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Derahan

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Greetings and welcome to you reader, whom ever you might be. It is my absolute pleasure as always to welcome you to another edition of the AARlander which hopefully you shall find amusing and interesting this time around as well. This time around there is something special, that's right, it's year 2 the new AARlander is out! (Not chronological of course, we cound 2012 and 2013 etc.) Hopefully this year will give us great accomplishments together and the new AARlander grow in size and expand into many more readers and maybe even more contributors, both of which is totally dependent on the community.

So as usual I want to give my gratitude to those people who made this new AARlander possible. First and foremost, my thanks goes to Canonized and the others, who along him, worked on the first AARlander and made this one possible with their work there, otherwise this AARlander would not be here (most likely). Secondly I want to thanks the moderators who made it possible for me to do this and came up with the idea to revive the AARlander for a second round. Thirdly I want to thank Gen. Marshall, the one who has made the banner and also is spreading the word about the AARlander on the forums and last but not the least all of those who has contributed to this number of the AARlander, a many thanks to you all who in the end makes this possible with your articles.

As a final word I want to wish you the reader a good visit and hope that you like the articles written!

P.S when you finish reading you can always head over to the feedback thread to say your word on this AARlander edition and make your voice heard about how you think it's going for us!

Code:
[URL="http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/showthread.php?658184-AARlander-Edition-6&p=14870316&viewfull=1#post14870316"]DensleyBlair - A Marriage Made in Medieval Heaven - CKII and the AAR[/URL]
[URL="http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/showthread.php?658184-AARlander-Edition-6&p=14870329&viewfull=1#post14870329"]TeckoR - "In the Night They Came: The Storm Comes"[/URL]
[URL="http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/showthread.php?658184-AARlander-Edition-6&p=14870344&viewfull=1#post14870344"]Loki100 - On commenting AARs[/URL]
[URL="http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/showthread.php?658184-AARlander-Edition-6&p=14870347&viewfull=1#post14870347"]Hjarg - Of Games, Stories and Goals and Paradox[/URL]
[URL="http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/showthread.php?658184-AARlander-Edition-6&p=14870355&viewfull=1#post14870355"]robw963 - MAKING IMAGE SIZE WORK FOR YOU[/URL]
[URL="http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/showthread.php?658184-AARlander-Edition-6&p=14870369&viewfull=1#post14870369"]Tanzhang - The Seven Deadly AAR Misconceptions[/URL]
 
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Derahan

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A Marriage Made in Medieval Heaven - CKII and the AAR
By DensleyBlair

Crusader Kings II is one of those games that comes around every so often and captivates me. Being one of those people with wide interests, very often I'll think of something, or maybe be researching something, and then think:

'You know what? I'd like a go at that.' Or:

'How hard could running a country really be?' Or:

'I wish I were considered the greatest manager ever to win the Johnstone's Paint Trophy with Carshalton Athletic.'[1]

As you can imagine, that last one doesn't really apply to CKII (or any Paradox game, to my knowledge,) but the other two are the phrases that I have to thank for what is probably now an unhealthy obsession with the games produced by Paradox, specifically CKII, and their associated periods of history.

And I think I know why I like the game so much. Crusader Kings gives the player the unique opportunity of being able to interact and play with interesting characters whilst appealing to those who just like to see a massive empire or blob on the screen. If that's your playing style, then that's fine. It's your game, and therefore yours to do with as you please. But it's because of the characters that I have come to love this game to this degree. Whether you are a lowly count in the HRE who's striving unnoticed for sainthood, or the Kaiser himself - a kinslaying, homosexual bastard who is fighting to keep his realm together and the Papal legates away, you can always play to a story.

Here I [finally] get to AARs. I must admit, I have only fleetingly spent time in other sub-forums in the AAR forum (which I should probably rectify come New Year,) but, from what I know of of the games, I would imagine it would be harder to capture the same level of attachment, if you will. To provide you with an example, NewbieOne's current 'Land's End' AAR featured Kadoc, earl, then duke of Cornwall. As the story went on, I found myself growing more and more fond of the duke, willing him through his adventures in Iberia, and feeling happy for him as William in London looked over him in favour of taking titles away from others. I even felt sad with him when his son died and he grew older.

In the last update, Kadoc the Unyielding [a name bestowed upon him by yours truly] finally yielded. That last update was also the first time I had felt properly sad after having read something, whether that be on paper or on a screen, in a long time. I think you have to go back to Tuesdays With Morrie, which I read two years ago, before you find me sad at something I've read (discounting the times I feel sad that a book has ended, rather than because if the way it ended.) And this is the power of the game. We grow attached to these people, feeling annoyed if they can't prevail and happy when they do. So much so that we like to write stories about them, something to which they certainly lend themselves.

