28 December 2010

Red

This isn't really a poem, but a song lyric I just wrote. While I don't usually see much point in posting lyrics to songs I haven't recorded, I liked this one enough to share it. It's about someone (obviously), but I wonder if people will know who (although there's at least one rather obvious hint)?

you grew up so beautiful
but how could you not
with the friends you had with you
and the strength in your soul

I loved you, you know
my red-haired wonder
your eyes, your shy smile
and the strength in your soul

every moment that you had
even broken, even bad
I watched with eyes wide
I lived by your side
never able to touch
though I loved you so much
your spell I could feel
though you were never quite real

I can't imagine the pain
when she was taken from you
but I've seen broken hearts
unleash Hell on this Earth

and you felt our pain
every heartache and sigh
tried to make it end
unleash Hell on this Earth

every moment that you had
even broken, even bad
I watched with eyes wide
I lived by your side
never able to touch
though I loved you so much
bewitched by your spell
standing at the gates of Hell

I stood with you, on the brink
calling demons to end all the pain
all the power in the world was yours
but your world was no longer the same
forgot there's beauty in frailty
a lifetime in one single tear
those tears for a crayon, that shoulder to cry on
know your friends help you live through the fear

and every moment that you had
even broken, even bad
I watched with eyes wide
I lived by your side
never able to touch
though I loved you so much
but your spell remains
I know I'll feel it again

your spell remains
I know I'll feel it again

25 December 2010

Not a Christmas Post, or, The Cold Embrace of Fear

It's been an uncommonly cold and snowy December in southern Finland. But that's nothing particularly blog-worthy. Neither have I anything new to say about Christmas, really. Instead, here is a belated album review.

Last spring I wrote about Rhapsody of Fire's new album. Well, much to my surprise, in the autumn they came forth with another new release, The Cold Embrace of Fear. It's not quite a full length album, though, a mere 35 minutes (and also priced accordingly). I didn't get around to pre-ordering it this time, but I finally got it today, as a Christmas present.

This release is quite different from the previous. In terms of story, it's much more like I was hoping The Frozen Tears of Angels to be. There's voice acted sequences, twists and achievements. It's like a climax to the portion of the story begun in the previous album. They really form one whole together.

Musically, whereas the previous album had a more straightforward metal feel, this one's much more symphonic, slower and atmospheric, with lots of interludes (and aforementioned voice acting). The actual metal on this record is mostly contained in the track 'The Ancient Fires of Har-Kuun' (which at 15 minutes covers almost half the album, not necessarily the best choice structurally), and the later 'Erian's Lost Secrets' (largely a reprise of the former track). The whole thing is really designed to form a single, coherent whole, rather than a sequence of separate songs. (Indeed, it's subtitled 'A Dark Romantic Symphony'.)

I can't help thinking the perfect comeback for Rhapsody might have been something halfway between The Frozen Tears of Angels and The Cold Embrace of Fear. But both are fairly good in their own right, and quite different. The first you can play in the background, enjoying some decent riffs and solos. The second you sit down to listen with booklet in hand, following the story. Not necessarily a record I'll end up playing particularly frequently, though. Now I'm just waiting to see what the climax of the Dark Secret Saga will be like...

12 December 2010

Sleeping Birds Lie

Role-playing games tend to take a lot of influence from TV and film. When a game master sees cool stuff (and cliches too), the natural impulse is to replicate them (or parody, depending on the style of the game) in games. But many things seen on screen are of course difficult to reproduce in mere dialogue, even if imagination is the only limit. One of the prime examples is of course the musical. There are some brilliant examples of the genre both in TV and film (musical episodes from Buffy and Xena spring to mind, for example), but you can't exactly make players sing, nor can you exactly make up songs on the spot.

But then a solution came to me out of the blue. All you need is one musically minded game master. I love writing songs, after all, it's been a hobby of mine for a long time. So what if I write a few songs related to events in the game, generic enough not to be affected too much by the players' actions, and perform them at appropriate points during the game? I had this idea last summer, actually, but waited for an opportune moment. Sometime in November, I realised this was the perfect time. The direction of the next session was pretty clear, we were heading towards a climax of a storyline spanning several sessions. The characters had also just run into certain characters I really wanted to write a song about.

Once I started writing it, the songs quickly took shape. The lyrics were written inside a day, the melodies the next day, six songs in all. While I hinted in social media that music might happen, I kept the players in the dark as to the scale of the project. The game took place a week ago on Saturday. The reception I received from my players was, in a word, humbling.

One more logical step remained: the soundtrack album. I had been planning on doing one since early on in the project, and the players insisted on one after the game as well. I had also been meaning to try recording something again for a good while. So for the past week I've been hard at work recording the songs. And that's pretty much all I've been doing. I'm knackered now, but the record's done. Well, as 'done' as it will be, anyway.

OK, the result is still quite amateurish in my mind, but I think it's a slight improvement over my previous effort (Odes to Melancholy). Some of the tracks turned out quite nice, but there are also some disappointments (the guitar parts on 'Orafela's Lament', for example, are really awful, except for the solo). I might be an OK songwriter, but I'm not a pro on any instrument, and I'm certainly no record producer, neither is my equipment particularly great. But most importantly, I'm very impatient and have a terrible attention span. Which means I have a tendency to 'settle', and move on to the next thing. A rather bad habit when it comes to creative work, particularly work you might wish to share with the world. (Take the aforementioned 'Orafela's Lament', for example. I was never satisfied with the sound, it clearly needed something more, but in the end I simply got fed up with it, and left it as it is. The overall quality of vocals as well is very uneven, even though I had a slightly better mike this time.)

Anyways, the 25 minute soundtrack EP is now up for download in my music section, along with lyrics (which include a short synopsis of events in the game, since a lot of the lyrics are sort of 'inside' stuff). I will try to get it posted on services like Last.fm and SoundCloud soon (but I'm really tired now, so it might take a little while). EDIT: SoundCloud now added.

Now I just want to relax doing (and listening to) something totally different.

1 December 2010

One Sentimental December Day, or, Your Shirt...

It's close to midnight. I'm not tired at all (these days I don't usually sleep until around 2am, maybe), but feeling kind of restless and aimless. So this post is mostly procrastinating, I guess...

It's been an unusually emotional day. Nothing out of the ordinary has happened, as such, but... Well, it all started with a dream I had. I'm not going to share many details, as it was all rather personal. (No, not that kind of dream. Well, not quite, anyway.) In the morning I woke up feeling rather sentimental, and a little nostalgic too.

As it happens, there was a scene near the end of the dream where I was writing a song, somewhat related to the topic of the dream. It was obviously a rather sentimental song, melancholy even (but not necessarily in a negative way). Since inspiration like this is always worth examining, and the concept of the song wasn't uninteresting (I didn't remember any exact words or melodies, but I had a strong feeling about what the song would be about), I decided I should actually write one based on these emotions the dream had aroused in me. So I did.

One thing the song writing process naturally accomplished was that these emotions remained in the forefront of my thoughts well into the day, instead of naturally fading away like dreams tend to do. (The song itself turned out OK, I think. Of course I'm still getting to know it, letting it mature. My songs usually take shape in just a few hours, rarely much more. I generally start by writing most of the lyrics, then start strumming with my guitar, looking for chords and melodies that fit them. But I'm digressing...)

To top things off, there was this week's episode of Buffy. I've been re-watching the show together with my folks for some time now. We're now in season six, and the episode was 'Seeing Red'. It's a beautiful episode, with one of the most dramatic (and traumatic, at least for the main characters) endings in the whole series. This was something of an adrenaline rush for me, naturally, a moment I'd been looking forward to for the entire season. And being already in a slightly sentimental mood to begin with...

So here I am, feeling somewhat blue (and, in all honesty, loving it). I just wish I could get off my arse and still do something interesting instead of just moping around until I'm too tired...

30 November 2010

Tiger's Daughter, Son of Wolf

Posts about poetry seem to be dominating my blog lately. Just this one more, and I hope we can get on to other topics...

In the early years of the current millennium, inspired by literature classes at university, I acquired a taste for old-fashioned metre and rhyme (writing, mind you, more than reading), where earlier I'd primarily been writing free-form poetry. This resulted in a few sonnets and other random pieces of verse poetry, mostly written during the first half of the decade. After that... well, laziness got the better of me.

Among those early experiments was something titled Tiger's Daughter, Son of Wolf. This was my first (and only) attempt at an epic. It was to be a long(ish) narrative poem, in tetrametre couplets. However, I never got around to finishing it. And, lazy sod that I am, there's no guarantee I ever will, so I decided I might as well share what I have written thus far.

Even unfinished it's easily my longest poetic work. As a story it's, well, a pretty simple adventure, even a little pulpy... Anyways, should anyone wish to read it, it's here.

The Spoons of Reality

Last night I decided to browse through some old papers, mainly containing poems and other little thoughts jotted down. I added a bunch of them to my poetry page. There's some silly flow-of-consciousness stuff, a few haiku, and one or two metre pieces I'm actually quite fond of (and had quite forgotten writing). I particularly like the one that begins 'Sweet night, beneath thy spell I lie'.

