• Crusader Kings III Available Now!

    The realm rejoices as Paradox Interactive announces the launch of Crusader Kings III, the latest entry in the publisher’s grand strategy role-playing game franchise. Advisors may now jockey for positions of influence and adversaries should save their schemes for another day, because on this day Crusader Kings III can be purchased on Steam, the Paradox Store, and other major online retailers.


    Real Strategy Requires Cunning
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Derahan

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Ah! Great to see you again dear reader from where ever you so nobly hail. I bid you greetings to the next installment of the AARlander magazine of articles and letters. Hopefully your little stay here with us will be both pleasing and entertaining as is our mission here. This time the AARlander will be a little shorter than the pervious edition which I though was the best to date but don't worry about that this is totally intentional as you will find out later in the magazine. As a last announcement I wish to say that we have grown the ammount of readers from the last magazine with an ammount of around 200 forums members, a small victory and a stepping stone towards a greater audience!

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?674641-AARlander-Edition-7&p=15162039&viewfull=1#post15162039"]So Who the Heck is...Rensslaer - by Misterbean[/URL]
[URL="http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/showthread.php?674641-AARlander-Edition-7&p=15162044&viewfull=1#post15162044"]The Question is Why? -  by Merrick Chance'[/URL]
[URL="http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/showthread.php?674641-AARlander-Edition-7&p=15162061&viewfull=1#post15162061"]Shooting a Cinematic AAR - by NewbieOne[/URL]
[URL="http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/showthread.php?674641-AARlander-Edition-7&p=15162068&viewfull=1#post15162068"]Cartooning it! - by Fyregecko[/URL]
[URL="http://forum.paradoxplaza.com/forum/showthread.php?674641-AARlander-Edition-7&p=15162074&viewfull=1#post15162074"]Last but not the Least, Announcement time! - by Derahan[/URL]
 
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Derahan

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So who the heck is…Rensslaer?
By Misterbean

Veteran forumites know him as an expert in grand strategy gaming who took an uncivilised nation (Siam) and propelled it to Great Power status.
Newer members may have come across his name in one of 4 AARs (!!) he is currently writing.
What appeals to most people, I think, is the way he can make even the most difficult concepts of Victoria 1 and 2 or Hearts of iron 3 perfectly understandable of everyone.
To me, personally, his HOI3 strategy guide and the follow-up compendiums pretty much saved the game from ending in the rubbish bin back in the day of HOI3 version 1.2 and 1.3.
But who is he? What makes him tick?
Join me as I drag him from the Colorado streets and subject him to an in-depth interview.


Where did the name “Rensslaer” come from?

When I was growing up, I lived near a street called Rensselaer, which was named, of course, after Stephen van Rensselaer, a leading figure from colonial New York and after. I thought it was a pretty cool name, and when I signed up for an online MMORPG called DragonRealms, I used that name for my warrior-mage (Rensselaer was taken, so it became Rensslaer).

You joined in june 2004. By mid july of that same year, you started your first AAR, “Fire Warms the Northern Lands”. What prompted this rapid move into the somewhat intimidating world of AAR writing?

Somehow, the first thing I really saw when coming to the forums was the AARs. I found a number I liked, and decided it was a great idea to write a story about your game (I’d actually done this maybe 20 years previously, with an old SPI board-wargame called Berlin ’85, where I wrote accounts of soldiers, policemen and citizens during a hypothetical Soviet invasion of West Berlin).

Did you expect it to become a 164-page novel in advance, or did it just grew kind of by itself (OP: july, 2004, epilogue: june, 2006, final comment and praise: 17/2/2012)?

Once I started writing, I realized how much fun it was to get realtime feedback. I started “playing to the crowd”, and created increasingly more detailed scenes and character development. That wasn’t how it was planned – it was how it developed on its own, sort of. If you were to link each page to a calendar date, you’d find that the first 25 pages of Fire Warms (Victoria I) covered about 30 years of history, but the next 25 pages only covered 17, the next 25 covered 11, and the next only 5! By page 100, I had dozens of recurring characters who my readers remembered and asked about, and I was running my 2nd “miniseries” – a group of a dozen or so related updates covering some major event.

