Entries sorted by date:


Game Stuff

2011 Autumn

2011 Summer

2011 Spring

2011 Winter

2010 Summer

2010 Spring

2010 Winter

2009 Autumn

2009 Summer

2009 Spring

2009 Winter

2008 Autumn

2008 Summer

2008 Spring

2008 Winter

2007 Autumn

2007 Summer

2007 Spring

2007 Winter

2006 Autumn

2006 Summer

2006 Spring

2006 Winter

2005 Autumn

2005 Summer

2005 Spring

2005 Winter

2004 Autumn

2004 Summer

2004 Spring

2004 Winter

2003 Archive

Back to the homepage

27-Feb-2002: Back To Work!

Yes, tomorrow it begins. My second contract of the year and a short but lucrative one at that. Basically the big pan-European carrot of a contract I was aiming for last autumn has been chopped up into these gold nuggets and strung along the length of this year. I plan to catch as many of those as I can. In some ways, being a freelance game designer is a game in itself. For sustainability, I wish I had more clients since apart from occasional ventures I am really a gamification sub-contractor for various parts of the Sanoma empire. I like to regard my forays outside Sanoma as feelers into the rest of the industry, however, and later this Spring will be trying a mad new scheme with a certain company that hails from very far away but still has people I know working in it.

Assembly Winter 2012 has come and gone. Frankly, I doubt if I will reserve a computer ticket for it next year. The event is not at fault. I just found myself unable to concentrate and I have mysterious pains in my pelvic bones that were somewhat aggravated by the rickety chairs they had. Then again, most chairs will do that. This year's cybersports offering, well, really, the Asus ROG Starcraft 2 tournament was excellent and the stand they had built for it was ingenious, somehow dividing an open space into two distinct auditory spaces. You could not hear the noise of the hall into the seating area and almost nothing from the tournament could be heard in the hall. But I would have been perfectly happy with a Saturday ticket to see this tournament and otherwise having a prolonged HAX workshop somewhere with soft couches.

As for the Wirepunk work during Assembly, the in-game webcomic tool Marko (the Lead Coder) built for us is excellent. I will be posting samples created with it in the HAX dev blog and the FB group. As for myself, I spent most of the time thinking, re-designing and researching by reading web articles and playing games that might have helpful mechanics. Again, the decisions reached there are better discussed in the HAX dev blog.

In other news, still good, the upcoming Praedor supplement now has an illustrator. Juha Makkonen has offered to ink in all the white spots that Petri will have no time for (and really, Petri Hiltunen is a busy man and I almost feel bad trying to squeeze art out of him). However, there are some things that only Petri can make, like additional world-description comics, which were the single most appraised part of the original rulebook. In meantime, I am feeding bits and pieces of things to come into the Praedor FB page and it has been livelier than most Finnish roleplaying forums recently. Check it out if you are not already participating and can read Finnish.

Stalker RPG translation... well, my proofreader has promised some action this week and if he delivers, the PDF version will become my top priority. I want this project over and done with, I want to keep at least most of the promises I made about it and it might even yield some coin, not just for me but for mister Boris Strugatsky as well. Who, I am told, has had some health issues recently. Aged 79, he is already immortal because of his works but if Stalker RPG royalties can put a tiny dent into his hospital bills, my work on this Earth has been done.

This will probably be my final entry for Winter 2012. Lots of good things happened but I really could have done without the cancer scare and the surgery that followed. I am ready for the spring and itching to get back on the bike. I pedaled over 900 kilometres last summer. This year, I hope to break 1000.

23-Feb-2012: Back to the Complex

The new Syndicate from EA gets a slam-down from me and not because it would be bad or too different from the original. I think it might actually be a competent shooter in the FEAR 2 kind of way and I loved that game. The problem is that some moron decided that it would be cool and edgy to give the game texts a blur effect, a bit like those "stressed" posters where it hurts just to look at the texts. The lettering looks like it isout of focus and I can feel my eyes strain to bring them back into focus. It is a really nasty feeling and after trying to work my through a two-paragraph in-game report, my eyes began to water and I felt my migraine kick in. Judging from the 15 minutes I managed to play the game the new Syndicate might be a fun F.E.A.R. 2-style gimmick shooter (man, I love that game!). But until they fix the text blur, I am not going to touch the new Syndicate with a ten-foot pole.

Broken product, no review score. On the plus side, the Facebook representative promised to forward my concerns to the devs.

The unfortunate blur issue aside, the release of Syndicate reboot heralds my symbolic return to the Terminal Complex. I've been in the fantasy land for a few months now, hemmed in by Skyrim and the upcoming Praedor supplement (which, btw, is looking for illustrators since Petri is unlikely to have a year-long dry spell like the last time). Now Assembly Winter begins tomorrow. For Wirepunk that is a 3-day development workshop. The setting of HAX is alive and well, taking on new and deeper meanings as it boils inside my brain. However, translating those deeper meanings and underpinning into game content is fast becoming a lower-priority issue as we are burning our limited time into trying to make the basic engine and gameplay work. Being able to postpone stuff "to be added later" is both a blessing and a curse in MMO development. Sure, it can be done. But once you launch, the immediate issues (and trust me, there will be issues) become the priority.

The problem with Wirepunk has always been development time. We've been at it for years but if you put the combined hours together I think we approaching two man-months of work or something by now. This has had the positive effect of enabling us to rethink our choices but if we do want to finish HAX before retirement, we are going to have to push for a launch with just the bare essentials. We have already agreed on design changes that cut away huge portions of work. The agenda for this Assembly is the narrative device: namely the webcomics for the storyline missions and hopefully much of the other information content as well. We have a lot of the art but now we have a tool for putting that stuff into the game. I'll be using that one and reporting bugs while at it. Our lead coder will continue working on the basic gameplay engine and fixing the tool issues as they come up.

And we'll both be eating those wonderful giant cinnamon rolls from Hima & Sali café in the process. :)

12-Feb-2012: You Are Not Skyrim

Fallout 3. Fallout: New Vegas. Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Skyrim.

For a moment, CRPGs were some of the best games I've ever played. They were oozing with atmosphere and absolutely loaded with inspiration that would carry well over to the pen-and-paper side. I would feel refreshed, inspired and bursting with new ideas after playing. They were so darn good and enjoyable that I forgot for a moment that I used to hate CRPGs. "Sheesh! These games are great! Why haven't I played more CRPGs before?"

Eager to sample more of the genre masterpieces, I tried Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning. And suddenly I remembered why I detest CRPGs. This is a game review but take it with a pinch of salt. If you liked Witcher, Two Worlds 2 or any of the other games commonly referred to as computer roleplaying games that do not have the first person perspective, I am sure that you'll be right at home in Kingdoms of Amalur. But for me, it is a slap in the face with a wet rag after all that first-person goodness. It embodies everything I hate in your typical CRPG and therefore I detest it more than it probably deserves.

