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Sunday, 27 October 2013

A History of Finnish Games, Part 3

In part 2, we left off somewhere around 1997 or thereabouts, and were moving towards a more commercial game industry for the PC and console machines. We still have a few surprises to look forward to, and much ground to cover,  because this will be the final entry in my version of such a history lesson. For this occasion, I drew that picture with Crayon Physics Deluxe, which I will talk more about later on in this entry. Of course, if some unexpected new information turns up, I'll make an appendix of sorts later on when I feel like. But for now, let's head on for the turn of the millennium and see what's happening.


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We'll proceed in a slightly different fashion this time, and first take a look at the indie releases as far as I think is necessary. As this is supposed to be a retro game blog, I can't really get too close to the present, but I'll mention the more recent accomplishments at the end of each section.

Error Free games: Keke 2, Tetris 97W
and Ultimate Tapan Kaikki.

A couple of big names were not mentioned last time, although these developing teams were established in the earlier part of 1990's. I'll begin with Error Free Productions, established in 1995, which were primarily known for their one main series: Tapan Kaikki (Kill 'Em All), which, for many, pinnacled in the third part (Ultimate TK) but was updated into a high-def version with better netplay features and was given the subtitle Bloodshed. The TK series was heavily influenced by games like the Chaos Engine and Cyberdogs, but had its own unique twists and features to make it the huge indie hit that it was. They made some other rather more minimalistic and prototypish games like Keke 2, Apple Frog, The Attack of the Kamikaze UFOs and two Tetris clones. Too bad their website is now off-line, and their earlier games can only be found from small random websites with collections of small games. But UTK can be found rather easily from sites such as suomipelit.fi, so check it out if you haven't done so yet.

The second big name was established as early as 1993, but their first entry into the big scene was called Cyber Antero in 1997. Released as tArzAn pelituotanto then, the group later became better known simply as tAAt. Some of you might already know their products, considering their impact on the ragdoll physics usage in games, but perhaps it's best I give you the link to their website, in case you haven't yet tried out the famous Dismount series (2002-2008). They made another one of my favourite indie games in 2005, called Pogo Sticker, which I think was very heavily inspired by a Polish indie title called ElastoMania (or more precisely Action Supercross, which came earlier), but I guess it came out too late, as the biggest craze for the genre was already over.

tAAt games: Cyber Antero, Stair Dismount and Pogo Sticker.


Pro Pilkki 1 (small picture) and Pro Pilkki 2 (big picture)
from Team Procyon, 1997 and 2006.
Another uniquely Finnish game was developed and released in 1997 by Team Procyon, a special netplay game based around the idea of ice-fishing called Pro Pilkki. It created a huge fanbase all over Europe and spawned a long-awaited sequel almost 10 years later with better graphics and sounds, more options and modern netplay protocols, and it's still updated fairly regularly. You can check the current status here.

Text-based manager games were big at some point, and through the endless sea of simple lemonade stand and hot dog stand management games, a real classic still shines with a light of genius that's rarely found in these sorts of games. Mikko Forsström wrote a series of ice hockey manager games with a questionable title: Maso Hockey Manager. The final version of these, MHM 2000 was the one that stuck in everyone's minds with an astounding attention to detail and a wicked sense of humour. The original MHM game was coded in two years, and released in 1997, and the game is now living a revival age of sorts, probably getting some sort of sequel next year. Hopefully. Go check out the MHM series here.

Screenshots from Maso Software Hockey Manager 2000.


Above: MoleZ (FRACTiLE Games)
Below: Liero (MetsänEläimet)
For a little while, we had a big surge in indie games combining the gravity-based tank duel genre and the cave flyer genre, first of which was a game called MoleZ from 1997 by FRACTiLE Games (solely formed by Mikko Rytkönen). The website is here. The other big incarnation of this theme was a game called Liero, which in itself created a number of clones to be played on more modern OS's. Liero was created by another sole programmer by the name of Joosa Riekkinen, who released the game under the name MetsänEläimet. Unfortunately, you can't find the original website for Liero anymore, but you can download a version of it from here.

