets of the X-ray engine, they
leapt into action when the Russian release of Call of
Pripyat came out.
S.M.R.T. is a massive overhaul of the
basic Call of Pripyat and to make the long story short,
it plays like a deadlier version of Oblivion Lost. Hell,
I am playing at the Beginner difficulty level and the
game still kicks my ass! More guns, more realistic
combat, enemies abound, monster types removed from the
game are re-inserted and this time graphically perfected,
more anomalies, more assholes, traders accept all kinds
of crap but costs are five times what they used to be,
cheat features like human presence count and visibility
meter removed from the HUD and so on. I began the game
anew, this time with much crappier equipment and getting
my character up to speed with guns and armour was
straight out of horror game. Now, with a Stalker suit, a
modded-out AK and an assault shotgun I am coping... but
let's just say that I have new-found respect for shotguns
And there is something in the way you can hide in the
superstructure of a bridge, watching from above as a
mercenary patrol marching straight into a pack of True
Zombies. The battle is epic and when it is finally over,
you can finish off any survivors and loot the corpses.
The only thing I am missing are the levels from the two
previous games. It would be so cool if I could return to
the 100 Rad bar now. Skadovsk is cool. But it is not that
Avatar and Nomad
I saw Avatar
yesterday and although I had more than my fair share of
prejudices about it, I found it to be a great film. I can
also sympathize with those who've been depressed after
seeing it. Coming out of the theatre (and especially when
watching the Malminkartano railway station through the
train windows) I had to agree: compared to Pandora, our
world looks like a turd. The 3D technology worked
beautifully but whoever got the bright idea that you can
do 3D movie trailers in the same music video fashion you
do 2D should have his eyes put out. He almost put out
mine. Fortunately Cameron knows his stuff.
Many people have used the Avatar plot
as a punching bag but I think that was great too. It had
two layered story arcs and all the right moments
(although producers had been a little too eager at the
cutting table again). It had Sigorney Weaver, an almost
unprecedented sense of epic, a romance sweet enough to
make me jealous, Sigorney Weaver, a cool concretization
of the shamanistic principle, Sigorney Weaver, an epic
bossfight over a cause well worth fighting for and
finally Sigorney Weaver. Sure, it had a lot of political
baggage but it was nice to see a fantasy about a better
world where there is more to life than material gain,
where the Indians can push back the white land-stealers
and wildlife itself is winning over the forces of
industrialization. No Oscars but definitely better than,
say, any part of Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy.
Finally, as a bonus gift to the geek crowd, the Avatar
Art Department had brought together every vehicle and
gadget in the history of Geek Film. The weapons, the
vehicles, the sleep-pods, tools, sensors, displays, wires
under your skin, it was all there. I Shall Not Want. Avatar
has made something like 2 billion dollars by now and I
don't regret adding some more money to that pile. If 2
billion dollars is what it takes to convince studio
boards to greenlight stuff like this, so be it! I hope
this film will be the start of a new scifi-boom.
NOMAD does not have bright sunlight and pretty colours
(well, it can in some places and the xenosystem can look
pretty wild at times). It's people tend to be pale,
short, malnourished and suffering from a variety of
nutritional deficiences. Cyber stripped off the dead can
replace lost limbs but with the organic plastics long
gone it looks like sticking bare bones into your body.
It's a world of rust, decay and debris being recycled to
the point of desperation. It is a post-holocaust setting
inside a spaceship.
NOMAD has been at a standstill because I couldn't make
the original concept of players being freshly awakened
crewmembers work. There was no connection between them
and the other survivors. There was no emotional charge in
the distinction between sanctuaries and non-sanctuaries.
And this whole idea of the social development inside the
ship being manipulated by a cabal of the First Generation
crewmembers... while it was not bad, it was more
interesting as a backstory element than something the
players are involved in. You wouldn't think a
scifi-dungeon game really needs such deep thought but I
just couldn't force myself to write it out. It would suck
and it wouldn't be me. There are different ways to do
roleplaying games out there but only a couple of them are
So, unable to get past the primary character role
block, I didn't do anything. My illustrator coughed up a
few inspiring images for the game but to no avail since
my writing didn't budge. All that for clinging to an idea
that just didn't work. And now I am dropping it. The
penalty of discussing design choices in public is that
every change to the original concept tends to alienate
your audience a little and I am expecting a bit of
whining about this one as well. Fine. Don't play it. It
was not going to be on sale anyway.
Nomads are my characteristic "professional
adventurer" -class, a motley collection of bounty
hunters, scraphunters, traders and runners turn their
back to the isolationist credo of their homes and instead
venture out into the ship, band together and see the
world. With over 2 million kilometres of corridor there
is plenty of world to be seen. Especially since you are
on foot and picking your way through collapsed
structures, debris, xenojungles and other hazard spots.
The Nations and Outcasts usually tolerate Nomads because
they bring in valuable goods and news from elsewhere in
the ship, as well as being a tough bunch that you in
general don't want to mess with. Still, there is a
certain amount of rejection, prejudice and stigma comes
with the job. Becoming a nomad does liberate you from the
social constraints of your home community but at the
price of greatly increased physical danger.
Yeah. That's the new angle.
Net activists have been very incensed by Ubisoft's
new DRM scheme that requires constant online
connection to be played. I agree it is a stupid, annoying
and an unnecessarily heavy-handed system but they do have
the right to do it. Just as we have the right to decide
whether their games are still worth buying. I might be
pissed off about the DRM but I am still going to buy
Silent Hunter 5 and Assassin's Creed 2 in the near
future. I am then going to do my damnest
to get the DRM cracked and be damn proud of it if I
succeed. I am not going to pirate games that I want if
they are commercially available. If the DRM bothered me
too much, I just wouldn't want the games in the first
place, would I? Penny
Arcade makes a good point about the whole DRM vs.
Oh well, it is back to work. Crown of Byzantus
launches on Monday and it HAS to work!
I Heard The Call
It is the dead of night (14th already) and I am
slightly drunk for a birthday bash (not my own) in Restaurant
Saslik. Since I am in the mood for all things
Russian right now, this is a good moment to talk about S.T.A.L.K.E.R:
Call of Pripyat. Yes, I know it is from
As you have probably guessed, I preordered my copy and
got it soon enough. Unfortunately for the rest of the
the publisher of Call of Pripyat, are a bunch of
morons (they are not assholes, just idiots). The game was
released on DVD only. This is a Bad Idea
with a capital B and the only logical
explanation is that BitComposer wanted to
sabotage its own sales and encourage piracy. Call of
Pripyat is a rare PC-exclusive AAA release. In this
day and age, many retailers are cutting down their
selection and stockpile of PC games which meant that
their stockpiles were completely swallowed up by
pre-orders. So the game never made it to the shelves on
the launch date.
This strategy doesn't make any sense for the
publisher. Call of Pripyat is a mature title
targeted at hardcore PC gamers. Now these grizzled old
geeks are not only the most connected group out there but
also making the most of D2D stores like Steam or
Gamersgate. In one self-inflicted financial gunshot
BitComposer decided to both neglect them and piss them
Trick question: Guess which customer group also has
the easiest access to warez sites and the technical
knowhow to use DVD images?
A single financial mistake does not a moron make but
BitComposers' next move seems almost calculated to make
them look bad. First: they got Securom DRM on their DVDs.
When dealing with PC hardcore gamers this is enough to
make some of them skip the game or switch exclusively to
a pirate copy. Second, the game has a critical (and quite
common) bug caused by the DRM that can only be fixed by
applying a No-CD-Crack on the game executable, courtesy
of the pirates. In short, to be able to play a legal copy
of the game you need to crack it with warez anyway. The
fact that the 400kb crack is much easier to download from
Pirate Bay than the DVD image of the whole game (4GB) is
a poor consolation to the angry gamers who have already
handed out money for it.
Guys (and gals), you know that PC premium game
development is a dying art. Pulling off stunts
like this is not helping!!!
The bug I am referring to prevents the spawning of NPC
characters when you arrive to a location. Thus mission
locations, trading stations and the like are usually
empty when you get there. Sometimes the NPCs are spawned
if you wait long enough but usually only
Quicksave/Quickload on the spot makes them appear and
chances are you'll find yourself standing the middle of a
group of enemies. It also screws up missions if they
depend on finding human enemies somewhere. Fittingly the
first map has plenty of just that.
Well, I got the crack. I also did some hacking of the
game files by myself and halved the hit points of all the
monsters. Maybe its cheating but god damn it: if I give a
bloodsucker a burst to the back of the head from an AK at
a point blank range and it doesn't die, that's Bad
Design. So yes, Call of Pripyat and I had a rocky start.
While most reviewers have been gracious enough to
overlook these problems, it's in for some rough treatment
outside its immediate fan base. But once I had made my
little fixes in place, I realized something:
S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Call of Pripyat is a
It is not as atmospheric as SoC but
nothing ever will so it is forgiven. Also, I don't agree
with the Art Director on their use of some terrain
textures but that I can live with it. Other than that, it
was stable, smooth, bug-free and superbly optimized. I
guess purists will find a lot to argue about its graphics
but I don't and unlike in Clear Sky, running it with full
graphical settings and all the fancy DX10 tricks didn't
make an impact on the performance. They have cut down on
the terrain polygons but the larger, Fallout 3 -style
maps are more than enough to compensate for it. You can
move between the maps using guides, so no border
transition zones are needed and I really like this idea
of being able to stand on a hill and look for shapes
painted on the horizon (i.e. beyond the visual drawing
range), knowing that if you go into that direction the
thing you're seeing does really come up. I loved it in
Fallout 3 and I love it here.
This time they also give you a decent gun
to start with. While weapons feel a little underpowered,
it did not strike me across the face like it did in Clear
Sky. If I shoot someone he usually staggers back and
hitting him a few more times will drop him. It is enough
and now that I've rebalanced the monsters I have to say I
like the way the combat works. At least on the easiest
difficulty setting. Besides, you can no longer make a
mint by dragging home weapons collected from the field.
Traders accept only guns good condition and repairing
them costs always more than the sales price would be. I
am making a fraction of the money I made in the previous
games and being a loot whore, finding a weapon you can
sell is a gameplay reward in itself.
I don't know why they gave up visible
artifacts like they had in Shadow of Chernobyl
but at least they made the best of it this time. In Clear
Sky, anomalies abound and you soon gave up using
your detector in hopes of finding anything. Besides,
reaching the artifact would mean entering an anomaly and
closing in on the artifact until it became visible. Since
Clear Sky anomalies were about as deadly as SoC
anomalies you soon gave up this foolish sport since it
ruined your armour and all you found was crap anyway.
In Call of Pripyat, anomalies
are much more sparse. Some of them are also truly
massive, scarring the landscape and creating bizarre
natural formations. Anomalies and artifacts move about
within these "pockets" so if you are good,
quick or well-kitted (preferably all three), you can
probably run the gauntlet to the artifact and back mostly
unscathed. It's like a game within a game, making the
best out of a bad design choice. Scarcity of anomalies in
itself is not a bad thing. And I like the big anomalies
and can imagine something like this to exist in the Zone
Russia of Stalker RPG as well. In fact, I can imagine
most of the game landscape existing there, minus all the
people, of course.
Speaking of people, there are still way
too many of them out in the Zone. However, things have
improved since Clear Sky. While I miss the
desolation of Shadow of Chernobyl, the crowds in
Call of Pripyat are tolerable because they are
almost never hostile. You can even go chat with bandits
if you don't have your weapon drawn and this is realistic
given the bandit lifestyle of extorting protection money
from people they consider weaker than themselves. You, a
stalker-agent going by the name "Degtaryev",
don't fit the bill. I've made a fortune by selling loot
to bandit camps instead of traders. While Marked One
remains my favourite stalker, I am not ashamed of playing
Degtaryev the way I was ashamed of playing Scar (CS).
