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Tactical loitering

Years ago I was suddenly struck by a question "Why didn't I ever consider a career in computer programming?" I think that was some time after I had joined facebook, learning that a handfull of my old friends actually make their living as software developers. So, let's take a look at it. We got our first computer, a Commodore 64, when I was about twelve years old. Together with my older brother we soon went from mere playing to learning programming. At that time computers were pretty simple, and learning was straight-forward. And most of the commercial games were developed by small teams, so the gap between home-made software and professionally made games wasn't that big. As we learned some tricks of the C-64 assembler, graphics and sound programming, we could craft out pieces which looked as good as the games we were playing. In addition to programming, we spent countless hours playing titles like ELITE, MULE and Ultima III. Using C-64 assembler and a self-customized character set we made a tile graphics engine, creating a world to roam in. After introducing some more basics of the game play, we lost the momentum, abandoned the project and went on with new ideas. As ideas, we had plenty of them - but seldom had the persistence to complete a project =)

Later on my brother moved away from home, and I continued programming together with some of my class-mates. We often dreamed about coding a good game and selling it for money... But when thinking about future studies, the careers I considered were: acting and seamanship. Well, but I already had glasses, which blocked out some of the most interesting duties of a sailor, so I never picked that career. And in Finland it is extremely hard to get to study acting, as a lot of people apply in, and only a few are selected each year. And, after all, I haven't been active with those dreams; I was not involved in any theathre group or anything, so I thought that my changes of getting into a good school would be practically zero. And the older I got, the more I felt that I really don't want to be a "part of the machine". Picking a career to do a job for money - the whole idea felt like abandoning ones inner spirit and freedom, and becoming just a mindless piece of this engine called The Society - the engine which I saw producing mostly pollution, destruction, warfare and ill-being. Do I want to join to join that machine? Nope. Where is the way out, please, let me escape! So, I think it was exactly that feeling which made me never consider studying computer sciences...

I think I was about 16 years old when I migrated to the PC-world, as they were becoming the new standard of home computing and gaming. One of the classics of indie PC-games was SpurguX: a Finnish rogue-like about an alcoholic trying to stay drunken while avoiding hostile NPCs... I learned to use a land-line modem - yes it was pre-internet times. Some people were running small meeting places called a BBS, where you could dial in with a modem to access discussion forums and to play on-line games (with extremely slow ascii graphics, of course). Some of the bigger places were operating on several phone connections, so they could host two or three users at a time. And some smaller places were sharing the only phone of the household - in the daytime there was a person answering the phone, and in the nighttime you could use the modem to connect to the BBS. We made friends with Sami, and had good times developing small game projects. Again we were occasionally dreaming about making some money with our games - and that surely was in pure indie spirit. Formal schooling and serious business was something we never considered: they seemed like totally alien stuff, as for us the main thing was to be free and to do things of our own - not just in game development but in life in general.

Well, but because of reasons I found myself leaving the small countryside village where I grew up, moving to the city of Tampere. And most of the time in Tampere I lived in area called Hervanta, which is a large suburb or more like a satellite city of Tampere. Hervanta is located a bit away from the rest of Tampere, and next to the entrance road, on top of a cliff there were big white block letters saying "HERWOOD". As Herwood was the spoken nick-name of Hervanta, and indeed the place has an unique atmosphere to it. I think they started to build it in the 1970's, to an area which used to be just backwoods. And the suburb is an interesting mixture of idyllic park-like areas with small homes, and then wide streets, big open parking areas, and tall blocks of flats packed next to each other. In the area there are faculties like The Tampere University of Techonology and The Police College. So, there are a lot of student housing. And immigrants. And lower working class, and alcholics, unemployed, drop-outs and what not. And then some of the higher income families with their nice homes and big yards. In this jungle made of concrete every here and there were small fragments of forest. And under the area where I lived there was a whole tunnel network which was a bomb shelter for the people - next to the parking places you could see those big doors cut into the cliff-side, which kind of a gave the feeling that an air-raid is about to come any moment, so better be constantly ready to rush for cover. Yes there were the years when I didn't have so much contact with Sami, we were both busy with our own lives, and met seldom. I was studying philosophy at the university, raising my family, and escaping into the forests always when I could... Well, the following years of my life are assorted (mis)adventures, not that much to write about for now. Let's just say that as Sami kept on working with UrW, I slowly was drawn back into it, trying to provide pieces of code for Sami.