I've even added one more sonnet, although not one of my best by a long shot. Most of them aren't really anything special, although there are a few that I like, and almost sound pleasing. The last one (currently numbered XI) still manages to amaze me. Apparently I haven't written any sonnets since 2003, though. Like I've said before, I tend to be too lazy to tackle strict metres these days.

I've also rearranged the poetry pages some, so that the poems are now in more or less chronological order, and dated as far as possible. I usually strive to date all my writings, but not all the older papers have dates on them, I'm afraid.

24 November 2010

Losing My Language

I think I'm having some kind of a little identity crisis just now. This was brought on in part by some memes going around on Facebook (dangerous things, those memes), discussing people's favourite words from their home dialects, and perhaps in part also by English TV programmes I've been watching lately.

The question is: what is my language, my accent? Do I even have a real home dialect?

The thing is, I come from a bilingual family, living in the Finnish capital, Helsinki, which is neither parent's home town. I suppose the speech of the capital region has most shaped my own speech. However, even though I've lived here all my life (and probably will live the rest of it too), I haven't exactly got proper roots here.

The situation is only complicated by the fact I fairly actively use not one but two languages, and have roots in two countries. Not only two countries, but regions in those countries with fairly distinctive accents/dialects, namely Yorkshire and Savonia.

I'd really love to say I spoke either of those dialects, but that's hardly the case. I can handle a bit of Savonia, having spent many summers and Christmases there since I was a kid, but I'm hardly confident in it. Yorkshire I've never even visited, and I've spent very little time in England altogether. My English is probably a mix of influence from home, school and television/music from all over the world, with that awful flat Finnish intonation always pushing through. Of course my parents have also lived away from their homes for quite some time as well, so dialect influence through them is limited at best.

I'm not sure I'm even able to express this conundrum properly in words here. Thinking about it is giving me a headache. But in a nutshell, I'm a jumble of at least three distinct language and culture heritages (Helsinki, Savonia and Yorkshire), but unable to properly connect or identify with any of them. Who am I?

(Insert deep sigh.)

23 November 2010

Me VS Poetry

If you follow my blog or browse my website, you may notice I occasionally write poems. They're often a little angsty perhaps, a little naive, a little silly. I do not have any illusions of actually being a talented poet. I think sharing these poems may be more akin to an act of exhibitionism than 'art', a baring of the soul to the world in the dark, lonesome hours of night...

Writing poems for me is usually a very spontaneous act. An emotion arises, which needs to be expressed somehow. Or I'm just sitting somewhere and getting bored (I've got piles of poems written on train trips, for example). They tend to be fairly flow-of-consciousnessy things as a result. I don't rework my text a lot, either; once it's out it's out. Which means the language and rhythm is rarely anything very exceptional. (This applies to all my creative work, really. I'm really awful at editing stuff, I just want to get started on the next thing.)

I used to write some poems in metre in my early 20's, but it's been a long while since I've done that much (excluding a few song lyrics, perhaps, and the occasional haiku). Writing in metre takes a lot more effort and forethought, and since poems aren't exactly a high priority among my creative projects, it's not surprising I just don't have the motivation to write those these days.

In all honesty, I don't really read much poetry at all, nor have I any interest in doing so. I can appreciate a nice poem if I run into one, certainly, but frankly it doesn't happen all that often. Poetry for the sake of poetry just isn't for me. (Song lyrics are a whole other matter, of course. The additional layer of musical expression makes a world of difference.)

All These Poems Are the Same

All these poems are the same, I think.
They start around midnight,
starlit, ne'erdark summer nights,
or rainy autumn shadows,
or gentle, red-city-glare snowfalls.
Often there's a candle,
soft music playing.
They start in darkness
and silence
and solitude;
solitude above all.
And I wonder at the pull
of shadows and silence upon this heart,
upon this tiny, empty place therein
all but forgotten;
is not Nyx herself my lover, in all her glory?
Could Man possibly yearn for more?
Like a lone wolf
(aye, as much by choice as by fate),
howling, longing for the moon,
I am reminded of the words of a wise man,
spoken long ago:
'If I said you had a beautiful body,
would you hold it against me?'

21 November 2010

War, What Is It Good For?

Let's get one thing straight: war can be beautiful, touching, moving, exciting, even inspiring, if it is done right. And doing it right obviously means, among other things, doing it in fiction.

I could hardly imagine a life without stories involving war in one form or other. So just for fun I'll try to list a few of the most memorable war scenes in fiction that I know, some epic and exciting, others tragic and thought-provoking:

  • The battles of Helm's Deep and Pelennor Fields in The Lord of the Rings, both the book and the film versions. I have to say I actually prefer Bakshi's vision of Helm's Deep to that of Jackson's and find it even more epic.
  • The siege of Sapata (I think, I haven't got the book handy just now) and many other scenes in Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind (manga version).
  • Both Death Star battles in the Star Wars trilogy, naturally.
  • The finale in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, although I'm not sure it quite qualifies, since they never really get to all out war, but fight it out with just a couple of ships.
  • The battle for the bridge in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. One of the most moving depictions of the tragedy of war that I know.
  • The charge of the Hawkmen in Flash Gordon (the film version).
  • On the TV side, several episodes in Battlestar Galactica (the remake) definitely qualify, as well as some parts of the Shadow war in Babylon 5. And Xena: Warrior Princess goes without saying, of course, particularly some of the battles against Romans.
  • Surprisingly, I'm finding it hard to think of many examples from video games, as they (the games I play, anyway) tend to focus more on individuals and small groups than all out war. Metal Gear Solid 4 is of course one of the best, not just a war game but a game about war, its opening sequence being perhaps one of the most memorable war scenes from it.

I'm sure there are many others, in all mediums, but these will do for now. And they do say much about the type of stories I enjoy, as well.

29 October 2010

Where Are All the Halloween Carols?

I saw zombies eating Santa Claus
Over at the shopping mall last night
They didn't hear me weep
But I swear I heard them creep
Past me as I hid behind
The counter, trying to peep

Then, I saw zombies rip up Santa Claus
Tearing off his beard so snowy white
And as his guts spilled on the floor
I knew the world would end for sure
As they ate up Santa Claus last night

27 October 2010

I, Scrub

Let's face it, I'm a scrub.

(In case you don't know, it's fighting game slang, described in Wiktionary as: 'A derogative term, mostly synonymous with "loser." It is usually used to indicate a player whose skill level is low or who is deemed to simply be unable to win.')

I can't pull off a proper combo to save my life. I still have trouble getting the 'dragon punch' motion right. Precision timing techniques, like parries, are completely beyond me.

This doesn't only apply to fighting games, but any type of game requiring actual skill, really, and particularly those requiring precise timing, co-ordination or fast reflexes. Which describes most arcade games, and a lot of other action games as well. My lack of patience in practising might be part of the problem, but it runs deeper than that, I think, based in actual physical/mental shortcomings.

It wouldn't be such a huge issue (I'm hardly the only person in the world with poor co-ordination and reflexes), if I didn't actually like these games so much. I'm a gamer, after all. It's one of the categories I most strongly identify myself belonging to, alongside the more broad category of 'geek'. I want to at least do OK in these games, and it annoys me greatly when I don't. It depresses me, and causes me to often lose patience with games rather quickly. It's lucky I'm not a very violent person (or have too much respect for objects that cost money to replace), or I might have smashed many a game controller by now. Online multiplayer modes are meaningless to me, I'd hardly want to play against total strangers with my embarrassing skill levels.

Can anything be done about this? I doubt it. I'm not even sure why I'm writing this post, just my way of wallowing in self-pity, I guess. 'Only happy when it rains', etc. etc.

26 October 2010

Stuck between Pantheons

Warning: philosophical musings and boring autobiography ahead.

'The one place gods inarguably exist is in the human mind.' (Alan Moore)

This is a principle I've more or less built my spiritual views around. Deep down I may be an agnostic, even lean towards scepticism, but I still recognise the potential value of religious/spiritual symbolism, even if it is 'all in the mind'. I might call it a Jungian approach to spirituality, if I actually knew enough of Jung's views to confidently use such a term, which I don't pretend I do, though at least my layman's understanding of the concept of archetypes is an important element of my personal philosophy.

Acceptance of religion as a primarily psychological phenomenon is a two-edged sword, though. On the one hand it is quite liberating. Deities and other concepts in themselves are meaningless, it is what we get out of them that matters. This means we are free to pick our own symbols, even make up entirely new ones, if this is something that inspires us, helps our development as human beings. But on the other hand, this very freedom may lead to an inability to connect with and commit to these symbols on a level required for them to make a real difference in our lives, the problems of too much choice, even an information overload of sorts.

Personally, I seem to be on a never-ending quest to find a form of spirituality that satisfies me. A little history: Like most Finns, I was raised in a Christian family, and went through Confirmation at 15. I'm not sure my heart was ever really quite in it, and certainly by adulthood I was certain it was not my path. Years of fairly nondescript, passive agnosticism followed, occasionally reading about such topics as Buddhism and Shinto but never really being drawn in, until I stumbled upon books about Wicca in my later 20's. I'd read a little about neopaganism as a teenager and found it intriguing, but that was the extent of it. Now I found a new desire to actually practise a spiritual system, and Wicca appeared to be one of the most interesting around.

