Research Blog Antarctica #151 – Mystery in Antarctica

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Comic book: Francis Bergése: Mystery in Antarctica (Cinebook, 2015)

Buck Danny is an American ace pilot and the hero of a long-running series of French comic books. Mystery in Antarctica is Buck Danny no. 51. Like with any pop culture phenomenon, once it runs long enough it acquires its own logic, leading to shifts in tone that may seem strange to newcomers. As a character created in the Forties, Buck Danny is a blonde, square-jawed hero type with a funny sidekick. Yet his adventures take place in the modern world. This album was originally published in French in 2005.

Buck Danny is all about flying airplanes, so his enemies need jets too. Thus in Mystery in Antarctica, common pirates are somewhat implausibly equipped with serious military hardware. It’s especially funny because Buck Danny is all about realism in its depiction of fighter jets and US Navy protocols.

The story itself features a couple of classic Antarctic subjects. Nazi expeditions to the south and a Sea Shepards style environmental organization appear. The main focus is still on what I suspect is the central theme of all Buck Danny stories: Modern fighter airplanes and how cool they are.

Research Blog Antarctica #150 – Anibal 5

208174018-Anibal5_zoomedComic book: Alejandro Jodorowsky & Georges Bess: Anibal 5 (Humanoids Publishing, 2015)

This is a collection of two Anibal 5 albums, published in English by Humanoids. I read the first one in Finnish translation as a child, and its mix of softcore sex and scifi weirdness made a big impression on me. I was at an age where stories don’t really leave lasting impressions, but the scenes and images do. Now that I read it again, I recognized much of it, but the context was new.

Anibal 5 is a sex-addicted super-agent cyborg who fights and fucks and complains his way through various predicaments. The first album is definitely the better one. The second follows Anibal to Antarctica, where crazed feminists have created the Republic of Clitoria and must be stopped.

So no, this won’t win any prizes for progressive values.

The fist half of the comic has that Jodorowsky energy, but the second half is running on empty. Cringe-worthy stereotypes of man-hating feminists are not its only problem. Still, the idea of an Antarctic republic of women is not without peer. Ursula Le Guin’s short story Sur imagines an early all-women Antarctic expedition, and books such as the novel The Birth of the People’s Republic of Antarctica and DJ Spooky’s The Book of Ice have explored similar territory.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #25: LARP

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.Larp-3

Larp is a Polish short film directed by Kordian Kadziela and released in 2014. It’s the story of a larper guy who lives in the shadow of his boxer brother. He goes to larps, and in one of them, he confronts a bully in-game. The event proves transformative, but the rest of the story is handled surprisingly deftly for a movie based on such broad ideas.

This is definitely a gem among movies about larp. I realize this will set the bar pretty low, but it’s made by people who understand both filmmaking and larp. That’s not always the case…

Here’s the trailer:

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #24: Treasure Trapped

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.

Landscape-Poster

Treasure Trapped is a documentary film about larp in the U.K. and the Nordic countries. First we get to learn about U.K. larps, and the filmmaking seems amateurish and meandering. As the movies goes on, it becomes more proficient in storytelling terms and the focus shifts to games like The Monitor Celestra.

I feel bad about being negative about this movie because it shows my larp scene in such favorable light. The segment about Panopticorp is excellent. Unfortunately, it doesn’t sustain this level of quality.

Still, if you just look at the material they have in the movie, and if you’re curious about Nordic games especially, this can be an interesting movie to watch.

Research Blog Antarctica #149 – Whale Wars, season 4

Whale Wars season 4

Whale Wars season 4

Tv series: Whale Wars, season 4: U.S.A.

Whale Wars is a documentary tv series following the anti-whaling campaigns of the environmental group The Sea Shepherds. Season one to three were pretty amazing stuff, with dangerous confrontations in the Antarctic Sea.

In season four, it feels as if the series is starting to lose steam. The Sea Shepherds seem equipped better than ever, with three ships and seemingly more competent personnel. However, it’s hard to make things exciting when the whaling fleet eludes their grasp for so long.

Up until this point, Whale Wars has been a wonderful series, but this season can safely be skipped.

2015 in works that made me feel something

In retrospect, one of the best things about being fifteen or sixteen was the way you’d see a movie and your mind would be blown by the sheer awesomeness of it all. You hadn’t seen so many things, so everything appeared new. It was wonderful to experience all these ideas and aesthetics for the first time. I still remember when I saw movies like Lost Highway or Tetsuo II: the Body Hammer at Elokuva-arkisto as a high-school student, and how it felt to emerge onto the street after the movie, full of slack-jawed wonder.

Sometimes it feels like these powerful experiences are a thing of the past, that nowadays intellectual appreciation and being entertained are the best we can hope for.

I went through some of the movies I’d seen and games I’d played in 2015, and I was happy to be reminded of plenty of things that put the lie to that feeling of never seeing anything new.

