Interview With Jussi Autio

em breve em português

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How did you come up with the idea to create “Modern Society”?
Well originally the basic idea came up to my mind on my Chinese lessons back in 2004. My teacher was telling me about his home country and I remember pondering that "Whoa! Now aren't there a lot of cultural differences". And then I thought that "what do I mean by cultural differences. How could you define culture?" And the idea went on and soon from the reflection between Europe and China I had come up with the four basic values in the game - militarism/harder values, economical values, human values and green values. The game was something I occasionally worked on ever since and at the beginning there were just too many things and too unpolished things in the game. But then again, the game has lived through my growing experience on designing games so I don't think I would've had the experience back in 2004 to make it as good as it is today.

Where do you get the ideas for your games? Do they start with the mechanics, or the themes?
I think it varies a lot, but all in all they go hand in hand. I think about many things in my life and sometimes I see a mechanics in something and I'd say that's the moment when just regular thoughts about life, love, politics or whatever turns into a game idea. A good example of such is the birth of my favourite prototype which I'd love to see published (although it would need a bigger print run to begin with as it has more difficult components I'm afraid). A girl broke my heart little over a year ago and I was devastated. There on the feelings on lost love I was questioning myself to understand what went wrong, why I didn't see it coming as I thought we were happy together and so forth. And then suddenly I came up with slightly abstract game about love though where players work on teams to be happier than their rival couple. :)

Of course now with my own Tuonela Productions company I also have to brainstorm for ideas which is awesome, but as always there are some back round information on what we're doing so very rarely we can just design a mechanics and then start to think what we're going to do about it. :)

What kind of mechanics do you prefer to focus on the development process of your games?
Well if you saw my prototypes I'd say I like to experiment so now that I have made 8 prototypes that are totally playable and somewhat 4-5 that still need something often there aren't many things that are similar in each. I think that the best way to design a game is streamline the core mechanics and try to keep in mind few basic things that simply have to be there even if it's Agricola or Blokus. The sense of advancement in game, no run-away-leader problem, no kingmaker, good flow with the game, built in sense of strategy even for firstimers and other basics designers more experienced than I am have long acknowledged. I think keeping the downtime to an absolute minimum is very important. I mean we're supposed to be having fun playing the game and not watch other people play the game? :)

Which level of luck is acceptable for you in a game?
It depends on a game. For a short filler even games like 6 Nimmt can be fun, particularly with new players, but such a strong luck element in more serious game would be unacceptable. Of course the luck element has one important role to play - to allow inexperienced players to enjoy the game and give them a feeling of having a chance to win if they play right, but not tackle experienced players too much. Also I think that enough luck element to wipe out analysis paralysis players chance to destroy the game by calculating everything is good.

How many games do you work on at one time? Are you working on several designs simultaneously, or do you work solely on one project?
There are many prototypes in my closets and few in my head. But rarely I develop them at the same time. In other words there's usually one or two project that I feel like working on and when I cannot see how the game could be better or get frustrated (or feel like my test players have now played enough and I don't want to outplay the prototype if I'm not able to better it enough) then I might switch to some other projects.

Can you tell me anything about the project you are currently working on? Can you tell me any details about the game itself?
Well I don't know which is most acute one. There are two that I will most likely start working on now that we've put the three novelties into the factory, but they are both something with existing IPR's and although things look good I still would like to get confirmed that those games come out next year. But I can share some info on them - one would be a vampire game with tile-laying mechanics and running on the countryside for some blood. The other... ummm... reversed Bang! mechanics with idea of trying to wipe oneself out first. But whether I work on those more or not depends on how other things with Tuonela goes.

Your family and friends participate in your adventure to create a new game?
Friends definitely, both gamers and non-gamers a like. I think one of the key inspirations for me is the bunch of excellent people I get to play my games with and their input is invaluable. Honestly some of the changes don't always come from my head as usually after a test session there's some very good conversations on the game and topic and people throw ideas around. Most wouldn't ever fit the game, but there are real genius ideas in other people's heads so I don't need to figure out everything myself - I just need to know what makes the game better and what would lead to a worse direction. And also since I'm the only one who sees the game as a whole (as usually people play it once now, a second time in 3 months etc.) I am the only one who can see what's been a good addition and what isn't.

The creation of a game, have several moments? Creation, editing, testing and publishing? Which is the most pleasant for you? Why?
They are all pleasant in their own way. Creation and testing go hand in hand and are overlapping processes. It's definitely an exiting and fun moment as playing and discussing something that wouldn't exist without me is always fun. Then editing if you mean by editing the rules, art and everything, is fun as the game is getting ready. It's mostly hard work though with finetuning, testing if the art works and so forth. And publishing now isn't it always fun when something gets finished and you get the proof of your work into your hand as a hard copy, something you can feel? So yeah, they are all rewarding things and one of the reasons why I would want to be able to do just board game designing. :)

How often do you play test a board game before publication?
The more the better of course, but at least enough to see that it works. On The Club though it's too bad that I didn't test the final art enough as on that one most seem to complain that medium and large dancers are hard to spot at first and that would've been very easy to fix. On Modern Society though I hope our tests have been sufficient. At least art shouldn't be problem, but time will tell if we tested enough the last changes we made. :)

What game that you've designed took the longest and had the most changes?
Modern Society definitely, and many times longer than any of the other designs I have. It was the first real prototype I started to work on and although it is rewarding to see it finished now I think I am more than happy to let go now.

Once you give a game to a publisher do they ever develop the game past your original design? Are you always happy with such development?
Well I've only worked with Fred Distribution with my designs they want to publish, but of course my own company Tuonela Productions is also a publisher so I don't know how to answer. With Fred I think the cooperation has been very fruitful and particularly Rick Soued has helped me a lot. On the game design we've talked about rules, but it's been mostly how different things are presented instead of actual rule changes.