Even then I had trouble deciding on a particular set of deities/symbols. Wicca (today) is a fairly splintered, eclectic religion. Though some traditions have certain deities they usually call upon, Wicca is not directly based on a specific mythology, but allows the incorporation of almost any deity, or the use of a more generalised God and Goddess. I used Odin and Freya for a bit, then adopted a perhaps more traditional figure of Cernunnos, accompanied by Hecate. No specific pantheon as such seemed to appeal to me, so I picked pleasing deities haphazardly.

Through Wicca I learned more about the history of Western occultism, particularly Qabalah and the hermetic tradition as practised by the Golden Dawn (an occult fraternity founded in the late 19th century) and its offshoots, such as the works of Aleister Crowley. I gradually came to feel that no one spiritual system, be it Wicca, hermetic ceremonial magic or Crowley's Thelema, was really quite right for me, even if they all had elements that interested me. The answer? I'd have to create my own system, of course, inspired by all the above. Around this time I was also reading a little about Egyptian mythology, and realised the incarnation of the the Egyptian pantheon known as the Ennead of Heliopolis was pretty interesting, probably the first pantheon that more or less seemed to work as a single whole that I'd so far encountered. So it became the basis of my new 'system', a sort of one-man occult lodge, if you will.

Now, a little while back a seemingly innocent little thought popped into my head: what if I'd invented my own gods completely from scratch? I was reading Alan Moore's Promethea at the time, which had gotten me thinking about occult topics again more earnestly after a little break, and also emphasised the importance of imagination in spirituality. This would be a pantheon based directly on Qabalistic and other occult symbolism, not adapted to it, forced into a suitable shape, like any historical pantheon would be. Though at first I didn't entertain the idea very seriously, it began to nag at me, and as I speculated on the potential forms the gods could take, I began to see apparent flaws in my current system. Not flaws really, merely alternate interpretations, but enough to weaken the foundations of that system. On the other hand I'd invested a lot of mental effort in the creation of that system, and it did contain many interesting insights, in my mind, so I was reluctant to leave it behind.

So I was left in a kind of limbo, torn by conflicting emotions, almost an apathy and disillusionment with religion altogether, and I'm not sure I'm quite out of it yet. I'm playing around with a potential original pantheon, a mix of some fairly archetypal figures and more imaginative ones, more simplistic perhaps than my Egyptian-inspired system (not necessarily a bad thing), taking influence mainly from Qabalistic symbolism, and perhaps a little from Thelema. We'll have to see if anything practical comes out of it, although at this stage I'm not sure a return to the previous system is any longer possible.

All in all, I've probably spent much more time thinking about the structure and philosophy of spiritual systems than actually practising them, which is certainly not what I set out to do. Whether I'll ever find that perfect system, I'm unsure. Maybe before long I'll find myself utterly fed up with spirituality. I hope not, as I still do believe it can have much to offer. It's pretty much like anything in my life: gaming, music etc. There are so many things I'm interested in, but in the end I'm just not very good at.

19 October 2010

Comicsin' It Up Volume 7

After a longish break, I once again ventured into the local library and ended up lugging a pile of comics back home. There was a lot of Alan Moore material there, plus a few random DC and Marvel titles.

I'm not going to go through all the books I've read here, just a few highlights. Though I think I'll start with a 'lowlight'. Marvel Platinum: The Greatest Foes of Wolverine must be one of the worst planned comic book collections I've seen. It's not that the comics included are bad in themselves, but the selection makes no sense at all. Individual issues have been removed entirely from context. Readers are thrown right into the middle of a storyline, and more often than not stories end with an unresolved cliffhanger, jumping on to a completely separate storyline years forward. Reading the book made me so annoyed I couldn't even finish it.

I can't really pinpoint a reason for it, but DC's universe and characters have always seemed to appeal to me more than Marvel's. I read a Green Lantern book (I forget the title now, and I've already returned that one to the library), which was fun, and a couple of Batman collections (classic 80's material in A Death in the Family, and newer post-Bruce Wayne story Battle for the Cowl), which were also fun. Green Lantern is one of those classic characters I'm sadly not all too familiar with. I hope I'll run into more collections, but I fear he may be a little less well represented in the local libraries than certain other characters.

Alan Moore, however, was the real meat of this comic book binge. DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore was sheer brilliance, of course, multiplied by the coolness factor of some of DC's greatest characters. But the work that stood out head over shoulders from all the rest was Promethea. Adventure, comedy, art, philosophy all rolled into one in one of the most unique comic book series I've ever read.

Promethea is probably not a work for everybody, as it is strongly rooted in Moore's personal philosophy and beliefs, dealing with such topics as occultism, magic and qabalah. Some segments seem like almost textbook-like introductions to these topics, and could conceivably seem a little monotonous, although even these are beautifully and artistically illustrated, with clever and creative features that really take advantage of the medium. As it happens, Moore's philosophy is not too far removed from my own, so this did not disturb me in the least, quite the contrary. Knowledge of qabalah and the writings of Aleister Crowley, for example, will surely make the experience even richer. Actually, for someone interested both in genre fiction and hermetic magic and qabalah, Promethea is almost a must read.

Waiting for me last, but not least, of my current loans is a re-read of Watchmen. (Has it really been a year and a half already?)

1 October 2010

Sintel, or Look, More Free Stuff on the Internet

The computer animated short film Sintel was released online today, available on YouTube and for download in various formats. This 15 minute work was created to showcase the power of the open source 3D modelling software Blender, and is released under a Creative Commons licence. Besides being a cool project from a free software viewpoint, it's actually a pretty neat short fantasy film about a girl looking for... well, don't want to spoil it, and in such a short film there's very little you can say without doing so.

In terms of narrative, 15 minutes is of course a very restrictive frame to work in. I think the structure and pacing could have perhaps been improved a little, but it's a pretty nice story anyway, and surprisingly moving. (Honestly, I was almost weeping. Not many movies do that to me.)

Hm, second post already about actual stuff happening on the Internet, rather than strange personal musings... What's the world coming to.

30 September 2010

Some Noise for You

Neil Young's new album, Le Noise, is out. Not only the album, but a companion film also, which has just been released on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wU5B53b9ntQ

Yes, a 40 minute video covering the whole album, with some nice aesthetic footage of Young playing, free to view (and listen, obviously) by everyone. Now that's the way to do it. Let the audience really fall in love with the album, the whole album, mind, not just some little samples. What better way can there be to sell records? I'd buy it right now, if I just had the money. A lot of artists and record companies could learn a lot from this. (I hope the video also stays online permanently.)

The album itself is pretty cool. Somewhat experimental, in fact, yet thoroughly Neil Young. It's just Young playing guitars, no backup band, but with some fairly cool post-production effects and stuff thrown in, courtesy of producer Daniel Lanois. There's a couple of acoustic songs, but mostly it's pretty edgy electric material. Neil's still the man.

20 September 2010

Coincidences and Occult Interior Décor

Parallels drawn between various symbols are an important element in occult traditions. Symbolic systems like the Tree of Life, planets and zodiac signs, or the four (or five) elements all correspond to each other, and to pretty much anything you can imagine, from spirits and deities to alphabets, plants or minerals. The more symbols you can include in a talisman, ritual etc. that somehow relate to the object at hand, the more powerful it is. Simple psychology, and perfectly logical.

This preamble really has very little to do with this post, other than (once again) stating my interest in occult symbolism.

So onward: I've got a few anime/manga posters hanging on my walls. Nothing particularly strange about this, knowing me. It's a pretty random selection. There's a Nausicaä poster and a Lum I've had for years. A couple Masamune Shirow posters, plus a Ghost in the Shell movie poster, bought more recently specifically with decorating this current room in mind. Not with any particular plan in mind, simple because I'm a fan of Shirow's work.

However, one day sitting here in the middle of the room, it occurred to me that the five posters correspond surprisingly well to the five elements, as follows:

One of the Shirow images is of a woman warrior pictured against a rather chaotic background. Behind the woman is a flame red bird resembling a phoenix. This is obviously the element 'fire'.

The second Shirow poster has a woman (probably a cyborg) in a more metallic, science fiction environment. In occult tradition the element 'air' is often associated with conscious thought and knowledge, which goes well with the science fiction theme. The woman also appears to have one ethereal wing behind her, which further creates an association with air.

The Nausicaä poster pictures the princess standing by the eye of an ohmu. The shades are mostly brown and earthy, but of course the story itself is enough to create an association with the element 'earth'.

The Lum poster is a dreamy image of Lum pictured against starry space. Space and oceans are of course frequently figuratively linked. The element 'water' is also often associated with dreams and the subconscious.

Last, the Ghost in the Shell poster creates an association with 'spirit' already through the title. The white background of the poster only strengthens the association.

Coincidence? Yes, of course it is, but that's hardly the point.

12 September 2010

Ode to Suburban Helsinki

This is my home,
the scenery of my youth,
and it is Magic.
Where else would you find
grey blocks of flats,
melancholy in the autumn rain,
standing side by side with little houses,
with gardens tended, in bloom,
or wild with hanging Hallowe'en bats long after October,
and patches of green,
a wilderness in an acre,
or a man-made park, exotic, if sparse,
all bound together with winding streams,
here muddy, here sparkling silver?
A patchwork rug,
all Existence rolled into one,
to be taken in
over the course of one stroll.

