CoN History, Part II
The Life and Times of CoN5
Last Updated 18 November 2005
Number of Pages: There are over 2000 PHP files that drive the entire site.
CoN5 has been in existence for almost three and a half years now—by far the longest of any version of the site thus far—but the history hadn't been updated at all. It's high time to catch people up again, this time to bring us all up to date on occurrences from August 2002 to the end of 2005.
New Game Coverage
This is the single thing in CoNHistory that has brought us the most satisfaction (not to mention traffic. We're traffic whores. Didn't you know that by now?). When we add a game to the selection here, we try to do it right. And we think that by and large, we've done it more right than anyone else out there. Since the launch of CoN5, we've added four games to the stable, increasing quality each and every time.
Final Fantasy V: The enhanced usability provided by the PHP system allowed us to more quickly build game coverage. For instance, adding Final Fantasy IV was a project that took R51 alone roughly eight months to complete using HTML. Using PHP and other game coverage as a basis, the staff were able to add Final Fantasy V, the first game added in the CoN5 era, in half that time. Final Fantasy V coverage was officially added to the site on 15 February 2003, only half a year since the debut of CoN5 as a whole. Of course, it wasn't and isn't everyone's favorite game, but in adding the section CoN maintained its progress as the site to visit for coverage of the older and less-universally-played games of the series at a time when the media and the newer fans were infatuated with Final Fantasy IX.
Final Fantasy Tactics: This game was underrated from the beginning, but those who played it would generally acknowledge that it was a fabulous game that deserved more credit. R51 was among those—as the first of only a handful of folks to preorder the game in all of Springfield, he knew all along that it was a great game and really deserved to be on CoN. For that reason, he had begun the groundwork for bringing Tactics to CoN even as the Final Fantasy V section was in development. By that time the game was already five years old, and had just become an underdog Greatest Hit. While it deviated from the series previously covered by CoN, both in era and in style, enthusiasm was high among much of the staff to do the game justice. And do it justice we did; by collecting data from a myriad of sources, we created one of the most comprehensive looks at Tactics anywhere online, and released it to the world on 30 April 2003, a scant two and a half months after Final Fantasy V.
Final Fantasy I: A giant leap backward in time! After the successful launch of Final Fantasy Tactics, we took a break. A break we call "eh, feeling kinda lazy." It happens, right? But behind the scenes, whenever we could manage it, we were working on a large series of new projects, including some for new games, some involving new technology, some involving just keeping our heads above water. We'll get into all that later, of course. But all the while, we were generating content for two new games and some funky-fresh features to go with them. We started both at the same time, but the first one out of the gate was Final Fantasy I.
We decided to add Final Fantasy I to the site because it really is the true root of everything we had wanted to do in the past. It is, of course, the origin of the series, and it is badly underrated by many fans of the newest and hottest games. Some find it archaic (including, it seems, Square-Enix), some find it boring, and some find it too bloody hard. It's a totally different animal than the games released ten and fifteen years later, and that really made it attractive to CoN staff. Taking a cue from Final Fantasy IV, we collated data from the original NES and the Final Fantasy Origins Playstation release and built a data switcher to dynamically swap from one to the other. For such a simple game, it has been made quite complex by time, and we think that CoN handled it with aplomb! Final Fantasy I debuted on the site on 15 August 2004
Final Fantasy VII: Here, ladies and gentlemen, you have the current pinnacle of CoN capability, like it or not. Doing Final Fantasy VII was a highly contentious project—did it mesh with our goals and standards? Did it attract the same audience that CoN was known for? Debates continued for quite a while, in fact, but in the end we're thrilled to have done it! This project was not only our most ambitious to date, even exceeding the entirety of CoN5, it also took us the longest. Tiddles started up development of the Final Fantasy VII section as the project manager simultaneously with R51's management of Final Fantasy I; however, the grand scope of the sixth game at CoN and the seventh of the Final Fantasy series required an additional seven months of development and the help of a large group of our friends to get off the ground. In our normal cheeky way, we released the Final Fantasy VII site on 13 February 2005. It's a big game, and it has a lot of information. But with a lot of writers, a lot of data entry folks, and a lot of code, all of which we'll talk about more later, CoN developed what is quite possibly the finest collection of Final Fantasy VII data to ever grace a Final Fantasy site.
New Site Features
Again, let us reiterate just how flexible CoN5 is. We can build features into the site that would require other sites to start from the ground up, simply because our templating system can integrate new code into the original almost seamlessly. Between Tiddles and R51 (mostly Tiddles), there has been created a lovely, crystalline network of nerddom that bends to our will. In the last three and a half years, features have arrived to the site that, again, have caused the webmasters of other Final Fantasy sites to weep gently into their large Chocobo pillows. We're not being arrogant here. It actually happened. Honest. We'd discuss them in chronological order, but we're not quite sure that we actually remember.
CoNQuiz: Ah, yes, the late, great CoNQuiz. This really was a pretty savvy little gadget; if you missed it, you missed out on ten questions per month for each game we covered at the time—at the beginning this included only Final Fantasy IV and VI, but later grew to include Final Fantasy V as well. Every month, qualifying forum members could log in and take the quizzes and compete against each other for top scores in the CoNQuiz Hall of Fame. To make it even more interesting, Tiddles developed a stopwatch function to check your time on each quiz. So, if you decided to doublecheck your answers, great. But you were going to suffer relative to the people who could finish the quiz in seconds. The quiz died, sadly, due to maintenance and qualification issues. It's always lying in wait, though, and you never can tell if it's going to show up again to insane you right up.
