Non-Digital: Against Chess

Chess has arguably pervaded our culture more thoroughly than any other game. It’s used as a metaphor, a visual motif and as decoration, and sometimes people even play it.

My chess career started and ended while I was still underage. There’s one game I remember loving as a child much more than chess, and that was Knightmare Chess, the French variant published in English by Steve Jackson Games. It adds a selection of cards to chess, and every round you can move a piece and play a card.

I lost my copy of Knightmare Chess and its sequel, and for some reason they weren’t reprinted. Until now!

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It’s a much better game than I remembered, and quite an interesting one.

Here’s two defining features chess has:

1 – Chess is transparent. You know at all times everything there is to know about the state of the game. All the information about what’s happening is right there on the board.

2 – Chess is not random. You can calculate all possible moves from any given game state.

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Knightmare Chess challenges both of these qualities. A player’s hand, and the cards in her deck, are secret from the other player. This means that when you play the game, you see the state of the chessboard, but that’s not the whole story.

You can build your deck, but the cards come into your hand randomly. This means that the game has an element of chance: You can have good cards in the beginning, or bad ones.

Playing the game, it feels as if Knightmare Chess is a game designed to comment on, and perhaps to challenge traditional chess. It plays with the assumptions chess has, sometimes irreverently. There’s a definite tension between the hidebound traditionalism of chess, and the chaos of Knightmare Chess. The appeal of the game lies in this tension. It’s a good game precisely because there’s no harmony at its core.

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Still, there’s one temptation in Knightmare Chess above all: If neither side has good cards and if both come up with good strategies, the game can accidentally devolve into normal chess.

Research Blog Antarctica #135 – Russian State Museum of Arctic and Antarctic

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Museum: Russian State Museum of Artic and Antarctic (St. Petersburg)

Russia and the Soviet Union have a long history of exploration in the Arctic and Antarctic. I visited the Russian State Museum of Arctic and Antarctic in St. Petersburg, and while the Artic section is bigger and better, there’s some cool Antarctic stuff as well. The above photo is from the Antarctic section, on an upper floor below the museum’s impressive cupola.

Underneath the cupola, they had this:

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The museum dates back to Soviet times, and features some things that you probably won’t find in an average polar exhibition. One is the series of oil paintings depicting Antarctic and Arctic scenes. Another is this mural showing Lenin discussing the Arctic with scientists:

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As to the Antarctic, the absolute highlight is the series of surgical tools used by the Soviet doctor Leonid Rogozov to perform an appendectomy on himself at the Vostok base in 1961. It’s an extremely famous piece of Antarctic lore.

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Pikseliparatiisi: Keskeneräisten tarujen pelit

Telltale Gamesin The Walking Dead popularisoi mallin, jossa peli julkaistaan osissa. Pelaaja ostaa koko kauden, mutta jaksot ilmestyvät tiputuksella. Ostaessaan pelin pelaajan on siis mahdollista tutustua vain alkuun. Täytyy luottaa siihen että laatu pitää. Tai että loput jaksot ilmestyvät ollenkaan.

Minulla on kesken seuraavat episodeina ilmestyvät pelit:

Broken Age

D4

The Detail

Dreamfall Chapters

The Game of Thrones

Kentucky Route Zero

Life is Strange

Republique

Tales From the Borderlands

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(Meininki pelissä D4 on täysin normaalia.)

Osasta on ilmestynyt vain ensimmäinen osa, joistain useampia. Telltale Games on julkaustavan pioneeri, ja studion kokemus näkyy myös siinä että pelit pysyvät pääpiirteittäin aikataulussa. Uusia jaksoja tulee tasaisesti. Tämän listan peleistä Telltalen kamaa ovat Tales From the Borderlands, josta on toistaiseksi ilmestynyt ensimmäinen osa, ja The Game of Thrones, josta on ilmestynyt kaksi osaa.

Tässä kohtaa kesken olevia, osissa ilmestyviä pelejä on niin paljon, että jotkut epäonnistuvat varmasti. Pelifirma menee konkurssiin. Peli ei myy tarpeeksi. Rahat loppuvat. Mitä vain voi tapahtua, ja kun pelejä on tarpeeksi, varmasti tapahtuukin.