So, what's not to like?
Monster balancing. The way some locations
are built to be linear which is at odds with the
otherwise open world. There is hardly any incidental loot
so there is less to gain by exploration, even if you
sometimes find stashes left by other stalkers. Most
artifacts still emit radiation, so unless you luck out by
finding some radiation-blocking artifacts at the start,
they are rubbish (maybe it was design and not luck that
made my first finds radiation blockers, though). While
the weapon and armour upgrade system works much better
than in Clear Sky, I still think it is stupid I
cannot fit a Warsow Pact scope on an AK without having to
modify it first. And I need a better armour. As usual.
But these are minor gripes. All in all, Call
of Pripyat is a successful closure to the
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. trilogy. It brings together the best parts
of its predecessors and cuts out most of the crap, giving
an old fan like myself an impression that GSC really
listened to their fans this time (even if the publisher
didn't). The game runs smoothly, is virtually bug free
and the level design conspires with DX10 to create very
memorably scenes (my favourite is the morning sunrise).
The open world of the Zone has never felt quite this open
before, the storyline is interesting enough and they even
got their character right this time. While Shadow of
Chernobyl will always have a special place in my
heart as one of the best videogames ever, Call of
Pripyat is a worthy successor and it does even
better in some areas. It just can't win.
I have to confess I still suck at this
newfangled roleplaying terminology. According to
majatalo.org, Old Skool roleplaying is
supposed to be auteur-driven roleplaying forced to follow
a set storyline. This goes completely against my tenet of
Otherwhere, which is the primary reason I play
roleplaying games in the first place; the possibility to
go off from the beaten path and explore the game world,
with new and interesting things waiting everywhere you go
even if it can give the gamemaster a brain stroke.
Otherwhere and character roleplaying are the two things
where pen&paper RPGs retain their edge over
videogames. I find it completely non-sensical that
anybody would be giving them up and the idea that I would
be the spokesperson for that is downright insulting. I
take pride in my Otherwhere. A lot of pride. You have
Then there is Narrativism. This is supposed to be
something I am not but it sounds counterintuitive as
Hell. As the gamemaster, I am the setting around the
players as they perceive it. Descriptions of events, NPCs
and the consequences of their previous actions within the
setting form a narrative that is complemented by the
players' own action and intention descriptions; I always
use it but the system is enforced in Stalker by the FLOW
rules. I try to make my descriptions sound like I was
writing (or reciting) a book since I've found that this
is a delivery format both me and all the players I've
ever had like a lot. And as an author of several books, I
feel like I'm up to my neck in a narrative for as long as
the session lasts. Yet somehow Narrativism means
something completely different to the point of being an
antithesis of what I just wrote.
Whenever I've published something, everybody wants
more setting information but also applaud my attempts not
to curtail content for the promise of some obscure
supplement in an equally obscure future. It try to give a
coherent and complete picture of the setting, even if it
means glossing over some of the details, or more commonly
hiding them into cultural analogues or keypoints the
owner can then extrapolate from. I see table-top
roleplaying gaming as a form of interactive literature
and if people can begin writing their own stories based
on the setting information I've given them, I have
succeeded. This requires an approach that "leaves
enough room" around and in between the elements of
canon for writers, players and gamemasters to create
their own minisettings and pocket storyverses. It also
helps creating the otherwhere because with enough
creative freedom it doesn't really matter if you go
off-canon. Since speaking about Tibet in the last entry,
I have realised that my in-game descriptions of the cult
of Tiraman in Praedor are based on Tibetan Buddhism,
complete with the prayer flags fluttering in the wind. I
have no idea how Petri had thought it would work but it
has fit my games and if I were to write another novel on
the subject that's how it would go. At least until Petri
would say no.
It also occured to me (and hopefully this will be part
of NOMAD) that while I dislike encounter tables, a
bullet-point list of sample encounters or events typical
to the locations described in the setting information
could help others in creating the sense of Otherwhere.
For example, you would have the shortlist descriptions of
Toulouse in the Stalker World Book and then 10 bullet
points for every part of the city: "typical events
or sights". These could be anything from religious
processions to gangs trying to kick a Living Corpse, or
an Institute patrol having just had a head-on collision
with a truck on the twisting streets of the medieval Old
City. Local flavour, atmosphere tips, potential adventure
seeds, the like. So yes, there is still room for
improvement with my format.
Everest, Season 3
Standing tall amongst all the shit coming from the TV
these days, nothing says Stalker to me like the
Beyond the Limit. After skipping the
climbing season 2008, the climbing season 2009 has now
come out on the Discovery Channel US, Amazon
Video-On-Demand (again only in the US) and BitTorrent
everywhere. It's quite apparent that this will be the
last season. Budget has been by cut 50% and the format
changed from a single story spanning 8 episodes to five
episodes each telling the story of a specific group.
There are rumours circulating that the show was premiered
at a worst possible time in the US with the first three
episodes shown at one go. If true, Discovery Channel is
obviously trying to get rid of one of its best shows
ever. US-only Amazon Video-On-Demand release hints that a
DVD is not coming out anytime soon either.
The magic is still there. The landscapes are as
beautiful as ever, even if they are using helmet-mounted
and handheld cameras much more than before (no budget for
HD Steadycams?). The mountain is still the Zone, the
climbers are still the stalkers, the anomalies of the
slopes still claim lives right there on the screen. Even
the opening intro has a corpse now. All what's missing
are the artifacts. I don't understand what makes these
people crazy enough to climb Everest but I am glad that
they do. It makes great and inspirational television
programming. It will be sad to lose it and it feels like
Discovery is just asking for me to drop them from our
cable package. Heh, without the Discovery channels,
History and BBC documentaries we would not have a channel
package in the first place.
Speaking of Himalayas, I ran into Cursed
Mountain on Gamersgate.
I had read the reviews of the Wii version but since I
don't do console shit unless I get paid for it didn't pay
much attention. But this is a PC port and a surprisingly
good one. Of course, there are spots of trouble. Wii is
not the most powerful thing around so the graphics would
have looked iffy back in 2004. I am not bothered by it
but many will be. The other problem is that while console
control specialties like shaking have been reworked
pretty well (much more so than in "Lost Planet"
where the game tells me to press the "Start"
button on the console pad), at times the camera angle
changes into a forced "artistic perspective"
and the otherwise functional third-person control scheme
changes with it. Fortunately you can't fall of a cliff
here (kinda odd on a mountaneering game, though) or these
sudden camera shifts would have killed me a long time
Cursed Mountain is set in Tibet in the 80's. Frankly,
I would have put it in the 30'ies but in the backwater
mountain villages of Tibet you can't really tell the
difference. The protagonist's brother has gone missing
while looking for some Tibetan artifact up on a sacred
mountain and I had to go rescue him. Turns out that he
has really messed with the thing because the villages are
abandoned, there are ghosts lurking around and an angry
old hag of a shaman tried to feed to a demon. Amongst the
adventure-game style clues and secrets I've gotten the
feeling that an angry Tibetan goddess wants her toy back
and I'll have to give it to her. And hopefully get my
brother back alive in the bargain although his diary
notes suggest he is such a prick I would like to push him
off the cliff myself.
So what's to like here? First of all, the controls
aren't too bad and despite the low polygon count, the
creative director has done his job. Tibetan imagery is
positively horrifying, Stalker-like desolation with
howling winds tugs at my heartstrings and the Tibetan
chanting chills me to the bone. They've done some
research concerning Tibetan mythology and so far all the
opposition has been based on their mythology, such as the
hungry ghosts, which are positively creepy. Encountering
one usually traps you half-way into the spirit world and
you can either hack away at it with a climbing pick
spiced up with some Tibetan artifacts (now that is a Pulp
Adventure solution if I ever saw one), or you can use the
Inner Eye and fire occult energy at them from the very
same pick. On occasion, the Inner Eye can also reveal
sigils that trigger simple tracing minigames. If a ghost
has been taken to low hits, the sigil can be seen on it
and killing it with the minigame heals you a little,
which is a good idea. The system is also used to open
doors and reveal secrets. And I like their portrayal of
So, the atmosphere is excellent, the many items,
journals and prophecies to be picked up remind me of
old-school adventure games and not in a bad way (this is
not some illogical item puzzle). At times even the
graphics make an impression, although their attempts to
dizzy you with heights are a bit off. The wind, the
flags... the way ghosts move through inanimate objects
and try to circle around you, or trap you into some
bewitched pocket with glowing sigils... so far no
complaints. I would have done this game differently but
then again I would not have done it for Wii and thus be
subject to its idiosyncracies at the design stage. For a
PC port of a console game, especially from a console that
is so far from the modern PC in both power and control
methods, this is brilliant.
Black Tide (and I've been desperately
searching for a Finnish translation that would carry the
same effect; unfortunately "Musta aalto" was
the best I came up with) is a roleplaying setting that
came to be when three things converged; Risto Isomäki's
novel "Sands of Sarasvati", a British disaster
movie "Flood" and my as of yet unfinished
cooperation with Kalle Marjola, "Syndicate VI".
Or rather, Syndicate created the need to come up with a
new dark future setting. I began writing and Black Tide
was one of the elements in the draft. Then it spun off at
tangent and became a world of its own. I don't really
have time for it because of HAX but I wanted to write it
out here so it won't be entirely lost.
Black Tide is set in the year 2052. Five years before
the central glaciers of Greenland collapsed, emptying a
meltwater lake almost the size of a continent into the
North Atlantic. The resulting megatsunami was unlike
anything seen since prehistoric times. Out at sea, the
50-metre wall of water moving at hundreds of kilometres
per hour wiped out anything and everything in its path. A
quarter of the world's shipping vanished overnight.
Closer to land the contours of the sea floor slowed it
down but also forced the water upwards. The peak height
remains disputed but satellite imagery confirms waves
over 200 metres tall in places. The tsunami crashed into
the coast of Europe with enough force to reshape the
continent. Netherlands ceased to exist. Brussels, the
capital of EU, was completely wiped out. The Jutland
Peninsula became an island. From Portugal to Nordkapp,
the coastlines were devastated to a depth of hundreds of
kilometres. It will take decades or even centuries just
for the floodwaters to drain away. The survivors called
it the Black Tide.
Five years later, the Western Europe is an archipelago
riddled with uncharted debris reefs. Nuclear power plants
have turned into radioactive geysers with waterspouts
hundreds of metres high. The destruction of chemical
plants, oil rigs and storage facilities have created a
toxic spill of apocalyptic proportions. There are no
government, roads, seaports or infrastructure. The
surviving settlements have been reduced to microstates,
pirate bases and illegal corporate enclaves. Some are
built on solid ground. Other are adrift. Of all the major
hubs only London remains standing, severely flooded but
spared of the crushing wave. While European Union still
claims London as its territory, it is actually governed
by a group of macrocorps using the 70-year old King
William V as a figurehead to legitimize their actions.
London might be governed but not controlled. Much of
the city remains lawless and stuffed with refugees.
Outside their Control Sectors macrocorp mercenaries
settle on keeping the main routes open. True power on the
streets rests with militias, communal governments, armed
extremists, urban collectives, organized crime and
vicious gangs. London has become the hub of the European
underworld and one of the engines driving organized crime
worldwide. But while smuggling across the disaster area
is a major concern to the European Union, at present
there is little they are willing or able to do about it.
