Subrosa's Guide for AARs and Screenshots

by Subrosa

Planning on doing an AAR? Read this and hopefully you will avoid many of the pitfalls that cause many AARs from ever being finished.

Just want to take some screenshots and put them in the forums? Well look down to "So how do I put pictures in it?" and you will find all you need to know to get your pics where everyone can see them.

What is an AAR?

First of all, AAR stands for "After Action Report". It can document a single battle in either single or multiplayer, a series of battles, or even an entire single-player campaign.

How long does it take?

An AAR takes a lot of time. Not so much to play it, but to organize pictures afterward, upload them, generate code, and make a write-up on the forums. I usually spend about an hour for doing every write-up of my own. Although I tend to make large ones too... So be prepared to expend a great many cycles on this project.

Save your game!

Most importantly, finishing a singleplayer campaign AAR depends on you having savegames. The #1 reason most AARs fail is because someone was playing off only one savegame, and accidentally overwrote it or found it was corrupted. Poof, there goes their AAR. Never rely solely upon one save!

When you first start your game make a regular save. I suggest with the name of the faction and then the number 1. Then every time you end a session to make an update online, make another save, incrementing the number. So you will have Brutii01, Brutii02, and so on. This way if something does go wrong, you can go back to your most recent regular save and start playing again from the point you left off in your AAR.

How much do you write?

How much information should you include in your AAR is a matter of personal taste (and how much time you want to spend at it). Some people might record every battle, but this can become tedious in a long campaign. Often battles with rebels are left out, or only noted as a victory or defeat and moving on. Likewise many people leave out small skirmishes with other major factions as well.

How do I write it?

What kind of voice you should use is another thing to consider. Some people like to present their AARs in character, as if they were the leader of the faction or perhaps their historian. I tried my hand at this during the Swap game we had here over last summer, and while it was very enjoyable, it also made doing it the write-ups more time-consuming as well.

There is also a variation in this known as an HSR (or Historic Story Report), where the writer takes the character of a modern historian looking back and documenting it all for a book. For some examples of this look here and here.

Most people tend to write in their own voice however, which also grants the added ease of not having to slip into and out of character when answering comments by readers.

Another rare and unique method is to use Comcast's Photoshow, which allows you to create a video slideshow. See an example of that here.

So how do I put pictures in it?

AARs often come with pictures to illustrate the action, although this is not absolutely necessary. However, I do highly recommend them, as pages and pages of text looks overwhelming and can intimidate people from reading it. Even a few strategically placed pictures will break that by adding pauses in the text that divides it into clear sections. That aside, there is the old saying: "a picture is worth a thousand words", which is quite true.

The way to take a screen shot is simply to press the Print Screen (or Print Scrn) button on your keyboard. The picture will be saved to your RTW\Tgas folder. They will be saved as .tga files. However, be warned that if you have Anti-Aliasing turned on in your Video Settings then the pictures will come out all black.

A rather tedious way to take screen shots is take a single picture in the game, then press Alt + Tab on your keyboard to switch from the game to the Windows desktop. You see whenever you press Print Screen Windows saves a copy of the image on your screen to its clipboard. You can then open a graphics editor and paste the image into it, then save it to your drive. Afterward you can then go back to the game.

I recommend using either Fraps or Game Cam to take your screen shots with. They will not come out black that way, and you will not be constantly going back and forth to your desktop. These programs will not save their pictures to your RTW/TGA folder, but rather to a folder you specify. Keep in mind that RTW will still be taking its own pictures too, so you will want to go to that folder and clear them out occasionally to save your hard drive.

However you take your pictures, afterward you will want to convert them to .jpg files. You can use a graphics editor program to do this. MS Paint comes with Windows and can do this if you open and save each picture individually as a .jpg file. Irfanview is a better program that is free to download. To make things easy, Irfanview has a batch conversion feature that will covert pictures from one format to another in bulk, which is very handy if you are using the free version of Fraps (which only allows you to save your pics as .bmps).

Then you will want to upload them to an image hosting site such as Photobucket or Imageshack. After uploading them, either site will give you the bb code you can use to copy and paste into the forums. As well as the standard image code, both sites will also give you the option of generating a code that will allow you to post thumbnails that link to the full sized picture. This is generally the preferred method of posting pictures, as the Forums will not display images of a large size (roughly 70-80k+).

Photobucket has a bulk uploader which makes uploading files convenient. However, before you use it take note that by default Photobucket will have your account set to a max image size of 1024 x 768. It actually resizes your files smaller than that if you upload at that setting (you will note they are 1010 x 758 afterward, and they will look fuzzy). To fix that look where it says "Reduce To" (above the link to the Bulk Uploader) and gives you a drop down box, make sure it is set to at least 1 Megabyte if not higher.

To make Photobucket automatically generate thumbnails do the following: Select the images you want, then go down to the bottom of the Photobucket page and click on the "Generate HTML and IMG Code" button. That brings up a new window with several panes within it. In the center is "IMG clickable thumbnails for message boards - recommended" Just copy the code from there and paste it on the forum. Simply clicking once in the field should automatically select the entire thing.

If you do all this and your pictures are not displaying on the forums correctly, but instead are showing a little broken box instead, it is probably because the filenames are too long. Shorten it to something simple such as Briton01 and it will display properly.