I currently write two AARs [I shan't publicise them here - if you want to find them you can] and don't think I could handle another without ending one, which I don't want to do, more the reason that I think I'd be letting myself down than anything - I know it sounds clichéd, but, when you've invested 25 thousand words worth of your time into something, you want something out of it, whether that be the occasional comment or just the satisfaction of finishing. the reason I bring this up is that, every day - or rather, every time I play (I'm not so lucky to be able to engage in a game of CK every time I get home) - I notice little things in game, or characters, or developments, which make me want to sit down and write something. It doesn't even have to be when I'm in game. Such is the way Crusader Kings has wired itself into me that I'll be out and about and suddenly think:

'That would be a good title for an AAR.' Or:

'I'd really like to do something about ________'

There are so many possibilities in the game, never mind to play, let alone to write. I've heard somewhere that there are more than nine-hundred provinces in the game, which would mean a good few thousand characters at any one time. When someone tells me that they can no longer think of anything original to write about, I will look them in the eye and say:

"Really?"

I think it would be very hard, or at least very time consuming - you'd probably have to be unemployed*(preferably out of choice) just to have enough hours in your day, and then play for years on end before you've played everything. It would take a lot longer to write about it all. It will probably take me at least most of next year to even catch up with myself for In the Footsteps of Charlemagne, then longer to finish the thing. But I don't mind one bit. Documenting the adventures of my characters has given me not only something to do with my time, but an outlet for my writing. I have been writing fiction for years now, although only to any level of success [that's not commercial success, before I start getting calls for money] for the past few years, if even that long ago. But, with AARs, I can turn what was once a very insular experience into something I can share with an entire community, whether they like it or not. And now, perhaps more importantly, I have people who might be bothered if I decide that today I'm just going to stop writing, and so the community gives me a reason to keep going with the writing (although, this has no doubt been discussed in countless other articles.)

And now, hopefully, you can see my point. There is a very good reason that all of these wonderful AARs exist, especially in the CKII sub-forum. We write, but, really, we're not doing much of the work. Don't get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for anyone who writes an AAR. I know full well how challenging they can be to get right - how long one can spend on one joke, or how one can spend half an hour writing and get two-hundred decent words out of it. But, at the same time, I think a lot of us would admit that AAR writing is certainly more easy than what, for example, someone like Patrick Rothfuss would do. [2] We are lucky as writers because our medium of choice does all of the work for us. It creates the characters, sets the scene. To an extent, it also gives us a plot, whether by limiting us or directing us. I know we occasionally take liberties - I certainly do, changing characters to make them more appropriate to my needs [Simon de Valois is, in reality, a lovely character, never mind the shady man of intrigue in In the Footsteps...] but still, the game has done most of the work. We change things out of necessity, and still it is simple to do so, because other characters and the plot are already sorted. One can know completely where one is going with a story, whether because of having physically reached that far in game, or because the game has given you so many ideas it is no longer possible to have little idea of where to take your tale.

And, for that, I'm certainly thankful. I have written things in the past that, at a few thousand words, ran out of steam. Last year, I wrote something with my brother which - seemingly miraculously - reached 19 thousand words. By that time, it was dead walking. It's a great feeling having so many ideas in one's head that writing is simple. It's also a great feeling when you casually look at the word count and see that you've passed whatever goal you may have set yourself because the writing is flowing. So, thank you Paradox. Not only for creating the game, which, in itself is immensely entertaining, but also for sparking so many ideas in the heads if so many writers. There would be a fair number of stories I really enjoy that would not be here without the game.

And, of course, thanks go to the writers, who transfer the wonderful happenings of the game to paper and screens for all to read. Long may your successes as a community continue. Also, thanks go to Derahan and his team for putting the AARLander together, and for letting me loose with an article.

--​

[1] The Johnstone's Paint Trophy is a competition for the teams in the lower divisors of the the British Football [soccer] League. The joke here is that Carshalton Atheltic are too bad to even qualify for the Paint Trophy. Either that or the joke is just the Johnstone's Paint Trophy itself. Ultimately, though, this is all irrelevant.

[2] Patrick Rothfuss is the author of the book I am currently in the process of reading The Name of the Wind, along with the other two books in the same series. Check him out.
 

Derahan

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In the Night They Came
A Collection of Characters
By TekcoR


The Storm Comes

The rumor was that dark men rode aboard mysterious craft during the calmest of nights; when even the slightest of the canine’s snores were easily heard. Down a long flight of stairs, and winding elongated halls, she slept, a present to my daughter merely two years prior. Far from her small volume snores, I lay half asleep, half awake in the expansive superior bedroom; illuminated by the city life off to the rooms south. Beside the ever trusting and forgiving companion, no human beside me called this place home tonight. Upon numerous occasions, my daughter of a fun and fine four would spend the night, bringing the head count to a crowd. Those occasions it seemed were growing fewer and far between. Each moment felt an eternity away; yet only two years had gone by when three human souls would often find themselves in this room of majestic views.