So, Kingdoms of Amalur: The Reckoning is an aggressively marketed mainstream third-person CRPG with a story and setting written by R.L. Salvatore (the author of the Drizzt novels) and Ken Rolston, the lead designer of Oblivion and Fallout 3 at the helm. In the world of Amalur, everybody has a predestined fate and when evil elves, "Tuatha" threaten to overrun the world, everybody's fate seems sealed. Waking up from a pile of corpses the character, apparently a clone of a dead warrior recreated in the Gnomish invention called the Well of Souls, is the first person since forever not have to a preset destiny and therefore he can change the weave of fate; a power typically reserved for gods. Only male characters are available but you can choose between two types of humans and elves and set his appearance.

As you level up, you can upgrade skills and abilities and freely define your class and role in the world, but whatever you choose you end up with this God of War-type of character who runs into melee and beats the living shout of everything in a very mobile and fluidly animated arcade-style combat. If it is with a sword, you are a warrior. If it is with a staff, you are a mage. There is stealth but it sucks, archery but it sucks even more and magic which basically softens up the enemy before beating them to death with your glorified walking cane. The combat probably works best with a console controller. With a keyboard and mouse the who thing feels lackluster.

It also has a MMORPGish feel to it. Monsters roam small glens outside the main roads. There are treasure chest and hidden caches everywhere, it is raining loot and quest-givers walk about with exclamation marks over their heads. The graphical look and feel has been compared to World of Warcraft with its clear surfaces, cartoony characters and particle effects up the ass. With a huge open-ended game world and endless crafting, a shitload of quests and staggering variety of character options, what could go wrong?

Pretty much everything, especially if coming straight from Skyrim.

When I invest into a triple-A title, I expect to be able to sink into it for hours. Even if it is a 17-hour shooter like Crysis 2 does not matter, if it is immersive enough to really suck me in for those moments. And apart from the old Fallouts, Computer RPGs traditionally suck at this. Kingdoms of Amalur is right up there with the worst of them. Let me give you an example. After waking up from the pile of corpses, me, the fate-changing hero, will have to fight my way out as the Well of Souls is being invaded by the Tuatha. Not willing to go by the rat-slayer route, the designers opted to have me fight the Tuatha instead: armor-clad elven warriors armed with glaive-like two-handed swords and shit. I beat them to death with a baseball bat and loot the corpses. Hmm, some gold, a wet rag for crafting and perhaps a healing potion if I am lucky. I can't steal the armour he is wearing even though I am wearing just rags. And that weapon he used? Forget it? It is lying right there on the floor but all I can use is this rusty longsword I found abandoned in the corner.

Did you know that if in Fallout 1 your isometric ass was jumped by two bandits with shotguns, looting the corpses actually gave you two shotguns? I don't need the first-person perspective be immersed. I need the fucking game to have internal logic, instead of every corpse turning into a slot machine giving off random goods despite the enemy's role in battle. If you can't do that or your economy system is such a pile of crap that enabling free and logical looting would break it, you can always take the DEHR approach where every foe armed with a submachinegun dropped a fucking submachinegun when dead... but if you were already carrying one of those things, all submachineguns dropped were converted into +2 ammo or something, no matter how desperately you wanted to sell the guns. The system was never realistic but it was still logical enough not to break the immersion. This is not rocket science, people!

Having made out of the starter dungeon, I stepped into the sunlight, ready to meet the maginificently large open world of Amalur head on. Instead, I found myself in a room. Sure, it had blue sky as a ceiling and tall trees as walls (and a small ledge over water that I could not dall off from: you can only cross terrain obstacles at pre-designated jump points). The only ways out were two narrow accessways to corridors which lead to the next room. There is never a landscape or a vista, or any sense of the world spreading out before you. The outside world is just a macro dungeon containing the entrances to the regular dungeons. Even the monster and treasure rules from the dungeons apply here: some critters occupy a pre-determined area, moving about there at random. Others wait for the player to enter a trigger area and then burst from the ground or fall from the ceiling/sky or whatever.

This is not an open world. This is not even a world. This is a game level.

Now, some people hate the cartoony look of Amalur. That is okay. Some say it is only used because it was easier to make. That, I call bullshit on. But before making any more sweeping generalizations, I have to explain a little about what is going on here. The art style commonly referred to as cartoony graphics should actually be called "stylized graphics" since it does not attempt to portray a fictious reality but to create an artistic impression of it. Much like an animated movie is not photorealistic but instead uses the graphical bandwith released from realism to better communicate feelings, inspirations and atmosphere as part of the art design. This is actually a Herculean feat and calls for true vision, creative leadership and artistic talent to pull off. Amalur's look and feel has often been compared to World of Warcraft but I think this comparison does not do it justice. No, the WoW art team actually knows what it is doing. The Amalur team does not have a clue.

Some people are put off by the cartoony style of WoW but given the game's success and influence it can't be all bad. Their artists are especially great in creating stylized versions of various beasts by combining their realistic look with an artistic impression of their presumed personality. Cute things are desperately cute, strong things are absolutely ripped, sneaky things are thoroughly sly and fierce things look like they want to come eat your face through the screen. Landscapes are epic and rolling, conveying a sense of their history just by their appearance and with the subtle graphical hints embedded everywhere. The style may be cartoony and at times disgustingly cute but Azeroth feels epic, mature, menacing and homely. All at the same time.

The devs of Amalur did not spend too much time thinking about its style. The character models are straight out of Saturday cartoons and carefully rounded remove any rough edges or menace. I have yet to create a character that does not look like a personified failure. Apparently the art team also decided that animating anything close to a real animal was too hard, so the whole landscape... sorry, rooms, remind me more of Tabula Rasa than anything even remotely fantastic. Hell, even the local cows would feel right at home in the monster category of Starship Troopers and the deer in the woods look like something Picasso might have drawn when feeling over the weather. Beyond the creatures, there is no rhyme or reason in how things look and as a result the whole thing feels detached and lifeless no matter how many cutesy details the artists have thought to add.

I guess the take-away from this is that if you are going for stylized graphics thinking it is the easer option, you have already failed.

My final complaint also applies to a number of games I like, although to a lesser extent. But in Amalur, it is yet again a thing that flies into your face: characterization. What truly separates a roleplaying game from an adventure game are not the levels or stat upgrades or any of the mechanical trappings of a CRPG. They are but tools to help the characterization. Essentially, an adventure game characterization is about what you are. In a roleplaying game it should be about who you are. I would like to say this is not rocket science either but apparently it is. And it is not as simple as you might think. Skyrim is actually rather poor in this regard. The dialogue options and responses are very limited and since the game allows you to join any organization to experience all of the content, you are not really making meaningful choices about who you are at any time during the game. And this in a game where you get to create your hero from scratch.