4 September 2010

Filth, Garbage and Other Junk

This is mostly a procrastination post, and sort of carries on from my previous post. I'm currently sitting in a dark room, nursing a headache and listening to Cradle of Filth. It's been a gloomy couple of days, autumn seems to have suddenly launched a surprise attack on us.

Yeah, Cradle of Filth. Another band I wouldn't have pictured myself listening to just a year back. Some might group them in the same genre as Bal-Sagoth (who I already love, and have written about before), but of course they're totally different, both in terms of sound and lyrical content. (Though I must confess I haven't gotten around to really delving into Cradle's lyrics yet, the shriek style being less than easy to follow without simultaneously reading...)

While I was drawn to Bal-Sagoth primarily due to their wonderful dark fantasy stories and cinematic synth sound, Cradle of Filth's pull was mostly aesthetic. There's something about their crude, dark elegance that appeals to me. There's some decent guitar work mixed in there too. (A few songs, like Coffin Fodder, almost give me NES vibes!)

Though it might sound counter-intuitive, I have a habit of listening to dark, even harsh, fairly fast music when I have headaches. Garbage is a frequent choice, almost to the point I associate the group exclusively with dark rooms, gloomy nights and headaches. There's a part of me that enjoys these melancholy moments, almost revels in them, and doesn't want to let go (assuming the headache's not too bad, of course). A line from Garbage springs to mind, 'I'm only happy when it rains...' (Of course avoiding anything very cheery or bright when you've got a headache is perfectly logical. But it does go a little beyond that, I think.)

I'm sure there was other stuff I meant to write about, but I've been staring at this window for a while now, drawing a blank. So I guess it's time to hit 'publish'.

22 August 2010

Exploring the Dark Side

Lately it seems I've been spending a lot of time exploring the 'dark side' of things, particularly philosophy and music, ranging from reading about 'left-hand path' philosophy to watching Cradle of Filth videos on Youtube.

This has a lot to do with aspects of my personal philosophy I've been thinking about lately. I believe the human mind does have a darker side, the side ruled by subconscious fears and desires, the wilder, potentially more harmful instincts and impulses. (These are the real 'demons', if we take a subjective/Jungian approach to religion, as I do, seeing deities primarily as archetypes of the subconscious.) I also think that trying to deny, ignore or banish this side of us (as conventional religions have a habit of doing) is probably not healthy, that it would be better to integrate it, to guide it towards positive results.

But philosophy is only part of it, of course, there is also a purely aesthetic fascination. I've always been a fan of horror movies and dark fantasy. Though 'darkness' isn't synonymous with 'evil' of course, and I equally enjoy elves and soothing, beautiful starlight and candle-lit evenings.

There are some snags, though. Some left-hand path traditions and darker metal bands seem to have a tendency to go overboard with it, with their misanthropic and anti-Christian themes. Hostility towards other groups and philosophies is something I find annoying (in milder forms) or simply unacceptable (in extreme forms). Wasting time and energy on hate is simply counterproductive. I don't see why being pro-dark should mean being anti-light, or anti anything else (except anti-stupidity and anti-intolerance, of course).

In music this applies also sonically. Black metal bands tend to sound rather too harsh to my ears, countering aesthetic elements I could potentially find pleasing if used more moderately. (Although I must say in general I seem to find the black metal shriek, used in moderation, less bothersome than the death metal grunt.)

In philosophy and religion this doesn't really present much of a problem. I'm not one for following any ready-made philosophy, anyway. Probably couldn't even if I wanted to. I make my own path, and don't care much about what others think or believe. But in music I'm of course always open to new experiences. It could be interesting to find music that explored the dark side in a more positive way, both sonically and thematically.

16 August 2010

Assembly 2010 Revisited

I meant to write a recap post about my weekend of following Assembly 2010 on TV right after the weekend, but somehow it got delayed with other stuff, and I was having problems with my Flash installation etc. (Yes, I still, or rather again, have Flash installed. Grudgingly. It breaks my heart, but what can you do, it's a Web 2.0 world...)

In a nutshell, I had a blast watching the show and the compos (short for competition, naturally) were entertaining and the quality was, from my not-really-a-scener viewpoint, pretty good. I think I managed to catch all the (non-gaming) compos (except for executable graphics, which was so short I missed it while popping down to the kitchen).

So I thought I'd post links to some of my favourite creations. Assembly's website has this to say about demos:

Demos and intros are not pre-rendered animations but rather non-interactive programs made for a chosen computing platform (Windows, Mac, game consoles for few examples). These programs are made to show off one's skills and to entertain the general audience. Since the user cannot interact with the program flow the demos are kept short, packed with stunning visuals and often synched with a catchy soundtrack.

The deserved winner of the demo compo was ASD with their demo Happiness Is Around the Bend. Pure audio-visual delight. Here's the Youtube link.

The 4k and 64k intro categories are always fascinating. As the names suggest, these are demos that are limited in size to 4 or 64 kilobytes, and it's amazing what skilled programmers can pack into an executable of that size. The winner of the 4k category was Neanderstaller by Pittsburgh Stallers. (Video quality is a little below par there, though.)

One of the highlights for me is of course the oldskool demo compo (i.e. demos for obsolete hardware). Sadly there were very few entries again this year, but the winner, the Amiga demo Grind by Dekadence & Accession, was pretty good. Very low res, of course, but with a nice atmosphere and aesthetic style.

Aside from the demo compos, I'm of course always interested in the music compos. The winner of the main music was one pretty awesome hard rock number called The Apocalypse Will Arrive On A NES Cartridge by GRiMM / Meridian, which uses NES sounds as a lead instrument. The winner of the executable music compo also features some spiffy NES chip goodness: Pixelated Knight Tales by King Thrill / Tekotuotanto.

Just one more: the winner of the short film compo. RetroStorm by Tekotuotanto is a very cool tribute to oldschool gaming.

More entries can be found at assembly.org in the gallery section. And I also recommend the Demoscene Documentary released at Assembly. This first episode covers the famous Finnish demogroup Future Crew.

5 August 2010

Assembly 2010 Begins

I thought I would have blogged about the demoscene and Assembly before, but if I have I can't find such a post now. So, today at noon I turned my TV on, and it's likely to stay on for the most part until Sunday. Why? Because Assembly 2010 has begun, and a live broadcast from there is shown on the local cable network.

Assembly is, of course, Finland's biggest demoparty, and one of the major demoscene (here's the Wikipedia article if you don't know what that is) events worldwide. Now, I'm not a scener. I've never been involved in any kind of demo production, nor have I ever even been, physically, to Assembly. But I've had an interest in the demoscene for a long time. I first became aware of it sometime near the turn of the millennium when I was introduced to tracker software (another Wikipedia link). Many of the sample tunes I downloaded, and loved, were by a guy called Skaven (aka Peter Hajba), from the legendary demogroup Future Crew. I love the now rather retro, oldschool sound of 90's tracker-produced electronica, which was largely associated with the demoscene.

Like I said, I've never been to Assembly, because a) it costs money, b) I'd need suitable friends to go with, and c) if I went, I'd really want to participate in some compo (which for me would most likely be some music compo), and that's easier said than done. But some years ago I discovered AssemblyTV, which is streamed online and also broadcast on our local cable network. Watching the compos and other stuff is fun. And as I once again managed to miss all of this summer's conventions, this is as close to any major event as I'm likely to get anytime soon...

4 August 2010

Moore, Magic and Me

I just read this bit from the Wikipedia article on comics writer Alan Moore, which is very descriptive of my own views and experience:

On his fortieth birthday, in 1993, Moore openly declared his dedication to being a ceremonial magician, something he saw as "a logical end step to my career as a writer". According to a 2001 interview, his inspiration for doing this came when he was writing From Hell in the early 1990s, a book containing much Freemasonic and occult symbolism: "One word balloon in From Hell completely hijacked my life… A character says something like, 'The one place gods inarguably exist is in the human mind'. After I wrote that, I realised I'd accidentally made a true statement, and now I'd have to rearrange my entire life around it. The only thing that seemed to really be appropriate was to become a magician."

I've been a big fan of Moore's comics for some time (his run on Swamp Thing, Watchmen and others being some of the best works of fantasy and science fiction ever created in any medium), but I wasn't really aware about his ideas on religion/magic before. The statement above, and other thoughts summarised in the article, only increase my respect for him.

I've written about various occult topics in this blog, and other parts of my website, before, but lets say it publicly for once: I practice ritual magic. I don't practice it frequently or well, because I'm just too darn lazy and crap at really concentrating on anything, but it is still something I have a real interest in. I don't subscribe to any particular school of thought or tradition, but have been influenced in particular by Wicca, hermetic/qabalist traditions and Aleister Crowley.

As for my views on religion, one might say that I'm externally an agnostic, but internally a neopagan. Moore's statement, 'the one place gods inarguably exist is in the human mind', is a perfect description of my views. Why should anything we can imagine be less important or powerful than what we perceive in the world around us? Without a balanced internal world we're unable to function properly in the external world. And the way we communicate with the internal world is through words, symbols and actions in the external world, i.e. ritual.

