• 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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frogbeastegg

Lurking Frog
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Apr 6, 2004
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Little lost frog (frogbeastegg)

A newbie’s view of AAR land.


It is mid morning on a fine spring day, the birds are singing, the sun is shining and all those other cliché spring things are happening in abundant quantities. A young woman (girl? I can never tell) of about 21 is walking down a simple road that is little more than a mud track. At first glance she appears nothing particularly special; tall and slender, darkish blonde hair that shines gold as the light hits it, pale white skin, pretty enough if you like medieval but nothing jaw dropping. She is wearing plain but neat medieval clothing consisting of a simple white linen tunic, a pale purple kirtle, and a simple blue cloak that is flung back over her shoulders in this warm sun. All in all she is not a particularly interesting figure, and so probably not the heroine of any half way decent story.

However a second glance reveals more intriguing details, firstly that she is carrying a bundle of scrolls tucked under her left arm. Secondly that she has a medieval style sword belted about her waist in place of the more usual girdle. Thirdly that on the upper right of her kirtle, and again on the long cloak, there is a badge such as those men in service to a lord wear; in this case the badge is a frog. There is something about the badge that suggests the frog is the lady’s own symbol, and that she works for nobody. At this rate she might make a minor character in some third rate Hollywood flick.

While we have been sat here chattering away about this lady she has been walking quickly, or perhaps marching would be a more appropriate term, as this lady possesses a certain…purpose in her step. Ahem, regardless of how she has been moving she has done so quite quickly, and has now reached an aged wooden sign hammered into the unkempt grass at the roadside. She pauses and reads the sign; it says “Welcome to AAR country in the principality of Paradox. Please do not litter, all spammers will be prosecuted.”.

And now she starts walking again, into the place labelled as AAR country.


By now you are possibly wondering what the heck is going on with this article, well I shall try to explain. I have been asked to write a ‘newbie eye view’ of this place, and it seems to me the best way to do that is with a story combined with a few comments like this one. I will endeavour to make this interesting, amusing, and informative, but I am a simple frog so my efforts may fall some considerable distance short. I also feel it fair to warn you I have a knack for writing exceptionally long posts, and this one looks set to carry on the tradition. Therefore please plump up your cushions, get a drink of your choice, and tell your significant others to bug off for a half hour.

Please note that it is not my intent to insult or do down anyone here, but remember that I have barely any idea of who anyone is, what the history of this place is, or any of those other handy bits of information that allow you to avoid calling the moderator a buffoon when he is stood behind you. If you find me insulting you or your achievements please be assured that it is out of ignorance, not malice. I think I have managed to avoid any such problems but you never know that mantrap is there until you stick your foot in it…

Finally another small warning; I am not exactly an average newbie, and unfortunately you have to sit through a bit of froggy background that may sound like boasting to understand why. Brace yourselves; here it comes. I have written before, on other sites so I am not a newbie writer. However my previous fiction is…well I see room for improvement even if it has found some small readership. Note I said ‘fiction’ because I have also written a couple of long and strangely popular guides to Medieval: Total War. So I am not a complete newbie then.

Now here is the really ‘boasty’ and more important bit: I have served as the moderator for a story forum on the same site that hosts my guides and random scribblings. I was the first mod of the forum (called the Mead hall), and spent just short of 6 months moderating the place before being promoted on up to another forum. As you may imagine this gives me insight into how these places work, as well as rather more experience with newbie writers than you may expect from my status here. I shall shut up about that now, before you think my head is about to expand so far it will explode.

Now that is article has more health warnings than a nuclear power plant let us continue with the story.

The woman has kept walking while our attention was elsewhere. She has now arrived in the centre of a medium sized village, with roads leading off in all directions. There are many sign posts dotted about, declaring things like “This way to the Tea Room” and “Crusader Kings AARs”. The woman stands there, in the middle of the road and looks uncertain for a brief instant, before she resumes her calm, icy certainty. Unfortunately for her she regains her composure right as a cart comes around the bend, forcing her to jump out of the way to avoid being run over. Glaring darkly after the cart driver the young woman dusts herself down and continues to look about, this time stood safely off the road. Eventually she gives up, and pulls a letter out of the bundle of scrolls she is carrying. Let’s be nosey and read over her shoulder…

The letter says, “Your new story about Ulster is good, have you posted it over at Paradox? It seems funny posting an AAR for CK over here at the MTW forums, post it in both places, young froggy.” The young woman is a quick reader, and we just barely have time to finish reading before she rolls the letter back up and stuffs it into the bundle of scrolls. Looking about again she spies the signpost pointing to the demesne of the Crusader Kings. Drawing herself up straight she marches off in the direction indicated by the sign, looking as purposeful and icy calm as she was before.


While our not exactly a heroine hikes over to CK AAR land we will take the stagecoach and discuss this point a little more while we wait for her to catch up. The first problem any newbie here, be they writer, reader or lost sheepy thing looking for something else, has to face is the mass of options. One main forum has links to many others, and each forum has several topics that are almost entirely new areas inside them. The main AAR forum goes to the CK forum, which has a tavern. The tavern has links to tearooms, bars, libraries, solariums, and other forums. AAR land is quite simply a labyrinth to the newbie eye. Where to start? Where to go? Where to post? Do I jump in with my story in the proper game forum, or mess about a bit over in the ‘neutral’ AAR forum? Do I need to introduce myself in other people’s stories before posting my own? Basically the question is where do I start?!

Since I had been told to come here to post my Ulster AAR I eventually decided to head for the CK AAR forum and just post the thing, no introductions or reading of all the other topics – I simply found that there was so much to read and catch up on my story would be finished and posted in its entirety on the other forums before I even got around to posting part 1 here if I waited until I had got a feel for this place. Yes I did read the rules topics, or as many as I could find, but many of the other AARs here remain unread. I am slowly catching up, very slowly.

A newbie introduction thread would, I feel, go a long way to reducing this overwhelming mass of options. The thread could contain a brief history, a quick guide to the forums and faces, and provide a place for newbies to introduce themselves and ask any questions they might have. Older faces could then monitor this thread, to meet and greet newbies and field those questions. Make the thread obvious in a central location, and Bob’s your mother’s brother.

Ah, how opportune, our um…frog has arrived in CK land just as I finished my little piece about being lost. Such good timing!

This new section of the village is a bit different to the other part. It has a castle looming in the background, as castles tend to do. There is a quaint little pond with a ducking stool and a few ducks, a stone church, a tavern, and a great big square. It is in this square that most of the people are concentrated. The girl heads over to this square. When she arrives she notices the square is full of large wooden boards, and on each wooden board a collection of parchment bits have been nailed up. The parchments have writing on them; they are stories put up for all to read. If you were watching closely you might suspect the girl is relieved, but if you weren’t you would have assumed her icy calm never wavered. Please try to watch closely next time, there is no point in me telling this tale if you don’t pay attention.

The young woman hesitates and seems unsure somehow. Then she notices one of the other boards is entitled ‘The (Blood) Red Hand of Ulster’ and she looks noticeably crestfallen. If we look at the bundle of scrolls we can soon see why – the story she has written is entitled ‘Blood Red Hand: The Dukes of Ulster’ and that is rather similar to the existing story. She lingers on the verge of moving to look at this other story, and then takes the plunge. Whatever it is she reads there reassures her, for when she leaves the crowd reading the story she heads towards an empty board to post her own work. She drops her bundle next to the board, pulls out the first segment of the story and nails it into place using the hammer and nails considerately provided by the squares caretaker. When she is finished she steps back and admires her work. We notice the parchment is actually slightly crooked, forcing the reader to tilt their head slightly to read, but we won’t tell her since she looks so proud. We also notice the story starts off with an apology for being new and not knowing what to do, so if this “treads on anybody’s toes” the writer is sorry.


We really need to wait a day or two and come back to this young woman’s journey, so let’s address a subject raised here while we put time on ‘above normal’ speed (well we don’t want the world to crash because we put it to maximum speed and the new stability patch isn’t out yet, now, do we?) and wait for time to pass. Our subject will be :fanfare and drum roll: other authors.

For the newbie writer this is perhaps one of the biggest fears, and also a case of ignorance being bliss. Let’s face it on these forums there are at least several ‘superstar’ writers, people who have been writing for a long time and have got a large gathering of dedicated readers who will flock to anything and everything they write. For ease of language, and not out of insult or mischief, I will refer to these dedicated readers as a fan club. Erroneous or not those famous names will be referred to as superstars, since it allows for some constancy of terminology. It also allows me to talk about people I don’t know!

Ignorance is bliss, simply because when superstar X turns up and posts his new AAR you don’t know to be worried. Superstar X is just some other name, unless they have a mod badge. Unlike those who know better you are not sat there banging your head against the nearest solid object and saying “Oh crud! Well, there goes my readership!”.

The problem is in two things; the fan clubs and the experience. Quite simply how can you hope to compete with someone who has a readership that follows him about? You have to start from scratch, but if people are reading Superstar Story 2 they will have less time to read whatever it is you have put together. If people don’t read or don’t comment then you start to think your work is unwanted, and so you fade away. Experience is a ‘better’ problem in a way – new writers are never going to be as good as the old hands, simply because they don’t have the experience. Time, practise and helpful feedback will amend that.

The entire situation can be summed up as being a new author who publishes his first book on the same day as Terry Pratchett’s latest Discworld comes out. In the rush to get to the known good, who will spare a glance for your unknown work that is not likely to be of the same quality?

Of course the answer is that many will try, and so the newbie has often worried for very little purpose. However how is the newbie to know that before the first few comments arrive? Just because other people have had comments on their first work doesn’t mean you think you will, after all you are you and that makes everything different. Of course you can’t compete with the superstars or their fan clubs, but you can be a warm up act…

It is now a few days later; for the sake of argument let’s call it two days exactly. The young woman has dumped her belongings somewhere, but still wears her cloak and carries her sword hidden beneath its folds. She is standing outside the tavern in CK AAR land, I suspect she is gathering the courage to go in and introduce herself, but I also suspect she would hit me if I said so. Bracing herself she steps into the gloomy interior. A strange scene follows, involving a drunk man, the lady’s sword, and a knight who feels insulted by the lack of attention she gives him.

The rude girl still hasn’t introduced herself properly, so I shall do it for her and mutter in her general direction later by way of recompense. She is called frogbeastegg, an outlandish name that explains the frog badge and strange habit of calling herself a ‘frog’ from time to time. I suspect we don’t want to inquire after that habit! She is well aware that her name is long to write comfortably, and so she is also called by many other names that have been gifted to her by others – froggy, Lady Frog, Frog Tzu, Frogeavellai, and some more that are less well used. It appears she has a tendency to collect names like others do stamps or Star Wars action figures. I won’t explain where the name frogbeastegg comes from; we just don’t have time to branch off into exploding amphibians right now.

She is writing some more of her story, basking in the warm glow of comments both in this land and the one she came from.


A small aside, comments are important to almost all writers but to newbies most of all. While I am not technically a newbie full stop, I am still a newbie here, and waiting for those first few comments was pretty darn tense! It is always hard to tell how your work has gone down if no one comments, but the average newbie is even more vulnerable to thinking no one likes their work if no one comments, they also tend to have unreasonable expectations on how quickly comments will appear. I have seen many upset newbie writers because no one posted, and that is a shame as they faded away. At the same time I have seen many newbies who expected many comments in the first 24 hours, and were upset to find either none or just a couple. The key with comments to newbies is speed, the faster you get in there and say you have read and enjoyed (or whatever) their work, the better.

She is also secretly listening in to what the other people are saying, making notes of their strange speech on a scrap of spare parchment. It seems everyone here has some kind of strange speech impediment that causes anything with an ‘ar’ sound to be turned into an AAR sound. She finds this quite baffling.

You do have to admit this place has developed a language of its own, writAAR, bAAR, and so on. Um, can we newbies have a phrase book please?

While the young woman is busy writing away a man stands up and announces an interesting discussion over in another part of AAR land. At this her ears prick and she makes ready to leave, thinking this will be the perfect opportunity to see some sights, meet some people, and maybe feel a bit more at home.

Assorted travelling from CK AAR to AAR central, we don’t really want to hear about that, do we boys and girls?

The aforementioned discussion is taking place inside a big stone hall, some kind of town hall or similar – do I really have to tell you everything? Use a bit of imagination, it builds character, and I’m not here to act as a crutch for the imaginationally challenged. Anyway our young frog listens in, and is rather horrified to hear the subject is new writers and the lack of quality in their work. Of course she remains as calm and icy as ever, but inside you can tell she is really thinking “Oh crap! I’m a new writer, am I part of this lack of standards? Oh crap! I’m not doing what they are saying, but who am I to say I am not part of what these people have an issue with? For all I know I could be…oh crap!” Well she is hardly eloquent when shocked, so we will have to forgive her the repeated ‘oh craps’.


Let me interrupt here for a second. Now the issue, point, whatever you want to call it here is not so much the validity of what people were saying, or who was saying it, or how it was said, or even how true it was. The point is the effect it had on a newbie (um, me I think…) and a relatively confident newbie at that. The immediate result of reading this thread is one newbie who is wondering if she is part of the ‘problem’ mentioned, part of the low standards, the bad writers, and the junk that is now infecting the forums. The newbie is always vulnerable to things like this, firstly because they lack confidence, secondly because they know that they are not as good as the superstars. If there is one thing guaranteed to make a newbie scream and run it is things like this. Part of the discussion could even be understood in such a way that it accused newbies of stealing attention and comments from older faces, whether this was intentional or not I will withhold judgement. Until I read that discussion AAR land had seemed a welcoming and friendly community, and now I felt like I should be leaving and apologising for ever being here in the first place.

I have no wish to point fingers at anyone in that discussion, and I freely admit I don’t know the background to the ‘good old days’ people were talking about, but what newbie does? For all I know I could just be adding to the junk heap with this overly long and dull article.

The newbie’s point of view after reading much of the comments on the last gazette issue dating before the 01.05.04 (the date I am writing this article) can be summed up thusly: WHO THE HELL IS LORD DURHAM!? WHAT GOLDEN AGE!? WHAT DARK TIMES!? WHAT IS A PE – SOME KIND OF PHYSICAL EDUCATION, AS IN SPORTS!? WHAT BAD AARS, NO MAKE THAT WHAT IS A BAD AAR!? WHAT DREAM/VISION?! SOME AUTHORS ARE GOOD, WHICH ONES!? WHAT IDEALS!?

The young woman seems uncertain, hovering between running and staying, unable to decide. Suddenly she regains that icy calm, but this time with a fire in her eyes. She is the frog, and the frog will not run and hide like a whipped newbie; or some other inspiring cliché thing. She steps forward and speaks up, a politely worded and hopefully fair speech that basically says “If you have a problem then go fix it in a more positive way, for newbies will always be newbies and you can only help them find their path. That path is not always the same as yours, but it is no less valid.”. Half expecting to get coshed on the way out the young woman turns and leaves, only to be stopped by a man outside the door. When he says he has a proposition for her the girl puts her right hand on the hilt of her sword, obviously she has heard a few proposals of a less than savoury nature before. The man hurriedly explains that he wanted her to write an AARticle…

And so it comes full circle, a week in the life of a newbie.

Epilogue: The discussion on the gazette continued to grow along newbie baffling lines, until eventually it was almost impossible to follow. The frog is still writing her story, and is currently wondering if this article was such a good idea after all...
 

Alexandru H.

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Aug 31, 2002
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Alexandru's wAAR (Alexandru H.)

“We're the middle children of history, no purpose or place. We have no great war, no great depression. Our great war is a spiritual wAAR; our great depression is our lives.”



The DefendAARs
- A Modest Proposal that Advocates the Creation of an Informal Association of AAR Fanatics, for the Sole Purpose of Preserving a Legacy and Building a Society -


The creation of a concept and its consequential spread does not always mean evolution or revolution. In fact, most of the time, it has something to do with a rupture point and the necessity of finding a new starting spot. But finding roots is never easy, while finding people who can artificially construct them is another thing. And, in the case of AARland, sheer practice usually determines the theoretical approaches.

