Archive for September, 2015

Pikseliparatiisi: Sä oot vaan niin ykköstyyppi

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

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

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

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

Tuesday, September 15th, 2015

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

Monday, September 14th, 2015
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

Monday, September 7th, 2015

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.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #23: Nineties Satanism Panic

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

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.

One of the curiosities of roleplaying is that many countries seem to have had their own, local moral panics over the idea that roleplaying and Satanism are connected. In Finland, the panic hit the media in the Nineties.

Here’s an episode of a show called Lauantaivekkari, originally broadcast 25.10.1997. A journalist called Susanne Päivärinta interviews two people, the editor-in-chief of the Larppaaja magazine (a magazine about larping) ELF Vesala and a woman called Anna Lintunen, one of the loudest voices drumming up the Satanism panic. Päivärinta seems to be on Lintunen’s side, although close to the end she becomes suspicious of the mysterious documents Lintunen starts to quote. When Päivärinta asks where they’re from, Lintunen replies: “From my home!”

One of the most interesting parts of the discussion now is to see Päivärinta quote stuff from the Larppaaja magazine, fairly and unfairly. It turns out that some of the scene humor in a small magazine does seem weird when subjected to the glare of the uncomprehending national media.

In a surprise twist, Lintunen also accused larp of promoting Neo-Nazis.

As an extra, if you watch the video, pay attention to the bizarre studio decor. It complements the general seriousness of the program in a wonderful way.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #22: The Battle of Orgreave

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

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.

The Battle of Orgreave, a documentary by Mike Figgis, is not strictly speaking about larp, but its themes come so close to many of the ideas explored in Nordic Larp that we felt it had to be included in the program. Indeed, if you’re making a political larp, this is must-see.

The documentary is about a re-enactment of the titular Battle of Orgreave, a key confrontation during the 1984 U.K. miner’s strike, brutally crushed by Margaret Thatcher’s government. The re-enactment was held at the real, historical locations, and many of the participants had personally been part of the actual events. At one point, an old former miner tersely notes that the sound of the policemen’s shields brings back memories.

The documentary explains the re-enactment and contextualizes the strike and its aftermath in interviews. There’s a lot of stuff here: Using re-enactment to situate the strike in the context of British historical battles. Having the actual people the event is about present. The limits and possibilities of re-creating events in a fictional framework.

There’s been a lot of Nordic Larp with a political focus, but none of the games has gotten quite this close with it’s subject matter. There’s a lot to learn here.

The whole movie is on YouTube:

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #21: Gravity Falls

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

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.

Gravity Falls is an American cartoon series, sort of like Twin Peaks for kids. Dungeons, Dungeons and More Dungeons, episode 13 of season two, features roleplaying and larp. It’s a dismal exercise in hoary stereotyping and the self-hatred typical of a lot of American geek media.

There’s a joke based on the “Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!” video. The game becomes real, as it always does. Roleplaying games are complicated and ridiculous, but normal folks should humor roleplayers so as not to be assholes. The end credits feature an extra scene of larper bashing, as if the makers of this episode suddenly thought: “Wait! There’s not enough stupid cliche here! We need more.”

A summary goes something like this: A kid receives a game analogous to D&D. He plays it with an older scientist dude. The game becomes real. Non-geeks have to compete in the game, and naturally win. Everyone watches a non-geeky tv show in a picture of family harmony. PS: Larpers are losers.

Roleplaying Game Movie Night #20: German Larp Documentaries

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

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.

Two recent, feature-length German larp documetaries both focus on the biggest larp in the world, ConQuest, and even feature some of the same people. Uta Bodenstein’s Die Herren der Spiele is from 2012, and Andreas Geiger’s Wochenendkrieger from 2013.

If Die Herren der Spiele has one thing going for it, the footage from the mass combat scenes is very cool. I know from experience that shooting larp is not always easy, but this time, the camera is right there in the middle of the battle.

Otherwise, the documentary is a portrait of different larpers. One is a pharmacist, another a school teacher. They’re quite articulate and good at explaining what they do and why, but the material is a little humdrum, as if it had been important to convey that larpers are just people too.

Wochenendkrieger doesn’t have Die Herren der Spiele’s kinetic action scenes, but otherwise it benefits from a more interesting artistic vision. Its take on the subject is more nuanced and the use of images more creative. An elderly local resident from the village where ConQuest takes place sounds proud of the larp and the inside look into the logistics of running a game on this scale is fascinating.

Among the revelations of the movie is a gay man who sculpted elf ears that sell 50,000 pairs annually all over Europe. He explained that when it was time to go out and meet guys, he favored a butch skinhead aesthetic.