Research Blog Antarctica #138 – Throne of Ice

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Comic book: Alain Paris et al: Throne of Ice (Humanoids, 2014)

Right now, Antarctica is an arid continent of ice, but it hasn’t always been so. A long, long time ago the location of the continent was different, and so was its climate. This is borne out in the fossil record, and greatly perplexed early explorers before the idea of continental drift was conceived.

Throne of Ice, a comic book written by the French novelist Alain Paris, employs this idea to tell a fantasy story of a kingdom on the Antarctic continent, before the coming of the ice. Its fate mirrors that of Atlantis, which was submerged before the Antarctic kingdom was frozen.

For much of the story, Throne of Ice is pretty un-Antarctic. It’s a kind of deflated Jodorowsky narrative of kings and betrayals, fights of succession and reversals of fortune. The interesting stuff is in the margins, the larger framework the comic draws from.

In addition to Antarctic pre-history, Throne of Ice references (albeit lightly) classic notions of polar occultism, such as the Piri Reis map and precursor races.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #19: Mazes & Mutants

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.

Mazes & Mutants is a recent episode on the second season of the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series. The Turtles find a D&D-style game and start playing. Soon they escalate into larp.

The episode is both a compilation of the greatest cliches of game movies and a surprisingly fun spoof of larp.

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(Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, season 2: Mazes & Mutants)

First the cliches. Once the Turtles start larping, the GAME BECOMES REAL. The larper they meet is an overweight nerd with acne. They have to rescue the princess.

But as the episode progresses, it becomes apparent that despite the wearying cliches, there’s a lot of smart stuff in there as well. The title of the episode references the classic scare movie Mazes & Monsters, about a bunch of kids who go nuts after playing D&D. Mazes & Monsters is the original GAME BECOMES REAL story, and referencing it here (instead of making it Mutants & Dragons) indicates some self-awareness.

Tabletop roleplaying and larp are portrayed as a straightforwardly fun activity, and the episode teems with clever little references to game culture. It has also spawned a series of larp-themed Turtles toys.

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(From the left, the fighter, the elf, the dwarf and the wizard.)

Pikseliparatiisi: Tiskausta vallankumouksen keskellä

Olen saanut töitä siivoojana. Asiakas on rikas, ja hänellä on valtava kämppä. Kaksi kerrosta, valtavia valoisia tiloja ja talvipuutarha. Ensimmäisenä työpäivänä hoidan varsinaiset tehtäväni, mutta teen paljon muutakin. Asiakas on ilmeisesti juuri muuttanut asuntoon, joten availen laatikoita ja laitan asioita paikalleen. Kaikki on mielenkiintoista ja jännittävää.

Pian alan ryytyä. Työ on itseääntoistavaa. Katson työtehtävät, tulen sisään, hoidan hommat, häivyn.

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(Jokaiselle päivälle on työlista.)

Pelin nimi on Sunset, ja se on ilmestynyt juuri. Tekijänä on belgialainen Tale of Tales -studio, ja rahoitus tuli Kickstarterista. Tale of Tales on kahden hengen operaatio, ja se näkyy myös peleissä: Ne ovat pieniä, fiksuja ja kauniita. Sunset ei ole poikkeus.

Tavallinen arkinen työ ei ole kovin yleistä videopeleissä. Mafia II on peli, jossa päähenkilö yrittää pysyä kaidalla polulla ennen kun saa tarpeekseen ja rupeaa rikolliseksi. Kaitaa polkua havainnollistetaan itseään toistavalla ja ankealla pelitoiminnalla, joka ei johda mihinkään. Sen kanssa voi räpeltää kunnes saa tarpeekseen ja ryhtyy mafiamieheksi.

Arki on ankeaa, peli on glamouria. Jos pelissä tehdäänkin työtä, täytyy ammatin olla palkkamurhaaja, hirviönmetsästäjä tai salainen agentti.

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(Kaupungissa tapahtuu, mutta asunnossa pitää silti tiskata.)

Sunset ei toistostaan huolimatta ole siivoussimulaattori. Sen ideana on kertoa latinalaisessa amerikassa tapahtuvasta yhteiskunnallisesta sekasorrosta yhdestä, hyvin tarkkaan rajatusta näkökulmasta. Pelaajahahmo on siivoaja, ja hän siivoaa samalla kun ulkona rytisee.

Pelin toiminnot koostuvat työstä, mutta siinä on ennen kaikkea kyse tavallisen ihmisen näkökulmasta. Joissain muissa peleissä ollaan keskellä toimintaa. Sunsetin kauneus syntyy siitä, että pelaajahahmo on siinä missä pelaajakin saattaisi olla vastaavassa tilanteessa: Tekemässä hommia, huolestuneena siitä mitä seuraavaksi tapahtuu.

