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Erik L:
Q. What is Aurora?
A. Aurora is a 4x (eXpand, eXplore, eXternimate, eXploit) game. Written by Steve Walmsley.

Q: Are there any System Requirements?
A: The only one is a screen resolution of 1280x1024

Q: Why do time increments sometimes get cut short?
A: Read this thread for a detailed explanation: viewtopic.php?f=19&t=1839

Q: I have a window that doesn't appear on the screen, or appears to be off-screen. How do I fix that?
A: Close all windows (or restart) and then use the Reset Window Positions option on the Miscellaneous menu on the main menu bar

Q: Help! I'm using windows 7/Vista and the game crashes
A: Windows 7, and possibly Vista, need to have the game run as administrator. Also see this thread: viewtopic.php?f=10&t=1828&view=unread#unread

Q: I'm using Windows 7/Vista and I keep getting permission errors when trying to extract patch files to the Aurora folder
A: This has to do with security features. The easy fix is to right click /aurora , go to "Properties", go to "Security", browse to the one called "Users" and modify it to have all permissions. Also see this thread: viewtopic.php?f=10&t=1828&view=unread#unread

Q: I just surveyed this planet/moon/asteroid, but nothing shows up.
Q: Why can't I see the minerals on all the bodies in the system?
Q: Why are there pages/systems/colonies missing from the Mineral Report screen?
A: Very few system bodies will have Trans-Newtonian Elements on them - less than one in twenty. If there are no minerals, the survey/report/window will be blank for that body (well, unless there are alien ruins, which are one-in-a-thousand rare).

Q: Why is the colony list invisible? (and all forms of that question).
A: Aurora does not play well with touch screen configurations. Go to the Control Panel > Devices and Printers > Device Manager, under the Human Interface Devices, search for "HID-compliant touch screen" and disable it. Note; you will lose touch screen capability while it is deactivated, but you can reactivate it later.

Erik L:
Post other questions and answers, and I'll add them to the first post.

How about this one added to the FAQ...

Who is SteveW?

Steve, at the risk of sounding like a cyber-stalker (which I'm most certainly not), I'm interested to know a little bit about your background.  Like a good book, I always flip to the author's bio to see a little bit about where they come from.  Aurora is a fascinating game, and the more I learn about it and the more I read your updated tutorials, the more captivating it becomes.  It really is a unique piece of work that stands as a bright shinning light amongst so many dull stars.  If I had to guess, I'd say you have a strong science/mathematics background because science/math play such a fundamental role in the logic behind Aurora.  The calculations appear to be so routed in math and actual science that it lends a truly authentic factor to what is going on in Aurora. You're also obviously a shameless 4x strategy gamer (like myself) and huge fan of military sci-fi (also like myself).

Anyway, I hope I'm not crossing an invisible line, that you'll forgive my curiosity and maybe even indulge us a little!


Steve Walmsley:

--- Quote from: Jarhead0331 ---How about this one added to the FAQ...

Who is SteveW?

Steve, at the risk of sounding like a cyber-stalker (which I'm most certainly not), I'm interested to know a little bit about your background.  Like a good book, I always flip to the author's bio to see a little bit about where they come from.  Aurora is a fascinating game, and the more I learn about it and the more I read your updated tutorials, the more captivating it becomes.  It really is a unique piece of work that stands as a bright shinning light amongst so many dull stars.  If I had to guess, I'd say you have a strong science/mathematics background because science/math play such a fundamental role in the logic behind Aurora.  The calculations appear to be so routed in math and actual science that it lends a truly authentic factor to what is going on in Aurora. You're also obviously a shameless 4x strategy gamer (like myself) and huge fan of military sci-fi (also like myself).

