Another year has passed, I’m returning again to look after my website… and boy, this doesn’t look good at all. Literally. After running to get confirmation from my girlfriend, the verdict is clear: this website’s style has aged, and it hasn’t aged well. Not only is it green, it also looks totally 2007. Which, coincidentally, was when I designed it.

It's the Hulk!

So I decided to overhaul everything, starting from scratch. First, some backend maintenance needed to be done though. Since update 3.2, WordPress doesn’t support MySQL4 databases anymore. I think I already had had the choice to use a MySQL5 database when I started this, but I can’t for the life of me remember why I chose to make do with the older version. Hence, I had to migrate the old database to a new version before I’d be able to do any design work.

That done, I really did start from scratch. The current version of WordPress comes with the theme Twenty Eleven 1.2, and I used that as a basis for what you can see now. So far I’ve only modified some of the PHP templates and fiddled a bit with the CSS. I’m sure I’ll do a lot more before I fall into the next hiatus which’ll surely last until next year’s summer.  😉

Stay tuned.

It’s That Time of the Year Again…

…when I decide to post an update to my website, which I have shamefully neglected for the past twelve months. Despite promising regular updates every time I do this, I never actually do it. Oh well…

However, there’s actually something to report. I added a linkroll for my Delicious bookmarks to the Links page, replacing the text that stated that I would, at some undetermined point in the future, add some actual links to the page. Tadaa! The linkroll will always display the most recent bookmarks I save to Delicious, and I might even play around with the CSS to style them properly. Might. Might not.

In other news, I jumped on the Twitter bandwagon. As with other fancy Web 2.0 stuff, I’m one of the first to know about it, and one of the last to adopt it. So, if you feel like following my more or less regular tweets, go to my Twitter page.

So long!

Cleaning Up My WordPress Theme

Today I spent at least five hours working on my WordPress theme. I haven’t really done much programming in XHTML/CSS in the past year, so it took quite some time to get into the code again. The stylesheet for the layout was a complete mess, and while I updated the WordPress software to 2.8.2 last saturday, some of the PHP files in my theme were “leftovers” from the old version. You get the picture.

After what I did today, the stylesheet looks much better, and major parts of the XHTML are way cleaner than before. As a result, the code validates again properly via the W3C Markup Validation Service. Now, let’s have a look at what changed for someone who visits the site.

I did a complete overhaul of the metadata for each entry (time and date of the posting, categories, tags and the link to the comment area), so the distinction between the actual post and the metadata appears clearer. The same was done for the metadata in the comment area, aka the single post page. This went along with some cleaning up of font sizes, colors, hyperlink behaviour and of course lots of wrestling with the infamous paddings and margins.

The second, big change concerns the comment area. I’ve tweaked all the forms (the input fields for name, e-mail and website, as well as the input area for the comment text), and brought the formatting of the actual comments in line with the rest of the site layout. Last but not least, I implemented support for Gravatar icons in the comments. Since WordPress supports this since version 2.5, it was only a matter of adding some PHP to the comments template. Visitors who already signed up with Gravatar and uploaded an image will now see it appear next to their comments.

After today’s programmathon, there’s not all that much more to do. I might tweak some small things here and there, but don’t expect any revolutionary changes in the near future… unless I decide to rebuilt the layout from scratch on a whim. 😉

Gaming Made Me

Recently, I stumbled upon a set of posts on PC gaming blog Rock, Paper, Shotgun called Gaming Made Me. These stories, written by the authors of RPS and quite a few guest authors connected to the games business, brought back many memories about my own history in gaming and a huge sense of nostalgia. Thinking about which games made me the gamer I am today, I decided to follow suit and write my own story. This is the first part of this story, and I’m going to touch on one of the earliest games I played, roundabout 20 years ago.

My father owned an IBM personal computer back then. It came equipped with an 8088 processor and a monochrome Hercules Graphics Card, running MS-DOS from a 10 MB harddrive. I distincly remember having to tweak DOS bootdisks in order to be able to run some of the games I played, but that’s a completely different story. Aside from the obvious (Pacman, anyone?), there’s one game in particular that I want to mention here.

Today, one of my favourite game genres is RPGs, Role-Playing-Games. (You should read this article over on Gamasutra if you’re interested in the development of the RPG genre in general.) I owe this fascination to no small degree to one game which I played on my father’s old machine: Wizardry VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge.

Where could this staircase lead to?

Where could this staircase lead?

In Bane, the player controls a party of up to six characters in first-person perspective during their voyage through a three-dimensional world. The party embarks on a quest to retrieve the Cosmic Forge, a quill which can be used by its wielder to control time and space, from an abandoned castle full of monsters, traps and treasure. The whole game world is based on square tiles, and the party moves around in the four cardinal directions, one tile at a time. Some tiles are guarded by monsters, and upon stepping on such a tile, turn-based combat ensues. Other tiles hold, among other things, treasure chests, doors that have to be unlocked or deadly traps that need to be disarmed.

From today’s perspective, the game will seem awfully crude to most (younger) gamers. Pixelated graphics, whacky animations, and beeping sounds. For me, it was a revelation. I would play the game for hours, thrilled by the possibilities of exploring this mysterious world, fantasizing about the secrets I might uncover. The game didn’t feature an automap, so I would draw elaborate maps on graph paper, annotating every nook and cranny I came across. With a smile I remember my surprise upon meeting a creature that would not actually attack me on first sight but rather try to engage in conversation and offer to sell some strange items which would help me on my quest. Looking back, it was mostly the suspense about what I might find in the game’s huge world, and not so much the things I actually did encounter, that made up the immense fascination: there was enough room for my own fantasies. The graphics weren’t such a big deal either. This was long before “real” 3D engines and high resolution artwork. Nowadays the game might look bad in comparison: but when I played it I simply couldn’t imagine anything better.

Back then, I didn’t really understand the plot of the game, not to speak of the many smaller stories and sometimes rather difficult puzzles the game had to offer, and I never finished it. Nevertheless, Wizardry VI, the game that introduced me to computer RPGs, made a deep impression on me at the time and I still remember it fondly today.

Updating WordPress

Since I’ve never really done much here since I built the original site, the WordPress version I was using was pretty old already. Today I finally got ’round to taking care of that, and it seems I was successful: the “news” page is now running the latest WordPress version, 2.8.2, and thanks to the new update routine, upgrading should be much easier in the future.

On the administrative side, there’s the new WordPress content management system/dashboard which makes quite a few tasks more convenient to handle for me. On the visitor’s side, there’s not much new at the first glance. However, you might notice the overhauled sidebar, which is now widget-enabled for more compatibility if I decide to add new sidebar items in the future.