Oh yes, the European Union. Recognizing that
reconstruction was financially, politically and in many
places geographically impossible, the European Union has
turned its back to the Atlantic. Milan is the new Union
capital and Mediterranean the new strategic focus. Some
of the member states relocated their survivors from the
disaster area but certain member states effectively
ceased to exist and their survivors either remain
dispersed in survivor settlements, or have fled to
Life in Western Europe is bizarre mix of old and new,
or advanced and primitive. The Black Tide hit the most
modern society in the world when it was just about to
undergo a low-level post-humanist transformation. With
the infrastructure blown apart it is in regression now
but what technology survives or has been salvaged is
still often incredibly advanced. People tend to have
cybernetic implants of every variety, taken before the
Black Tide. These days the only way to get new cyber is
to cut it out from the dead and have some dubious street
doc implant it into you. The global datanet is still
there, although bandwith can be a problem out in the
archipelago. Energy systems are based on electricity and
fuel cells, although again the loss infrastructure has
resurrected combustion engines, sails and even steam as
forms of propulsion. There is less famine than most would
expect because of advanced ways of cultivating edible
bacteria or farming genetically modified animals and
plants. On the other hand, disease is on the rise,
including some exotic ones that haven't been seen for
centuries. Like the Black Death.
There you have it. I had been thinking about calling
the player characters "privateers" and defining
them as mercenaries specializing in the more colourful
ops like tracking down pirate gangs in the archipelago or
salvaging prototype tech from the heart of the hazard
zones. Shadowrunners (from Shadowrun RPG, obviously) are
based on a similar idea but since Black Tide was so much
more water-oriented, I felt "privateer" had a
better ring to it.
Unfortunately I am living in Terminal Complex right
now; a much more advanced place even if there are many
parallels between it and the Black Tide London. It is
only natural for the two settings have influenced each
other. I don't have the extra time and energy to work on
Black Tide so if anyone else wants to pick it up, be my
guest. As for myself, I want to start cracking on the
next piece of HAX Fiction. By the way, here is the
"Praedor skill list" for Black Tide (in
Finnish, I'm afraid):
Hyppy ja kiipeily KET/2
Lääkkeet ja huumeet 6
Raskaat aseet VOI/2
Vieraat kielet KOU/2
If you don't want to add Koulutus (education) as a
seventh stat, make the base value for all KOU-skills 6
and add a skill for general education, like
HAX Fiction Page
I've made a separate page for HAX fiction and copied
all the previous entries there. If the story ever
continues, it will do so there. Okay, it will continue; I
am on a roll here and the continued development of HAX
the Game provides constant inspiration). So how to find
the HAX Fiction page? I'll give you a tip: it has a
button somewhere on this page (although the draft logo
I've used reads HOX rather than HAX to me).
Wednesday was a big day for me. KAJAK, or
the Kajaani University of Applied Sciences, has a game
developer study program and they wanted to me to do a
lecture course; not just a lecture but a whole series of
them, on game design. Obviously I can't fly to Kajaani
and back every Wednesday morning, so I am lecturing from
the comfort of my own home. I had never done a serious
e-lecture before and was so nervous I could hardly sleep
on Tuesday night. But when the moment came, I suddenly
calmed down and did not even start talking too fast,
which is my usually problem when my nerves start playing
tricks on me. The organizers were really happy with the
lecture and even the students showed signs of life,
asking me questions over chat, which was great. I am
really looking forward to the next session.
Majatalo.org has a
very interesting thread on "What RPGs will come
out in Finland in 2010" (read: what RPGs are known
to be in the making and do they have any chance of making
it out this year). There is quite a few of them actually
and it seems somehow unnatural that Fantasiapelit,
the first and the largest RPG retailer in Finland is
rumoured to be about to give RPGs entirely in favour of
Manga. I don't believe it will come to that but we will
continue to lose shelf space. Fantasiapelit
still has one of the biggest (okay, second only to Orc's
Nest) selections of RPGs I've seen in any game store
anywhere and believe me, I've made a point of finding a
game store in every foreign city I've visited. I should
probably mention Puolenkuun
Pelit here as well since they are a Stalker
RPG retailer :)
The most recent session of Stalker: Japan
ended with a Kill Bill -style bloodbath. Our no-nonsense
female stalkers decided they had taken all the shit they
were going to take from a bunch of Yakuza. They first
stunned them with a heavy dose of CS gas and then
demonstrated how much damage one of the power-augmented
Zone Exploration Suits (Toshiba ZXO) can do. When Fang's
fist took the face of the first Yakuza clean off, there
was no stopping them. Quentin Tarantino would have been
proud and I know the Osaka Yakuza was rather impressed to
receive a package containing Oyabun Abe. Or rather, his
severed head with his genitals stuffed into his mouth.
You know, the two organs he did all his thinking with.
Okay, No More
You can tell a blog has only a few readers when it
takes this long for someone come tell me that my fiction
was not worth even announcing that the blog had updated.
It is depressing as hell but since we aim to please, you
win. There won't be any more of it. Some of you already
guessed this was not strictly speaking fan fiction but
stuff inspired by HAX, the game I am working on at Wirepunk.
God damn, that logo needs to be fixed. While I am
definitely a fan of it, it is also my own creation so my
writings are more like novelizations than fan fiction.
Since HAX isn't out yet and nobody outside our circle
can know what it was all about, I included as much
setting exposition as I could comfortably fit in. For
example, when writing about Rogue Roy this wasn't
necessary because the likely readers (if any) could be
expected to be familiar with the world of EVE Online
already. It was also an interesting excercise because the
fiction dealt with a part of a setting that definitely
exists but only acts as a background element for the game
No, we don't have the resources to create a
Neocron-style futuristic city with a 3D engine. We focus
on what we can do and the larger setting
is a backstory element and a mission catalysts. I just
wanted to do a little bit of exploration on the side and
hence the fan fiction. But the jury has spoken.
No more of that shite.
04-Feb-2010: Fan Fiction 3
It always rains in the evening. In the Chasms,
man-made canyons yawning between the massive city blocks,
walkways lining the edges were covered either by more
walkways above them or by makeshift canopies of plastic
and steel. Those venturing onto the bridges and spans
thrown across the chasms, seemingly at random, were not
so lucky. A sheet of rain and mist so thick you could
hardly see the other side of the chasm run right in the
middle. The crowds didn't really permit running, so those
worming their way across either held something above
their heads or sported a bewildering array of hoods and
brimmed hats. Some took advantage of the violent downpour
and stripped naked or down to their waist, showering on
the bridges or in places where rainwater was allowed to
pour down from the roof. Some of them where just showing
off: pirates their scars, prostitutes their breasts,
sometimes three or four of them.
It was a freakshow. Even now, after three weeks, Arkangel
had to constantly remind herself that she was part of the
show now. Her hair was growing back and it was black and
spiky all over, with a muscled flap covering the new
plugs in the back of her head. It had about the same
strength as her lips and she quickly found other uses for
it. For example, it allowed her to contort her scalp in
many bizarre ways, which made her hair spikes move about.
She had since then spent hours watching herself in a
mirror and practicing hair moves to emphasize her facial
expressions. She was also growing paler. Back in the
arkology she had been proud of her rich tan but it was
bleaching out. Occasional visits to the roof did little
to compensate for the lack of sunlight elsewhere.
Startled by her own blue-veined hands she made a mental
note to get a dermal mod when she could afford it.
Eat more! No catch men with reedy legs!
Her food vendor didn't need a dermal fix. She'd come with
pirates from the continent over a dozen years ago and the
years had done little to blemish her dark brown skin.
Arkangel had been doubtful whether her few Cartel Stock
would be valid scrip to a foodstall vendor in the Chasms.
It was. The Stock were good everywhere. Instead of having
to pay for every meal, she had given Zemu some Stock and
now ate for free since the credits generated by that
Stock covered her meals. This time it was algae noodles,
assorted nuts and a handful of vat-grown shrimp, all
cooked in a delicious African sauce that could have
doubled as battery acid. Zemu always wanted to chat her
up even while she was cooking like crazy. She ran an
application in her Interface that monitored everything
going on in the kitchen stall, from hardware performance
to food orders and portion readiness. She had seen the
whole world through this virtual kitchen for a decade now
and had a habit of thinking about everything in terms of
food. But Arkangel had a job tonight so she just grabbed
her food and left after a few failed attempts at a
graceful exit. Zemu was strangely quiet as she watched
Zemu was by no means exceptional. This side of the chasm
was lit up with with so many billboards, holograms and ad
boxes you could barely see the actual wall behind them.
And you might have been forgiven to think they were real,
until you noticed they did not illuminate their
surroundings and appeared crystal sharp even through
rain, mist and sometimes the crowds. It was all virtual,
a data stream from the Link to the Interface. While you
could surf the local operators and get a slightly
different offering of notices on each, or have services
highlighted with search terms, you couldn't turn the
Interface off. Or most people couldn't. Arkangel
remembered reading from somewhere that 30% of all visual
signals in an urban environment were actually virtual and
the number was creeping up every year. Some called it the
virtual light. These days everybody saw the world through
a virtual filter. Cyberdrugs would make it go berserk,
dropping you into virtual fantasies until your brains
couldn't find their way back. Simple, really. Why use
drugs to fool biochemical receptors when you could abuse
the Interface to feed the same data straight into the
gray matter? And with a much higher bandwidth.
On second thought, maybe Zemu was an exception. At least
she had been able to create her own reality on top of the
infomercial crap, even if it meant her entire world was a
Arkangel could freely channel-surf with her Interface.
She could even turn it off at will which was a felony in
most microstates. Arkangel could also use it to spy on
channels restricted to public, like low-level security
networks, merc channels, pirate Net stations and Hax
darknets, although the last were often superbly
encrypted. The first thing any self-respecting ghost
runner or Hax adherent would do was to hack his or her
Yeah, the Hax. A street culture from somewhere between
the Hivers and the Cyberpunks. The most visible secret
organization in the world. Originally it was just about
fooling around with the Interface, doing and writing
cyberdrugs, pirating and mixing software, or hacking into
restricted smart systems for shit and giggles. Then some
evil incarnate came up with ghost running and Wham! They
were hardcore criminals all of a sudden. Not all Hax are
ghost runners but all ghost runners are Hax. All the
Datathieves, Info Mercs and Link Spies. You name it,
we've got it.
As Arkangel turned away from from the Chasm walkways and
headed down an alley inside the block, she could tell
where the walls were by the virtual ads and billboards.
However, in places where lighting was poor, you would
still bump into people because the ads shone right
through them. Occasionally there was an exception, like
when someone was wearing sponsored clothing or had paid
extra for a personal Interface beacon. Arkangel did bump
into a few people but mostly because her mind was on the
Hax. She had been a hang-around back in New Singapore but
went straight as soon as the prospect of becoming a Cadet
came into view. Besides, the Hax scene in South Asia Hub
didn't hold a candle to that in Terminal Complex. As a
matter of fact, no Hax scene anywhere in the world did.
Maybe Zemu was right and she should have been catching
men. She could use some friends and back up tonight. She
could use the Hax.
For Arkangel, one of the main benefits of being able to
turn off the Interface was being able to see the entrance
to her hideout. If the Interface was running, the door
simply wouldn't be there. It was a small maintenance
hatch in a back alley, never very visible to begin with.
But someone, somewhere, had painted it over with virtual
light. It was a useful gimmick but also a terrifying
reminder of the power the Link had over reality.
Fan Fiction 2
The Sun beat down on the rooftop without mercy. Even
with the sea breeze heat haze was thick as a fog, turning
the forest of antennas, solar panels and black-painted
water heaters around her oily blobs. She had never been
to the rooftops before. In the arkologies that was
strictly forbidden but out here nothing was off limits.
