Malcolm Owen On February 13, 2006 at 2:21 pm

So, you may have noticed a slight change in the It looks a bit different and there are a few other things that were not on the site before today, but a lot of work has gone into making the new site. But to start with, we need to go back to the previous version.

Old and Busted

The old site was a mess of a design that stemmed far beyond it’s bad looks. More painful than it’s appearance was the system used to keep the articles in order.
Because of both Justin’s and My meagre knowledge of scripting, we ended up compromising on keeping all articles in separate folders that followed a vague logical procession, such as the interview for Pariah would be stored with a path of /articles/interviews/pariah/. This was an OK idea, except that by renaming a folder or moving it elsewhere, you had to edit every single page on the site that linked to it.
For lots of pages this would be painful without a database of some sort. The need to change to a more permanent database capable of a lot more grew until we found a way of doing it simply.
It also didn’t help that the lack of PHP ability on the old site made altering the layout of the entire site a pain. The layout was kept in .txt files and were called using Server Side Includes. The fact that if we wanted more includes we would have to butcher every single page on the site meant that we couldn’t change much of the site’s layout at all. It was a pain and I am glad to be rid of it.
The only real “Database-ish” part of the site was the news posting system, the now dead Newspro, and despite being some fantastic scripting, it just didn’t have the ability to deal with huge file sizes, that got generated over many months of news posts.

The original hosts of Gametactics were perfect for the job based on the old system. It was cheap, it had limits that we could never dream to use up, and it was cheap (It’s said twice, because it’s important). It didn’t have any free database facilities with it as they cost a lot more than they were worth to us at the time with the original system.
The fact that we were into the swing of things with our folders meant that implementing a system that could actually use the databasing would be a waste of time that could be spent doing other things. That, and the fear of spending money on an extra hosting feature that we would probably never use, meant we stayed far away from the dark world of MySQL.
Eventually, like most sites, we overgrew the allotted amounts. We had a massive 50MB of webspace and 6GB of bandwidth to play with, and at the time that was a huge amount. Indeed, it would be a rare month if we would go over 2GB of traffic, since we didn’t offer huge screenshot galleries nor demos or similar items.
When we did first reach 50mb, some of the larger parts of the site were moved to other accounts with the same host to keep the levels down, but we then just gave up.

How could you run an expanding site on 50mb of webspace without having some space to expand to in the first place? Simple. You move somewhere that does.

New Hotness
The new hosts we have gone for are Dreamhost. Aside from some stuff that’s quite normal and useful to us (such as the ability to view webpages put on their servers and the whole “e-mail” thing), there’s the weirdness of their hosting allocations.
At the time of writing, they offered 1TB of bandwidth per month (167 times higher than we had on the old hosts) and 20GB of webspace to play with (400 times what we had before). Yes, these are crazy numbers, but it gets better. The limits increase on a weekly basis, so we get more bandwidth and space all the time. Even I would have trouble increasing the site by 160mb a week. I would try, but I would give up quite quickly.
Their other bonus features include the ability to abuse .htaccess to block people from leeching away our bandwidth by linking to our images, and one click installs of various programs like WordPress and phpBB. The best thing of all happens to be the ability to use database stuff without any extra charge, which is handy…

After much research, we found a new system to run the site on: VG Portal. Basically, it’s like a gaming website administration control panel thing that does clever things with databases. It was relatively cheap compared to the many hours of making a system from scratch and still had people working on it to keep it updated with new stuff. It also worked straight away with Dreamhost, which was a plus point. Despite a few teething troubles and a few features that are still being coded that we would love to have, such as RSS feeds (but they will hopefully be done soon, according to their forums).
VG Portal has quite a few good features, like the ability to group all articles based on a single game to appear in a list on a game’s page, and the fact that you can relate the same article to multiple games (handy if it’s a press release about a games compendium). The most useful of all is the screenshot galleries, where by uploading images for a specific album, the scripts resize, thumbnail, change the quality and watermark screenshots to a more user-friendly size. The need to abuse Photoshop is now gone. Automation is good!
There are more features to VG portal than I can remember off the top of my head right now, and most don’t even need considering by readers since most are for administration, but the ability to create game lists based on users and the ability to reply to comments on the site makes things a lot more interesting for you lot.

Of the One Click Install programs on Dreamhost, phpBB has to be the best of what is available. For the princely sum of zilch, Gametactics has a fully working forum system with all of the usual features that you don’t need to go over here. It’s extremely useful to use because VGPortal can “integrate” with it so that members of the forum can use the extra facilities of the site like collections and commenting specific articles. It also saved a lot of time by not needing to organise the profiles pages in the VG Portal system.

Adding user interaction was a difficult decision. We had wanted to do this for quite a long time, but the sophistication of such a system would have been too much work. Since VG Portal does this natively, the question arose again, and we have decided to go with it. Hopefully it will mean a much healthier site and the possibility of a community being born.

Aside from some cosmetic changes to the main site, that’s about it really. Go forth and enjoy the new site. We hope to add more new stuff to the site in the future, not only in terms of articles (thanks to having extra time because of not needing to do HTML stuff anymore. The VG Portal has some nice layout scripting that works like a simple word processor that saves heaps of time and headaches at remembering how to do bold and italic text in notepad) but also in terms of features (Printer friendly pages anyone?)

A few months of work, a fair few headaches and many mistakes of overwriting new data we uploaded literally seconds before, and now it’s ready. Mostly.

Go forth and explore, and enjoy the new lands of enlightenment! Before I screw up again!

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