State of the Blog Address 2008

This is something I’ve been meaning to write for a while now, but being that I barely have the time to write anything else, it’s been postponed. What is? Why, the State of the Blog Address, to commemorate me having blogged for a whole year now. I’m celebrating the occasion by retagging and recategorizing the blog contents to make the structure reflect the contents better – hindsight is so much better than foresight at this sort of thing.

Also, the actual Address, which comes in the form of an index and commentaries – here’s what we’ve been discussing here at the blog during this last year. I’ve bolded the best bits and left out some of the more boring ones, too; the idea is to have a half-serviceable table of contents that does a bit of weeding and organizing for us. I’m basically dropping the autobiographical news and focusing on the interesting posts, arranged in some sort of sensible order.

Index of Entries

  • Now, why a weblog? and the other posts in September of last year chronicled how I came to start a blog in the first place. As mentioned therein and expanded upon later, my original motivation stemmed from a game design studio I got shortly involved with then, Studio Arete.
  • Studio Arete was and is this computer game design studio I helped start last fall. I did some conceptual first-stage design for the group during the fall months. My participation ultimately ended with a difference of opinion I documented at the blog, too, so ultimately this didn’t become the central topic for the blog that one might have expected at the time. Still, it’s a relatively interesting read about how some folks go about starting a game design project:
    • How I met Jarkko Vuori at Ropecon 2007 starts the story with my chance encounter with the to-be producer of Studio Arete. It’s easy to see that I was pretty flustered and excited by the sudden opportunity.
    • Concepting Theomachia outlines the game concept I created based on my discussions with Jarkko. It’s still pretty nice, I think. As of last I heard, Studio Arete is still working on basically this project, although I don’t know the details, and whether they took it to the direction I hint at here. I probably should ask somebody for details, it might be interesting to see how they’re doing with this.
    • Art Direction for Theomachia, as the name implies, sketches some notes for what the art of the game should show. This was ultimately left unfinished, as I left the project before I needed to worry too much about art. I did have time to hire a friend of mine, the young Pyry Veteli, for the project – I hear that he’s still participating and taking on new responsibilities at Studio Arete.
    • Concepting Karta Machiton is another game design post, this one about the combat module of the game that I spent a while thinking up. It’s the small things I really like about the work I did for this project, like the names and the graphics.
    • The Art of Game Studio Maintenance deals with the birth of Studio Arete as a concept and a flag to wave about. It’s basically my vision of what an independent, low-budget computer game studio should be like in terms of ethos. The name’s obviously inspired by the Greek theme, but it’s also a great value to strive for.
    • Intellectual Rights in Game Design marks the turning point in my involvement with Studio Arete. In hindsight I’m myself pretty surprised at the hard line I toed on this matter when it became personal for me – Studio Arete would have been a major commitment for several years, so my terms were commensurate.
    • IP wants to be owned describes the latter end of the discussions we started with Jarkko above, as well as some rough thoughts about how one might go about organizing a large cooperative independent artist studio. Rough, in hindsight; I could do better today.
    • A Game Development Meeting is my last post so far on Studio Arete; it describes our first and last physical meet, in which I spent half a day outlining the project for those who would actually create it. There’s also a nifty flow chart about my last Theomachia conception.

    I haven’t pried into how Studio Arete is doing after last fall, but from what I hear from the fringes, they’re still developing; I’m a bit worried of whether they’ve found suitable game design talent to take the lead on content creation, but hopefully it’ll be fine. Perhaps I’ll ask Jarkko about it one of these days, when I have some off-time from my other stuff.

  • Acts of Evil is a game in development by Paul Czege, an independent rpg designer and a friend. Paul was doing an intensive playtest cycle last fall, so I played a lot of AoE then with some local friends and wrote long playtest posts about it. These are still not wholly deprecated, I feel: Paul’s still struggling with some of the same issues he was when I wrote these, and it seems that our group was one of the few that got some degree of constructive, positively creative play out of the game.
    • Act Your Evil was my first report of the series. Looking at it now, apparently I formed my “Sandman theory” about AoE during that first session already. I’d already played the game once with a slightly different group earlier with much less success – the little stories from this try are still nice, I love the bit about the naked, traitorous Irishman.
    • Act Your Evil #2 continues the story of our campaign. I describe in it the difficulties of fulfilling Paul’s self-described goal of storytelling from an antagonist viewpoint, with protagonism residing in the NPCs of the piece. The fiction was consistently alluring, though, in hindsight, despite periods of murk and wasted scenes in actual execution.
    • Act Your Evil #3 continues wrangling with the problems that surfaced in the last report, and which I still consider the largest practical impediments to satisfying play in the system. Had I the moral right, I might just grab AoE and fix this stuff myself – I hope Paul gets a handle on it at some point, as the game is exciting as hell.
    • Act Your Evil #4 followed soon on the heels of the last report, correcting some observations of mine that followed from a misreading of the rules. In hindsight I don’t think this outright invalidates those points, but it ameliorates things a bit.

    In truth we played one more session of the game after the last report before the campaign broke down due to Sipi’s military service coming up – I don’t remember that it’d have fundamentally changed our impressions, though.