Through time I had become accustomed to the reality that I had contributed to the present situation. Yet, every night I lay snug between the smooth blue blanket and the dark blue sheets, pondering what life would be like if I had only made different choices. I had been lying here quite some time, and felt an itch above the back of my left knee; but dared not to interrupt the enchanting silence of the cold night. Off in the distance, three miles at the most, the skyscrapers stood defiant in the night; the lights on the very top signaling that I was in fact awake and not immersed in a desirable dream. Beyond the beacons of humanity the mountains rose even higher, surrounding the city in all directions. No light glimmered off these colossal monuments of the Earth, for they had been robbed of their crystal white snow seven years prior.
Father had always preached about the days when man would strip mother nature of its beauty. When we would pass the Rubicon, and mother nature would forever further be an enemy of mankind. Our desires to control the Earth would drive us to our end; for we would cause the seas to rise and create new unimaginable coastlines while the great monuments of man’s ignorance nestled underneath the salt. Time has proven my father to be the arrogant one. We have held the supposed fury of mother nature from repeating tragic events of decades past. He said we could not control her; we could only hope to understand her; yet she has been tamed. Man is not as stupid and uncaring as my father thought; when confronted with significant challenges we rise to the occasion and allow our strength and wit to rule the day.

He was a man grounded in his principles and the past. There was no impressing him with the magnificent fortifications to protect our cities from what mother nature had to offer. The entire life and death of a hurricane had been detailed to great extent; and still he would not budge from his positions! Hours would simply pass as I eagerly, no matter how many times I had failed previously to bring him over to my viewpoint, to the reality that we had established. Yet, my father would always remain true to his nature. He is the fitting definition of the worst of man; arrogant of the future; stuck in the past and an enemy to the future of the species.

My father caused a lot of strain upon the esteemed reputation I hold so preciously; but would quickly trade for the truest of warmth – to be loved. Late one night, nine long years ago, I was awoken from a sleep that came easy to me then. He had simply barraged into the room; as if gone mad; and rambled until help could arrive. Himself to the last, he swore that there was still time that man could redeem itself before Rome would be forever lost. Those would be his last words in my presence, for I would never visit him within the asylum he had so truly earned.

I remained laying in bed, the itch still unresolved. The process of falling asleep had become a ritual; one that was best to leave undisturbed. I was not bothered by the knowledge that had I led to my father’s death, rather I was grateful for the prosperity, knowledge and experience had had provided. I had taken whatever words came from his mouth with the greatest stride; and took it within my heart to prove him and the thousands of others like him wrong. Man can and will succeeded regardless of dissident souls. After his death, his followers, the ever faithful in ignorance, attended his funeral to great numbers. Though thoughtful that with their high profile prophet dead they would abandon their futile mission, they persisted.

The remorse of bringing about the end of thousands of doubters was never the cause of the difficulty about falling asleep. Yet, I for every night I struggled with the necessity of man. As mighty as and smart as we had come, we had still not conquered what we had always needed. It was a perplexing situation; the critics argued that our solutions were flawed for we had not overcome the essential reality of nature. To our defense though, mother nature and human necessity are two different beasts. One has been tamed and the other will be with us until the very end.

The trait of arrogance is another flaw that will be with humanity until the closing bell. It is beyond belief that people will not accept the simple fact that we have become the dominative power on this planet. Perhaps though, the very people we portray as the dumbfounded; unappreciative dredges do have a use in life, albeit a very minimal and abstract role. Their wild proclamations that the Earth will create a storm beyond the magnitude of our robust defenses is nothing but laughable. For every month they claim that a snow storm will bury the city; that a hurricane will decimate an entire coast; and a tornado will swallow up cities. Weather is a constant presence within our live since day one, but our ingenuity and resolve has led us and will continue to do so.

There was a distinctive vibration in the air, an object was moving, and I knew it was not the dog, for I could still hear the faint snores. It sounded as if an object was buzzing in the sky, and was nearing the mansion. I typically heard this sound once or twice a week, and within a minute or two it would fade away. I began counting the seconds, at the same time imagining sheep jumping over a hurdle. Sleep was never that easy, and the buzzing sound continued to draw closer; which would threaten the ritual of necessity. Three minutes passed and the sound which was clearly a drone drew ever nearer. The use of unmanned aerial vehicles had become paramount to the efforts to study and control nature’s destructive power. Thus it was not uncommon to hear the frequent and distinctive bee-like buzz they emitted when nearby.