Anyway, I hope I'm not crossing an invisible line, that you'll forgive my curiosity and maybe even indulge us a little!
--- End quote ---

Be careful what you wish for. This was meant to be a quick bio but as usual once I get writing, I end up writing a huge amount. So my life story is as follows

After leaving sixth form college at 18, I worked as professional keyboard player for a while. I had been working part-time in clubs since I was 15 and I didn't want to go to university because I enjoyed the income and the lifestyle. I did various residencies in hotels, holiday resorts. etc. However, once I was working seven nights a week, I didn't enjoy it as much as when it was part-time. It became a job rather than a enjoyable hobby that I got paid for. I was very interested in the military and read every military-related book I could find. I remember writing to Dale Brown in the late eighties to point out thirty errors in one of his books, all of which were naval related . I also thought I was going to get arrested once at an air show when I started asking a helicopter crewman detailed questions about sonobouy performance and he starting demanding to know where i got my information. So I applied to join the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm but it turned out I was colour blind. I drifted into sales work and went back to playing keyboards at weekends and occasionally mid-week. I sold insurance, second hand cars, double-glazing, encyclopedias, etc and eventually ended up selling computers for my brother (after telling him his sales staff were terrible ). I got interested in computers beyond using them to play games and eventually decided I wanted to learn to program. So I quit my sales job and went on a 6 month full time course to learn C on UNIX. I enjoyed the course and in my part time I wrote a program in C on DOS to manage my Star Fleet Battle Games. It handled the impulse procedure, sequence of play, damage allocation, etc. You could switch various rules on and off and everything would update accordingly. This was called SFB Assistant. No one ever used this but myself.

After the course I got myself a low-paid job as a programmer using C++/Windows 3.1. As any programmer will tell you, this is a long way from C/UNIX but I had been a salesman for several years. I got offered a couple of well paid sales jobs but I was determined to stick with IT. I am fortunate in that I pick things up very quickly and I have a very good memory for anything I read (and I read a lot ) so I settled into this role fairly well. Eventually I moved on to the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). While I was at Digital I was the resident C++/Windows 3.1 expert. Which only goes to prove that you only have to know 10% more than the next guy to be an expert . While I was there I was asked to do some programming in Visual Basic 3, which I had never seen before. I was asked to "learn it as you go along". There were a couple of VB programmers there who were helpful and regretfully I wasn't very complimentary about this new language, describing it as "programming for the under-fives" and, once I found out that you had to type "Unload Me" to close a form, "programming in Wonderland". Eventually, I did realise that while it wasn't as powerful as C++, you could get things done very quickly. To learn the language more fully, I started a program of my own to help me play a game called Starfire. Starfire Assistant was born. I'll cover my work background and then come back to the saga than was Starfire Assistant.

My first IT management role was for ICL in Stevenage, Hertfordshire. My wife and two children moved down to Stevenage, as it was 200 miles from home, and we bought a house. I gained a lot of experience over the next few years, taking roles with the AA, British Airways, Tesco, Legal & General, Xerox and ICL twice more, and gradually moved up until I was running large, multi-national IT programmes with $100m+ budgets. At this point, the IT contract market was becoming harder and I found myself out of work for the first time in many years. Eventually, I answered an advert in the Sunday Times for Senior Civil Servants and took a job with central government. This involved moving back to the North-west, which was good because there isn't a decent meat and potato pie in the south of England . After six months or so involved in intervention in failing projects, I ended up as the Director of Infrastructure Management for the Department of Work and Pensions, looking after the infrastructure and telecoms for 130,000 people. It was at this point, my life took a somewhat unexpected turn.

I hadn't really enjoyed the government job, although I was there for three years, mainly because of the different outlook in the public sector. This is a gross generalization but in the private sector the philosophy was get everything done on time and pick up the bodies later. In the public sector, it seemed to be about avoiding doing anything wrong rather than trying to accomplish anything. No one ever got fired and if you stayed long enough you progressed upwards, so the attitude was that if you always followed process, no matter how ridiculous the process might be, you were safe. Initiative was blasphemy. At one point I was even off sick with 'stress'. This manifested as really bad headaches, terrible backaches, no sleep, awful short-term memory (which was quite scary as my memory is normally excellent) and a variety of other symptoms. As I had done some very high pressure roles on the past and there was little or no pressure in this job, I didn't believe the diagnosis. However, they had done brain scans and other tests and couldn't find anything physical. As is standard in these cases, the Department sent me to a counsellor (the dreaded shrink!). Her assessment was that my stress was caused by frustration at the attitude in the Department and the difficulty in achieving anything of worth. And I quote: "you aren't really psychologically suited to working for the government."

