If you're reading this, you already well know that CoN celebrated its fifth birthday on July 31, 2002 by launching an entirely new site - the first one with an all-new backbone since the very first site. The advances behind CoN5 were nearly a year in the making, and were completed just in time for launch on July 31.
What was the first CoN you visited? Are you a diehard fan from 1997, who remembers an infamous tiled background to the page? Did you come and stick around for the first time in 1999, when the first forums appeared, or in 2001 when the CoN gave up being an FF6-only site? Maybe this is your first visit - but, even so, you're reading this just like everyone else. Maybe you're wondering where CoN came from, or wanting to see some stuff from CoN history so you understand a bit more about where we've been and where we're going. Don't worry, this feature is for you!
Final Fantasy III - Caves of Narshe
31 July 1997 - 31 October 1998
Number of Pages: Roughly 30
See This Site in Action!
R51 had just picked up his keyboard in the summer of 1997 to begin a career in web development. Back then, not only was broadband barely on the horizon, unlimited-use ISPs were still nascent—and R51 had to beg his parents and chip in to get unlimited time online to mess with websites.
R51 had just graduated from high school, and was doing little with his life that would be of any interest to this article, aside from this: he had a lot of free time. He'd already made a horrid little example of a personal web page (which really wasn't that bad for the time), and was looking for something else to do. After a month of being frustrated, trying to find a subject, he stumbled upon his favorite game, three years old and still jacked into his SNES. He, with AOL Message Board buddy Moogle30, grabbed an FF3 Strategy Guide and went to work.
Oblivious to any competition, the pair culled data from the guide, beating it to a pulp going after character data, Amano art, and a thin packet of other data. CoN launched on July 31, 1997 after about a month's work, and was astonished when a hundred people came in the first week.
The site wasn't pretty, and the site wasn't all that popular, but it was a labor of love. It set the philosophy that would become the guiding principle of CoN future - Do It Because You Love It.
- R51 adopted a chocobo for his site from http://www.hudsonnet.com/~kefka/
- Fanfics made an appearance.
- Made acquaintance with Neal and Rubicant via the AOL FF3 message board.
Caves of Narshe 2
1 November 1998 - 23 January 1999
Number of Pages: Roughly 50
See This Site in Action!
Everyone gets tired of the same old sights and sounds sometime. It took a little over a year for the first iteration of CoN to get onto R51's nerves. The colors started to look too dark; the washed-out appearance of Terra on the Magitek Armor was losing its luster. And Old English-style calligraphy for the fonts simply had to go.
R51 cranked out most of the second version of CoN while on a weeklong vacation. That alone should go miles to show the overall quality of said site. Version 2 was essentially a new painted face over the same site, and it just didn't go over all that well. The background colors clashed with the text, and R51 was bedeviled fixing stylistic problems all over the site. Meanwhile, Moogle30 was starting to drift away into his University studies, leaving development in a much slower state, particularly development of new and enhanced content.
However, the second CoN was a huge turning point for the site. Among other things, witness the birth of the modern CoN through the following:
- Branching into multiple servers. AOL's 2MB wasn't cutting it anymore; visitors to CoN2 were treated to a bouncing around from one AOL directory to another, and later out to a pair of Xoom servers (this was long before Xoom started to suck and was purchased by the less-than-venerable NBCi). That last sentence meant nothing to 80% of you, did it?
- Branching into other games. After playing the original Parasite Eve, R51 was infatuated and put up a shrine to said game, mirroring the CoN layout with different colors. This site never had the effort put into it, and it did not continue after the demise of CoN2.
- Focus on Fan Works. It was at this time that R51 began seeking out fanart and fanfics by talented artists to give visitors a bit more of an in-depth visit.
- Forums. Well, a newsgroup, anyway. DejaNews, long since dead, was the host for the first CoN community with a forum structure. Made acquaintance with Elena99.
- Adopt a Chocobo. The site from whence R51 adopted his chocobo had died, without ever even putting a link to the CoN on the parents' page! Through sketchy logic and ethics, R51 decided to make AaC his own. It should be noted that two years later, the old Webmaster of the original AaC reappeared from nowhere and gave CoN the blessing to continue on.
- The CoN acronym. Pronounce it how you like, version two marked its first appearance in the vernacular of FF fans.
Final Fantasy III/VI - Caves of Narshe 3
24 January 1999 - 31 December 2000
Number of Pages: Roughly 100
See the first CoN3 in Action!
See the second CoN3 in Action!
See the final CoN3 in Action!
As seen above, CoN felt the threat of competition at the end of 1998; in the typically melodramatic style of R51, the decision was made to adapt or die. And as has since happened time and again, CoN adapted because R51 had no desire to let it die.