The route of this particular drone was a bit perplexing; typically they did not fly this far north of the city. While unusual, it was nothing to be concerned of. We had been suspecting a storm, the sixth of the year and month, barreling from the northwest to arrive within a day, or two, possibly three. These drones were typically dispatched as far in advance as possible to ever monitor the intensity and prepare us for the likely outcome and our response. Their mission were essential, for not only did they gather intelligence, it allowed us to propel that image that we were under control of the situation.

It continued, its volume having intensified from a faint buzz to a partially muffled sound. As time went by, it should have passed the mansion yet I could still hear it as if it was circling the mansion. I sighed. I did not wish to wake leave the battlefield of the bed and begin the ritual all over. However, I knew it would haunt me not to investigate the sound to satisfaction. I could eventually overcome the curiosity within me; though the battle would continue on far longer into the night, possibly not ending till the sun rose. I had already been waging war for the past forty nine minutes, and if I removed myself I waged the risk those minutes being frivolously lost for nothing of true importance.

I hesitated, trying not to look out the curtain-less window. Another minute passed and I turned my head towards the window, letting out an elongated sigh in the same movement. Slowly I lifted the warmth and safety of blanket and swirled my legs to the floor as I sat up. My legs felt stiff, as if they were the only part of my body that had cared to fall asleep. The chill of the hardwood floors sent shivers up my spine making me beckon the covers. Yet I persisted, arriving at the southerly window less than fifteen seconds after departing safety. A flash of light appeared before my very eyes and I fell back hitting the floor with a loud oomph that was secondly only to the overbearing sound of wind rushing by.
 

Derahan

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On commenting AARs
By Loki100


I’d like to use this update on the AGEOD AARs to muse on the nature of the commenting process. Two recent posts in different AARs to me exemplify just why comments are so important on this forum. Not just for the morale of writers but to develop the AAR itself.

This is a much discussed theme and there is a link to some previous debates in the AAR FAQ here. One of the links is to a previous AARlander piece by Phargle that is more than worth revisiting. In it he offers a taxonomy of types of commentators suggesting these run the range from ‘subscribed/still reading’ to a comment that implies they read (or saw) some part of the post to what he calls Really Paying Attention Guy or their close relative . . .And Skilled Enough To Offer Critique Guy.

The point that Phargle makes is all types of comment are valid, all, in different ways help keep an AAR in existence and equally none of us have the time to read all the prodigious output on this forum in any detail. Equally I realise that many readers only follow AARs for games they own (a restriction too far in my opinion) and even if we can play the game, often lack the detailed knowledge to offer a comment that is more than a statement of what we liked, or really stood out, in a recent post. However, the type of comment that Phargle described as “The big mojo commenter at the top of this pyramid” is hard to achieve, but when you see one, you realise just how critical the interaction between writers and commentators are on this forum.

I'd like to exemplify this with two recent posts on the AGEOD AAR forums that really meet the criteria and show just why that sort of comment, rare as it is, and hard as it is to generate, is such a powerful part of this community.

The first was in The Executer’s AAR on the American war of tax evasion contained in the Wars In America game: How Hard Could it Be: A First Timer Plays WiA. This is unusual for the forum in being single player but in truth this is one of those scenarios where playing the British, even against the AI, is a real challenge. At its core you have the problem of all counter-insurgency wars, a large army starves and a small army gets beat. If you split up to hold your gains you will lose them to the enemy army, if you don’t garrison your gains, pesky militia will take them back from you. So how do you formulate a strategy?

The AAR is littered by comments from readers all suggesting or praising this or that move. Then Isaac Brook makes this post which, quite simply offers a strategic logic in a nutshell. It’s a gem, it gives you a goal and a framework – you still need to work out how – but all of a sudden what appears like a random and thankless task has a structure. And as most students of strategy will tell you, having a goal is a rather useful attribute.

The second was in my own Pride of Nations AAR, Manufacturing Italy. Now this too has a lot of discussion between the readers on the economic model in PoN and geo-strategic options open to Italy (the game tends not to see easy unification with the Austrian held provinces of Lombardia and the Veneto). Then Sir Garnett pops this gem into the thread. Its different to the one by Isaac Brook but equally valuable. The difference is that, with the regular commentators, a strategic consensus had emerged (wail on the Ottomans instead), but this post, and an earlier one, clears up confusion about mechanisms and adds a subtle critique to the options being persued.

