Fastaval, Mark Rein-Hagen, Bona the Robot!

April 14, 2014 at 9:55 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m going to spend Easter at the legendary Danish gaming convention Fastaval. (This is my first time, so forgive me, if I’m off on some details.)

Unelma keltaisesta kuninkaasta.

Fastaval is not your average convention — it specializes in incredibly tight auteur-designed roleplaying scenarios. A bunch of people run each scenario for players, not just the creator. There’s awards for best scenarios in different categories.

The Society for Nordic Roleplaying published a collection of these scenarios translated into Finnish a few years ago, called Unelma keltaisesta kuninkaasta ja muita tanskalaisia roolipelejä (A Dream of a King in Yellow, and other Danish roleplaying games. Edited by Kristoffer Apollo, Juhana Pettersson and Tobias Wrigstad).

Because it’s my first time at Fastaval, I want to get as much out of it as possible. I didn’t have time to offer my own scenario to be run there, but I will be running the scenario Stories from Bona: The Robot by Jesper Bisgaard, René Toft and Ulrik Høyer Kold. It is atmospheric sci-fi, inspired by Swedish artist Simon Stålenhag’s images with automated agricultural machinery, giant satellites and rusty robot wrecks scattered in the Swedish wilderness.

In Stories From Bona: The Robot you play four children living in central Sweden backwater that take a stand against superior forces and lose. The scenario is melancholy rural science fiction for those who go back when they think about the future. It is quiet counterfactual social realism in large landscapes.

Simon Stålenhag: Decoy.

I’ll also be chatting with legendary Vampire: The Masquerade creator Mark Rein-Hagen about role-playing games, crowdfunding, and other interesting stuff. That’s at 16:15 on Saturday!

Special guest talk: Q and A with Mark Rein-Hagen and Mike Pohjola
Crowdfunding your game – How and why?
In the last few years published RPGs, card games and board games have discovered a new form of financing: crowdfunding. It allows designers to bypass the traditional channels of publishers, distributors and retailers and go straight to the gamers who get to vote with their wallets.Fastaval guest of honor Mark Rein-Hagen (Democracy Card Game and I Am Zombie) and Finnish rpg designer Mike Pohjola (Age of the Tempest) discuss their crowdfunded games, the how-tos and no-gos when funding games on Kickstarter, Indiegogo and alike. Audience participation welcome.

I’ll also have some special announcements about my beginner-friendly role-playing game Myrskyn sankarit (Age of the Tempest), and I’ll carry around an ultra-rare copy of the English translation. It’s not for sale yet, but feel free to check it out if you’re around!

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Blockistan the Duplo blog

December 10, 2012 at 3:22 pm (Uncategorized)

My 2,5-year old son and I have a Duplo blog called Blockistan. It’s proven a fun way of being together, even if he hasn’t yet fully grasped the social media aspect…

I just updated the blog with new fun stuff, including pentagons, hexagons, The Simpsons, and Duplo snowflakes! Check it out!

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Interviewed in a Croatian blog

December 7, 2012 at 1:50 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

I was interviewed in the blog Diary of a Croatian Larper. Read the article here.

An even bigger honor was bestowed upon me a few weeks ago. I read on the same site an interview of the American “Larp Girl”, Kaza Marie Ayersman,who talked about her own live roleplaying community in the state of Georgia. Apparently the Manifesto of the Turku School has completely changed their fantasy larp campaign, when the group ran into it some years back. Quite amazing, considering the manifesto is almost thirteen years old!

There’s other good stuff in the blog, too. Definitely worth checking out!

Screen shot 2012-12-07 at 3.49.33 PM

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Thank you Steam!

October 4, 2012 at 7:42 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

I installed Steam on my MacBook a few weeks ago to try a game called FTL that everyone seemed to recommend. In case you don’t know, Steam is a digital game distribution platform by Valve, the creators of Half-Life and numerous other games. For the purposes of this blog entry, think of it as an online game store.

I liked FTL and was browsing for other Mac games when I ran across Civilization V. I’ve played all the other games in the series, so I decided to pay the €29.99 ($39) to download this one, too. I knew it would keep me playing for years, so it seemed like a reasonable investment.

But, as happens increasingly often these days, the game wouldn’t launch on my Mac. Many Apple products (even simple ones like iCal) refuse to work on OS X 10.5.8, but require OS X 10.6 which would also mean getting a new computer. An evil plot by Apple, but fortunately not shared in by many other companies.