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Videogame: Zombi (Ubisoft Montpellier)

ZombiU was one of Wii U’s launch games, originally published in 2012 and republished on the Xbox One this fall as Zombi. In technical terms, it’s a pretty rough game, but there’s something in the atmosphere that suddenly makes the tired zombie genre feel relevant again. Zombi is a difficult, uncompromising game where a single mistake can result in a death as a victim of a zombie swarm. Every time you die, you continue with a new character, and at the end, you only get a single try to get to safety. If you fail, you die and the game ends. I failed.

I wrote a review for Tilt, available here in Finnish.

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Videogame: Soma (Frictional Games)

The premise of the Swedish game Soma is very traditional: You’re an average dude who finds himself stranded in a ruined underwater research base. You have to solve simple puzzles and avoid monsters to proceed. The real genius of the game is in its progression of revelations that slowly but steadily increase the existential horror of what’s happening. The action is very concrete, but the questions are philosophical: What’s a human? What does it mean to be an individual? Who am I?

I reviewed the game for Tilt and also selected it as Tilt’s Game of the Year. The review is here in Finnish.

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Movie: Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mungiu)

Beyond the Hills is a Romanian film from 2012, directed by Cristian Mungiu. Its a based-on-a-true-story movie about a small religious community struggling to deal with Alina, a troubled girl who follows her childhood friend there. Considering that this is a story featuring an excorcism, lesbian lovers and brutal convent life, everything is handled with a keen eye to everyday detail and psychological complexity. Alina’s story doesn’t end well, but she’s too good a character to simply fall into the role of a victim. She demands something more than that.

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Movie: The World’s End (Edgar Wright)

The World’s End is a science fiction movie from 2013, but the scifi stuff is almost incidental. It’s really the story of Gary King, who wants to gather together all of his old friends to do a pub crawl like they used to when they were young. All of the friends have moved on in their lives, but Gary hasn’t. Watching this movie felt like one long moment of recognition: I know this guy and I know what he represents. The real kicker comes in the end, where all of Gary’s fantasies come true. Ostensibly, the movie ends on a high note, but the implications of the ending are pretty harsh to contemplate.

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Movie: What We Do in the Shadows (Jemaine Clement & Taika Waititi)

I played and organized a lot of Vampire: the Masquerade larp in my teens and early twenties. What We Do in the Shadows (2012) is a fake documentary about vampires living in New Zealand, and it’s a very funny movie. However, it also manages to depict something that’s very, very true when it comes to Vampire larp, whether intentionally or not. It captures the way those larps used to be at the turn on the millennium, goofy and cool at the same time.

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Movie: Mad Max: Fury Road (George Miller)

The Hollywood media machine seems designed to mold the entertaintment products we consume into bland goo. Seeing the new Mad Max movie Fury Road was a bracing experience: It’s a big-budget action movie but it also has a singular vision. It has power. It has a sense of transgression that makes us feel alive.

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The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland)

The Duke of Burgundy (2014) is a movie about two women playing sadomasochistic games. It has a solid claim on being the best BDSM movie of all time. It looks gorgeous, but most of all, it captures the small dynamics and details of fantasy and reality, desire and everyday life, very well. Its characters are driven by desire and necessity in a way that avoids simple judgements and pointless moral homilies.

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He ovat paenneet (J.-P. Valkeapää)

He ovat paenneet is a Finnish movie about two teenagers who decide to run away. One of them works at a home for delinquents, the other is confined there. Somehow, the movie goes from traditional Finnish kitchen sink realism into subjective fantasy in a way that accurately captures the power and horror of being young. It’s also gorgeously shot, with a jarring style that eschews the more conventional style of most Finnish cinema.

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Dance: Kleine Monster (Jenni Kivelä)

I’ve been a lapsed fan of Jenni Kivelä’s performances: I’ve always liked them, but it’s been years since I saw one. Early this year, I saw an ad for Kleine Monster and remembered how much I liked her work, so I went to see it. And it was very good. It’s a performance about grotesque women, made from the inside: The characters may be monsters, but so are we all.

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Larp: The Zeigarnik Effect (Brody Condon)

I played a lot of larp in 2015, but the most interesting and personally affecting was Brody Condon’s The Zeigarnik Effect. Based on Gestalt therapy, the larp was one part of a work that also included a video art piece that used material shot during the larp. From a technical point of view, the larp was very interesting because of its minimal characters and setting, its present-based interaction and workshopped sense of a very tight ensemble. It’s been one of the larps that I can say changed me.

I wrote more about it here.

Concert: K-X-P

I was at the music festival Flow, and a friend told me I should go to see K-X-P. I knew nothing about the band, but the recommendation was solid. It was the best gig I saw the whole year. The ritual aesthetics and the relentless wall of sound created a transcendental experience. The band is fine on YouTube or listened from the album, but the music really comes to its own through the sheer power of live amplification.

eduskunta-ryhmäteatteri-foto-ilkka-saastamoinen-672x372Eduskunta III (Susanna Kuparinen)

Politically, this has been a miserable year. Racism is on the rise, fascist ideas are normalized and austerity politics drive us deeper into despair, seemingly for no reason at all. Eduskunta III, a play about the Finnish parliament directed by Susanna Kuparinen, is a funny broadside aimed at the rot afflicting all of us. It’s alienating to sit at home and read depressing news, but by the same token, it feels great to laugh at the terrible things going on with hundreds of other people in the theatre.