This seems like a very shallow summary of deep issues I've been thinking a lot about over several years, but that's really the gist of it, and I can't really think of anything worthwhile to add at this point.

22 July 2010

A View from a Hammock

oh, to float
suspended in air, looking up
into the birches, arching above
feeling the sway, the rustling whisper
the breeze on my skin, caressing my hair

blue and grey, the swirling sky
just a dream beyond, so far above
beyond these leaves, these whispering veils
both cocoon and ocean, closed in yet free

oh, to float
in flow given form, in stillness reborn
in the wood's silent roar, the gentlest of storms

Odes at SoundCloud

I just found SoundCloud. It looks like a nice place for uploading and streaming music, much more pleasant and functional than, say, MySpace (which I loathe but registered at anyway so I'd have a place for people to easily stream my music).

I've registered, and uploaded Odes to Melancholy there in it's entirety. The whole album can be streamed here. It's still the same album as before, though, with it's amateurish home recorded songs and crappy sound quality. And no, I have no idea when I might get around to recording more or better quality songs.

17 July 2010

I Comment, Therefore I Am

Where do people vanish on summer Saturday's? There always seems to be a drastic drop in the number of status updates on Facebook. I tend to be at home most Saturdays, so this always seems baffling to me, as does the drop in updates over various holidays. I mean, that's when you're supposed to have more time to hang out online, isn't it? Not the other way round.

I generally check Facebook and Twitter (and IRC of course) for new messages at least once every couple of hours unless I'm out somewhere, probably much more frequently when I'm in the vicinity of my computer (which generally is pretty much always). I shudder to think how much more time I'd spend there (and how much more pointless updates I'd post) if I had a web capable smart phone.

I'm currently vacationing in Nilsiä, as I often do this time of year, so my social existence is more or less limited to the Internet. So people vanishing for most of the day is understandably a worrying prospect. Internet addict? Maybe a little, but if the alternative is to have no social life at all, I'll pick this any day.

Speaking of summer in Nilsiä, as I've written before, I read Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind every summer while I'm here. I just finished reading it again, and it's still as beautiful as ever (so beautiful my eyes blearing up occasionally makes reading difficult). And I still keep noticing new details after all these years. Honestly, if there's one printed work that's even more dear to me than The Lord of the Rings, it's Nausicaä.

Finland's been tormented by an uncommonly long heat wave lately. Today's been surprisingly pleasant, though, with temperature here rising only to about 20°C. I really don't like extreme heat. And it only seems to affect me more each year. I guess I'm getting old. Anything much more that 20°C, and I'm too exhausted and uncomfortable to really do much of anything. Although I'm not sure that's really a drastic change from my normal existence...

9 July 2010

Building Up Steam

So somehow I've ended up getting into a lot of steampunk-ish stuff lately. First, of course, there's my new fantasy roleplaying game Tales from the Teya'o Iva. Once we finally got started we've been playing pretty actively during June and July, and having lots of fun. The players have been getting into the spirit of the game admirably, contributing lots of ideas. Zany monsters, eccentric rival zeppelin crews and crazy inventions abound. (In the very first session the characters spent a fair share of time designing and building the world's first blow dryer! Which they actually were able to put to good use next time when battling a bunch of ice elementals.)

Then I was pointed to the comic Girl Genius (published online and free to read), and was instantly hooked. I can't believe I've only now found out about this masterpiece. It took me only about four days to read the first nine volumes (doing very little else during those days, of course). Now I'll somehow have to adapt to reading it just a page at a time as it's published. Not necessarily an easy task.

Last, I started to wonder whether there's any good steampunk themed music. Through Wikipedia I found Vernian Process, a darkwave band (they describe themselves as 'steamwave') with Jules Verne/steampunk themes. I've just listened through their album Behold the Machine, and it's not half bad. What's more, you can download it for free from their website.

30 June 2010

Final Fantasy XIII - Final Thoughts

So, I just beat Final Fantasy XIII. (Could've done it weeks ago, but I got sidetracked by other stuff... At least this time I came back to it relatively soon, too many games still remain unbeaten.) This was, in fact, the first FF I've had the motivation to play all the way through since the days of the PS One. (Yeah, I'll still beat that FFX, and others, some day, just don't know when.)

The game's clock stood at about 75 hours. Honestly, it felt shorter, at least when compared to the likes of Final Fantasy VII. I think this was largely due to the way storytelling was handled. Although there were lots of cutscenes, the story itself, while fairly epic, was relatively short and straightforward, with very little branching, being basically limited to those cutscenes. Almost movie-like, one might say.

When I first started writing video game reviews for my website, I decided I wouldn't review Final Fantasy games. 'Cause, well, that'd be like writing a book review of The Lord of the Rings. Pointless. But I can still blog about them, of course.

All in all, Final Fantasy XIII was a game with some nice ideas, but also many flaws. The new battle system was quite fun to play. However, they'd pretty much made that the whole game. One battle after another, with very little exploration or NPC interaction. Considering the length of the game, it's not surprising that it could get somewhat monotonous at times due to this.

There were also some problems in regards to the placing of content. Once you're finally given the option to do some optional exploring by taking on 'missions', all of this content is placed in more or less one area of the game. So you can spend hours and hours doing this stuff (which is still basically just killing monsters, without a single NPC or anything in sight), while the story is essentially on hold. They could have spread this content out more, so it wouldn't affect the pacing of the story so much.

After beating the game, it's possible to return to complete more missions etc. (some of which would be very hard, if even possible, before). But honestly, once the story's done with and the credits roll, what possible motivation could I have for carrying on? I don't really see the point of accomplishing everything just for the sake of it. Not in a series like Final Fantasy, anyway, which has always to me been more about story than anything else.

The music, which for the first time had no input from Nobuo Uematsu, wasn't bad, even if there were few really memorable themes. There were some nifty ideas, though, like the use of vocals on several tracks, something I don't recall encountering before in this type of game.

The world, story and characters, as such, were fairly interesting and original. But there would have been potential for much more. Like I said, the story did feel surprisingly short for a game of this length, particularly since there were so few NPC's and little exploration involved. With a little more variety it could have been a great game. As it is, it was still pretty entertaining, but by no means a new FFVII.

So, what next? Since I'm likely to be spending a lot of time out of town during July, there's not much point starting another big game right away. Maybe something I can play on my laptop, if only I knew what...

25 June 2010

I Know This Seat

I know this seat
I've sat here before
this chair in darkness
this lonely throne

through flames I came here
through swordplay, great journeys
through laughter, delight
many shining souls

the story goes on
with or without me
yet always a parting
a nightfall, an ending

an empty vessel remaining
bittersweet melodies
accompaniment
to a fall into oblivion

PS. 200th blog post.

21 June 2010

One Solstice Night

It is the shortest night of the year, the summer solstice. In honour of this, I've decided to stay up till dawn, if I'm able. For company I've got a bag of liquorice (salmiak flavoured), and a bottle of 'Dry Anis' liquor, which I've never tried before, and decided to give a shot in celebration of the event. (Or rather, I'll be giving myself the shots - here I go with the bad puns already, and the night's hardly begun.)

23:00 - The sun should've set a few minutes ago in Helsinki. The first few minutes of 'night' are spent listening to Robbie Robertson's first album. I've been wondering how to spend the night. A friend at Facebook joked about working from dawn to dusk earlier, and we also chatted about vampires. Which naturally in my mind adds up to From Dusk Till Dawn!

23:40 - Tarantino plus Rodriguez... A match made in heaven! A formula for pure genius! One of my favourite movies, I might add. Also probably Clooney's best ever role. The aniseed stuff tastes, unsurprisingly, like cough sweets, or something. Probably best as shots. Mixed with the liquorice taste in my mouth, um, slightly peculiar.

00:15 - Just a couple of (angry) words about the DVD import industry... There appear to be some companies that make Scandinavian versions of DVD's really cheaply, and make a really half-assed job of it. For three reasons: a) They usually only have subtitles in the Nordic languages. In this global age English should be compulsory! b) The Finnish translations tend to be really crappy. c) For some reason a lot of these cheap imports seem to have a weird bug that makes it impossible to turn subtitling off! (And I've tried with several DVD players, so it's not a player issue.) If someone would like to donate me UK versions of this, and several other DVD's, I would not say no...

01:00 - Drinking shots in the movie! That means I'm having a shot too, of course!

02:00 - Movie's over. Sky's still a pale blue, turning to yellow near the horizon. And we're past halfway through the night, so it won't be getting any darker. A bird singing... probably a nightingale, but not 100% sure. A little tipsy, naturally.

03:00 - Watching the bonus disc documentary 'Full-Tilt Boogie'. (I've had this DVD for years, but I don't remember ever watching this before...) It's already much lighter outside than it was an hour ago.

03:55 - Documentary's over, and it's about time for sunrise. (Already? This night went faster than I expected.) And (surprisingly) it's a lot lighter than it was an hour ago! Might need to actually close the blinds if I want to get any sleep tonight... (Something I rarely do, my bedroom being on the north side of the house, and on the first floor, so neither light or privacy's rarely much of a problem.) Still a tad tipsy, but starting to sober up already. (I like to think I'm fairly good at that drinking in 'moderation' stuff. Honestly, I've only had, like, one really bad hangover in my life.) It's just... damn it, I don't feel at all sleepy now!