When LD imposed the concept of “AARland”, he never wanted it to diverge from the basic AAR forum from before, but rather to emphasize its qualities, while suppressing some unwanted gained faults. He felt, of course, the need for a new course, judging by the problems he encountered lately; but Lord Durham was, in the same time, an old forum “grognard”, so his personal experience influenced a lot of his ideas. This resulted in some kind of strange beast, made of different and contradictory statements that would alienate many older and newer members, without obtaining the one desired aim: community spirit. Don’t get me wrong, the “AARland” was a stroke of genius; the predicament lies in the fact that it was the result of a conflicting conscience. Thus, many of the huge improvements were left unfinished half-way. Let’s look at some examples:

a) Formalization became a key element in AARland, yet the old “laissez-faire” kept its privileged status. And, just to be better understood, by “laissez-faire” I mean not the way people interact in the forum (it would be quite unfortunate to have that “ regularized” ) but rather what is to be expected from them by the forum. The new “AARland” still anticipated informal initiatives, discussions and projects, but most of them just proved “dust in the wind”. The problem was that formalization was not taken to its proper conclusion ( “all the way” ), everyone expecting that under some new rules, people would behave as before. A key mistake.

b) The new format expected from new members to understand some inner workings of the forum (the different librAARies), to gain some recognition (the different WoWs) and, finally, to interact with their fellow forumites (the different bAARs). The trouble was that most of them had no incentive to actually visit those sticky threads (we all know how sticky threads kill good ideas), and the forum never paid the proper attention to them, because of that “laissez-faire” attitude.

c) Finally, let me be a little frank: when you build such a superstructure, you should do it alongside other people with similar interests and objectives. Lord Durham did it only with two other people: Valdemar and Stroph1. The other ones (like myself) were enthusiasts and recipients, but in no way builders. Some might dare to say that we all should have been part of a “brainstorming” session. Maybe. But LD wanted to do that with people he had worked before, that had the necessary experience, good will and initiative to broaden the extents of the forum. Well, we can draw a single conclusion: those individuals never showed up. Most of them still considered the forum as unchanged, requiring from them only contributions in small dosage. At the current rate of growth, small will never be the answer, unless we can commit everyone to the same treatment.

My proposal will have in mind only the well-being of the forum. Because of its controversial nature, it may not receive unanimous approval (I would be lucky to even get one!) but I had to try. This may not resolve a lot of things, but it has possibilities and, with a lot of help, it can fulfill some of its initial goals.

Imagine yourself moving into a new neighborhood. From the rules posted at the entrance, you understand your responsibilities and learn a few things about how things work. Furthermore, you are invited to take part in the community activities and you do your best to fulfill this obligation. But there is a problem: some doors are locked, some signs are deceptive and some discussions make no sense whatsoever. In spite of so many friendly signs, you feel neglected and, ultimately, decide to get back in your house and remain there. Or leave. Sounds familiar? When I read frogbeastegg’s AARticle, I realized that she is one of those disoriented members, who need help to grow roots. She is everything we need around here (good writer, experienced with forums such as this, team-player), yet nobody even noticed her (apart from her current CK AAR) until that particular AARticle. Well, that’s just wrong. With a dash of forum history, a friendly help
become one of the pillars of the future. And I bet there are a lot of other individuals with the same characteristics that could use our assistance.

The Association

Lord Durham left, Valdemar’s “Almost Gone” signature is worrying, MrT’s impressive work on Crusader Kings is time-consuming, Stroph1’s new baby is certainly more important than this forum… in this rate, we might wake up one day and find everyone gone. Which is not something I wish for (even if it would wake up certain people). This is why I put forward an idea for an association of AAR fanatics, inside the forum, which would actively fight for the future of AARland. Now, I observed that many envisioned such an association as an “elite group”, clearly apart from the regular members. It’s nothing like that, since everyone could, hypothetically, become part of it. The sole difference between the “DefendAARs” and the simple members is TIME and COMMITMENT to help.

We all are members, doing our small or large parts; it doesn’t matter, because we are all members. But this equality only works as a starting sentence and does not influence much of the ensuing effects. There are ways we can calculate and analyze AAR writing, AAR reading, general contributions etc., making our own little hierarchies, without anyone’s disapproval. Yes, we are all members, when we consider an abstract and intangible forum. As soon as it becomes a full-fledged reality, the members become distinct and begin choosing personal roles. In a theoretical world, MrT and MrX may be equal, but in our forum, MrT’s position is clearly superior because, while receiving the same kind of treatment from the system as MrX, it gives back superior feedback and ultimately contributes in keeping it alive. Unfortunately, MrT’s input is utterly ignored by other people. They have nothing against him, it’s just that the current configuration does
e people that admire his efforts. We live in a world in which modesty is never an useful trait and, statistically speaking, we can be sure that our forum holds vanity as much as any other discussion board. MrT may decide to end his collaboration and the forum will lose one of its valuable members.

The AARland Gazette was a good initiative mainly because it could provide learning material for other such projects. It brought several interesting features that could be extended to other initiatives, but I’m more interested in speaking about one of them: the relation between the three senior editAARs. What it started as a personal conviction quickly turned into a full-time profession because of my two colleagues. I never expected them to share my enthusiasm, but I guess I did not knew them enough back then, because they assumed their positions with maximum of professionalism and dedication. Our team shall never quit just because we feel neglected; we had become friends and, moreover, comrades in a joint struggle.

Another interesting feature we implemented is titles. Feeding one’s pride with a flashy label may appear trivial, but it’s actually one of the key features in our world. A “gardener” is an “environmental beautificationist”, a bartender is a “beverage administrator”. I am a “Senior EditAAR”, a name which says quite a lot about my personality (I am not meek!), and also something that we should all learn: reward individuals for each good deed; chances are they won’t do it again. It’s nothing wrong in being acknowledged as something else than a simple member, if you did something meaningful.

Before we move to the tasks at hand, let me gossip a bit about another misapprehension that came up during last week’s discussion. I got the impression that some older members, with not enough time to participate, thought that I would try to create a rift between the members of the proposed association and the ones that aren’t. I’m a little disappointed, to say the least. The forum will cease to be a reality from the moment that everyone decides that there is not enough time for AARland. Luckily, there are still some of us who have TIME and COMMITMENT to help. Why wouldn’t be ok? We are not doing this for recognition, we don’t yearn for affection, we just want to help. Well, it’s easier to do this inside a group than alone, supporting each other, discussing and offering useful advice. It’s true, people will be ready to volunteer when they will be ready. But, what will happen if they will be ready and there will be nothing to do? What i
dy? This is not a smart answer, it’s just that “invisible” hand kicking in from time to time in our community. Ok, enough of that.

Tasks

I am not willing to force into anyone’s heads my ideas about how we should construct the association. If people will be keen on investing resources for it, they will most probably be able to help it evolve. The last section will revolve around chores.

Integrating new members

As frogbeastegg remarked in a previous AARticle, the new additions to our AAR forum simply have no contact with the on-going community other than writing and reading a few AARs. Which is a hell of important job, but it doesn’t help in any way foster a community spirit. How can you understand our forum if you know nothing about its history, main events, protagonists, pioneering and all of those small things that constructed the place we are today? Think about Lord Durham. Except for some older members, who may stick around in the future, he will become a legend without a face or personality. There will still be his AARs, yet no one will be able to tell what LD did for our group in terms of community spirit. And, more troubling, no one will care.

This is the first task of our group: locate the fresh faces with a keen interest in our community and let them know who we are and what we do. Let them know we are not just a bunch of people who write AARs and comment upon them from time to time, but a community of related spirits, with a certain background and roots. We should consider a mentor-protégée type of relation, the mentor merely guiding his pupil in the right directions, without imposing his own subjectivity (too much, we are still humans!)

Comment policy

I always thought that the good old days had not necessarily superior writing. What it did have was polished, well-thought comments, not strictly linked to the on-going AARs, and a friendly environment. These days, all the attempts of this kind are quickly buried under tons of “attaboy”, an obsession that is hurting everybody. An association cannot force its members to comment something they don’t like. But it can provide a steady and friendly crowd, which may persuade others to chip in. If we would follow a standard, maybe fewer writers would complain about lack of response.

Bringing forward new grand projects

Because of the Gazette, we have a practical example, from which we can extract the valuable lessons for other future group projects: no more theoretical nonsense (as many of my ideas may seem), only thoroughly-proved models. Let’s offer them a bit more than the usual 5 minutes, let’s show them interactive AARs, joint projects for our common heritage, anything that would increase the appeal for camaraderie. Let’s not stay and look how so many interesting ventures end up deserted, for lack of people and interest.

Rewards

Nothing more about the subject, since The_Hawk said it all.


"Sell form, buy substance".​
 
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Cartography 101 (MacRaith)

Cartography 101: Advanced Screen Shot Editing Techniques

Part 2

In the last issue, I introduced some basic techniques for enhancing your AAR screen shots to make better-looking maps. This week, I'm going to cover some more advanced topics, including ways to manipulate the colors and textures of your maps. But first, I'm going to go into a bit more detail on file formats.

GIF or JPEG?

One of the most frequently asked questions asked about Internet graphics is: "Which is better, GIF or JPEG?" It seems like a simple question; unfortunately, the answer isn't so simple. As I mentioned last week, the two most commonly used graphic file formats, GIF and JPEG, were designed to do different things. So which format you use depends on what kind of graphic you're posting.

GIF was designed to handle graphics that were created entirely on a computer: logos, graphical text, and so on. These images tend to have several features in common: a limited selection of colors, or palette; large contiguous areas of the same color; and relatively sharp boundaries between different colors. The GIF format was optimized to expect these features, and produces the best compression (and hence the smallest file sizes) when all of these features are met.

However, GIF handles real-world images - digital photos, scanned images, and so on - very poorly. The real world, in contrast to computer-generated areas, is not so clean and crisp. The real world has an unlimited color palette, and rarely do you find large areas of the exact same color; instead, there are subtle variations due to texture and lighting, and colors tend to shade into one another.

JPEG, on the other hand, handles these types of conditions very well. The JPEG format was originally designed for photographs (that's what the "P" in "JPEG" stands for), and is the best format for photographic images. It does not have GIF's limited palette, so the colors don't get "banded" like they do in GIF images. However, JPEG handles computer-generated images very poorly. A peculiar side effect of JPEG's compression method tends to make sharply defined lines "blurry" and large contiguous areas of the same color "blotchy". These effects usually aren't noticeable in a photograph, because the texture and shading of the real world tend to disguise the subtle changes that JPEG makes to a file. In a computer image, on the other hand, JPEG's "blotchiness" stands out like a sore thumb.

It would seem, based on the above, that GIF would therefore be the best format for EU2 and other game screen shots, because these are computer-generated images and not photographs. However, EU2 screen shots occupy a peculiar middle ground, sharing features with both ordinary computer graphics and digital photographs. EU2 screen shots have a larger color palette and much more texture and shading than typical computer graphics. However, they fall short of photo-realistic texture and shading. Thus, the drawbacks of both the GIF and JPEG formats tend to be visible in EU2 screen shots.

Let's compare the two formats side-by-side. Here's the same portion of a screen shot, saved in GIF format on the left and JPEG format on the right.


GIF's limited color palette causes some obvious problems in the left-hand image. Particularly noticeable is the color "banding" in Tirol, Pommern, and Sweden, which is caused by the need to reduce the number of colors to 256 (the most GIF can handle). JPEG's problems with blurring and blotching are less evident, but still noticeable, particularly in the borders between nations. The nice, sharp, crisp red borders of the original, which are preserved in the GIF image, are badly blurred in the JPEG image.

Given the differences between the two, many AAR authors simply elect to use JPEG and live with the minor problems it produces. However, there are ways to minimize the blurring problems, making them less visible. This involves distracting the eye from the blurred boundaries by giving JPEG exactly what it wants: more texture.

Roughing things up

Most high-end graphic software comes with a large selection of filters that allow you to manipulate your images in all kinds of ways - changing the color, distorting shapes in various ways, and so on. What we want to do in this case is find a filter that adds texture to an image, breaking up smooth areas into "rougher" areas with more variation. These are sometimes called "canvas" filters, because they make the image appear to have been painted on a textured background, be it actual canvas cloth, wood, plaster, concrete, or any other kind of surface.

My software has one particular texture that I decided to use here, a "linen" texture that mimics the texture of homespun cloth. When this texture is added to a screen shot, it's not too hard to imagine that the image is actually a woven tapestry.


An added bonus of this is that the texture effectively disguises the blurred national borders and other subtle errors that the JPEG format introduced into the original screen shot.

Linen isn't the only texture available; here's a sample of some others:


As a practical note, it's best to apply the texture to the background only, before you add text to it. The texture would only make your text harder to read. Add the texture, then add your text.

Fading it out

Nice so far, but if we really want to make our readers believe that this is supposed to be a tapestry that was woven in the Renaissance and that has been hanging in Hohenzollern Castle for four centuries, we have more work to do. The colors are much too bright and intense to be from an image on centuries-old cloth.

Fortunately, manipulating colors is one of the easiest things to do in most graphic editing software. Controls for changing the brightness and contrast of an image are standard features of almost all editing software, and most have controls for intensity, hue and saturation that can be used to change the colors almost any way you want.

For this image, I first turned the saturation down a bit. It didn't take much; a 10% reduction in saturation washed out the colors rather nicely. This gave me much of the "faded" effect I was looking for.


But reducing the saturation wasn't all I was after. I also wanted it to appear "yellowed" with age. I experimented with a wide variety of filters before I something that gave me the effect I wanted. What I ultimately used was a monochrome filter, which essentially replaces all colors in an image with different shades of a single color. I adjusted the filter to produce a "sepia tone" effect, which is often seen in old photographs.


Now, you're probably thinking at this point that this is taking things much too far - and you'd be correct. What I wanted was something in between the monochrome image and the colored-but-desaturated image. Unfortunately, the filter doesn't let me go halfway - it's either fully monochrome or nothing. I needed a way to combine the two different images into one image.

I was able to achieve this through the use of layers. Most graphic editing software allows you to create "layers" or "objects" that can be manipulated independently of one another and of the background. We've already used this to produce the text objects that are independent of the background map - our individual country names can be moved around, hidden, or deleted altogether if we so wish.

What I did here was somewhat counterintuitive - I created a layer that covered the entire image. The colored image was used for the background layer, and I pasted the monochrome image as a new layer on top of it. This, of course, completely hid the colored background behind the monochrome layer, so that it looked identical to the monochrome image.

But most editing software also allows you to change the transparency of a layer, which is the amount that you can see through it. Most layers or objects - our text is a good example - is at 0% transparency. In other words, you can't see through it at all; it's opaque. But the transparency of a layer can be changed so that the background partially shows through it. That's what I did with the monochrome layer - I made it partially transparent, so that some of the color showed through, but it was "filtered" through the monochrome layer. The effect is sort of like looking through lightly colored glass - the original image shows through, but the colors are changed. As it happened, I got the effect I was looking for at exactly 50% transparency. After applying the text, I got the final image, nicely textured and faded.


Different editing software comes with different selections of filters, so your software may not have exactly the same filters available. You'll need to experiment with each of your filters to see what kinds of effects they produce, and then see how the different combinations work together.

Layering it on

I used similar techniques to produce my screen shots for the Pagan Kingdom AAR, but this time I used three layers. Starting with my original screen shot, I made several identical layers. Then I applied a different effect to each layer, and adjusted the transparency of the layers until I got a combination of several different effects.


For the background layer, I manipulated the color of the original image above, turning the color intensity all the way up:


That's far too intense to be used alone, of course, but I needed the colors to be that bright to show through my texture filter. I used a filter called "wave paper" that gave a neat texture, but as a side effect, turned the image black-and-white. Applying that to the same original image gave me the following:


Setting that layer to 50% transparency allowed the color to show through. Next, I used a variation of the same monochrome filter I used for the Brandenburg image, a bit more yellow this time, and applied that to the original background as well:


Setting that layer to 50% transparency allowed the color and texture layers to show through. After adding my text, I got my final image:


Layers are one of the handiest features of editing software. You can use it to apply multiple effects to an image, and then adjust the transparency to allow as much or as little of each effect as you wish to show through to the final image. With a little experimentation, you should be able to find a combination of effects that gives your AAR screen shots a unique look.

Of course, the layering effects we used this week were applied to the entire image equally. Sometimes it's handy to apply an effect to only part of an image. I'll cover the details of that in the next issue.
 

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Notes (Director)

There’s a Hole in the Bucket

“There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza
There's a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, there's a hole.
Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry
Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.”
‘There’s a Hole in the Bucket’ - Anonymous



Here’s some more bad news for you. You say you have met a lot of good people on this forum and you count them as friends? Well… have you heard from some of them lately?

Recruitment and retention aren’t exactly exciting topics, so to keep your eyes from glazing over I’ll give you an example of why they are important. Let’s say you have been out for a hike and you are very thirsty, when all at once you come upon a well of sweet water. You lower the bucket to the water, let it fill and hoist it up… empty. All the water drained out of a small hole in the bottom! Now the question is whether you can lift the bucket more rapidly than the water can escape. Succeed and you drink deep; fail and you risk thirst and possibly sunstroke and even death.

Now, ‘recruitment’ in this case means collecting water in the bucket and raising it up to drink. In our terms, we can say that recruitment occurs when someone finds or is referred to the AAR forum and becomes a reader or a writer. ‘Retention’ – keeping the water in the bucket until our thirsty hiker gets a drink – is what we mean by encouraging that reader or writer to keep coming back to the AAR forum.