Deus Ex: Human Revolution shines in this regard. Although the character identity is preset to Adam Jensen, the personality is not. Expertly designed dialogue options combined with variable-objective quests give the player an illusion of freedom of expression that most other computer roleplaying games lack. After playing for a while, I had in my head an idea of what kind of a person my Adam Jensen was and I was able to stick to that personality all the way to the end. Now that is roleplaying. You can also play Skyrim somewhat like this if you decide to voluntarily restrict the content you will access ("I am a warrior, therefore I will not associate with the College of Mages or the Idiots' Guild" etc.) but those playing Skyrim for the first time do not know how to make these decisions. As a result, their roleplaying experience is muddled or watered down. Some of these associations should be mutually exclusive by the virtue of game mechanics but we are still waiting on that mod.

Fallout: New Vegas is also fairly good at characterization, which is why it is usually considered to be the better-written of the two new Fallout games. I have to agree on the writing, even if I am still pining for the kind of atmosphere Fallout 3 had in all its glorious bleakness.

Of course, Amalur fails this category so hard that even Skyrim looks down on it. Your blank slate of a character remains blank and uninteresting throughout the game and it kills my interest in the story as well. I can't connect with this world because it looks like it is on a fucking alien planet, lacks internal logic and they even did not give me a raygun. I can't connect with these NPCs because they are quest dispensers and vending machines on legs. I can't connect with the story because the game is completely unable to convey any sense of menace or drama. I can't connect with the protagonist because he effectively is not there. Hell, my barbarian in Diablo 2 was more interesting as a person than this.

Oh man! Computer RPGs really suck!

My rating: -2

07-Feb-2012: A Week Off

My first contract of the year just ended and everybody who could give me another is off to Casual Connect in Seattle. So like it or not, I have at least a week off. This would be good news for Praedor and Stalker fans if I was better at kicking myself in the rear when there is no outside pressure. Monday evening was already wasted at doing practically nothing (not even playing Skyrim). I hope Tuesday will be more productive. And I am still waiting on Petri to know if witchcraft can be used with Praedor or not. And if not, it is final. You'll have to wait for some other game before those 50 pages of magic rules ever get out.

Meanwhile, I have had some progress with the Book of Treasures. I started down the dangerous path of doing funny and interesting little item tables just for fun. The downside of it is that either I keep it up and do these tables on absolutely everything, or I backtrack to more higher-level rules and discard much of the work done so far. Fortunately, I am not in a hurry. There is about a year before the estimated deadline and even that is about as shaky as anything can be in this industry. After all, it is not just up to me and my lazy fingers but there are plenty of other people involved because the next Praedor graphic novel has to come out first.

I have a perverse fondness for reality shows centred on prospecting for gold. Gold Rush: Alaska was a good start but Original Productions really hooked me with Bering Sea Gold. It is an absurd combination of Deadliest Catch, Scrapheap Challenge and Waterworld, set in the town of Nome in Alaska. It is a small port at the Bering Strait, approximately on the same latitude as Oulu. Nome is built on sand carried off from the gold-laden mountains of interior Alaska. Back in the 1900's the beach was extensively mined for gold. These days people are building these crazy post-holocaust-style rigs that barely float and go like a mile out to the sea to mine the seafloor, usually with a suction hose that hoovers up the bottom sediments, which are then filtered for gold up on the rig. With 5-hour dives in 0-degree water it is insanely dangerous and although they are at only in the summer, the Bering Sea is chilly at temperamental even at the best of times.

As for Nome itself... well, if there was a global nuclear war the town of Nome probably would not notice. It is literally in the middle of nowhere. The sea outside is dangerous as hell and none of the roads leading out of town actually connect to anything. Its, a mixture of eskimoes and vagabonds, have converted old busses and stuff into houses while the actual buildings look like some had begun the construction of a house and then thought "fuck it" and left halfway the project.And.heck, we are only in episode two and one people has already been stabbed. True frontier stuff, so future Taiga players, take note! Hmm, maybe I should add rules for gold prospecting into the Book of Treasures?

Finally, check out Praedor Facebook group if you A) speak Finnish and B) feel any interest towards the subject. It is quite lively right now and even Petri has joined in. I try to answer all your questions or comments and there also links to Praedor-based projects by other people, like this gorgeous effort to make a Necromunda RPG using the Praedor game system. I so approve this message.

Finally, Los Bastardos Finlandeses has made a music video of one of my favourite songs: "Acapulco". Good to see that some people don't take their rock superstardom too seriously :)

02-Feb-2012: Production Report

You know what I just did? I finished the first version of Praedor magic, also known as the Book of Witches, and sent it to Petri for judgement. We'll meet up sometime next week, I'll explain what's in there and why and he'll accepts, rejects or demands changes to it. Frankly, the option number two would pretty much take the wind out of my sails for this whole project, although much of this stuff is salvageable to some other project in some obscure future. I like my magic but yeah, it is not up to me. It is his world and while Petri has given me surprisingly much freedom in the past, he has the veto on anything concerning Praedor.

While waiting for his initial feedback, I am drawing up plans to finish the Book of Treasures. I am also planning on some rule changes concerning monsters, or least making them much more powerful. For someone who claims to be on the ball concerning the game mathematics, I really dropped the said ball when writing the monster stats back in 2000. There are a bit wussies all around but the main problem and one I have absolutely no explanation for is me giving the top-level predators low Agility scores. Monsters usually can't parry. Their only effective defence is dodging or being better armoured than a WW2 tank. The lack of effective defences means praedors have greasing their swords with monster fat for the past 10 years. And that, my friends, will have to change.

I am also lowering the cost of practising alchemy and maybe ease the manufacturing rules a little. Expanded alchemy was originally meant to compensate for the lack of magic system but if the game is to have actual magic, alchemy will be competing with it. It is still slower, more cumbersome and more expensive to use than witchcraft but it does not drive you insane, tempt you with cannibalism or turn you into a Nameless One. I guess it boils it down to your interests and priorities. And whether the Miekkamies approach to magic was to your liking or not.

The core of the supplement is still nothing but a crude map painted over a part of the large-scale Jaconia map. While treasure rules are cool and all and the Word text file for magic is 50+ pages long, the realm description will be the meat of this supplement. Without it I might just as well publish everything online. But no, we *are* making a book out of this one. The one and true Praedor supplement so that all the whinging can finally stop. I just hope Petri's possible veto on witchcraft does not burst my balloon...