I was very frustrated, but decided to write to Steam Support just for the hell of it. Maybe that way I’d at least feel like I’d done something instead of just fretting over the matter by myself. Here’s my letter to them on Sunday.

Hi!

I’m new to Steam, and just bought Civilization V since I noticed it’s available for Mac. However, upon launching it, I just get an error message saying “You cannot use this version of the application Civilization V with this version of Mac OS X.”

Apparently Civ V isn’t intended for Macs that have a PowerPC processor, which is getting more and more common these days. (And more and more frustrating for those of us who have a relatively new PowerPC Mac…)

I’m wondering what I should do to return the game, since it turns out I can’t play it with my computer after all.

Other than this problem, Steam seems to work great, and I’m really excited to use it more!

Thanks a million for getting back to me!

Mike Pohjola

I knew I was tilting at windmills here, with no real chance of getting my money back. I was fully prepared for yet another disappointment in the world of online transactions. In a way, I was just letting off some, if you’ll pardon the pun, steam.

Great was my surprise and delight, when not two days after my letter, I got this reply from Steam Support:

Hello Mike,

Thank you for contacting Steam Support.

As requested, we have processed a refund to your account.

Your bank or credit card issuer will return the funds to your account – please allow 3-5 business days for the funds to be posted.

Please note in the future that Steam purchases, per the Steam Subscriber Agreement, are not refundable – this refund was issued as a one-time customer service gesture.

Steam Subscriber Agreement
http://www.steampowered.com/index.php?area=subscriber_agreement

If you require any further assistance, please let us know.

Thank you Steam! This gesture certainly made one customer very happy and will ensure I’ll do all my business with you in the future. (And spend much more than the original thirty Euros.) Furthermore, I ask everyone to share this update to get more good will for such business practices and customer treatment.

Well played, Steam and Valve!

Also, here’s links to the pretty great scifi game FTL and Civilization V (in case you can run it) on Steam.

(This blog entry is CC BY SA.)

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Musings on genre

September 6, 2012 at 7:00 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

Earlier, whenever I’d hear a techno song or a hiphop song, my initial thoughts used to be along the lines: “But these all sound exactly the same.” Many otherwise sensible people have the same reaction to metal music. I’ve come to think this is the same as saying: “I’m not familiar with this type of music.” (So I’m trying to stop saying it.)

Now, if we can agree to that, does the same apply for genre literature, as well? Quite often you hear people complaining the fantasy novels are all the same. You know, good guys, bad guys, dragons, knights, swords, elves, wizards etc etc. On one hand, it’s true, many of them use the same elements. On the other hand, if you don’t have any of them, it just doesn’t feel like fantasy anymore. One can use these elements in a cliched manner or in a new, original way, so it’s not the elements themselves that proclaim a work cliched or not. So, when someone not that much into fantasy complains that all fantasy books are the same, what they mean is “I’m not familiar with this type of literature.”

The same goes for detective novels, sci-fi, romance novels, and pretty much any genre out there. So we should stop complaining how “These books are all the same.”

Thoughts?

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I propose a Baltic Union in a German newspaper

August 29, 2012 at 9:37 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I was interviewed in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung about the Euro Crisis. They chose one writer from each Euro country to comment on the matter. Here’s my part as a PDF. (The three other parts of the series will be published in later issues.)

They made the interview during the Olympic Games so the thoughts on the Baltic Union are not a cry of support for our populist political leader Timo Soini who has since voiced similar thoughts. My German isn’t good enough to tell whether it’s clear that this is an idea for a culturally and historically more connected union, not a demand based on real politics.

Here’s some parts of the interview that was originally conducted in English:

I believe the Lehman Brothers collapse and the current Euro crisis are but symptoms of the wider problems in our economic system. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the 90’s and the 2000’s saw a huge deregulation of banks and markets, undemocratization of governments and market-driven globalization. This allowed for commercial banks and investment banks to fuse into huge banking conglomerates which are too big to fail. When governments base all their decisions on what’s good for the economy, this means that in fact it’s the banks that are in charge, not governments.