CoN3 was, up until the launch of CoN5, the most dramatic departure in style and implementation yet. Whereas the previous designs had been bright, bold, and colorful, CoN3 was dark and subdued. The overall effect was far more sophisticated overall.
In the meantime, the header frame changed. With a little help from a graphics guy named Artificial_Kaos, a header was developed that was far more stylish (and far less black) header. It provided easy access to all the great features of CoN3 like the guestbook, site help, and new and far fancier forum.
- Proved the ability to make a CoN that didn't look like a sixth-grader did it.
- Added a far better forum, illustrating the desire to communicate with other fans.
- Made the switch to Japanese nomenclature, vastly reducing the ire of FF "purists" who harassed R51 at every turn.
- Met the guru Tiddles, who has since been instrumental in every technological leap made by CoN.
- Lost the... non-guru Moogle30, who finally became completely lost in his studies and vanished.
Caves of Narshe 4
1 January 2001 - 30 July 2002
URL: http://www.cavesofnarshe.com/ , http://con.opgaming.com/
Staff: 5 - 8
Number of Pages: Nearly 400
See This Site in Action!
This site used an immense amount of technology to which R51 had never previously had access. As an excuse to learn Photoshop 5.5 and Dreamweaver 3, he began development of a massive update to CoN that would involve far more impressive graphics and complicated coding than anyone had ever seen in a previous version.
This is where it got tricky, though - nobody would ever take the site seriously, regardless of cool design, unless it could get up into the upper echelon of FF sites. That tends to require money, sadly, and R51 is a notorious cheapskate. So, here's how it went down.
Forums: The UBB software is not cheap. It was $200 when CoN4 was in development, probably more now, greedy bastards. However, one was purchased for R51's project but never used. And as such CoN inherited it. How nice, eh? But even more than that, R51 knew nothing of Perl. Luckily, a guy previously mentioned in the CoN3 section by the name of Tiddles did. And he knew UBBs back and forth. There's a staff member for you.
Staff: The site was starting to get a bit ungainly toward the end of CoN3, way too much for a person to add to or maintain himself. It was time to call in the chips of the really good friends made over the years of FF3; Neal, Rubicant, come on down! Rocky, do some work! Elena99, you're more than welcome! Eventually, we added some more great staff, but the core has remained the same since months before the launch of CoN4.
Domain: Who really wants to type a long address to come to a site? Time to invest a little change and get http://www.cavesofnarshe.com online. Of course, that requires a new host, too. We hooked up first with a free host that worked great for us for a few months, but more on that later.
Soon after launch, we realized that our shiny new UBB forums were true bandwidth hogs. We were going well over our transfer limit every month, and we were being threatened by the host that we would get shut down. Hence, we nuked half the forums (the most popular but least important half, unfortunately). This caused a great uproar and a loss of overall traffic.
We were still, however, able to bring a new game permanently into the CoN. FF4, considered by many to be the only FF close to matching FF6, has always been begging for attention but receiving little. CoN wanted to change that, and so launched a FF4 section that up until now has still sadly lagged behind in terms of completeness and popularity. This necessitated a lot of new image work and layout play, which in hindsight damaged CoN4 badly. The motive was, and still is, good, though.
Soon after that, this great free host started putting up popup ads on the site without permission. As if losing half the forums wasn't bad enough, well, this was the last straw. We jumped ship as soon as we could to The Legacy Network, who promised us good stuff all around. And we got it. We thought we had a good home! Small ads, lots of space, and development tools that gave us the idea for CoN5! What could go wrong? Well, a lot of things, unfortunately. The host overreached, and for some reason the hostmaster thought he was capable of hosting 40 sites his first month. When the bills started racking up, he started abusing his hostees to cover his own mistakes. The final abuse was in January of 2002, when CoN received an email informing us that we were losing hosting because we just weren't popular enough. About 20 other sites got the same email.
R51 was panicked. After all the effort he had put into CoN, he couldn't let it die for lack of a host. However, having staff paid off again, as Rubicant offered a permanent home at OPGaming, his own server. R51 gladly accepted, and CoN5 development continued while CoN4 charged on with strong forums and a brand new IRC chat channel. Legacy? Well, they failed about two months later. Incompetent management, we bet.
So, that brings us to where we are now. http://con.opgaming.com/ - a happy little village. You know about CoN5, since you're there right now. Why not read a bit more about how it came to be?
- Dropped "Final Fantasy VI" from the site name. It's so much more than that now!
- Added a second game. Perhaps we can someday become the preeminent site for Final Fantasy—2019 at this rate, perhaps?