Pelikehittämisen vaikeuksia on ennenkin ollut vaikea ennakoida, ja osalla episodipelien julkaisijoista on selvästi hankaluuksia pysyä aikataulussa. Broken Age ja Kentucky Route Zero ovat molemmat törkeästi myöhässä aikataulustaan.

Episodipelejä tehdään luotolla. Uskomme pelifirman kykyyn toimittaa valmista kamaa. Se liittyy toiseen pelikehittämisen nyky-ilmiöön, Kickstarter-peleihin. Niidenkin ideana on, että ensin pistetään rahat pelifirmalle, ja pelifirma tekee pelin vasta sitten.

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(Life is Strange tekee teinidraamaa videopelin muodossa.)

Pelistudioiden kannalta on helppo nähdä, miksi tällaiset järjestelyt houkuttelevat. Osa taloudellisesta riskistä on ulkoistettu kuluttajille, ja on mahdollista tehdä pelejä jotka eivät koskaan saisi penniäkään perinteisiltä rahoittajilta.

Lienee parasta asennoitua siihen, että muutama pettymys on tulossa. Se on sääli, koska episodiformaatissa julkaistaan todella hyviä pelejä.

Non-Digital: Interaction Design Love From Denmark

This weekend, I was at the larp and roleplaying conference Knudepunkt in Denmark. The conference has a heavy focus on larp design, which often boils down to interaction design.

It was interesting to see how the tools we have developed to make larp could also be used to design conference spaces and programming.

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(View from a table at the Bazar social space.)

One of the simple yet clever design choices was made in the way the social spaces were organized. At night, there were two main social spaces, the bar and dancefloor, and the Bazar, a big space with a stage, tents with board games and roleplaying books and tables and chairs scattared around in groups. It acted as the setting for a diverse set of events, from an open mike to a Norwegian ritual.

Both the Bazar and the disco had bars. Non-alcoholic options were available at both. The disco served beer, and the bar at the Bazar served drinks. This created an unobtrusive motivation for people to keep moving around from place to place, and not get stuck in one spot. It was one choice, but there were many like it.

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(Mike Pohjola at the Baltic Warriors presentation.)

My perhaps favorite was in the Saturday party, with a theme of sins and virtues. One of those virtues was Temperance, and there was a special, dark and empty room dedicated to it, with a sign saying you couldn’t drink beer there. The only thing I ever saw anyone use the room for was to drink beer with the added thrill of breaking a rule.

The program included keynote talks that collected everyone together before we scattered into our various workshops and discussions. Big parts of the Sunday morning clean-up operation were turned into games.

In short, larp design FTW.

If you want to read more about the ideas presented at the conference, check out the two books, Nordic Larp yeabook 2014 and The Knudepunkt 2015 Companion Book.

Non-Digital: What Gets Included in Roleplaying History?

I have in my hands something that’s probably destined to become one of the most obscure Finnish roleplaying books ever published. To be honest, it’s not even really a book, but a 24 page printed booklet. It’s called Manhattan 2010, and contains almost no information about its circumstances of publication, except for a foreword credited:

Helsingissä 21.11.2014

Jonas Mustonen

Jukka Hämäläinen

From social media, I’ve gathered that the booklet is only available directly from the authors, and the print run is in the low tens.

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Manhattan 2010 raises interesting questions about what is the history of roleplaying games. The original Manhattan 2010 was a childhood roleplaying game in which the authors participated. It was based on the classic Finnish translation of the Dungeons & Dragons red box, and featured an Escape From New York -style setting.

The booklet is an attempt to capture this childhood game, based on vague recollections, into a published work. According to the foreword: “The supplement called Manhattan 2010 has been compiled according to the best of our ability based on what we can remember.”

The history of tabletop roleplaying has traditionally been a history of publishing. We know of Gary Gygax and Vampire: the Masquerade. We know of published game books and the designers who wrote them. What gets lost in the shuffle tends to be the actual gaming experiences of the people who play these games.