Bomberman clones have always been en vogue in some measure, and we touched this subject last time with Skitso Productions' Mine Bombers. In 1998, Ari Suonpää took a turn in creating something in that direction, and released We Got Explosives! to a moderate success, and came up with a sequel two years later. I suppose the overexposure of this particular type of bombing games felt too much for one Jan Nyman, who came up with an interesting building demolition simulator called Operation Cleaner, which also spawned a sequel in 2005. Ari Suonpää's website and WGE games can be found here, and Jan Nyman's Operation Cleaner games are here.

Left: We Got Explosives 2 - Right: Operation Cleaner 2
Piste Gamez: Q-Lat and Pekka Kana
Before we get even more violent and fill our visual sense in all three dimensions, let's take a detour at Piste Gamez, who started out as Deep Connection. Currently, they are a 2/3 Finnish and 1/3 American freeware game developing team, formed by the two Finns, Janne Kivilahti and Antti Suuronen. Their two main game series, Q-Lat (phonetically Kuulat, translated as Marbles) and Pekka Kana (translated something like Peter the Chicken) are still on-going, with the third part of Q-Lat recently released, and the third part of Pekka Kana still in development. Q-Lat is a marble-rolling arcade-puzzler, claiming to combine Petanque and Billiards, and the Pekka Kana games are very Apogee-like platformers, but with a very unique sense of humour. Check them out here.

Since 1992, first person shooters weren't really all that much in demand, so the Finnish indie scene rarely did anything in that area. A special mention then has to be featured from 1998: Ryssän kauhu (Terror of the Russkie) by Sheepart's Products. It's a perfect example of Finnish sense of humour in game development - you play as a lone gunman, stuck in one place and equipped with a machine gun and a finite amount of ammo per level; and all of this refers to the age-old saying "one Finnish soldier equals ten Russians". In a sense, it's more of a clone of Missile Command than any FPS, but your bullets can only kill one enemy soldier at a time. Of course, considering the subject and the insulting title and everything your lone soldier utters while killing the battalion of Soviets, this could be considered flammable material in the wrong hands. But I suppose because of its historical reference and the very clearly humoristic approach, we should be in no danger - the controversy shouldn't be anywhere near the level of Raid Over Moscow. Sheepart's website is no longer online, but you should be able to find it quite easily.

As did everybody else, we also took a dive into the realm of proper 3D eventually. Again, probably due to having an infinite ground for ideas, game developer Shatterstorm (yet another sole programmer, Sebastian Aaltonen) took a ball as the  controllable object, and placed it in a fully 3-dimensional environment with amazingly imaginative playgrounds. Your mission is only to collect a number of diamonds within a given time before you can move on to the next level. The game features some possibly unintentional level design elements that make for great shortcuts, which in turn made I've Got Some Balls! such a fondly remembered game, again very similarly to earlier mentioned ElastoMania.

At the turn of the millennium, the Finnish indie scene started to show some signs of aging, and gradually, our main channel for bringing out the new independent material faded away. FinnishGames.com was buried with great sense of loss, and the games database was gathered up gradually and kept at a new Suomipelit.com website. Even that website was put down eventually a few years ago, and the database is currently available to download at Yaamboo.com's archive as a bittorrent file. Go there and download it if you're interested (and if there are any seeders).
So, now that we have reached the new millennium, I'll try to wrap up this section as quickly as I deem appropriate.

From left to right: Korona (2001 Markus Ilmola), GeneRally (2002 Hannu & Jukka Räbinä),
Pac Brothers (2003 Skitso Productions) and Tokkobot DX (2003 Jetro Suni)

First off, I have to mention an indoor sports game, that I have never seen another computerized version of. In 2001, Markus Ilmola wrote for the Windows PC's a version of Korona, which is a Finnish table sports game combining billiards and darts. Second, a game which I mentioned in the previous entry: the spiritual successor to Slicks 'n' Slide - GeneRally from 2002 by Hannu & Jukka Räbinä. Third, Skitso Productions of Mine Bombers' fame created a very groovy Pac-Man/Bubble Bobble mash-up called Pac Brothers in 2003. Fourth, another strange combination of genres was materialized in the form of Tokkobot by Jetro Suni, in which the player makes a bridge out of Tetris blocks for a stupid robot that walks across the play areas in a Lemmings-like fashion. Even though I'm really skipping ahead here and only mentioning my own personal favourites, there are tons of brilliant Finnish indie games waiting to be found.