And now, after years of misadventures, I have more or less settled at my tiny home in the countryside. When I bought my house, I was working as a miller in a family-scale milling company run by my neighbours. Well, the company was growing, and in addition to normal production we constantly worked with developing all the systems. And my boss often mentioned that he could use some custom-made office solutions, and one day I said that theoretically speaking, I know how to code such things. Since my boss seemed to be serious about it, I slowly started to relearn database development, which I had been briefly tinkering with during my university years. And since then the project has been growing together with the milling company. And it is actually this, which has made me more and more consider programming as a source of income. So now I'm in the process of re-organizing my main work so that I could regurarly find more time for programming - both for Enormous Elk and for the milling company. What? Am I becoming an indie software developer? Isn't this exactly something what I was dreaming of in my teenage years? And now it seems more like a way to help me stay "outside the system" - staying at my tiny home and earning some money to pay my bills.

Ooops - I dind't mean to write in that lenght about all those memories =) My intention was just to provide some background for this small story:

I'm having my summer vacation - no customers for massage, and some free time to stay at home. And it has been rainy, and I've been somewhat tired. Several days ago I thought that I could spend some of these rainy days doing things indie game developers are supposed to do : playing computer games! I've been drafting some project ideas of my own, so why not spend some time playing games, relaxing and seeking inspiration. Well, my son recommended Wasteland 2 which was on sale in Steam. I finally joined Steam and bought the game. And spent the night getting immersed into the story. Well, some nice ideas, some interesting details, a lot of fancy art. Hmm, in a way it game me the feeling that the game engine and mechanics are not that far from an indie home-made games, and if I understand correctly, the development process of the game falls somewhere in between indie and commercial production. I tried to pick up the game the other day, but felt a little tired following the story like a railroad, so I decided to give it a good break and start over later on. Thinking about the quest and the dialog system of Wastelands 2, it came to my mind that earlier my son mentioned a game about Corto Maltese. So I took my tablet and installed the game by BulkyPix. It turned out to be a combination of "point-and-click" story-reading and some puzzle solving. Hmmm, nice and interesting in a way, but it didn't capture my attention like the original Hugo Pratt albums do.

Well, then there is a small Finnish indie game project I've been following since the winter. It is called Herwood: Suburban tales vol I - A tactical survival-loitering adventure game. According to the development team: "It's about adventuring and surviving as an unemployed person in a suburb called Herwood, which is loosely based on the (legendary) real life suburb Hervanta located in Tampere, Finland.[...] It looks and plays like a 90s DOS game. You loiter around Herwood, talk to people, recycle bottles and cans for money, gather quest items, eat, sleep and do whatever it takes to keep yourself sane. There are multiple endings to the game and several charming people to meet." - when I first discovered this project, I went "WOW, what an idea!". Seems like a modern yet old-school version of SpurguX, with some new unique items. Sami has sometimes mentioned SpurguX as one of the sources of inspiration for those early years when he started developing UrW. And it seems that the developers of Herwood are also veteran players of UrW =)

The first playable version of the game Herwood was released yesterday (which was my birthday - no big celebrations this year, as I only wanted to take it easy and to chill alone). I spent good couple of hours playing Herwood, being amused and entertained by the game world. It brought back some nostalgia, when I was twenty something and living in the real Hervanta; so many things in the game world felt instantly familiar. But I hope and believe that anyone can enjoy it, as the atmosphere and the jokes aren't too strictly based on real facts. As they say, Hervanta is not only a physical place but also a mythical or somewhat stereotypical place, a bit resembling any (dystopian) city you could find in movies or comics... After talking with several NPC's I got a feeling that there are a lot of small quests to follow, and most likely a main story, too. Oh, and most definitely: a silly, tongue-in-cheek humorous main story! In a good way, this reminds me of a Commodore-64 classic "Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders"

Today I played more Herwood, exploring corners of the world, following some mini quests, and getting even more amused by some of the jokes. Very promising - I especially like that right from the beginning they announce this as Vol 1. So I really do hope that there will be future releases as well, as they clearly have a lot of potential in this funny game world! (Well, of course there is also the more boring side of indie game development, like bug-fixing and fine-tuning, but for a first public release it seems to run rather fine.) So, with that lenghty background story, I wish you'll understand a bit about why I'll now just post this blog and go back tactically loitering in the Herwood !

