Non-Digital: Murder in Helsinki

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(Photo from Tonnin stiflat by Tuomas Puikkonen)

Tonnin stiflat is a Finnish larp campaign played in Helsinki in 2014. Consisting of three games, it was organized by the veteran city game designers Niina Niskanen and Simo Järvelä.

The setting is Helsinki in the year 1927, and the subject matter crime, prohibition, working class life and the violent legacy of the civil war. The characters were bootleggers and policemen, struggling artists and their sybaritic patrons.

Niskanen and Järvelä have edited and published a documentation book about the larps in English. It’s downloadable here, for free, and definitely worth a look.

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(Photo from Tonnin stiflat by Tuomas Puikkonen)

The book is especially welcome as Finnish larp has traditionally been something of a poor cousin in the milieu of Nordic larp. There have been interesting games aplenty, but documentation has been scarce and Nordic attention usually limited to the games that Finnish writers have pushed the hardest, like Ground Zero.

City games played in an open urban environment have traditionally been a Finnish strong suit, and Niskanen and Järvelä are masters of this form. It’s especially nice to see this type of game documented in book form and in English, as the games that tend to receive this treatment are usually one-weekend affair played in a closed environment, such as Kapo and Mad About the Boy.

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(Photo from Tonnin stiflat by Tuomas Puikkonen)

Tonnin stiflat (the title is an expression for very expensive shoes in the traditional Helsinki slang) benefits greatly from the fact that it’s been documented by the Finnish larp photographer Tuomas Puikkonen. His photos are all over the book, and you can see the full set here.

There are many good larp photographers in the Nordic countries, but Puikkonen distinguishes himself by his ability to be in the moment and capture the subjective feeling of the player.

The only real complaint that I have for this book is that it’s so short. I could’ve read more about this stuff.

Research Blog Antarctica #136 – Blood and Ice

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Novel: Robert Masello: Blood and Ice (Bantam, 2009)

In one sense, Blood and Ice is a great Antarctic book. It’s clearly well researched, full of traditional modern Antarctic detail. Reading this, it feels like the author has gone through all the same books I have.

It’s the story of nature photographer Michael Wilde, who goes on assignment to an American base on Antarctica. While there, he discovers a slab of ice in which two British vampires have been preserved since the Crimean War. Indeed, Victorian England and Crimea are almost as important for the book as Antarctica.

Despite the vampire theme, the book proceeds in a very staid, detail-oriented fashion. The two lovers thawed from ice, the soldier Sinclair and the nurse Eleanor, are people, not monsters. The book’s idea of vampirism is almost like a medical condition, as befits its essentially rational worldview.

Despite its research and subject matter, there’s something in Blood and Ice that just fails to click. Near the end, the story is crumpled into less than the sum of its parts. The characters have been drawn according to the most rote, cliched understanding of humanity as seen in American popular entertainment.

Pikseliparatiisi: Täydellinen pelikokemus alle tunnissa

Kun aloitin videopeliohjelma Tiltin tuottajana vuonna 2009, pelimarkkinoilla oli selkeät suuret linjat: Konsoleissa oli tulevaisuus. Mobiilipelit olivat tulossa, mutta kuitenkin vielä epävarmaa puuhastelua. Pelistudiot tekivät pelejä, ja julkaisijat julkaisivat niitä.

Toki kuvio oli silloinkin monimutkaisempi, mutta kun Tilttiin haalittiin aineistoa viikon peliarvosteluihin, tilanne näytti tältä.

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(Pelissä Freshman Year tsekataan viestejä melkein yhtä usein kuin tosielämässä.)

Sittemmin pelimaailma on elänyt ja muuttunut hurjaa vauhtia. Älypuhelimet ja tabletit valtasivat oman osansa, PC on tehnyt alustana vahvan comebackin Kickstarterin ja erilaisten indiepelien myötä ja konsolit hakevat paikkaansa muuttuvassa maailmassa.