Kloonigames, left to right:
Cacodemon's Barbecue Party In Hell, The Amazing Flying Brothers and Crayon Physics.


Last, but not in any way the least, I have to mention this guy, Petri Purho, whose products I came across the original Experimental Gameplay Project website, probably in late 2006 or early 2007. I'm not sure if he actually participated in the EGP contests, but he set himself the same basic rules of their development model, that he would create a new game, all by himself, every month within a 7-day period. The first game I might have come across from his catalogue could be either Jimmy's Lost His Marbles, Cacodemon's Barbecue Party in Hell, The Truth About Game Development or The Amazing Flying Brothers, but his most well-known game to date is Crayon Physics Deluxe. The original Crayon Physics was also done in 7 days, and was his 10th game in the EGP development model series. It became so popular, that he decided to create a Deluxe version of it with more features, and has been a huge indie seller since 2008. You can buy it from here, and check his game developing blog here. It seems, though, that his output has severely cut down since the success of Crayon Physics Deluxe, which is a bit pity.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this entry, I'll probably make an appendix later on with a bunch of games and developers I forgot to mention or hadn't found out about until then, but I think that brings us nicely close enough to the present, and we can move on to the next area.

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Now, let's take a slightly quicker look at the commercial game development sector. In all seriousness, there isn't all that much to look at, because there really aren't much commercial games from Finland from this time period that's worth mentioning.

Housemarque games: Supreme Snowboarding (left)
and The Reap (right)
In 1997, Housemarque (of Stardust fame) released their second shoot'em up, The Reap, which took its main influence from another classic space shooter, Zaxxon. Although the game looked brilliant for its time and played relatively well, it didn't get noticed nearly as well as their earlier shooter. I'd guess the name had something to do with it. When Housemarque were collecting themselves after the non-success of The Reap, they took a jump in another direction and started making some snowboarding games, since it was such a hip thing at the moment. Supreme Snowboarding and Transworld Snowboarding were released in 1999 and 2002 respectively. Another dive into even more dangerous waters was taken two years later, when they released their first karaoke game for the Windows machines. Staraoke, based on a popular tv-karaoke show, was popular enough to spawn 6 sequels. While releasing their karaoke games and making some much-needed profit, Housemarque had some time to make some other sports games and even port their classic Stardust games for the portable Playstation machines. One of their more recent works have been a collaboration with Rovio Entertainment on Angry Birds Trilogy,
released by Activision.

Thrust, Twist + Turn (1999, Carts Entertainment)

In 1999, a futuristic racing game very much in the vein of the Wipeout series was finished by a team called Carts Entertainment, which I know nothing else of. The game was called Thrust, Twist + Turn, and was released by Take-Two Interactive. TTT was received with mixed feelings and soon forgotten in the sea of similar games.

Another big thing was spawning in the ever-widening world of internet. Browser-based gaming was becoming more and more possible and popular, even though the games were not all that much to make noise about - it was really more about getting to play against friends and strangers all over the country, or even the world, if you had the bravery to enter into a conversation with a foreign person. Jippii.fi was an internet provider and a web commune of sorts at the turn of the millennium, and their big thing was Pasimaailma (globally somewhat known as Pasiworld), and they had some poker games, billiards, yatzy, mini-golf, that sort of stuff. Hundreds of players would challenge each other and waste their working hours for many years. At some point, Jippii was sold to another provider and Pasimaailma was finished, and later reborn as Aapeli.com, now with more games and features.

Browser gaming: Pasimaailma, Habbo and Aapeli.
The other browser-based success story would probably be Habbo, originally titled Hotelli Kultakala (Hotel Goldfish) by Sulake, established in 2000. However, I have no personal experience concerning Habbo, and have no wish to enter that domain, because you have to register, so I'll leave that to you to find out.