Non-Digital: Werewolf: the Apocalypse, an Appreciation

In the Nineties, there was a time when radical ecological activism was an entirely suitable subject for American children’s entertainment. The best example of this is the cartoon series Captain Planet and the Planeteers. The spirit of the planet, Gaia, assembles a team who can combine into a superhero called Captain Planet who then stops”eco-villains” such as Verminous Skum and Dr. Blight.

Other examples are the G.I.Joe spin-off Eco-Warriors and togic sludge themed things like the Turtles and Toxic Avenger. The lesson of Captain Planet and Eco-Warriors is that it’s entirely acceptable to fight against polluters and ecological criminals with force.

That lesson seems to have faded from children’s tv shows as the global environmental situation has become worse. One of the ironies of pop culture is that now in the age of global warming when we really need him, Captain Planet is nowhere to be found.

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A Ron Spencer illustration from the 20th Anniversary Edition of Werewolf the Apocalypse showing a reasoned debate with the employees of the polluting corporation Pentex

In the Nineties, there was one place where the fight against pollution was taken to its logical extreme, and that was the gloriously insane roleplaying game Werewolf: the Apocalypse. Reading the game now, it seems incredible that this was actually published, and that it was a mainstream roleplaying game.

In Werewolf, using force to stop polluters was not only moral, but a holy mission.

In the core book, limiting yourself to standard character options, you can make a werewolf Neo-Nazi killing machine who’s goal in life is to mutilate as many fast food employees and oil company workers as possible. You see, in the world of Werewolf, people who work at environmentally damaging or irresponsible companies are often possessed by evil spirits serving a mythical force of corruption called the Wyrm. This way, the enemies have been conveniently dehumanized and can be subjected to ultraviolence without any moral problems.

The Neo-Nazis are one of Werewolf’s tribes. They are called Get of Fenris, and come from the Nordic countries.

Werewolf: the Apocalypse is a roleplaying game that combines ideas of eco-fascism and eco-terrorism into an action-oriented package all about the rage we should all feel at the destruction of our planet in the hands of greedy corporations. In Werewolf, your character will burst into the boardroom and tear the people responsible in half.

Eco-fascism is built into the very structure of Werewolf. It’s protagonists live in a spirit-guided world where evil is an absolute force and the tribal societies of the werewolves are essentially paramilitary groups organized in an apocalyptic war. Dehumanized enemies can be murdered at will, since the world is always better when they’re gone. Eco-terrorism is the practical implementation of this idea.

The characters are not going to chain themselves to trees to stop logging. They will murder the loggers to the last man. The loggers are possessed by evil spirits, so it’s fine.

In my experience, when people play Werewolf, it gets watered down. The characters are humanized. The skinhead qualities of the Get of Fenris get toned down. In a lot of the books as well as games I’ve seen, there’s a strong focus on the Umbra and the cosmological, spiritual ideas of the game. They’re cool too, but often end up overshadowing the essential core mission of the werewolf: To murder the despoilers of the land.

I think this does a tremendous disservice to a game that’s at its most singular when it’s at its most extreme. When it really is a game about eco-fascist werewolves perpetually on the verge of homicidal rage.

After all, the subject matter has only become more relevant with age. We can play Werewolf while we wait for Captain Planet to come back.

Non-Digital: The Visionary Worldbuilding of 2nd Edition AD&D

I started roleplaying with the Finnish edition of Dungeons & Dragons, and graduated to playing Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Edition as soon as I learned enough English to read the books.

While there’s been good and interesting stuff done in the 3rd, 4th and 5th editions of the game, for me the one true D&D will always be the 2nd edition. Not because of the rules, but because of the world.

TSR published a number of campaign settings in which the game could be played. Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Dark Sun, Birthright, and so on. However, they were not content with just creating different fantasy worlds. They also created a unified superstructure into which all those worlds fit.

A thief hiding from a beholder in an asteroid belt. A typical scenario in the world of 2nd Edition AD&D.

A thief hiding from a beholder in an asteroid belt. A typical scenario in the world of 2nd Edition AD&D.

Crystal Spheres

In addition to the normal campaign settings published for AD&D 2nd Edition, TSR published two “meta-settings”. The first was Spelljammer, and the second Planescape.

Spelljammer is D&D in space. It presents a universe where solar systems are held in vast crystal spheres floating in a combustible substance called Phlogiston. Ships (I mean wooden sailing ships) could be fitted with a magical device called “The Spelljamming Helm” and used to travel to other planets as well as between the crystal spheres.

Best of all, all the normal campaign worlds were seen as parts of this overarching vision: You could fly your spaceship from the world of Forgotten Realms to the world of Dragonlance.