Sure there would be some micro-state militia hanging
about in vital spots but if you kept out of sight you
were okay. There were simply too many holes to plug.
Heat haze and structures blocked her view of the horizon
but above her was Starspinein all its glory. It was like
a gigantic spider's web, stretched to the breaking point.
At night the strands would glow white and blue with the
vast energies flowing through them. Now in broad daylight
they seemed made of out glass. She had never seen them
this close before. Bundles of strands, spreading out from
the dozen or so ground terminals and joining together to
form a complex web that hovered over the much of the
city. Then, towards the middle it narrowed down into a
dozen or so mainlines that vanished up into the blue.
Somewhere high up Starspine left a contrail of its own as
it met the high atmospheric winds. And beyond... the
space. It was unreal. Too massive to contemplate and yet
too sparse and airy to cast a shadow. It was ghostly. And
in itself a force to be reckoned with. Terminal Complex
had originally been just the surface installation for the
orbital elevator. After WorldCrash the city mushroomed
right on top of the facility. The Cartel claimed some
parts. The artificial intelligence operating Starspine
claimed others. Between them lay a patchwork of slums,
red light districts, industrial zones and microstates.
Most people called the city the Complex and
it fit. For Cartel, it was the unofficial if also
undisputed global capital. But it was also the only place
where they were openly defied. For Singularity, all
Humanity may have been a necessary evil. Yet sovereign
shards broke off from the Singularity Cloud and created
physical avatars, Meks, to interact and sometimes mingle
with the humans. And in the no-man's-land between the two
an explosion of subcultures defied the very definition of
both human and society: neosapients, gestalts,
cyberpunks, hybrids, clans, hax...
Her three weeks outside the Corp Sector had taught her
more about life and people than the previous three years
inside it. And she had changed too, more than she ever
thought possible. The brave but nerdy Angea would not
survive a week out here. Maybe she died? Maybe she got
lost somehow? Memories of being her felt distant and
strange now. Being Arkangel was both more fun and
definitely more useful. It also opened more doors. What a
difference a little attitude adjustment can make!
She laughed out loud. After the throng of the chasms the
silence and brightness of the rooftop was making her
philosophical. Either that or it was the warning shot of
an impending sunstroke. While her cryocloak kept her
comfortable she wasn't wearing any headgear and the Sun
wasn't taking any prisoners today. Better make it quick,
then. She checked the Interface for coordinates and found
she had walked past the cache already. Getting to it
meant dealing with a jumble of pipes and a rust-spotted
antenna tower but she figured she could use the exercise.
The package was right where it was supposed to be, in a
nook between the pipes and the upper mountings of an
antenna tower. It was a capsule, about the size of her
two fists and with a wireless codelock. Undoubtedly left
here by some free-running courier who'd laugh his ass off
if he saw her clumsy climb up these same pipes. It was
necessary to avoid the package being found by some random
sun-stroller but an annoyance nevertheless. The package
linked up with her Interface as soon as she touched it.
She mentally punched in the reference number the fixer
had given her and it opened with a puff of air, revealing
a chipboard wrapped in plastic. It also brought up a
notice of an open comms request on an encrypted channel.
Strange. That hadn't been part of the deal.
She grabbed the chipboard and left the empty package in
the cache to wait for the courier but climbing down
proved even harder. Sweaty and exhausted, she removed her
cloak and sat down under a solar panel to catch her
breath and let the sweat dry off. Direct sunlight might
have worked even better but after three weeks in the cave
Azure left her she wasn't about to risk her skin. To pass
time she took out the chipboard and unwrapped it. A
plastic grip that doubled as a connector and acrystal
plate with all the colours of the rainbow. She could not
make out the individual nano-engineered components and
connections. Instead, the whole thing looked as if swirls
of multicoloured smoke had been frozen in place and
encased in synthetic crystal.
Chipboard was a piece of Tek, probably from a nanoforge
somewhere in Chumamji. It was also a breach of a couple
of hundred Cartel patents but Street Sectors of Terminal
Complex were the one place on Earth where those patents
were not valid. Of course, that did not stop the corps
from sending mercs after the pirate workshops from time
to time, or smugglers taking Tek out to be sold in the
black markets of Cartel Hubs around the globe. The
chipboard also reminded her of the mysterious comms
request. Maybe it was better to open it here, rather than
through the landlines of the ghost deck.
Leaning back on the panel supports, she called up the
Comms Request from the Inbox and accepted it with two-way
audio and no outgoing visuals. Almost immediately a
visual screen popped up into the interface. She moved it
out of her field of vision and since it was fed into the
optic cluster of her brains rather than the optic nerve,
she could see it clearly even when it was outside her
physical field of vision. Such a trick used to
disorientate Angea but for Arkangel it was second nature.
Using visual feeds in comms was largely a tradition as
there was no way to check if the visual feed was
authentic. Besides, with so many people communicating via
the Interface they'd have to have a camera trained at
their face or stare at a mirror to show live feed of
themselves talking. However, some things were clues, like
the poor visual reception and the very poor background
lighting on this one. The man must have used an external
terminal and the light from it barely illuminated his
face. He seemed to be an older man, a corporate type that
could have passed for a doctor or a personal teacher in
better days. Now he looked a little haggard and a couple
of days past his last shave.
Arkangel? I need your help and will pay for it if I
He was talking fast and she could hear the panic and lack
of sleep in his voice loud and clear. She knew her own
voice would be steady and controlled since she wasn't
actually speaking. Her replies were fed into the comms
mentally through the Interface.
Slow down. Who are you and how did you find
The man closed his eyes and Arkangel could see how he
pulled himself back together. This guy didn't have the
hawkish aura of the macrocorp execs but it was obvious he
was used to being in a position of authority.
I paid my fixer for a ghost runner contact. I am
trapped inside Mextron Arkology. I'll pay you 3000 Cartel
Stock and start a fan site if you can get me out of
I am still waiting on the first question.
Uh, yes. My name... I guess it won't matter. Melk
Ziroska. I am... was a science project administrator in
Mextron working on... well it was top-secret. Mextron
could burn in a Cartel inquiry if it leaked so when they
canned the project they canned most of the team as
So how did you escape?
I was expecting foul play. I also knew the
infrastructure from my junior engineering days and
prepared a hideout in the biocycle maintenance shafts.
Lucky for me they went for the other team members
So you knew this might happen and didn't warn
Even in the dim light of his console Melk Ziroska seemed
There was still hope that the project might be
salvaged! Almost to the very end! Such a thing would have
been bad for morale!
Arkangel smirked but realized with some regret that Melk
would not see it.
I guess that's one definition of team spirit. What
kind of help do you need?
Orders for my termination are classified. Even the
Mextron Internal Security is in the dark. However,
scanners at all the exits have been set to trigger a
Class-A biohazard alarm upon recognizing my face. If I
try going through, I'll be trapped in a quarantine box
filled with formaldehyde. They'll say it was an accident
related to my work. Case closed.
She thought about it for a while. It all sounded very
daunting but part of the Hax creed was that complex
meatspace problems usually had simple solutions in the
Hmm. If I can break into Mextron datacore, I can
hack the security protocols. Then you could just walk out
with a smile on your face and the guards wouldn't be any
wiser. Mextron Datacore is in the InfoGrid network,
Melk thought about it for a moment but did not seem
There are three successive security layers in
InfoGrid. The security servers are synchronized across
all three. It can't work.
It's a hidden protocol so it can't be part of the
regular backup transfers. If I can hack the security
server and fix it on all three levels it doesn't matter
if they're synchronized.
You can do that?
Melk seemed so astonished that Arkangel had to bit her
lip not laugh. She didn't know if the laughter had
translated over to the comms but she didn't want to risk
I can try. You're the one who is risking his life
here. How long can you stay there?
Couple of days. It's mostly about water.
That's long enough. Can they trace this comm?
Not likely. This is an engineering console and I am
using a faked ID with sapient encryption. They won't pick
it out from the overall traffic.
If you say so. One final question. Can you really
pay me 3000 Cartel Stock if you get out? What if they
erase your Citizenship Account?
Mextron Credits would be wiped but Cartel Stock
can't be erased. It can't even be transferred without an
independent verification of my death. I have been
promised an asylum with IKAI. I will arrange the transfer
You'd better or I'll hack into IKAI and drown you
in formaldehyde myself.
So it's a deal?
It's a deal. You'll hear from me again in 24
And with that the channel was closed.
Her sweat had dried up so she put on her cloak and
started walking towards the maintenance exit. Mextron,
eh? Until now she had done only quick free runs into the
first level networks and scooped up low-level data for
Azure by intercepting package transfers. She'd been paid
with small amounts of Cartel Stock and most of it had
gone into the chipboard she now had in her pocket. This
would be her first real gig and the 3000 Stock alone
would be more than she had made until now. But even more
importantly, this would make her look good. The Hax scene
would take notice and she'd be somebody. She could use
allies in this strange new world.
But she didn't dare to ask for a friend.
Fan Fiction 1
It began with a throbbing pain. A ball of pain,
floating in nothingness. Then it began to glow with soft
but growing light. The nonexistence became gray mist,
boiling as it came to contact with the newborn star. And
just as she was getting intrigued, the pain and the light
separated, the latter snapping in place at the back of
her head and the former stinging her eyes. She must have
opened her eyes because the world came into view but it
took a while before she could focus her eyes on anything.
Visual Interface booted up, expanding the edges of her
field of vision with its symbolic controls. ANGEA, it
said in crisp letters. But there was no Feed. No signal.
For the first time in her life there was no one to talk
to, no news feeds to tell her what she needed to know, no
status updates, no comforting call cards from friends
she'd never seen in flesh.
She was lying on a bed that had seen better days, in a
room where walls seemed to be held together by faded
posters of artists she'd never heard of and graffiti that
was fading fast as the crumbling plaster became coarse
and crystallized. ANGEA... it must be her name but it
took a surprisingly long while of staring at the ceiling
until brains accepted the connection. When they did, it
triggered an explosion of memories. Consciousness
reasserted itself, memories flooded in and took up their
temporarily vacated places. But there were still gaps.
Like how she ended up on this bed in such a godforsaken
Awake, are we? a low feminine voice asked.
The woman was sitting in a surprisingly good-looking
chair at the centre of the room. She was dark-skinned and
her hair hung down in dreadlocks, weighted with metallic
studs. No, blades. If she swung her head, her hair would
lash out like a clawed whip. A merc or a pirate. Someone
from the other side of the wall. Angea glanced down on
her own body and was relieved to find it clothed, even if
she did not recognize the blank shirt and shorts she was
wearing. No chains. No cuffs. Her head hurt but there
were no scars where organs might have been cut out for
the black market.
Am I kidnapped? she asked, biting down on her
The woman laughed and the motion sent her hair blades
jingling. Now Angea could see she had no eyes. Just round
black lenses where the eyes should have been. It gave her
a disturbingly snake-like look. And she was not alone.
Behind her the entire back wall was covered with
electronics, pipes, wiring and holo displays, now reduced
to blobs of fog because of the distance. There was
someone else by the wall, apparently busy with the
wiring. And she could see a naked pair of withered feet,
probably belonging to a corpse. The rest obstructed by
the woman and her chair. Probably on purpose.
You don't remember, do you? You are not a captive.
You're our partner.
The woman flashed a radiant if also somewhat predatory
smile at Angea before continuing: You got booted
from the Cadet Program for breaking into the test results
database. My boss Azure here has a fondness for people
who can crack Cartel databases. He pulled you off the
street and struck a deal with you. Now we'll see if you
can hold your end of it.