While I was off sick, I learned to play Texas Holdem online and started winning pretty much immediately. It’s a very math and logic-oriented game, working out odds and quickly breaking down the potential possible hands for my opponents. I have always been good at mental arithmetic and I captained my college at Chess, so it seemed ideally suited to the way I thought. After a few months I realised I could make as much from poker as my job, so I quit the government job and became a professional poker player. That was about four years ago. I feel like I have got my life back because I have so much free time and so much choice in how I live my life. I have totally changed my attitude and now value time a lot more than money. Recently, playing poker on the internet is becoming hard work due to the sheer number of people trying to earn a living there so I am playing live a lot more. It's more fun but the hours are terrible (usually 10pm to 6am).

That's the boring work bit out of the way. Now lets zip back 35 years or so (I am 44 now). From an early age I used to spend all my time playing and designing games. My cousin and I used to create sci-fi games by marking off squares on a large sheet of card then using Lego bricks to represent ships. 4x2 was a battleship, 3x2 cruiser, 2x2 destroyer and 2x1 a fighter. The flat 8x4s were carriers on to which you fixed the fighters. There were also the 1x1s which were missiles and you could carry those on the cruisers (this brings back memories ). A 4x1 was the dreaded Total Annihilation Device, which I think was influenced by a Judge Dredd story called the Apocalypse War. The rules were all carefully written out - a habit which I seem to have lost.

At sixteen or so, we discovered Avalon Hill wargames such as Panzer Blitz. This was an amazing revelation as we thought we were the only people in the world who liked wargames. I still have three copies each of Panzer Blitz and Panzer Leader on my shelves, in mint condition. Other Avalon Hill games I still have in my collection include War and Peace, an early Napoleonic game, Flat Top, a great carrier game, Longest Day, Submarine, Bismarck and many others. I have all four of the original Squad Leader games and most of the ASL series, including many of the flat box series with paper maps such as Red Barricades or Kampfgruppe Peiper I & II. Then I discovered Victory Games, which led me to the Fleet Series, Gulf Strike, Ambush and a lot of others, including my favourite, Pacific War, which I once played solo and it lasted months. SPI as well - my favourite SPI/TSR game was Terrible Swift Sword. GDW is also another of my favourite publishers and I have a lot of their games. Eight boxes from the Assault Series including duplicates, the Third World War series, which was a great multi-game series that I played to completion twice using all four games, Twilight 2000, 2300AD, Star Cruiser, the GDW version of Traveller, etc. I am huge SFB fan and have a mass of Star Fleet Battles products, including every Captain's Log since #1. I am rereading through them at the moment. The Volume I, II and III boxes are there, and everything else published until perhaps 2-3 years ago. I need to catch up . A memorable gaming moment was opening SFB Volume III and reading through the original Andromedan rules with hushed reverence .

Looking at my shelves I can also see several Battletech games, Renegade Legion, two editions of World in Flames, many Babylon 5 Wars books, etc. Too many games to list really. I am an RPG fan as well, particularly RuneQuest 2nd Edition, as well as Traveller, AD&D, etc.

Eventually I moved into computer games. Early memories including Carrier Command and Red Lightning on the Atari, NATO commander on the Commodore 64 and one of my all-time favourites, Elite on the BBC Micro. It was the first game on floppy disk rather than tape games for the older Dragon 32 and I remembered being awestruck by the 2 second load time compared to several minutes for tape. Then the 286 arrived and eventually I bought a 386 to play Links 386 . I had better move on or this will turn into an Odyssey down computerized memory lane.

I mentioned Starfire Assistant earlier. Starfire was a great influence on my game playing and I got involved from second edition, although I played third edition a lot more. Here was a game that has tactical combat, albeit much simpler than Star Fleet Battles, but it also had a playable campaign system. Well playable, if you didn’t mind spending 30 minutes to roll up a new system. It is a generalization but I do think that gamers brought up an ASL, SFB, Longest Day, Pacific War, etc have a lot more patience for a game like Aurora than those brought up on Play Station shooters. In a way, I think Aurora is an attempt to recapture some of those sweeping, epic board game experiences of the past. Anyway, back to Starfire. It's important to note at this point that it was designed as a pen and paper system with a SpaceMaster in a similar way to a Dungeon master in an RPG