From this perspective, all the worlds of D&D were in fact the same world, sort of like the Marvel Universe of D&D. From the perspective of an individual campaign, it didn’t matter too much, but for a D&D geek like me, it was heady stuff.

A simplified diagram explaining the organization of the planes. This came with the Planescape Campaign Setting box.

A simplified diagram explaining the organization of the planes. This came with the Planescape Campaign Setting box.

Infinity

Other planes of existence had been a part of D&D from a pretty early stage, but they didn’t really come into their own until the introduction of Planescape. Like Spelljammer, Planescape connected existing worlds, this time through a structure of infinite planes composed of various moral or physical ideas.

The planar cosmology was pretty complicated. The crystal spheres composed a Prime Material Plane, which contained normal worlds. It was connected to the Inner Planes through the Ethereal Plane and the Outer Planes through the Astral Plane. The Inner Planes were organized around elemental ideas: fire, water, earth, air, life and death, as well as connecting planes, such as radiance or ash. The Outer Planes were moral, with Lawful Evil Baator and the Chaotic Neutral Limbo. The Outer Planes naturally had sublevels, which were also infinite.

In the center of the Outer Planes stood an infinitely tall mountain, and on top of the mountain floated the donut-shaped Sigil, City of Doors.

So by this point you could safely say that the world of D&D had grown pretty complicated.

A small smaple of the books you have to read to understand the world of 2nd Edition AD&D.

A small sample of the books you have to read to understand the world of 2nd Edition AD&D.

Back to Earth

In the Wizards of the Coast versions of D&D there’s been a clear shift away from all this towards a more grounded vision of the game. Published books have been more about stuff you can use in a normal fantasy campaign. Other planes of existence have been stunted and sheared into something like a spice or a topping you can use to flavor a game. They’re no longer the place where it all happens.

I understand why. All that stuff was crazy complicated, and appealed mostly to hardcore fans, at least if the sales numbers for Spelljammer and Planescape are anything to go by. The world had floated far beyond anything resembling the basic fantasy roots of D&D.

Still, I’ve never lost my love for the various infinities of the planes. When I first read Planescape, I thought it was the coolest thing ever published. Now, years later, I still appreciate the worldbuilding vision the designers of the 2nd edition had, where every place, from the Asteroid Belt to the City of Brass on the Plane of Fire, was a possible place of adventure.

Non-Digital: Becoming a Perfect Human

An in-game photo from the larp Täydellinen ihminen, by Tuomas Puikkonen

An in-game photo from the larp Täydellinen ihminen, by Tuomas Puikkonen

Recently, me, Jaakko Stenros and Tuomas Puikkonen did a larp called Täydellinen ihminen (The Perfect Human). The idea was to delve deep into the clean, bright world of office stock photos. For a few hours, our participants would become these happy, smiling, efficient and joyful people. They would embody a certain type of corporate dream.

Me and Jaakko did the design, and Tuomas handled the photography. It was an unusual larp project in the sense that the photos were an integral part of the experience, instead of just documentation. After being a perfect human, the participants could then see themselves in actual photos, permanently part of that world.

The game was played in Helsinki on the 20th of September, 2015. Jaakko wrote a few personal reflections about the game here, and the full set of Tuomas’s wonderful photos is here.

That's me sitting in the center left, playing a client. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

That’s me sitting in the center left, playing a client. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

The game was about an ordinary Monday at the consulting firm Creative Solutions. The characters all worked there, and were thrilled to be back at work after the weekend. During the day, they met three clients (one about bottled water, the city of Salo and the Guggenheim) and had several internal meetings. That was it: No twist, no surprises, no drama.

One of the ideas behind the game was the concept of “the Soviet man”, the perfect communist citizen. A popular idea in the Soviet Union, this ideal also revealed the problems inherent in the system. The ideal human is not what we have. We just have ordinary humans.

For Täydellinen ihminen, corporate stock photos replace the paintings and statues of Socialist Realism. Instead of the noble, strong factory worker, we have the happy, innovative consultant. The perfect human of the larp is just one of the ideals we live with in today’s society. Another ideal of capitalism is a super-competitive individualist motivated by greed, but we chose to focus on creating the world as it appears in the photos. A place where teamwork and positivity are the most important qualities. This meant that in the workplace of Creative Solutions, everyone collaborated on everything, and always gave positive feedback. Meetings made the characters happy. The team was everything.

This is the magic of innovation in action! Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

This is the magic of innovation in action! Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

I understood the idea of using larp to generate a certain kind of visual surface after I participated in the Brody Condon larp and video project The Zeigarnik Effect in June 2015. In this, as well as earlier pieces by the same artist, larp and video have complemented each other. A larp has certain qualities that are hard to achieve otherwise, and those qualities can be captured on video, or in photos. I knew the idea, but really only realized the potential after having experienced it myself.

In Täydellinen ihminen, game design and visual design came together in the physical play style we workshopped together before the start of the game. In office stock photos, people are happy. They smile. They stand very close to each other. They touch.