Ironically, what really caused Fire Warms to be as popular as it was was my account of the French (and Spanish and Sardinian, etc...) invasion of Prussia, where they darned near conquered me! It was such a cliffhanger and shock to everybody that they were on the edge of their seats! From then on, they realized it wasn’t just going to be a steady account of my prowess and victories, but there was real depth and risk there.

Speaking from personal experience, focusing on just 1 AAR is a ton of work. Yet you seem to rountinely juggle 3 or 4 at a time. Isn’t it hard to remember where you are in which game?

Well, I keep a document showing the running story, and ideas for the future. Plus, I can read back over the AAR to catch my place. Most of my AARs I just run through the screenshots until I find the important ones (often I’ll combine multiple screenshots), so the story is there – I just have to follow the images and write what I remember from what I’m seeing. I discard 5 or 6 screenshots for every one I use, and so the written story includes those images that are hidden from the reader.

I never really intended to have multiple AARs going. It’s just that I get so insanely busy at times, and I have to slow down my updates. Plus, because of this, my AARs sometimes take several years to finish, so they add up! I am currently updating my HOI 3 Portugal AAR (using v1.2), and my EU 3 Milan AAR – both of these were started within a month of the games first release, so you can imagine they’ve both been running a long, long time. But I’m stubborn, and determined to finish them. Then I’ll go on to finish my other 2 HOI 3 (SF/HPP) AARs.

There is history book, narrative, gameplay, and a mix of all these at a time in your work. Which one has your preference and why?

Honestly, my absolute preference is to write fiction. I love writing fiction, and I think I’m good at it. Fire Warms was intended to be about half narrative scenes and the rest historybook. Fire Warms gave me confidence that I could actually write, and maybe someday publish, fiction. But good fiction takes time, and I just don’t have it anymore. I do write an occasional fiction scene for Imperio Novo (HOI 3 Portugal), but the others are straight gameplay. That is partly driven by their function, too – as I wrote the strategy guides for each of these games, I would subsequently write intensely detailed gameplay AARs to flesh out those strategies and tactics for the readers. So Imperio Novo (HOI 3) and Sforza!!! (EU 3), especially, were like massive follow-on strategy guides.

What about PI games? Which one has your preference? With your background, I would assume Vicky 2?

Fire Warms was in Vicky 1, and I really loved that system. I still miss the “coaling/outpost stations” from V1. Victoria 2 is alot of fun for similar reasons. But so is EU 3, for different reasons. But as I was in the Beta for HOI 3, and was writing the Manual and Strategy Guide, I fell in love with the system. HOI 1 and 2 were fun – they were very good games for what they were intended to do. But HOI 3 was like a quantum leap in concept, incorporating everything great about the previous HOI games, but adding a “tactical” layer that allows the player to implement real flanking and breakthrough strategies, as well as defense in depth, etc. I’ve been looking for a lifetime for a game that could do this without getting bogged down, and I think HOI 3 accomplished that, and more. So HOI 3 really is my favorite.

Departing from the AAR writing, for a moment, what is it like being the only person on Earth to ever have published a full-fledged Strategy Guide for Hearts of Iron 3 (for our readers: up to version 1.3, but still somewhat useful due to the excellent, broad-stroke approach of the guide) and being the go-to guy in all matters strategic because of this?

As I mentioned in my previous response, I became fascinated by the flexibility and comprehensive nature of the HOI 3 system – the tactical potential of its combat system. So I played that up in the Strategy Guides (there was the original Strategy Guide, the Strategy Guide Supplement, and the Version 1.3 Update). I felt like I was teaching real-world strategy and operational division-level tactics, because HOI 3 had the ability to more or less simulate those at that level. It was glorious! So yes, I had alot of fun writing those guides. I wouldn’t say I’m the go-to guy these days, though – I’ve forgotten alot, and would need to re-read those guides! I’m also not so familiar with the expansions, though I’ve got 2 AARs going with Semper Fi (altered by the HPP mod). I’ll study up once I start another AAR, which I hope to be a WW III scenario between the USA and USSR.

For now, Misterbean, you’ve been doing a great job keeping up with the expansions, explaining stuff and demonstrating them through your Germany Tutorial AAR.

There are a ton of other questions I could ask, but space is limited, so is there any advice or general comment you would give aspiring AAR writers?