And lately, we’ve had terrific success with recruitment. AARland is bustling, new AAR’s are blooming everywhere you look and Paradox keeps releasing new games! Evaporation, however, has been rapid; the turnover rate of people coming in and vanishing from the forum seems awfully high to me. I don’t have much to go on but impressions, here. (Some good soul could, I suppose, compile how many people have posted in the AAR forum in the last year and mark down the date of their last post, but I don’t think the data would be valuable compared to the time and effort to acquire them. So don’t.). But let’s conduct a little experiment, shall we? A quick look at the OscAAR’s page in the EU2 Reference LibrAARy (Thank you Stroph1! Thank you!) gives us this list:

Lord Durham – CK AAR, FC. Still involved?
Storey – around but not writing.
Kav – not active AFAIK.
Shawng1 - not active AFAIK.
MrT – CK, not otherwise.
Sytass - not active AFAIK.
Peter Ebbesen – CK, not otherwise.
Honour_Shogun - not active AFAIK.
Edgar Francis I - not active AFAIK.
Cat Lord - not active AFAIK.
Mad King James - around but not writing.
Craig Ashley - not active AFAIK.
Lt. Tyler - not active AFAIK.
Apebe - not active AFAIK.
Prufrock451 – recently finished a terrific HoI AAR.
Warspite – not active AFAIK.
Secret Master - not active AFAIK.
Director – here!
Stroph1 – over there!
Meiji-Tenno - not active AFAIK.
Rictus – not active AFAIK.
J Passepartout – recently heard from, I think.
Gaijin de Moscu - around but not writing.
Lucius Sulla - not active AFAIK.
Heagarty – writing on Victoria.
Havard - around but not writing.
Amric – around and writing!
Arilou – around but not writing? I don’t really know.
R.F.A. - not active AFAIK.


It will be readily apparent that I did no detailed background checks – lack of time and need accounted for that. So don’t take my active/not active list as gospel, and please don’t take me to task if I’m wrong. But I make it as approximately 10 active out of 29 winners. Pretty sobering, eh? If we’re losing the people that we give awards to, how many participants are slipping away who are less-well-known?


In public school music programs (yep, here we go with that again) a band program is usually judged successful in recruitment and retention if it enrolls approximately 15% of the public school population and loses no more than 10% of its enrollment per year. That adds up – a class of 30 in the 6th grade will be halved by graduation. I don’t know where we stand in AARland, but it’s fair to guess that only a small percentage of people who visit the Paradox site also regularly read or write in an AAR. And I believe that we are losing more than 10% per anum; lots more.

Is this a bad thing? I mean, as long as there’s water in the bucket when it reaches the top, our thirsty hiker can have his drink, right? Yes. But think of the effort involved in raising and lowering the bucket many times, to have as a reward only a few drops to slake that thirst… or think of the poor fellow having water enough to drink, pour over his head and dump into the bushes besides. I submit that we are not having a problem with recruitment – and we do recruit, just not in a very organized or effective fashion – but with retention. We are not keeping the interested, active, productive people who can entertain and inspire the rest of us. And one result of this loss of experience is the loss of custom, tradition and ‘way of doing’. The loss of talent can arguably be made up (although I don’t think we have) but the loss of institutional memory is permanent.

Try reading the original EU2 bAAR thread if you can find it. There’s some powerful character-building going on there. And some fine descriptive writing, too. People are no longer putting in that kind of scene-building, character-creating effort. Is it because tastes have changed and this is no longer desired? I think we don’t write like that because our role-models have gone – we lost the institutional memory, lost the expectation - and we just fell out of the habit. Plus, we’ve changed bartenders a lot – more evidence of attrition.



EU and EU2 were the heart and core of AARland. As these titles aged (despite Johann’s great work in providing updates for EU2, it is old for a computer game), did we lose participants because they felt they had ‘been there, done that’? Did we lose writers because they felt they couldn’t match what other writers were doing? Did we lose writers and readers to other games? Ummmm… probably, I doubt it, and probably not. EU2 is still the epicenter for AARland, most writers don’t compare their work to that of others, and only a few of our OscAAR winners from the list above are active in other Paradox game forums. So I don’t think this line of investigation is worth pursuit.

I do think the ‘dead times’ in the EU2 AAR forum cost us a lot of members. From running nightclubs myself, I can tell you that if your business is busy it is really busy and if your bar is not so very busy, it is empty. Translation: people like to be where other people are. We had ‘dead times’ when HoI and Victoria were introduced, and I imagine the depressing lack of activity broke the habit of logging on to the forum. But the people always came back, right? Not the same people as were in the forum before, however. People came to the EU2 forum, true – but new and different people.



So. How do we encourage and retain readers and writers? Let’s look at it from the other end first: Why did they leave? The short answer is: we don’t know.

I can remember no stormy exits. If members (and I use this in a broad sense of readers and writers) have left in anger or been banned, I’m just not aware of it. Therefore, while this actually may happen, I don’t think it happens often. Mostly one gets a sense of people losing interest or acquiring new demands on their time. New family, new job, new games to play… and less of the 24-hour allotment we all receive that can be spent on reading and writing. Perhaps they get writers block, suffer discouragement, lose interest in their characters, get bored with the last part of the game or just bored with the game, period. (Speaking from what I’ve read and played myself, the endgame of most computer strategy games tends to be dominated by a player of overwhelming power.) We don’t really know why they leave… because they mostly don’t tell us. The readers and writers just… drift away. And we look around one day and realize that Bismarck will never finish Cyprus, or Secret Master complete Castile, or Sytass tell anymore of HighHat’s tales. They are just… gone.

Do we offer encouragement? Yeah, I think so. Not as much for new writers as we should, but that has always been true. We offer many different levels of participation, comments, critiques (when asked for), writing tips, awards. What more, really, can we do? Go to their homes and strap them in their chairs and toss them cookies when they complete a chapter? The cookies sound good, at any rate.

There are just so many reasons for people to stop participating, and so few inducements we can offer to keep them. But unless we want the AAR forum to drift down into mediocrity, we all need to encourage our favorite authors to stay around and keep writing. (BTW: I personally don’t care if you write logs, blogs, great literature, humor, slapstick comedy or show slides. I want to be entertained and told something about the game you played; being impressed with your ideas, settings, plot and characters is the icing on the cake.)

Good soldiers don’t fight for gold, for country, for glory or for fear of punishment. Good soldiers fight because they know their comrades are watching and depending on them. The Brotherhood of Arms is very real; the Band of Brothers can win against great odds. The key to retention is the building of this sense of community, of a place where you are not just tolerated but wanted. I feel that community every time I see what my readers have to say about my work, and I hope some of that rubs off when I comment in the works of others. Interest in others is the brick and mortar of community.



I can tell you exactly how many times I felt hurt – even betrayed – when students left my band program: every single one. When you have devoted such time and energy to a project, it hurts to see people lose interest and drift away. Sometimes all they say is, “I like band, but I’ve done that and now I want to go do so-and-so.” And I’d mutter about lack of dedication, and blame myself for not doing enough, and I would go on.

Sometimes they don’t say anything. They’re just gone. It’s easier for them, that way. Even easier in an internet community. You just vanish… no muss, no fuss for you. No dealing with the bereavement of the ones you leave behind.

So I learned, over the years, that kind words and sincere compliments were more effective than anger. I learned to value the ones who persevered. I learned to cope, to tackle material suited to the students I had. (And – cue the Ego Music, please – I was very successful.) Eventually I got tired and lost interest, and band directing failed to retain me.


So to return to that silly children’s song, we have a hole – a big hole – in the bucket. We are gaining a flood of new participants while leaking readers and writers at a furious rate. Is it something we did? No. Can we do more to staunch the loss? Maybe. Do we know what to do? Not really, except to realize that there is no quick fix and that AARland is not for everybody.

My advice to you – to us all – is to read what you can, including authors you don’t know. Give comments when you can, give tips where appropriate. Adopt an attitude of hopeful expectation – tell people you’d like to read more of their work, if that’s true - and try not to gripe too much about the talents we have lost. And wait, because building community spirit takes time.
 

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From the view of a reader

Hello to all. Sorry this article is a day late, but it and I were in different places during the weekend. ;) Frankly I think what follows may be out of place compared to the fine articles that just appeared, but I'll go through with it anyway.

Editorial note: I began to write this piece more than a week ago. In short order I completed a first draft of a dry, but coherent article explaining my opinions, in very general terms, about what I like or don't like in AARs. Since then, however, there has been an extensive discussion in the "Gazette feedback" thread about a lot of things, including the relative value of "log style" vs. "novel style" AARs. After reading much of this discussion, I came to the conclusion that I should address this and related issues directly in plain terms. So I rewrote my article. It now has more simple, direct language. To all who read this, please keep in mind that these are my opinions only. Of course I think I am right :) but others may disagree.

I have been a member of the forums for more than a year now. During that time I have written five AARs (all for EU2), but more to the point, I have read many. I haven't attempted to keep count, but I am sure I have read at least 50, and likely as many as 100 AARs. These have covered a wide range of styles, writing skill, and goals. Here are my thoughts about some of these issues.

1. Entertainment

Note that entertainment does not mean humor. An entertaining AAR is simply one that I like to read. No more and no less.

When I read an AAR, I want to be entertained. That is, I do not go to an AAR with the idea of searching for game tips there, although I do learn such tips from time to time. But if I really have serious gameplay questions, I go to the main discussion forum or the FAQs for help.

An exception to this is that I sometimes check out the AARs to a country I am playing just to get an idea of the broad strategies others have used with that country. Even then, though, I often lose my concern about the grand strategy questions because I find the AARs make such excellent reading.

So I normally will not read an AAR whose main purpose is the nitty gritty of gameplay strategy and tactics. Such an AAR would be interesting to me as a reader only if the country played is an extremely difficult challenge or if the scenario setup is highly unusual in some way.

On the other hand, many authors very skillfully write some of the game tactics and events into the story. This is combining the best of everything; these AARs generally are the very best in the forum, IMHO of course.

2. The Story

The story is at the heart of an AAR. If there is no story, there is nothing to read. For me to enjoy the AAR, I need to see something so that I can tell not only what happened in the game (for example, the history log), but also how these events affected the player and what he was trying to accomplish at any given point.

Pictures may help the story, but they can't really be the story. A story without pictures may still be good, but a set of pictures with no story just isn't compelling. If the whole point of an AAR is just to say, "Hey, look at this cool screenshot of Venice" then why call it an AAR at all? That kind of thing belongs in the main forum, and indeed the main forum has threads like this regularly (at least for EU2; I really don't know for the other Paradox games).

One critical part of a good story is a consistent theme. This theme provides a framework around which the bulk of the story can be built. A good writer will weave not just one, but several themes together. For the reader, these themes bring a great richness to the story. Themes that are continued to the end are very satisfying; conversely, themes which are dropped without explanation yield disappointment and frustration.

To understand this point better, think of a really enjoyable novel you have read. It is likely that the book ended by resolving one or more problems or puzzles that collectively formed the main point of the plot. I just love it when a seemingly minor detail in the middle turns out to be the crucial piece of information which completes a zinger piece of irony at the end.

When I finish reading an AAR, I don't want to think, "Wow -- this guy played a great game as China." That may be part of it, but I want to be able to savor the whole, appreciating how a complex set of challenges or characters was resolved into a nice package.

3. Style

I don't think there are any right or wrong styles. It's the content that makes the difference, not the package. Even a minimalist log style can be interesting to read if the writer also includes his own comments and reactions to events. And almost all authors do that and much more.

4. Persistance

This one is very simple. Finish what you start. Nothing is more frustrating for a reader than to start an interesting AAR which is abandoned without explanation. Now it is true that sometimes writers have good reasons for stopping an AAR. The game may turn out quite differently (and likely worse!) than the author's original intent. Corrupted saves and unsalvagable CTDs are not uncommon. If your AAR regrettably suffers such a fate, be kind enough to your readers to give the AAR a decent burial. And if you just grow weary of writing the story, try Amric's recent suggestion and see if another forum member would take up the torch and continue for you.

5. Presentation

It's hard to read something that is presented very awkwardly. By this I mean two kinds of issues. First there is the matter of the physical layout of the text. This is simple. Writers need to break the text into proper lines and paragraphs, particularly in a section involving a lot of dialog. I can't enjoy reading something that is physically very difficult to read.

Second, there is the matter of correct use of the (English) language, meaning both spelling and grammar. Now let me assure those writers for whom English is not their native language. Broken English, even very clumsy English, from a non-native speaker is usually not very difficult to read and enjoy. What is far more annoying, and greatly detracts from the story, is very poorly written English by those who should know better. I will go so far as to say that anyone who cannot write well in his own native language probably should not attempt to write an AAR.

6. Good Taste

This item is one of very widespread individual prefences. For me, I am a very traditional person with conservative values. Generally, I do not enjoy crude humor based on bodily functions. And I often read the forum at home with young family members watching. I try to be careful not to blunder into embarrassing situations in which my son or daughter would ask me, "Daddy, what does that mean?"

On the other hand, many authors and readers are very comfortable with such material, and that is OK. From my perspective as a reader, I would ask only that fair warning be given if an AAR has a lot of mature content.

7. Interaction

What is clearly different about writing in the forum as opposed to traditional publications is that it is an interactive experience. It is a real pleasure to see authors and readers react to each other's posts, and often that leads to dramatic changes and improvements in the story itself. Certain authors seem to have a way to bring this out, though I do not know their secret! But it's really great to see the author and readers having fun together as they discuss the story and maybe even change its direction. Such moments are the highlights of the forum. As a reader, I have enjoyed these stories even if I have come to them long after their completion.

8. Fun

In the last paragraph is the whole point of the AAR forum. Both writers and readers should be having fun here. And, for the most part, that is what I see. I am very grateful to Paradox for setting up this part of the forum. Reading and writing AARs has added much to my enjoyment of EU2. And reading some of the AARs here has given me many new ideas, not just for writing but also for playing. For example, until I saw it in AARs I didn't know that one could switch countries while playing. And it never would have occurred to me to write an epic poem describing one's game! But all that and much more is freely given right here. The AAR forum is the highlight of the game for me.
 

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Free Company Interview Series


LordLeto​


Drinking some Early Grey tea I am here with my next interview subject, LordLeto. Welcome! Let’s get down to it, yes?



1. What made you decide to join the Free Company? What drew you to it?

I would say my AARs. I had written several before joining the FC, most in the historical type. The Plains of Siberia: A Tuscany AAR was my second break from this writing style, my first a journal entry type in my Arakan AAR ended up with me giving up on it. With The Plains of Siberia I ventured for a third person narrative AAR viewing the lives of the de Conte family. This sparked my interest in character development.

I had seen the FC before, but the sheer number of posts turned me off, but I took it upon myself to at least attempt to get the gist of it. I didn’t read much of the books, I convinced myself that this would be better if I was to join the endeavor, for my character anyways, no knowledge of its history, except that bestowed upon by other members would be more realistic in my opinion. And a hell of a lot less time consuming too.

That’s when I came up with the idea of the Gypsy boy, as far as I know there hasn’t been much concerning this culture with-in a culture that the Roma represent in EU2 AARs. And rightfully so, they weren’t major players on the international level the game models, and much isn’t know about to by the general populace. But this only sparked my interest in them, I seem to have a odd enjoyment of knowing about the most obscure places.

With this idea festering in my mind I needed an outlet. Another AAR was out of the question, I had two on my plate as it was(My Arakan and Tuscany ones) one of which my interest in writing about(Arakan) was faltering as it drew to a close. The Free Company provided a perfect outlet for the idea.

2. What is the name of your character and what does he do in the company?

My character has three names in the Roma tradition. One which only his mother knows, the second(Nicu) which is used with other Rom, and the third(Marek) which is used with gajikane/outsiders. The last of which will be used most often. For now he doesn’t have a job, he’s just another grunt, but there has been some talk of sticking him with the rangers.

3. How do you like writing a collaborative story with a bunch of other people?

Its very interesting. Though I have to admit a bit daunting at times given my limited online time.

4. Some think the pace of the Free Company can be very fast at times. Do you feel this is the case, and have you been able to keep up?

Yes indeed it can be rather fast paced. I believe I have kept up. Though there are times when I wanted to add something only to watch it pass me by because I was unavailable to write.

5. Which characters does your character most interact with?

For the most part I’ve interacted with Sapphires character(of the same name). We joined the FC with in days of each other so it was rather logical we learn the rope together. Your character James is a close second.

6. Which characters do you most like interacting with?

I suppose Sapphires, but he’s really the only one I’ve had any time to bounce off of. I’m hoping this will change. Though I have enjoyed it much.

7. Which characters would you like to interact with more, given the opportunity?

Perhaps the Chin, that could be interesting, they both are outsiders in Europe.

8. What do you think of the idea of such a collaborative story set in the EUII timeframe?

Why didn’t I join earlier.

9. Why do you feel the Free Company has been so successful for so long?

I cant really comment on that, I haven’t been at the EU2 forums for that long, let alone following the FC's exploits. But if I may take a stab in the dark I would say the gifted writers that seem to gravitate to it.

10. Are you planning on being involved for the long haul? IE, for the length of the book currently being written?

Of course. Indeed if there is another book I’m sure as hell signing on for it.

11. Have you come up with a subplot that you feel worked out well within the framework of the entire story arc?

Marek’s sister. It has been brought to his attention that she is just outside the walls of Belgrade, a slave to the Turks. I’m working to complete that within the storey arc.