In stock photos, people are close, and they're physical. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

In stock photos, people are close, and they’re physical. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

The idea was that practising these modes of being beforehand would produce the right kind of images, but also generate a certain atmosphere for the game. We forbade all subtext, hidden agendas, sex, and other distractions to focus on the game’s dream of happy, corporate efficiency and teamwork. This also made it easier for the participants to be casually physical.

Tuomas didn’t play a character and the participants were instructed to ignore the photographer, but it’s clear his presence had an impact on the in-game dynamics. When I was in the game playing a supportive character, I noticed myself and others behaving as if they were on camera even when Tuomas was not in the room. It became part of the physical, bodily language of the game.

The smile has to reach the eyes. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

The smile has to reach the eyes. Photo: Tuomas Puikkonen

So what does it mean to play a larp and become one of the perfect humans? I played a few supporting roles, so I’m perhaps the wrong person to explain what the experience was all about. That’s best left to actual participants.

At one point, I played a normal, non-perfect municipal representative, and it felt overwhelming to be subjected to the team’s energy. I felt like a hick who had come to the big town.

Pikseliparatiisi: Sä oot vaan niin ykköstyyppi

Pelasin Mad Maxia. Pelin loppupuolella aavikolta alkaa löytyä tyyppejä joilla ei ole oikeastaan muuta asiaa kuin sanoa, että sä olet Max aivan ykkösjätkä. Seuraavaksi ohjelmassa oli Dragon Age: Inquisitionin laajennus Trespasser. Siinä jengi supisee keskenään hahmon kulkiessa ohitse, että tuossa se nyt menee. Inkvisiittori. Vähänkö tärkeä tyyppi.

Mad Max -pelin päähenkilö Max on aavikon asukkaiden mielestä todella tärkeä tyyppi.

Mad Max -pelin päähenkilö Max on aavikon asukkaiden mielestä todella hieno tyyppi.

Monissa roolipeleissä ja avoimen maailman peleissä hahmon status kasvaa ja tehtäviä tulee suoritettua. Maailma reagoi, ja hyvä niin. Tuntuu kuin olisin osa dynaamista ympäristöä, jossa asiat vaikuttavat toisiinsa.

Ihan kiva että ihmiset ovat kiitollisia siitä hyvästä, että menen ympäriinsä tappamassa milloin mitäkin häirikkövihollisia.

Pelimaailman muuttuminen fanikerhoksi tuntuu silti kiusalliselta. Vähän kuin pelaisi julkkista: Ihmisten kanssa ei voi olla normaalisti, vaan tärkein asia missä tahansa tilanteessa on se, että minä olen paikalla.

Inquisitionissa päähenkilöstä kehkeytyy supertärkeä tyyppi joten julkkisasema ja ohikulkijoiden hehkutus on sinänsä perusteltua. Kiusallisen fiiliksen ytimessä on epäilys, että näissä ei ole kuitenkaan taustalla tarinan logiikka, vaan pelaajan egon silittely.

Dragon Age: Inquisitionin Trespasser -laajennuksessa päähenkilö on tuima mutta tärkeä.

Dragon Age: Inquisitionin Trespasser -laajennuksessa päähenkilö on tuima mutta tärkeä.

Kun saan jälleen pelissä kuulla kuinka upea, fantastinen, tärkeä ja rohkea ohjaamani päähenkilö on, alan miettiä pitävätkö pelintekijät minua heikkoitsetuntoisena luuserina. Onko laskelmoitu, että minulle pelaajana on tärkeää saada validaatiota videopelien sivuhahmoilta? Heidän kehunsa saavat minut tuntemaan oloni lämpimäksi. Kurjan maailman epätoivo on taas hiukan kauempana kun Maxin ja sitä kautta minun miehekäs sankaruus on tunnustettu.

Tällainen ei ole ongelma yhdessä eikä kahdessa pelissä, vaan vasta kun siitä tulee trendi. Onko pelaajan sankaruuden hehkuttaminen samalla tavalla videopelien peruspalikka kuin koirat ja kidutuskohtaukset?

Pikseliparatiisi: Vaikea kohta

Pelaan työsyistä uutta Mad Max -peliä. Se on avoimen maailman aavikkoseikkailu, jossa Max ajelee ympäriinsä autolla ja tekee pääasiassa erilaisia sivutehtäviä.

Noin kaksi kolmasosaa pelistä sujui leppoisissa merkeissä, kunnes tapahtui jotain joka kauhistuttaa kaikkia meistä, jotka pelaamme deadlinen kanssa: Pelissä oli ns. difficulty spike, eli kohta joka on tuntuvasti vaikeampi kuin muu peli. Tarkemmin sanottuna piikkejä oli kaksi, heti peräkkäin.

Mad Maxin tulevaisuudessa aavikolta löytyy paljon laivoja.