Roleplaying is a co-creative medium, and this means that virtually no roleplaying game can be played without some creative input from the participants. My personal experience has been that the published book is more of a starting point for the participants’ own creativity. Looking only at published games ignores the actual circumstances of roleplaying.

The reasons for why tabletop roleplaying history is skewed this way is obvious. It’s much easier to write about published works than about the hundreds of thousands or millions of people who use those works to make their own games, and possibly never write about them anywhere. Writing a “People’s History of Roleplaying Games” would be a daunting task.

Nevertheless, Manhattan 2010 represents a small, personal attempt to do just that. It’s not a childhood concept polished for mass consumption, but a ragged little thing with all the weird edges still intact.

My favorite part is the description of cops: “This game doesn’t have orcs, but these guys are the closest equivalent if we’re looking for needlessly violent people who won’t listen to any explanations.”

Pikseliparatiisi: Sain pakit videopelihahmolta

Romantiikalla on keskeinen rooli Dragon Age: Inquisitionin kaltaisissa peleissä. Inquisitionissa on mielenkiintoisia ja värikkäitä sivuhahmoja, joiden kanssa on hauska flirttailla.

Otinkin Inquisitionissa linjaksi valita keskusteluissa aina romanttinen vaihtoehto jos vain suinkin mahdollista. Arvelin, että riiaamalla kaikkien kanssa päätyisi hauskoihin kuvioihin.

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Nopeiten romanssi veti Blackwallin kanssa. Blackwall on synkkä ja mysteerinen synkistelijämies, jolla on synkkä menneisyys. Hänellä on matala ääni ja apea ilme. Blackwall on pelin sivuhahmoista kenties vähiten mielenkiintoinen.

Hänen kanssaan kuitenkin synkkasi siinä mielessä, että hän piti pelissä tekemistäni ratkaisuista, ja niinpä suhde syveni. Pian muut sivuhahmot alkoivat torppailla flirttiäni: “Seurustelet jo, en halua tunkea väliin…”

Sietämätöntä.

Pistin Blackwallin kanssa poikki juuri ennen seksikohtausta, koska arvelin että voisin iskeä jonkun mielenkiintoisemman.

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Seuraava yritykseni oli Sera, anarkistinen haltia, jota ahdisti olla haltia. Seran kanssa oli hauskaa, mutta maailmankuvaerot osoittautuvat ylitsepääsemättömiksi. Olin itsekin haltia, ja vedin tiukkaa haltia-pride-linjaa. Sera olisi halunnut unohtaa koko haltia-asian ja vain olla normaali tyyppi.

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Aloin huolestua romanttisten mahdollisuuksieni puolesta. No, seuraavaksi kiinnostuin Cassandrasta. Hän oli vähän vanhempi kovanaamainen soturinainen, ja salaa romantikko. Flirttailin hänen kanssaan, autoin häntä romanttisen kirjallisuuden hankkimisessa, ja hetken aikaa meillä oli kivaa yhdessä.

Lopulta tein siirtoni, ja Cassandra antoi minulle pakit.

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Eli siis, tein kaiken mitä oli pelin puitteissa mahdollista tehdä jotta pääsisi hänen kanssaan suhteeseen, ja hetken meillä olikin jotain, mutta sain silti pakit. Kokemus oli järkyttävä. Eikö mihinkään voi enää luottaa? Onko tällainen enää peliä ollenkaan? Mitä seuraavaksi, aikuisia, hienovaraisia ja hyvin kirjoitettuja suhteita hahmojen välillä?

Pöyristyttävää.

Alan käydä epätoivoiseksi. Suurin osa pelin sisällöstä on jo koluttu läpi. Olisiko pitänyt sittenkin mennä Blackwallin kanssa loppuun asti?

Non-Digital: Profound Larp Thoughts

This year’s Knudepunkt larp conference saw the publication of two books, first the Nordic larp yearbook 2014 and now a collection of articles about larp, the scene, game design, and other related matters. Edited by Charles Bo Nielsen and Claus Raasted, it’s called The Knudepunkt 2015 Companion Book, and you can download it here as a free PDF.

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Introducing new concepts and terminology is one of this year’s book’s themes. Steering is one of these concepts, and it means consciously directing your game experience towards some kind of a goal for other than in-game reasons. Trying to kill the king because my character hates the king is not steering. Trying to kill the king because I want to get killed in a glorious death scene is steering.