12. Will you be coming up with subplots that you feel might work out well within the framework of the entire story arc?

For the time being no. Marek’s sister might prove a tad more difficult then I intended. I wasn’t sure if I should bring her up at all, at one point I had decided not to. But in the end she won out.

13. If there is another book, will you be staying on through the entire project?

Come hell or high water.

14. If you had to do it all again, would you?

Yes, but earlier, much earlier.
 
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Amric

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Free Company Interview Series


Amric​


Well, since I am already here, I suppose I can interview myself. I’ll just hop from this chair to that one over there. I am ready, so let’s get to it!



1. What made you decide to join the Free Company? What drew you to it?

I’d been reading it for some time and enjoying the tale immensely in Book V. The idea wasn’t entirely new to me as I have been around such things since the early 1980’s with science fiction on bulletin boards. I had thoroughly enjoyed that experience and I thought it very likely I would again. So I dived right in.

2. What is the name of your character and what does he do in the company?

Well, I first created Amric Al’Aeshir. An Englishman, son of a minor noble. He has been a mercenary now for 12 years. Ten of those with a company I called Falcon Company which spent most of its time in Eastern Europe, first in Muscowy, then in Hungary and finally in Naples. He had to leave England due to getting a neighboring noble’s daughter pregnant. He was a gambler and heavy drinker right after that and made a pile of money before turning his hand to becoming a mercenary to keep him out of the hands of assassins sent against him by the neighboring noble. That noble no longer thinks of him, but his own family has basically disowned him. He has twins, a boy and a girl. Alaric and Alyssa. They traveled to meet him when their stepfather died.

They are currently in Belgrade, much to the chagrin of their father. There is also a baker, Antonio. He is from Ancona. He attempted to join the company, but was really to old and not really capable of being a warrior. But he DID join to become the company baker. He is a widower and keeps mostly to himself. I haven’t done much with this character, as he was originally meant to be a throw away character. He developed somewhat into more but he hasn’t really been seen since Ancona.

I also created James, an orphan street child of Belgrade. He has no family and he came about because he warned Amric of an impending mugging. Amric dealt with the muggers and in the end unofficially ‘adopted’ James.

3. How do you like writing a collaborative story with a bunch of other people?

As I stated before, I’ve done something like this before long ago. So I am somewhat used to the idea and I thoroughly enjoy doing it.

4. Some think the pace of the Free Company can be very fast at times. Do you feel this is the case, and have you been able to keep up?

It can be fast, yes. But I haven’t had trouble keeping up with it. But then, I DO read pretty fast and I feel I can stick with it.

5. Which characters does your character most interact with?

By this time, I’ve pretty much interacted with everyone at some point or another. I deal mostly with my ‘corporals’, John Brandon the son of Captain, and of course Baer, Jaeger, and recently Otto. I’ve also interacted with Captain, of course.

6. Which characters do you most like interacting with?

I don’t know that I have a particular favorite, per se. As I said before, I’ve interacted with just about everyone. When Erik Jaeger was more active I enjoyed the interplay between Baer and Amric, as they were both sergeants. I’ve also enjoyed writing with Valdemar when he does Johan the heavy cavalry sergeant. There are numerous others as well. I just can’t really pick!

7. Which characters would you like to interact with more, given the opportunity?

Again, that is really hard to say. Lord Durham has really done well by me. He’s allowed me to run rampant in a way, going hither and yon with my ideas and minor storylines, and that has allowed me to really branch out and interact with everyone in some fashion or another.

8. What do you think of the idea of such a collaborative story set in the EUII timeframe?

I like it. As I have stated before, I have done such things in a science fiction setting which is very freeing in it’s own way. But anything can happen in such a milieu there is no limitations which can allow things to get into the patently ridiculous with people suddenly having ever more powerful ray guns, etc. With the EUII timeframe you are limited by the technology of the era. Although I have found that there were things the ancients did that we STILL can’t replicate in the 21st century! So while the technology is limited, you have to be more CREATIVE in what you do. Which is nice, especially when there are others who feel the way you do and work hard to interact with you and bring together a coherent story.

9. Why do you feel the Free Company has been so successful for so long?

Father LD, and the kindly uncles, Valdemar and The_Hawk have made the FC a great place to work. I say work, but it is really more of a labor of love for me. I enjoy writing for it, and I enjoy writing with the others involved with it. I think the ‘family’ that comprises the FC has a LOT to do with its longevity. People love writing for it, and people enjoy reading it.

10. Are you planning on being involved for the long haul? IE, for the length of the book currently being written?

Absolutely. I started at the tail end of Book V, and I lobbied hard for there to be a book six. Along with probably a thousand other people. I’m willing to bet LD’s PM box kept getting overflowing with pleas to continue the story of the Free Company. I’m here for the long haul, that is for certain!

11. Have you come up with a subplot that you feel worked out well within the framework of the entire story arc?

I didn’t really do any of that in Book V. I was still too new. But I ‘promoted’ ‘corporals’ and I think the idea worked really well in Ancona. Stnylan and others managed to come up with some fun stuff as ‘corporals’ with some of their characters that I think really added more flavor and color to the story.

I also think the interplay that will be coming up with Amric, his children, and James will be a nice subplot that will also add more flavor and add even more depth to Amric and fully flesh out the characters of the twins and James as well.

12. Will you be coming up with subplots that you feel might work out well within the framework of the entire story arc?

Who knows? Anything is possible. Redwolf and I are thinking of a subplot that we really ought to talk over with LD, but it really doesn’t affect what the company as a whole is doing. It involves the twins and one of the new coming Chin, and therefore not something that will affect the company as a whole.

13. If there is another book, will you be staying on through the entire project?

I certainly hope LD will push on with another book. I’d be interested in staying on and writing for it. Absolutely. I’d also like to think that I would stay on for the entire project as well, yes.

14. If you had to do it all again, would you?

Absolutely. Nothing has changed my mind or opinion as to how much fun I have writing with the others in the Free Company.
 

Amric

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The Eye Of The Hurricane(Amric)

Where Do You Get Your Story Ideas?​




This is a question that has been asked more than once by many of the membAARs of the forums. In fact there have been numerous threads devoted to this topic, on more than one occasion. Which is great for those who are wondering how to make a true story rather than a dry regurgitation of what happened in the game. Don’t get me wrong, such AARs can be interesting to read as well. But there are those membAAR/writAARs who make that extra effort to make the story even more entertaining.

Take heagarty’s Tales of the Gluttonic Knights. It is a story about Bavaria. His concept was that the rulers of Bavaria wanted to experience different types of cuisine from all over the world, but most especially from China! Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But the Bavarians have to manage to find China FIRST! Which means getting there via land or sea. But since Bavaria is landlocked and deep into Europe so it is going to take tremendous effort to even get to China!

I’m not going to tell you how it ends, that would be a shame to ruin it for those of you who haven’t read the story. But heagarty worked extremely hard to make an entertaining and amusing tale. It was a wonderful tale that earned him an OscAAR, and well deserved it was, too!

Director is now working on his second History Park story. The first one was about Napoleon while this second one is devoted to Wallachia. The premise is that there is a huge virtual reality park where people can come in and play a historical game using a nation during the EUII timeframe. He has tremendous plotlines and a storyline that leaves the reader breathless on more than one occasion.

Those are just TWO stories that use concepts developed by the author. Anyone can play a game of EUII. Good or bad, just about anyone can play it. Writing an AAR is something that just about anyone can do as well. But to create a real STORY is another matter. Some writAARs decide before they even begin PLAYING what they are going to do and make out a basic plotline.

Characterization is the hallmark of many an excellent story. Although not always necessary a great character can draw in readAARs who identify and either love or hate that character. But that isn’t what we are here to talk about. It is about story ideas.

So where does one get ideas for a story? You can get them from a book you have just finished reading. Perhaps a favorite television program might be the genesis of an idea that you can use for a story. Might even be a commercial. I’ve been hearing this one commercial on the radio that makes me want to write a short failing nation story just so I can use the tagline of that commercial!

Then there are movies. Movies can be something that might bring a germ of an idea for a storyline for an AAR. Then there is the all encompassing ‘what if’ concept. What if Italy had formed so much earlier than it did historically? What if Germany developed long before it did historically. What if England had won the 100 years war?

What if Russia had formed but instead of marching eastward it decided to conquer Europe instead? As you can see, there is just about as many what if’s as there are nations to play in EUII. So in that respect there is a nearly endless supply of story ideas. World conquest is sometimes a worthy goal, but it has been done, and done, and done again. I have to admit that I have done a world conquest.

I’d like to think I made it entertaining enough that it wasn’t a typical world conquest story. But that is not the point. There has been time travel stories, of course. Some are better than others, but that is mostly due to the writing skills and the effort by the writAARs.

You might find inspiration from a children’s book. Or even a television show. I am FIRMLY convinced something on Food Network blazed into heagarty’s mind and might have provided the seed of the idea for Gluttonic Knights.

There are of course those who have gone the realm of fantasy as the concept behind their stories as well. Or aliens trying to take over the world, such as Prufrock451 and his most enjoyable WAAR of the Worlds. But that took some serious editing to make that happen. Well worth it, but for those of us who can’t, or aren’t willing, to do that kind of editing, it is a niche genre at best. Still an AMAZING story, but a type that is beyond me.

My best suggestion for thinking of story is to use the ‘what if’ method. Since conquest is usually the route most of us go in playing the game, it can make the game more interesting and the story more interesting by thinking story wise versus game wise while playing.

This is not to suggest you HAVE to play that way. Play however you want. It is your decision. Writing that you have conquered everything in your path can be entertaining as long as you describe a battle periodically. Or even a peace deal with interaction between characters as well. But that is again not the topic of this AARticle.

Heagarty really pioneered the concept of conquest in search of food. I would not be surprised if some day down the road someone else does another story based on that very same concept. Take a look at some of the old stories in the librAARy. You might find something that you like so much that you want to take a stab at trying something similar.

I’ll give you an example. Bismarck had done a wonderful story on Cyprus. He never finished it, which kind of bothered me as I wanted to know how it ended. I decided to do a Cyprus story, but from a different angle. I wanted to do more exploring and colonizing than conquering. In the end I did go conquering but I had spent a LONG time colonizing and exploring. Plus, I finished the story!

That is something I do want to touch on here. You come up with a great idea and start writing about it. Then you abandon your project. You’ve wasted a perfectly good concept on a tale you didn’t FINISH! So you have crafted a story with a interesting concept and thrown it away! Why did you bother starting the story? Sure, you could recycle the idea for a different story, but it will be somewhat stale as you didn’t finish the first one and that has a tendency to make readAARs wary of your efforts. ‘Nuff said.

The best advice I can give you is thus….Your mind is a fertile garden, full of ideas. Let them come, no matter from whence the genesis of the idea comes. You might just see an advertisement in a magazine or newspaper that gives you a ‘EUREKA!” moment. Go with it. It might seem insane, but write it down. Think about it. Think what you might be able to do with it. If you can find ways to work with it you might have just find the idea for your next story.

Just remember this! Nobody charges into the EUII forum for the very first time and writes a story that is likely to be published out in the ‘real world’. This is a place to hone your craft and your story ideas. What may be an idea used by someone else just might be a genesis of an idea that you take and do yourself, just to practice and see if you can do it.

So get out there and WRITE!
 

coz1

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The GenAARal Idea (coz1)

Time, The Great Leveler


After writing an AARticle on how to go about writing an AAR, I thought I might write a few other AARticles focusing on often over-looked aspects of the process. Some of these topics might have been mentioned in the first AARticle, but here we will look at these issues in more depth. I have decided to start with one of the more daunting tasks of AAR writing – the challenge of time.

When I say time, I mean literally the time of the game. This can range from the immediate years of World War II in HoI to the sweeping 400 years of EUII. Both have their positives and negatives to face in terms of your AAR. Further, the style you choose will also have an impact on whether or not time will play a significant factor in your completion of the work. If you choose a log or history book style, you may find your work easier than if you are trying to write 400 years of narrative. For that reason, this AARticle will deal with the narrative style.

First, let us consider some of the positives that a lengthy game allows in AAR writing. Immediately springing to mind is the fertile territory one has in which to create. Just looking at the 400 years of EUII, the writAAR can go in almost any direction in their storytelling. One main character can be presented as an evil tyrant while their ancestor can be presented as a benevolent king. You have the chance to expound on both.

As well, the ability to follow a family through generations has always been a pleasure for me. I recall enjoying the novels of Edward Rutherfurd, Sarum and London among others. These books follow the people of certain areas down through the ages starting in prehistoric times. The grand scope of a long Paradox game allows for that easily, especially with the new CK.

And finally, if one has made sure to play the game far enough ahead, the ability to use the time allowed to foreshadow, build tension and perhaps even throw out red herrings gives the work a nice, deep texture. Even if you are not writing an epic, the ability to build on a theme can make a story seem epic and certainly allows the readAAR to grow with the characters, to become familiar with circumstances and generally to immerse themselves in the world you are creating for them.

Time, however, can also be considered a drawback. The very first problem that time offers a writAAR can usually be seen in the first month or two of work. If the writAAR has not taken full stock of their goal, the idea that perhaps fifty years have been told and there are another 350 to go can start to weigh heavily. I know one membAARs who swears he will never again try to write a 400-year AAR. He simply does not want to try and wrap his head around how much that might take. Now granted, this particular writAAR is one that takes meticulous notes, researches far beyond what he may use in the story and takes great pains in creating believable characters, battles and situations. But if he cannot (or does not wish to) write for 400 years, then imagine what the novice faces.

When faced with the above situation, it can be easy for the writAAR to lose interest, either with the game itself or the story they have been telling. I would even venture to guess that perhaps as many as one fourth of the AARs abandoned are abandoned for this very reason. Of course, this is an unscientific guess, but it is certainly one of the main reasons for giving up. But what are the other problems that time may present?

The biggest problem, in my mind, is that of pure mass. Once you have written 100 or so years, you have most likely exhausted your initial stock of character types, battle scenes and funny as it may seem, assassination methods, among other things. I recall reading one AAR that had lasted for quite a while. The writAAR was literally asking his readAARs what method he should use next to kill off one of his characters as he had run through all those that he could think of. Basically, the simple idea presented here is one of “been there, done that.”

How many characters can you have that are attempting to usurp the throne? How many times can you present a peasant uprising in a different way? How many alternatives are there for presenting something like stability loss? A creative mind will always be able to overcome these, but as the story grows and the time gets longer and longer, this task becomes that much more difficult. Repetition becomes the enemy and you find yourself having to make sure you have not done the exact same thing 20 pages ago.

Which presents another issue, that of continuity. Trying to remember when someone died 100 years ago and how, or why two nations are at war for the sixth time, and what was the cause of the first war can consume you if you are not careful. As mentioned elsewhere, character sheets can assist with this, as well as keeping a small timeline by your side. Another thing that may assist is making sure you have developed an outline of your story before you begin. With this, you are able to gain a clearer perspective of what has happened and what still needs to happen in your story, but writing it up still remains so it does not fix the problem.

Another problem to consider is that of historical characters vs. fictional characters. Different people have an easier time writing for one or the other. Some can make a fictional character breath while never quite being able to get around what made an historical figure tick. Likewise, someone may be able to bring that historical character to life while lacking the ability to give a fictional character enough material to be truly three-dimensional. Either way, the longer the story lasts, the more likely it is that the characters you are writing about will become more and more fictional, especially if you are writing about CK. Granted this allows for escaping the box that real life history puts you in when presenting the historical figure, but it can tax the brain to build an entire cast of fictional men, women and children that inhabit the last 300 years or so of your story.

Finally, an often-overlooked issue, the difficulty for new readAARs to read through what has already been posted. How many times have you seen a recommendation for an AAR and went to look at it only to find 30 some odd pages of posts to read through? And remember, a page of a thread is usually 25 posts, each one containing part of the AAR comprising most likely two to three pages in a Word document, if not more. No one starts out to write the Great American Novel, or to become the equal of King or Dostoevsky (how many times have you seen those names thrown together?), but it becomes increasingly harder for someone new to come along and catch up when the work extends for 20 to 30 thread pages. Even readAARs who have diligently read each post as it was offered may have a difficult time remembering who the Duke of Navarre was on page 3 when the AAR is now on page 25 and perhaps brings the name back up.

None of this is to recommend against writing for this length of time. Further, I have focused on the issues surrounding writing for the EUs and CK rather than HoI and Victoria, but the same problems may appear. What I suggest is to make sure you think about these issues before you begin your task. If prepared for it, the ability to overcome is much easier.

One of the last problems associated with writing for a long length of time is the question of how to present it. Do you use a ghost that is perhaps present for the entire time, or do you follow the generations of a particular family through the ages? These are just two of the options. You may use the supernatural, diary entries, a character reading a history or a number of other different options. Perhaps you choose to become more creative, as Director has done, and portray your generations (or years) as if they were happening at the whim of gamers in a controlled environment (or somewhat controlled in his History Park). Perhaps you wish to take someone back into time, as Prufrock did in his Siberian AAR. Choose something that allows you to best get around the task of telling your story.