04:15 - OK, scratch that, I think I'm ready to crash. Good night, all!

13 June 2010

Dreams from the Fresh Kills, Pt 5

Update: Last session of Dreams from the Fresh Kills added.

The fifth session, then, seemed like the suitable point to end my latest RPG mini-campaign. Like I've said earlier, it wasn't the sort of story that could drag on forever. And it got a suitably epic end, I think. If the story write-up sounds a little confusing... well, it's supposed to. (I omitted a lot of stuff and jumbled up the rest a bit, partly in order to make the end sound more dramatic and mysterious, partly as an excuse to avoid writing too much.) This was one of those sessions again when the players pretty much did nothing I could have planned for. But that's part of the fun, isn't it?

Now I'm seriously considering D&D as my next game for this group, if only for a few sessions. I've been talking about it enough for years already, haven't I? Last time I really had the D&D bug I designed the world called Wyrmvoid. But as time goes by and plans lose momentum, I'm afraid I have a habit of sort of going off of old ideas. Right now I'm in the mood for something much more original (though still D&D'ish at heart) , and I've got one or two strange ideas I'm toying with...

8 June 2010

D&D Never Looked So... Well, Nothing Much, Really

Update: New character sheets for download in the RPG section.

Today I spent a significant part of the afternoon whipping up a little character sheet for AD&D (2nd ed.). The question I've been asking myself is: 'Why?' It doesn't look like there's much chance of a D&D game looming on the horizon. My focus is on Va'ita right now. And, as much as I love D&D, its clichéd nature tends to mean it's usually left in second place in favour of more original ideas when choosing new games to play. But I've been feeling another bout of D&D nostalgia of late, perhaps largely due to the little game we played a week ago.

Strange as it sounds, I enjoy designing character sheets. My creations aren't stunningly artistic, but I hope they're at least functional. Of course there is usually a need for a better sheet behind these acts of creation. Perfect character sheets seem to be a rare species, and I'm always finding flaws in the sheets provided by game publishers.

Although this time there was no acute need for a new sheet, as I'm not exactly planning any new D&D games, the fact remained that I didn't have sheet for AD&D that I was quite happy with. My goal was to create something a little more minimalistic than most AD&D sheets out there. I don't like my games to have too many detailed rules to remember. I don't think I'd find much use for the proficiency rules, for instance, if I ever ran a new AD&D game. And I've always been too lazy to keep track of encumbrance, so these two elements were the first to go.

I'm pretty happy with the end result, although I haven't had a chance to print a test copy yet, much less actually test it in play. I might still add modified versions for different classes in the future. But this can wait. I'm tired after a day of mostly staring at this wretched screen.

Edit: I printed out one test copy, and I think it looks pretty neat. But I'm partial, of course. Also added some class specific versions. Oh, and I forgot to mention I took some stylistic influence from a D&D ('classic' version) sheet I saw somewhere, possibly the Rules Cyclopedia, but I don't remember for sure now.

Oh, and I've also added a couple of simple character sheets for Fudge, based on a design I created for my latest game, Tales from the Teya'o Iva.

Just for the record, most of my sheets are made with Scribus.

6 June 2010

Tales from the Teya'o Iva, plus Dreams from the Fresh Kills, Pt 4

Update: Fourth session of Dreams from the Fresh Kills online, plus the beginnings of my latest campaign.

We finally got my latest RPG campaign underway. About bloody time too, we've only been planning it since February at least (I wrote about the design process in an earlier post).

The game is titled Tales from the Teya'o Iva, and is set in my fantasy world Va'ita. The player characters are crew members aboard the pirate zeppelin Teya'o Iva, who'll undoubtedly be drawn into many interesting and unforeseen adventures.

For many of my recent games I've been writing fairly detailed prose descriptions of the events. Quite frankly, I'm getting tired of it. It feels like a chore, not part of the fun of the gaming experience. The descriptions do have a function, as a reminder of past events (which is why I originally started writing them), but in most cases the essential information could be summarised in just a few lines.

This time there is even more reason for not starting to write lengthy stories. The group is somewhat larger than the other group I've mostly run games for, and the gaming sessions have a habit of being longer as well. That means there's a lot more going on, the story branching in many directions. I'd go crazy trying to sum it up in prose form. I'll still keep a record of main events on my website, for my own and the players' benefit, but it'll only be a very brief summary this time. In addition, we're using Google Wave to discuss events in a more social manner.

While many of my recent games have been modelled on TV shows, this time I've been trying to think more in video game terms, referring to individual story segments as 'quests', which don't have to progress in a certain order or be limited to a particular gaming session, and can be interrelated (as obviously there'll be storylines that keep popping up) or more independent adventures. This is largely because, the group being fairly large, it might often be difficult to find a date suitable for every player. If I've got a bunch of ready 'quests' to draw upon, it should be easier to build a session suitable for the particular group at hand, leaving the main storylines for occasions when most of us are together.

In addition to my new game's first session, I also ran a session of my other current campaign, Dreams from the Fresh Kills, this week, and for this game I'm still writing story descriptions. Some interesting plot twists there, the game is drawing towards a grand finale (and even I don't know what will happen in the next session). Designing two game sessions inside one week (plus just playing in one) was a pretty tiring experience, I may say. But perhaps I can rest for a couple of days now, before the next session's upon me...

31 May 2010

Hitting Level 30, with Cake

Been a while since my last post, again. Mostly because there's nothing much to report, unsurprisingly. Still playing that FFXIII, going on 70 hours according to the game's clock. Still liking and disliking aspects of it at the same time.

So, I just hit the big Three-Oh in that great game they call IRL. Blimey, what happened to the last decade? Spent it doing sod all, that's what. Anyway, I haven't really had a birthday 'party' in years, not counting a few family members over for cake. I thought reaching lvl 30 would be a suitable occasion for something a little more special. And what's my idea of something special? Inviting a big bunch of my geek friends over to play Dungeons & Dragons, of course!

While playing it was my suggestion, a friend offered to game master, conveniently having a ready concept in mind. It was the first time I've played D&D 3.5, although the scenario was pretty simple and light-hearted, of course. It was more like a board game, really, than the usual character/plot-driven RPG's we play. I still think I prefer classic 80's incarnations of the rules. Of course the skills, feats and whatnot give the rules some depth, but I'm not sure that's really called for in D&D. But the game was fun, especially since not being the DM I didn't need to bother much about the rules. :-D

Just for the record, I'm not planning to have ten people seated in our living room again any time soon. Although it might be a fun idea making this birthday game an annual event.

(And then there was cake, but that's another story.)

4 May 2010

A Short May the 4th Post

May the Fourth be with you!

In addition to it being Star Wars Day, it's also Day Against DRM. I'm not going to bore people with another rant about these things. Everyone already hates DRM, anyway, don't they? Just a reminder: you don't have to use products that utilise DRM!

'Just say no!' Boycott, and raise hell! Let them know we won't stand for it! The rights that count should be the rights of the common man. Most of all, reminder the silly buggers that there's no reason that sharing media should even be a threat. Quite the contrary, it's the best, if not only way to introduce stuff to new audiences and potential future buyers. Make a good product and they will come! Um, I guess I got a little ranty there anyway. I'll shut up now.

3 May 2010

Dreams & Gematria

Last night I dreamed about tagging mp3 files with the help of Wikipedia. As dreams go, this one was almost worryingly realistic. (As many people probably know, I do listen to plenty of music, and these days almost exclusively on my computer, so this is a common enough occurrence in my life. And I think I've complained before about the lousy job people do submitting file tags, and how I always need to correct them when ripping my CD's.)

The previous night, though, I dreamed about interplanetary travel. I only have very vague memories about this (they were rather vague already upon awakening), and I don't recall, for example, the method of travel, except that it appeared to be more or less instantaneous. One interesting detail I remembered, though, was that our own sun (or solar system) was given the number 28 in some kind of galactic index system.

Given my interest in the occult, a number associated with such an important cosmic feature as the sun naturally caught my interest, and called for a little looking into. Does the number 28 have any special significance, particularly in relation to the sun? (The importance of the sun itself, of course, both occult and otherwise, is obvious.)

One of the first things I noted was that 28 is a 'perfect number' (i.e. 'a positive integer that is the sum of its proper positive divisors'). It is only the second perfect number in order, the first being 6. And 6 of course has a connection with the sun, as the Sephirah associated with the sun is Tipharet, the sixth Sephirah.

In numerology, the digits of a number are commonly summed up to get a single digit number. Summing up the digits of 28 we get 10, which in turn leads to 1. Considering the Sephiroth, these are of course interesting numbers, the first Sephirah, Kether, being the source of existence, the pure light that illuminates the sun (which in turn illuminates the moon, thus forming the middle pillar of the Tree of Life.)

Still keeping with the Sethiroth, 28 is the mystic number of Netzach, the seventh Sephirah, which is associated with the planet Venus, and thus with nature, love, creativity etc. The connection to the sun isn't the most obvious, perhaps, but the sun is, of course, our source of energy, the prerequisite for life on planet Earth. The dream did of course occur close to May Day/Beltane, a celebration of the coming summer. (Interestingly, looking at my astrological charts, transiting Venus is also currently in conjunction with my natal Sun.)

