Tuesday, 15 April 2014

A History of Finnish Games: Appendix

This one has been a long time coming, almost six months, in fact. There are a couple of good reasons for it, though. First of all, let's go back to September of last year, after I had released the first in the series of my own version of a history of Finnish games. I found out that a book about the same subject was in the making, although it would cover more of the commercial side of Finnish game industry all the way to the end of 2013. This book has now been out for a while, and currently it's only available in Finnish - it's called "Sinivalkoinen Pelikirja" (translates to "The Blue-and-White Book of Games"), and the official website is here. So, I decided to wait until the book had been released, to find out if I missed something particularly important from the really early days. And on the 11th of April, 2014, I asked the author, Juho Kuorikoski's permission to use his book as a source for this update entry on my blog, and was granted it. So, thank you very much, mr. Kuorikoski. Secondly, originally I had decided to wait and see whether this subject raised enough interest to require some sort of update on the matter, and seeing now that all the original three parts of the series are in the top 5 of my most viewed entries, I suppose it's time to bring something more to the table, so thanks for all of you readers out there for making this lecturing feel worth the while. Hopefully, some of the information in this appendix entry will be of some worth to all you historians out there as well. However, I feel I need to warn you in case there are any readers out there with a more sensitive mindset - this entry features some highly questionable screenshots from underground games that should not exist. Proceed with caution.


For the first part of my history lesson, I didn't really spend enough time telling about the Finnish VIC-20 releases, of which there were surprisingly lot. After all, it was the biggest selling computer in the country before the C64 came along, so I might as well make a correction to my error there.

Although most of the Finnish VIC-20 games to be found on the internet today are either retro revival releases from after the emulation thing got started, or old magazine listings, there were quite a few commercial releases around. Yleisurheilu from Amersoft was mentioned in HOFG Part 1, but Amersoft released some other very nice games as well, all requiring Super Expander. I'm sure it's not even nearly all the commercial Finnish stuff available for the VIC, but it's all that has been found for now. Here are some screenshots of Herkkusuu (Sweettooth), Mehulinja (Juice Factory) and Myyräjahti (Whack-a-Mole).

Commodore VIC-20 games by Simo Ojaniemi.

These three games were all written by Simo Ojaniemi, who probably never got much compensation for his work, due to the games being released at such an early point in the history of Finnish gaming industry. Whatever he did get out of them, was probably in the vein of enjoyment from learning to code. The games themselves are quite simple in idea, although I imagine they must have been difficult to get working in a VIC-20, considering everything. Apart from the Whack-a-Mole clone "Myyräjahti" (translates as Mole Chase), Simo's games had fairly good presentation value for their time, and they are even still quite playable, once you learn the controls. "Mehulinja" (could be translated to something like "Juice Factory") is a fairly hectic puzzle game, in which you need to push six different buttons on the keyboard to accomplish all actions: bottle up some juice in the three different types of bottles, draw a gate in order to let the bottles fall to the next level, plant a cork on the bottles and finally stamp a label on them. In "Herkkusuu" (could be translated to something like "Sweettooth"), you control frog's eyes with your joystick to follow a fly around the screen, and push the fire button to launch your tongue in order to eat the flies. While you're at it, the flies try to damage your tongue, and if the action gets too wild, your tongue might knot itself up. The aim is to score 30 points, and beat the flies. Quite basic, but nicely executed, and certainly worth a go. All of these games, and some more old Finnish games can be downloaded from Niilo Rautanen's website, if not elsewhere.

Screenshots from Diamond Luis 1 (Ikesoft, 1986) and Bomulus and the Lost Crown (Teknopiste, 1986) for the MSX.

Reading Juho Kuorikoski's excellent book gave another sparkle into my enthusiasm for research. The first lot of games that I decided to google up again were for the MSX, namely Bomulus and the Lost Crown (released by Teknopiste in 1986), Space Satellite (released by Teknopiste in 1985, originally bundled with the Spectravideo SVI-728 machines that were sold in Finland), and Diamond Luis 1 (released by Ikesoft in 1986).