One of the ways I have been able to overcome this, at least for the 100 or so years of Victoria, is to split the AAR between both historical entries and narrative entries. With this style, you are able to cover a great deal of ground in the historical posts and then drop in on a situation in time with the narrative posts. However, this does mean that rich storytelling ground may be passed over. Read other AARs to gain an idea of how they have tackled this problem, and be creative. Don’t be afraid to try something new. After all, this is one of the fun things about reading an AAR. Where is the writAAR going to take us and how?

The length of game time can present a problem when attempting to write your AAR, and it is not the only one. But with enough planning, creativity and patience, it is easily overcome and may very well provide the writAAR a unique and hopefully educational lesson, both for future AAR writing and writing in general. Over time I may present other such issues, but if you have one you would like to be covered, please make note of it in the feedback thread and I will try to present it’s pros and cons as well. Until then, happy reading and as they say, write on!
 
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DIGRESSION! (Hajji Giray I)
Things to Come
(with apologies to Dizzy Gillespie)​

As the Free Company slowly fades out, an era draws to a close in AARland. An era of great collaborative writing and the biggest, most ambitious writing project we've seen here. Characters are dying out and authors are writing their farewell posts; with the worshipped but stressed-out Lord Durham gone, the FC will probably not move on to another book.

But do not despair, AARers, for there are more (and greater? we'll see) things to come!

Phalanx deserves a round of applause here. His big plan involves a FC-style collaborative epic in the time of Crusader Kings. Currently the plan is to throw fictional characters into the famous Third Crusade, and about a half-dozen FC authors and others have signed up.

"The idea being that while we have historic events to work with, we aren't bound directly to the facts," says Phalanx in the Free Company's OOC thread.

A discussion/planning thread on the new project should open this week.

And, of course, there may soon be a massive EUtopian invasion. A few issues back, I wrote a (very) short article about the world of EUtopia: its epic qualities, its similarities to the AAR forums. But there was, of course, a hidden motive behind the article, and that is EUtopia's plans to launch a blockbuster AAR covering all of its history so far.

Currently in early research stages, EUtopia: The AAR will be a Free Company-esque novel-style AAR covering the last year and 5 months of EUtopian history (this is in real time, so from now back to Jan 2003). 2 or 3 prominent EUtopians (including me and, I think, Phalanx) have signed on to work on this overly ambitious and overly time-consuming project.

Don't expect it to show up soon, though; I am busy going in my spare time through Ye Olde Posts in the RPG forum and setting aside links to everything of interest, which is pretty much everything. And don't expect details just yet, because we want to maintain at least some element of suspense/surprise.

---

Both of these ambitious projects should pop up sometime in the summer, and both should bring the AAR community together to see these really big community events. And we really need more activities to unite our community...

...but I won't get into philosophy. You're not reading this because you expect something intelligent, you're just looking for a

DIGRESSION!

H.G.
 
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Cartography 101 (MacRaith)

Cartography 101: Advanced Screen Shot Editing Techniques

Part 3

In the last issue, I introduced some techniques for applying effects and manipulating the color of a screen shot. While these techniques are useful as described, sometimes you want to do things to only part of an image. This week I'll cover the use of masks, which allow you to do things to part of an image while leaving the rest of it alone. When you combine them with the techniques I've already discussed, you can create some particularly striking maps.

Guarding the borders

All of the techniques for applying textures to images that we've already used are great, but they often produce a problem: sometimes parts of the map that you'd like to remain clear and sharp get "roughed up" by the textures until they aren't very clear any more. This is particularly true of the red "national border" that EU2 puts around each country. After a few successive manipulations, the border gets rather blurry and indistinct. This can lead to all kinds of unfortunate international incidents if not corrected.

How do we correct this? Through the use of a mask, we can select an area of the map that we want to manipulate - or, in this case, not manipulate.

Let's start with a basic map, of the county of Toulouse from the EU2 Mongol Empire Scenario:


So far, it's nice and clear - that nice red border keeps our countries separated, so that, even if we get two neighboring nations with the same map color, we can tell them apart. So how do we keep the border clean even if we apply lots of effects?

Most graphic editing software has an assortment of tools for making masks, which are a way to select a portion of an image for manipulation, rather than the entire image. The more basic editing tools can create masks in simple geometric shapes - rectangles, circles, and so on. Some allow you to "lasso" an area of a common color, or "paint" a mask onto an area of the image. My favorite mask tool, though, is the color mask, which allows us to select a color or range of colors, and then create a mask that covers the area of those colors.

This is perfect for our national borders, since they are in a color that isn't used for any national background. I used the color mask tool to select the red color of the borders, and I set the tolerance of the mask to zero - meaning that it will select that precise color and no others. (I could, if I wanted, set the tolerance to a higher number, which would allow it to make a mask that includes colors that are close to the selected color also. More on this in a minute.)

Once I've done this, the mask selects the red color of the borders, and no other part of the image. (Sometimes you'll pick up a few random pixels from national flags or shields; these usually aren't big enough to worry about.) Next, I select "copy", which copies the area covered by the mask to the clipboard, and then paste it as a new layer. The new layer looks like this:


The white areas are actually transparent - they aren't part of the layer, so you can see the other layers beneath it. If we set this on top of our background map now, it won't look any different. But, if we apply effects to the background layer, we'll still have our unaltered border layer on top of it, so the borders won't be affected by any manipulation that we do.

Another thing I could have done was to invert the mask. This would have selected all parts of the image except the borders. I could have then applied effects to the background without affecting the borders. Which way you do it is a matter of personal preference and convenience.

The French Blues

Another problem that excessive screen shot manipulation comes from the fact that the shade of blue used for France and a few other countries isn't very far from the shade of blue used for the oceans and other water areas. If you manipulate the colors of an image or apply textures, the borders between these blue lands and the ocean can become blurred, or even disappear altogether - you can't tell the water from the land. I've come to call this problem the "French Blues".

One effective solution is simply to completely conquer France as quickly as possible, thereby eliminating the problem at the source. While fun, this isn't always practical. So we're left with two choices: either change the color of France, or change the color of the ocean. Whichever of these you decide to do, this is another area where masks can be extremely useful.

Now, while the ocean is much bigger than France, I've found that, for a number of reasons, it's easier to work with the ocean than with France. For one thing, the ocean doesn't change size or shape during the course of a game, so if I create a mask that covers the ocean, I can re-use that for all of my screen shots. So, this is what we'll do here.

I'd like to use my color mask tool to create the mask of the ocean, but there are a few problems with this approach. One is that the EU2 ocean is often obscured by the anchor symbols that indicate ports, the symbols for cities and capitals, and various other obstructions. The other is that, if I set the tolerance on my color mask broad enough to get all of the colors of the ocean, I'll get a substantial portion of France in the bargain. How to deal with this?

The solution is to get a mask of the ocean from a different place altogether. The religion map and the trade map have fewer colors to worry about, and fewer obstructions in the ocean. If I take screen shots of these maps that cover the same area of my political map, I'll be able to create masks from these and then use those masks in my political map.


In order to get all of the oceans, lakes, and rivers, I wound up making color masks on both the religion map and the trade map. I set the color tolerance fairly broad, to get all of the ocean blue shades. Then I cut and pasted the water areas from these maps into my political map as separate layers, then combined the two water layers into one layer. This gave me coverage of all of the water areas.


Now, I could do a couple of things here. I could use the water object to create a mask the same shape as the object, and then use that mask to apply an effect to just the water areas. If I did that, I probably wouldn't need to use the actual water layer in my final image, and I could just hide it from view. Here's a sample of something I could do - I applied a "mosaic" effect to the oceans:


Instead, I decided to paint the entire water layer black (as seen above), in order to make my final oceans darker. If I wasn't going to put any layers on top of this, I could adjust the transparency of the water layer to change the darkness of the water - the water still appears blue, but a much darker blue. But instead, I left it fully opaque, because I was pasting other partially transparent layers on top of it. This has the same effect - the black is visible through the blue of the other two layers, making the water areas darker.

So, first, in my unaltered background map layer, I turned the saturation all the way up, just like we did in part 2. Then, I put my water layer (now entirely black) over the background. I then applied effects to two different copies of the unaltered background, both of which went on top of the water layer. In one of them, I applied a very cool effect called "threads", which looks like this:


Looks sort of like a colored pencil sketch, doesn't it? I set the transparency of that layer to 50%, so that the background and water layers showed through it. Then, on another copy of the background layer, I applied a "stucco" texture:


That layer was also set to 50% transparency. On top of that, I applied the border layer that we made above, and then all of the text objects for the national names. This gave me the final image:


This is the most heavily manipulated screen shot I've made for an AAR. To give you an idea of the time involved, I spent about an hour and a half experimenting with different ideas and making the template for the first image, and about ten to fifteen minutes on each subsequent image in the same series.

Conclusion

There are lots of other effects and combinations of effects that you could use on a standard screen shot to change its look. You can apply as many effects to any screen shot or part of a screen shot that you wish. Your possible results are limited only by your imagination and the software that you use. Take some or all of these techniques, experiment with your software to see what you can do, and in no time you'll be a master of cartography.
 

Director

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Notes (Director)

Felix and Oscar

No, this isn’t about the recent (regrettable) death of Tony Randall, co-star of the TV and stage show by Neil Simon, ‘The Odd Couple’. This is about a different ‘felix’ – latin for cat – and a different OscAAR altogether.

Some of you know about my cat, Mac. He’s 25 pounds of long-haired, black tomcat, named for the MacHeath of ‘Mac the Knife’. As much as I enjoy having him around, he barely tolerates me. Sometimes he won’t even condescend to walk over to my chair for a treat. But he always comes for ice cream! So with this cranky, self-centered, ice-cream-crazed ‘felix’ in mind, let’s look at a popular and little-understood topic: how to win an OscAAR.



The OscAARs are as democratic an award as you’re likely to see. Categories are proposed by forum members and ultimately one of these is picked by the OscAAR ‘manager’, Stroph1. AARs that fit into the category and which fit into the time-frame (if any) are put up in a poll (typically, previous contenders are excluded even if they fit into the new category) and members may comment on and vote for their favorite. In Olympic fashion, gold, silver and bronze awards are made to the top three vote-getters.

There are, in my opinion, three flaws:
1) Sometimes very different AARs are put up in the same category, which makes it hard to pick one.
2) Voters are assumed to select the best-written AAR, but they seem to frequently pick their personal favorite by topic, type of story or author.
3) Few votes are cast.

Now, before anyone starts thinking that I’m bashing the process, I’m not. I don’t see any way to improve on the awards and cannot praise Stroph1 enough for the terrific job he does with the OscAARS and the librAARy. Like MrT before him, he is a truly unsung hero of giant proportions.

But if we come not to bury Caesar, must we then praise him? Perhaps we can look at the internal workings of the system and see how the process can be made to move to our advantage. We’re all tyrannical, conquering, war-mongering gamers, here, right? So let’s take a look at gaming the system.



Robert Heinlein once talked about how he began writing as a career. In brief, he looked at the ‘state of the art’ by reading the leading science fiction magazines of the day and decided he could do better. Not ‘as well’ – given two stories of equal value, he knew the editor would more likely pick a story from a known author – but ‘better’.

In what I call ‘internal’ factors – things that are under your control - the first step to winning an OscAAR is to write well. And before any of you can dismiss me for being obvious, let me say that the best-written story doesn’t always win, but a badly-written story probably won’t. Punctuation matters, grammar counts, historical accuracy makes a difference. Interesting characters, intriguing plots and great dialog all are pluses. Just be aware that you can have all this and fail to win an award… but great writing HELPS your chances a lot and poor attention to writing fundamentals HURTS.

After ‘Fundamentals’, I’d say that a great CONCEPT helps: a ‘hook’ to engage the attention. Taking an idea directly from radio, TV, comics, movies or other authors is not worth as many points, I think, as coming up with your own twist on the subject. I give you the ghost of MrT’s ‘l’eminence grise’, the out-of-control film crew of the historical epic in Lord Durham’s ‘Portugal’, Prufrock451 and Peter Ebbesen’s ‘wAAR of the Worlds’, and annexation-as-murder in Storey’s film-noire ‘Who killed Cologne’. (The site is not letting me on, so I hope I have the titles approximately correct. Apologies made where needed.) Dragging in time-travel, aliens, robots, pirates, vampires, magicians and sentient castles is all permitted… but none of the tricks, glitz and glitter will add votes for you unless you use them sparingly, appropriately, and with imagination.

Popular STYLE helps. A would-be world conquest grabs peoples’ attentions, as does a crash-and-burn, down-in-flames disaster. But nothing succeeds better than humor. Be warned – humor is hard work. But it sells really, really well… when it works. If people aren’t laughing at one of Jay Leno’s jokes he can tell a dozen more because he has a team of writers that do nothing but write jokes. If your attempts at humor aren’t funny, the only writer you can fire is yourself.

BE ENTERTAINING. Heinlein always said he figured he was competing for people’s beer money… should they buy a beer or a story by that Heinlein guy? You are competing for the limited amount of leisure time that our dear readers have. If you don’t give value for time invested, the cold hard truth is they will read someone else. (Me! Read me! I know… this reveals how shallow, insecure and needy I am, how poor is my self esteem. So what? Read me! :D )



The ‘external’ factor in the OscAAR voting is HOW MANY people will vote for you. Barring mind-control technology, you can’t make people check that box on the ballot, but you can influence them. Judging by the last few awards, you need at least 20 votes to have a good chance at the top spot. So how many friends do you have - preferably friends who don’t also have an AAR of their own in the voting? And how do you influence other people to vote for you?

The more votes you can pick up, of course, the better off you are, ‘Duh!’ I’ve sat through the agony of leading (and winning) by one vote, and I can tell you it is really painful. Getting a comfortable lead in the early days – even if it is only a few votes – can influence other people to cast their vote for you. Sad, but observably true – once a leader emerges from the pack, that AAR usually (not always) keeps the momentum and wins.

Name recognition helps, as do comments in the OscAAR thread. The more people who read and like your AAR, the more votes you are likely to get (see internal factors, above). Failing that – and who has time to read these days, anyway :rolleyes: :p – some people will vote because they recognize the author’s name or have heard good things about the AAR. They should NOT do this, but I believe that a few, do. A majority of voters probably HAVE NOT READ all of the AARs and are picking between the ones they have read.

So how do you get name recognition? You must read the work of other authors, and comment intelligently and frequently. Give out good gaming advice. Talk knowledgeably about game mechanics. Help with mods. Volunteer for projects. Write articles for the SolAARium. Contribute to the forum. And write well, and write a lot. Given the time lag for awards – and given that an AAR is not usually OscAAR-qualified until it is completed – it helps to have another good AAR in progress when your last one is nominated.

Will these external factors win you an OscAAR? By themselves, no… if you could ‘politic’ your way to an OscAAR it would not be an OscAAR worth having. But the external factors may help, and they certainly will not hurt your chances. And I’ll say straight up that, while I think the best writing should win, forum participation isn’t a bad way to pick between authors if all else is even.



You think I’m advising you to campaign for an OscAAR, to ‘cheat’ your way to victory? I’m not. Unlike my self-centered, lazy kitty, who only pays attention to me when he wants his treats, an author who wants to maximize his chances of winning an award should write well and participate as fully in the forum as is possible – he should work for it. My ‘felix’, in short, would never win an ‘OscAAR’, and should not.

Hmmmmm. Striving to entertain. Trying to improve. Studying the craft. Helping other people. Giving advice. Commenting. Volunteering… Sounds like an idealized description of a forum member, to me. An ideal we might all aspire to reach, whether we do or not. See? Scheming to win an OscAAR might have the net effect of turning you into an interesting writer and an involved member of the forum. There’s a lot more going on with the OscAARs than you thought.



Oh, I forgot to get in the obligatory mention of my band-directing past. I always told my students to be prepared when they went into any contest, to take control of the things they could control and to accept a lesser position if another band was truly better. In that spirit, I’ll tell you that I want to win any OscAAR I’m nominated for… but I’ll help any of you in any way that I can, and cheerfully help you celebrate if you beat me out. Then I’ll go back to the word processor and write something that will blow your doors off… or strain my mind and hands trying.

I ran across an interesting quote the other day. “The great appear great because we are on our knees. Let us rise!

So get up off your knees! And go write!
 
Last edited:

coz1

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The GenAARal Idea (coz1)

Come In Through the Front Door


How do you access the AARs? There are a few ways, and I personally believe that the manner in which you get to them can easily affect the amount of enjoyment you take away from this place. It used to be that a click on the AAR link from general discussion would take you directly to the AARs for the game you were interested in. Now, that link takes you to the front page of AARland. Granted, this makes it slightly more difficult to get back to general discussion, but it also forces you to start from the ground floor, as it were. Let’s call this ground floor the Front Door.

Many membAARs will utilize their subscription service in their User CP. This will give you a listing of all the AARs you have read up until that point, and it works much like the main page of any AAR section. The ones with the most recent post are listed at the top. But using this method does not expose the readAAR to new AARs. Further, this does not allow the readAAR to utilize or enjoy any of the special projects, announcements and other interesting things found on the main AARland page.