As you all probably know by now, I am now a game design and gamification freelancer under Burger Games and have been so since last summer. In that time, I've had four clients and the Burger Games made enough revenue in the latter half of 2011 for me to live on. But if my Bohemian lifestyle as a freelancer is to be sustainable, I will have to double that this year. I really like being a freelancer, though. The work is as interesting and varied as ever, job security in the games industry is so poor that I am not really losing out on that one and working an average three days a week is enough to keep me afloat and well-fed. But most importantly, by the time my clients contact a freelancer, they are not playing guessing games and the ever so painful programmer scheduling roulette anymore. Contracting a freelancer means they want to get shit done. And for the right price (+VAT), I have been the guy to do it.

"Burger! What is best in life?"

"Crush your obstacles! See your objectives completed before you! And hear the exultation of your clients!"

I wish it will continue.

15-Jan-2012: Spellcraft

With the probably misguided assumption that people I am trying to sell the next book in the Praedor RPG line are not reading this blog, I want to blog about the origins and design philosophy behind the witchcraft version 0.9 for Praedor (it will remain in beta stage until ready and greenlighted by Petri).

Those of you familiar with my history as a roleplaying game author know that I popped up on the scene in 1994 with the Baroque Fantasy Roleplaying Game Miekkamies (transl. "Swordsman") by selling roughly two hundred copies of it in a space of one year. It was a modest hit by any standards and especially Nordic The Incurable had a lot of good things to say about it in the late Claymore magazine. The game has had something of a cult following ever since and although that was 18 years ago, calls for a new version of Miekkamies have never really ceased. In my opinion, Miekkamies was not a very good game. It was a game very much in the "My First Overambitious But Übercool Roleplaying Game" -vein and by rights should have sold the 30 copies such games usually do. Why it sold six or seven times that much remains a mystery to me. Remember, I was a nobody so it could not have been my name.

Digital printing did not exist at the time, so the rulebook was a stack of photocopies held together with black tape. An overhead projector sheet as the first page to protect the expensive colour-copy of the cover art picture and yet allowed it to show through. The whole procedure of making them included quite a bit of manual labour and was so awkward that I never made a third print run. Strangling the supply early on may have actually contributed to the game's cult reputation. Hmm, maybe I should impose a hard cap of 500 copies to any of my future releases? But I digress.

Anyway, Miekkamies had a magic system, also known as "witchcraft". Despite all the game's faults, it basically established my guidelines for handling magic in fantasy fiction ever since. And when the RPG world went apeshit over Ars Magica's "Element + Method" system, I stuck to my guns. Don't get me wrong: Ars Magica is one of my favourite roleplaying-games ever and somehow delves deeper into the medieval mindset than anything I've read before or since. But the magic system, while perfectly workable and fit for the setting, did not win me over. This is because while game rules for using magic are certainly fine, I abhor cosmological rules for it. I want my magic to be about complicated and poorly understood spells that contradict rather than enforce any "scientific" observations about the cosmology and multiverse the characters are in. I want my wizards to be in the dark, reciting words they do not understand and to quote the Strugatskys in Roadside Picnic, "using a microscope as a hammer".

Science is all about resolving mysteries and better understanding of the universe and its forces. Magic IS the unresolved mystery. Magic works because the practicioners have no real understanding of the forces, causes, effects and long-term consequences involved. Understanding and knowledge kills magic and makes it yet another application of science. Petri forbade playable sorcerer character because he did not want to establish a canonical approach to magic in Praedor. Any magic available to witches in my supplemental rules will have to work within those constraints.

We know that in Praedor, magic is an exchange of energy, matter and natural forces between different worlds, dimensions or universes. We know that demons hail from the void between the dimensions and unlike the entities of any single dimension, they can travel from one dimension to another without endangering their existence and sense of self. That is the limit of our knowledge and understanding of the supernatural in Jaconia. For the Sorcerers of Circol, magic in Jaconia is indeed a science. It is a dangerous and unpredictable branch of science, much like high-energy particle physics are to us, but there is no message or ideology behind it. There is some mystery, of course, especially since the art of sorcery has been stagnating rather than advancing with the loss of the Sorcerer Kings and the oldest generations. But those mysteries are there to be resolved, even if on a timescale befitting an immortal.

Witchcraft is all about the mystery. Many of the cults associated with it are mystery cults, preserving an internal hierarchy of power via a control of secret knowledge, confident that lower-ranking members will not be able to figure any of it out by themselves. Any witch (what an oxymoron; becoming a witch is a rare and peculiar fate) may learn the implications and leanings of the different glyphs and spellphrases involved but he can never read magical texts outright. Even a simple scroll will take at least a week of careful study and they still would not know what exactly they are saying when casting a spell. And even if a sorcerer would try to explain that, the witch would not able to grasp the very concepts that explanation was based on. This is why sorcerers need so much training, proceed so slowly and yet can attain heights of power even the mightiest witches can only dream of.

Whew! What a long-winded rant. I am finally finished with the 25 sheets of rules on witchcraft mechanics and related character creation issues. I am now writing the actual spells. This is my third attempt to create a passable spell list and the best one so far. Witchcraft spells are rather involving in nature, from a sacrifice of life force in return for arcane energies to imposing physical changes on the witch as part of the spellcasting process. I wanted the spells, including the very process of casting them, to highlight the way the witch is constantly teetering at the edge, with every little overexertation and failure threatening to push him over.

Eventually, he will fall. They all do.

06-Jan-2011: Bachelor of Arts

I made it. Last tuesday, the University of Helsinki promoted me from Untermensch to Bachelor of Arts and I finally achieved something worthwhile in the eyes of my parents. Personally, I feel like much of the landscape ahead of me had just turned into mist. Finishing my studies has been alternatively a menacing bugbear, a mountain to climb and a light at the end of a very long tunnel. On one hand, I am happy to have finally reached the end of the tunnel. On the other, I was kind of expecting to find something more here. But that is not your fault. My friends, colleagues and acquaintances have been overwhelmingly supportive, especially when I hit the rough spot and was operated on for a possible cancer in early December. I thank you all. Multipass! Burger has multipass now!

Gandalf is the Faculty Study Office.

Not that the multipass changes anything.

Well, actually it does.

It was holding up time and energy which can now be spent on other things. Working, for one. I am currently in the early-year slump waiting for my prospective clients to finish writing their annual budgets, which then may or may not include me. There is no way to affect or speed up this process, so I am just waiting. I am fairly sure the jobs are coming; they always do. They are also coming with little or no warning and all at once. They always do that as well. I am still chasing a big gig in Netherlands this year, possibly taking up most of the next summer and fall. Having to constantly maneouver around that is a bother but if it does go down, I could then go spend the winter someplace warm and sunny (not going to happen unless I can take my spouse with me, of course). And it would be a sort of validation of my current freelancer lifestyle.