Space Satellite for SVI-728 (Teknopiste, 1985)

The most important find of these was the image files for Space Satellite, which hadn't been found by the time the book went into print. The game is practically unplayable, and the instructions are almost unreadable, which doesn't make for much of a game, but at least it has now been preserved and dealt with. Thanks to Google for finding the MSX.org forum post for me, and the user called dink for posting the file at CBM8bit cloud, and the openMSX team for making an emulator that is able to run the game. As for the Bomulus series, Bomulus and the Lost Crown is the final part of the trilogy, and the only one that has an english translation, and more importantly, currently the only game in the series that can be found from the internet. It has some more going on for it as a game than, say, Diamond Luis, which is practically a really cheap port of Boulder Dash, but is still a fairly uninspired piece of maze adventuring. As a final addition for the MSX/SVI section, it appears a version of Nero 2000 (mentioned in HOFG #1) was released also for the MSX/SVI computers, but I have been unable to find any screenshots of it.

Original review and translation of Golf by Kimmo Mäkinen.
Before I had read Juho's book and found out about the impossibility of the task of finding this next item, I had also found the same review as he had from MikroBITTI, issue 5/1985, about a game for the Spectrum that I hadn't heard of previously. It's a golf game, simply called GOLF, written by Kimmo Mäkinen and published by Oy Hedengren Ab, which was the company importing Sinclair machines to Finland. There are no screenshots available, but I dumped the scan of the review below, along with my approximated translation of it, in case you want to read it.

Something as substantial was sent to my e-mail last December by Marko Aho, one of the two creators of the first Finnish commercially released text adventure game, Kultakuume. This is the review of the game from MikroBITTI magazine, issue 9/1986, along with its translation. Many thanks for the scan, Marko! Unfortunately, having a perfect TZX tape image seems to be beyond our reach at this point, unless some collector has a working original tape somewhere and can preserve the game and its so far missing loading screen for the generations to come.

Original review and translation of Kultakuume by Marko Aho and Kari Aaltonen.
October 2013 brought a company called T&T Soft into wider knowledge. They were a small independent software house from Imatra, founded by Tuomas Salste and Timo Rutanen, who mostly released text adventures for the Commodore 64, but also a package of useful programs, featuring a word processor, a spreadsheet calculator program and an archiving program. Their period of existence is said to have been from 1987 to 1991, which is quite a long while for such a relatively unknown software team. None of their games are currently available anywhere, but their website shows some screenshots and cover art.

Last from the dark 80's, we have a really unique and rare specimen - a game for Sharp MZ-700/800. This game has already been featured on the Sinivalkoinen Pelikirja website as well as videogames.fi, but I thought, why not put it here as well, since it really is the only one of its kind... as far as anyone's aware. Besides, I'm probably the first one to write anything about it in english. The game is called the Lord of the Maze, and it was written by Aki Kaukovirta, and released by Comico Oy in the mid-80's, but no-one has so far found out the correct year. Judging from the instruction leaflet, the game is likely to be an action adventure taking place in a maze, and your mission is to collect ten treasure chests and fight some sort of monsters. To exit the maze, the final chest should contain a spell which helps you find the exit. The only picture currently available is the cover art, which I shamelessly grabbed from videogames.fi - I hope it's okay. Send me an angry e-mail if it's not. =P


On the PC front, then, the overused (and often wrongly) word "plethora" comes foremost to mind, when trying to describe the amount of still hidden gems that either myself or mr. Kuorikoski didn't previously cover in our works. Unfortunately, some of these titles are incredibly difficult to find, and most of them have very little to do with the commercial game industry. To be honest, most of these have little to do with quality either, but then again this is exactly one of the reasons why these games play an important part in the history of our gaming industry.

Most of us Finnish game historians have long known about the almost famous educational title called "Hup-Peli" from Alko Oy, the national alcoholic beverage retailing monopoly. Very few have ever seen it in action, though. The game title comes from a funny, currently seldomly used spoken Finnish language term meaning the state of inebriation, stylised to feature the word "game" (peli) as a clear indicator that this is supposed to be a game. It was released somewhere around the mid-1980's, and the price tag was an enormous 700 mk, which would translate to more than 100 euros now, although the changes in currency value might have had some small effect on the actual worth. But the thing is, the game was only ever sold to be used in schools, so the licence fee for using the software in a public place would have had to have been relatively great, and thus the cost for the software had to be as great. I have no clear idea what the game is like in action, since I have never seen it, but I came across this picture of the contents and the artwork, featuring a description of the game. Apparently, the idea is to make choices of action from the areas of health, sensibility and money, in order to get a more healthy attitude towards drinking alcohol. From that description, games like Alter Ego and the Secret Diary of Adrian Mole spring to mind. Would I pay over 100 euros for this? No, but a serious collector might.