  • (My) Computer Game History was an interesting little detour wherein I attempted to list a canon of video game design. That’s where that long-ass list of links to Wikipedia in my blogroll comes from. The theme continues in More Computer Game History and Computer Game History Analysed, ending up with a sort of deconstruction. Enjoyable romp in nostalgia, all in all – there are a lot of good games out there, when you get to listing them!
  • Short Guide: cultural grants – Finland – gaming is a favourite piece of mine for sheer utility. I list some practical hints for getting public grant money for gaming projects, along with a relatively up-to-date list of institutions that distribute money for these purposes. Heck, this is the sort of thing I might reference myself next time I need to check which applications are due and when. The grant thing came back dramatically in the spring when got a big grant myself, ‘Cause I’m worth it.
  • Fantasy Adventure was an important part of the year, and perhaps my best posts concerned this topic in some form. I approached this in several different ways during the year, on several consequtive impulses.
    • Adventure Gaming was my first post on the topic, a theory piece defining the concept of adventure for my purposes.
    • Primitive-D&D was basically another theory post, as it was dedicated on describing a sort of rpg metagame that solidified for me around this time, thanks to playing some of this stuff with friends. Some of the later stuff would be based on this, including my current fantasy campaign.
    • Challenge-based Adventuring is to my mind perhaps my best single blogging accomplishment to date. It’s basically a description of the theoretical cycle of play in a certain sort of Gamist fantasy adventure roleplaying style, with a demonstrative adventure included. What makes this important is that the style of play I describe is very common as a Creative Agenda, but also very much not understood theoretically. Had I understood this stuff on this level before, many of my own gaming projects would have run much smoother.
    • I have an essentially unfinished series of essays about rewriting D&D here in My D&D Clone. It’s part of this whole fantasy adventure initiative, but mostly an older part. Perhaps I’ll get it to some sort of a conclusion at some point.
    • Fantasy Adventure: Runeslayers is a lengthy playtest report that describes a successful session played with the challenge-based precepts I developed earlier.
    • New Primitive-D&D Campaign is the first of a series-to-come, in which I describe my currently on-going challenge-based fantasy adventure campaign with scenarios included, ready to play more or less. Great stuff, and very educational. I just need to find time to write about it more.
  • Hacking Call of Cthulhu and What say you, Cthulhu? are two posts on my short CoC binge last winter. I say some very important things (to me) about the game there, but they’re mostly important because they’re part of a thought process that’s still on-going. I have this kernel of a fixed CoC germinating in my head, perhaps it’ll get an opportunity to come up at some point. Man, I love-hate that game.
  • My Diplomacy-related posts are a whole world of their own, I should really write one about our Chromatic game a couple of weeks back. The Italian Cha-Cha is about a certain strategy for playing the weakest of the Powers.  The Triangle Theory of Variant Design lists some remarks about the theory of creating new Diplomacy maps.
  • Like Diplomacy, Go‘s been bugging me this year. I can’t get to play it enough, so I blog about it. Learning Go is my stab at laying out a study plan for the basics of the game. Go on a large board is a play report on my first 19×19 board game of Go.
  • Gaming Pedagogy is still the last word on the subject, as far as I’m concerned. Doesn’t answer a lot of questions, but the groundwork is there for further research.
  • I did some random reviews of stuff through the year, usually because whatever I reviewed was demonstrative of something more general. There was Descent: Journeys in the Dark, New Gods of Mankind, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Shadow of the Colossus, American McGee’s Alice, Metroid Prime and Keep on the Shadowfell. It’s not everything I played through the year, but those were apparently the highlights I had something to say about. Or the ones I had a moment to write about; I still have some draft reviews here I should post at some point.
    • One of the things I reviewed was this book, Gamenight. The author thought that I was being libelous and just mean in my critique, so I wrote another piece to clarify in More About Gamenight. A displeasing episode all told, we parted ways with the author in cordial animosity.
  • Cultural subtext posts were a series wherein I tried to dress up in words why I’m no longer comfortable with modern fantasy rpgs, insofar as their aesthetics are concerned. Considering my normal readership, complaining about big boobs in D&D brought lots of readers. The posts in this series were three:
    • Cultural Subtext of Modern Fantasy Gaming was a pretty straightforward thing. In hindsight I’m a bit annoyed that ultimately it seems that nobody cared about the actual theoretical point I wanted to illuminate: even when mechanics and technique match, gamers can still have differences of opinion over plain old aesthetics – and we as analysts should consider this facet as well when claiming that “system matters”. Not everything can be reduced to system disagreements.
    • My Hate-on for Big Swords tries to take apart the genre of fantasy to pinpoint what it is that so much bothers me in plastic modern fantasy. I think I technically get the thing, but I also think that I could have been more concrete and clear by providing examples and comparisons – it really is striking how rooted something like early D&D fiction is in literary fantasy, and how far out into meaningless power fantasy facilitation the game stretches with time.
    • Depiction of women in RPGs is the last part of the trilogy, and probably the easiest to understand – it’s really just me repeating the well-known fact that rpgs have turned into reprehensible tools of redneck culture in many parts of the hobby. Also, I got to post a lot of game covers, which was fun.
  • Gencon was a large part of my summer; this is mostly diary stuff, but as it’s all mixed up with my large game design projects of the spring and summer season, too, I’m going to list everything in order in case somebody wants to check out my progress.

Commentary

When going through the fruits of my labour, I noticed that I’m rotten at writing the actual blog posts I plan to – I’ve promised to write about as many topics as I’ve actually written, and mostly the latter are stuff I didn’t promise to anybody. I better stop promising blogging topics altogether.

I also notice that my blog posts have become larger and more complex, while getting fewer in number on average. We’ll see whether that means that I’m going to stop blogging altogether – would be sort of a shame, because there’s stuff here I probably wouldn’t have verbalised at all without this happy medium in between privacy and forums.

Be that however it may, I have a busy winter and spring ahead of me, working on stuff like the new edition of TSoY and Eleanor’s Dream, both of which I’ve introduced here at the blog to some extent. Blogging-wise I want to write many posts about our fantasy adventure campaign; we’ll see if that is meant to be.

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