Another thing is the Praedor supplement. Without the multipass, it just would not have happened. No time, no energy, no confidence in my ability to deliver. But it did happen and I am currently on my 21st plain text page concerning witchcraft.

"Kaiken noituuden edellytys on demoninen riivaus. Noita voi löytää velhojen vanhan kirjan, mutta vain demoni hänessä osaa tulkita sen. Noita voi manata kirouksen vihollistensa päälle, mutta demoni hänessä lausuu sen loitsusanat ja repii voimaa maailman ulkopuolelta mikä saa taian toimimaan. Noidan elämä on samalla jatkuvaa taistelua tätä demonia vastaan. Taikuuden hinta on noidan oma elinvoima ja vähittäinen taantuminen nimettömäksi hirviöksi kun ihmisliha yrittää ottaa demonin muodon. Riivaus ajaa noitia kauheisiin tekoihin: ihmisuhreihin, kannibalismiin ja hulluuden syövereihin. Vaikka noituus voimakkaimmillaan vetää vertoja jopa velhojen taikuudelle, se ei ole antanut kenellekään ikuista elämää. Yleensä päinvastoin."

Actually, there is no way to know if this version will fly. The first real test will be Petri Hiltunen himself. I have to present my writings and the intended system to him and he can veto it on whatever grounds he likes. But I am prepared for that. Petri has always been unwilling to take a stance on Jaconian cosmology and while I am treading lightly on it, creating an established magic system for Praedor was always going to be a huge risk. However, demonic possession is a frequent theme in both old and newer (relatively speaking, there has been a long gap) Praedor stories. And while not a perfect match, the Lord of Beasts in Vanha Koira matches fairly well with my vision of an older witch, a cult leader sinking deeper into insanity and struggling to hold on to the fading embers of his own humanity.

And the nasty trick that Remus the Wizard King pulled off on Cesaran the Demon Knight in Kuninkaan Lapset? Perfectly doable here and you don't even need an arch-demon to try that. Unfortunately it requires that you yourself die but Cesaran's swordblow to Remus' neck had already ensured that.

Couple of days ago my total playtime of Skyrim stood at 312 hours. That's when I decided I needed to kick this addiction. Now, at 330 hours, I can safely say that I failed. I created Vanha Koira as my newest Skyrim character, although I soon had to exchange my warhammer for a battleaxe (both are two-handed weapons in Skyrim). The warhammer is so slow that responding to anything in combat became impossible. I also could not make my character fat and old enough or to give him the kind of forked moustache-beard combination he had in the novel. Still, this guy is big, stocky, clearly in his forties by now, has ample moustache and could well be Vanha Koira just before he decided to retire from the life of adventuring the first time. As you all know, his peace did not last but right now I am "playing the prequel".

I also began playing Skyrim without using the Fast Travel option, as recommended by various people in the Internet. And By the Divines, it works! The roads feel much more alive now and there is surprisingly lot going on out there. You really have to plan your expeditions and get to know all the places to sell stuff and resupply along the way (thank the Divines for the Orc Settlements). If low on healing potions, a shortcut across a patch of wilderness becomes a major gamble and those damn dragons feel like a real menace now for some reason. Since I am not a sneaky type this time around, I actually have to rely on my companion. Lydia was every bit as horrible as before but Uthgerd the Unbroken is tough enough for the job. I am tying down the enemy by blocking their attacks and using the Unrelenting Force Shout, while she feeds them the blade of the Elven greatsword I made for her. My worst enemies remain the high-level mages, which, I think, is exactly as it should be.

Playing Skyrim this way is also slow, so I expect taking Vanha Koira to the higher levels is going to take a long time. This is a good thing because it means I get to play more. Unfortunately, it also means I will be skipping a lot of the scripted content because the storylines do not fit the character. This is a major flaw in the overall game design, especially considering that you can't get into the College of Winterholm without becoming a mage student. And you kind of have to, if you are going to get into the main storyline at all.

My dad turned 70 yesterday. While my own feelings about graduating from the University are mixed and conflicted, he was positively happy about it and I am glad that I could give him this gift.

27-Dec-2011: My New Year's Promise

It is not the New Year's Eve yet but I can't sleep so this is as good a time as any. Besides, I probably won't be blogging again until 2012 because fuck all is going to happen between now and then.

Those of you hanging out on #praedor in IRC already know some of this but here we go: Me and Petri have agreed on a supplement for Praedor RPG and I am writing the sucker right now. There is a new Praedor story in the works and while I am not at liberty to say when it will come out, it is an important one and carries the history of Jaconia forward. The supplement will be released shortly after the graphic novel in the hope that the two will support each other's sales and visibility. Take this as both a promise and a warning. If the graphic novel gets delayed, the supplement will also be delayed. If it gets cancelled... well, technically the supplement would not be fit for release but we'll work something out.

Anyway, this time it is for real: I am writing it right now and making surprisingly good progress. Of course, everything here has to be reviewed and greenlighted by Petri but the last time we worked together it went really well and I am not foreseeing any major problems this time either. The text and the layout for the supplement will probably be ready ages before the illustrations will be .

The supplement will consist of three major parts, or "Books".

  • The-Book-of-As-Of-Yet-Unnamed details the part of the realm most relevant to the graphic novel and is loaded with info and hooks on how to convert that into an interesting setting for your Praedor campaign. It also covers the changes that have occurred since 513 Va and how they have affected the rest of Jaconia. I am already salivating at the prospect of getting a few more pages of setting description comics just like those in the main rulebook. Absolutely everybody loves those and I keep finding new information in them even today. Oh, there is also likely to be a bunch of new monsters and maybe some re-balancing errata to the existing ones.
  • The Book of Witchcraft is our response to perhaps the most common request we've had: playable mortal sorcerers. Jaconia has always had them. They have been portrayed in some of the graphic novels and there is one also in my 2004 novel Vanha Koira. They are also occasionally referred to in the main rulebook. Basically, back in 1999 we could not agree on how to make it work while preserving the mystery of magic and our immortal Wizards. We substituted playable magic with expanded rules on Alchemy but the player requests for magicians never ceased. Now that we've had 11 years to think about it we've either grown soft or come closer to resolving the issue. Me and Petri agreed on an apparent solution and yes, the supplement will have rules for creating and playing witches; fugitive magicians and secretive demon-worshippers relying on demonic possession to dabble in the arcane arts. Just don't try this at home.
  • The Book of Treasures revamps the Praedor loot tables and creates new and hopefully interesting money sinks as additional adventuring incentives. It also contains (or at least our plan for it contains) quite a bit of information on crafts, trade routes and local specialties, especially regarding the areas detailed in the as-of-yet unnamed book.