Non-Digital: The Last Ropecon at Dipoli

Ropecon is a Finnish roleplaying game convention. It’s also been something that’s been a part of my life for twenty years now.

It was first organized in 1994, but I missed the initial years. I’m pretty sure my first Ropecon was 1996. I was sixteen and had just discovered Werewolf: the Apocalypse. I had made a character I figured was real badass, and wanted to play it in a game.

Dipoli is a conference center in Espoo, Finland. It has been home to Ropecon from 1998, but now was the last year. Next time, it’s going to be at Messukeskus, or Helsinki Fair Centre.

For me, Dipoli was “the new Ropecon venue” for maybe ten years, because the first ones I attended had been at another place. The building has come to define the event with its labyrinthine interior and plentiful greenery outside. The event is usually held at the end of July, but this time it was last weekend.

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(Mike Pohjola places a viking helmet on top of a flapboard at our Baltic Warriors presentation.)

My Ropecon experiences tend to be defined by the program items I go there to hold, and this year was no different. We started on Friday with Mike Pohjola by doing a presentation about Baltic Warriors, the larp campaign we’re organizing this summer. This is something I’ve done a number of years: Go to Ropecon to talk about my latest things.

I got downright sentimental later when we went to drink outside with a few friends. We headed to the end of a pier down at the waterfront, because I wanted to stand there one more time. I’ve published or helped to publish five books at Ropecon, and after the book publishing presentations, we’ve had a little champagne to celebrate at the pier. This time we didn’t have a book, but it was still nice to go there anyway.

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(A larp prop from the game Tonnin stiflat, this is a “torpedo” of canisters that are filled with booze for smuggling during the Prohibition. It was used at the larp costume gala.)

On Saturday night, I held a presentation called Larpin rajoilla, the Limits of Larp, with Maria Pettersson. Our idea was simply to see what are all the places larp has gone to, geographically, socially, within the human body. It was one of the most fun presentations I’ve ever worked on, and seemed to go down well.

Here’s the Argentinean video about Hitler and Vampire larp we used:

On Sunday, we walked around the con area with Maria. It felt nostalgic to think about all the things that had happened there, the larps we’ve run, the books we’ve published, the presentations, the parties, the games and the conversations.

Ropecon will go on, but I suspect that at least for the next ten years, it will feel like its at “the new venue”.

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(The view at the entrance on Sunday.)

Non-Digital: Baltic Warriors Tallinn

I work as a larp producer in the Baltic Warriors project, and first game of our summer season was played last Saturday in Tallinn. It’s quite intimidating to go another country to do a game there. I had never even played in an Estonian larp, but it seemed to go well.

(The Estonian producer of Baltic Warriors, Aapo Reitsak, as a viking zombie. Ingame-photo by Juhana Pettersson)

This summer, we’re doing a series of seven Baltic Warriors games, each in a different country. In each game, the subject is eutrophication and other environmental disasters afflicting the Baltic Sea. The zombies are there to remind us that while we talk, the situation is steadily getting worse.

(For the venue, we had the museum ship Suur Tõll. Photo by Juhana Pettersson)

We had the distinct advantage of having a really cool venue, the ice breaker Suur Tõll, now a museum. It was almost too spectacular: It was easy to imagine a much bigger, much longer game taking place there.

The larp, like all Baltic Warriors games, was divided into two parts: Politics and zombie action. During the political part, characters come together to talk about a given issue that’s being voted upon in the parliament.

(One of the techniques we used was the media wall, in which characters can make news headlines. Photo by Juhana Pettersson)

After the debate has gone for a few hours, the zombies attack. In this case, two viking zombies shambled forth from the hold of the ship, attacking the living. The museum was open to normal visitors during this time, and it was fun to see how they reacted to the screaming and gurgling that was going on.

(Not even the Bible helps against newly zombified people. Photo by Juhana Pettersson)

After this, we have Baltic Warriors games in St Petersburg, Gdansk, Kiel, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki. It will be fun to see how they change depending on the players, the local issues, the venue, and other matters.

Pikseliparatiisi: Joukkorahoittaja rumentaa peliä

Seikkailijaporukkamme on onnistunut saamaan haltuunsa Caed Nuan raunioituneen linnakkeen. Sen alta paljastuu luolasto, joka tuntuu jatkuvan loputtomiin maan syvyyksiin. Ensimmäiseltä ja ylimmältä tasolta löytyy vihreää kiveä oleva valtava käsi, ikään kuin jättimäinen hahmo kurkottaisi kohti taivasta.