Addendum:

Photobucket has taken to the annoying habit of adding in a piece of code to its thumbnail code. This causes the picture to come up at partial size in a Photobucket window, rather than showing you the picture at full size by itself. There is a way to get around this by taking out that annoying bit of code. Do the following:

Paste your picture code into the forum as usual, then look to the middle section of each line where it says ?action=view& current= and highlight that, then copy it. Press Ctrl +F to bring up a search box and then paste that piece of code into there. With Firefox it will automatically find the first instance of the code and highlight it. Click in an open space above it to deselect the text. Now press F3 and Delete over and over again until all instances of the code are gone. Just be sure you do not go to far and start deleting the rest of the code in your last picture.

You will also find more on taking screen shots here.

Addendum 2: Thumbnails

by General KickAss

The trick of making the images display in thumbnails is to do it in two parts, first you get the pic's direct link: http://your-url.jpg

Then you use this code: [url=your.url.here ] [/url] and put the pic's link in the url box so it looks like this:
[url=http://your-url.jpg] [/url]

Next you use this code: [img][/img], and put it inside the url code like this:
[url=http://your-url.jpg][img]http://your-url.jpg [/img] [/url]

The finishing touch is to add "th_" before the name of the pic in the img code, like this:
[url=http://your-url.jpg ] [img]http://th_your-url.jpg [/img ] [/url] This gives you a mini version of your screenie, click-to-enlarge so that readers craving more detail can view a larger version by clicking.

So what is the easy way to make this write-up?

If you have to convert your pictures from .bmp or .tga to .jpg then first open Windows Explorer to the folder your pics are in. Then open Irfanview and do your batch conversion. Now go back to Explorer. You will see all your original files at the top of the page, and all the converted ones at the bottom. You can then easily select the old ones and delete them. If you do not do this you will find the new and old ones mixed together, which can make deleting the old ones tedious.

Then go through your pictures and decide which ones to keep and which to discard. Rename the ones you want to keep with the name of the faction and a number. Increase the number every picture. For example, Carthage001, Carthage002, etc... To make this easy you can copy most of the filename and paste it into the name of the next pic, then change the number at the end.

Next tip, when uploading your pics to Photobucket create a new folder dedicated just for your AAR. Then set your album settings to display pictures alphabetically. Then when you generate the code for thumbnails your pictures will be in chronological order.

Paste that into your post, then go down the list and make two spaces between each line of code. Now go to Irfanview and bring up its thumbnail viewer. Use it to look at each picture on your drive before you write about it on the forum. It is quicker than trying to do it online.

When you are finished and have made your post, go back and re-read what you have written. Look for spelling and grammar errors (my first drafts are always bad when it comes to these), and also check be sure your pictures are working (and are the correct ones!).

How Do I Put A Link To My AAR In My Signature?

Go to the first page of your AAR and copy the url from your browswer's address bar. Then go to your Account Options and edit your Signature. Start a new line and put in the following BBCode: [url=address]name[/url] Address is the url of your AAR, and name is the name of it.

For example, here is one of the links in my Signature: [url=http://rtw.heavengames.com/cgi-bin/forums/display.cgi?action=ct&f=10,6558,0,100]Sarmatian AAR[/url]

Which gives me this:
Sarmatian AAR

You can also add things like colors and other special formatting, the same as you can in any forum post. Mine is actually in yellow, but I took the color code out to be less confusing. Look here for a list of BBCodes you can use. Also look here to learn more about signatures.

Comments and changes:

Gaius:
On images, do remember to mark your imageshack & photobucket albums as private. Unfortunately some folks will root through all the photos on your account if you don't do this.

J Ursus Cato:
At this time, I'm finding that having a blank spreadsheet printed out with various spaces for different notes could come in handy when writing up an AAR by hand. Since I don't have the means of quickly jumping back and forth between screens to take notes on Notepad or any other text program, I'm thinking of having a series of these sheets handy for when I resume a campaign and jotting down the notes without having to go through a mess of handwritten headers, text bullets and other confusing shorthand scribbles.

For instance, I can use Microsoft Office (or you may choose an alternative program like OpenOffice if you like) to organize a spreadsheet for the taking of notes for various items from the faction information listings on the lower right-hand corner as I begin each session. Another page of the spreadsheet would have spaces for shorthand notes of important events which drop down at the beginning of each turn, all battles that you resolve on the battle map (or auto-resolve, if you prefer), and any end-of-turn (EOT) notes aside form battles which you might get as you advance. A third page would be a series of tables for giving the unit details of each army involved in a battle, with perhaps a grid for illustrating how your army was grouped on the opening stage of the battle.

Finally, I'm thinking of using grid paper for actual battle map illustrations like I tried once before (in old AARs uploaded under the "Yusaku Jon III" screen name). I use the illustration shorthand shown by TA Dodge in his books on the military histories of Alexander, Hannibal and Caesar (little boxes with short "poles" to indicate the direction they're facing, and arrows showing their movements).

I may be starting a new AAR to try this out with soon, along with incorporating some of the earlier habits that I've taken up, such as saving the game just before ending a turn and entering a key battle (the usual times when those dreaded CTDs take place). This time, It might be the Scipii (I've got Julii and Brutii started so far, although I'm unsure if I'll ever finish their AARs at this stage).

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