Soon after I had finished part 3 of the actual HOFG trilogy, I came across a fantastically stupid idea of browsing through all the archives of AGI Studio games that I could find, if there were any titles out there made with the program by Finnish AGI enthusiasts. To be sure, it was a noodle-in-a-haystack type of a mission, but once you get fanatic about random things that you know very few other people in the world will ever get fanatic about, the obsession grows by each page you go through. After a few hours of browsing, I actually came across one game called "AGI Quest I" by Juha Terho, which is a brief four-room demo adventure. Quite good at being one, too, I must say. So instead of finding any more Finnish AGI games, I found my way to Juha Terho's website with some more old software he had made, but there's sadly too little to be found in terms of actual games - one text adventure and an unplayable traffic simulator were all that I could call at all game-like in addition to AGI Quest I. In case you're interested, check his website here.

Screenshots from Juha Terho's AGI Quest I (left and middle) and his untitled traffic simulator.

Although that already felt a bit like scraping the barrel, I'm sure there are hundreds of unmentionably bad attempts at game making made with The Games Factory and other beginner-level game creation software made games that I could hunt down and include here. But there are still more important works that have yet to be mentioned, such as these buggers:

MYRKKY games: Mato-peli (top left), Kak-Man (top middle), Tamasochisti (top right), President Evil 1 (bottom left).
Screenshots of "Minä, Peräsmies" CD-ROM games shown at bottom middle and bottom right.

From the latter half of 1990's over to early 2000's, a comics magazine with a seriously questionable taste in humour called MYRKKY released a bunch of bad games in context with the magazine's comics and other objects born to be ridiculed at the time. The ones I managed to get my hands on were the floppy disks containing Acne Attack and President Evil 1, plus their first cd-rom containing something like 10 cheap but remotely funny games. Not all of them had anything to do with Finnish programmers, but some of them did. Mediakeisarit Oy released a cd-rom game collection release for another fart-humour comic book character at the time as well, called "Minä, Peräsmies" (something like "I, Buttman"). If nothing more, they did have a slightly punk-like effect on media producers and consumers alike in Finland, from what I remember... albeit a very brief one. So, it has been established that humour is a delicate thing to try and blossom in this country, particularly bad humour. If you want to have a go at it, better keep it as underground as possible. Speaking of underground...

Left to right: Negro Hunt, Nigger in the Wonder-Land, Oikeutta eläimille, Lihonagotchi

As far as bad humour goes, you can't get much worse than this bunch. On the far left, we have Negro Hunt and it's unrelated sequel Nigger in the Wonder-Land by Allu & MC, whoever they are. Even mentioning them here feels incredibly stupid, but people have a right to know!! Don't they? Then there are these two animal activist friendly games called Oikeutta eläimille (Justice to animals) and Lihonagotchi (Fatagotchi), although the game itself has a typo in the title - Lihonacotchi. In Lihonagotchi, your mission is simply to feed the orange block representing a fat animal with hamburger parlors and such. In Oikeutta eläimille, your mission is to shoot animal rights activists for trying to free your caged foxes. There are even sicker games out there, and I have to admit I'm a big fan of bad games, but most of them are choice-based text "adventures", which makes it kind of useless to feature them here.

Puupeli 1 (top) and 2 (bottom)
At the suggestion of my friend Ville M., I will mention a pair of strategy games that I previously overlooked: Puupeli 1 and 2 (literally translates to "Woodgame") by idle Productions and Digital Dawn. The first one was made by idle Productions, namely Kimmo Mäkelä with Timo and Olli Yliaho, while the second one was coded by Touko Maksimainen and Jan Guillen with permission from the original team. In these games, your mission is to harvest some wood and sell them in order to get better wood harvesting equipment. While you're at it, all kinds of wildlife will wreak havoc on your trees, and so you will need to harvest them as well, but getting caught at it will cost you some valuable time. Still, you need to keep your hut warm and food supply filled by whatever means, so it's a tricky balance you need to keep in order to get a high score - yes indeed, they still are arcade games at heart. Also, the original Puupeli is the only game I know of to feature our national anthem as the high score music by default, so with that in mind, it's probably one of the most Finnish games in existence. Puupeli 2 differs from the first game in that it's now viewed directly from above, instead of having an isometric point of view; you can't see any animals unless you accidentally move your cursor over them; and chopping the trees is way more difficult, since they regain energy.