PS. In case you are interested, you can find Herwood here =)

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Ah yes, I played so much Ultima I, II, and III back in the day. :D We had an Apple 2 rather than a Commodore, though. Sometimes I was jealous of my friend's fancy graphics and sound on his C64, but then when he loaded stuff off of that slowwwwww 9600 baud serial disk drive, I always changed my mind! XD

I also quite enjoyed Zork and Eamon, and wrote several crappy text adventure games on that thing, hehe. Ah, the bad old days. :D

Yeah the 1541 floppy drive was a slow one. And there were commonly used software to speed up loading. We used one called Pink Floyd, and I'd guess it was the most widely spread fast-loader. Although, loading was still rather slow =)

Those were the days =) Yeah, text adventure games were an exciting genre! Maybe I was waiting for something like that when I installed Corto Maltese game on the tablet - but I must say that the modern point and click interface didn't quite bring the same magic as those age old games used to have. (Or, could it be that being nearly 30 years older somehow affects the gaming experinece? I wonder...)

This is one of the best articles that you wrote! Awesome. And the society thing ,,mindless piece of this engine called The Society" is exactly what I think. Congrats! I call them sheeps. And the sheeps don´t like when you are different.

I don´t know if you know this game, but give it a try: Fallout 2. It is set in the post apocalyptic world and it is just.. awesome. Story, humour, npcs, world. Just everything. + You can make entire game without single shoot! That is... rare and awesome!
You said you like small quests and things like that, so I think that you will like this(Maybe you know this game already, not sure)

OH and Wasteland is inspired by Fallout!(I think)

http://media.riemurasia.net/albumit/mmedia/ah/ezi/18pl/511847/1454071651... :D No offense, but that seems like ugly place.

Oh yes and I have one question: Did you go to the college because you wanted to make friends? or to learn something about philosophy? I ask because this school won´t help you to get job(Because unemployment rate is high, and nobody wants philosophers :/ ) At least in our country :D

If I remember correctly, it was so that when my younger brother went to study in London, he left some of his PC-games at our parents' place. Later on I collected some of those games. Among them was a title called Fallout. This happened during those years I labelled as "misadventures" =) Anyhow, I remember spending several winter nights playing Fallout, eventually finishing the story. And after that there are several years when I didn't play that much computer games.

Now, when I picked up Wasteland II, it immediately made me think of Fallout I. (And the name Brian Fargo rung some bells in the chambers of my vague memories...). Indeed, Wasteland was first released in 1987 and kind of a started the genre =) Now, thinking in hindsight, I really don't know why I never played Wasteland in the 1980's - as I do remember playing some other titles designed by Brian Fargo.

Oh well, but back to 2015 =) I'd guess I'm not going to develop a habit of playing computer games. There's always so many things to do, and I prefer coding over gaming. I like the tactical survival-loitering adventure game Herwood, because it doesn't seem to be so time-consuming and massive as Wasteland II. And it feels more humorous, sillier and funnier than Corto Maltese -game. So, yeah - Herwood will keep me busy when I feel like gaming =)

Ps. The term "college" means different things in different countries. I assume you are talking about The University, instead of some intermediary school what we take before applying to the university. Ah, well, I went to the University because studying was better than being unemployed, and I was interested in the subjects I studied. I always knew that those studies won't bring me a job, so I studied just because of my inner desire to seek to better understand these strange things called Humanity, Existence, Life, Society, Ethics, Science, Knowledge etc =)

Interesting read. And it was a serendipity that you and Sami didn't stop doing URW stuff together. Lone crusade is an attractive but fruitless thing.

Well, codewise it is like a lone crusade =) I'd say 99.5% of UrW code is written by Sami. But of course there's a lot more to game development - Tuukka, me and other friends have been providing a helping hand every now and then, with cross-platform stuff, design ideas etc. And I should also mention the player community feedback and support, which is extremely valuable.

I have next question Erkka. When you learnt to program, how did you do that? Was that you who said that he learnt from magazines? If yes, how? You wrote the code from them and tried what every part does? Because I can't imagine st. different. Thanks for answer =)

P.S I love how you have long and interesting answer even for post like this =D (that above mine)

Wrong post for that above. Sorry

Ah, I can't remember the details anymore =) But it was something like starting with C-64 BASIC, reading a tutorial somewhere and just copying some simple examples. Yes there was a finnish magazine which often had good examples, tutorials and hints both for novice and advanced programmers. And once one gets the basics, then it becomes rather simple to go on exploring. When we started learning assembler, we bought "Commodore 64 Programmers Reference Manual", which was a good guide for learning more.

Learning by doing, that's the way it goes.

I remember when I started learning PC programming, I first wanted to learn assembler. One of the first things I wrote was a tile-graphics engine. It was written in Pascal, but had inline assembler for actual drawing of a tile. The code worked at my computer but failed when I tried it with the machines at school. I started to suspect that things won't be so simple as they were with the good old C-64 =)


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