One starting point for the crisis was in 2005, when Germany and France pushed the EU to adopt the Basel II recommendations, tying European banks’ and even the European Central Bank’s credit rating systems to the American credit rating cartel of Moody’s and S&P. At least in Finland it seems the question “Will this affect our influence in the EU?” has changed to “Will this affect our credit rating?”. Finnish media and politicians take an unhealthy pride in having AAA rating and look down on the countries who score worse. Having a private credit rating cartel dictate European economic policies is a bit like having a doping manufacturer decide on how to check the Olympic athletes for illegal substances.

*

The criticism against EU and the Euro has always been vocal, but it seems to gain new momentum now. So far it’s been mostly the conservatives and the nationalists who are against the monetary union, but now there’s also lots of doubts from the left and the right. The current coalition government consists of capitalists, socialists, social democrats, greens, Christians and the Swedish language party, and even though they’re officially for supporting Spain, their ranks seem to be falling apart.

The most common public opinion is that there are great problems with the Euro, because the “southern” countries have wide-spread corruption and even that the southern people are lazy. It’s seen as unfair that the honest, hard-working northerners like Finns and Germans have to carry more than their rightful share. This just goes to show how people in a complex situation are desperately looking for easy answers and guilty parties.

*

First of all, Germany has a much larger vested interest in the well-being of Spanish banks, since many of those banks are credited by German and French banks. From an economic perspective, it makes perfect sense for Germany to want to bail out their own banks. For Finns, the question is much more complicated, and mostly based on the idea that if the Euro fails, it will probably somehow negatively affect Finns, as well, maybe.

Also, at least according to the newspapers, Merkel’s government hasn’t had such an easy time in getting the Germans or even the Bundestag to approve bailing out banks with tax money, either.

Another factor is Finland’s very complex government coalition. When the government was formed a year ago, the large Social Democrat Party and the mid-sized Left Alliance were needed to make up a majority in the parliament. But they wouldn’t join the right-of-center National Coalition Party -lead government unless everyone agreed they would make the shareholders of the bailed-out banks responsible, as well. I think this was a good idea, since otherwise the shareholders would have made lots of profit without sharing none of the risks. In practice this has been problematic, as it means Finland has to go through special negotiations with each bailed-out country, and after the negotiations all the other countries might feel like they’re been cheated, if they don’t have a chance to get the same benefits as Finland has.

However, our (Social Democrat) Finance Minister Jutta Urpilainen has a very strong position at the moment, since she has just successfully negotiated the Spanish bail-out agreement, which seemed very unlikely at the time.

*

Whenever someone says there is no alternative, I become sceptical. Both Finnish and German governments have been very adamant in this policy of no alternatives, which for means that there is something for someone to gain by saying this. It’s possible they really do believe that one more bankrupt bank would result in a total chaos and a new Great Depression. But it’s equally likely that they are so closely connected to the banks that they have no choice except bail them out over and over again. It’s also possible that the situation is so complex even the politicians have no idea what would happen, and have chosen to avoid all risks, even though the bill seems to be quite high.

One thing I’m certainly glad the Bundestag did, is not allow the money to go to Spanish banks directly. Giving it to either the Spanish governments for them to help the banks, or having ECB control the bank regulation first seems like a step in the right direction.

*

I don’t know if “the idea of Europe” ever really did exist. I remember in the 90s when the European Community and European Union were advertized as carrying on the great Greek traditions of democracy and equality and so forth. All the brochures and early websites were full of pictures of Athenian temples and Olympian gods. In a way, the idea of Europe was suddenly and artificially created on top of Greek antiquity. And now there’s talk of throwing Greece out of the Union entirely.

So if we’re not building Europe on the traditions of ancient Greece, what are we building it on? There certainly have been movements and empires that have spanned large parts of Europe, but none that would even closely resemble the European Union. We’ve had the Roman Empire, the two Catholic Churches, the Ottoman Empire, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, Napoleon’s Empire, and lots and lots of wars. Previously we were part of the West heroically standing against the Soviet Bloc, and now suddenly that Bloc makes up half of the Union. We’re a continent split apart religiously, politically, ethnically, linguistically, culturally, and don’t really have much in common, apart from the Euro.

If you want to talk about ideas, I think a Mediterranean Union and a Baltic Union would make much more sense, even though they’re tied together by sea instead of land. The Mediterranean Union would carry on the ideas of Greece/Roman classicism, the Catholic Churches, the Ottoman Empire and the Roman Empire. The Mediterranean Union could consist of Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and possibly Northern African and Middle Eastern democracies. Austria, former Yugoslavia, the Ukraine, Bulgaria, and such countries might also be members. The Roman languages and Arabic would be the common languages.