Matkatessamme syvemmälle luolastoon törmäämme kataliin hirviöihin ja ansoihin, jotka kerta toisensa jälkeen rampauttavat seikkailijamme. Surmaamme inhan mustan liman, jolta löytyy sapeli. Sen avulla löydämme salaisen kammion. Mitä jännittävää sieltä löytyy?

Seinätaulu, muistokirjoituksia? Ehkä pelin maailma avautuu meille jännittävällä tavalla!

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(Monumentti McFeebille. Pillars of Eternity)

Muistotaulussa lukee “McFeeb”. Häntä on huomioitu sanoilla “He was feeble”, hän oli heikko.

Muita muistettavia henkilöitä ovat MeHail, Vraagh ja Martin “Mimer” Karlsson. Pelin muistotauluista löytyy muutama suomalainenkin, mutta he ovat jättäneet niin koskettavia lapsille tai edesmenneille perheenjäsenille omistettuja kirjoituksia, etten kehtaa ruveta ilkkumaan heitä tässä.

Luolaston syvyyksistä löytyy McFeebin monumentti siksi, että Pillars of Eternity on Kickstarter-peli. Kampanjasivua voi käydä tsekkaamassa täällä.

Moni pelin elementeistä on sidottu Kickstarteriin. Kaupunkeja ja tavernoita kansoittavat sivuhahmot, joita on siunattu loputtomilla taustajorinoilla. Luolaholvien muistotaulut. Jopa Caed Nuan linnake on Kickstarterin stretch goal, samaten kuin sen alla oleva luolasto.

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(Pelissä on sivuhahmoja, joiden sieluja tutkailemalla voi löytää loputtomia taustajorinoita. Niillä ei ole mitään tekemistä minkään kanssa. Pillars of Eternity)

Kickstarteriin kuuluu tietty yhteisöllisyys, ja on hauskaa että niin monet ovat ottaneet Pillars of Eternityn asiakseen. Pelillä on omistautuneita faneja, ja on tavallaan sopivaa, että heidän osallisuutensa näkyy myös pelissä.

Valitettavasti rahoittajille myönnetty näkyvyys rumentaa peliä. Esteettisestä ja pelikokemuksen näkökulmasta McFeeb on rujo häiriö muuten tyylikkäässä pelissä. Se on kuin keskiaikainen kirkkomaalaus, johon on Jeesuksen ja opetuslapsien viereen maalattu paroni, joka maksoi koko taulun.

Sama pätee joihinkin pelin stretch goaleina lisättyihin ominaisuuksiin. Normaaliin pelintekemiseen kuuluu, että ominaisuuksia lisätään ja karsitaan sen mukaan, mikä toimii. Jos ominaisuus on jo luvattu Kickstarter-yleisölle, ei sitä voi enää ottaa pois.

Pillars of Eternityn tapauksessa Caed Nuan tukikohta jää irralliseksi eikä sen alla oleva luolasto ole erityisen inspiroitunut. Ne ovat filleriä pelissä, joka pärjäisi ilmankin.

Pillars of Eternity on hyvä peli, ja on hienoa että tällaisille projekteille löytyy rahoittajia. Nuo rahoittajat eivät silti kuulu Jeesuksen ja opetuslapsien rinnalle, osaksi peliä.

Research Blog Antarctica #137 – Arktos

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Non-fiction: Joscelyn Godwin: Arktos: The Polar Myth in Science, Symbolism and Nazi Survival (Adventures Unlimited Press, 1996)

Arktos is a book about the idea of poles and polar regions in occultism. It goes through things like Nazi occult ideas related to the poles and the history of the concept of the polar shift. Sometimes its deep in the territory of Madam Blavatsky, and at other times it references Dungeons & Dragons.

From an Antarctic perspective, the book is quite unconcerned with the factual existence of the continent. It’s more of a history of ideas and concepts, written by a kind of half-believer.

For much of the book, Godwin’s own position on the subject matter is hard to pin down. He notes how the spritual nature of some of the Nazi officials destroys the idea that engaging with spiritual ideas necessarily leads to enlightenment and kindness. He criticizes many of his occult sources for being mentally unbalanced or otherwise unreliable.

At the end of the book, he attempts to position himself in the middle ground between two extreme positions: Science and the materialism of scientists, and the revelations of the individuals he terms “illuminates”. We need to listen to both to acquire a true understanding of the nature of phenomena such as polar shift!