At the time when I learned VB3, I was manually rolling up Starfire systems (3rd edition I think) and entering them on a Word template before printing them out. The Galactic Map was usually a large sheet of graph paper. I decided I would create a system generator in VB3 to take away some of the grunt work. This worked well and I began to add more functionality over time. Eventually, I mentioned on the Starfire mailing list that I had this program and there was a lot of interest so I published it. Of course, as soon as people who didn't know its frailties got their hands on it, it quickly fell apart in a heap of bugs . This was a hard but important lesson and I gradually improved its stability as well as continuing to add the ability to support more rules. Over time, Starfire Assistant reached the point where it covered all the rules and was used by the majority of Starfire gamers to play campaign games. I believe it brought a lot of players into the game system that would otherwise have given up on the P+P system. It remained free to use throughout its life. I just wanted to support a game system I really liked.

Third edition Starfire was designed by David Weber and was fantastic for background material and flavour. There were some holes in the campaign system, notably that the best way to victory was to make as many allies as possible among the Non-player races. However, as the game system seemed to attract a lot of sci-fi gamers with a role-playing mind this wasn't seen as a major issue by many players, mainly I think because a lot of players were far more interested in creating an fascinating Empire and role-playing it than going all out to win. To me, playing a game that would take months or even years was about the overall game experience rather than the eventual winner. If I was playing a game for several hours or a couple of days; SFB, or maybe something like Diplomacy, then I would go all-out to win, but with Starfire I wanted to create an interesting universe. Not everyone agrees with my perspective though and there would be an eventual major rift between two groups I will generalize as the role-players and the competitive gamers.

I have always liked writing after action reports so I began writing up my new campaign featuring the Rigellian Empire. Unbeknown to me, Kurt Blackwelder was already doing the same thing for his Starfire campaign. I published the first thirty turns or so on the Starfire Mailing List and it was well received. Kurt published his too and the genre of the Starfire campaign report was born. This report eventually become the Rigellian Diary, which stretched to 700,000 words (about 950 pages in 12 point font in Word) over the next 10 years. Kurt was equally prolific, creating fiction for two campaigns that equalled or exceeded the size of the Diary.

At some point during the above, Starfire was bought by Marvin Lamb. Marvin was a great fan of the game, had been involved in third edition and wanted to improve and advance the game system. Initially he concentrated on patching some of the problems in third edition and this became third edition revised. Eventually, he decided to produce a 4th edition of the game and this is where the schism began. By the way, please bear in mind that this is my version of events and others may have a radically different view but I will attempt to be as fair as possible. I would class Marvin as a competitive gamer and his desire was to make Starfire as competitive as possible by balancing the various ship systems and rules so there was no obvious path to victory, Third edition also had some technologies that had a major impact on play, such as the first ECM system or capital missiles with their fifty percent range advantage, and he wanted to reduce the impact of new technology so it would advance more incrementally. This was some disagreement about this from players who wanted new tech to have a large impact.

Anyway, 4th edition or Galactic Starfire (GSF) was released. Some players thought it was great and some didn't like it at all. The main complaint, even above the significant rule changes, was that GSF had no background material at all. Not even descriptions of the technology. It was just rules and data charts. Worse still, the events of the four Starfire novels written by David Weber which provided a rich background to the whole game system, could no longer be replicated in the game as all the tech had been changed. To be fair to Marvin, he had not realised this would be an issue. He didn't regard the background and 'fluff' as necessary and hadn't realised anyone else would miss it.

To cut a long story short, the mailing list disintegrated into a long series of 3rd vs 4th flame wars interspersed by occasional cease-fires. Eventually, after a lot of arguments, Marvin agreed to have both editions on sale. Myself and a group of 30 volunteers got together (the 3DG) and began producing new 3rd edition products. The deal was that we would produce the products and hand them over to Marvin. He would sell them and get 100% of the money. Obviously not a great deal for us but we wanted to keep 3rd edition alive. The first of these was the Unified Tech Manual, which brought together the tech from all existing products, added tech from three new tech levels and streamlined several parts of the rules. It was very well received and sold well. This was followed by an update to v1.1 and then we began work on the Unified Rulebook, bringing together all the 3rd edition rules in one volume. Like Doomsday for SFB.