Or that's the plan, anyway. This is the first and most probably the last supplemental work to be published for the Praedor RPG, unless the franchise suddenly catches fire and outsells The Moomin next year. Of course, there is this anomaly that the RPG sales are still strong (slightly under a copy per week) after 11 years. If the Praedor RPG is still selling in 2021, I will write another supplement. Consider that a promise.

I have already agreed to one submission of third-party material for the supplement and it does not need to stop there. If you have stuff for Praedor that you'd like to spread around or at least see in printed form, drop me a line and we'll talk about it. I am especially interested in adventuresl but I am willing to discuss practically anything. If your material ends up into the book, you'll get a free copy (or possibly more than one), your name in the credits, my gratitude and accolades on this blog and a free drink of your choice at the next available Ropecon. You know, the Finnish industry standard.

25-Dec-2011: Critique of Skyrim

I was actually prompted to write this entry by a flame-baiting article in Eurogamer comparing the storytelling methods of Skyrim and Dark Souls. But I am not really commenting on that article here because Dark Souls is exclusively for consoles and therefore does not exist for me. Although I am markedly less bothered by "consolization" of hardcore titles released on PC than most of my kind, I am still a PC gamer through and through. I both work and relax by my computer and want to be able to rapidly switch between playing for inspiration and writing something based on that inspiration. I am also old, myopic and slow, so this trend of making hardcore games easier suits me very well.

Now, Steam says that I have played Skyrim for 282 hours. Since the game came out on November 11th, it adds up to 6.4 hours of Skyrim every day between then and now. For most of December I have basically slept, rehearsed my Spanish and played Skyrim while waiting for the post-surgery painkillers to kick in. While I am not a professional video games reviewer anymore (I used to be when I was writing stuff for the late Enter magazine), I think can safely say a few things about this game.

Make no mistake, Skyrim is a great game. One of the best I have ever played. Perhaps the best if all we only look at the cost-to-entertainment ratio. Before this I hadn't played any Elder Scrolls titles since ancient times (is something called Redguard part of the series?) but I am a fan of both of the new Fallout titles. Having clocked around 300 hours on each, I was sort of familiar with the format already. I am an explorer, salvager and scrounger by nature. Having combed through the Capital and Mojave Wastelands so thoroughly I knew every single location by heart, an epic game with a huge open-world map with 300+ locations was just what the doctor ordered. I was hooked from the very first minute and more hooks have sunk in since then. I am such a fanboy for Skyrim it is ridiculous when you consider my age. That something is a great game means that it is a game whose merits greatly outweigh their flaws. So much so, that you are willing to ignore or at least stomach them to immerse yourself into the rest of the content.

This does not mean that the flaws aren't there.

The bugs of Skyrim are already legendary and I don't really want to comment on those, although I have to say that while all sorts of quirks are to be expected in a random dynamic setting this large, having this many quest-critical bugs is very bad form and have probably caused more than a few ragequits among the players. PC gamers can resolve many of the issues using the dev-console commands but it is always a major game-breaking hassle. I can also imagine the helpless console players cursing the Bethesda QA to Oblivion and back and apparently the PS3 version has been something of a disaster in many respects.

Well, for Bethesda, bugs are almost part of a brand. If it wasn't for Fallout: New Vegas, many of the issues I am about to comment here could have been part of the brand too. But for all its own faults, FNV showed that many things could have been done better.

My first gripe is the autobalancing. Now, Skyrim does that very gracefully, much more so than, say, Fallout 3. Autobalancing means that the game content changes dynamically with the power level of the player. In Skyrim, certain mobs are always easy and certain mobs are always hard but as the player power level increases, more of the difficult mobs get thrown into the mix. According to dev interviews, the goal of this approach is to enable the player to go practically anywhere and survive right from the start and later on keeping the game always challenging and interesting wherever you are.

They did this in Oblivion, where it really blew up on their faces and completely removed any sense of power progression. They also did it in Fallout 3, where it slowly turned an awesome game world into a moronic zoo of high-level mobs that basically broke many of the minor quests. In Skyrim, enemies will become a blend of higher and lower-level mobs, with the player first mowing down a horde of bandits and then having a real challenge fighting against the boss and his chosen lieutenants. It works if playing a warrior or an assassin on a low difficulty setting. And it can make a player paint his non-combat focused players into a corner when whatever variables the game uses for measuring player power do not match the reality.

I think autobalancing is always a bad idea in a setting-centric roleplaying game and Fallout: New Vegas is my proof. For all its faults, they way it did away with the whole feature was masterful. Instead of enabling the player to go anywhere, the world had low-level and high-level areas from the start. If a low-level character was stupid enough to stick his nose into a high-level locale, it was soon cut off. They also used the geography and high-level areas to force the player to embark on a road-trip across the game world, which served very well as an extended tutorial. Only after the player had completed this trip, which could take dozens of hours of playtime, and reached New Vegas proper, he was really unleashed on the rest of the game world. It felt much more realistic and greatly helped to convey a sense of a world that existed regardless of the player. In short, it made the world feel alive. Narratively, Skyrim makes great effort to do the same but the subtle changes the autobalancing makes to the game world shoot the suspension of disbelief into the kneecaps, even if these changes are extremely well balanced gameplaywise.

Skyrim also copies the FNV theme of a land at war. The Empire and the Stormcloaks have supposedly been at each other's throats for years and now claim different regions of the game area. The war is also a prominent feature in much of the dialogue, even when chatting with the local peasants. However, it does not really feature in the game. There are no border scuffles, randomized attacks against other faction strongholds, roadblocks or old battlefields still littered with the bones of the dead. Frankly, nobody seems to be doing anything in this war and the fiery but repeated rhetoric from Jarls and Generals does not a war make. This world is static.

Somehow, the Skyrim dev team also managed to bork the sensation of Skyrim being part of a wider world, even when that world (Tamriel) is much better defined than the rather nebulous Fallout cosmos around Mojave. While the player character and many of the NPCs can hail from the strangest of off-map regions, nobody is going anywhere. There are no caravans waiting in the towns close to the border. There are no travelling merchants who would be taking the famous Riften salmon into the Inn of Markarth, even though many people are talking about it. There are bandits everywhere but absolutely nothing for them to rob. The rare non-hostiles you might encounter on your travels are either patrols from one faction or another, or hunters running after a hare. The travelling traders of New Vegas were men and women of few words but their existence made the roads feel like fucking roads!

There is a head-shaped hole in my workroom wall. It was created when my Inner Narrative Designer learned that the Skyrim dev team idea of rewarding the player for completing a longer sub-faction quest line was to name the player as the leader of the specified group, even though the game system cannot actually permit the player to make any real decisions for them and the now-underlings still issue them new quests and orders like nothing had changed. My wood elf assassin is now the leader of the mages' guild, the assassins' guild and thieves' guild (there is still a warrior guild to take over) while having absolutely no authority with any of them. This is possible because the devs wanted every player to experience the maximum amount of content and had their heads up their asses when thinking about the rewards.