Also, on the Tree of Life the 28th path is associated with Aquarius. Which of course raises the question of the so-called Age of Aquarius. This isn't a concept I've ever really spent much time exploring. It is obvious, of course, that a great change in society has occurred over the last century or so, and symbolic concepts like this (or Crowley's new Aeon of Horus, another name for a similar concept) are of course interesting. (The sun, of course, has already passed through Aquarius some time ago, even in sidereal charts, so there is no obvious current astrological symbolism here.)

Lastly, consulting Crowley et al.'s Sepher Sephiroth, we learn 28 is the gematric (qabalistic numerology) value of Hebrew words for 'clay', 'unity' and 'power'. The latter two, at least, seem to fit well with the sun.

Now, whether any of this actually means anything significant at all is a good question, of course. But thought exercises like these are always interesting.

30 April 2010

Some Darker Shades of Metal, with Fantasy

I haven't blogged about Bal-Sagoth yet, have I? I've only begun listening to it recently, although I was vaguely aware of its existence for some time. I ignored it for long because of the harsher black metal style 'screaming' vocals, which, as a rule, haven't really interested me. Perhaps it was getting more accustomed to harsher vocal styles through listening to Epica (who feature them in suitably small quantities) that finally made me decide to give it a chance. And I don't regret it.

What most drew me to it was the subject matter. The lyrics draw their influence from pulp fiction, dark fantasy and horror, and particularly the works of Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft. While they don't exactly form a continuing narrative like Rhapsody's albums, the stories are set in a shared universe, with many recurring characters and concepts. So carefully reading through the printed lyrics (which often contain much more material than is actually sung on the tracks) is really a must when getting to know the band.

Musically Bal-Sagoth is... unique, and hard to describe, really. It's often classed as (symphonic) black metal, probably mostly due to the vocal style, but I don't think that's really an accurate description (although I can't pretend to be very familiar with the black metal field in general). Epic, symphonic, and surprisingly atmospheric, I think, even with its many aggressive elements.

Although with my taste for fantasy and horror listening to this kind of music is perfectly logical, I could hardly have imagined myself listening to anything described (by some) as 'black metal' not that long ago. But horizons are there to be broadened, right?

29 April 2010

Rainy Days and Delightful Cliches

It's a rainy day. More than that, it feels like a rainy day. Lazy, a little melancholy. There's stuff I ought to do, but I have my doubts. Today's just not a day to be taking anything too seriously. (Besides, it's a Thursday, innit...)

Onwards with the post. I've been reading far too little lately. With all the broadband, music, TV, video games and whatnot out there these days, it's an easy habit to let slide. It's not the only medium for stories and entertainment, after all. But every medium is different, of course. One can't entirely replace another.

So I've been trying to get back into the habit, making it a daily practise, even if it's just a few pages each night before bed. I read a few of Jeff VanderMeer's Ambergris stories, and enjoyed them. After finishing one a few days ago, I thought it's time for a little variety. And I started thinking, hang on, it's been ages since I've read any really clichéd high fantasy. Indeed, I've barely touched the stuff since the 90's. (Tolkien doesn't count, of course.) After all this time, thinking back to the days of reading Dragonlance and the likes brought on a nostalgic yearning for simple, honest magical adventure.

So, semi-randomly, I picked up an unread Shannara novel (the third in the series, The Wishsong of Shannara, to be precise). I remember the first two, as clichéd as they were, being a fairly entertaining experience back in the 90's. We'll see how it fares this time.

27 April 2010

A Post with Some Sequels In

The thing with many of your favourite things is, they tend to make more. And when you hear they're making more, a sequel, another album, whatever the medium, you'll wait and wait for it, with growing excitement (and, more often than not, you'll end up disappointed). Two of the most noteworthy publications this spring, for me, are undoubtedly the new Final Fantasy and Rhapsody of Fire's new album.

Final Fantasy XIII came out a couple months ago already, of course, but I didn't have money to buy it at the time. Which was probably for the best, as I got it now for half the price. With 35 hours on the clock, I'm still working out how I feel about it. It is quite pretty, of course. The brand new battle mechanic is surprisingly functional and fun. The world and story are reasonably interesting as well. However, it is, thus far at least, probably the most linear Final Fantasy game to date, and the focus is almost entirely on battles. There's practically no exploration or NPC interaction. It's lots of fun to play at its best, but it can get a little monotonous at times, and I find myself longing for the wide worlds of PS One era, and earlier, titles.

I received Rhapsody of Fire's brand new album, The Frozen Tears of Angels, in the mail this morning. It hasn't perhaps been the mind blowing experience it could have been (as was to be expected), but I'm not disappointed either. I got the digibook version, of course. The booklet looks pretty good, as usual. The story, of course, carries on the Dark Secret Saga from the previous two albums. It doesn't really progress much, which is probably the most disappointing aspect of the album. Basically, our heroes just move from point A to point B, doing rather little in between. But it does paint a pretty nice and coherent landscape, both visual and emotional, which I guess is the purpose of the album, storywise. Musically the album is not uninteresting. There is a more aggressive feel to it this time, a more straightforward metal approach, with less orchestral elements, which is refreshing, at least.

There's also a new album out from Swedish glam rock act, The Ark. I enjoyed listening to In Full Regalia, but it didn't make as big an impression as the previous album, Prayer for the Weekend, did a few years ago. Many of the songs have a delightfully retro feel. But of course my listening habits of late have been leaning more to the metal side, and new efforts of a more traditional rock style might have a more difficult time getting through to me as they once did.

We'll just have to see how I'll feel about the new Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers album due out this summer, Tom Petty being, after all, possibly the number one favourite of my teen years.

11 April 2010

Another Day, Another Idea, Another Pseudonym

OK, so I've recently talked about my new fantasy world, Va'ita, invented primarily for use in role-playing games. I've also talked about making up my own language for this world.

For quite some time I've thought it might be fun to do a fantasy concept album, of sorts. Something quite different from most of my songs, drawing influence primarily from video games. I considered setting it in my other fantasy world, Wyrmvoid, at one point, but after 'discovering' Va'ita I soon decided it would be much more interesting and suitable for the purpose. Now, in an unforeseen but entirely logical turn, I thought, hang on, I've got my own language for this world, why not write the lyrics in this language? This would be something totally different, and, possibly, if it worked out, quite cool.

As this would indeed be something totally different from my usual music, and rather specific in scope, I thought it might be appropriate to use a pseudonym for it, a sort of 'band' name. This should be something short and to the point, and naturally in the language my world. The word I came up with is 'Otagek', which means 'I make music'. I've got a little place holder site for the project here (nothing there to see, let alone hear, yet).

Now, as of this time, this project is just as much fantasy as the world of Va'ita. Like so many of my ideas, it may well never see the light of day. Which is a shame, of course, but what can you do...

4 April 2010

Easter vs Metal

Just a little filler post, as I haven't blogged in a while. A happy Easter to everyone! Personally, I think this is a perfect time to think about all the stories about sacrificed gods of light, such as Osiris and Baldr. It's fascinating how similar elements can be found in stories from cultures separated by time and distance. No one version is the 'true' one, I think. But that does not mean any one is entirely 'wrong', either. All myths and religions have their value. It's just sad that so many of them are spoiled by individuals who take them much too seriously and literally (often grossly misinterpreting them in the process).

On an entirely different note, the 'Paste Your Taste' feature at Last.fm is always interesting. The genres it lists keep changing a lot according to what you've been listening to recently, so it's not, perhaps, a very accurate description of one's real musical taste. Right now mine says I'm 'into rock, symphonic metal, power metal, metal and gothic metal'. Wow, that's a lot of metal. When did this happen? Has my taste really changed that much over the past year?

I guess it's true I've been listening to a lot of metal lately. Some of the more recent additions to my playlist include Epica and Kamelot. Epica, in particular, is a prime example of the melodic and atmospheric, yet powerful, even cinematic, metal I like. I was a little sceptical about the 'grunt' vocal segments they use for a long time. I've never been a fan of that type of singing. But it's funny how you get used to some things if you give them a chance.

Nightwish and Rhapsody of Fire are still probably my top two groups in the genre. I'm eagerly awaiting Rhapsody's upcoming new album! I'll undoubtedly blog more about it when I've heard it. Just have to try not to get too hyped about it beforehand. That way lies disappointment.

17 March 2010

Odes to Melancholy

Update: New album, Odes to Melancholy!

OK, so things have progressed relatively fast since my last post. After just a couple of weeks of work, I've come to the conclusion that there's not really much more I'm able to do (or, rather, have the energy to do) for my album project, so what the heck, lets release it.

And yes, it's far, far from perfect, quite amateurish and unpolished. But hey, I guess it's better than nothing. At least I've got a few of my favourite songs recorded at last.

The entire album can be streamed at MySpace. It's also available at Last.fm, with free downloads. And, at least for the time being, there's a zip file of all the mp3's available. Lyrics can be found in the music section.

I intentionally chose structurally simple songs for this project. All the instrument sounds on the recordings were created with just my electric guitar and Korg N1R sound module. I created the drum loops with the Korg's arpeggiator function (which was sufficient for this project, I guess, but for future projects I'll undoubtedly need more variety). The vocals are far from crystal clear. My mike, which is both old and cheap to begin with, might be partially to blame, but I'm not happy about my singing either. But I just can't be bothered to redo any of them anymore, so it is what it is.