Yksi uuden maailmanjärjestyksen ilahduttavista piirteistä on se, että selaimessa pelattavia lyhyitä tarinapelejä tuntuu olevan yhä enemmän, ja ne ovat yhä parempia. Tänä päivänä tällainen peli voi olla vartissa ohi, mutta sisällöllisesti silti kilpailukykyinen minkä tahansa pidemmän julkaisun kanssa. Entisajan rosoisten Flash-pelien sijaan meillä on viimeisteltyjä, toimivia ja omaperäisiä teoksia.

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(The Mysterious Shadows of Skullshadow Island on huumoripeli, joka saa odottamattomia syvyyksiä kirjoituksensa tason ansiosta.)

Tältä keväältä on kolme hyvää esimerkkiä, The Mysterious Shadows of Skullshadow Island, The Writer Will Do Something sekä Freshman Year.

The Mysterious Shadows of Skullshadow Island on parodia entisaikojen poikaseikkailuista, joissa neuvokkaat ja nokkelat nuoret ratkaisevat rikoksia, mysteerejä tai muuta kummallista. Se on julkaistu The Onion -parodiasivuston sisarsaitilla The Clickhole, mutta nousee rutiininomaisen nettijutun yläpuolelle omituisen ilmapiirinsä vuoksi.

Pelisuunnittelija Nina Freemanin Freshman Year on peli, jossa lähdetään baariin kaverin kanssa. Se on yksinkertainen, elämänmakuinen ja tavoittaa hyvin puhelimen ja hermostumisen suhteen.

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(The Writer Will Do Something on käytännössä dokumentaarinen peli.)

Elokuvantekijät tekevät elokuvia elokuvien tekemisestä, joten miksipä sama ei sopisi myös pelisuunnittelijoille. Matthew S. Burnsin The Writer Will Do Something on kuvaa kokousta ison pelijulkaisun käsikirjoittajan näkökulmasta. Siinä on ohut satiirin pintakerros, mutta oikeastaan peli tuntuu täysin autenttiselta otokselta siitä, miten pelejä tehdään.

Non-Digital: Better Dead Than Red

I wrote this article for the now defunct roleplaying magazine Playground. It went under before this got published, so here it is. If you want to read old issues of Playground, they’re all here.

Better Dead Than Red

Playing the right-wing roleplaying game The Price of Freedom.

The Communist party elite is scrambling away in panic. There has been a huge explosion on the stage, shredding the traitor Jack Reed’s body into pieces. The players have a short discussion whether firing a rocket launcher into the crowd is justified.

It goes something like this:

“I didn’t get to fire my rocket launcher.”

“All Communist sympathizers are traitors.”

“All right then.”

I’m running a game of Greg Costikyan’s anti-Soviet roleplaying game The Price of Freedom, published in 1986. It’s an early example of a political roleplaying game, well ahead of its time both because of its design innovations and its contemporary setting. We’re playing the game because we want to explore political games other than the left-wing orthodoxy of Nordic games such as Kapo and Mellan himmel och hav.

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A note to liberal readers

A probably unique feature in all of roleplaying publishing, The Price of Freedom’s Player Book contains a “Note to Liberal Readers”. Among other things, it says that: “The Price of Freedom is a fantasy roleplaying game in the true sense of the word; its fantasy is the right-wing nightmare that America is delivered into the hands of her enemies.” It instructs the players to think of the game as “The Lord of the Rings meets William F. Buckley“.

Indeed, the game seems specifically intended for a player of a certain political persuasion: it contains many conservative slogans such as “Don’t tread on me” and “Free minds, free markets”. I asked the designer Greg Costikyan about it, and he explained that the idea was to capitalize on the conservative fanbase of Twilight 2000, a post-apocalyptic military game popular at that time. “I wanted to out-do Twilight 2000, in a way”, Costikyan says.

“My political views are not those of The Price of Freedom; at the time, I considered myself a ‘left libertarian'”, he continues. “I supported free markets and the minimal state, but had a suspicion of large businesses and their frequent attempts to use the power of the state to exclude or diminish competition, and largely supported unions as a counterpoint to the power of big business. And, of course, strongly supported civil liberties.”

