|A Finnish werewolf in Helsinki|
Greetings readers! This blog post is all about my recent journey to the Nordic country of Finland to attend Tracon 8 as the roleplaying Guest of Honor. It’s going to be a pretty long report, since I was in Finland for almost a week. I met a ton of great people and went to a bunch of different cool places, not to mention the convention itself.
Check out more about Tracon after the jump!
At first, I had my reservations—for one, I don’t speak Finnish, and I really didn’t know what I would be getting myself into. However, the allure of going to a foreign country as a guest of honor for a convention was pretty strong, and I found myself exhilarated by the prospect.
As the convention approached, I got a lot of communication from the great Tracon committee, especially Marianna Leikomaa—she handled all the arrangements and encouraged me to look at some tourist-y things to do in Helsinki and Tampere. So, when the fateful day arrived, I was really looking forward to the journey. In my heart, I had made a commitment: I would go to Finland to discover what Finland is all about, and that meant that I would try everything Finnish that I could. No half-measures, no being picky about food or activities—I wanted to do it all!
Let me start this report with a note about the Finnair airline. I’ve traveled overseas before; twice to Korea and twice to England, so I have some idea of what to expect. Well, Finnair exceeded my expectations for international travel. The service was fantastic! The flight attendants wore gloves and impeccable uniforms, they served good food and drinks at the right intervals during the trip, and the plane landed so smoothly I almost didn’t know we had touched down. Major kudos to Finnair for providing the best international flight experience I’ve ever had.
Arriving in Helsinki, I met Marianna and we went out to look at the city. Helsinki is a really interesting city, and it has a unique feel—although there are over a half-million people living there, it doesn’t feel crowded or busy. Instead, it has a very welcoming and open atmosphere. The presidential residence is right in front of the main harbor, for example, and the streets are extremely clean and well-ordered.
|Looking out at the Helsinki bay from Suomenlinna Sea Fortress.|
I visited the Lutheran Cathedral, which is a fantastic site for imagining Assassin’s Creed-style adventures, and I took a look at Helsinki’s shipyards and the icebreaker fleet in their summer home. Later, I visited Helsinki’s video game museum and the very impressive Fantasiapelit chain of gaming stores. The highlight of Helsinki was going to the Suomenlinna sea fortress, which has a very interesting history and looks out over the beautiful vista of Helsinki’s ocean bay. Next, I went to Tampere and checked out the Lenin museum there, which is very interesting. We took a brief tour of the Moomin museum as well, and then it was time for the convention.
A Note about Speaking English
So one of my concerns about going to Finland was that I wondered how well I’d be able to get along
as a non-Finnish speaker. The visit completely put my mind at ease! I spoke to around 100 people, and roughly 97 of them spoke and understood English just fine. In fact, I felt completely comfortable, and I knew that should I ever find myself in Finland again in the future, I would have zero problems communicating with the Finns.
A Note about Finnish Food
Finnish food is really good—let me just start there. Reindeer tastes pretty great, and reindeer heart is so savory that it is something I could probably eat every day. I also tasted pickled herring, tar herring, elk, red deer, lingonberries (which are great, especially with any meat), and tar ice cream. OK, tar ice cream tastes like licking the underside of a diesel engine, so that may be the one exception! I had some Finnish Japanese food as well, and there’s a restaurant in Tampere that serves some truly exceptional teriyaki chicken.
By far the best place we went to eat is called Harald’s, which is a scandanavian-themed restaurant. They served us “shields” (wooden trays shaped like shields) full of food for appetizers, main courses, and desserts, and everything was absolutely delicious. Black angus steak with bbq sauce, Viking helmets, half-liter bottles of honey beer—it was a sublime dinner experience.
Half of the fun of eating at Harald’s was sharing the experience with Outi Sippo-Purma (the convention organizer), Tiina Uusi-Rasi, Hermanni Ketonen (the RPG coordinator), Iris Ronkko (the cosplay coordinator) Santtu Pajukangas and the cosplay guests of honor for Tracon: Elffi, Shinji, Calssara, and Risa. Not only are they fantastic cosplayers, they’re a lot of fun to hang out with!