So, between the two (using your subscription list or using the AAR link from GD), which is better? From what I have just stated, I think it’s obvious which one I choose. The only game that currently does not link you directly to the Front Door is Crusader Kings. This, I assume, is due to its newness. At this stage of most games, the predominant readAAR is looking for strategy and helpful hints and thus it makes sense to provide a direct link between AARs and GD, but I suspect this will change after the game has grown it’s legs.

But the rest of the games are already set up to allow you to maximize your AARland enjoyment. Since I have already covered the main area in my Meta AAR, I will give you a brief overview of the things you can find if you come in through the Front Door.

Upon entering, you will notice a list of stickies. Though some feel that the sticky is the kiss of death for a thread, they do serve a very valuable purpose. It keeps the thread listed at the top for easy access. Perhaps we should all try to pay more attention to stickied threads so that they do not die on the proverbial vine.

Among these threads that currently populate the main page is the Welcome to AARland Central thread. This was started by Lord Durham for EUII and was adjusted and moved to serve AARland as a whole. Some of the information may be slightly outdated as it was not fully integrated into the larger AARland scheme when it was moved, but LD did a fair enough job trying to make it usable for anyone from any game. And it still holds a wealth of information that any new membAAR should peruse before heading off and jumping in. In many cases, most of the questions or little irritations experienced by new writAARs can be answered here. Take this bit for example,

“You will find the variety of writing techniques to be extremely diverse. They include narrative/novel, history log, graphic oriented, interactive/RPG, PBEM, multi-player and collaborative, to name a few of the more popular styles. The AARs are short, long, serious, whimsical, knowledgeable, silly, and above all immensely entertaining. They are original slices of history from the worlds of EUI, EUII, HoI and Victoria.

As this is a community of writers, I strongly encourage interaction and mutual support. Nothing can be more disconcerting than to spend hours recreating a gaming experience to share with others only to receive little or no feedback to show for your efforts.

Now, I have a special word for newcomers. Never be afraid, or feel too daunted, to post your first AAR. We are not here to judge or criticize, though if author permitting, we are here to review and offer suggestions. Please note that we have had an influx of new writers compared to veterans, so patience may be in order if you're looking for response. Many of us do our best to respond and encourage, but it may take time.

Regardless, the purpose of the AAR forums is to provide entertainment. If you find there is little response to your AAR, visit other threads and post comments. By networking yourself you can build up a rapport with different writers, and you will find in most cases your comments will be returned in kind.”


In just a few short paragraphs, LD has expressed most of the words that we find ourselves saying to newcomers when they start to express concern about post counts, styles, intimidation and the rest. It’s all answered right there.

Further, there are links in place to take you directly to the watering holes, the SolAARium, the Guess-the-Author thread and much more (thanks to Valdemar’s addition.) If more new membAARs would venture through this thread (and it does not take long) they may find an easier transition when they join up.

And that’s just the “Welcome” thread. The main page also contains the AARland Gazette that you are reading right now, as well as the sometimes explosive feedback and discussion thread. I often wonder how much people utilize the functions of the gazette. I don’t mean to suggest that people are not reading. But there are sections for each of the games, run by the bAARtenders, that give recommendations for AARs to read, both new and old; gives news regarding each game such as patches, useful threads and interesting projects; provides links for winners of special awards such as WoW, showcase and the like; and simply tries to make each game as accessable as they can be to the new and even experienced membAAR.

I have asked in my section if anyone was reading and to let me know in the feedback thread. To date, not one person has responded. This leads me to believe that this function is not utilized. It also may explain why we (the bAARtenders) have not been as diligent as we should to update them. Why bother if no one is reading it? So, we promise to do a better job if you promise to use the service provided. If you think it is ineffective or needs some changes, let us know. If we think that suggestion will help, we will implement the change.

From the gazette, we move to the SolAARium. What is it, you may ask? This is the real literary circle. If you are interested in the craft of writing and want to learn more, this is THE place to go. Gifted writAARs have offered their advice and thoughts on a plethora of topics (now indexed) and you are free to start a new discussion on any topic not already covered at any time. It sits dormant at times, and then it explodes with posts as a new topic is discussed. Check the index, read through some of the posts, find a topic not covered and bring it up for discussion. You will find all of us friendly, hopefully helpful and generally interested in what is asked or said. Give it a try.

But wait…there’s more. The mods have also started threads to provide suggestions for other sites on the net to use for research, links within the forum itself that do the same or offer other advice (such as screenshot technique and style advice and other interesting topics), and book recommendations for many periods of history and just general historical fiction. Use them, I say. Most of these recommendations have been compiled from the experience of those membAARs that have been here for years. They had to learn something in that time, and much of the information located here is where they learned it.

And then of course, there is the award sticky. Showcases are put here for each of the games to let the entire forum see who the winner is rather than just the specific forum from which it was showcased. And the OscAAR, VictAARian Cross, and Greatest Generation (the proposed HoI oscAAR) Award are located here (as well as EU and CK if/when they have nominees). We want to allow the entire forum to vote on these awards in the hopes that it may draw some people towards other games that they may not have been drawn to otherwise. Is there a better way to draw newcomers than showing them the best of the best for a certain period? If your forum is not holding these awards, it’s time to ask why and what can you do about it?

And these are just the stickies, folks. A smattering of other topics located on the front page are:

- An idea for a Hall of Fame
- A Collaborative AAR thread asking for interest and help with the planning
- A Meta AAR
- An organiztion thread devoted to AAR Reviews
- The AARland Birthday listings
- The 2004 AAR-CON/Meeting thread
- The Field of Honor thread asking membAARs to post memorable battles from their work
- The Guess-the-Author project
- The Great LibrAARy discussion thread started by Estonianzulu (which has sadly grown quiet)

And these are just the more current topics. Basically, this area is for anything that does not directly relate to EU, EUII, HoI, Victoria or CK. This is where the Free Company AAR and OOC threads were located, and I hope the new Crusader Kings effort will go here as well. This is where you see Happy Birthday messages to our AAR brethren. This is where you will find notices for new projects, discussion threads for special initiatives, surveys for AARland as a whole, and so much more. Coming in through the Front Door allows the membAAR to utilize everything about AARland rather than simply sticking within their own game.

You can try to only exist in say, Victoria, but you will be missing out if you do not regularly see what is going on from the Front Door. So my call is to stop using the back door, the side door, the basement door or the kitchen door. Use the Front Door when you come into this house, and you will be greeted quite warmly, I promise you.
 

Amric

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Waiting in the outer office of Admin and programmer great Johan, I start thinking of the questions I am going to ask this man. He’s a legend, of course. But I have a job to do, and questions to ask. Oh, I can go in now. Wow. Nice office. A little cluttered, but what else is new? He’s a programmer! Never met a programmer that didn’t have a slightly cluttered office. Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Johan. Let’s get started, shall we?


1. Europa Universalis, the original. What brought about this game?


Back in 1997 our then head-honcho, and current business-director signed
up the board game for conversion. I started working on the project in January 1998.

2. Was it the brainchild of one person, or a collaborative effort
among the programmers?


The first two years of development was basically a team-effort, with the final year being just me on the project, and I molded it how I wanted to play.

3. EUII was an obvious improvement over EU, but why a new version
rather than just an updated patch?


Why did Civilization III not come as a patch for Civilization II ?

4. Hearts Of Iron. There have already been many games involving
World War II. HoI is different from them in that it still has some of the aspects of EU. Were you nervous as to how well the game would do once it was released?


I'm always nervous when we release a new game. You never know what people will think about it.

5. HoI has a much smaller amount of time to play versus EU and
EUII. Were you concerned that it would cause some to feel 'cheated'
since they were used to a much longer time frame with EU and EUII?


Not really.. Hearts of Iron was to be the grand WW2 game we always wanted to play.

6. Victoria. Named for the English monarch, and dealing with a
larger timeframe than HoI, but nowhere near as long as EU and EUII. Since HoI had done so well, did you aspirations for Vicky, as some call it, rise even higher than for HoI?


Victoria is the game I am the most proud off. It is the most fun game to play I've ever written, and the most challenging one. It was stable and basically bug free at release, and I love the graphical look.

7. I'd ask about Crusader Kings, but I just don't know enough to
ask the right questions. Care to tell us a bit about it?


It is a rather different game from the previous ones, as it is not about as much world-conquering, as developing your character and his dynasty. I would call it an PG/Strategy mix.

8. Who came up with the idea of the forums? Especially the AAR
forums, of course!


It was Patric's idea originally. I don't remember when we put up the first AAR forum, but it was rather early.

9. What do you think about all the stories being told in EU, EUII,
HoI, and Vicky?


I suspect they are good, but to be honest.. I don't really read the AAR forums that much. I read and write in the beta and moderator fora, browse and occasionally write in the GD and OT fora.

10. Do you think the quality of the tales being told has improved since the beginning?

Probably.. But I still like the original ones as well.

11. Do you feel AARs in general have been a wonderful tool helping
to promote the games?


Yes. I've heard countless stories about how they had read AAR x and bought the game because of it.

12. Something that I have found interesting is that the games are able to be modified by the players. It is something that is relatively rare in the gaming world. Did the programmers do that on purpose? Or was that just a happy accident?

Originally we made our file formats this way since its easier to edit For everyone that worked with it. After EU1 was released we decided upon improving that for further games.

13. Have you been surprised at the sheer amount of writing that has been going on in the various AAR forums?

Kind of. Why do people want to write so much stories?

14. Here's the tough question. There are those who feel Sweden is vastly overpowered in EU and EUII. How do you feel about that? Is it true, or is it just that Sweden in that timeframe really DID have such wonderful leaders?

Sweden had great military commanders in the 1620-1720 timeframe. That’s how a poor backwards nation with a population less than a tenth of Englands or France could dominate northern Europe. Then for the less famous top generals its easier to grade leaders you've read about thousands of times. Take USA for example, pretty much every yank moderately educated can name a few generals from the ACW other than Lee
and Grant.

15. You're a busy man, I know. But do you still get a chance to read some of the AARs that are being churned out in the various forums?

Sometimes I do read some, but not very often.

16. Not to put you on the spot, but do you have a favorite among the games that you enjoy playing the most?

Victoria, there is simply no game like it. I still play in a regular EU2 MP campaign with some mods though, and when that is done, I'm probably gonna play some HoI MP again..

17. If you actually had the time, what nation in which game would you write an AAR about?

I actually started on a Kurland AAR in the eu2 beta, so I'd say Kurland. I suspect that I will never have the time to write one though :(

18. Other than Sweden, which nation do you enjoy reading about most?

Actually. Sweden is not among my favourites to read about. If I just have to say one nation, I'd go with UK. (just to cover all history on that island.)

19. Who came up with the idea of having moderators to 'police' the
forums?


Patric I think. Simply because if we did fulltime, we'd not do anything else. I don't think it is even POSSIBLE to read everything posted on the forum in real-time for one person.

20. Who decides which people become moderators?

I do nowadays in discussions with Havard/BiB. We invite people who we think have the personality and the skills to see if they have the interest.

21. What directions do you feel AARs ought to be going in the
future? Or do you feel the stories are already pushing the envelope?


That is not MY job to say. It is up to every writer to decide his own direction.

22. So who is Johan?

I'm a 29 year old Swedish male, living in Stockholm, Sweden. I'm about
180cm tall, slightly overweight at 85kg, usually shaved head and
goatee, and with a smile on my face. I enjoy football (Djurgarden, Sunderland and Ajax), and having a few (at least half a dozen) beers a day. I've been working as a game-developer for ten years now, starting in the days when men were men and code were written in assembler. I've always voted for the liberal party, so for yanks I'm a leftwing fanatic Euro weenie, and for Europeans, I'm a right-wing fascist US-lover.
 

Amric

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The Eye of the Hurricane (Amric)


Writing Historical Fiction​





If you are going to write historical fiction like I do, or various others on these forums research is absolutely imperative. If you write about lavish feasts as I have done you have to make sure that the foods you describe is even possible! You can’t introduce potatoes or sweet potatoes unless you have discovered the New World or have access to nations that HAVE been there.

Until the New World is reached you can’t have potatoes or corn, or green beans, or quite a few other foodstuffs. Now if you are a native nation in the Americas the reverse is also true. You can’t have foods that are native to Europe if you have no access to them yet. Coffee is another prime example. Until 1470 the Turks had coffee but weren’t sharing it outside their empire. The Mamelukes wouldn’t either as coffee was in Africa as well. Or Ethiopia for that matter either!

Attention to detail is important. If you are going to introduce ahistorical things you have to make it believable. Like the traffic lights in my Cyprus story. I made it work because I explained HOW it could work day and night. If I hadn’t it would cause readers to have a suspension of belief in the tale.

Believe it or not, an ancient Greek by the name of Heron of Alexandria actually created a coin operated water dispenser! Something that wasn’t recreated until many many centuries later! But books he wrote still survive to this DAY! Bringing things into the light of day has to be something that works well with the story.

The more research you do, the better off you are. I did quite a bit for my first AAR about Sweden recreating the Roman Empire. Much needed to be done to see if it was even historically possible. It was. Fortunately for me. Until my Cyprus story I didn’t need or desire to do much research.

But to do a historical fiction story, versus a regular AAR or log style story or other types, you HAVE to do some kind of research to make it work right. Unless you do something like the Oh Man story which has the cute little black bunny and ignored all conventions with using aircraft and so forth. Humor can be great, but only in small doses in a real attempt at historical fiction.

Historical fiction doesn’t focus on the game mechanics, but in the story itself. Some of what goes on in the game are disguised as part of the story, but the nuts and bolts are hidden away, only viewed briefly or hidden deep within the story. Characters are great, but not absolutely necessary to historical fiction. I use them as conversations can advance the plot and tell about game mechanics in a way that is fun and interesting rather than a dry telling of ‘Artois regiment marched in Savoie. Artois regiment is under attack. Artois regiment defeated so and so….’

Nothing wrong with such, but not useful to historical fiction. Some people write so well and it looks so easy for them. Such as Mr. T, or Lord Durham, or Valdemar, or Nalivayko, or so many others.

Is historical fiction the only way to write? Nope. Just the way I enjoy writing the most. I like creating characters that people can identify with, either for good or ill. Characters that when they die, people feel bad that they do. Such as Paris in my Cyprus AAR. I had comments that it was sad to see him go.

If you can engage the reader in a way that makes them eager to read the next installment you have done your job properly. If you aren’t getting views and virtually no responses then there might be a problem. Perhaps not, but if you feel you aren’t going the right way or not engaging the readers do not be afraid to ask for feedback or comments, or even criticism.

Everyone here is willing to try and help, I’d think. I know that when I am pressed for a critique I will attempt to do so, while also suggesting things to help them. I am not the best writer on the boards. Far from it. Director and others such as Peter Ebbesen, or Prufrock451 might be the best, but there are others who are also excellent and I can’t possibly name them all.

But if you want to be detail oriented and historical fiction based, research is your best ally and the way to insure that you aren’t adding jarring things that won’t fit the story. But to write historical fiction people generally assume you have a basic plot outline for the entire game. This is not necessarily true, or required.

I start with a basic plot outline and then see what happens. I incorporate things from the game into the storyline as best I can and create whole cloth explanations for things that couldn’t possibly happen in the game but makes a good story. Such as the Winward Island Kingdom, based on Macedonian castaways from the ancient past. No such nation exists.

But since my exploration of Barbados was such a difficult thing with native attacks that had them losing nearly nothing and me losing all sorts of troops I created a plausible reasoning and made up a new nation that doesn’t exist in the game. Everyone knows there is no WI Kingdom, but it was plausible, because I explained HOW it could have come to be.

I explain trade in that story with tales of rice being planted in fields on the main island of Cyprus because of trading for it from the Mamelukes in Alexandria. Production of wine was talked about as well. Things that would be traded in various COT’s. Instead of saying that I sent traders to a COT, I do it in other ways. It tells the readers that I am sending them without being dry.

There are many ways to explain what happens in the game without saying it straight out. It was mentioned that I had a very humorous passage about why the province of Moron is named that. Because of the natives and what they did is why it was named such. Little things like that make the story more entertaining, I think.

By making the game mechanics a part of the story in ways that aren’t so cut and dry you can entertain AND inform the reader. Historical fiction is just that. Fiction. Anything done in the game isn’t truly historical anyway once you start playing and doing things different anyway. There is nothing wrong with bald game mechanics talked about, but I like to dress it up and make it more interesting. At least to me, it is.

Details. Very important. If you are going to have characters it can be very important to have them fully fleshed out. Details on what they look like can be important, unless they are a once off, never to be used again person. Although sometimes it isn’t necessary. Take nalivayko’s Cossack character in my Sweden AAR. He is never really described in detail, but he is so ‘real’ that the reader gets an idea of what he looks like. I imagine him with wild long hair and a relatively long beard that could use a good brushing, wearing furs with a slightly crazed glint in his cold blue eyes. But that is just me.