This makes The Price of Freedom something of an oddity, a conservative game designed by a non-conservative designer wishing to sell games to conservatives.

Sometimes, reading the materials provided with the game, you get the feeling the designer is attempting to make something sensible out of a bizarre premise. The premade characters provided with the game run the gamut of anti-Soviet resistance: one is a rock star defending rock’n’roll, another is a vigilante cop who believes that the scum should be cleaned off the streets. Perhaps the strangest character is Maria Cagliari, a committed Trotskyite who fought against the Contras in Nicaragua and believes that Stalin betrayed the Revolution. The player who played Maria in our game said that it was particularly difficult to be a left-wing character in a right-wing game. In our game, Maria immediately found common ground with the vigilante cop: both believed in extreme solutions.

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(A sample character from The Price of Freedom.)

Death to traitors

I used to believe that it would be impossible to use roleplaying games for the purposes of political propaganda. Players had too much agency, too many opportunities to subvert the message.

I no longer believe this.

We set out to play The Price of Freedom as seriously as possible. According to the game book, things were supposed to be grim and heroic. The introductory adventure included with the game hadn’t aged especially well, but I used as many story beats from it and other adventure ideas in the game as I could.

Many of these were about how to sell the mindset of the game to the players. The game says that tragedy is a great way to motivate characters. Having the Soviet enemy perpetrate atrocities against your family and friends gives you the proper mindset to kill. With this in mind, in the beginning of my game a turncoat in the players’ resistance cell killed Moshe, an elderly veteran of the Polish guerrilla fight against the Nazis. As he died, Moshe gave a speech on the importance of freedom, resistance and killing snitches.

We discovered that once you decided to try to get into the game’s atmosphere, it was quite easy. Moshe’s speech was crude and obvious, but also fulfilled its intended purpose. When the characters finally caught up with the snitch, an old man and a friend of Moshe’s from the days of the Polish resistance, they executed him in cold blood.

Indeed, the game says that players should enjoy the license to kill without having to feel bad about it. According to the Player Book: “Let’s face it, we’d all like to blow things up. We’d all like to crush our enemies. Fortunately, society forbids us to act on those impulses. The Price of Freedom releases those emotions. And as a result, it can be a gas.”

And it was. Of all the design ideas, this concept of freeing the players from the moral qualms of extreme violence worked the best. One player said it was liberating to just kill people without all the moral agonizing that goes on in the games she usually plays. Costikyan describes the game as a “power fantasy, albeit with a darker setting than most”.

The propaganda beats of The Price of Freedom work, if you let them. For a player who’s intent on subverting the game, it doesn’t do a thing. But for a player who’s open to the message, I believe it can work quite well. Of course, the Soviet threat is no longer quite as germane as it once was, but I’m sure that other, more contemporary propaganda games work this way too.

Gutless President

The folder with the sample characters contains a summary of the events that led to the Soviet invasion of the US. It begins with: “A gutless President has been elected.” The Price of Freedom makes its politics obvious with slogans and conservative fears. The game doesn’t say whether the “gutless President” is Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan, but we can hazard a guess.

The game wasn’t particularly well received. “Some of my more liberal friends were intrigued by the idea, but repulsed by the heavy-handed nature of its political message”, Costikyan says. “But in general, you know, it was a flop. We had quite a lot of interest from the distributors pre-publication, but in the event, it did not sell particularly well. Keep in mind that this was the Gorbachev era, US-Soviet relations were improving, and the scenario was viewed as pretty implausible.”

Perhaps unhappy with it himself, Costikyan concludes by saying that he’s: “A tad embarrassed by the game”. Despite his misgivings and the Red Dawn -style premise and politics, I think The Price of Freedom has aged surprisingly well. It’s a great antidote for the idea that roleplaying is inherently utopian. Sometimes the message is: “Eat hot lead, Commie dog!”

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(A slogan from The Price of Freedom.)

Extra

Can’t play this

A book doesn’t change even if the original audience is long gone. Its interpretations may change, but the text itself remains the same.