Narratively, this is sheer lunacy. Since there are no real leadership actions, becoming an honored and senior member of a guild would not only have been sufficient but also far less frustrating and immersion-breaking to the player. Just think of the Followers of the Apocalypse or Brotherhood of Steel in FNV. The membership feels like an ample reward and yet nothing there breaks the game. Some of these sub-faction storylines are great, especially the Assassin and Mage ones. But a non-magician assassin becoming the archmage of the Mages' College of Winterholm... are they completely insane? Also, with this much content in the game, the devs should not be afraid to force the player into making some tough choices. If he starts completing goals in the Mage storyline, block the Warrior storyline altogether and vice versa, perhaps? Or make the initial requirements much, much tougher.

And for heaven's sake, if the archmage of the College of Winterholm joins the Thieves' Guild for some inane reason, having those impoverished down-on-their-luck thieves treat him as a common newbie makes George R. Martin want to kill himself just so that he can roll over in his grave. If the character was just a member of the College this would not matter. But with an archmage, no. And since my present character was already the leader of the assassins, I really had to fight the urge of cutting the throats of every single one of these stupid idiots. Apparently the idea that every player has to be able to experience all of the content within the same playthrough is some kind of a sacred cow to the Skyrim developers. BUT IT'S WRONG!

It would actually be nice if some of the NPCs would exhibit occasinal common sense. At least the gangs in both Fallouts attack me in groups. In Skyrim, my very first character, by then a hulking warrior dressed in full daedric armor and looking like a Champion of Khorne from Warhammer Fantasy Battle, has been threatened more than once by a lone, naked bandit, armed with nothing but an iron dagger. Easy, sure. Immersion-breaking, definitely. Also, I have never seen companions as useless as these. Especially if your tactics involve archery or sneaking about. And every time my compulsory house thane asks me if I am lost when entering my own house, I politely ask them to come with me, take them somewhere behind the proverbial shed, cut their throats, strip them naked and shoot their stupid faces full of arrows out of spite. Those useless bags of fertilizer would do a lot better if they kept their stupid mouths shut when under my roof. Somehow the companions in FNV worked much better. And at least Boone knew when to shut his mouth.

Melee combat. Oh dear. My reflexes just cannot handle blocking, with or without a shield. They should either include a kick-ass tutorial on how it is done or do something else with the whole system. I had also levelled my first character up to 50 before I learned you can do power attacks. By then, I had also learned that since blocking was impossible, you got the best results in melee by wielding two weapons and hammering both mouse buttons at a very rapid pace. The third-person slow-mos of the critical finishers in melee are gorgeous but the melee itself is a clusterfuck of chaotic swinging. While this may be a fairly good depiction of an actuall fight, it eats into my sense of badassitude quite a bit. Hence, I made an assassin as a second character, rather than continuing to play the all-out warrior I created first. I don't know what the real answer to melee handling would be, especially from the first-player-perspective. But this isn't it.

Whew. What else? I would complain about the mage character track but many other people have made it work so apparently I am just doing something wrong. The skill list desperately needs a survival skill or two. And not having any use for hunting or cooking features is a travesty in such a wilderness-intensive game. Fallout: New Vegas already had a hardcore mode with hunger, thirst and sleep. Something similar would work really well, or probably even better, here. I know some players have abandoned using fast travel entirely which, I guess, is a sort of hardcore mode in itself. They claim it improves the play experience considerably. Oh yes, the overimportance of crafting and then having it all boil down to a single skill: Smithing. Alchemy is next to useless since it is raining potions out there and Enchanting has to be really high for it to have any hope of competing with whatever magic items you have looted from the tombs. Once you have Smithing at 60 and can select Arcane Smithing as a perk, you are set for life.

I would not have played Skyrim for 282 hours if it wasn't a superb game and modders will undoubtedly fix some of these issues. But until then, these are the flaws, gripes and drawbacks I have chosen to tolerate or ignore. The immersion and atmosphere are well worth the trouble and I am still a raving fanboy.

16-Dec-2011: To All Parents Out There

Oh hell. I really can't go public with this.



10-Dec-2011: Activism


It is a dreadful weather outside. The storm is so bad that the ferries to Sweden have been unable to dock in Helsinki and we are talking about big-ass 47,000+ ton ships here. That is roughly the size of a WW2 battleship. The Kustaanmiekka narrows are deemed too hazardous for them right now. I can't even remember when this would have happened the last time.

Some forums and some people I know are upset about Electronic Frontier Finland's new negative publicity campaign specifically targeting the minister of culture (and the presidential candidate) Paavo Arhinmäki over his intent of increasing the breadth and scope of copyright fees on recordable media (the so-called "cassette fee"). This fee is basically a tax added to the price of any medium capable of storing information on the grounds that people would be storing copyrighted material there. I think the whole principle is flawed but what really got EFFI riled up was the minister's declaration that the fee should be extended to virtually any electronic device out there when this had already been dropped from the government policies. Basically, the minister wants to overturn a decision that was already a victory the consumers.

EFFI put out a series of ads featuring the said minister and his stance. The City of Helsinki public transporation company rejected the ads intended for them but this went up and stirred a lot of debate. Some people, whom my gut feeling categorizes either into Arhinmäki presidential campaign supporters and overtly polite nerds, strongly objected to it as tasteless and a real-world representation of Internet trolling. Personally, I was also surprised at the strong tone of these ads when they were first shown to me and it is true this whole thing is a departure from the "quiet wallflower" image that EFFI has previously projected.

But I do support the campaign. As I see it, the banner does not make any untrue statements and it makes a valid point of connecting the issue to the person directly responsible for it. To some extent this is an expression of frustration on EFFI's part. I told them years ago that there are limits to what a polite discussion circle of techie geeks can achieve as opposed to a actual civil rights activism. I now applaud EFFI for taking steps towards civil rights activism, although some people have and will continue to find the change of tone abrasive. That is the problem with any and all forms of activism. It includes a measure of shock.

If you want to have a say in what EFFI is doing now or in the future, you can do that by first becoming a member and then becoming an active member; taking part in the meetings, events, decision-making and so on. If you just want to support them in their struggle for your electronic rights, donate or buy something from the shop. You can do all this and more from here.

Whew. Now that is dealt with what else is new? A lot of things, actually, some of them good, some of them bad.

GSC Game Worlds, the developers of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games has unofficially announced it will cease operations (not really a bankrupcy, I wonder what is going on behind the scenes) and all development on S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 has terminated. For a long-time fan this is major bad news and also a big surprise. The three games so far had sold over four million copies (they were all PC exclusives), the phenomena was really big in Russia and Ukraine, there are 30+ novels, a TV-miniseries in the works and what not. So what happened? Media speculation says it was because a console-publishing deal for S2 had failed but an official statement will come on Monday.