Sometimes a character can be described in just a name. Take Amethyst in my Cyprus story. I don’t describe what she looks like other than she is an older woman. But the NAME invokes a pretty, delicate woman. Or Duke Orrin, which I described as a ‘veritable mountain of a man’. Well in Greek Orrin means pretty much just that. But he is intelligent although he is very large, but other than that brief description I don’t say much about how he looks. Yet there are those who have a picture in their minds as to what exactly the man looks like.

Words are an important way to describe a scene, or a person, or whatever. Using words in a descriptive way without being too repetitive allows you to say the same thing in the story in various places without being boringly repetitive. How many ways can you describe a battle? Or an exploration where you are attacked by natives? I did it three times in three ways. It all ended the same way, to an extent, but I described it differently with different actions and it worked out pretty well.

Lord Durham and others in the SolAARium have mentioned that you shouldn’t always have characters saying ‘said, replied, and asked’ and so forth. Which is why you can use words like ‘grimaced, grunted, gasped, griped, inquired, choked, frowned, smiled, chuckled, laughed’ and so forth. Or having the character doing some kind of action while speaking also works as well.

But like others have already stated. There are After Action Reports, and there are stories. Which ever style you choose to write is up to you. Some writers could just cut and paste from the history log of the game and write commentary and get rave reviews. If the commentary is entertaining people will read it. If you write it, someone is going to read it. Probably me, even though my time has been greatly curtailed I don’t have the time I used to enabling me to comment all the time. Which I no longer have the opportunity to do.

But I do say that I read everything first written. If it gets boring, I sometimes say something or just move on for there are numerous others who enjoy the tale and there is no point in spoiling it for them. But I haven’t found any that have truly bored me in quite a while. Now it is pretty much a matter of finding the time.

But as I find my time squeezed more and more by real life I find that my ability to read everything has been seriously compromised. I no longer can read everything that comes out in the EUII forums anymore. But I do try the best that I can...

But the whole thing is to write! Experience! Read other stories to see what other people are doing! Be creative!
 

Alexandru H.

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Alexandru's wAAR (Alexandru H.)

“We're the middle children of history, no purpose or place. We have no great war, no great depression. Our great war is a spiritual wAAR; our great depression is our lives.”



WritAARs, ReadAARs, MembAARs

A writAAR is not a membAAR. They are of different breed and only the fact that they work in the same place and read the same stuff could determine the unsuspecting observer to imply that they are alike. My view on this subject relies on a few elements: a writAAR is, most of the time, a self-centered being while a membAAR has to be detached from his own private enterprise if he wants to achieve some kind of success; a writAAR is mainly interested in participation within his own AAR, while a membAAR wants an undiscriminating pool of readers, free to choose their selections among every offer in the forum. We also can look at these facts from the point of view of the consumer-producer relationship. If the readAARs are consumers (of luxury goods, it’s an important statement for my analysis) and the writAARs are the producers of these commodities, a membAARship simply shapes the general framework, supporting the plethora of new interactions. You can play each of these roles at one moment of time, but you can never fulfill two functions at the same time (time is, of course, relative).

The concept of membAAR aroused because the formal writAAR-readAAR dual relationship was hurting the forum as a whole. It was an impossibility to obtain the slightest regulation of the inner workings of the fora using only the inherent narcissistic characteristics of our own writer’s natures. For a patriarchal economy, the two-class system was perfect; for the flood of new people that put an end to that concept, the old ways became obsolete. Some of the writers and some of the readers became membAARs, but eventually, some of them began to consider taking more responsibilities away from the writers and readers. A clear abuse, like the new “Hall of Fame” proposal, which had generated a lot of discussion in the main AAR forum. And while some regulars agreed with the idea, I found myself in the opposing camp, and for good reasons.

First of all, I recognize the fact that this confrontation of ideas has a positive long-term objective: improving AARland, helping the regular newbie, formalization. However, the proposed methods of achieving this are more than questionable, since they attack the very foundation of the AARland structure, turning the regular membAAR into some sort of elusive being, with powers far-encompassing the mere writAAR or readAAR. There is no need for a reorganization of roles if this only leads to a misuse of authority.

Luxury goods cannot form within themselves hierarchies other than from the point of view of the price we pay for them. They are not useful, they hold no ethical or religious meaning, they fulfill not one basic human need. Yet, they are expensive and the act of purchasing them offers the buyer the satisfaction of being part of a limited edition of special people. An AAR is a luxury commodity and its real value is discovered only by procuring it by the readAARs. These individuals are the sole arbiters of the intrinsic value of AARs, since they are the only beneficiaries of its features. A membAAR judges After Action Reports only for the place they clasp in the general architecture of the fora; a writAAR is sidetracked by the principle of competition and evaluates the foreign AARs using his own as a reference.

Wait a moment…. I write, read and organize. I am everything you say I can be, yet it seems I am forced to choose only one task (since it’s impossible to be three people at one time). WTF is this all about? Roles, not people, shape this community. But it’s in the interest of the forum to have responsible members, who remember, in every moment, what their current duty is. Some of us successfully managed to combine all three in one member, but I’ve seen numerous examples in which readers become writers in some other person’s AAR or writers that turn into membAARs and begin promoting their creations through official means. In my view, the current debate has started because of an intention of this sort: twisting membAARs into becoming pseudo-readers. We already recognize that reading is underrated (see the whole post count-view count debate) but involving persons that have nothing to do with AARs in judging committees is plainly ignorant.


As you can see, a writAAR deals only with his own AAR, but at the same time, he fulfills the most important part, without which the forum would be no more. ”Producing AARs” makes it possible for us to exist and the relationship between them (adversity and competition) creates the proper medium in which good AARs will always be a certainty. The readAARs are really a neutral crowd (nothing changes whether they come or not in contact with each other) and form the second layer. The dual relationship with the first strata (writAARs) is not easy to demonstrate: their consuming habits have a direct effect on the way AARs are forced onto the market, but they don’t depend heavily on AARs, making the casual reader an exception and a hard-to-find commodity. Being a writAAR means using only some basic Machiavellian techniques; to be a reader, one needs to eradicate the self-absorbing attitude, to denounce vanity in all shapes and sizes, forcing himself to be attentive, benevolent and understanding. From this point of view, readAARs are very volatile structures and further conceptualization is needed to comprehend their personalities and temperaments. Finally, membAARs form the third level of membership of our fora. They can be defined through 4 characteristics: they hold the largest responsibilities; they fulfill the least important part (in appearance) but their fundamental job is to integrate new members (through the use of all kinds of devices and techniques), that will eventually divide themselves between the writAAR and readAAR division; they can be distinguished by the solidarity, unity and comradeship that exists among them; neutrality towards AARs.

Everyone of us, who is a reader, at least, has a personal Hall of Fame. Commandeering it by the membAAR community is against one of our basic regulations, which states that “everyone has a place under the sun of Paradox”. Give the readers the chance to think for themselves, give them a LibrAARy and an opportunity, but don’t enforce personal options. My simplified scheme favors indifference as the best-suited attitude towards AARs, because it’s the most appropriate in an utilitarian way. Currently, we are using OscAARs or WoWs for promotion and acknowledgement, but I am against any attempt to turn them into official statements as long as they are voted by an handful of people (WoWs are even the choice of one person).The democratic way to do, if we are to plunge into the fourth era of AAR evolution…
 
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Amric

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Sitting in the EUII bAAR, I am waiting for my next interview victim. Er, my next interviewee, yes, that is it! MrT, Crusader Kings beta tester and moderator extraordinaire is running late. I can’t blame him though, he’s got a lot on his plate. He’s probably playing Crusader Kings right now. Oh, wait, here he is. Welcome MrT. Have a Smithwicks. Wet your throat there. Good. Let’s get started.

You’ve been beta testing Crusader Kings. I know you can’t really tell us much, but can you tell us about the playability of the game?

I think the thing that most people won’t see immediately but is nonetheless true is that CK is not a recycled EU engine doing double duty. Ck is designed almost from the ground up and represents a huge (dare I whisper the oft-too-used word “quantum”?) leap forward in Paradox games. This may result in some disappointment from players whose preference is for the largely predeterministic rehash of European history of the 11th through 15th centuries, but will be correspondingly well received from players who want nearly infinite replayability on a dynamic (rather than static) event and game system.

So “playability” must be addressed from two standpoints: the actual game play and the stability of the game. In my mind, the playability – the “I’ll just go to bed after doing such and such…er…after this one more…er…after I conquer…er…is that the sun coming up outside my window?…” – factor is immense. Even in early beta I was convinced that I would not be getting a whole lot of sleep, and I continue to…er…not get a lot of sleep. Yes, a game that is such a radical departure form their previous engine has some issues – some bugs that need squishing and some areas where optimization is required to reduce the load on the CPU, but even with 1.00 the game was absolutely captivating.

The first update – affectionately called “DEM” by the beta team – has improved the performance significantly (although it accidentally introduced a save CTD issue that will be addressed very rapidly) and has expanded the historical content quite dramatically. Due to the premature release of the game, 1.01 was a bit rushed and a lot of other content couldn’t be included. Much of this – as well as some bug fixes – will soon be available in 1.02. Further down the line, I look for this game to really come into its own with 1.02 or 1.04 which should probably propel CK to the rank of being the best SP game Paradox has released to date. In my opinion, CK is already the best MP game on the market, bar none.

I will avoid too detailed a description of this game – lest I exhaust the Paradox server’s disk capacity – and simply content myself with saying that the more you delve into it, the more complex and interesting you will find this seemingly “simple” game.

Have you been involved in beta testing any of the other games that Paradox has put out? If so, which ones?

No. CK is the first game I’ve been involved in from the “grass roots” level. I’ve made some input on other Paradox games (EU2, HoI) but not in the way that I’ve been involved in CK. The beta team has been incredible in this release and I can’t even begin to tell you all of the work that they’ve done behind the scenes – particularly given some incredibly tight deadlines at times. The development team is simply astounding! When I look at what they have achieved in a relatively short period of time I simply have to shake my head in admiration.

As to my personal involvement, I guess you will see that if you look closely at some of the CK files. ;)

You’ve been around for quite a while now, how do you think AARs have developed during this time?

I haven’t been here since the beginning, and the art of AARs had already developed from a simple game log to a far more advanced form of storytelling when I first began to contribute. When I look back at the EU AARs and early EU2 AARs, I see mostly print-outs of the history text, or very slight embellishments of that in the form of paragraphs that usually start with “On January 1st, 1419, I declared war on….” The AAR, now, is usually highly creative and often buries the game mechanics very deeply. For my tastes this is a huge improvement - although I am sure that it intimidates people who are less certain of their writing skills, or for whom English is not their first (or even second) language. I would encourage those who are intimidated to set aside their pride, relax, and have fun. If you write it, people will inevitably come along and read it and offer you some encouragement – and some advice if you ask for it. It is, without a doubt, the best community on this board, let alone any other.

You’re a mod, or moderator. Could you tell us what is involved in being a mod? What kind of duties do you perform?

This varies, somewhat, depending on what forum you’re responsible for. In the AAR forums it’s a relatively straightforward and pleasant job since it very rarely involves “policing” or “moderating”. In the technical support or bug forums, it’s a job involving customer service and help with problems. In the GD<Game Discussion> forums it’s a bit more onerous because you do have a policing function – slaying trolls, keeping people on topic, intervening when a flame war is threatening to break out, keeping an eye out for pirates… – but even then it’s mostly a matter of welcoming and helping newbies.

How did you become a moderator?

I have Lord Durham to thank for that – and some measure of luck. I was extremely active in the AAR forums and it was through his recommendation that I was offered the post, but I “cut my teeth” in the support forum for a while before I was given any added responsibilities.

No two moderators come to the position in the same way though. Mostly it depends on factors such as demonstrating (through you posting as a regular member) that you are relatively level-headed, are helpful and friendly towards newbies, can be helpful in supporting the public, and also by not trying to become one. If you’re the “right” material, the admin and other mods will notice and when the opportunity arises your name will be discussed.

How much interaction do you have with the Admins, such as Johan or Havard?

From a modding standpoint, not a huge amount. This will vary from forum to forum, but the admins are very good at leaving you alone and letting you do your job. If you have a question or concern, they are there to answer it or help you – and they are the ones who ultimately decide on what is done in the case of someone who is in need of some…er…remedial action. They usually consult with and support a mod who’s involved, and generally speaking are extremely laid back.

In the past months I have had quite a bit of interaction with Johan and Havard – particularly on IRC – stemming from the CK beta process (Havard has also been heavily involved in the beta for this game) and inevitably there are the occasional discussions involving moderating the forums. Mostly, though, the members are so well behaved that we can enjoy things and devote our interaction time with game development/improvement…or discussing the most recent Leafs’ game. :p

Are there general directives that are handed down from the Admins to mods such as yourself?

Not as such, no – and it varies from forum to forum. In the AAR forum, Lord Durham is the “boss” and his plans and desires would be considered paramount. We take the lead from him, and the admin is very hands off in that way since it is presumed that he is far more familiar with what is needed there than they are. We chat about things – particularly easy for LD and I since we live near one another and often get together to toss back a few beers – amongst ourselves to get multiple viewpoints though…as is done in most of the forums. Generally, moderators are left alone and trusted to do what they think is right.

The Free Company. A place and company that you were intimately involved with at one time. Any plans on returning full force to that merry band?

A tough question. I have been very deeply involved in the FC in the past and feel that it is an invaluable feature of the AAR forums. It provides a venue – a medium – for budding authors to cut their teeth and learn the art of really writing. The current book, who’s basic plot was largely conceived more than a year ago over the course of a rather large quantity of beer as LD and I discussed various possibilities, is ironically the one that I’ve essentially written nothing for. The desire is there, but the time is not…and I guess in some respects I’ve needed this break from collaborative writing – or writing in general – to recharge my batteries and gain some new inspiration. There were other extenuating factors involved, but I won’t go into those.

I’m not sure that there will be a “next” FC book. That is up to LD, mostly, and also to the willingness and drive of a number of other authors. I will be interested in collaborating on future works of this nature, though, assuming that time permits and that the premise interests me.

You haven’t written an AAR yourself in some time. Any thoughts on writing a new story for us to read and enjoy?

Definitely! I have many ideas but haven’t put together the necessary time yet. The most likely return to the AAR forums will be when things calm down a bit in the CK forums and beta, and will probably be in the form of a CK prequel to my Eminence Grise AAR.

Now I am going to do something shameless. What do you think about the AARland Gazette and the stated desire to foster more interaction and cooperation between the various AAR forums?

I think that the Gazette is an excellent initiative that can only benefit the community by adding to people’s interest in what is going on around them in the forums. Any efforts made to foster greater interaction and cooperation between authors are to be both encouraged and fostered since it can only result in a stronger sense of camaraderie and community. I have made many good friends here – most of whom I’ve never met in real life – and I can only think that this will benefit others in the same way that it has done so for me. It is particularly heartening to see general members spearhead these projects because it’s the membership who must want this and work for it. After all, the moderators are here to facilitate it, not to force it upon people.

Since you are a mod, and have been involved with CK beta testing, do you have any words of wisdom for those who might have a desire to beta test the next Paradox product? Such as how to go about becoming a beta tester? What requirements there might be, things like that?

There are two ways to become a beta tester. The sure way is to be a moderator, since that is the one “payment” that we receive for doing what is otherwise a volunteer job. Any moderator may simply ask Johan to be added to any project and he is added.

The other way – available to the membership – is to give Paradox a good reason to want you. That could be done by spending time on the GD forums, helping newbies by answering their questions in much the same way that moderators do and also making constructive suggestions about the games. Johan reads those forums on a regular basis, and if your name is continually seen by him as providing useful feedback, good suggestions, polite and constructive criticism, etc. then when the next call for beta testers comes along and he sees your name, he’ll want you on the team.

Getting involved in the scenario & modification community is another good way. If you show an ability to do good scripting – not only stuff that’s free of syntax errors, but things that also demonstrate an understanding of essential game design and show a methodical and reliable approach – you also stand a very good chance of being accepted when you apply.

Being around here, regularly, for a long time is also an asset since the beta process takes a while and you don’t want people dropping out part way thorough. Senior members will definitely have a greater chance of acceptance – and “senior” is not necessarily equivalent to “high post count”.

People who have previously been involved in beta testing for Paradox and demonstrated their reliability and discretion (not violating NDA, which is Non Disclosure Agreement) would normally be chosen first over all – except that if they are currently involved in another beta then they are usually excluded from working on another (moderators are the exception to this rule). There are always new opportunities, though, so keep your eyes peeled.

Which brings me to the next question. Do you know if there is another game in the pipeline and if so, can you say anything at all about it?

Yes, but no I can’t say anything about it. Johan will be attending the upcoming convention of Paradox members in France (details elsewhere on this board if it hasn’t already happened by the time this is published) and will reveal it on Saturday evening. After that, I would expect to see the announcement published here on the forums – probably along with a sub forum for preliminary discussions much in the same way that their previous games have done.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing AAR writers?