Kumpikin ovat kilpa-ajoja. Ensimmäisessä Max ajaa kilpaa aavikolla, ja hänen täytyy tietenkin voittaa. Maxin auto Magnum Opus kehittyy pelin kuluessa, mutta tässä vaiheessa kilpa-ajo-olosuhteissa se tuntui skeittilaudan päälle asetetulta tiileltä. Korkeat nopeudet ja tiukat kurvit johtivat siihen, että kallionseinämät tulivat tutuiksi. Selvisin kuitenkin noin yhden illan pakertamisella ja arviolta kymmenellä yrittämisellä.

Se oli vasta alkusoittoa pelin toiselle ja merkittävästi pahemmalle piikille. Max on taas kilpa-ajoissa, ja tällä kertaa pitää saada pahis hengiltä. Se edellyttää, että hänen autonsa saa kiinni.

Ensimmäiset viisi yritystä paljastivat, etten ollut parannellut Maxin autoa riittävästi, joten palasin tekemään sivutehtäviä. Kun nopeutta ja ohjailtavuutta oli vähän lisätty, palasin kilpailuun, mutta edelleen heikoin tuloksin. Osasin radan jo ulkoa, mutta erityisesti vempula ohjaus ja dramaattisia kuvakulmia hakeva kamera tekivät voittamisesta vaikeaa.

Tässä vaiheessa päätin turvautua kepulikonsteihin. Katsoin jos vaikeustasoa voisi madaltaa, mutta pelissä on vain yksi vaikeustaso. Kokeilin, jos voisin ajaa rataa väärään suuntaan ja yllättää pahiksen näin edestä päin, mutta sekään ei toiminut.

YouTuben läpipeluuvideot paljastivat, että teoriassa kohdasta oli mahdollista päästä läpi, ja huomasin niistä muutaman Maxin auton aseistukseen liittyvän jipon. Redditin keskusteluista opin, että monella muullakin peli oli tyssännyt samassa kohdassa. Siellä neuvottiin, että sivutehtäviä on parasta jauhaa siihen asti, että auton keskeiset ominaisuudet on saatu maksimiin.

Pelin Max on aika mulkku jätkä.

Pelin Max on aika mulkku jätkä.

Redditistä löytyi toinenkin hyvä neuvo: Kilpailun oli oltava ohi 30 sekunnissa jos sen mieli voittaa. Pahiksen kiinni saaminen oli niin vaikeaa, että hyökkäyksessä piti keskittyä treenaamaan alkukiihdytyksen aikaisia aggressioita. Sain tällä taktiikalla pahiksen jo kerran melkein hengiltä, ja aion yrittää sitä kunnes pääsen läpi.

Raskainta tässä on se, miten pelin kilparadan seinät on suunniteltu. Ne ovat epätasaisia, ja auton nokka tarttuu esteisiin helposti. Niinpä ajaessa tapahtuva reunakosketus johtaa yleensä siihen, että auto kiepsahtaa ympäri, nokka väärään suuntaan. Sen kääntäminen ympäri on hidasta, joten yksikin tällainen virhe tuomitsee koko yrityksen epäonnistumaan.

Olen kirjoitushetkellä yrittämässä tätä samaa kohtaa kolmatta päivää. Tiedän kokemuksesta, miltä tällaisen muuta peliä radikaalisti vaikeamman kohdan selättäminen tuntuu: Kädenlämpöiseltä helpotukselta, ettei enää tarvitse äheltää.

Research Blog Antarctica #139 – Ice and the Sky

ice-and-the-sky-trailer

Documentary: Luc Jacquet: Ice and the Sky (France, 2015)

Luc Jacquet is the director of the movie March of the Penguins, so this is not his first time with an Antarctic subject. Ice and the Sky is a documentary about the career of the French glaciologist Claude Lorius and also an impassioned plea to do something about global warming.

The traditional image of Antarctica is as an eternal realm of ice and cold. Climate developments in recent decades have challenged that idea, and increasingly cast Antarctica more as a melting ice cube. Lorius has been at the center of this change in perception, and you can see that for him, global warming is not abstract at all. In Antarctica, it’s a concrete reality.

The movie starts in 1957 with the beginning of Lorius’ career in Antarctica, and it’s wonderful to see all the old footage from various French and international expeditions. Other classic Antarctic locations are the South Pole and the Russian Vostok base.

Although Ice and the Sky is definitely a “great man” movie, it’s wealth of footage and the scope of its subject make it a first-class Antarctic film. Lorius’ career spans global warming, atmospheric nuclear testing and the insignificance of humanity’s time on Earth, and it’s easy to be swept away with the wonder and the terror.

Non-Digital: Seven Larps, Seven Countries

Alexander Norppa, the CEO of Norppa Industries, is holding a private preliminary high-level meeting before the start of the actual summit. Photo: Harmke Heezen

Alexander Norppa, the CEO of Norppa Industries, is holding a private preliminary high-level meeting before the start of the actual summit. Photo: Harmke Heezen

One of the great things about larp is that it’s such a young medium, we can do things for the first time. Exploring new frontiers of larp is easy since there’s so much that hasn’t been done yet.