Meanwhile, this was about the time that Starfire Assistant had reached the point when it covered the entire game system and I started to add optional rules, such as supply or missile construction. It still covered the actual rules as well but I wanted to add options where a computer could handle things that you couldn't do in the pen and paper game. Marvin wasn't very happy about these optional rules, I think because he felt they took away some his control over the rules, which is understandable.

The Unified Rulebook was about 95% done when Marvin complained it was taking too long. As he didn't have any work to do on the product, had given us no deadlines, we were unpaid volunteers and he would get all the money from the finished product, I didn't take this very well. Again to be fair, real life had been interfering with my time over the previous few months (brain scans, etc.) so I hadn't got as much done as in the past but even so I thought his attitude was dreadful. He then declared he was joining the 3DG, which had its own Yahoo group. This wasn't in our original agreement but we accepted it.

Up to this point 3DG had been run as a pure democracy. Every time a rule was changed or streamlined or new tech was introduced the group voted and a sixty percent majority was required for a change. Despite leading the group, I had the same single vote as everyone else and I didn't always get my way but then I threw my weight behind the group decision. I also recruited people to the 3DG who I knew would disagree with me (in a constructive way) because I wanted to stimulate debate. My philosophy was that if you get 30 intelligent people together then the chances are that anything on which the majority agree will probably be a decent idea.

Once Marvin joined, the previous harmony turned into a lot of arguments. In particular he wanted to overrule votes he didn't like and he wanted to change the rules to match his philosophy of game design. Now he did own the game (still does I think) so in the end it is up to him to decide what went into the rulebook. However, the whole point of the 3DG was to cater to those people who didn't like Marvin's philosophy of game design, I tried to point this out, along with the fact he would still make money from those people, but it wasn't well received. Eventually, he declared he was banning me from the 3DG, which I had formed in the first place. This wasn't very practical as I was the moderator for the Yahoo group so I ejected him instead. While this was satisfying in the short term, I probably should have tried to be more constructive but I was severely pissed off. Not only had I run the 3DG but I had created Starfire Assistant, which kept a lot of people playing the game, and published the Diary, which brought of lot of new players into the game in much the same way that AARs in the Wargamer forum have brought people to Aurora. I had done all of this for free and it had benefited Marvin financially.

After being ejected, Marvin declared he wouldn't accept any more work from the 3DG and instead he would form his own group to work on new 3rd edition products, along with new rules that used some of the 4th edition concepts. Still in pissed off mode (this was not my finest hour), I pointed out that pretty much everyone who played campaigns used Starfire Assistant and he could change whatever he liked but if Starfire Assistant didn't support the new rule, no one would use it anyway.

I think Marvin came to the realization at this point that Starfire Assistant had effectively become the arbiter of third edition rules rather than himself. This had been the situation for quite a while but I don't think he had fully appreciated it. So, despite allowing SA for more than ten years, he now declared that if I released any further updates to Starfire Assistant he would sue me for copyright infringement.

Now the sensible thing would have been to walk away at this point, especially as I had no financial interest and I could still use the software myself, but I wasn't exactly thinking straight. More flame wars ensued with threats thrown back and forth. Realizing that his third edition group was going nowhere, he then declared that he would no longer sell any third edition products and the reason he gave was because I was a threat to his copyright.

A friend in the Starfire group presented the problem to his law professor, who laid out the reasons why Marvin couldn't sue. The most important being that is there is no copyright on ideas or mechanics and as Starfire Assistant didn't includes any rules text, there was no infringement. So I published a bug fix and said go ahead and sue if you want to. No legal action was forthcoming, I published a couple more Starfire Assistant updates but the whole mess had soured my good feeling regarding Starfire and I left the mailing list for several months.

What I have written above paints Marvin in a bad light so it's only fair I should try and defend him as well. I do believe he genuinely wanted to improve Starfire and I am sure he saw no reason why Galactic Starfire wouldn't be well received. His faults are perhaps a lack of foresight and an inability to handle other people very well, especially in terms of understanding their perspective, rather than any malicious intent. Once things started to go off the rails he reacted to each problem with an attempt to preserve his control over the game, which is only reasonable as he laid out money for it in the first place, but he perhaps didn't think through the consequences of his actions or how other might perceive them. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to anyone I offended during this period as my emotions were running high at the time. I am looking back now with a much cooler head.