I’m not suggesting don’t comment unless you can contribute that type of post. If that was the standard, AARland would be a wasteland, we need the ‘keep it up’, even the ‘subscribed’ posts to keep it going. Equally the ‘question’ style post – why did you do that, what happens if, all provoke valuable interactions. But if you can, every now and then in your comments reach for what Phargle described as “The big mojo commenter at the top of this pyramid”. Why? Well let Phargle answer: “in time, and especially for my favorite AARs, this is the kind of poster I try to become, leaving comments that are valuable both to me and to the writer. Good writing gets me excited, and I want my comments to show it”
 

Derahan

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Of Games, Stories and Goals and Paradox
By Hjarg


Most of the games you play try to tell you a story. Might be a simple one- like try to find princess in a castle be really disappointed when you find out that she is in another castle. Might be something really big, like some Bioware RPG, where storyline has a size of good book and listening through dialogues takes more time then watching Lord of the Rings marathon. Or might be fancy military jargon with flashing cutscenes that should give you reason to shoot other people, like Modern Warfare series, only to leave you scratching your head and wondering what was that. To the point- almost every game has a story. Some more, some less, but it is there.

Same with goals- every game has a goal. Again from simple ones, like munching pills and avoiding big blobs or just shooting all the evil alien invaders while avoiding their shots. Basically, goal is survival. Or your goal could be saving the world. Or something entirely different. To make it simple, when Game Over screen comes, you have either reached your goals or failed miserably to do so.

Most of the games fall into that category- be it platformers, adventures, FPS, RPG or ever RTS games. They have a set of rules, sometimes more lax and giving player an impression of freedom, sometimes forcing the player to follow the predetermined path and punishing the player from deviating that path.

Here comes Paradox Interactive- their games are something different. First, of course- no set goals. You can try to conquer the world, but that is not mandatory. No victory conditions like in Civilization, no fancy buildings to build to end the game. Or unlike Total War series- no set of provinces to conquer before the ticker runs out. Basically, you set your own goals. Be it surviving as a minor nation, or steamrolling the world. Conquest or survival or economy or something entirely different.

Same for stories- in my opinion, Paradox games don’t tell you stories. Now, before you all get your torches and pitchforks, hear me out! Instead, Paradox games give you skeleton of the story. Depending on the game, the skeleton is everything you and AI nations do, characters, events, wars, battles, exploration and everything else you can think of.

For an AAR writer, this gives me the perfect canvas to paint upon- so to speak. Meaning that i’ll take the skeleton that Paradox gives me and can turn it into anything i want to. Be it gameplay AAR, storytelling AAR, comedy AAR or whatever strikes your fancy. When browsing AARs of Paradox Games, one thing that always amazes me is the diversity of AARs. Different writers, different genres, different quality. I’ve never seen a game that inspires so many people to take up the pen and write about it and some of the work i’ve seen here are true masterpieces.

What i’m trying to say is that it takes a special kind of game to make people write like that. And it takes special kind of people to start writing about the game. So, thank you, Paradox and writers, for countless hours of entertainment.
 

Derahan

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MAKING IMAGE SIZE WORK FOR YOU
By robw963


Before I start, it's worth mentioning that I tend to dwell on detail, so if that kind of obsessiveness is a put-off for you, jump to the next article now. But, if you'd like to learn a little about making your AAR images better then read on!

RESOLUTION
We live in a raster world of pixels, at least as far as the forum goes. Every image you see here is comprised of little pixel building blocks organized into a grid. More specifically, there's a fixed resolution to this pixel grid of 72 pixels per inch. Knowing this will help you understand that every image you make will look best if you create it at that resolution.

rez.png

ALIASED VS. ANTI-ALIASED
The problem with a grid of pixels is that it only works best with lines that are either absolutely horizontal or vertical. See how the "T" below fits itself perfectly into the grid? That is the essence of an ALIASED image: it fits perfectly into the grid using a single color. The benefit is a nice crisp look. But what happens if there are curves or diagonal lines? This is where ANTI-ALIASED images are useful. Look at the gray "T" in the lower left corner below. See the curved portions of the letter? If you magnify the curved portions and examine the individual pixels you can still see the grid of pixels, but in this case multiple different colors (in this case shades of gray) are used to enhance the illusion of curvature. In reality, there is no curve...simply a grid but the illusion successfully convinces the eye.

slide1.png

The biggest difference between ALIASED vs. ANTI-ALIASED images is the result you get after you scale them. ALIASED images scale TERRIBLY. Once you scale them up or down, ALIASED images lose that nice crisp look and even worse can sometimes become ugly and illegible. ANTI-ALIASED images scale much better (up or down). So let's look more carefully at these 2 basic principles in some examples.

NATIVE SIZE VS. SCALED SIZE
Images, whether they are aliased or anti-aliased, can be any size but within the context of this forum there is a very important restriction to understand: Any image you display on the forum exceeding 800 pixels will be automatically scaled to 800 pixels wide. This means if you make an image 1200 pixels wide and post it on the forum, your viewers will see this 1200 pixel image squished down to 800 pixels wide. There's a double consequence if that happens: 1) the image gets mangled, detail is lost, quality goes down and 2) the file size is unnecessarily larger (in kilobytes). In a nutshell you're delivering a lower quality image and punishing your viewers with a longer download. Well that's not very nice is it?