Back to regular gaming, we have two more game companies left to check out. First of them is a new team whose name was taken from a folklore creature, and focuses solely on racing games. Of course, I'm talking about Bugbear Entertainment Ltd. Their first game would be released in 2001, a year after they had established. Rally Trophy is a unique rallye racing simulation, which focuses on historic cars and realistic physics models, and thus it's considered to be the rallye equivalent of Grand Prix Legends. Their second game, Tough Trucks, wasn't nearly as well received, so they went back to rallying and twisted the focus in a completely different direction. The result was FlatOut, released in 2004 for the PC, XBox and Playstation 2. It was such a success, that it spawned two sequels. Bugbear still continues to work on new racing games, the most current release being Ridge Racer Unbounded, published by Namco.

Bugbear: Flatout and Ridge Racer Unbounded.


And finally, the most famous of the bunch. Remedy Entertainment released a nice little violent racer called Death Rally in the latter half of the 1990's, and focused on their 3D benchmark software for the rest of the millennium. This all was covered in the previous entry. In 2001, they released something what at first seemed to be a Tomb Raider clone with a male character and a film noir setting. Of course, after the Matrix had made its impact in pop culture, using the bullet-time effect in a video game made sure that Max Payne would become a hit game. In 2002, Remedy sold all the rights to Max Payne to Take-Two Interactive for US$ 10 million and 969932 shares of stock. (Thanks again, Wikipedia.) In 2003, Remedy developed Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne in association with Rockstar Games, and after that would leave the franchise in the capable hands of Rockstar Games. Before Remedy would start working on their second hit franchise, Alan Wake, and the inevitable remake of Death Rally, the Max Payne games would be converted for the PS2 and XBox.


The same final words apply here that were said at the end of the previous section. So, let's head on for the final part.

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Yes, we've got some new games for old machines to go through for our final bit, to end the series with what we began. Unfortunately, I have no idea of the correct chronological order of releases, so I shall focus on programmers in no particular order.

Tomi Malinen's newer games: Alien Bash, Box-Head's Wrath, Indiana Jones and the Golden Head, Pum (preview),
Tomi Malinen's Grand Prix (preview) and Alien Bash 2.


You might remember an eager amateur programmer by the name of Tomi Malinen from the previous part of A History of Finnish Games, who made a huge amount of fairly basic games in the 90's. Well, his products were gradually getting better, and you can already clearly see the results in his previews of unfinished games Pum and Tomi Malinen's Grand Prix. While making my investigations for this blog entry, though, I found out that at least one of Tomi's games was made with Games Creator,
namely, Indiana Jones and the Golden Head, but the available version only has level 2 preserved, which loops. His most recent game, and the only completed one for a long time is the sequel to one of his earlier games, Alien Bash - the first game of his to actually get a physical release. Alien Bash 2 (with the first Alien Bash as a bonus) was released on tape and disk through a new retrogames releasing indie publisher, Flimsoft, in late 2012. Commodore Free webzine interviewed Tomi before Alien Bash 2's release, and it certainly made an interesting read. For one, he's a system engineer and a hobbying musician (which shouldn't really come as a surprise, as you will find out when you continue to read), and secondly, he's got some ideas for his Grand Prix game. Hoping to see more of Tomi's games in the near future.

Covert Bitops' Metal Warrior series, left to right:
MW3 (C64), MW4 (GBA), MW1 (Amiga)

Our second retro programming star is actually a proper small indie developing team, and they come from Oulu. Currently known as Covert Bitops, their game developing history involves the main programmer, Cadaver, having released two DOS games earlier, which also have been mentioned in the previous part. Cadaver and Yehar (now known by their real names, Lasse Öörni and Olli Niemitalo), who are both musicians and both apparently familiar with the SID chip's inner workings, started working on their own SID music tracker programs, such as NinjaTracker, SadoTracker and GoatTracker. Lasse got more into creating games as well, and being a musician in this country and these conditions, I suspect it was natural for him to create one of the most well-known modern C64 game series: Metal Warrior. Originally developed for the Commodore Amiga in 1993, the Amiga version of the first game was not released until 2004, after all four Metal Warrior games had already been released for the C64. As a bit of a surprise to us all, Metal Warrior 4 was converted for the Gameboy Advance in 2006, but considering that the gameplay is in some ways quite similar to Castlevania, it should feel quite natural to play on a Nintendo machine. The trilogy and the fourth
Metal Warrior had a very limited special edition physical release, 30 copies both, manufactured by Simon Quernhorst, his brother whose name I haven't found out, with some involvement from Lasse himself. The boxes can be viewed at Simon's website.