Playing a roleplaying game is a different matter. Since running the game depends on our own creative contribution, we simply cannot experience the game as it was intended to be experienced in 1986.

Every roleplaying game is designed with an audience in mind. The Price of Freedom is clearly and explicitly meant to be played by conservative U.S. players living in 1986. The recommended mode of play is the “avatar campaign”, a game in which players play themselves in the event of Soviet invasion of the U.S.

Playing such a game is impossible for us. We’re not politically conservative, and the Soviet Union can’t invade us because it doesn’t exist. We don’t live in the U.S. and it’s not the Eighties. One of us was even born in the Soviet Union, further complicating the us-vs-them setup of the game.

We decided to play The Price of Freedom with the ready-made characters provided with the game, and use the intended setting of 1986 America. This already makes the game different from what it was designed to be. Without its audience, The Price of Freedom ceases to be.

Pikseliparatiisi: Eurooppalainen äärioikeisto videopelipahiksina

Videopeleissä ei kauheasti nähdä mitään, mikä olisi tunnistettavissa arjeksi nykyaikaisessa Länsi-Euroopassa. Silloinkin kun pelihahmot elävät tavallisten ihmisten elämää, se tapahtuu anonyymissä Amerikassa, kuten ranskalaispelissä Heavy Rain.

Norjalaispeli Dreamfall Chapters on ilahduttava poikkeus sääntöön. Se ilmestyy osissa, joista toinen on julkaistu äskettäin. Chaptersin toinen päähenkilö Zoë Castillo on vapaaehtoisena mukana vasemmistokandidaatti Lea Uminskan vaalikampanjassa.

Voi olla, että täytyy olla pelannut paljon pelejä hahmottaakseen, kuinka eriskummallista tämä on. Jos on yksi aihe, jota pelit kammoavat kuin ruttoa, se on arkitasolla tunnistettava poliittinen toiminta. Karikatyyrit saattavat vielä käydä päinsä, mutta ajatus siitä että päähenkilöllä olisi poliittisia kantoja on täysin mahdoton.

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(Konstantin Wolf on puolueen European Dawn ehdokas.)

Zoën tukeman Uminskan merkittävin vastustaja on European Dawn -puolueen ehdokas Konstantin Wolf. European Dawn on viittaus Kreikan Kultainen aamunkoitto -puolueeseen, ja on piirun verran ilmeisempi fasisminsa kanssa kuin omat kotoperäiset Perussuomalaisemme.

European Dawnissa näkyy nimenomaan eurooppalainen huoli äärioikeistolaisten poliittisten voimien noususta. Maailmaelementtinä siinä on tolkkua Suomessa, Norjassa, Ranskassa ja muualla Euroopassa, ja on hauska nähdä että kerrankin rajaviivoja vedetään muutenkin kuin amerikkalaisen pelaajan ehdoilla.

Chapters jakautuu kahteen osaan. Yhdessä Zoë seikkailee scifi-Euroopassa ja toisessa yrmeä Kian fantasiamaailmassa. Kian on kolonialistisen Azadi-kansan edustaja, joka on loikannut antikolonialistien puolelle. Chaptersin kakkososassa hän liikkuu kaupungissa, jossa Azadi-mieliset miehittäjien mielistelijät ovat kokoontuneet salaseuraksi, jonka nimi on National Front.

Tosielämässä kaksi kuuluisinta National Fronttia ovat englantilainen ja ranskalainen äärioikeistolainen puolue.

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(Lea Uminskan vaalitoimisto.)

Chaptersin edetessä jotkut alun poliittisista teemoista jäävät taakse, ja toiset tallautuvat perinteisten korruptiojuonten jalkoihin. Toivon silti, että peliin tulee uutta nimenomaan eurooppalaista poliittista tematiikkaa. Kakkososassa näin käykin, kun Azadien kolonialistista projektia valotetaan.

Vaikka Suomi on kova videopelimaa, on yllättävän harvinaista että peleissä on jotain joka liittyy niihin keskusteluihin ja kysymyksiin, jotka ovat täällä olennaisia. Jos Suomi ei tällaisia pelejä tuota, haetaan sitten Norjasta.