A Note about Finnish People
|Eevi Korhonen, my Finnish "big sister!"|
I found the Finns to be, on the whole, quite gregarious and engaged. Knowing that most of the people I met are also fans of gaming, anime, and science-fiction/fantasy definitely helped… it only took one or two questions like, “What’s your favorite Doctor and Companion?” to get a lively conversation going! Tracon had a couple of “handlers” for the Guests of Honor this year; Marianna (as I mentioned earlier) and Eevi Korhonen. Marianna is a fantastic tour guide; she knows a great deal about Finnish culture (especially the Moomins!) and history (although she’d say otherwise!), and she was a really great companion to have when showing me around Helsinki and Tampere. Eevi basically adopted me and served as my Finnish “big sister” for my visit, always encouraging me to try out various Finnish foods and celebrating all things geek-y with me from video games to classic sci-fi books.
|Artist's alley in Tracon 8|
Tracon is an unusual convention in that it has a split focus: it started out as an RPG-centric convention, and it features several gaming-oriented programs such as panels, interviews, and guests of honor (like myself!). There is also a very strong Anime contingent at the convention, and it is one of the biggest cosplay events in Finland. In fact, this year, the cosplay contest winners received a ticket to go to Japan and compete in the World Cosplay Summit, making Tracon a part of the “cosplay playoffs,” if you will, for Europe.
There were over 5,000 attendees this year at Tracon, the largest turnout so far! In fact, they had to turn away roughly 1,000 fans at the door because the limits on their venue, and many of these folks ended up hanging out in the park just outside the convention center. There was so much to see and do—even though I took almost 300 pictures, I ended up only glimpsing much of the action.
Tracon 8: Friday
Friday started with the opening ceremonies of the con, including a really cool dance opening to some sweet eurobeat music. I got to do an interview about working in the game industry with Hermanni Ketonen that was held in a big auditorium. It was the first interview I’ve done quite like it, and it was really fun. After that, I ran a session of Shadows Angelus with six players, including Eevi, and I felt it was a big success—I used a similar scenario that I had done earlier this year at Genghis Con. Lastly, I got a chance to meet James Raggi, the creator of the Lamentations of the Flame Princess RPG. James has moved full-time to Finland, and he had a lot to say about both indy game design and living as a game professional in Finland. It definitely made me consider following in his footsteps, because Finland—as I have learned from Tracon—is awesome.
Tracon 8: Saturday
|My excellent Shadows Angelus gamers!|
The second day of the convention opened up with a panel on worldbuilding that I shared with Mike Pohjola (novelist and RPG designer) and Miska Fredman (RPG designer). It was a great panel where we fielded some intriguing questions from Marianna (our moderator), and there emerged a strange theme revolving around the moon in our answers. I got another pair of interviews, including one with Playstation Universe, and then it was time for the Fan Meet!
The fan meet was only sparsely attended (although I am told this is normal) but the people who did make it had some awesome comments and questions about my work and working in the industry. Mike Pohjola stopped by as well! Lastly I was invited to attend a panel about the game Planescape: Torment and its spiritual successors by Pekka Wallendahl and Jukka "NiTessinen" Särkijärvi. This panel was also a ton of fun, and it is exciting to see where the game has been and where it is going in the future.
After the convention, it was time to celebrate with dinner and a trip to Sauna. I need to write an entire blog post just about the Sauna trip, so for now, I’ll just say it was a moving and memorable experience and leave it at that. Vincent Baker has an excellent blog post about this subject you can read here in the meantime!
Tracon and my visit to Finland was completely unforgettable, and it is entirely due to the people that I met during the trip. I want to make sure and call out all of these people for helping to make the experience awesome: Eevi Korhonen, Marianna Leikomaa (my amazing handlers), Outi Sippo-Purma, Tiina Uusi-Rasi, Hermanni Ketonen, Iris Ronkko, Santtu Pajukangas, Pekka Wallendahl, Jukka "NiTessinen" Särkijärvi, Mike Pohjola, Miska Fredman, Mikko Pervilä, Petri Hiltunen, Sari Polvinen, Mika Loponen, Orjo (my apologies, I don’t remember your last name!), Joonas Selin, Lassi Aalto (aka Brony Stark), Marko Leppänen, Karoliina Leikomaa and Pasi Välkkynen.
All I want to say here is that Tracon and the gamers in Finland are remarkable in every way—I highly encourage any of my friends and colleagues in the industry to consider either attending Tracon or Ropecon, and if you’re lucky enough to get invited to go to either as a guest, say yes. It is totally worth it!