The Baltic Union would be based around the tradition of the Hanseatic League, Protestantism, Norse and Slavic paganism, Secularism and the German, Danish, Russian and Swedish Empires. The member states of the Baltic Union would be all the Nordic, Baltic and Benelux countries, Poland, Germany, Czech, Russia and the UK. The common languages would be German, English and Russian.

Central European states would be welcome to join in, possibly some would want to split two ways.

The birth of the EU was in preventing yet another great war in Europe. I agree this is a lofty goal, and these two unions might easily fall into feuding. Strong economic and political ties would ensure this doesn’t happen.

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Crowdfunding a roleplaying game for kids

August 11, 2012 at 12:49 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

I’m making an entry-level tabletop roleplaying game for kids. I started playing the D&D Red Box when I was 9, and so did pretty much everyone else in my generation. There hasn’t really been anything like that available in Finland, and from what I can tell, not really anywhere. (If there is, please correct me, but definitely nothing over here.)

Therefore I hope to publish a tabletop roleplaying game for kids 9-13 years old, and I’m raising money for it. Myrskyn sankarit (“Heroes of Storm”) is based on my earlier tabletop RPG, Myrskyn aika (“Age of Storm”) that was also the setting for the larp Dragonbane. Here’s the crowdfunding site: http://www.indiegogo.com/myrskynsankarit

The story is about a group of brave rebels who live in the forest and fight against an evil witch emperor, in the vein of Robin Hood, Star Wars and Knights of the Round Table. And yes, it will have lots of strong female characters, as well!

The initial version will be published in Finnish, but while I’m at it, why not aim for a bigger thing.

If I raise enough cash (and I think I will), I can publish this in Finnish. Hopefully we’ll get some supermarket distribution, but at least it’ll be available in all the gaming stores and the like. Now, after that, the translation into English won’t be too big a hassle. (I already have people to do that.)

But for all this to work, I need money NOW to pay for the printing, storage, postage, marketing and so on. I’ve just added a special international friendly “Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen” Perk for $75 that will get you a copy of the Finnish language box, a PDF of the English translation (if we get to that), and eventually a boxed copy in English or whatever your chosen language is (if we get to that). If the project doesn’t reach its funding, you won’t pay anything,

Here are the other Perks in English, in case you want to invest more!

We’ve already raised almost half of the money (in less than a third of the time), have 350 Facebook supporters, and yesterday the crowdfunding site IndieGoGo.com decided to honor us by having Myrskyn sankarit as one of the featured projects on their homepage! Please participate, and help spread the word!

http://www.indiegogo.com/myrskynsankarit

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July 4, 2012 at 2:55 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

I’m designing an adventure for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess roleplaying game, and need funding! The author of the game is a Finnish-based American, James D. Raggi IV, and he has about a dozen simultaneous crowdfunding campaigns going on. (There’s some other cool ones, as well, you can see them on the same page.)

I Hate Myself For What I Must Do is an exciting, maybe even provoking, weird fantasy heavy metal adventure, illustrated by the amazing Joel Sammallahti. The adventure will be made, if we reach the $6000 budget. (But if we don’t, you won’t lose anything.) You can participate here! (You’ll also be helping me get more intimate with the mysteries of crowdfunding for a big project I’ll launch later this month…)

Lamentations of the Flame Princess presents I Hate Myself for What I Must Do by Mike Pohjola, illustrated by Joel Sammallahti

A village tormented by a blasphemous priest.
A vile daemon summoned upon the world.
A curse which cannot be lifted.

At dusk you still considered yourself one of the good guys. Hardly perfect, but you tried to do the right thing. But now it seems the right thing is the wrong thing, and before sunrise you must become as despicable a person as possible.

You hate yourself for doing all this. But you have no choice. Or so you keep telling yourself. Your noble end justifies whatever horrible means you must take.

I Hate Myself For What I Must Do is a Lamentations of the Flame Princess weird fantasy heavy metal adventure by Mike Pohjola.

Yeah!