Screenshots from the Eräjorma series. Top left: Eräjorma - Kalastus (2001). Right: Eräjorma 2 - Siimat sotkussa (2005).
Bottom left: Eräjorma - Metsästys (2002).

Having now written about some nature games reminded me of another nature-themed game series, which I previously overlooked. The Eräjorma (officially translated as Fishing George, although the actual word means something closer to "woodsman") game series is currently about to become a quadrilogy. The first three parts were fishing and hunting simulations of sorts. The fourth part is still unreleased, but it's a point-and-click adventure with the subtitle "Haaksirikko", which translates pretty much to "Shipwrecked". If you understand finnish, you can read about it here at Siili Software's website.
Legal Crime (Byte Enhancers, 1997)
Screenshot copied from MobyGames.com

Before things get wrapped up, let's go briefly back to the commercial side, and take a look at one game that I overlooked the first time around in HOFG #2. Thanks again to Juho K. for letting me use his book as a source. The game in question is a sadly forgotten action/strategy game called Legal Crime, which did have some rather special features for its time, and was quite popular for a brief period. The game was developed and released by Byte Enhancers in 1997. The game looks and feels much like a mafia version of Syndicate, but the main thing about it was online multiplayer mode. Unfortunately, this feature has long been unsupported, so the only way to currently enjoy it is in single player mode. It's still a very nice game to try out, especially if you happen to be a strategy game fanatic.


Finally, I feel like I should mention some of my current favourites from newer Finnish games. Naturally, I can't speak of Max Payne 3, because it wasn't developed by Remedy, and Alan Wake was a huge disappointment, even though I did finish it in two or three days. As I am a retro gamer at heart, the games that I tend to like have something of the old games still intact, whether it's style, playability or fun factor.

Screenshots from games by Virtanen Games. Top row, left to right: Cosmic, Plup Fiction and Painajainen.
Bottom row, left to right: Snowball, Skullreaction and Kaipuu.

For a while, my favourite Finnish indie game developer that makes their games solely with Game Maker, has been Virtanen Games. The first title that I came across from them was Painajainen (Nightmare) from 2006, and back then it was one of the best Game Maker platformers I had ever played so far. In 2007, they released Snowball, another triumph in the platformer field, but my favourite of their lot was released the same year - the game is called Kaipuu (Longing), a highly atmospheric greyscale platformer in a style reminiscent of Knytt Stories, but is based on the concept of love versus hate. Virtanen Games have made other sorts of games, such as puzzlers and  shoot'em-ups, but their platformers seem to hit the spot most often. Their website is here, if you want to take a look.

Trials Evolution Gold Edition (RedLynx, 2013)

On the commercial side, I've always been drawn to the Trials series by RedLynx, ever since their original flash versions of the game. The most current game in the series that I have been hooked on lately has been Trials Evolution Gold Edition, which is brilliant online fun. Then, the two Trine games have been amazing to play through, although I don't think I will be playing them through again. But the most wonderful surprise of all in the last couple of years has definitely been Legend Of Grimrock from Almost Human. For anyone who ever enjoyed Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder even slightly, I cannot recommend this game enough. And I've heard a rumour there's a sequel in the works as well...

Trine 2: Complete Story (Frozenbyte, 2011-2013)
Legend of Grimrock (Almost Human, 2012)


That's it for now - that's all the additional information I could think of that needs to be said about the less known history of Finnish games. If anything more will ever come to my mind, I will update this entry and inform about it on the regular channels. Also, if information on more modern history of Finnish games is required, your best bet is to ask Juho Kuorikoski to translate his book.

Here are the links to my original HOFG trilogy, in case you need reminders: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Thanks for reading again, see you next time with a more normal entry!
Comments and corrections are as welcome as ever!

1 comment:

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