This is an outright bizarre story, as far as I’m concerned. So… This happened at Ropecon, the large Finnish roleplaying convention, where I’ve been running an indie-game themed gaming area for the last couple of years. Ropecon is also where designers like to publish and promote their new games, which I was busy doing as well; my game Zombies at the Door! was published then and there, so most of my time was spent playing it with interested folks from all over Finland.
I did have a little time set aside for other things, among them a lecture about “Finnish Game Design”. I’d given a lecture with the same name last year, except then it was mostly about roleplaying games of the ’90s and the general nature and technique Finnish roleplaying game designers bring to the craft. This year my lecture had the same name purely by accident; I never gave it a name myself, so the convention organizers just named it for me. The topic was wholly different, too: I talked about the differences between the Finnish roleplaying and boardgaming design scenes and the attitudes of those designers to their design goals and each other. Much of the talk discussed the game design competition held by the Finnish Boardgame Association this year.
This lecture was on Saturday, note. It went pretty well for the most part, but I didn’t think that it was that amazing. However, Jarkko Vuori apparently disagreed. I still have no idea why he was there for the lecture, but afterwards he told me that he liked what he was hearing. I’d never met the guy, but he seemed interested in the processes of game design and the culture of game designers in general, so I invited him to the game designer’s meet we had scheduled for most of Sunday; the plan was to get to talk about various designs and design goals, which we rarely get to do here in Finland, as most designers either live far apart or hate each other’s guts (or are bound by NDAs, as I learned when Sunday came around).
The story of Jarkko Vuori takes a turn towards bizarre on Sunday. He came to the game designer meeting just as we discussed, and even participated in some playtesting while I puttered around slotting people into work groups and playing host in general. When I had a moment to spare, Jarkko engaged me in a discussion of how he was planning to start a computer game company and wanted to meet game designers interested in making computer games. All well and good, I introduced a couple of people to him and went off to pry the Collective Endeavour guys off each other’s buttocks.
Then, when the meet-up was all but finished, Jarkko came back and told me more about his plans, and about how he wanted to hire me, and how we should do a dinner some day, and… wait a bit, now. Hire me? Whatever for? I wasn’t exactly looking for work opportunities at Ropecon, so having a guy I just met offering me a spot in his project seemed rather abrupt. So abrupt, actually, that while we did agree in dinner that very night after the convention finished, my next step was to research his ass off in the Internet. You never know what kind of strangeness you might encounter at a roleplaying convention, after all.
What I learned from a quick skim of the ‘nets assured me a bit: apparently Jarkko was in managing position with a small Finnish software company, Entteri Professional Software Oy, which makes patient databases for dentists. On the surface he seemed like a pretty normal mid-thirties gamer type, and I liked how he’d taken his kid to the convention with him for some LARP combat. Didn’t seem too jarring, so after the convention wound down I took Jarkko up on his dinner plans. We took my brothers Jari and Markku as well; their knowledge and perspectives on game industry might prove useful.
The dinner discussion itself did much to clarify Jarkko’s goals: a successful software developer who’d dreamed about starting a game company for a long time, he was keen to discuss modern game industry, various games and his ideas for improvement. He had no financing planned or anything like that, but it was obvious that he was realistic about the constraints that indie developers operate under. It also became clear that while Jarkko had plenty of programming talent among his contacts and prospective members of his team, he didn’t have any designers nor clear ideas of the exact game that would be made. He had some general ideas, but the details would be left to a talented designer when he found one. It never came up why Jarkko thought that I’d be the right person for the job, especially as I’d made it clear in my lecture on Saturday that I have little experience with computer game design. My best theory is that he liked my analytics; I know that I’m much more verbal and analytical than most game designers, so perhaps I just a gave a strong impression that I know what I’m doing. Interesting to see what Jarkko does when he finds out what a hack I am.
Anyway, that’s how I met Jarkko Vuori, by chance encounter. Later on we’ve been corresponding regularly about game design and development, and at least Jarkko seems positive that we’re going to be making a game. I’ve tried to keep my winter schedule open in case he’s right; I have no idea about the guy’s skills as a producer or software developer yet, so for all I know he might really have a handle on how to proceed with organizing a full game design team. I’m just writing game concept documentation at this point.