How does the internet affect your designs? Do you read the feedback about your games online?
Of course. If I am to design games that earn me a living I need to know what sucks in my games and what works. My friends like me and although they can and I encourage them to be harsh on the prototypes, the true test is still the moment when games are on the stores.

What do you think about playing board games online?
I've played Carcassonne online and Catan online. It's fun, but frankly if I want to play computer games then I prefer playing real computer games where the computer does the shitty work and lets the game design to be more complex without making it complex.

How often do you play your own games after they've been published? Do you prefer playing your own games or the games of others?
Once my game has been published I've played it so many times already that after promotion I rather play something else. I still can play The Club for instance, but only if there's someone who hasn't played it yet. For those who have already played it I'd rather skip it.

You play games time to time, or the games are part of your daily life?
I've ran a board game club for almost 6 years and we play at a local pub every Tuesday from 19-24. Maybe once a month I also play during the weekend. Timewise I spend at least as much time on computer games as on board games. I don't own a TV so when I'm home alone then I either read, paint, write, watch movies or play computer games. And frankly I think I do the last one the most.

Can you tell me the game you enjoy playing the most? Why?
Wallenstein. It's too heavy to be played on our board game club with duration of 3 hours, but the three hours are simply iron! No downtime at all, a lot of tactical elements and the best way to handle a conflict ever!
Another one I enjoy the most is Blokus. It's so easy to get a hang of, but still one of the most tactical games ever.

Can you tell me your favorite game? And your favorite type of game?
Well the two I already mentioned are among the very best, but other than those I think Euphrates & Tigris is great as is El Grande. They are both the type of games I don't feel like playing on most of the times, but with a right people they are simply amazing.
The type of games I enjoy the most in general are a bit more light though. Games such as Taluva that last slightly less than an hour are my cup of tea. Nowadays I rather play 5 games in an evening than focus on 1 game the whole time. Playing one random 1 hour game here and there, out there in the world is also a lot more possible than suggesting a 3 hour monster.

Do you prefer play the games or create them?
Both are better. And I have a lot to say about both of them. :) I think there's a lot of rock 'n roll in board games and you can do more with them than you can with video games. And also my personal experience is that unlike video & computer games, board games are gender-friendly. Video games are still dominated by men, but at least in my group there are the same amount of men and women players. I'd go even as far as say that it's more common that in our club there's more women than men and more often I find people who are women and like to play board games occasionally than men.

Do you think sales are a determining factor of whether a game is good or not?
It determines if the designer has a future or not, but what is good game is always a personal opinion in the end. Of course we can always discuss what are bad sides in games, but people like different things.

When did you realize that create games were your dream?
In 2000 when I was in high school and found out a PC game called King of Dragon Pass. That game changed my life. Then I realized that games could be so much more than movies, literature, art or any other culture form. Being active media, games can bring people further than passive medias can. King of Dragon Pass... never I've been as awed by a game than while playing that. Everything was possible. It is still a lot more free than any of GTA's or whatnots.

How do you define yourself as a game designer?
Different. I want to bring things closer to people and make games about "real" issues. I want to create games that can provoke conversations during the game and are part of fun time between people.

Do you have another job, or you are a full time game designer?
I'm mostly running my own company Tuonela Productions which makes games, both software and tabletop games. Most my time is consumed in shitty things, but occasionally I can do something with games as well. :)

Will you be present in Essen with “Modern Society”?
Most definitely.

Do you normally follow any particular game designer with especial attention?
Not really and from the famous ones I've only briefly met two.

Do you think that board games can be use for an education purpose?
Definitely and in a lot more efficient way than software games. A good educational board game keeps the students in their regular classroom, keeps the teacher in control, doesn't let them wonder about surfing in the internet and makes them more involved in the education than would if they were playing educational game on a computer. The rest depends on the game and naturally I'd have a lot to say about Modern Society's educational version. It was selected as the second best educational game in Nordic Serious Games Conference 2008. Not bad from a board game which was competing with bunch of computer games. :)

What you think about the economic crisis? It will affect the games sales?
Unfortunately I'm too inexperienced and I haven't been involved in the business long enough to really have view on this. I rely on more veteran people's opinions. There are both good and bad sides - less money keeps people more at home and once they first skip major investments, travels and so forth, they have more money to spend while still having the same amount of time which could play into game sales. But on the other hand if stores are closed and there are less places to buy games from, less to choose from, them it will have a negative impact on the overall picture.

The “Age of Empires III” and “Goa” board games retract the glorious days of Portugal history. Do you think that Portugal history can be a theme for a game made be you?
Why not. My major was history in university so history is very close to my heart. However there are so many historical board games around so even if I want to make computer games about history I don't feel the same urge in board games. There's plenty already, but where are good board games about love or hate, friendship and so on? :)

What you know about Portugal? Have you ever visited Portugal?
I'd say I know slightly more than the average Joe. I know you have a great history. Even though I myself look down on the imperialistic Era as something Europe shouldn't take pride on, particularly the Spanish and how they wiped out civilizations and destroyed the Mayan libraries and burned every written record they could find, still I think Portugal can take pride on your own efforts on the same Era.
I haven't visited Portugal myself, but both my sisters have. And in Football Portugal is always my favourite European Championship. I don't think I've been as passionately angry as I was back in 2000 with the incident in French match, Xavier's handball and... Ah, feels funny nowadays.

Thank very much for the interview.
Thank you. I hope I wasn't too lengthy. :)

Tuonela ProductionsEnglish Rules
Modern Society
Jussi Autio BGG

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