I worked on the Baltic Warriors project as a larp producer this summer. We did a tour of seven countries, and ran seven larps with a loosely continuous story. The tour culminated in Helsinki this weekend with the finale, longer and bigger than the previous games.

Summit participants discuss the issues on the way to the gala dinner, unaware of the impeding zombie attack. Photo: Sigrid Reede

Summit participants discuss the issues on the way to the gala dinner, unaware of the impeding zombie attack. Photo: Sigrid Reede

Our creative producer Mike Pohjola likes to say that this has been the most international larp campaign in history, and he might well be right. I don’t really know of any others that would have reached seven countries. We also had participants from something like 16 countries. The core team worked from Germany, Finland and Sweden.

Baltic Warriors was a political game about eutrophication in the Baltic Sea. In the Helsinki game, a summit meeting about the future of the Baltic Sea, the political aspect was realized with perhaps the greatest nuance. We also learned a lot about playing in public and playing privately, and how that affects the larp dynamics with both first-timers and experienced larpers.

The zombie action was realized in partnership with the Zero Hour zombie festival. Photo: Sigrid Reede

The zombie action was realized in partnership with the Zero Hour zombie festival. Photo: Sigrid Reede

One of the things I’m happiest about in this project is the number of first time players who participated. In some games, like in Kiel, Germany, it was over two-thirds of all players, but the Helsinki game had a lot of first-timers too. Before the game, I was worried whether it was a good idea to throw novice larpers into an unguided city game where you’re supposed to direct your own experience to a large extent, but this worry proved unfounded. Indeed, the naturalism and heightened privacy of this style of larping may have made it easier for first-timers than our previous games.

One reason we were disposed to attract first-timers was probably the anomalous production structure of Baltic Warriors. Produced by the German company Kinomaton Berlin and Goethe-Institut Finnland, the initial impulse to do all of this came from outside the larp scene. I have never worked with institutions who were as motivated to do good larp as we had this time.

A debrief discussion held after the game was over at the Goethe-Institut. Photo: Sigrid Reede

A debrief discussion held after the game was over at the Goethe-Institut. Photo: Sigrid Reede

Non-Digital: How to Create a Nasty Society

Last week, I wrote about the differences between Vampire: the Masquerade’s “game of personal horror” and the game I run, Verikartta, in which the horror has a more communal bent. The core of the matter is that for the vampires in the game, this is the only community they will ever have, so like it or not, they have to live in it.

Here are some of the ways that I used to create a nasty society:

Other Victims

The worst off are never the player characters. Indeed, people can be quite nice to the player characters, and lift them up while others are pushed down. This way, the players don’t have to experience the situation as an “us vs. the elite” situation, but instead get a broader view. They may even feel the seductive pull of joining the elite.

All photos and illustrations I use in the game are from books or off the internet. I plead private use...

All photos and illustrations I use in the game are from books or off the internet. I plead private use…

Complicated Schemes

Vampire schemes are complicated and follow their own logic. Obvious plots can’t be done because others will see through them.

For example, revenge can never target the person who actually slighted you. Instead, you must attack someone completely different, for example a protege or even someone completely unconnected who you then direct to have their own revenge against your initial opponent.

If you want to act against someone, the first step can be to go into their debt. When you owe something to them, you get closer and can then act in new ways.

Often I’ve found it useful to have supporting characters explain the schemes if they get too weird. “Obviously, this invitation cannot be a trap, because that would be obvious. Unless it’s a double-bluff, and is a trap after all…”

Counter-intuitive tactics like these make vampire plans seem baroque enough to give the feeling that people engage in them for their own sake. In-game, many of the people who do this are themselves cheerfully confused about what’s happening. The value here is aesthetic.

Violence is Embarrassing

Physical violence is a sign of weakness. It only makes sense if the victim is significantly weaker than the perpetrator. As a move in the games vampires play, physical violence is the choice of the unimaginative.

As a corollary, almost all vampires are cowards. If the situation seems to imply physical violence, they will simply not be there.

Cruelty is Fun

I read a very good book about comedy in 18th century Britain that has shaped the way I built vampire society to a great extent. Called Cruelty and Laughter, by Simon Dickie, it’s a masterclass in asshole amusements. The basic unit of comedy is cruelty, and here are some of the things that folks in 18th centuy Britain felt were simply hilarious: Beating cripples. Rape trials. Stealing from the poor.

With this in mind, in vampire society those of similar power and influence play games with each other, but with their inferiors, they simply fuck with them for fun.

What could be more funny than humiliating a Malkavian in front of all her peers or making a Nosferatu think he might have a chance with a Toreador ingenue? The key here is that these vampires don’t do these things to benefit from it, but simply for fun. Always attack the weak.

Player characters can be horrified at all this, but they also have to come up with strategies to live in this environment. In Verikartta, I had one or two older vampires who found the behavior of their peers barbaric, but this display of morality also made them outsiders in a small community.

Good Nosferatu pictures are hard to find. This one is from a Vampire book.

Good Nosferatu pictures are hard to find. This one is from a Vampire book.