Non-Digital: The Arcane Mysteries of Descriptive Game Design

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I wrote about the booklet Manhattan 2010 here. It was an attempt to map out a childhood roleplaying game as a playable design.

In conceptual terms, there’s something very interesting going on here. Almost all game design is prescriptive. “This is how I think you should play the game.” However, in Manhattan 2010, the design is descriptive. “These rules are an attempt to capture a game that was actually played.”

A common goal for prescriptive game design is to make a game that works. A good game. The goal for the much rarer descriptive game design is to reflect the play that’s being described accurately.

Descriptive game design is so rare, in fact, that Manhattan 2010 is the only example I can think of. It’s elevated by the fact that its authors didn’t fudge it to make a good game. Instead, they tried to follow the nature of the original game as closely as possible. Perhaps the difference is highlighted in this game by the fact that Manhattan 2010 describes a childhood game with all its weird peculiarities.

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Year’s ago, I played in Mike Pohjola’s tabletop campaign Tähti. We played the members of a girl band in a near future cyberpunk world. The game was a great success, and Pohjola decided to use it as the basis for a published tabletop game book.

Unlike the designers of Manhattan 2010, Pohjola chose to go the more conventional and perhaps appealing route of using a private game as fodder for the construction of a playable set of instructions. The published Tähti didn’t reflect all the quirks and diversions of the actual tabletop campaign, choosing instead to streamline the whole thing into something approachable and fun.

For someone who had actually played in the original campaign, the experience of reading the published book was almost alienating. “This was not the game we played.”

Trying to think of a descriptive game I could make, I’m drawn back to my childhood games, the same as the authors of Manhattan 2010. My descriptive game would be set in the fantasy world of Mystara, the setting of a certain incarnation of Dungeons & Dragons. It would be a GM vs. players game. The goal of the players would be to move their characters to the border of the map, and the goal of the GM would be to move the characters to Alfheim, because elves were cool.

(If you’re wondering why the player characters were going to the edge of the map, you’ll have to go back in time to ask my twelve-year old players.)

Other mechanics would involve exchanging candy for experience points and conspiring with the GM to kill another player’s character.

These examples of descriptive game design are rather marginal. Anyone come up with a more meaningful use for this concept?

Pikseliparatiisi: Tappamatta jättämisen autuus

Pelaan videopelejä työkseni. Monissa niistä tapetaan vihollisia, esimerkiksi venäläisiä tai arabeja. Call of Duty -peleissä tai Battlefieldeissä tapetaan satoja vastustajia. Headshottia toisen perään.

Se on peliä, ja mitä pidempään pelaa, sitä enemmän se tuntuu vain peliltä. Fiktion fiktiivisyys on yhä ilmeisempää, eikä keksittyä pikselihahmoa ajattele ihmisen kuvana. Tarpeeksi monen räiskintäpelin jälkeen vihollisissa on kiinni yhtä paljon inhimillistä fiilistä kuin Pac-Manin syömissä pallukoissa.

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Olikin yllättävää, kuinka vapauttavalta ja kivalta tuntui, kun uudessa Battlefield: Hardlinessä pääsi pidättämään vihollisia. Huomasin alkavani kuvitella vihollisille omia tarinoita. Jos tehtävä meni hyvin puoliväliin asti, mutta hajosi sitten räiskinnäksi, ajattelin että nuo pari kaveria menivät vankilaan, ja nämä loput hautausmaalle.

Joillain lapsilla oli vielä isät, toisilla ei.

Peliin tuli odottamattomasti lisää tunnetta, kun viholliset jälleen vähän inhimillistyivät. Huomasin yrittäväni hoitaa tehtäviä mahdollisimman verettömästi, vaikka se olikin vaikeampaa. Viimeinen kenttä on mahdollista suorittaa ampumatta laukaustakaan, paitsi välianimaatiossa, ja oli tyydyttävää tehdä juuri niin.