The two articles about this idea are one of the highlights of the book. Markus Montola, Jaakko Stenros and Eleanor Saitta outline the idea in their article The Art of Steering. Mike Pohjola gives it personal weight in his excellent essay Steering for Immersion in Five Nordic Larps. He writes about his personal experiences steering towards certain kinds of play.

I have an article in the book about documentation and questions of private and public play. Jamie MacDonald writes about similar subjects in a more comprehensive way in his article On Publicity and Privacy, using data from a survey on the subject of larp documentation.

Another strong theme in the book is a sense of history: We’re finally old enough to have some perspective. This shows in many different ways. Myriel Balzer’s article about edularp is not about using larp to teach; it’s about teaching people how to use larp to teach.

Eirik Fatland and Markus Montola have a wonderful article called The Blockbuster Formula, analyzing the design of recent games like The Monitor Celestra and The College of Wizardry. It goes through some classic methods of larp design, and how these are updated and complemented by new ideas. It finally rehabilitates some old school ideas of design for a new era of Nordic larp.

The practical and the political intersect with design in an article by Kaisa Kangas called Processing Political Larps. She writes about political games, and talks about the challenges you can have debriefing them, as seen in the larp Halat hisar, on which I also worked.

This year’s book is a fast read, and you can get into some really interesting ideas and concepts in an afternoon. Short is sweet. However, perhaps next year we’d be ready to read some longer essays along with the shorter pieces?

Research Blog Antarctica #134 – Eldritch Horror: Mountains of Madness

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Board game: Eldritch Horror: Mountains of Madness (Fantasy Flight Games, 2014)

Eldritch Horror is a follow-up to the successful H.P. Lovecraft -themed board game, Arkham Horror. In Arkham Horror, the action is limited to a small New England town, while in Eldritch Horror, the entire globe acts as the stage. Mountains of Madness is an expansion in which Antarctica is brought into the spotlight.

As can be seen in the above photo from when we played it, Eldritch Horror is a massive game, with or without the expansion. Its focused on story, exploration and ambiance, and while its mechanisms are more elegant than those in Arkham Horror, this still isn’t German board game design. The Byzantine sprawl is a part of the charm.

The expansion is based on the Lovecraft novella At the Mountains of Madness. A scientific expedition modeled after the explorers of Lovecraft’s time reaches Antarctica and discovers traces of ancient civilization.

In the expansion, Antarctica is represented by an extra game board, and two new threats, Ithaqua and Rise of the Elder Things, make cold-based Lovecraft stuff into the focus of the game. Based on one test game, the expansion works very well, and the Antarctic content integrates neatly into the wider experience.

The test game ended with our investigators at the Antarctic Lake Camp, trying to free people from the terrifying mind control of the elder things.

Non-Digital: Last Year’s Nordic Larp

Knudepunkt is an annual conference dedicated to ambitious larps and other roleplaying games. Every year, one or more books are published along with the event.

The Danish book editors Charles Bo Nielsen and Claus Raasted are attempting to start a tradition of a yearbook collecting articles about games played the previous year. To set an example, one of the two Knudepunkt books this year is called The Nordic larp yearbook 2014. You can download it here as a free PDF.

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There’s one big issue I wish to get out of the way before I go deeper into the meat of the book: The issue of geography.

Put bluntly, the Nordic larp yearbook contains a lot of larp not played in the Nordic countries. The biggest individual country represented in the book is the Czech Republic, with four games. There’s three Swedish games and three games I’d characterize as international, for different reasons. Russia, Denmark and Finland follow with two games.

There’s been some debate lately about what is “Nordic larp”. The editors chose to end this book with a quote from the game researcher Jaakko Stenros: “A Nordic larp is a larp that is influenced by the Nordic larp tradition and contributes to the ongoing Nordic larp discourse.”

