Thursday, September 8, 2011

INTERVIEW: Ville Vuorela from Burger Games

Ville Vuorela is a man behind Finnish hobby game publisher Burger Games and leading
independent roleplaying game publisher in Finland. He also actively participates in different hobby
related conventions and is active in roleplaying forums.

Ville is not only roleplaying games developer but also an author of the following books:
Vanha Koira, pub. Jalava 2004; Pelintekijän käsikirja, pub. BTJ Finland 2007; Elämäpeli, pub. BTJ
2008 and Häirikkötehdas, pub. Finn Lectura 2011.

You can find Burger Games' website here:

For some time I have wanted to interview him and he agreed to be interviewed. Here it is, interview
with Ville Vuorela from Burger Games.

At which point and why did you decide to start to publish your own roleplaying games? I bet that before your commercial games you have done your own games and possibly additional homebrew material for existing games?

I had been writing my own game systems since late 80's but it was only after I became interested in setting
design that I really wanted to push stuff out onto the market. The original impulse to do that came from watching  "Three Musketeers" by Richard Lester (1973). There was a scene where the protagonists engage in a mock tavern fight with the real intention of actually stealing food while at it. Looking at this, it suddenly dawned on me what kind of heroes I wanted and what kind of a world I was going to build around them. Rules-wise it was an evolution of my primitive early systems but the power was in the setting and the role the player characters played in that setting. The end result was Miekkamies (1994).

What happened with Taiga? In the book there are many plans and hints about upcoming sourcebooks but something didn't go according to plan.

Every Indie RPG writer does it at some point: overextends his resources and marketing potential. Taiga was a niche game to begin with and I took a far too big print run of it in 1997. The sales were a disaster and I was left with a big bill and an even bigger pile of boxes. That was the last time I went through with a game project just because of I though it was cool. Most Indie RPG-writers drop out at this point. Fortunately this was already my second game and the first one, Miekkamies, had been a success. Still, continuing the product line did not make commercial sense and I was depressed about the whole thing that it killed off my personal interest in Taiga for a long time.

Why is Praedor so popular? It is still sold and asked and most definitely played.

It was made into a pre-existing franchise and no matter where you open the book there is always something
beautiful and topical from Petri Hiltunen to look at. The system is also very popular and that came as a bit of
surprise. It was a radical departure from my earlier approach to system design but although I did a lot of work on it, I did not expect to get it so right to begin with. But most importantly, I consider Praedor to be a validation of my belief that strongly defined character role in the setting is the key. Experienced players can easily deviate from this niche if they want to but for new players Praedor offers an instant, enjoyable and intuitively recognizable "job" as adventurers and the system really supports the intended pulp-fantasy playstyle and genre.

What kind of gamemaster Ville Vuorela is?

You are better off asking this from one of my players. I would say that he is a descriptive and eloquent, with
great emphasis and even pride in not becoming stymied whatever the players do or wherever they go. My focus is on otherwhere, the sensation that players are in a different world where lots of things are happening even without them. Wherever they go, there is something new and interesting there, even if I have to whip it up on the fly.

Unfortunately Vuorela has also become a very busy gamemaster and my dayjob and roleplaying draw on the
same reserves to some extent. I was able to run multiple campaigns simultaenously as a young student but
now stress at work may lead to creative blocks before and during gaming sessions, which I find very frustrating.

Apart from your own games which ones are your favorites or worth to mention?

Over the years, my favourite games have been those I have been able to pull long and successful campaigns
out of: Stormbringer/Elric, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (the old edition and really for the setting), Legionnaire (ancient scifi-rpg by FASA) and finally Shatterzone (the original Masterbook System RPG from West End Games). In addition, I have a great deal of respect for games like CP2020, Harnmaster, Traveller and Syndicate. I also have a special soft spot for D&D Cyclopedia rules and Heimot for its bold and ambitious setting.

However, very few roleplaying games are outright bad and almost all of them are worth mentioning, especially if they do come with a setting. They are doorways into other worlds, in a way that non-interactive fiction can never be.

In which direction in your opinion Finnish roleplaying games publishing is going? Am I right that in late years Finnish roleplaying publishing is in high rise?

I am living fossil, having both seen the previous boom of the Finnish RPG industry and survived the ice age that followed from 1998 to 2004. As far as writing RPGs is concerned we are in another boom, largely because the remaining gamers that were drawn into the hobby during the previous boom are now ambitious young adults. However, I am worried about finding players for all these new roleplaying games. The global RPG market has all but collapsed and from what I know about Fantasiapelit sales the Finnish market is not doing too well either.

This is a point of contention between me and other RPG authors out there. I sincerely hope they prove me

With or without miniatures?

As necessity dictates. In a highly tactical scenario you are probably using graph page or other improvised
markers anyway. Having miniatures to help you out does not hurt. However, I find it odd that miniatures would be a core part of the game. I love social interaction and intrigue in my games and neither of those requireminiatures in any shape or form.

Probably Dungeons & Dragons is the most popular just because of its name. What kind of influence the game and it's newest edition's style has in general roleplaying in your opinion?

Actually, it has had surprisingly little impact. The impact of D&D3.5 is still being felt and while D&D4 did
introduce an alternative playstyle for roleplaying games, unlike its previous iterations if failed to replace what
had been before. Lots of people have dabbled with the new D&D and then returned to the older and in my
opinion much deeper style of roleplaying they know and love.

What are current plans for publishing STALKER in English? According to forum STALKER as a setting is interesting and you have rights for the roleplaying game.

Yes on both counts. The proofreading is still going on (we are being both busy elsewhere and just plain lazy at times) but should be done this fall. There will be a PDF version of the rulebook available from some relevant store (RPGNow springs to mind) and a crowdsourcing scheme for a small print run of physical books.

Do you believe that something would be different with STALKER if it used dice based mechanics?

It would be easier to sell but far less cool as a game. FLOW really does help to build the atmosphere and I think abstracting the gameplay challenges into dice algorithms would only hurt it. Of course, in retrospect I should not have made the game completely diceless. The anomaly and artifact tables could use some dice and the game as a whole would benefit from a few more loot tables. But I will not give up on the diceless challenge resolution and combat.

From your own games, which one is your favorite?

Stalker. For me, personally, Stalker is not only my best game but one of the best RPGs ever written. Perhaps the best, although it is naturally limited to its specific genre and niche. I know that this sounds awfully selfish but I really do believe all this.

What would you say to Burger Games fans and to foreigners about Burger Games?

There have and always will be these one-man shows in the RPG publishing. What sets Burger Games apart
from the rest is its very survival to this day. And the Stalker RPG.

Thank you for your time and honor to interview you.

No worries, it was fun.

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