The Cadet Program. Oh yes. That memory too.
The one memory she didn't want back but it came anyway.
The crime. The trial. And worst of all the sensation of
becoming an outcast. She wanted to go to the stars. Or if
not the stars, the off-world colonies anyway. She got
into the Cartel Cadet program and had trained, eaten and
slept with her potential crew mates in every sense of the
word for two years. They were going to be a team. A unit,
perhaps for life. To be engineered physically for the
alien environments of Solar Space was tough. To be
engineered socially to live and work together in such a
place for the rest of their lives was far tougher. It was
all to be pre-programmed; love, sex, competition and
But she had been a little too competitive and showed off
her hacker skills by looking up classified data on the
Program. She would not alter anything, of course, but it
would prove a point and settle a score. Then someone
ratted on her. She got the boot and the rest of the
team... well, the social programming back to square 1 or
worse. She had ruined it for everybody, including the one
she was to love, the one she was to compete with and the
one she was to have tension with. They would become
flunkies, old cadets whose program had been
screwed up somehow. They would hang onto low-level
administrative tasks, hoping for a reassignment to a new
team but it almost never happened. The sensible thing to
do would have been to walk away but very few did. The
dream was too big for them to let go. She got off easy,
with no hope at all. When the Cartel Security Agency
finally erased her Citizenship Account all she was left
was her name. Striking a deal with someone, even with
what the Cartel considered criminals, certainly made
Angea sat up and gasped when when the pain in the back of
her head suddenly pulsed. She felt it with her hands and
found that her hair been cropped short, or more likely
shaven off and had a few days worth growth on it now.
There where hard blocks in the back of her head, each the
size of a fingerprint and slightly sore to the touch. She
counted six of them and felt them continue right down
into her skull.
The pain you feel is from the holes cut in your
skull, the dark woman said. The brains don't
feel pain but can do funny stuff for a while.
You did brain surgery on me?
The woman shrugged like it was no big deal.
Some. The Cartel did us all a big favor by
installing the cranial socket in your head. Having that
done in some black clinic could have killed you. We're
not exactly a match for the med-labs in Luxor.
The pain was subsiding a little, probably because of an
adrenaline surge. Angie swung her legs onto the cold
concrete floor and stood up, only to fall forwards and
into the woman's arms. She had been up and next to her in
a blink of an eye. So fast in fact, that Angea was not
really certain she had moved at all. But now she could
also see the entire console wall and a sudden realization
had her gasping for breath.
A ghost runner, she said through clenched
teeth, struggling to regain her balance and to push the
woman away. You turned me into a ghost runner. That
thing on the wall is a Link controller module, spread
out. I recognize the components...
And then she saw the body. Or what she had thought to be
the body. The man was alive but withered down to skin and
bone. He was also naked, covered in grime and sporting a
mane of unkempt hair and a scraggly beard. He seemed to
be asleep and leaning against the console wall but
actually all that held him sitting up was a thick bundle
of cables attached to his. By the smell alone she would
have thought him dead by now but she could see him
breathing ever so slightly. Someone else, probably the
man in the long coat now kneeling next to this living
corpse, had rigged up an impromptu life support system,
feeding the man on the floor with fluids, nutrients and
even blood through a vicious-looking set of pipes and
Satisfied that the system was up an running, the coated
man stood up and turned to face her. For a moment Angea
thought he didn't have eyes either but he was wearing
dark goggles, undoubtedly packed with vision-enhancers.
He seemed to be in his forties but that could have been
just a fashion statement. In stark contrast to the woman
he was almost bone-white. For some reason the
short-cropped hair standing on up on his head gave Angea
a strong impression it should have been white too.
Instead it was striking blue, as were his eyelashes and
even the shadow of a stubble on this jaw. A mutation or a
genemod. In any case the only difference between the two
was that one of them came with a price tag. The cryocoat
was running at full power. Angea could see vapor drift
down from the lining. She would freeze wearing it but
apparently the man would have liked it even colder as he
No, Miss Angea, the man said, You made
yourself into a ghost runner. You asked for the tools and
we gave them to you.
He extended his hand and after a moment's hesitation
Angea took it.
I am called Azure, the man said and smirked,
I'd like something less descriptive but the streets
kind of decide it for you.
She glanced down at the living corpse at Azure's feet.
And this is..?
The owner of this particular hideout, Azure
replied with a sigh, I've brought you here so that
this place wouldn't become his tomb.
I am not a medical specialist.
No. You are an information warfare specialist. This
poor fellow is a info-casualty.
So what happened to him?
Azure turned to one of the holo screens. It lit up,
showing an endless stream of numbers and symbols, milling
about like floodwaters with nowhere to go. He then tapped
the screen with his finger, distorting the holograph for
That's what you're here to find out. Somehow this
stream of garbage is holding him captive. I nearly killed
him trying to pull the plug.
So what can I do that you can't? Angea asked
with a growing sense that she was not going to like the
answer. Azure pointed to one of the components on the
console wall. She did not recognize it.
This is a ghost deck. It projects your avatar into
the Link and translates the information back into your
brain. I've rebooted it and set up a parallel connection.
You should able able to ride this guy's connection to
whatever the hell he has jacked into. I want you to find
the source of this garbage and turn it off.
And what if I end up like him?
Then I'll find someone else to save the pair of
you, Azure said sharply and Angea became suddenly
aware of the dark-skinned woman behind her. She was so
close that Angea could feel her body heat. Angea had not
seen a weapon on her but it did not mean she would not
have one. Azure let this realization sink in before he
continued: I own the wiring in your head. If you go
back on the deal, I'll take it out right now. With a pair
Now she could feel the breath of the dark-skinned woman
on her heck. She was sniffing it, like a beast sniffing
for the best place to sink her teeth in. Maybe the
dark-skinned woman didn't need a weapon. Tall, athletic
and undoubtedly loaded with cyber, she could probably
break Angea's neck with a twist of her bare hands. It was
a test. A test of nerves and control. The boundary
between an equal partner and a frightened slave. Angea
locked her gaze into her own defiant reflection on
Azure's goggles. Suddenly the man looked very, very
tired. He averted his eyes.
Look. If you succeed, I'll make it worth your
while. I promise. But I can't have you see this and just
walk away. I'm sorry but it is not going to happen.
So there's no choice? she asked with a
crooked smile. The answer was there already, she just
wanted Azure to say it aloud.
Not really, no, Azure confessed and held up a
bundle of cables identical to those attached into the
dying man's head. They terminated in long black spikes,
covered with lacy patterns of pure gold. They were
contact surfaces, thousands of them on each spike. Angea
had a brief but disturbing vision of them puncturing her
eyes from behind and pushing out past her eyelids, caked
with blood and goo. She shook it off and instead thought
about space. The Colonies. The High Frontier. The last,
great unknown. Despite a lifetime working with
computerized systems, she knew more about the Great
Unknown than she knew about the world at the end of those
spikes. Officially, it didn't exist. Then again,
officially quite a few things didn't exist according to
the Cartel. In this room alone were three people from
that world and they were holding a door open for her.
And if she had become a Pioneer, what would that have
meant? Anyone this far into the training knew the reality
was a far cry from the adverts. Being a Pioneer meant a
life scheduled all the way to the grave. It meant
becoming a cog in a machine and being thrown away or even
destroyed once broken down or obsolete. It meant total
submission to whatever designs the social engineers had
planned for her. And she would be constructing a system
to enforce all that on the millions still to come. Cadet
recruitment may have drawn on the lust for adventure but
once you got into the Program the psych training spent
years hammering it out of you. Now she felt it once more.
Fear. Excitement. Arousal. She was struggling with her
feelings when she suddenly heard herself say it.
In a thick, hoarse voice.
Winter And Assembly
This was definitely an intermediary year for Assembly
Winter. They moved from Pirkkahalli in
Tampere to Kaapelitehdas in Helsinki and the place was
not really up to spec. They also had the event
one-and-a-half months earlier than usual and the brisk
-20 degrees centigrade weather outside was painfully re
introduced to the attendees every time the loading doors
were open. I was comfortable for most of Saturday but if
there will be a death toll from pneumonia as a result of
Friday and Sunday, I am not surprised. Also the programme
took a bit of a hit and some good items got cancelled. I
am not really blaming anybody here but it does kind of
bug me because the seminars they had last year were
outstanding and Robowars is my special favorite. Without
them all that's left is the atmosphere and that's why I'm
there: to write game specs while saturated in it. I find
the atmosphere in both Winter and Summer Assembly events
very inspirational for my own work but I have always
wondered what all the other people are doing there.
I guess the other people must wondering about the same
thing. Me and my fellow wirepunks must have over 20 years
on the average Assembly visitor these days. For the
record, it is the Wirepunk Studio. We come in, we set it
up and do game development. Right there.
Another thing I like about the Assemblies is the
cybersports. My favorite spectator events are Modern
Warfare 1 (none this year and apparently MW2 doesn't
have compos: is it because of the lack of dedicated
servers?) and Team Fortress 2 but I'll sit
through a few Counterstrike Source matches as
well, provided that gaming.fi
guys are there to provide commentary. Without their
running commentary it would be about as interesting as
watching Formula 1 with the sound turned off. Team
Fortress 2 has been purpose-built for this. The
graphical style is easy to make out even with the picture
moving at high speed and the large smooth colour surfaces
look good even in crappy resolution. Furthermore, whereas
all CS players are doing the exact same thing, the
complex strategies involved in TF2 role distribution are
a beautiful thing to watch.
This may have been the low point of my Assembly
Winters so far but it wasn't a disaster (because the
Saturday was pretty good) and I believe in the concept
(arranging 2000+ people events so that Wirepunk can come
there), so I will be there also next year. Especially if
the rumours of a possible next year location are true...
It is a bit sad that all these subculture events are so
Capital-centric but then again you have to go where the
people are. I just wish they had took the cybersports
audience stand from Pirkkahalli with them.
I just opened a Facebook
account with my real name and picture. And I already feel
like I had stepped in cow dung. The bloody thing asked
for a permission to rummage through my email addressbook!
It sure as hell isn't getting it! I did this because A)
my employer insists that I should be more familiar with
the bloody stupid crap people call "social
media" these days and B) Wirepunk will eventually
have a facebook page for its main product anyway, so I
might just well bend over and be done with it. I don't
understand why people use these kinds of sites, which is
probably why my employer told me to do this. I have
previously used Facebook with an alias so I could spy on
the game applications but this is different. Like going
to Big Brother House without leaving your home.
Fuck.Hmm... looks like my Internet connection is
trying to save me by dying. As much as I appreciate the
effort it is not really helping.
A couple of hours later and I have... 45 friends. The
news section is filling up with trivia on what's
happening with those people. Groups link does not give a
me list of groups to join but instead a group-related
events list involving my friends. People on the IRC (a
social media that I do use) tell me that those lists of
trivia and events are the whole point. Check. I feel like
a Peeping Tom and click the browser shut. I have hard
time thinking Facebook as anything more than an awkward
LinkedIn clone and treat is as such. If you want to find
some deep, inner secrets about me, that's the wrong place
to look (and if you ever find any anywhere, be sure to
tell me because I've been looking for those myself).
Not exactly a good advertisement, is it? Still, my
Facebook presence is here to stay, which is more than I
can say about this blog. Yes, this blog is having a bit
of an identity crisis.
I am writing bi-weekly updates here now. And when
Wirepunk gets its product pages together there will be
another genre-conscious dev blog. But Designer's Notes?