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Iron Sky grudgingly featured at the Midnight Sun Film Festival

June 15, 2012 at 6:20 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , )

I’m in Sodankylä at the Midnight Sun Film Festival, the only place where the Finnish cultural elite can be seen wearing rubber boots and rain coats. The programme (curated by Peter von Bagh) contains mostly of black and white art films nobody’s ever heard of. (And silent classics, of course.)

Even though I’m dissing the festival in this post, let me first say I love it! It’s a chance to see brilliant movies on actual film copies surrounded by hardcore movie buffs who’ve bothered to travel to Lapland just for this. When you’re watching a movie with some great actor you may soon notice that great actor is sitting next to you. You may end up dancing with legendary producers or standing in pancake line in the middle of the night with your favorite director. It’s a very democratic event in that sense, and full of great movies and conversations and lit by the wonderful midnight sun that one can only experience north of the Arctic Circle.

That said, they’re also very elitist about the films themselves. If they got to choose, the only Finnish films they’d show would be those by Aki Kaurismäki. But for some reason (I assume it has to do with grants), they also show all the Finnish feature-length fictions of the previous year. Which this time includes Iron Sky.

And boy, do they hate it!

In film festival catalogs, writers quickly learn how to praise even bad films so that they sound good. (And readers quickly learn how to interpret those texts.) For example, a film with an incomprehensible plot and shaky camerawork can be dreamlike and premiering bold visual techniques. Not exactly lying, just obfuscating the problems.

Even if you hated Iron Sky, you could easily say it has amazing visuals and lots of film references and that it’s a future cult classic, and the whole approach is fresh and interesting. But no! This is the most passive aggressive text I’ve ever seen in a film festival catalog.

Iron Sky is an interesting experiment. It has been marketed as a collective screenplay by the Facebook and Twitter generation. The plot was developed openly in virtual reality and anyone could influence it. Thus the digital and sci-fi film about Moon Nazis has been equipped with more or less successful jokes about Nazis.
The technology works and the action scenes are set up with a rumble familiar from the world of computer games. Nazi ideology, hostile to mankind, is condemned in passing.
Iron Sky fits those who are like a child at heart, and able to tell apart black from white, a good person from a bad one. It is also suitable for the devotees of the German language, sci-fi and metal music. The most impressive piece of acting is pulled off by Stephanie Paul playing the female President of the United States. The ghost of Sarah Palin haunts in the background…
The cinematic loan is a genuine clip from The Great Dictator: playing with a globe, Charles Chaplin / Hitler also reminds us of Nazism’s horrible past. (PS)

I think the editors must’ve removed all the swearwords from that description, because it sounds more like an angry rant than a description of a film. Not to mention how it makes little sense and has only a passing relationship to the truth of how this film was made.

When are they showing it? Oh, at 3:30am Saturday night, of course, to make sure even those who’d still want to watch the movie having read that, would have as little chance as possible of doing it.

Anyway, I’m off to hear Peter von Bagh interview Harriet Andersson for two hours. She was the star of many of Ingmar Bergman’s films (and his mistress of several years, which somehow always gets mentioned, as if that were one of her greatest achievements). I hope she doesn’t make the mistake of saying she liked Iron Sky…

Here’s the text: http://www.msfilmfestival.fi/index.php/en/guests-and-programme/films/140-new-finnish-films/280-iron-sky

And the same in Finnish: http://www.msfilmfestival.fi/index.php/fi-FI/vieraat-ja-ohjelmisto/elokuvat/128-uusia-suomalaisia-elokuvia/182-iron-sky

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Turku Manifesto in Polish

April 24, 2012 at 12:37 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , )

The Manifesto of the Turku School has been published in Polish as Manifest Szkoły Turku! The translator Oskar Mieczkowski was my host at Copernicon in Torun where I was the Guest of Honor last year. If you can read Polish, check it out here. Or read the Vow of Chastity here, and follow the comments, too.

Po tym, co do tej pory zostało tu napisane, łatwo domyślić się jakie są wzajemne stosunki pomiędzy Szkołą Turku a innymi szkołami myślenia o RPG – czyli pomiędzy Turkuistami a gamistami i dramaturgistami. Szkoła Turku walczy o bezpośrednie, ale też długofalowe cele eläytyjistów (immersjonistów) i symulacjonistów.

The English version and all the other Turku School texts are available here. The Manifesto has also been translated into French, Slovak, Russian and Italian.

The Manifesto of the Turku School is a roleplay-related controversial art essay focusing on character immersion.

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