Following this definition, a game can belong in the category of “Nordic larp” without taking place in the Nordic countries, since the tradition is the thing. The upside of this definition is that it’s inclusive, but it has a side-effect of drafting a bunch of games from other traditions into Nordic larp. This is especially glaring with countries like the Czech Republic and Russia, with extremely rich larp traditions of their own. Then again, many organizers in these countries are influenced by Nordic larp, as should be obvious by the fact that they write in this book.

The non-Nordic games are also some of the most interesting. The “why didn’t I play in this game” prize goes to the Russian larp Saint Summer. A game about the Sixties in the U.S., it sounds absolutely crazy, with Woodstock, free sex, soldiers fighting the Vietnam war, and a lot of other stuff.

Other articles feature both fascinating games and interesting methods and details. Another highlight is the Danish game Morgenrøde, about the hippie movement in Denmark in the Sixties and Seventies. (Indeed, reassessing Sixties counterculture is one of the big themes in the book. Another larp about a similar subject is the Russian Ticket to Atlantis.)

Morgenrøde’s mechanic for drug use sounds extremely interesting, and definitely worth stealing. It involves a black box type solution instead of the classic “pretend to be high” method of playing it out. Danish speakers can read more about the game in the documentation book Bogen om Morgenrøde, available as a free PDF here.

Another big theme in the book is gender. The Norwegian rerun of the Swedish game Brudpris featured in the book seeks to model extremely oppressive gender structures. The Swedish fantasy game Livsgäld is about redefining both gender and the fantasy genre. Other games, such as the Finnish Tonnin stiflat and the Swedish Mare Incognitum, had various solutions to ensure gender equality and equality in terms of game content for players of different genders.

Reading the book, one thing I think we’ve become better at is writing for people from other scenes. This means we have to explain somethings that are obvious in our local context, but strange for people from other contexts. There’s a great example of this in the article about Danish fantasy larp called Nemefrego 2014. Apparently, characters killed in their sleep has been a traditional problem in Danish fantasy games. This is called a “sleeping bag murder”, and in this game it was forbidden. The article uses this as an example when talking about changing play culture.

I have an article in the book too, about the larp Baltic Warriors: Helsinki. I was part of the organizing group of the game, which is a part of the wider Baltic Warriors project.

Vuoden elokuvat 2014

Listalla on elokuvia myös viime vuodelta, mikäli niillä kesti vähän pidempään päästä Suomeen asti.

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Parhaat elokuvat, jotka on tehty aiheista jotka ovat minulle henkilökohtaisia keppihevosia: Antarctica: A Year on Ice, Dark Dungeons & The Gamers: Hands of Fate

Muille: Antarctica on hieno ja kaunis, vaikka ei olisikaan aiheesta harrastunut. Pelielokuvia ei tajua ellei tunne roolipeliskeneä.

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Paras vampyyrielokuva, ei pelkästään tänä vuonna vaan ehkä koskaan: Only Lovers Left Alive

Kaunista, herkkää, seksikästä, omaperäistä, jne. jne.

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Paras elokuva joka on tällä listalla siksi, että se saa presidentin josta en pidä näyttämään pöntöltä: Presidentintekijät

Voi Niinistöä.

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Paras roolipelaamista käsittelevä elokuva, joka kykenee kilpailemaan muuallakin kuin harrastelijasarjassa: Zero Charisma

Toivon kuitenkin, ettei kukaan muodosta mielikuvaansa roolipelaamisesta tämän perusteella.

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Paras tajunnanräjäyttävä spektaakkeli joka käsittelee inhimillisyyden, esiintymisen, viihdeteollisuuden, teknologian ja tietoisuuden tulevaisuutta ja nykytilaa: The Congress

Lajityyppinä animaatio-live-hybridi.

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Paras yritys myydä vanhuksien seksikkyyttä: Gerontophilia

Me kaikki olemme vanhoja joskus.

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Paras Itä-Eurooppalainen elokuva jossa maailma on kauhea ja seksiä ja väkivaltaa riittää: The Tribe

Tällä kertaa Ukrainasta. Jossain vaiheessa Serbia ja Unkari oli hyviä näiden kanssa, mutta nyt tuntuu että enää Romania liputtaa.