Eventually I decided to form a Yahoo group for those people interested in the continuing events of the Rigellian Diary and that group proved quite popular. With my renewed interest I was considering adding more to SA but after several long discussions in the Rigellian Diary group, I started work on a game of my own and Aurora was born. Aurora shares a few things in common with third edition Starfire in terms of flavour and genre, even though the mechanics are totally different. The Starfire novels are often referred to in the forums in terms of background setting. I wanted an epic, sci-fi game with a broad sweep of history in which I could build Empires with different personalities (for want of a better word). I also wanted a living, breathing Empire that would run partially by itself (the civilian sector and the default, conditional and cycling orders) so you could look at the strategic side of the game and delve down into detail where necessary. When aliens arrive, you should have to worry about the commercial traffic of the Empire rather than being purely military-led. I wanted detail, complexity and variety but not micromanagement, which is why you can automate significant portions of even large battles or get involved in targeting individual weapons.

I am a total details geek and will spend hours researching some obscure piece of information that most people won't ever care about. Aurora allows me to indulge that geekdom as much as I like . When looking at the design for Aurora, I initially considered a pure-Newtonian game that would include replicating modern day rocket technology and adding many current rocket engines to the starting tech. I learned a lot of the science involved in rocket technology and went into depth with various type of rocket fuel. At one point I even contacted a company in the US that manufactured rockets because I wanted to know the weight of the insulation on a particular cryogenic fuel tank . I did say be careful what you wish for . Another information odyssey began when I wanted the details of nuclear explosions in space. It turns out a lot of the information is classified but I made some guesses based on what I could learn and found a scientist on an obscure forum to confirm some of it. I still have several large documents on nuclear weapons testing and nuclear weapon effects. Eventually I realised than too much reality would mean not much fun because in reality space travel is really hard. Just building a spacecraft to get a payload to Mars would be a serious design effort in the initial version of the game. So I decided to find an acceptable compromise between reality and gameplay. I created the various trans-Newtonian aspects of the game to overcome the limitations of Newtonian physics and decided that I would use real science as much as I could but would sacrifice science for gameplay if necessary. My overriding concern though is to maintain internal consistency within whatever framework I set up. All elements of the game must work together in a realistic whole. If I find something that doesn't fit that consistency I rip it out and redesign it. For example, I was lying in bed one night when some math ran through my head and I realised you couldn't physically fit 10,000 colonists and cryogenic chambers into the size of original cryogenic transport module. I got up next day and redesigned it, eventually revising every commercial module and vessel to much larger sizes, which led to commercial engines, commercial jump drives and commercial shipyards. Obsession for detail can be detrimental to your spare time

Anyway, Aurora began to grow in popularity and Erik Luken kindly offered to host and administer these forums, which have grown considerably over the past couple of years. The Rigellian Diary group went into hibernation and everyone moved here and it become firstly the Aurora forum and then a more general set of forums which includes sections on Starfire and Starfire Assistant, as there are still active SA users, Erik's own games such as Astra Imperia and Þórgrímr's Beyond the Stars! A lot of third edition Starfire players have found their way here and have been joined by ever-increasing numbers of players from other sources and genres. I haven't really advertised the existence of the game apart from the occasional post on the wargamer forum and once on the Star Ranger forum a while back. Once I finish the tutorial, which will take a while, I might start posting in a few other places.

Looking back, I was very upset by the whole Starfire debacle at the time but it was probably the best thing that could have happened. It forced me to forget about assistant programs and build something of my own from the ground up. In a way it still seems very much like having fun with Lego bricks and cardboard, just on a grander scale and with the ability to share the fun with other people.


Talk about indulging my curiosity! Thanks for your candid post Steve...I feel that I don't only know a lot more about Aurora's creator, but I feel like I know a lot more about Aurora, as well.  Sorry if drafting your bio took time away from the next portion of the tutorial, of which I eagerly await!

PS - I've had quite a winding path professionally, as path has led me to the legal profession where I'm currently in private practice.  If you ever run into any legal issues with respect to Aurora or its IP, please do not hesitate to get in touch.  Although I'm overseas in the States, it would be my pleasure to assist in any way possible.


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