Bastard Operators From Hell (DOS and C64) + Hessian preview (C64)


Before Electric Harem had turned into Covert Bitops, Lasse and his friends worked on some other games as well, one of which is well worth noting by itself. The other two games were Escape From New York and Advanced Action Movie Simulator, both written for the C64 Crap Games Competitions in 1999 and 2001, which should tell you everything essential about them, but by all means, check them out if you can't help yourself - they're not really as bad as they sound, or even should be. The game more worth noting is of course BOFH: Bastard Operators From Hell, which I guess is based on a tech article series by Simon Travaglia. The game itself resembles very much of Tapan Kaikki and its forefathers, and was originally released for the PC, and later converted for the C64, which is rather impressive. Now, after having taken some sabbatical from developing games and concentrating more on trackers and enhancing loaders, Lasse has a new game project on the way, titled Hessian, and looks to be something akin to Metal Warrior games again, only more evolved. Definitely looking forward to that. Perhaps we'll get a proper physical release this time as well. Check Covert Bitops' website here.

Back to lone warriors, then - surprisingly we have another musician: Aleksi Eeben. I suspect he's actually better known for his music than for his games in the world beyond retrogames, but for us, he's the man behind some awesome, mostly minimalist games for the Commodore VIC-20 and 64.

Aleksi Eeben's VIC-20 games, left to right:
Dragonwing, Tuntematon Sotilas and Realm of Omari.

Starting with the VIC-20, we have some surprisingly high-quality avoid'em-up games like Dragonwing, Tammerfors and Vuokatti, all of which are different enough not to be each other's clones; a four-player running game called Sport Sport; a very nice Rogue clone Whack! (also made for the C64); a war strategy game based on Väinö Linna's classic war novel Tuntematon Sotilas (the Unknown Soldier), and Realm of Omari, an interesting Boulder Dash clone with tweaked game mechanics - apparently his latest game from as far as 2010. All of these are very much worth checking out, and most of them could have easily been hit releases in the VIC-20's heyday, or even a bit after it.

Aleksi Eeben's C64 games, left to right:
Venus Express, Kilodium and Greenrunner.
Aleksi's C64 catalogue consists of a more varied bunch. His first two known games, Uleaborg (a Blitz clone) and Helsingfors (avoid'em-up) were both from the 2001 Mini Games Compo. Next up came the conversion of Whack in 2003, and in 2005 came the first one that really caught everyone's eyes: Venus Express - a Minigame competition winner for the 1K category from 2005. For its size, it's an astonishingly good Lander clone with big, fast and pretty graphics and a couple of sound effects for bonus. Next year's entry, Kilodium, was a fast sideways scrolling space shooter, as the name suggests, in the vein of Uridium, but in a more squeezed and minuscule way. His big hit twosome, Greenrunner and Redrunner, were released in 2006 and 2007, and were very heavily enhanced versions of Jeff Minter's Matrix combined with Centipede. New retropublisher RGCD, and an older one, Psytronik Software, have released these two games on disk, tape and cartridge. The RGCD cartridge version includes an updated version of Aleksi's C64 tracker program, Retroskoi, which is unfortunately the last we've heard of him in this field. Hopefully, he will return to create some more awesomeness for both the VIC-20 and the C64.

And now for something completely different, which was a completely new thing for me to find while googling my eyes out for this blog. A guy called Manu Pärssinen, who I found out might well be the webdesigner for the website of a famous Finnish retro gaming machines collecting group, Pelikonepeijoonit, might be the same Manu Pärssinen behind a newish homebrew game for the Vectrex. (Correction from the source himself: Manu is not only the webdesigner for PKP and the writer of this game, but also the editor-in-chief of V2.fi and also runs videogames.fi. Thanks for your input!) In 2002, Good Deal Games published Manu's VecSports Boxing, and it's currently available at GDG website to buy for $40. If you happen to have a Vectrex and have enough money to spend on random games, why not buy this one.