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Paras elokuva ohjaajalta, jonka kuvitteli olleen jo uransa ehtoopuolella: La danza de la realidad

Jo varsin iäkäs Alejandro Jodorowsky on hämmästyttävän hyvässä iskussa elokuvassa, joka näyttää erilaiselta kuin mikään muu.

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Paras elokuva jossa on rupihinkkausseksiä: Moebius

Finnkinon levityksessä!

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Paras elokuva jossa Mooses ja Jumala havainnollistavat yksilövetoisen terrorismin ja valtioterrorismin eroja: Exodus: Gods and Kings

Elokuvaa voi haukkua vaikka mistä, mutta Jumalan Egyptiin iskemien vitsausten rinnastaminen siviileihin kohdistuviin terroritekoihin oli inspiroitunutta. Myös hieno opetus siitä, miten keskustelu rajataan: Mooses kannattaa rajoitettuja iskuja siviilejä vastaan, kun taas Jumalalla on enemmän jenkkityylinen kaikki paskaksi -linja.

Vuoden videopelit 2014

Hesarissa ilmestyi pari päivää sitten juttukokonaisuus, jossa oli mukana multa kolmen vuoden parhaan pelin lista. Halusin siinä painottaa indiepuolta, joten tässä laajennettuna parhailla peleillä mässäilyä.

Eli siis: Vuoden pelit 2014 (paitsi Never Alone, The Detail ja This War of Mine, joita jo hehkutin Hesarissa)

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Vuoden paras päähenkilö: Zero pelissä Drakengard 3

Monissa peleissä pelataan murhanhimoisia psykopaatteja, mutta Drakengard 3 ei yritä peitellä asiaa nololla jeesustelulla.

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Vuoden peli, joka on ehkä liian pelottava: Alien: Isolation

Alieni ei noudata kohtausten ja jaksotuksen logiikkaa, vaan voi iskeä milloin vain.

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Vuoden paras peli, jossa on todella ruma 3D-kartta: Wasteland 2

Wasteland 2 on niitä pelejä, joita arvioidessa pitää miettiä kuinka olennaisia puutteet lopulta ovat hyvien puolien rinnalla.

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Vuoden homoisin (ja paras ja ainoa) homopeli: My Ex-Boyfriend the Space Tyrant

Pelin henki vaatisi, että tässä ois liukkarivitsi.

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Vuoden paras puludeittailusimulaattori: Hatoful Boyfriend

Odottamattoman paljon uudelleenpeluuarvoa!

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Vuoden paras deittailusimulaattori, jossa ei ole puluja: Dragon Age: Inquisition

Pelissä voi deittailun myös hakata jotain mörköjä, pelastaa maailmaa, yms.

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Vuoden paras peli, jonka pelaaminen deadlinen kanssa oli ankeaa: The Legend of Grimrock 2

Jotkut pelit vaatii sitä, että saa rauhassa koluta joka nurkan.

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Vuoden paras peli, jota jouduin työn takia pelaamaan pakon edessä mutta joka olikin tosi hyvä: Forza Horizon 2

Plus, pelissä voi kokea olevansa turisti stock photojen ja mainoskuvien sliipatussa, kliinisessä maailmassa.

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Vuoden paras poninhoitopeli: Horse Master

Sopii erityisesti lapsille ja herkästi traumatisoituville. Pelattavissa ilmaiseksi täällä.

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Vuoden seksikkäin design: Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea

En ole varma ymmärsinkö tarinaa, mutta portaikkojen kaiteet olivat upeat.

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Paras peli, jossa on professori Layton ja Phoenix Wright: Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright

Koska professori Layton ja Phoenix Wright.

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Vuoden paras peli, joka epäilemättä olisi tällä listalla jos olisin ehtinyt pelata sitä: Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

Joistain peleistä kuulee vasta, kun lukee muiden “vuoden pelit” -listoja.

Muita hyviä: Dreamfall Chapters, Wolf Among Us, Betrayer, The Banner Saga.

Research Blog Antarctica #133 – Whale Wars (season 3)

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TV series: Whale Wars (season 3): U.S.A. 2010

Whale Wars is an American documentary tv series about the conservationist group Sea Shepards. Each season follows one Antarctic summer in which the Sea Shepards attempt to disrupt the operations of Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean.