- Got a domain. Welcome to the REAL Internet, CoN.
- Added affiliates to increase traffic.
- Met Gerad and Hikaroo, who became long-serving staff at the dawn of CoN5.
Caves of Narshe 5
31 July 2002
URL: http://www.cavesofnarshe.com/ , http://con.opgaming.com/
Number of Pages: Cut to about 50, plus forums.
We mentioned in the CoN4 section that our move to Legacy sparked R51's design imagination yet again, well after CoN4 had started to stagnate. CoN4, new host and all, just wasn't going anywhere. The design was good, but there were others out there with far better technology.
At that point, R51 had a mildly boring epiphany: the new host has PHP and mySQL. Why not take advantage? For those who are not as geeky as the site masters, here's a quick explanation. SQL is a database that allows you to store all kinds of chunks of information in a compact form. PHP, among other things, interacts with SQL to take that information from the database and make it visible to a web browser. It's faster, cleaner, and far more space efficient than HTML can ever be.
So R51 set off to learn PHP for the new site, while bringing in the staff and friends to compile the massive database that would contain all of the game data. In the meantime, he began generating potential designs.
Concept 1: "The Arch"
As you can see from the pictures, the first design concept that was mocked up bore a striking resemblance to an archway. In the first color scheme, the colors were ridiculously bright and bold. They just didn't mesh well, and the cookie-cutter satin texture, in hindsight, kinda screams "tawdry!"
The second picture shows a revised color scheme that burned the retinas far less. The dark, dark blues were far more attractive, but the overall design still was not fantastic. The navigation had an appearance of being very bubbly and cartoonish, and didn't fit in well with the style of the previous versions of CoN.
You'll notice the addition of fanart to this second image. Near the beginning of CoN5 development, the staff were discussing ways to make the site a unique place for Final Fantasy fans. Having always been a fan of fanart, R51 decided to put some pieces into the layout, which you can see here. And it worked out well, aside from having decapitated Terra in this first design.
You'll note at this point, Hikaroo was brought on to the staff, having impressed the entire site with her fanart. She was detailed to create some new pieces for the site - but nobody aside from staff was told exactly why. R51's a secretive fellow.
Concept 2: "The Final"
The Arch concept just didn't sit well overall with the staff. It was good, but not great. So R51 went back to the Photoshop and made some major modifications. What he came up with is essentially what you see today as CoN5. You've already seen the finished product, so we'll take a moment just to review some interesting tidbits you may have missed.
- The design is a very natural evolution from CoN4.
- A strong navigation remains on the right side of all pages. Whereas all navigation was on the right side of CoN4, CoN5 replaces it with a global navigation.
- The "tab bar" of CoN4 remains. Where you could access the staff page and the jukebox using it in CoN4, now it serves as a global navigation between games.
- The color scheme is not entirely different. The dark blue used often in CoN4 makes up the largest band of color crossing through the middle of CoN5.
- CoN5 looks the way it does as a result of a design process, regardless of how you might think we run things here.
- As previously mentioned, the design was meant to be an extension of CoN4, not a drastic departure.
- The initial color scheme involved much more use of the bright yellow color - it was changed to present a more sophisticated face for the site.
- The large curves, while not yet beautiful, are a protest to the squared-off look of 95% of websites out there today. Just because HTML won't handle curved layouts itself doesn't mean they're impossible.
Tiddles, based on the evolved design, primarily wrote the final layout code. He took the compromise of using some modern CSS design to create the desired effect, at the expense of offending the sensibilities of older browsers, the argument being that it is now possible to download a relatively standards-compliant browser that will run on the majority of platforms. A particular feature that troubles ancient browsers is the CSS background position and repeating control - a shame, really, since CoN2 would have really benefited from it.
And, now, since you've seen CoN5 and what led up to its debut, there's really no more reason to spout off useful information. It's trivia time.
- CoN5 was set to launch on 31 July 2002 at noon Central. However, at 11:59, R51's Internet access at work died and the actual launch wasn't possible until 12:15. R51 was not a happy camper.
- To annoy the staff further, OPGaming's server died for two hours later that same afternoon.
- Most of the PHP that runs game data was written by R51. However, the part that is actually attractive can be attributed to Tiddles, who had never touched PHP prior to two weeks pre-launch.
- All of the staff had new avatars for the launch. Unless their nicknames began with 'R'. None of those staffers changed avatars. Rubicant has since screwed that up. >_>
- CoN had more traffic in the first week of CoN5 than the last MONTH of CoN4.
- Nobody will ever find the "special" page without staff help. And staff won't help.