You can see this in action in the 2 images below. In this example, I'm playing HOI3 as Belgium. Both images show the starting position from the political map view. The most immediate difference between these 2 images is that the lower one shows more map context (you see more of France, Germany and The Netherlands). That's good right? Maybe so if the additional context provides important information to your story. But look more carefully. The upper image is created using a screenshot cropped in an image editor to exactly 700 pixels wide. The image below also is a cropped screenshot, but in this case the image width is 1200 pixels wide. The upper image reads better, it's sharper and there is better detail. The lower image gets a little mangled, loses sharpness and detail with additional indignity of having a larger file size.

slide2.png

USING WINDOWED MODE
In all likelihood, your computer monitor is fairly high resolution. Mine, for example, displays 1920 x 1200 pixels. This means I can crank up the game resolution to fill that screen. Making a screen shoot of the game interface at that resolution would give me an image 1920 pixels wide. If I simply post an image that wide, the forum WILL resize it down to 800 pixels wide. The resulting image won't look very nice at all. For this reason I tend to play Paradox games (when I'm AARing anyway) in windowed mode at a lower resolution. At least this way I can restrain myself from making overly large images. But even so, most Paradox games display at a minimum of 1024 x 768 pixels...which is still bigger than the maximum image width allowed by the forum. I can zoom within the game to compose a screen shot, but this likely still means we'll need to use an image editor (like Photoshop) to edit the screenshots to make images for an AAR.

slide3.png

USING AN IMAGE EDITOR
I consider Adobe Photoshop to be the best available tool for image editing. That doesn't mean it's available to you however. I know many people successfully use GIMP or perhaps other free, downloadable image editors. The principles I've described above (and below) though are not specific to any one image editor. But since I'm a Photoshop guy, I'll illustrate my examples from a Photoshop perspective.

Screenshots taken from the game are conveniently at 72 pixels per inch resolution, which means if I'm careful maintain this resolution and compose my new images with pieces maintaining this scale, I should get a nice clear image. I'll also take specific care to restrain my image width to 800 pixels wide (700 pixels if it's an image for a blog post) or less. Photoshop allows me to organize these pieces into individual layers. This offers a lot of flexibility to create images that either support my story or even tell a story themselves. You will likely find yourself needing to scale images in some instances. Scaling in an image editor, while still susceptible to the principles outlined above, will always provide a better result than relying on the forum engine to automatically scale for you. If you're mindful about quality and clever with typography you can enhance your AAR nicely.

I'll stop short there of turning this into a Photoshop tutorial.

slide4.png

The most important concepts I hope for you to come away with are:
• Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of ALIASED vs. ANTI-ALIASED images
• Understanding the image width policy of the forum and NEVER posting images that exceed this width
• Learning to use an image editor to scale images when it's necessary

Is this all a little fussy? Perhaps. But I always appreciate well crafted images in an AAR and believe they can add a great dimension to someone's work. Remember, I'm the guy hung-up on detail.

Happy AARing!
 

Derahan

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Seven Deadly Misconceptions: What they are and why they shouldn't stop you from taking the plunge and writing your first (and hopefully subsequent) AARs.
By Tanzhang


The new product of almost any creative pursuit: be it painting a new portrait, shooting a new film, creating a new piece of music, composing a new poem, or even the formation of a brand new, left of centre political party, is rather like an experimental plane: it could well spontaneously combust shortly after takeoff, or alternatively it could soar into the stratosphere. In other words, your new artistic creation could be an abysmal failure, but there's an almost equal chance that it could be a great success, or at the very least lie somewhere in between those two extremes. You will never really know where your creation will end up however, until you create it and set it upon an unsuspecting public.

Writing an AAR however is a little bit different from the pursuits listed above, because the odds are definitely stacked in the author's favour. In my three-and-a-bit years here at AARland, I must have read and commented in hundreds upon hundreds of AARs and yet of those hundreds upon hundreds I can only remember one – and only one – AAR which was truly awful, one so abysmal in fact I dare not speak its name, for the very utterance of its title will surely burst open the gates of hell and unleash all sorts of evils and horrors upon AARland. (And I don't know about you, but I for one am not all that keen on sacrificing my hypothetical first born son to close those gates up again...) With odds like that, I daresay that is near impossible to write a truly abysmal AAR unless you deliberately set out to write one.

And yet despite all that, there are surely a great many people out there in the Paradox forums reading this article whom – for whatever reason – have not written an AAR yet. I know in my own case, I dithered for about a year before setting my nose to the grindstone and taking the plunge, and in retrospect dithering for so long was rather silly of me. From the outside writing your first AAR may look and sound daunting, even intimidating but once you start you'll be shocked at how easy it can be. If you need further convincing then look no further than this article:

”I can't write an AAR because...”