Season 3 is quite amazing in the sheer amount of danger and derring do. This time, the Sea Shepards have three ships, the familiar Steve Irwin, and the new Bob Barker and Ady Gil. The Ady Gil is a speedboat captained by a New Zealander called Pete Bethune, who emerges as the star of the season.

Bethune ends up taking many of the risks that make following this season of the series so hair-raising. You guess that probably everyone survived from the fact that there’s six seasons of this series, but it doesn’t make it less exciting.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #18: Uber Goober & Dark Dungeons

I and some friends have a project of trying to watch all movies, tv episodes and other stuff with moving pictures related to roleplaying games ever made. We’re pretty far along on this goal. I’ll write here about old and new things we’ve found and watched.

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(Uber Goober)

Uber Goober is a case study in how to defend something in such a way as to make it look as bad as possible. It’s a documentary about roleplaying games, larp and other non-digital games and people who play them, but more importantly, it’s a documentary about prejudices against gamers and gamers who have internalized them.

Two of the interviewees appear only in silhouette because they fear repercussions if they’re publicly outed as gamers. In one scene, a man who doesn’t want his face shown sneaks into a children’s playground at night to collect some sand for a structure he’s building for a miniatures game.

It’s true that gamers face a lot of attitude in U.S. society. However, when someone appears in a documentary in silhouette, it makes him look bad, like there’s something shameful to hide. The set up communicates the shame, and reinforces it.

The bad impression is strengthened by the low technical quality of the movie. Because of bad lighting, normal folks look grubby.

The whole thing has a depressing, defensive tone, and many of the interviewees seem desperate to justify gaming. The problem is that when they do this, they, and the makers of this documentary, implicitly accept the premises they try to argue against. In cases like this, you have to change the rules of the discussion, not try to win by arguing that roleplaying is not Satan worship, honest!

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(Dark Dungeons)

Dark Dungeons is a roleplaying pride movie. It’s well made, hilarious, and makes roleplaying look cool. In 1984, Jack T. Chick published a little comic about the Satanic menace of roleplaying games. At that time, the moral panic about roleplaying games and their occult connections was still going on, and the comic tried to dissuade young people from playing. You can read it here, it’s pretty funny stuff.

Dark Dungeons is a movie adaptation of the comic. It’s quite loyal to the source material, often using dialogue word for word. It trusts the sheer weirdness of the original comic to carry the day, to great effect.

Since it needs to sell roleplaying as a dangerous, seductive menace, all the cool bad guys roleplay. Of course we’re meant to take this with a wink and a nudge. It’s a joke. But that doesn’t take away from it’s effectiveness: We see roleplaying that looks fun, the same way sex, drugs and rock’n’roll is fun.

The movie Mazes & Monsters was Dark Dungeons, except they meant it. It was shown on Finnish television in the late Eighties, and essentially started the Finnish larp scene. Many different folks around the country saw it, thought it looked cool, and decided to try to do the same. Dark Dungeons takes this aesthetic of making things seem seductive by advocating against them, and uses it knowingly.

Turkmen Sci-Fi

Turkmenistan looks like  something from another planet. Or more precisely, from a science fiction movie.

Here’s a few buildings in Ashgabat. Note the consistent architectural style, common to many fictional space civilizations:

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A view from the spaceport parking area.

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The “Golden Eye” defense system is ready to blast hostile spacecraft.

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The dimensional portal is operational.

(The buildings are actually a circus, a wedding palace and a Ferris wheel.)

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The weird surface formations of an alien planet.

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The fire planet. A visiting alien shown in the upper right for scale.

(All photos by me.)

Research Blog Antarctica #132 – Whiteout (the game)

Video game: René Rother: Whiteout

Whiteout is a small game playable either in a browser or as a stand-alone installation. Made as part of a 48-hour game creation challenge, it distills a simple Antarctic experience. You’re an expeditioner, and your partner has disappeared. You’re in the middle of a white nothing. Using flags, the sun and the widn to navigate, you try to find your partner.

For such a small game, Whiteout is stylish, atmospheric, clever and true. It communicates wonderfully the desperation and peace of Antarctica’s empty whiteness. You can play it here.