I hope this is not the end of the IP, although it would make my STALKER RPG the only Stalker game out there. The mood and vistas of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. trilogy were a great source of inspiration and as games they were superb shooters. Not to mention all the great mods out there. However, I do agree that the first two games could have done with less bugs.

And now there is this. Looks like the truth on the matter has been lost to the Zone.

In other news, I am trying to work out a deal for a gig at a prominent Finnish game studio for the next two weeks. It is basically about helping them with a crunch period but honestly, I really, really like what these guys have been doing so far and I am eager to try my hand in some actual design again. And if all goes well, I could see the fruits of my labours go live in just two weeks. It is a rare priviledge.

And finally, something the Praedor fans have been waiting for a long time (11 years almost to the day, actually). I had lunch with Petri Hiltunen at the SFC in the Forum's food court yesterday. He said "yes". Rumour has it that Burger has been typing away furiously at his computer ever since.


Wish me luck on my Spanish exam on Wednesday. If I pass, I graduate.

06-Dec-2011: The Cut, part 2

Well, the Fat Lady did not sing this time. I got a call from the surgeon yesterday. The pathologist had determined that the tumour was not malignant but some sort of a giant cell anomaly built from macrophage white cells... I guess you need to be a medical doctor to understand any of that. But the point is that it was not cancer. Hurrah!

Now, they had done some thinking and even without seeing me decided that the complications I had after the operation must have created a big-ass blood clot somewhere between my upper jaw and cheek cavity. They are right, actually, I can feel this thumb-sized object stretching the tissue around it. The next step is to use Zyklon-B grade antibiotics to kill off everything smaller than myself so that this hematoma will dissolve without a bacterial infection. It is nasty and uncomfortable but also a less severe affair by several orders of magnitude.

So, I am in the clear. No cancer. I don't have big enough lungs to breather the sigh of relief I really want but I am giving it my best. Now, if only these pains, medications and the rest of the hassle would stop. Industrial-strength antibiotics aren't good for the stomach and this particular drug was part of the cocktail Diacor tried to kill me with in 2008 (the doctor at Peijas Hospital actually gave them 8- for attempted murder, with the scale going up to 10).

My medical history is a comedy of errors mixed with tales of true horror.

So, I'll live. Now I only need to pass the Spanish exam on Wednesday next week and the year 2011 is a wrap. My big regret is not having the English translation of Stalker RPGG over and done with but frankly, the between trying to graduate and the recent cancer scare I could not have cared less. Maybe now that my immediate survival has been removed from my personal Maslow hierarchy of concerns I can get back to it.

So far I have put 169 hours into Skyrim. No, I still haven't run out of content, which makes pretty much every other developer out there look like idiots. I am still contemplating creating another character, a sort of a thief-mage, and increasing the difficulty level by one. My double-axed daedric warrior is becoming a bit boring since I can't really take that character into new and interesting directions. Although I have been spared from the worst of the post-patching bug farce (which reportedly removes resistances and makes dragons fly backwards), I've had my fair share of bugged quests and especially having the old quest items stuck in your inventory is infuriating. PC gamers like myself can use console commands to get rid of leftovers and bypass some of the quest bugs but my heart goes out to the console gamers who lack this option. Skyrim remains a great game. One of the best. But damn if it isn't a mess!

By the way, Happy Independence Day!

01-Dec-2011: The Cut

Sorry for the typos. I am writing this while high as a kite on industrial-strength pain medication.

My surgery lasted for an hour and was followed by four hours of painful and messy complications. They did find a tumor about the size of a fingertip and cut it out, then cut off a piece from the inside of my cheek to plug the hole. Complications arose from missing the artery that had fed the small tumor. As the anesthetics wore off and pain levels rose, my blood pressure spiked and the poorly plugged artery inside the cut burst, flooding the needlework with blood and also bleeding internally into the cheek cavity (or whatever the hell poskiontelo is in English). They re-anesthesized the area, reworked some of the needlework and used big ass syringes to suck the blood out of the cheek cavity. I spent the next four hours in a hospital bed, biting down on a wad soaked with blood coagulants and massaging my cheeck with so much ice the nurses were concerned I was getting frostbite. Despite the anesthetic it was very painful and I shudder to think what it would have been like without it.

Afterwards they sent me home with the heaviest pain medication I've ever had. The tumor was taken to a pathologist who will cut it open and determines what will happen next. Although having tumors is never a good thing, I am quietly optimistic about it being benign since the bone surfaces around it were intact. I presume that a cancerous growth would have tried to spread more vigorously. The cut in my cheek hurts like hell when smiling or laughing, mornings are hell since the pain medication wears off during the night and I've been living on liquids for two days now. I probably can't go on without cheating a little.

Something solid. Anything. And salty!

Life goes on. I will get the pathology report in two weeks although if there is something acute they will call me immediately. It still feels like there is a veil between me and my more mundane concerns but that does not make them any less real. The final exam in Spanish is in two weeks. I have to jumpstart my studies next week when I am no longer cross-eyed from codeine. I need that exam. I need just that exam and then I am done with the university. My gig at Sanoma Games has also ended, amicably I hope. There is a good chance I will do it again in the Spring but it is part-time and I have feelers out for more gigs. The Finnish game industry boomtime continues despite the global depression, with Rovio having just turned down a 2.25 billion dollar offer from Zynga. There should be enough work around for me to scrape together a living. Trust me; it is really nice to not have a mortgage anymore.

Skyrim has been my salvation. Tamriel has always welcomed me back, allowing me to escape the pain, hassles and stress of reality. I love this game and even more I love the ambition behind it. The team truly reached for the stars and while they fell short, they still got to the Moon. It is buggy, flawed, inconsistent and frustrating at times. Still, it makes most other game developers look like lazy idiots (I am looking at you, ID Software). Unfortunately, the Bethesda programming department still has more than its fair share of lazy idiots. Honestly, without the control issues, the wrong button instructions, quest trigger bugs, geometry failures and frequent crashes my review score for this game would have something astronomical. It is still a really good score but yes, the problems *are* that bad.

I wrote earlier about my reawakened interest in fantasy, first re-kindled by Petri Hiltunen and then fed by Skyrim. A small and rather arrogant part of me is screaming that I should focus my potential fantasy efforts on my own IP but frankly, when it comes to fantasy, Jaconia is calling. For me, Skyrim is Angar. I am going to write a series of adventures for it and see if there is enough meat in this idea for a novel, or (gasp!) a roleplaying-game supplement.

Did you know that in just one week the Praedor RPG will be 11 years old?