With the variety of games that Paradox has released and huge number of AARs being written, the single greatest challenge may be in finding the personal impetus to start one and continue it long enough to gradually build up a readership. It is frustrating to pour your heart and soul into a project and feel that no one is reading it, and yet without doing so you will probably never get that readership.

Also, remembering that AAR writing is not a competition can be hard for some people. Ultimately, the AAR should be satisfying to you. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, or a nominee for the next Booker Award. Everything above that is gravy.

So, who is MrT?

The flip – but incorrect – answer would be a wrestler-turned-TV-star from the 70’s. At the time I registered on these forums my first choice was the nick “Torquemada” since the game I was playing at the time as a EU2 1.00 Spain game and I needed help. Torquemada was already taken, though, and for some reason “MrT” struck me as an amusing alternative (and wasn’t already taken). The rest is history.

I wrote a bio here some time ago – you can find it if you look for the link in the LibrAARy in the WoW section – so I won’t bore you with the details. The past year or two has also presented some unique challenges that I won’t reiterate either. They, too, have been posted in this AAR forum at one time or another.

Today’s MrT is in generally good spirits, has survived the end of his fourth decade on this planet, is of intermittent health, is surprised to be enjoying “married” life after so many years as a bachelor - and is enchanted by the antics of the six year old “adopted” daughter that is part and parcel of this new lifestyle – is up to his eyeballs in his involvement in the CK forum and beta (mostly scripting and tweaking of advances files, random events, traits, spread neighbors, and so on), is looking forward to getting back to writing his next AAR, is getting somewhat worse in his dart playing but reciprocally improving quite a bit at his snooker playing…

…and would love another pint of Smithwicks. So if you’ll excuse me…

Well, have that on me….
 

Amric

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The Eye of the Hurricane!(Amric)



So You Want to Play a Multiplayer Game?​



You are new, or perhaps not so new to the game of EUII. You’ve heard of MP<multiplayer> games and you want to join in on the fun. Great! I’ve played a few MP games, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. However there are a few things you should know.

First, there are two ways to do it. One is through VNet<ValkyrieNet> which you access using the internet and your game. I have used this option, and we will get back to it. Another is joining a well established game where the host is giving you, and other people, his IP address. What is an IP address? In essence it is the location of where the game is going to be played. The host is using his computer as the hosting server for it.

Usually such games are for broadband access users. It CAN be done using just dialup, but I don’t recommend it. It tends to be REALLY slow when everyone is on dialup. Again, it can be done. If only one person in eight has dialup, it isn’t so bad, unless it is the host. Then it is a nightmare. Be warned.

Back to the VNet. It is a service provided by the game itself. You go into it and you have a choice of various ‘boards’. If the EUII sections seem to be empty that means one of two things. One, it’s empty and nobody is there. Or two, that people are playing and nobody is currently available.

Let’s deal with option one. Sit there for a while and wait. Someone is certain to show up at some point. Be patient. Option two…It means that there could be many games going on, but once a group of people join a particular game, they ‘disappear’ from view. If the game crashes they tend to reappear in a hurry.

But that is just the bare bones of the beginning! There are numerous things left to do! Someone has to HOST the game. Yes, I mentioned that earlier with the direct IP connection. I am saying it again, for even in VNet, someone has to host! Then there is the group decision on what to play!

Don’t say, EUII! That is understood. But regular Grand Campaign? Age of Mercantilism? Age of Exploration? Thirty Years War? Let’s not even get started on EEP<Event Exchange Project>, AGC<Alternative Grand Campaign>, or so many other mods<modifications> such as IES<Independent Europe Scenario> or the Mongolian Empire Scenario, and the numerous others.

Then you have to discover if everyone is using the same VERSION of EUII. There is a host of differences between EUII 1.05 and EUII 1.08 and everyone should be at the same version so to keep the game play smooth and lessen the chance for the game crashing. In essence, you want to keep current, so you want version 1.08 and whatever the latest beta patch for it. That will ensure you the greatest chance to join a game.

Think you have it all? Not a chance! There is still the task of everyone choosing countries! Let us not forget that depending on scenario and time frame you want to choose wisely. If you are a true newbie to playing the game, you might want to ensure you get a major nation like France. If you are experienced, well you know what nation you’ll want to play.

Now you think you are done and ready to play? Sort of, yes. MP is a LOT different than solo playing. In single player you only have to deal with the AI. With MP you have that, PLUS other people. Some of which might be better players than you. Or worse. People like Peter Ebbesen are so good that they have restrictions placed on them as to what they can do.

There is a wonderful resource known as the MP forum. It is in the regular EUII Discussions forum. I suggest you take a look at it. This is a place where you can see sort of behind the scenes on MP games that are well established and have a lot of rules of what you are allowed and not allowed to do.

This is not the same as a pick up MP game. Those pretty much don’t have a lot of rules. It is generally a slug fest of player on player on player duking it out for mastery of Europe. Alliances can be made. AND broken. But it is a fast paced, run it for the time being and forget about it game. No stories coming out of those.

The long term MP campaigns such as Europe Arising, Machiavellian, Cross Quill and Sword, and so forth are dedicated gamers who work together. Well, let me rephrase that. They agree to certain conditions, choose countries, and then go for the whole 400 year span<or whatever span agreed upon, depending on scenario>. Of course this cannot be done in one evening.

They do it over a course of weeks, even months. They get online at the same time<obviously>, group up, and play for a certain amount of time. Many of those have AARs written about them. I highly recommend the Machiavellian series of MP stories. Excellent stuff, and Peter Ebbesen the Conqueror was involved with them, so it is always a great read! Not that the others writing aren’t excellent writers, but Peter is famous/infamous for his style of writing.

But again, MP is a totally different experience than single player games. For while you can pretty much know what the AI is going to do, to a good extent, another PERSON is unpredictable and you can never be sure of anything. One minute you could be on top of the world, and the next you have everyone ganging up on you.

How do I know who I should play with in MP? Your guess is a good as mine. I didn’t spend a lot of time in VNet playing. I did do a few games, but it was last year during the summer and with a variety of people. Most of whom are on the regular AAR forums.

I also did IP games with LordLeto, Anibal, and Nalivayko for MP. Once we ironed out the bugs, it went well until I lost my broadband access. I did a two player game through IP with Nalivayko as well that had to stop due to that same pesky problem. But I will tell you this. We had FUN! Great fun. Chattering away as we fought our ways through Europe.

So here is what I suggest for you. Go to VNet and explore the possibilities! You’ll have fun, I promise. And I can absolutely promise you that you will learn a few tips and tricks along the way that will help you. So get out there and go play a few MP games!

But before you do, you might want to have something known as ICQ, or perhaps Yahoo Messenger. Most people have ICQ. What is it? It is a messenger type like AIM, or Yahoo. It has been suggested to me, and others when playing MP to have it. It can help coordinate things. So you might want to get it.

Oh and a piece of advice. If you plan on joining a long term game, or sub for one….DON’T screw up your economy! Unless you are going to be playing that nation through the whole game! Nobody wants to come back to their nation to find you’ve pasted their economy and now they are doomed. When you sub for someone, remember that some day someone else might sub for you. Be considerate. Be conscious of what the permanent player is trying to do and try to keep with his or her long term policies.

Another bit of advice….Don’t join a game, get bored or go crazy and then dump out. It isn’t polite and will quickly get you a reputation as a person nobody wants to play with. If you want to go to self destruction in a game, that is your choice. But play it until the bitter end or the game ends. This is very important, not only in pick up games, but for the long term games as well.

I don’t suggest doing that in a long term game, as it will be a quick exit for you when you are destroyed and can really upset the game balance for everyone.

But that is enough, I think, for now. So get out there and have a good time! Have FUN! Below is two resources that should help you immensely on your journey to MP enjoyment. The first one is how to change your router firewall settings so that you can enjoy playing EUII, or for that matter, any Paradox game properly. The second one is the MP forums.



Resources: Router/Firewall FAQ: How to Make it Work

Multiplayer Action
 

Amric

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EUII Is STILL Kicking!​


Believe it or not, the creation and introduction of AAR Forums for HoI, Victoria, and Crusader Kings has not really made an appreciable dent in the sheer volume of AARs still being written, and commented upon in the EUII forums. Which is a grand thing, and something I was a little unsure would still be the case.

But I shouldn’t have worried. There are still stories being told. New ones, by new writAARs as well! I was partially afraid that what had happened to EUI would happen to EUII with the new games coming out. Now don’t get me wrong. I own a copy of HoI. But I don’t play it.

To be honest, I don’t like it, as there is too much micromanagement for my taste. But I am a simply fellow. My favorite arcade game used to be Ms. Pacman. Why? Because there was only a joystick. No button to push, or combinations of buttons to push like so many other games. But I am getting off topic.

In fact, sliver legion took up a challenging initiative all on her own. She made a listing of nations and difficulty ratings for them based on the idea of how difficult they would be to play for a new player. Which I don’t think had ever been done before, even though the game has been out for some years now.

Now remember, sliver legion is a newcomer to the forums. Yet she has taken the time and effort to put something like this together for the edification of new EUII players. Astounding! I’m proud of her. She took on something that nobody else has considered and in my opinion, she did it well! I liked it so much that I included a link to it in the EUII News and Updates part of the Gazette here.

This is wonderful news and made my spirit perk up. My fears of EUII falling by the wayside and becoming somewhat marginalized were unfounded. Until now, every AARticle I had written had been completed WEEKS and WEEKS ago. In fact, most of them were written within the first WEEK of the initial Gazette roll out. Every interview I have presented has been done within the first MONTH of the initial roll out.

I had been worried that I would run out of things to say about EUII. Sliver legion has inspired me to once again pick up my metaphorical pen and start writing again. I am not talking about a solo AAR. I just don’t have the time at the moment. But to think harder of AARticles to help those of us who love the game of EUII. To inspire others to write AARS and enjoy the fruits of the labors of those WritAARs who seek to entertain us with their tales of glory and sometimes ignoble defeats.

The quality of the new stories being written are excellent. There hasn’t been a fall off of talent that I can tell. Granted, I don’t get much chance to do heavy reading, but I have been able to read at least one or two installments of what is being written. I have to work fast with my limited time and very slow internet connection.

I have to also admit that my commenting has gone WAY down. Not because I am not enjoying what is being presented, but because I just don’t have the time to do justice to everything.

I don’t want to just comment in one or two stories and have others think I am not reading their stuff as well. To be honest, I can only skim at times and get a general ‘feel’ for the story being told. I wish I could do more, and I apologize to all who are writing and wondering where the bAARtender is and why he isn’t all over the place like he used to be.

Like I stated before. I LOVE this place. I wish I could do more and have more time to do it in, but real life intrudes more and more. At some point I’d like to be able to do more and perhaps some day I will. But the initiative by sliver legion and the sheer amount of AARs being written give me a warm feeling that the EUII AAR forum is healthy and well adjusted.

I look forward to seeing what my fellow EUII forumites will do next. Keep reading and writing!
 

coz1

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The GenAARal Idea (coz1)

MembAARship Has Its Rewards

There has been a good deal of mention over the last couple of months over the idea of membAARship, what it means, how to become one, etc. Many people have expressed their distaste for such a thing, and others have suggested that such a thing is needed and/or necessary. Allow me to first, try and explain exactly what is meant by the term and also, to suggest why it is a positive and a bonus, not to be feared but to be embraced.

Now by the title of this AARticle, one might automatically assume I have suggested that being a membAAR is something that is given and carries with it certain things that others, who are not membAARs, do not receive. This could not be further from the truth. The rewards that are gained are not given, but intrinsically inherent in simply being one. In fact, the only person that can make you a membAAR is you. It is not a badge for a mod to give away, nor is it a special club that you must pass certain hurdles to gain entry to.

Being a membAAR is, in many ways, a state of mind. We might look at certain people that frequent this forum as less than membAARs, more than membAARs or the perfect membAAR. But the only person that can award that title is the person seeking it. Really, it’s one of the easiest clubs to get into, if you want to look at it that way, since all you have to do is decide to be one and then you are in.

Not being a membAAR does not cause you to be shunned, nor do we try and deny anyone anything simply because they are not one. The one that is denied has done so to himself. As a group, we have no say so over what benefits are given and who is to receive them. But you, as a prospective membAAR, have absolute control over those things.

So then, what do I mean by membAAR? It is derived from the phrase at the very beginning of this gazette. “We are not just writAARs and readAARs, but membAARs!” First notice the exclamation point used in the phrase. This is meant to forcefully drive the point home. Why? Because we think it can only help the individual that strives to be such. And why would that be? Because by recognizing that the uniqueness of this place is due to things that go beyond simply reading and writing, we think there is more value to be gained (for the membAAR himself) in going above and beyond.

I admit that it is a tricky term. It is one easily misinterpreted, and when we first used it, I don’t think any one of us realized this. We assumed that it would be understood for what it was – a call to be more that you could be. But it has since taken on certain negative connotations that some see as elitism, excluding and/or hierarchical. In some ways, all of these are certainly possible, but it was never our intention. What we wanted was to suggest that there is more to be gained by doing more than just writing your own work, or stopping by occasionally to read other’s work.

One of the protests against the term has come from those that do not wish to do these things, and thus feel left out of what might be termed “the club.” But again, no one here is attempting to exclude, but rather include into a wider paradigm of community. Another argument against its use is due to a desire to keep this forum open to many rather than closed but to only a few. This I find to be much more persuasive. We do not want to create an atmosphere that makes people feel that they do not or could not belong. After all, it is not our site. We are here by the grace of Paradox who allows us to create, share and discuss our love of writing and enjoyment of the games they created.

So, if we do not want to exclude, yet still wish to use a term like membAAR, how do we accomplish that? I suggest by agreeing on what is meant by “membAAR” and keeping that in mind whenever the term is used. Further, we must understand what can be gained by using it and by being one.

And thus we return to what is meant by the term membAAR. In my mind, it speaks of someone who goes above and beyond simply coming here to read or write, as suggested by the quote above. Many times we see someone start an AAR and then give up because they do not get the feedback desired. This can be quite the slap in the face for the person that only wants others to read their work. But to the person that only wants to share, this does not dissuade them. And further, by being somewhat altruistic, the writer gains eventually because they are willing to post without anyone saying anything and soon realize their own commitment to either writing in general, to the forum as a whole, or both.

I know several writAARs who have posted swaths of their story (and over a decent amount of time) that do not give up and keep chugging along. They realize their commitment and will give you their story no matter who and how many read it. In doing so, they perfect their craft and continue to give to the community without desiring anything in return.

As well, we have some people that come in simply to read up on game-play. And this is absolutely fine. But I would venture to guess that they do not take very much with them when they leave. Further, they have not left us with anything either. By being more than just a readAAR and writAAR, there is something not only gained, but given as well. The person that decides (and that word is key) to become a membAAR, is gaining a much richer experience than might otherwise be had. And they are assisting in giving others that same feeling. It is simply a win-win situation.

What can be gained by using the term membAAR? The most ready answer in my head is a feeling of belonging and togetherness. And again, this is not something given by some higher power, but something gained by the individuals themselves. What is gained? I would assume sheer joy at interacting on a high level, the sense of friendship that comes with spending a good deal of time with others and perhaps a sense of maturity and/or accomplishment that you are not just here for selfish reasons, but here to give back to the community.

We all come here to write (the lifeblood) and to read (the encouragement), but we can also come here to interact and learn. To play and laugh. To spend the hours we are here enjoying ourselves to the fullest rather than be discouraged by lack of response or put off by the words of others. This is why I wrote The Meta AAR*. I wanted to provide an overview of ALL that AARland has to offer rather than making each new membAAR search these things out for themselves. It was not a coincidence that the main character, Dan Raal, is an anagram for AARland. That character was meant as a stand in for all of us.

There is so much more to this world of ours outside of simply reading and writing. The SolAARium, the watering holes, the librAARies, etc., were and continue to be created in order to draw people in, to educate and learn from others, to be unique – in short, to make this a more enjoyable place, or more enjoyable than it already is. I submit that if you are not utilizing these efforts, and perhaps lending your voice and effort to them, you are missing out. True, if enough people decide not to participate, the rest of us might also, but I do not fear that happening anytime soon. A discussion that took place not long ago in the feedback thread dealt with this very idea, and my point then as now, was that it is a possibility, not a certainty.

I do not fear that we do not have enough people that desire to be membAARs. I fear that not enough people recognize the benefits of such. We can either be a loose group of aspiring writAARs and voracious readAARs, or we can be one big family, giving to and getting from our community as a whole.

So, let us not be afraid of the term membAAR. Let us not shy away from encouraging even more interaction and ideas. Let us embrace a spirit of togetherness and open our arms to any and all that come through the door to see what we have to offer. Let us not attempt to award badges of honor, but rather rejoice when someone decides to take up that title as their own, and thus gives to the rest of us while enjoying a much more fulfilling experience. This is what being a membAAR is all about. This is what could be if we so choose, each and every one of us.

*AARland: The Meta AAR - Completed
 
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