I feel like this deserves a whole article – and maybe I should consider that. But for now let’s just say this. When I’m writing an AAR, be it narrative fiction or historybook or gameplay, I concern myself with significance – do readers need to know this, or would they enjoy knowing this? If it’s something you find interesting, someone else probably will too. But an AAR shouldn’t be a recitation of game statistics unless you’re trying to teach something through a strategy AAR. Find the stuff that matters, and write about it. Forget the rest, unless you know you can somehow turn it into flavor detail, as in a historybook aside, or a narrative scene.

For budding fiction writers, I have some constructive criticism regarding a “convention” I see alot of writers use. Don’t get caught by the “boardroom syndrome” (aka “bored room syndrome”) – the king/president and his staff or cabinet talking about decisions that are really just game settings (ala “I think we should put more spending toward industrial concepts...”). These meetings, when they happen, are boring in real life, and can easily be very boring in prose. Plus, real decisions of this type typically involve alot more thought, argument and time (several meetings) than an AAR scene would show. To learn how these meetings really go (and there are good ways to show cabinet meetings – I’ve done some myself), you need to be able to capture realistic dialogue, thought processes, and factional differences. One thing that might help in developing realistic meetings like this is to read autobiographies of military or political leaders. Sometimes these contain perspective issues – the guy remembers something differently than it really happened. But his version is probably just as realistic as the version that actually happened, so it’s just as valuable to you, as a writer. That way you can learn to write realistic squabbles and personality issues that often intrude into such meetings, and it becomes alot more interesting to the reader. The more you learn about how people really talk, think, and make decisions, the better your fiction will be. Obviously, if you’re writing comedy none of this applies – comedy AARs often make use of cabinet scenes to show personalities and as a foil for jokes. If you’re really wanting a serious AAR, though, try inserting more argument, but not by caricatured people – have them think and argue like people really think and argue. Maybe instead of the whole cabinet make it a sidelight on one issue in the king/president’s office – 3 or 4 guys batting ideas back and forth, and someone comes away unhappy. There are lots of ways to do these scenes well if you’re prepared to be creative about it.

Rensslaer's Inkwell (link)

(V1) Fire Warms the Northern Lands -- A Prussian AAR (narrative/historybook)
(won Gold VictAARian Cross for best AAR completed in the 1st half of 2006)
(V1) Castles in the Sky (narrative centered on Alexander Hamilton - incomplete)
(V2) I Am Siam (strategy/gameplay)
(won Silver VictAARian Cross for best AAR completed in 2011)
(EU3) Sforza!!! - A Milan AAR (strategy/gameplay -- ongoing from 2007-2013)
(HOI 3 v1.2) Imperio Novo -- Axis Portugal (strategy/gameplay/narrative - ongoing)
(HOI 3 SF/HPP) Kriegsgefahr (Impending War) - (strategy/gameplay w/a twist - ongoing)
(HOI 3 SF/HPP) Locarno (gameplay -- Italy vs. Germany - ongoing)
(Rome) The Die is Cast - Caesars Civil War (705 AUC) - (strategy/gameplay - ongoing)
See Rensslaer's Inkwell for smaller AARs, short stories and links to Strategy Guides



Thank you for your time.
Misterbean.
 

Derahan

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The Question is Why?
by Merrick Chance'

Why do I write?

It's a question that anyone who's written a particularly in depth AAR has asked themselves--why am I doing this? AARs can be a huge time sink--they can take up a lot of your thinking space, they take a long time to write, and image editing can be a pain. Lords of France, my current AAR, is roughly 150 pages long at this point. So why do we do it?

I can only give a specific answer to this, but it's an answer that, I think, get to the heart of why AARlanders write narrative or historical AARs (not to knock gameplay AARs I've just never written one). The idea of writing a history, of telling a story, that takes place in a world that's different than ours but which emerged from a similar starting point, gets to a key idea in philosophy of thought and philosophy of history--recontextualization.

When I write, I try to imagine a realistic event which could follow from the events I've already written. To do this I take ideas from the specific history of the country I'm writing about, but also from modern events, later ideas, and my concept of how particular characters would react. What I am doing, in essence is creating a new history of the world from whole cloth. By taking the events of our world (The Thirty Years War, the French Revolution, the transition to capitalist economies, the Industrial Revolution, the Second World War) and asking ourselves how they would change if the circumstances surrounding them changed, we are not only writing an AAR--we are improving our understanding of both history and the modern day. By recontextualizing events, we are getting to a deeper understanding of people, of events, of history. That's why I write, at least.
 