[1] I wouldn't know where to begin!

Have no fear then, since starting an AAR can be broken down into a quick and easy five-step process: Firstly, you need to choose a Paradox game (because obviously, it isn't an AAR unless it uses a game for reference.) then you need to choose a nation or dynasty (depending on which Paradox game you choose.) to play as. Thirdly, you need to decide upon the style (the four most common being: gameplay, historybook, comedy or narrative, but you can always create a hybrid of styles or even your own style.) of the AAR you wish to write, and how much of the game you're willing to describe/integrate into your AAR (there's a wonderful AARlander article by Loki which deals with this very subject.)
Fourthly – and this step isn't compulsory but it is highly recommended – you should find yourself an image host such as Photobucket or Imageshack to host your screenshots. (if any) I'll elaborate on step four a little later. Fifthly and finally – and here comes the fun bit – you have to actually play the game, take screenshots and write up your AAR! You'll want to use your word-processor of choice (Word or OpenOffice Writer) to write your updates, since writing an entire update as a forum post can lead to.. unfortunate and demoralising consequences. (like losing your entire update because your session window has timed out.)

Now that doesn't sound all that daunting now does it? I didn't think so, but just in case you have other concerns let's move on.

[2] I can't draw or make fancy images! Hell, I can't even get images to show up in my regular forum posts!

Okay, I'll level with you: If you're planning on becoming the next Svip or Selzro than not being able to draw well is a likely deal-breaker. However if you're not planning on writing the next Glory for Ulm or Subcontinental Subtleties than a lack of artistic talent shouldn't deter you from writing. I'm no artist myself, so I cannot actually teach you how to draw better (such impartment of knowledge is well beyond the scope of this humble article anyway) but posting screenshots or other images is rather easy to do once you know how, and there are a few extra and easy-to-use tricks which will help you to improve your images and the presentation of your AAR.

Most importantly, and I simply cannot stress this enough is to Know your Forum Tags! Typing [b*][/b*] like so (without adding the asterisks) will embolden any text you place in-between like so while [i*][/i*] (again, without adding the asterisks) will italicise any text placed in-between. By the same principle, typing
and placing a link to your hosted images in-between instead of text will allow you to display images in your AAR or post, and images are an absolutely crucial companion to any AAR.

But what about those images themselves? What shall we do with them? You will likely need an image editor, and in lieu of an expensive program like Photoshop or a substandard one like Microsoft Paint I heartily recommend Paint.Net (Google it. If you're familiar with modding you may already have heard of it.) as an easy-to-use alternative. With your image editor, you can crop your images to help emphasise important details while cutting out the “fat,” or irrelevant information, while adding a nice, simple border to the edges of your images with the rectangle tool is an easy and hassle-free way to really improve the look of your AAR.

Remember our old friends the forum tags? Well they can help you improve the look of your AAR too! Typing [center*][/center*] (without adding those asterisks) will centre any text placed in-between, and if you place image tags in-between it will centre your images too! You may also like to change the font or size of your text from the default using the font or size tags.

If you'd like to know a bit more about AAR presentation or why it matters, there's a wonderful AARlander article by Saithis which deals with the subject from a Hearts of Iron point of view (but much of it can be easily applied to your AAR regardless of which game it is based upon) while a much older AARlander article by AlexanderPrimus deals with more advanced presentation topics like music and video.

[3] I can't play a Paradox game to save my life!

Let me let you in on a little secret... I'm not exactly a “power-gamer” myself. In fact, there are plenty of successful AAR writers who aren't all that great at playing Paradox games either! How well you play any given game often has little impact on how good your AAR will be: granted, everyone loves to read those “world conquest game as an one-province minor (likely Ryukyu)”AARs but they aren't the be all and end all of AARland. It is possible to write a riveting Narrative and Historybook without actually mentioning the game at all, and a comedy AAR may actually be improved by some poor gameplay on the part of its author!

Now I hear you shout, “but what about Gameplay AARs!?” Well this may seem like a contradiction in terms, but there have been some exceptional gameplay and tutorial AARs written by some pretty unexceptional players. Let's use Victoria II as an example. Two of the most popular authors of Gameplay AARs for Victoria II are badger_ken and Avindian: both authors have written some superb tutorial AARs, and a great deal of what I personally know about the game can be attributed to something I first read in one of their various works. Both authors would I'm sure be the first to admit that they aren't exactly “power-gamers” either (in fact Avindian couldn't colonise Africa with The Netherlands if his life depended on it – but don't tell him I told you that... ) and yet, both badger_ken and Avindian's AARs are in addition to being well-written and very fun to read, also highly educational. Why?