Well, apart from occasional flashes of gaming fiction
there isn't that much to talk about anymore. I don't have
the time or the energy to come up new stuff all the time
is doing my job as the announcer of upcoming Finnish RPG
publications. I do like blogging as a form of literary
expression but I have other blogs now. Designer's
Notebook is not a bad name but the RPG stuff is being
drowned out by my work with videogames. Even my friends
don't read this anymore and small wonder; it's been ages
since I've had anything new to say.
The first entry in Designer's Notebook is from
September 27th, 2003. If I stopped writing now for good,
that'd make it a 6-and-a-half-year run. Pretty good for a
Tale of Shadow
NOMAD is a world of light and shadow. Light means
energy, energy means heat, heat means functional systems
and functional systems mean life. The laws of life are
the same for everyone. Everything is clustered around
light and while some xenopredators might hide in the dark
to ambush their prey, they can't stay there forever. Our
looters venture into the shadows only to bring goods back
to light. Our conflicts, our epic battles, our pitiful
wars, they are all about light. Even KROY; the bots might
cover vast distances on their patrols and use a wild
battery of spectrums to find their way in the dark but
they are still moving toward light. Or rather, they only
move between points of light.
Lights are islands in an ocean darkness. Warm
rooms, scattered throughout two million kilometres of
dark and frozen corridors. And while the life support can
still have centuries left in it, the system as a whole is
failing. Our lights are going out, one by one. I can
already picture the end. The last survivors huddling
together around the last light, their barricades failing
as the xenos tear at them to get to the light themselves.
Then there is darkness.. Frost climbs over walls and
corpses, until it gets so cold that air will rain down on
them as snow. The bots will go on for a while yet, even
if KROY crashes when the power levels go below critical.
They'll have nowhere to go anymore, so they stand still,
maybe for decades, encased in snow and ice. The thermal
imaging systems glow red in the frozen dark. Then they
too will fade and the darkness will have won.
The way I see it, us Nomads have only one job:
protecting the lights. Xenos are just animals even if the
xenosystem as a whole smacks of intelligent design. The
Nations and Outcasts are a weird social experiment that
might have interested me back on on Earth. But here, we
are the guardians of Light. Because for as long as there
is light, there is also hope.
My illustrator has drawn a few more good pictures on
NOMAD but I have difficulties with the player roles. This
is usually a sign of bloat: remember, this was originally
a Code/X -title, which means putting together an
adventurer party and going into a scifi dungeon to stomp
monsters and hoard loot. That's not so very complicated,
is it? But somehow I just get the feeling I am wasting
too much potential with it. Or atmosphere? Or something.
Lucky me that I don't really have the time to do this
Crown of Byzantus
It's been well over a week since my last entry and
yesterday the reasons for my absence were made public: http://blog.byzantus.com/press
It's been all over the IT
industry news already and naturally the armhair
experts in the comments section of Taloussanomat
have already labelled us "failures",
"fraudsters", "daydreamers" and
"toymakers for little children". On the other
hand, Casual Continent must have poked some kind of geek
nest with this thing because they are buzzing around us
like a black cloud. Frankly, we are a little intimidated
by the level of interest we've received. Let's hope those
invited into the Beta like what they see. It is
still only a beta, mind you.
But it is also all very encouraging and I hope it's a
sign that our focus group has grown tired of farming,
building log cabins for smelly peasants or managing
sweaty hunks on the Colosseum. For an asynchronic browser
game Crown of Byzantium brings something different to the
table and quite frankly, if you are afraid of competition
stay the hell out of the games industry! I guess that
goes for any industry to some extent but this is the one
I know best.
Crown of Byzantus project includes a dev blog I am partly
responsible for, so my blogging output is now split
between two blogs. Since CoB is an MMO, this is not going
to end at game launch as the development will continue
throughout the lifecycle of the product. Assuming Casual
Continent keeps launching more Browser MMOs (and it
better), there will be more blogs and Wirepunk will
inevitably follow suit in a near future, so we might be
looking at four or five blogs instead of one. I could
dedicate one day a week just to blogging for all that.
Now, if I could only develop a tougher skin against
all that ill-wishing on the comment sections. I know it
is an Internet Thing but it still makes me sad.
This was a bad day at work. And I can't even complain
about it publicly because it is all about company
secrets. But it is one of those days that make me
question my my decision to stick with game development no
matter what. "Bad days exist so that we learn to
appreciate the good ones" some wise guy somewhere
must have said once upon a time. Maybe the new freelance
artist is right: you have to take your job only as
"a job" or it will burn you out. It is very
difficult for me not to be passionate about the games I
make but that makes it hurt really bad when you face
unrealistic demands. Nobody can do "guaranteed
hits" as Digital Chocolate (what the fuck
is up with their website?) found out the hard way. And I
sure as hell can't shit out something rivalling Bejewelled
on command, no matter how many plums I
eat. However, it is not my company and thus not my
decision to make. I guess I'll be sitting on the toilet
boilet trying to squeeze industrial diamonds between my
*3 hours later*
Never give up. Never. Ever. Give. Up.
The worst thing that can happen is I become unemployed
and I could use the extra time to write my next book,
wrap up my studies and prepare for my upcoming online
lecture sessions for Kajaani game development students.
So, I'm telling the Man what I think, consequences be
As you know, I have a habit of buying weird shit from
Gamersgate and elsewhere. I am calling it "weird
shit" and not indie because this stuff actually does
have a publisher, 1C in Russia, and they can have been
fairly big games in Slavic areas long before anyone in
the English-speaking world heard anything about them.
Over the years I've bought a fair assortment of crap, a
quite few decent games, a couple of pearls and a few
games that defy classification. For a game designer, bad
games are not necessarily bad purchases. What really gets
me down are games that go with the classification *meh*
because they usually could have been better.
Planet Alcatraz is no exception. I
really, really, want to like this game because this is
the closest I'll ever get to my Hellhole RPG idea.
Unfortunately, the game does its best to turn me down.
Planet Alcatraz is a Russian action-roleplaying game of a
dude called "Boar" who gets dropped on a prison
planet. The manual hints he might be something more than
a convict but if so it didn't come out in the time I
spent with this game. You start with a character
generation system that is very obviously a poor man's
version of old Fallout but at least Boar looks the part.
There is no way to turn him into a pretty boy and hell,
I'd be scared to death if I met something like him in a
dark alley. Select two primary skills, tweak the
characteristics around a bit, select two perks and off
The orbital drop capsule lands hard. Most of the other
convicts die on impact or are killed by some ragged
bandits who just happen to have their base nearby.
Whoever designer the first level should be lined up
against the wall and shot. It is too shitty and loaded
with scripted sequences to be anything but a tutorial
level but it does a piss-poor job at that. If you don't
read the manual, you're lost. Period. The game uses the
kind of tilted-top-down view that seems to be very common
in Russian titles. My best guess is that 1C owns one and
licenses cheaply to its developers because things look
really familiar. Sometimes they look pretty awkward as
well. Human characters are trogdolytes and your own
character is... well, let's just say that the neck of the
3D mesh needs work.
Then there is the voice acting. I am seriously
considering to switching back into Russian audio because
the cheerful British accent is tearing at my ears. For a
guy who looks so rough, Boar has a suprisingly
high-pitched voice. I have it too but at least when
playing games I don't want to sound like a eunuch.
Developers have been unable to decide if they want to
do a Fallout-style turn-based combat or a diablo-style
flowing combat, so they did a bit of both. You have to
target your opponents (and holding down a number key
while doing so targets a specific body part) to close in
for the attack. This would be almost impossible in moving
combat but you can pause the game with spacebar and issue
your commands in the paused mode. Boar can fight (and
die) aggressively or defensively (you hit something once
in a blue moon but enemies don't hit you either) but the
system of switching from firearms to melee weapons when
the enemies get close is so slow and awkward that you are
better off using rifles all the time.
Not that it seems to matter. Despite having firearms
skill of 28 and melee skill over 60 I hit more often and
do much more damage when firing a rifle in close combat
than using any of the game's melee weapons. Different
weapons also seem to have different firing/striking
rates, which have been inexplicably left out from the
weapon details. All in all, combat is slow and
unsatisfactory affair but at least you can regain health
by eating potatoes while fighting. I shit you not.
Finally, there is the camera. This is a flaw shared by
many of these tilted-view (or older isometric) Russian
games. The camera and the player character simply aren't
pals. You can move and rotate the camera almost freely
and in compensation it does not move with you, so unless
you are using maximum zoom all the time you have an
annoying tendency to run right out of your own field of
vision. I would also like to be able to tilt the gamera a
little more but no. Zooming out, so that you have a
playable field of vision, also means that you can't see
objects on the ground because they are not highlighted in
any way. If the mouse pointer chances upon them, it turns
into a grabbing hand but that's the only clue you get.
So there you have it. Planet Alcatraz has potential
but the current execution warrants a rating of 2/5. Or
"meh". I hope the Fall would
come out in English next. Germans are better at this
While the rest of you are on Christmas vacation, game
designers around the world are working their ass off to
bring you entertainment for 2010. Remedy is probably on
the verge of a collective burn-out if they really mean to
get Alan Wake out by Q1/2010. I am not saying they
wouldn't make it but it is never easy. There is always
some more tweaking you can do. As for myself, I am buried
under a glacier of feedback from my next game, which will
also be the very first browser MMO I have ever designed.
I've been lucky: every time I switched jobs, I ended up
doing something completely new. Since I moved to game
development full-time in 2004, my life has been an
endless journey of discovery. Unfortunately it means
there are constantly new mountains climb and lessons from
one category are not always directly applicable to
So what was, or is, the most difficult part in Browser
MMO design? I'd say it is the temporal scale. A mobile
game needs to keep you entertained for about an hour (Rovio
Mobile games used to offer much, much more than that
but it never helped sales). A console game like Earth
No More would have been planned for 20 hours,
actually aimed for 10 hours and apart from rare
exceptions, ended up with 6. A browser MMO on the other
hand ought to keep you playing for months, or anything up
to a year. This is of course balanced by the fact that
you would be playing for a few minutes at a time a few
times a day. Most browser games have some kind of an
Those that do not, like Deepolis, make damn
sure that even if you are glued to the computer 24/7 you
still can't achieve as much as those who play less but
pay more. There are also a few subscription-based games
out there which can plan for much longer play session but
on the other hand have to stretch the content to last for
ages. Hence the repetitive actions more commonly known as
"the grind". It exists in asynchronic games
too, of course but the dynamics of the player experience
are very different. As a rule of thumb, if the grind
works, the game works. At least for most players.
Wirepunk is also making a browser MMO, or
should I say MMBRPG (Massively Multiplayer Browser
Roleplaying Game). This one has neither action
limitations (okay, there is one mechanic that goes some
way into that direction but still) nor compulsory paid
content. It is still up in the air if it will have any
paid content to start with. Probably not. It can be added
later on when we can be sure it won't make your computer
catch fire and explode (read: using customers for beta
testing isn't really abuse if you don't charge them
Bloody Hell. I am coughing again. I can only hope it
is irritation from cold air and not a resurgence of the
bronchitis because then I would be in deep shit. I am not
going on a third antibiotic and that's final.
I bought THQ and Eidos Collections from the Steam
Christmas sales and now have new games up the arse.
However, the game I have been playing most is Deepolis
and it is running on the background even now. Deepolis
is a browser-based MMO of a future where Humanity is
living in the depths of the oceans and three factions
struggle to coexist while competing over resources and
fighting off terrifying monsters from the deep. It plays
in the Internet Browser window (is that Flash?) and the
graphics are sort of isometric with a parallax scrolling
sea-floor and some sprite-zoom tricks to make the game
look pseudo-3D. Deepolis reminds me of Archimedean
Dynasty (which I loved). While it is much,
much simpler, some of the ideas are even better, like
using sonic cannons instead of underwater projectiles and
creative approach into the whole deep-sea monster theme.