Hardline on yhdistelmä räiskintää ja hiiviskelypeliä, jossa yritetään vaivihkaa livahtaa vihollisen ohi tämän huomaamatta. Monessa kentässä livahdin vihollisten taakse ja pistin heitä rautoihin yksitellen, kunnes lopulta koko alue oli tyhjä. Siinä oli omaa poliisifiilistään, vaikkei se kovin realistista ollutkaan.

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Valitettavasti Hardline ei sitoudu omiin innovaatioihinsa. Siinä on myös kohta, jossa ammutaan panssarivaunulla helikoptereita alas taivaalta ehtaan videopelityyliin. Sitä pelatessa ei juuri tullut ajatelleeksi, onko kopterilentäjillä lapsia.

Toiveeni onkin, että joku muu huomaa pidätysmekanismin ja kopioi sen johonkin tinkimättömämpään peliin.

Non-Digital: Real Hamlet

This past weekend, I played in the larp Inside Hamlet, in Denmark. The larp gave the play a Marxist vision of decadent nobles living their last murderous days while the Reds were closing in. In the end, when the rebels finally break down the doors, they find only piles of corpses and cowering survivors.

The game was played at the actual Elsinore castle. That was pretty cool.

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(At the venue, during a break between the acts. My character was a priest.)

The game had the rule “What happens in Elsinore stays in Elsinore”, so I’m not going to go into specifics. Instead, I’ll write about something that occurred to me as I watched the final moments of the dying court. I had already died myself, and was present as a mute ghost.

To prepare for the larp, I watched every Hamlet movie I could get my hands on. The Laurence Olivier Hamlet, the Derek Jacobi Hamlet, the Soviet Hamlet, and so on. Most of them shared a theatrical quality, a feeling of the actors and the director playing with the text and the language. Almost all of the movies were quite good, but they also made it seem as if adapting Hamlet was a bit of a lark.

Or a game of sorts.

When I was in my own version of Hamlet, larping my character, watching Queen Gertrude die of poison, I didn’t feel like we were playing. It felt deadly fucking serious.

The world of Inside Hamlet was grotesque and the characters monsters. It wasn’t played in a realistic style. Yet still, living inside this fictional context gave everything that happened a tragic weight. In the movies, the final duel has been done in many different ways, but only in the larp it felt like it was two people fighting over the deaths of their loved ones.

The movies were a game. The game was not.

Pikseliparatiisi: Gamergate poliisisarjassa

Gamergate on normalisoitunut osaksi videopelikenttää. Yksi tapa miten tämä näkyy on, että siihen on alettu viitata muualla popkulttuurissa. Yksi esimerkki tästä on 11. 2. 2015 esitetty poliisisarja Law & Order: Special Victims Unitin jakso Intimidation Game.

Jakso alkaa lupaavasti, joskin pöhkösti. Ice T:n hahmo on pelaaja, ja selittää muille pelislangia. Miehet ahdistelevat naista pelitapahtumassa, ja poliisi puuttuu asiaan. Linja on selvä: Ahdistelu ja uhkailu on paha, ja sillä hyvä. Sen sijaan, että yrittäisivät löytää jotain kuvitteellista keskitietä, tekijät ovat asettuneet selvästi Gamergatea ja sen kaltaisia häiriköintiliikkeitä vastaan.

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Viikon uhrina jaksossa toimii pelistudion johtaja Raina Punjabi, joka yrittää pitää uuden pelinsä julkaisua raiteilla vaikka poliisi haluaisi hänen panostavan enemmän omaan turvallisuuteensa. Punjabi ei halua antaa periksi uhkailijoille.

Jakson edetessä hänelle käy huonosti. Pelaajamiehet eivät hyväksy naispuolista pelisuunnittelijaa, vaan kidnappaavat tämän. Kuten peliaiheisten elokuvien ja tv-sarjajaksojen suurin klise vaatii, pelistä tulee totta.

On inhottavaa katsoa, kuinka fiktiivistä Punjabia pahoinpidellään tilanteessa, jossa hänen esikuviaan uhkaillaan edelleen päivittäin. Sikailuissa on melkeimpä mehusteleva ote, ja kun Punjabi vihdoin murtuu, siitä otetaan kaikki irti.