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Shooting a Cinematic AAR
by NewbieOne

The are many styles in the AARLand: narrative, gameplay, history book, comedy, perhaps even more. What I'm proposing here fits none of these categories but shares some characteristics with all of them. Several years ago the word 'cinematic' made a career in the roleplaying genre, and particularly in the form of 'cinematic experience', evolving towards a cinematic gameplay, but the notion has in fact been present in all genres since the beginning of gaming, in the form of playability and cut scenes. Some games, notably RTS, still do it much the old way.

Its main feature in modern RPGs is camera zooming and fixing on the acting or interacting characters as subtitles go on, possibly with lip synch and some gestures or even something more complicated. Special visual and audio effects can be added to take those moments out of the mundane clickwork and build up the atmosphere. Whether for the talking or for the shooting, the principle is the same: being essentially paused but not really or fully so, still swinging in slo-mo through the story in what is apparently a memorable anchor in it, such as a once-per-level squadmate conversation. In Mass Effect or Knights of the Old Republic, the cinematic experience consisted in guiding the player through enough such cinematic moments to get him the feel of watching a good space opera from playing the game. Immersion actually seemed to increase despite the loss of player control. The secret was, I believe, in how fluidly those cinematic moments proceeded (although no doubt widescreen, HD and graphical horsepower helped). We want to achieve this type of fluidity here and it might be noted that an AAR is, after all, a game experience but one in which the experiencing player is not actually controlling the game. Think about those Starcraft matches televised for the fans but there is some streaming of grand strategy going on too.

It might be important to note here that roleplaying games employ the pause extensively just like grand strategies do and even as some real-time strategies do when played in the single player mode, and a cinematic interlude is, essentially, a type of pause. With time, it evolved into an actual pause as you certainly didn't want random monsters, let alone anybody plot-significant, barging into the cadre with brandished weapons and destroying the experience of your deliberate, memorable moments by hacking away at a helpless player temporarily removed from control of the game. You don't want a belligerent AI running around with doomstacks when you're in management tabs, either.

This comfortable pause that gives you some rest and stops the time for a moment but does not stop the game experience, or the lowest speed stting in which the time does run, is what we're working with in a cinematic AAR, although we can also and perhaps should in fact experiment with black backgrounds, film fonts and other cinema-like visual devices. Personally, I'm fond of panoramic screenshot cropping, especially when it involves the sea, ships or coastline; very close isometric zooms, which are normally not playable, could be listed as another example, and you can set font options to match the dominant colour theme of your screenshots for some thematic consistency – in fact, there are online tools for that type of thing, which designers use.

The CK2 map is particularly photogenic, with varied coastlines are both aesthetically pleasing and unique. Remember to leave some map around the edges when you're cropping event or other window screenshots down to size. The rimming grants an aesthetic bonus to the picture already as it is, but it also localises the captured event in your specific, unrepeatable game. It also captures the interest of detail-oriented immersion-seeking readers, while others can ignore it. It is safe: it does not have the power to steal the spotlight from your event windows, province views or management tabs. The map itself might serve as a vehicle of continuity for your AAR as it does for the game (since it's this game's version of chessboard, in essence), the endless pizza dough on which you put your toppings.

Don't be afraid to zoom in, focus on the painstaking details of life in your realm, which is similar to shooting a sitcom or a TV series. Remember that whatever you can see on pause your reader would also see if you were streaming your game or had the reader physically looking over your shoulder. Your reader would see you inspecting all those places and issuing all those orders, down to match dot com. Similar to a stream isn't it? Well, streams are cinematic, aren't they. We're hitting home!

On the other hand, neither should you be afraid to feature only the most significant or representative or flavourful details in a single dynamic update with carries your reader through an entire epoch within the 20 screenshot limit. Think of it as your format. Historical documentaries can be as short as 30 minutes, just don't overfocus on intro and credits.