Sonics also explain why monsters can shoot back. Dolphins
can stun or kill fish with projected sonic blasts even
The default gameplay methodology is to go out from a
station area, collect floating debris as loot, kill
monsters and then come back in to sell off the loot. You
can also do PVP or trade goods between stations (this is
what I am doing) but monster killing and looting is where
the XP and big bucks are, plus missions which usually
consist of "kill X" or "loot Y" in
sufficient numbers for some extra experience and money.
However, that takes concentration. Since I am mostly
doing other stuff while playing, I check back in every
now and then to sell cargo, buy something else, look for
a good place to sell it and telling the ship to go there
on autopilot. Apart from the most hazardous places the
ship usually gets where it is told to go as long as it
keeps moving so no input during the trip is required. I
have to start playing Deepolis properly again at some
point if I want to level up. For now I am content to
raise capital with minimum effort (okay, I mapped out the
best trade routes; that is true feat).
Professionally, what draw me into Deepolis
was the monetizing model. Deepolis goes
against the current (har har) by tossing out
micropayments. Instead, the minimum purchase is 10 euros
and the practical purchases start at 25 euros. The game
uses an alternate currency called "Helix" that
is mostly available by trading real money for it. Most of
the packages you can buy are Helix-priced premium goods
packaged into context-sensible lots and sold off at a
discount. Helix-priced goods are always superior to
anything you can buy with Cel (the all-in-game money) and
do not have level limitations. This means that by burning
Helix (i.e. real money), the player can effectively
bypass the levelling ladder and play in the big league
from the start. Statistically, he would actually be
superior to the old hands who have played the game
through to get where they are. In short, when playing for
free, Deepolis is an action-RPG in the videogame sense of
the word, with a slow but steady climb up levels and to
better equipment. If you pay for it, you can proceed in
leaps and bounds, or Deepolis can be made into an
aquatic-themed scifi shoot-em-up. It is like two games in
one. While players of both occupy the same game world,
they don't really mix.
Some might say this is unfair. Others might say that
it is only sensible to sell players what they really
want; in this case a 99+ euro option of starting from
"above the top" if you want to get into the
big-league PVP and bossfights right away, with a million
cheaper options in betwee. With close to three million
registered players the user base does not seem too
offended and both my dayjob and Wirepunk are busy taking
On the RPG front, my new artist for NOMAD has been
drawing up concept art and I really like what I see. I
originally envisioned the graphical style of NOMAD to be
close to Necromunda but we are now drifting away from it,
into a cleaner and a more realistic style. In a project
like this a good artist can influence the outcome quite a
bit because I am just as susceptible to inspiring artwork
as the players are. Even more so, perhaps. By adding
stuff into his Burger Games commission gallery, he can
steer my inspiration into any direction he wants. I let
it happen with STALKER and it worked out extremely well.
It's been over a week since the last entry? I feel
like it was Yesterday. Anyway, my second dose of
antibiotics ran out today and I am not coughing nearly as
much so I guess I'll live. And I'd better since there is
no way in hell I am going to go back to the doctors and
ask for more antibiotics. These two make me feel sick
enough and I know from personal experience that five
would put me into a hospital. Staying on sick leave
wasn't really an option this time because at work our big
launch is approaching and every day brings new
playtesting issues to the forefront.
That, and Christmas shopping. Mostly books and
chocolate, again. When you get to a certain age, you kind
of own everything you need and gifts are either leisure
or useless crap. We are all at that age now; family,
spouse, friends, so it is like a big circle of books and
chocolate going around (okay, chocolate has a natural
half-life which eventually takes it out of circulation).
I've bought some new games (yahoo!) and instead of
playing those I've been playing Silent
Hunter 4 instead (eh.. what?). I actually
fired up Dead
Space for the first time today and
immediately noticed that whoever designed the mouse
response ought to have his head checked. The pointer acts
like it is on the end of a rubber band. You move the
mouse and the pointer starts moving slowly and then picks
up speed, usually flying a past its intended target. I
could not find anything in the control menu to make it
behave and using the menu with such a bouncy thing was a
tad complicated in itself. A mouse is intended for
real-time precision responses to hand movements and
nothing else. Designers of Dead Space and A.I.M, take
In our series of
"Indie-Titles-You've-Never-Heard-Of" we have GREED:
Black Border. This is a diablo-style scifi
game of running down corridors and gunning down foes from
a tilted top-down angle. Again, the designer could use
some talking to as the controls are asinine. They are not
as bad as in Space Siege but for fuck's sake designers,
pick either the Crimsonlands or the Diablo control model.
Something "in between" usually fails and this
is no exception. Bloody hell. While the first-level
battles are not too harrowing, I have yet to pass any of
the "circular lights" rooms without cheating.
These are rooms where damaging circles of light are
projected onto the floor. They rotate around poles,
creating and closing openings as they move. Unfortunately
the crappy controls make it almost impossible to get
through them as the lights do close to insta-kill damage.
I like the GREED soundtrack (they actually released it
for free on their website) and the graphics have nothing
wrong with them as such... however, you can tell it is a
German game because this is the tidiest mining ship I've
ever seen. Not a speck of dust anywhere and even zombies
vomiting caustic liquids seem to have behaved themselves.
Apart from a rare mangled body it is all spit and polish
and even the furniture is lined up perfectly. Still, I
would have played this game far longer if it was stable.
As it stands, it inevitably crashes every 20 minutes or
so. Since saving is possible only in pre-selected save
points this can get a bit frustrating. I already hold Torchlight
in a very high esteem but for some reason the World keeps
rubbing its excellence into my face by making everything
else feel like shit from the start.
Then we have... The
Witcher. I have yet to get past the opening
intro which lasts forever and the character in it looks
like a hybrid between Elric of Melnibone and the creepy
German they had playing Jack Carver in Uwe Boll's Far
Cry. I usually don't like fantasy RPGs on computer
but I am going to give the Witcher a go after I have
tried out Dead Space a little more. After all, with S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
Call of Pripyat is coming out in February I have
two months to kill time before my life has any meaning
In the meantime I've given the Scorpio 3.0 rules a
spin into the direction of ENOC and ended up with a
system of 20 skills and 60 edges to define those skills.
As you undoubtedly noticed, the number of skills in the
system is going down and the number of edges is going up.
The game will treat both skills and edges as fluid
variables that can be improved over time. Now I just need
to get those lists Nomadized. Because of the edges, task
tresholds in Scorpio 3.0 can be fairly high. The next
effect is that if you are good enough in the skill in
general, you can do cool stuff but the edges determine
what you have really done with your skills so far. I like
the way the system forms two axis regarding the
character's abilities and past life. Reminds me of
Postcard From Death
I got one of those today. Nailed me, really. Right
there on the couch. Just when I was about to have lunch.
It wasn't the first. It won't be the last. Just another
Season's Greetings from the Grim Reaper. I've heard the
last one is always an invitation and so far nobody's
turned it down, so it must be one hell of a party.
For the first time, it looks this cough is going to
beat Codesan Comp hands down. I wonder what the hell they
will prescribe me next? Codesan Comp is about the
strongest stuff you can get this side of the law.
"I'm afraid we don't have anything stronger, Mr.
Vuorela, but I'll give you a shot of morphine." To
be honest, I can consciously suppress the urge to cough
most of the time when high on Codesan Comp but it does
take an effort. And when my lungs decide to vomit, there
is no stopping them. Not even if I wanted breathe every
once and a while. My sickness made me both the workplace
Christmas party and theK30 Christmas party today and IGDA
Christmas party earlier this week. The meteorological
department says that next week we are all going to freeze
until our butts fall off. So this is just bronchitis.
Next week we could be talking about a pneumonia. And I am
not having a second treatment of antibiotics, oh no.
Peijas Hospital gave Diacor a B- for attempted murder
with those in 2007.
Majatalo.org has had some vivid discussions lately. One
is of course another of its periodic and pointless
discussions on the merits and flaws of gamemaster
autocracy vs. shared narrative in roleplaying games. The
outcome and really the only possible outcame, is that old
battlelines are reinforced and old neutrals stay neutral
avoiding all the fuss. I was not really a contributor
this time as me and Tanan have discussed and resolved our
respective stances on this issue a long time ago.
more interesting discussion was the idea of a
three-stat system (Body, Mind, Soul) in a
Victorian/Steampunk/Fantasy setting (those sure are
fashionable right now). The author had this idea that you
could take damage into every stat. The effects of bodily
damage are obvious and the effects of Mind damage would
be insanity and the usual quirks but he was perplexed
about the effects of damage on the Soul. I, being an
atheist saw Soul as courage, self-image, creativity and
expression. Sami Koponen, a Christian theologist,
suggested religious and moral identity and that the loss
of soul would lead to depravity and corruption, not
necessarily in the supernatural sense but for example by
vices and compulsions ruining your life. No matter which
alternative is better, it does bring out an important
observation: I have an intuitive tendency to ignore the
religious angle for a character or a setting, except as a
cultural force. When working with settings where gods are
real this is a problem and I've often had it, knowingly
For the record, I think the three-stat division works
really well for Steampunk. Anything more complicated
would feel out of place. That, and I am old. Too old be
arsed with complex systems anymore (except in Rogue
Trader where the intricacies of the badly written
character creation section continue to confuse us).
third conversation is about problem players in forum
roleplaying games. I don't have much to offer there
either. I haven't had a problem player in my home groups
for decades and when running games in youth clubs or
Ropecon it is a temporary affair and nobody's been
disruptive on purpose. I have no qualms about kicking a
player out of the group but there has almost never been
any need. But I have often wondered about the idea and
methodology of forum roleplaying: How is it done? Where
does the setting material come from? What mechanics are
there? What are the limits of player freedom? Some of the
settings I have thought of might actually work better as
forum roleplaying games but it is just a hunch. I don't
know anything about forum-assisted roleplaying (or
whatever the hell the FARP acronym means) and I don't
have the time and energy to start yet another project.
But it is interesting. Very interesting.
I bought Dr.
Ned's Zombie Island DLC for Borderlands
and since I wasn't expecting that much anymore, I was
positively surprised by how fun it was. I am usually not
into zombies but they fit the setting and the challenge
was well-balanced. They are easy (and satisfying) to kill
but show up in hordes and the real danger isn't the
damage they do but the special attacks that can bog you
down. If you lose mobility, if you get overwhelmed, you
are dead. Also the bosses can sometimes be a pain in the
ass but on the other hand I do love the self-destructive
gasoline-barrel-throwing brutes. Taking one of those out
can clear out a whole group around it. Also psychos that
run slow until knocked down and then run screaming and
red-eyed once they get up is a nice touch. The graphics
still work their magic on me and the island has pretty
lush vegetation, proving that the engine is very
adaptable. Good fun, although I still lament the lack of
depth and setting in the primary game.
I also bought the Witcher. Haven't
played it yet but my god, who do people put up with
Steam? It took me ages to download thing, not because of
connection speeds but because the fucking thing has to
start over from 0% every time there is a glitch. Gamersgate
is and remains my top choice for digital game stores.
I finally finished Borderlands, which
means playing the storyline to its conclusion. The game
continues if you left click during the end credits so I
think it is open-ended, which is always a plus. It was an
interesting experience, especially since I have Torchlight
to compare it with. Both games are descendants of the
mighty Diablo and have had members of
the Diablo dev team working on them.