Now, for our final Finnish retro revival hero, we really get properly retro here. Joonas Lindberg, a.k.a. The Mad Scientist has released some interesting games for the C64 since 2009, starting with The Temple Warriors!, which is really an exercise in machine code programming - which Joonas did without any kind of ASM program, according to his production notes at the Commodore Scene Database. The game itself is a very simplistic duel that plays for 5 minutes.

The Mad Scientist games: The Temple Warriors!, The Cursed Key, Morph,
Slide!, Chang's Adventure and Escape From The Laundry.
The Mad Scientist's career in game developing started properly in 2010 with The Cursed Key, a fairly good copy of Pyjamarama. After this, he took part in the 2010 Sideways SEUCK Compo with Earth Super Force, but his next proper job was a conversion of Andrew Campbell's Amiga puzzler Polymorph from 1993, now more simply titled Morph, which he also converted for the Spectrum this very year. His fourth game was more of a clone of Willow Pattern Adventure, but a bit more simplistic; the title was Chang's Adventure. Bit by bit, he had started disassembling old tape loaders such as Novaload and one of US Gold's tape loaders, and he started using them in his own games. His next game, Slide! was another coding exercise, a big slide-puzzle written in three days. His most recent game was made for RGCD's 2012 16KB Cartridge Game Development Competition, and although it placed at #9, it's certainly very playable and easily addicting. Basically, it's a Manic Miner clone, wherein you play as a sock trying to Escape from the Laundry, as the title suggests. So, overall, a very retro catalogue in the retroest sense I could imagine. Not bad at all.

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So there you have it. Likely not even close to everything, but at least a fair percentage of the history of Finnish game industry - from the independent sector to the commercial; from the past to the more recent past, and hopefully very much into the future; and without too many mentions of the damned birds everybody's been raging on for years now. Honestly, with so much good stuff in the past... And on that note, if you haven't done so, click here to check out Part 1 and Part 2. (Update, 16.04.2014 - There now exists an appendix entry for this series, be sure to read that through as well!)

I hope you have enjoyed my version of this history lesson, and have possibly even learned something along the way. As I said, an appendix might be on the way at some point in the future, but it won't be coming up this year. If you see any false information you wish to correct, or give me some new information I should add into the list, send me some e-mail or leave a comment.

Next up will be another big entry, so I'll be taking a bit more time on it again, not only because there's so much to do with it. I'll be gone for most of next week, so there won't be any new entries meanwhile. But until next time, thanks for reading, happy retroing everybody, and happy Halloween!

9 comments:

  1. wow, very impressive post, by a true gamer I see lol

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  2. wonder how difficult it is to make simple flash games now days, like for example Ice Cream Cafe Papas Freezeria game.. Technology improved much, wonder if there is a software for those who suck at programming, but still allows them to make simple games as Freezeria..

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    1. Thanks for the comments! =) I have no idea about creating flash games, I just concentrate on playing them. =P I remember trying out some of the easy game makers in the early 2000's, but couldn't get anything finished. Why don't you dig out some "How to make a flash game in 500 easy steps" sort of a guide, and try it out... ;-)

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  3. Manu (of VecSports Boxing "fame") here. I'm 1/3rd of Pelikonepeijoonit, not just the web designer ;) Also I'm the editor-in-chief of V2.fi and more importantly related to your work, the runner of www.videogames.fi - check it out and let me know if you want to contribute somehow or have information that is missing from there.

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    Replies
    1. Oh, cool! Thanks for the clarification, I couldn't find straight knowledge anywhere, so it's great to have it from the source. =) I'm well aware of videogames.fi, and I think you've got most of the stuff covered there that I can think of, at least from the commercial side. But I'll let you know if I can think of anything. =)

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  4. Thanks for sharing and it was very informative..I need more tips from your side..I am working in Cloud Erp In India

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My pleasure, and thanks for the kind comment. It's easy enough to work on something of this scale, when there's not too much of material to work with. For a much more in-depth history lesson on the same topic, you can also read Juho-Kustaa Kuorikoski's book, "Finnish Video Games - A History and Catalog" published by McFarland & Co. As for the tips from my side, I can't really help much since you didn't specify, but if you're planning on something similar, just do plenty of research and make the best you can out of it.

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