Bottom line, either way, stop, look around, zoom in and out, take a couple of nice shots. If the water looks great, don't hesitate to take a screenshot just to show that water.
Let me make this clear, you don't need to describe everything in the same deliberate slo-mo swing of a paused view. Most of the time you're playing, not pausing, and probably not in the low speeds, either. If a film tried to depict sequentially, explicitly and deliberately all of the content of a novel, it would last forever. Some things are relegated to the scenery and that is something you set rather than tell. In a real film, you use a visual glimpse, a single scene really, which shows what the novel needed entire paragraphs or pages to convey. Screenshots help you here but you can achieve a similar effect with your writing, too, you just need a different approach. Treat what you write as a sample, just one of the many small stories or depictions or anecdotes of your characters that you could write but are not actually writing. To paraphrase what one psychologist once said, you are not imparting the whole thing in detail, you are giving your reader instructions on how to imaginate it. Your writer's imagination does the job of making the pictures move and getting the fluidity.

By definition, if you want flow, you need to take out what obstructs that flow. Think about it as stones breaking the current of a mountain stream and slowing it down, meanders and other topography complicating its way to the intended destination. A fallen tree could cut the traffic in half or almost stop it. Typos, grammatical errors, bad punctuation, wrong BB tags and other issues of the kind are the stones and, in major cases, can also be the trees. Images sticking too close to the text, paragraphs sticking too close to each other and a general lack of whitespace contribute to the 'wall of text' feeling many readers admittedly prefer to avoid. Small font sizes and illegible colours make the wall even more impenetrable. So does obscure sentence structure or a train of thought that only its author can follow. While you are pencilling thing in, your pencil itself must be solid and held confidently in your hand (but don't fret over it).

The above, in artistic terms, means developing a good technique, while in more technical terms would be QA. Run your QA check. Get the typos out and fix the spaces as a minimum, see what difference that makes. Then fix the basic grammar. 'You're men are ready when your ready, sire!', right? Nope, and this is a basic, just like the third person or plural 's' or the past '(e)d'. When in doubt, consult a dictionary or some grammar resorce (just google it), use the spell-checker; this simply takes a bit more time and effort but the result will be all the more rewarding for this. I am not saying this to imply that your AAR is not good enough if you don't do these simple steps. Although they are indeed basic in serious writing, you can try to think about them in terms of a bonus value you can get if you actually do them. And that value is a smoother, less interrupted flow, which is key here.

As a more advanced step, make sure that your text, or rather your story-telling and story-setting, is understandable. Keep in mind that the biggest problem in communication is the assumption that communication is taking place. When in doubt, keep it simple. Simple does not mean simplistic or simplified. Using colourful or advanced language can be simple too—if you can make it look natural. But advanced verbiage should be the icing on your cake, think about that as upgrading. You get the basics first, upgrades later if you do at all. One of the most prominent mediaeval theologians writing in Latin, was praised for his ability to keep his language transparent so that it did not obstruct the content. Where you words are trees that build your forest, which is your AAR, you want your reader to be able to see the forest for the trees. (But it being an entire forest also means that a single weak tree will not topple it, just like a single stone or even tree will not block a river, so don't overfocus on this. Keep shootin' instead. You too need to see the forest.)

Bottom line, you can shoot your AAR like a film, or like a game VOD, the main difference being that your reader's mind will be gluing the frames together. Get some engaging, non-obstructing screenshots and some engaging, non-obstructin text to convey your story with. Use your text bits too as illustrations where necessary, not just the actual graphical files. Pencil your characters in, along with their personalities and policies. Illustrate with examples. Simplicity is key, and QA is important. Give it polish and fine-tuning if you can. But above all remember you're telling a story, which you need to keep flowing.
 

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Cartooning it!
by Fyregecko

cestmoi_zps93e62c9b.gif

Cartoons are fun. Most people who are reading this will either have read comics, or watched animated cartoons – I was going to say 'while growing up', but comics, in the form of graphic novels and webcomics, are entertainment for adults as well.

I've always liked cartoons. In hindsight, I wish that I had studied animation rather than the useless degree that I ended up with. But drawing, or at least idly doodling on the back of lecture notes, has always been one of my favourite activities – I can see the foundations of my 'style' of drawing when I look at old school and university work. Drawing a cartoon or comic myself is something that I love the idea of, but I've never believed that I had the requisite talent.