Both are level & skill-tree based action RPGs with
very rapid action-reward cycles and loot up the ass. Both
are graphically appealing and hit the visual genre spot
dead on. Torchlight looks like World
of Warcraft and unlike many people I find that a
good thing. The cartoony, simplified graphics make it
pleasing to the eye and homely to the mind. Torchlight
does not have much of a setting but still the village of Torchlight
seems a nice place to live (and frankly, when I first
played World of Warcraft, I had hard
time leaving Kharanos because the dwarven inn
was such a lovely place. And if I could, I would live in Booty
Bay in real life.
In Torchlight, you kind of took the
effect of levels for granted: if you go up against too
many high-level monsters you'll get your ass handed to
you. In Borderlands I had to re-learn
this attitude the hard way because it is a first-person
shooter and the illusion of it being much more player
skill -driven is strong. But I did get my ass handed to
me over and over again, until I concluded that since I
was playing solo, it was safe to have an edge of at least
three levels over your opponent. Picking up the right
guns from the piles of crap the game unloaded on me was a
bit tedious at times but when you had a weapons layout
you were happy with, it was a fairly good shooter.
Especially the mobile fights with monsters were something
I enjoyed; circle strafing, dodging, avoiding a leaping
ball of claws and then turning to give its soft backside
a load from my shotgun. When shooting people you
sometimes felt like the game was cheating: grunts with
crappy weapons could sometimes hit from impossible ranges
and sometimes the game was a bit unclear on what is or
isn't a sufficiently high cover.
Of course, the graphics in Borderlands
will knock anybody's socks off if they are into that kind
of thing. If Torchlight was a cartoon
for children, Borderlands was one for
adults. It is a shame that such a powerful tool for
atmosphere building was completely wasted on the Pac-Man
of a setting they had. If Borderlands
had gone for the true sandbox effect of Fallout 3,
or even the wide-pipeish S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
I would have bought myself an Nvidia graphics card just
to get rid of the graphics glitches and given the game
same kinds of hours I gave to Fallout 3.
As it stands, I am unlikely to even try out the other
characters. I just can't be arsed and the setting is to
Borderlands world of Pandora
is basically a series of interconnected dungeons with
infinitely re-spawning monsters. There are almost no
"normal" people in it and the crap they tell
you about "making a good impression on the
locals" is a bunch of horseshit. Maybe they ran out
of budget or something but narrative design really isn't
rocket science (even if some people treat it as such and
establish committees to do it). This is how I would have
Pandora used to be a hardcore prison planet for
lifers who were dropped off and left to fend for
themselves with occasional orbital supply drops into
designated points. This is where the primitive tribes of
masked and crazed psychopaths come from; they are felons
who have created their own societies and tribal colonies.
Then it turned out that Pandora was the cradle of a
long-lost alien civilization and the felons had been
doing business with alien artifacts with smugglers and
corrupt officials for years. The planet was partitioned
into corporate interest zones and No-Gos but what was
intended to a be a tightly controlled exploration program
became a mad gold rush. With the artifacts you could
bribe anybody to do anything and soon millions of
prospectors, adventurers and other scum and villainy were
pouring in, building clandestine colonies and shantytowns
wherever there was water or energy to sustain one. Beyond
the corporate-controlled space ports, Pandora was a
lawless frontier from pole to pole.
Also, the planet ecology was now confirmed to be
of "deathworld" class, with predators so
terrifying they often proved more than a match for the
human technology. It could have probably been tamed but
no one had any interest in doing so when they could be
digging around for artifacts. You and your posse are
fortune-seekers, making friends and enemies of various
factions, choosing sides in on-going conflicts, looting
the dead and scouting out places most people would leave
alone. A rumour has it that some kind of an alien vault
on Pandora is about to open soon and the alien
civilization, long thought dead, is showing increasing
signs of life...
Now that wasn't so hard, was it? Look at Rage
trailers to see how such colonies are done right.
Anyway, this was a Borderlands
adaptation of my "Hellhole" Arcade RPG
concept, originally inspired by Harry Harrison's Deathworld.
It is a near perfect Arcade Roleplaying setting:
"You are seeking alien artifacts on a
dangerous planet contested by many factions and
See? You can fit the genre (aliens, planet,
megacorps), the player roles (you are seeking alien
artifacts), the rewards (alien artifacts) and the
opposition (dangerous planet contested by many factions)
into a single sentence. If you tell THAT to the players
they really don't need any more information and you can
get on with creating characters and having them shoot
shit. Almost any possible mood or atmosphere you are
going for is already familiar to them from television or
videogames. Doing something like this would have also
enabled 2K to come up with something more inspiring for
their first DLC than "Zombie
Island". But maybe I am just an artsy hippie and
they just don't care.
In many ways, mixing Torchlight and Borderlands
would have been the perfect game. If you are going for
gear tweaking and micromanagement, it is best to go whole
way and not dick around with three different types of
goods like the Borderlands did. Dude,
where's my armour? My sensors? My cool caps? Next time
give me less guns and more variety. And once I've killed
the shit out of some place, don't refill it the next time
the game starts. Killing some boss three times over for
the sake of experience tends to ruin the immersion.
Again, Torchlight does it right: The
main dungeon does not have re-spawning enemies but other
dungeons and side quests are instanced as needed, so it
never really runs out of content. Since the Borderlands
maps are pretty genericl, it should have been possible to
copy the modular terrain-building used in Torchlight
in all but the storyline focus points of Borderlands as
Borderlands was not exactly a
failure, it just pains me to see such potential wasted.
And Torchlight has given me an excellent
return for the money, all 15 euros and 90 cents of it. If
this is the future of PC-exclusive gaming, I am not all
that worried. Btw, the same guys had previously done an
MMORPG called Mythos. While waiting for
the proper Torchlight MMO, I may have to check if Mythos
is still around.
Record on. Audio only.
I am Alia "Axe" Matsuhiro. I was part of
the original development team of KROY, the shipboard AI
back on Old Earth and when the opportunity to get aboard
CBS NOMAD as a cyberneticist, I leapt. I was young and
thought I was prepared for anything. So with much fanfare
and pomp we boarded the damn thing and went to sleep. I
remember my grandmother warning me against it. She said
there were evil spirits hiding in the great dark, beyond
the reach of our Sun. Unfortunately my specialty was
Adaptive Robotics Software and not ancient wisdom. But
she was right and sometimes... sometimes I wonder if we,
the Humanity, had encountered something like this before.
That there was a grain of truth in the old tales of Outer
Dark, or Hell beyond the sphere of the world and the
light of our Sun. Old tales carried their warning through
the millenia until the modern times when we ceased to
listen. I am not trying put xenos into a mythological
context but I do find the parallels with Old Earth
I wasn't awakened by the ship medical team but a
mutated abomination chewing on the cryopod cables. How I
survived it I'll never know. What I do know is that I was
struck with amnesia for some time. A group of outcasts
found me naked in the corridors and took me in. By the
time my memories returned I had learned the ways of my
hosts and had hard time reconciling the new me with the
old me. I became... many things. Adventurer...
Explorer... Mother... I had always wanted something more
from my life than a desk job and I certainly got it. CBS
NOMAD has the floorspace of a good-sized Earth metropolis
but a fraction of the population. Lots to do, lots to see
and and an awful lot of things that can change in nine
gigaseconds... or three centuries of Earth time. Just
think of the changes the Old Earth metropolises went
When I returned to my adopted home and they made
me their leader. For the last 200 megaseconds I have
tried to rule them well. It occurs to me that this is not
all that different from our original mission profile. A
colony on a strange new world. And as one of the high
professional members of the civilian crew I am bound to
accept any position of responsibility within the civil
administration, if offered. As I now lay on my deathbed,
I consider it a life well spent. My people have already
immortalized me into a legend. Even now, they bring gifts
to my door or ask me to bless their children and watch
over them from the next world.
I have no last will or testament. This audiofile
is encrypted with the crew key so the survivors can't
access it. Chances are that some day they'll find another
Nomad in the corridors; naked, cold and scared. This file
is for her. In it, I have tried to make sense of this
strange world that we both woke into. If it helps her
survive, I want her to record her own on top of mine.
There are still thousands of sleepers out there. There
will be more Nomads, just as much in need of guidance as
Happy Independence Day. Nothing puts me into a festive
mood quite like a fresh diagnosis of bronchitis :(
How the fuck can I feel this sick without fever (okay,
occasional spells of very low fever)? I am coughing like
my lungs were trying to vomit and it fucking hurts. Even
my old friend Codesan Comp does not seem to be helping
anymore. This sucks. Bad. It is not Swine Flu, or at
least the symptoms do not match, but I am fairly sure I
picked it up in England so I've nicknamed it the Bacon
Flu. If I die, I want Olorin from majatalo.org
and #praedor to finish writing NOMAD.
If he doesn't, I'll come to haunt you and curse your
Yes, NOMAD took a baby step forward.
The enthusiasm of my artist is contagious and I decided
to pick it up again, although I don't have the faintest
idea of what will become of it. What I do know is that if
Scorpio 3.0 works, I have a diced alternative
system for CyberFlow. The step taken
today was to create the basic layout drafts for different
types of pages. Since NOMAD will be edited first and
foremost for laptop viewing, all the important stuff will
be in a roughly widescreen-shaped area on the upper part
of the page. On the bottom I am planning to have some
idle graphics, page numbers and hyperlinks to other
topics within the same chapter.
There has been some discussion about the system in
majatalo.org. Here is how it works: NOMAD
has roughly 20 abilities ranging from 0 to infinite,
although anything beyond +6 is hell of a lot. Then the
player can pick 2 dice of worth of Edges for each 1 die
of Flaws. These are a little more comprehensive than
before. Weapon specialisation is an Edge; the player
shoots with his Aim ability (Aim + 2D) but if he has
specialised in the weapon type he is using, he can roll
one or two extra dice and pick the best two dice from the
lot. Fear of the dark is a typical flaw and a pretty bad
one for a Nomad. If the player attempts to do something
in poor light, he rolls one extra dice and picks the two
lowest scoring dice. If both edges and flaws apply, the
dice cancel each other out. Snake eyes are a fumble,
double-six are explosive upwards.
This goes for character classes and cyber as well. If
the character is a nano-engineer and has a batch of
repair nanobots available to him, he gets the extra dice.
If he does not have the edge, he would not even recognize
a repair nanomodule when he sees one. If the player has a
hackerjack implant, he has extra dice for all computer-
and wirehacks, as well as the ability to contact Kroy. If
he doesn't have the implant he can still program or run
applications, but mind-hacking systems or talking to Kroy
is beyond his comprehension. As a rule of thumb, a
cybernetic or a bionic system that is not easily detected
is a +1D edge. A full cybermod is much more powerful
(+2D) but it cannot be hidden. So while a pair of
beautifully crafted camera eyes provide +1D to visual
perception, a sensory visor covering both eyesockets
provides +2D. The mathematical effect of a single bonus
die is roughly +2, discounting the increased likelyhood
of double-six. If the human ability curve flattens out
somewhere around +6 or +7, edges can push the abilities
of Nomads to clearly superhuman levels.
The injury system is mostly the same as in Mobsters
but I am adding critical effect rolls for severe
injuries. This also enables things like damage to the
armour and cyberware. Getting cybernetics repaired in NOMAD
is almost impossible without the help of other Nomads, or
even *gasp* Kroy. Weapons overall need to do some serious
damage. Even Mobsters could also use a
weapons damage boost.
A good start for the winter, eh? Assuming I won't die
of this cough.