Heightened Class Divisions

Vampire: the Masquerade, like many roleplaying games, is designed from the perspective of game balance. Ideally, playing any of its character types will result in equally interesting roleplaying game experiences.

I deviated from this by heightening the class divisions in vampire society. The Ventrue are the undisputed masters of this world. Even the scummiest Ventrue is still a Ventrue, and therefore part of an inside club.

The next tier is the Toreador, Gangrel and Brujah, vampire clans with their own societies and agendas, forming the “standard” level of being a vampire. The Brujah are the “loyal opposition”, who in reality keep the system going. Traditionally, every Ventrue prince has a secret Brujah lover. Below them are the two broken clans, Nosferatu and Malkavian, as well as the Tremere.

The Nosferatu are excluded because they’re ugly. For them, living as a vampire is difficult, they have to live in sewers and derelict buildings, and unless they travel with their peers, a Brujah can decide to beat one up just for fun.

The Malkavians are rare, feared and distrusted because they’re mad. A good way for a new prince to seem tough is to start a pogrom against the Malkavians.

The Tremere are powerful in a physical sense, but weak politically. They’re hard to victimize and don’t have to suffer from the humiliations the Nosferatu and the Malkavians live with, but have still been shut out of the political elites. They’re considered upstarts, and somewhat vulgar.

Vampire books are a good source of character illustrations.

Vampire books are a good source of character illustrations.

Attack Your Fans

If someone looks up to you, that person can be hurt. What could be funnier?

My favorite trick in this vein came from Marcel Proust’s book series In Search of Lost Time. There’s a lot of upper class cruelty in those novels, and Proust is very good at explaining the mechanics of how it works.

In this scene, the two important characters are both Ventrue. Lady Victoria Dynevor runs the most established Elysium in the city. Violetta Vidal is a much younger vampire who essentially wants to be Lady Victoria one day.

Lady Victoria runs a salon every Wednesday, “just for a few select friends so we talk talk freely without the bother of a big party”. Violetta has copied this and started her own salon, where she invites younger vampires she thinks are interesting. Violetta also invites Lady Victoria, but it’s assumed she won’t come. She has to be invited because to do otherwise would be an insult.

You might think that it would be a boon for Violetta if Lady Victoria indeed would show up, and conventionally this would be so. If Lady Victoria decides to come to Violetta’s salon, she can expect for this to be seen as a magnanimous act.

However, and this was why this is a great asshole move, when she shows up, she also destroys Violetta’s salon. Because of the differences in status, when Lady Victoria shows up, she will be the only focus of attention for as long as she’s present. She will suck the air out of the room and force everyone to cater to her, and the best part is that she doesn’t really have to do anything to make this happen. It’s an automatic function of the way status works in this kind of social environment.

Then she leaves, and Violetta’s other guests leave soon afterwards. Next time Violetta holds her salon, the only reason anyone is going to be there is in the hopes that Lady Victoria might appear. When she doesn’t, they’ll quickly leave. Violetta’s hope of having pleasant conversations in good company are dashed until she acquires enough social capital to make moves of her own.

Let Age Show

Older vampires have lived in their little bubble for a very long time. They all know each other. Everyone has dated everyone, everyone has fucked everyone.

When new people show up, they’re a source of intense interest. Older vampires flock to younger vampires because they’re new and interesting.

This shows most of all in romantic plots. For an older vampire, a romance with a younger vampire is all about using that person for entertainment until there’s nothing left. Then the younger vampire is discarded. For the younger vampire, there’s still a possibility of getting something out of this, because while it lasts, they can try to play the game too. The more fucked up and weird the relationship is, the longer the old vampire maintains interest.

Here it’s best to have the older vampires approach these romantic games not from a position of strength, but from a position of weakness. For them, there are toadies everywhere, and that’s boring. Since their supernatural power is absolute, they can comfortably be vulnerable in a romantic context.

This way, an older vampire doesn’t seduce someone. He maneuvers things so that a younger vampire seduces him.

Normalize Corruption

It vampire society, corruption is so normal it doesn’t really make sense to call it corruption. Everyone with a Camarilla office such as prince or primogen uses it for personal gain all the time. Mixing business and personal is also normal, and abuses of power can be done for the most trivial reasons, such as amusement.

Chelsea Wolfe is a wonderful artist, and pretty much all photos of her work as Vampire characters.

Chelsea Wolfe is a wonderful artist, and pretty much all photos of her work as Vampire characters.

Horror

In a game like Verikartta, the horror comes from the reality of living in this kind of society. It’s a subtle horror, and the characters can be very successful. The questions are, do they go with the flow and become upper class predators themselves, or do they try to hold on to some kind of decency in a society that doesn’t really put much value on it?

The thing that makes this really work is to have 90% of the inhabitants of the community essentially accept the system. Both the downtrodden and the powerful characters appearing in the game are trying to live within the limits. The last 10% consists of weak vampires who oppose the system and get crushed, and powerful vampires who criticize the system and are doomed to a life of loneliness.