That changed, though, when I delved into the EUIII forums and started reading AARs. I enjoy writers in different genres and categories, but I have always been most attracted to comedy AARs, and knew that if I was to write one myself I would be trying the same thing. Plus, a gameplay AAR would make little sense from someone who isn't very good at EUIII. Writing an AAR gave me a receptive, helpful audience, and I'm very grateful to everyone who takes them time to read and comment on InTveresting Times, especially those who have been with it since the dark, early days of fighting for survival against the Golden Horde – without them, the AAR probably wouldn't exist anymore. I love performing for an audience, whether it's on-stage, voice work or writing, and always look forward to hearing people's reactions and thoughts on the latest episode.

It was around this time that I received a graphics tablet as a present. And I had the thought that, in the age of the internet, where millions of people put their content up for worldwide scrutiny, what harm would there be in trying to do what I'd wanted to do since I was a kid – draw a comic. But I didn't know if I had the discipline to create something new and keep it regularly updated, whether time pressure would turn it from a pleasure into a chore.

And that's where the AAR came in. Something that I was already working on, complete with a story (admittedly a lot of it written for me by the game), characters and a lovely, encouraging audience. I wanted to try out the tablet, I wanted to continue the AAR but was thinking of new ways to make it more distinctive...it was time for an experiment, and the good people of the forum were going to be the helpless animals mewling in pain. That is to say, beneficiaries.

The graphics tablet took a bit of getting used to, but the reaction was tremendous in spite of the very rudimentary quality of the early drawings (come on, they do get a bit better...). Drawing the characters helped to develop them in my head, to give them more personality and ideas for ways in which they could interact with each other. The Dobczyñskis, long-suffering retainers of the House of Rurikovich and intended as the audience's 'man on the scene', changed from wearing distinctively Polish clothing and having brown hair in the earlier episodes, to a signature blood red cape and red hair (the latter starting with the half-Scottish Seamus Arkadiusz).

Originally intended to fulfil the role of audience surrogate (for those unfamiliar with the trope, to ask questions and provide a reason for the main characters to talk about the general situation), the Dobczyñskis developed into competent advisors and peerless soldiers with an appetite for smutty innuendo that has, I think, also become part of the AAR's 'feel' (trying not to sound too pretentious). They've also become increasingly attractive, partly because I enjoy drawing muscular men, and partly because I knew that I wanted Czarina Aleksandra,and later Czarina Maria to be (by my own tastes) beautiful and sexy, and didn't feel I would get away with it if male characters were not similarly idealised.

It's more the muscular men thing, though.

The Rurikoviches present a different challenge, both in narrative and in drawing. While I can mould the Dobczyñskis in whatever way I fancy, the Princes of Tver are always moulded partly, both in character and appearance, by their in-game stats and age at taking the throne. High-level Administrators, for example, tend to be awkward and geeky, good Diplomats are wo/manisers, and ones that have good Military and little else are barely-restrained bloodthirsty maniacs. Mikhael III, an unsurpassed 8/8/7, was based on the great Renaissance King of Scots James IV (including his penchant for art, palaces and exotic animals), while the recent Konstantin IV (3 / 4 / 5) took much inspiration – especially in his appearance - from the infinitely less capable George IV.

Their appearances vary much more than the Dobczyñskis, so it was important to give them something visual in common. Clothing would have worked, were it not for the second Prince, bear-wrestler Aleksandr II, with his penchant for not wearing anything other than a cape, an elaborate hat and, on special occasions, a pair of socks. I didn't want to make them wear crowns – not all, at least – since the style of crown varies greatly over different centuries, and I wanted the visual link to remain more-or-less the same throughout the AAR. So I settled for Aleksandr II's maroon cape as a universal symbol of Tverian sovereignty ('retconned' into his father's portrait). Later, as the heirs to the throne began to appear more in the illustrations, they also gained a distinctive sky blue cape echoing Tver's map colour. The capes, I think, are very effective in creating a distinctive look for the Princes of Tver, while allowing them to wear drastically different clothing appropriate to their personalities, time periods, or just the mood I was in the first time that I drew them.