The key lies in an article the great Prawnstar himself wrote for the last issue of the AARlander: AARs are in fact, a form of conversation between the author and his or her readers. The author plays the game and writes up a fun little story and the readers, like the good little backseat drivers they usually are, post helpful comments. In this way, the AAR becomes like a Socratic dialogue whereby both the author (or “teacher”) and the readers (or “students”) learn together through the process of conversation.

Now say for example you're really keen on chess, but you're also not very good at it. Would you let this little tidbit stop you from talking about chess with say, Kasparov? Or the members of your local chess club? Or even some distant uncle of yours who also happens to be a chess obsessive? No, and neither should your (real or perceived ) ineptitude at playing Paradox games stop you from writing your AAR. Who knows, not only may you may learn something to improve your “game” but likely you'll help your readers improve theirs also!

[4] English is my second/third/fifteenth language!

Believe it or not, but one of the most well-written AARs I've ever read was written by a guy who was learning English as a second (possibly third if you count dialects as languages) language. Just as writing an AAR may help you to improve your gameplay skills by attracting helpful comments and tips from your readers, writing one may also help you improve your English skills by attracting helpful comments from readers fluent in English. The same can likewise be true for budding authors learning French or Spanish who write an AAR in those languages.

[5] I'll never be able to get anyone to comment!

Remember when you were a little kid at primary/elementary school and some other kid in your class whom you didn't really know or get along with invited you to his/her sixth or seventh birthday party? And remember how your parents would insist that you go?, and that when your next birthday came round they'd insist that you invite that same child to your party out of reciprocity? Well AARland is built upon that same principle; reciprocity. The best way to attract commentators is to comment on other people's AARs; (the more the better!) The best way to keep commentators is to respond to their comments and to comment in their AARs. In AARland persistence counts; if you keep on commenting, keep on interacting with your readership and keep on updating the comments will eventually flow.

And, if all else fails, here's a little tip: Start your next AAR as The Netherlands! There's hardly a more zealous group in AARland than the Dutchies, and these guys will comment religiously on any AAR to do with their homeland, take it from me!

[6] Everyone will hate on what I've written!

One of the truly wonderful things about AARland is the friendly ethos of the place. Non-constructive criticism is not only actively discouraged, it is also rare, especially when compared with most other similar fora. No matter how dull or uninspiring your first update turns out to be, there will be always – literally always – someone who will turn up and offer you a few words of encouragement. This is one of the ways in which writing an AAR is so different from the other creative pursuits mentioned in the introduction. Think about the last time you saw or played a really hyped-up yet ultimately disappointing movie or game: “I can't believe I actually paid money to see/play that crap!” you may have said in reaction to wasting an hour and a half of your life on such a disappointing product. Unlike hyped-up “blockbusters” AARs don't actually cost anything to write (unless you pay for your image host) and nor do they cost anything to read, so even on the highly unlikely probability you do come up with a shocker of an AAR, nobody is going to complain about it, or rubbish you in the press, or follow you around the neighbourhood/internet denouncing your every word/post solely because of some shocker of an AAR you happened to write. Writing an AAR is therefore a win-win situation: you have nothing to lose (except perhaps a few hours of your free time) and everything to gain. (except money, because AARland is a not-for-profit society.)

[7] I'll never find the time to finish one!

Of all the misconceptions, this is probably the least “misconceptiony”. AAR writing is what you make of it, and the amount of effort you're willing to put into it is totally up to you. There are some people (Gameplay AAR writers mostly) who do nothing more than write up a few sentences describing their gameplay actions and post a few screenshots, there are others who do a little bit of historical research and others who go to seemingly extreme lengths to make their AARs historically accurate: there was this one guy who once spent 75 minutes trawling through the Dutch-language Wikipedia (a language he doesn't understand) searching for obscure 19th century conservative Dutch politicians to lead a fictional political party which he need not have mentioned in his AAR in the first place! (in the end he couldn't find one so he cheated and used the anti-imperialist author Eduard Dekker as a pro-imperialist conservative-turned-social democrat instead.) And then of course there is Mr. C, who is in a class of his own.

Adjust your AAR to your own wants and needs: if you want to create your own Mr. C-esque world with Saxons invading wherever and have the time to do so, then do so. (if this is the case, you may want to read this fantastic article by Mr. C on world-building and the AAR.) If however your life demands little time for writing, or if an evening of in-depth historical research doesn't exactly sound like an enjoyable way to spend your Friday night off then by all means feel free to scrimp on the details a little bit, it isn't like your readers will impale you on a stake for a few historical inaccuracies. And don't worry if you never actually finish your AAR, you're in good company! (I have as yet to finish one either..) Sometimes the journey is more important than the destination, and I find that phrase especially true when it comes to writing anything, including an AAR.
 
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