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Tv-sarjan maailmassa Gamergaten rikokset ovat pahempia kuin oikeasti, mutta oikeastikin Gamergaten silmätikuksi joutuneet naiset kuten Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn ja Brianna Wu ovat joutuneet massiivisen häirinnän kohteiksi, ja paikoin jopa lähtemään kotoaan oman turvallisuutensa vuoksi. Tästä huolimatta he ovat kaikki edelleen mukana taistelussa paremman pelikulttuurin puolesta.

Toistaiseksi pelialalla olevan naisen julkinen häpäisy ja murtuminen on tapahtunut vain Gamergate-aktiivien fantasioissa. Ja tässä SVU-jaksossa.

Toimittaja Leigh Alexander on saanut osansa Gamergate-inhoa. Hän kirjoittaa kokemuksistaan, ja Intimidation Game -jaksosta, täällä.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #20: Warhammer 40K

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.

Dragonlance is not the only gaming franchise that’s been badly served by adaptations. Another is the Games Workshop juggernaut Warhammer 40K. Its world has been created principally for war games, but there’s a solid line of roleplaying games as well.

There’s an official, animated 40K movie from 2010 called Ultramarines, and a German fan made movie called Damnatus from 2008. Of these two, Damnatus is inarguably the better.

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(Ultramarines)

Ultramarines features a bunch of space marines who go to a planet to investigate a distress call. They battle against their inner demons, but most importantly they seem to walk around a gravel pit for ever and ever.

The gravel pit is a classic location of fan-made and cheap genre movies, but why it was chosen as a location for an animated movie, I have no idea.

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(Damnatus)

Damnatus is a fan movie denied release at the last minute by Games Workshop. Mysteriously, following the ban it leaked into the internet. It’s about a bunch of mercenaries hired by an Inquisitor to investigate strange phenomena in the lower depths of a planet.

Very obviously a fan movie, Damnatus suffers from its lack of actual actors, a solid script or anything resembling interesting characters or dramatic scenes. However, I’d argue it’s still a must-watch for any 40K geek, because it captures the tone and style of the world so perfectly. Unlike in Ultramarines, in Damnatus you know you’re in the far future where there’s only war.

It’s full of fun little detail that only makes sense if you know the world already, like the servo-skull pictured above. It’s in German, and demonstrates that German is the only proper language for 40K.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #19: Dragonlance

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.

When I was twelve, I thought that Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman were the best that the fantasy genre had to offer. Sure, I liked Tolkien too, but he had nothing on Dragonlance.

Now that I’m 34, I see no reason to revise this opinion.

It’s a shame that there’s so few adaptations of Dragonlance, good or not. We’ve been able to find two, the animated version of the first book, Dragons of Autumn Twilight, and the Russian musical version of the second trilogy, Legends.

You can watch the musical here, with English subtitles:

The thing about the musical version is that it’s absolutely excellent. You have to know the story, but for an old Dragonlance lover such as myself, this is manna from heaven. According to the YouTube page, it’s actually a promo concert held by the theatre studio Lege Artis at the 8th of February, 2014 in Moscow. It features scenes from a musical called The Last Trial.

Before this, I had never realized how operatic the Legends trilogy was. It’s been distilled into a story about Raistlin, Caramon and Crysania, and the interplay of love and power in Raistlin’s character. The possibly best scene has Raistlin singing a duet with Takhisis the Queen of Darkness about his love affair with Crysania. The YouTube video above features people from three different casts, so don’t be confused if the actor playing Raistlin suddenly changes.

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(A still from the movie Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight)

Unfortunately, the animated Dragonlance: Dragons of Autumn Twilight movie fails to live up to the standards set up by Russian musical theatre. It goes through the story of the first Dragonlance book, somehow combining the worst features of both classical Eighties Saturday morning cartoons and modern 3D-animated stuff.

It also remains faithful to some of the dumbest stuff found in the original book, things that any reasonable adaptation would have cut out. It’s a dismal effort.

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.