12 March 2010

A Hopeful Musical Post

I finally signed up for a MySpace artist page. There's nothing really worth seeing there yet, just a little info and a couple of tracks that are available elsewhere (just to test the upload feature). I mostly signed up so that if and when I actually manage to record something, I'd have a convenient place for friends to listen to it.

I've also tweaked the look of my music website a little, making it simpler and, I hope, more pleasing to the eye.

I'm happy to say that I've finally got around to experimenting a little with recording things, with hopes to produce a simple album of sorts (with a working title Odes to Melancholy). Now, don't hold your breath. Even if I ever complete it, it's certainly not going to be anything fancy. It'll be amateurish at best, I simply don't have the skills, the patience or the technology to produce polished recordings.

5 March 2010

Waves from the Teya'o Iva

In my last post I talked about my new fantasy world Va'ita. Since then an RPG set in the world, titled Tales from the Teya'o Iva, has gradually started to take shape. This is not my 'regular' group (with which I've played since we were teenagers, and for who I'm currently running Dreams from the Fresh Kills), but another group of friends, for who I recently re-ran Beyond the Bridge.

This group is somewhat larger, and the planning stage has also been a little different, more interactive. This is the first project in which I've extensively used Google Wave, and it has proved to be a rather valuable tool. Active discussions have ranged from character concepts to details of the game world, particularly the technology of airships. It's always nice when a group has enthusiastic people with useful interests and knowledge. Less work for the GM. :)

More about the campaign will undoubtedly follow, once actual play gets on the way. I don't think I'll be writing similar prose plot summaries I've usually done. It just takes too much time, time I could use, for instance, for planning the next sessions. Also, with a larger group, there'll be much more branching of the story, and sessions may well be longer as well. Of course we'll need to keep track of past events in some way, but the exact method will be seen when the time comes. One option is, of course, to do this as well in a more interactive fashion, in a Wave...

14 February 2010

Introducing Va'ita

Update: New setting information in RPG section.

A little while ago, I wrote about making up a language, and my thoughts about creating a new fantasy world around it. Well, I've now written up some of my first ideas for the world, titled Va'ita (which is simply the word for 'world' in my language, now titled Urufa, after one of the world's largest realms). Needless to say, the web page is a Work in Progress, and still quite bare.

Va'ita mixes magic, a couple of (semi-)original species, steampunk influences, zeppelins, and rock music (what else?) into a world that should, hopefully, be a little more original and personal than the traditional D&D style settings (one of which I already have), and suited to many different styles of stories, from traditional epic adventure to... well, whatever you can imagine.

The D&D setting Wyrmvoid was my previous effort of this kind, and has not been, thus far, used for a single game. Actually, it's been quite a while since I've last run a fantasy game. Perhaps the time is ripe. I hope I still know how.

8 February 2010

Ben vs TeX Font Installation

Since I recently re-installed Debian on my machine, I've naturally got tons of software to install and configure. One crucial piece of software was, of course, TeX.

Now, seeing as I've got some funny hobbies, I needed to install an astrological symbol font. This has caused problems in the past. I located the correct file tree, created several required directories, copied a bunch of files, ran a couple of commands, and... voila! It worked. Just like that. No extra hassle.

I guess practise installing it on a couple of different systems earlier has been of some benefit. And I was smart enough to google up some decent instructions first.

(For the record, the correct local tree for installing packages in TeX Live on Debian Squeeze appears to be '/usr/local/share/texmf'.)

7 February 2010

Home Sweet Un*x

So I'd been using Debian's unstable GNU/Linux distro for about a year now, when, a few weeks ago, a system update royally messed it up. The system wouldn't even boot. Probably it would've been fixable, but I thought, why bother, it's about time to re-install the system anyway and get rid of a year's worth of unnecessary clutter.

Somehow it took me several weeks to actually get round to it (during which time I was stuck with Mac OS X, without access to any of my files). But here I am again. I decided to stick with Debian (it still seems to be the best distro around), but I installed a (mere) testing distribution this time. I've recently had too much trouble with the unstable one for the slightly more bleeding edge software to be tempting enough.

Not that the testing distro's totally without problems (hey, it's still called 'testing', ain't it). I soon discovered I had to switch to an older kernel because of a strange visual glitch in X. But I'm back in GNU/Linux, I've got all my files handy again (most notably my music collection) and all systems are go, it would seem.

4 February 2010

Dreams from the Fresh Kills, Pt 3

Update: Third session of Dreams from the Fresh Kills online.

Well, this is a surprise. Another session of my current RPG played, and barely more than half a month since the last!

In this session the characters found an old fashioned opium den hidden aboard the famous Staten Island ferry. I'm not sure where that idea popped into my head from, but I loved it instantly when it did. Things are certainly getting strange, and the clues the players are finding only raise more questions. Which is, of course, as it should be.

This isn't the sort of game that can go on forever, though. We've played three sessions now, I think we must reach some kind of climax in just a handful more more sessions, or we'll just be dragging it on needlessly. Perhaps I should already be thinking about what to run next...

29 January 2010

Dreams from the Fresh Kills, Pt 2

Update: Second session of Dreams from the Fresh Kills online.

Oh yeah, I forgot to post the usual update about running a session of my current RPG, Dreams from the Fresh Kills, a couple weeks ago. Once again there was a lengthy break between sessions. Nothing new for our group, alas. Nothing much to add, all the relevant information is on that page.

I'm also currently re-running Beyond the Bridge for a different group. I won't be posting any additional write-ups about that, though, as the story's essentially the same, even though the characters are different, of course, and I've made little tweaks here and there.

21 January 2010

A Touch of Vertigo Vol. 2

Nearly two years ago I wrote about the Vertigo tarot deck by Dave McKean. Well, I finally got to buy it last summer. I meant to write about it then, but, as it goes, I've been really lazy in my occult 'dabbling'. I finally got around to taking a closer look, and so far I like it.

Like all of McKean's work, the images are eerie, abstract, imaginative and often bordering on the grotesque. The suits and names are all traditional. I like the court cards a lot. The Page, although called such, is obviously female, as it should be. The small cards bear no titles, which is probably usually best, as authors tend to differ on them (I've come to prefer Crowley's versions myself). They're naturally the most abstract cards of the deck, but mostly seem to fit in reasonably with traditional interpretations (though not always).

The trumps are perhaps the most controversial, as they feature characters from Vertigo Comics (even though McKean's style is so abstract that many are almost unrecognisable). Some of these suit the cards very well. Consider Death of the Endless for the trump titled Death, for example. And Constantine as the Fool makes me smile. Some, however, differ somewhat from my ideas of the trumps. Also, some unnecessary changes have been made to the astrological attributions of the trumps (which are marked on the cards).

Right now this deck ranks among my favourites and is certainly usable. It's not a perfect deck (none I've tried yet is), but it holds a definite appeal, and not only due to the geek factor. Who knows, it might even become my primary deck for the foreseeable future. But of course it's early days, and I've always been fickle in these matters.

For the record, if and when I buy another deck, it will almost certainly be Crowley's Thoth deck.

18 January 2010

Tehafek, ze'e hak

It was a lazy friday afternoon. So what's the natural thing for a sane person like me to do? Make up a language, of course.

Of course it didn't come quite out of the blue. There's been a seed of an idea buried in my head for a good while, with one or two thoughts about the basic mechanics of the language. But I'd never really thought seriously about making it reality.

When I decided to give it a shot, the language almost seemed to create itself. Things just fell into place naturally, over the past weekend. Of course it's very, very far from being anything like complete. But I think I've already got down most parts of a workable grammar and some primitive vocabulary. There's no name for it yet, apart from 'Tehafa', which is just the word for 'language'.

Here's a rendition of Bashō's famous haiku:

esu etuu valap
valaga ada'e tabep
la'o ratap

(old small lake
frog leaps in
water’s sound)

The question now is, of course, what am I going to do with it? The natural option is of course to use the language as the basis for a fantasy world. I already have Wyrmvoid, of course, but that is tailored for D&D style high fantasy. This should be something more personal, more original. And it should be a lasting world, not something I'll discard when the next neat idea comes along. It's not like I'm going to make up a new language every weekend.

(The post title translates as: 'I speak, therefore I am.')

13 January 2010

The Secret Update

The occult. Ooh. Spooky.

Except it's not. The word might mean 'secret' or 'hidden', but all the secrets of ancient secret societies have long since been published. In today's world it's just a metaphor.

So what does it mean then? It's just another word for spirituality, really. For meditation, the search for enlightenment, and all that. Europe's equivalent for yoga or Zen Buddhism. Quite boring really, most people would likely think. All these complicated philosophical and psychological concepts, countless holy words and spirits and angels and whatnot. But all they're really for is to get you in the right mood, to inspire you, to make you a better human being.

Now, I think I had a point beyond word definitions... Oh yeah, I've been adding stuff in the spirituality section. Articles that deal with my world view and understanding of occult concepts. Strange ideas that most people won't find even remotely interesting, which I mostly write to put my own thoughts in order rather than to benefit others.