The portraits of the Rurikoviches, found in the first post, nicely illustrate the development of my drawing style. The first on the page was actually done later, since I didn't have the tablet when Mikhael II was on the thone, but from Aleksandr II onwards the reader can see a progression: from trying to fit in with the style of the equestrian portrait it was adapted from, to the introduction of a black outline, to the stylisation of the characters' hands into circles to fit better with their minimalist faces (none of the characters display noses, and only very rarely show their teeth), to further use of black outlining around the eyes (which started out as Czarina Aleksandra's eyelashes and, even before that, the eyes and lashes of Pusia the tigress), small experiments with shading under Czarina Maria, and finally the current form with much more extensive shading and, I think, cleaner lines and better proportions.

Most of the story of InTveresting Times is about the Dobczyñskis and their interactions with this most powerful of Russian noble families. One set of characters whom I could create however I wanted, one partly dictated for me – overall, this made writing the story easier rather than harder, giving me lots of ideas for the development of new Rurikoviches. The drawings – probably the other most distinctive element of the AAR, though there are other cartoon-based ones out there (Selzro's excellent Subcontinental Subtleties, for instance, is a full comic rather than an illustrated narrative) – can take a surprising amount of work, and often add a few days to the production time of an episode, but I wouldn't drop them from the AAR for anything. This is particularly true when it is time for a new leader to take the reigns of power, or time for an advisor or family member to shuffle off this mortal coil. As at least one reader has noted, I enjoy death scenes. It's not always easy to come up with a new method of demise that suits the demisee (yes it is a word, because I say so) and once the comic goes out I frequently have other ideas and wish that I had done them a differently – but such is the life of the 'artist'.

AARland is a great source of gameplay tips and understanding of the mechanics of Paradox games. It's also a land of stories. Some detailed and historical. Some are tales of glory and success, others of miserable failure. Some are sad – and some are funny. I have tried to make InTveresting Times fit into the latter two categories, though more often aiming for comedy rather than tragedy. Not always with success, I feel – one of the most interesting parts of readers' comments is reactions to parts of the story that I thought I had either written/drawn especially well or in a rushed, slapdash, meet-the-deadline way. Frequently, an image I had hoped would tug at the viewer's heartstrings doesn't even get mentioned, but a throwaway linking paragraph receives a raft of compliments. It doesn't bother me as such, but does often surprise me. I'll admit that I sometimes felt disappointed when I felt that something I'd written didn't get the reaction I'd hoped for, but this is counterbalanced by unexpected praise. I can't speak for all writAARs and AARtists, but I definitely have an ego when it comes to readers' responses: most have made me happy, the occasional one quite sad. But the best part of all is the idea that, out there, there are lots of people willing to read InTveresting Times, and that, going by the comments, many of them enjoy it. And if I feel that the time spent writing and illustrating the AAR has brightened up a few people's day, then I feel that it's worth it.

Writing and updating AARs takes effort. Illustrating them, even mine which rarely has more than 2 or 3 images per update, takes even more. But I feel that the drawings give much greater depth and character to InTveresting Times: and my recent acquisition of a more responsive tablet (a Galaxy Note 10.1 for those who fancy a tablet computer that's good for drawing) has, I hope, enhanced this even further. It's not, of course, 'better' than other AARs, just written and presented in a different style. In AARland, some people want to learn how to be a brilliant player. Some want to read great stories of exploration and conquest. And some just want to have a laugh. As the writer of an illustrated AAR, I feel that it is my duty to serve the latter category, and I hope that, as I continue to grow and improve as an artist (I could hardly get any worse!), the very wonderful, supportive people of AARland will continue to provide me with encouragement, in return for a story, some drawings, and some very bad innuendo.

What could possibly go wrong?
 

Derahan

Ever doubtful
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Oct 30, 2009
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Last but not the least, Announcement time!
by Derahan

And we're done with this edition of the AARlander, perhaps a little late but no one has unlimited time and I do as best I can. Not to deminish the contributors to this edition, they did a speldid job as always I believe and they deserve all the credit they can get. It has been a nice run with the AARlander and I really liked the concept (So much I voulenteered to be the chief of it...) and running it alone has been quiet the challenge with alot to keep track of , get new writers each time etc.
So some time ago I though that the AARlander should try and stabelize and become more regular and frequent of what it is already, say every month which is the goal, though with the layout it has today this is going to be difficult to do and to make it stable and regular is a way to make it all better in my mind.
So without much else to say with bad grammer I want to leave you with a little message from Gen. Marshall and myself:

Change_zps2234418a.png
 
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