Style Switcher: While it was once the domain of only big corporate sites or out-of-the-box forum systems, Tiddles and R51 developed a robust skinning system for CoN back in April of 2003 to change the look and feel of the site at the user's whim. It debuted on 1 April 2003 in something of a public beta test, in the guise of an April Fool's joke. The full skinning system was made available to the public just afterward, in the early summer of 2003. At the time of the launch, we included a fun collection of the two previous designs, updated to hold all the CoN5 functionality in place. We also offered up a selection of CoN5 beta designs, known as Arch, and Tiddles followed soon after with the popular Digi style for forums and site both. More designs are on the horizon—we know it's been a while, but you'll like what you get.
Crossreferencing: On many sites, to find related data you must seek the data out one piece at a time. Not so with CoN—our data tables work together in many ways to automatically produce links to information relevant to what you're already looking at. We're not breaking any new ground here; crossreferencing of data has been around since the earliest reference books, if not even earlier. But CoN generates the majority of these links on-the-fly so that they can be very quickly updated and corrected at any time necessary. We're still rolling out this technology even now.
Dynamic Data Parsing: For the original Final Fantasy IV section, the switch between SNES and PSX was, well, a little bit clunky. Sorry about that. And also sorry about the fact that it still kinda is. But if you've seen the Final Fantasy I or Final Fantasy VII sections, you've seen the future. The data switching, all the way down to names and images, can all be swapped as you want it simply by switching data sets in the navigation for that game. Final Fantasy I lets you switch between NES and PSX versions, while FF7 uses the same technology to turn on and off our custom spoilering feature. It's fluid and fast, and you had better enjoy it. Are you enjoying it yet? Yeah, that's right you are.
Most fan-sites seem to base their success on the size of their forums. Having huge forums is nice, I guess. But at CoN, we have always based our success on the combination of quality and size both, and to be honest we find ourselves quite successful. CoN5's forums have grown along with us and have done so quite excellently.
We began CoN5 using IkonBoard software for the forums. It was a pretty solid setup, and the price was sure right. It did its job for quite a while, until 1 September 2003, when we moved over to the Invision Power Board platform, complete with all our posts and style intact. In fact, we even built some new sharp functionality into those forums that made things just a bit easier to use. But we're not going to go into that. Just know that we did good things for you and that you reap the benefits whether you know it or not.
The forums were partially reset when we went to IkonBoard due to insurmountable compatibility issues with the older system. It was a clean slate in terms of total posts back then, three and a half years ago. In that time, we've amassed over one hundred thousand posts, at the following landmarks:
- 5000 posts: 18 November 2002
- 10000 posts: 25 March 2003
- 20000 posts: 31 October 2003
- 30000 posts: 22 February 2004
- 50000 posts: 4 July 2004
- 100000 posts: 26 October 2005
Hosting and Domain Oddities
If you've read the first CoNHistory document, and you should because it's probably more entertaining, you already know that the site went for years before it had a proper host or domain. But, even once we got one, things have been up and down from time to time. It happens when you're a site that has grown from year to year in the way that CoN has.
At the time of the CoN5 launch, we'd already had to move to Rubicant's OPGaming server, and take up residence at http://con.opgaming.com/. By the time we were able to move off of OPG on 4 November 2003, we actually had used the con.opgaming.com as our primary address for longer than we'd been able to use the real http://www.cavesofnarshe.com/ address since we got our hands on it. We would personally love to blame Rubes for this, but hey. He hosted us for free, and we're not that big of ingrates. Plus, there's plenty of other stuff we could blame on him if we really felt like it.
Since November 2003, we've been hosted on no fewer than six different physical web servers kept by two different web hosting companies. If that sounds like a lot, it's because it really, truly is. R51 is annoyed to this day that we've bounced around that much in the last two years, and you should be too. In fact, if you want to complain about this fact, feel free to write the following comment down: "R51, we demand that you get a better job and have more money to get a more reliable host." For best results, you should write this comment on a twenty-dollar bill, and mail it to R51 directly.
However, it's good to note that the current host, as long as it performs well, will remain a good home for CoN for some time. Tiddles and R51 have all the functionality they want for future development, because they admin the server themselves and can do just about whatever they please. Additionally, this server has the room to grow that we need—in the past two years, our monthly bandwidth tab has nearly doubled. So, in short, here's hoping that we can stick here just a little bit!
As a final note regarding all things hosting, don't forget that on 26 August 2004 we began our own hosting experience by offering hosting to Fierce Legends Software and Master Zed's Unoriginal White Sheet. While we haven't heard much out of FLS lately, we believe that both are still quite happy with their overall experience with us. At least as happy as free hosting can make someone, right?
As with everything else, the staff have changed a lot in the years since CoN5 launched. It's understandable. As the time wears on, people lose interest or their lives fill up with other things; but at the same time, the circle of web geek life moves on and we have people wanting to do more and more. So, here's a general notion of who's done and is doing what. For up to the moment information, you'll want to check the Staff page.
- 6 February 2003: First CoN5 Staff additions, CypherEX and SSJ_Cloud.
- 5 May 2003: Gerad Departs CoN to concentrate on his studies.
- 28 October 2003: Phoenix joins the CoN staff.
- 17 June 2004: Tommah joins the staff while SSJ_Cloud shifts roles.
- 28 September 2004: Hikaroo steps down from her role as official CoN artist.
- 13 February 2005: Mr Thou proves his worth on the FF7 section and joins the staff.
- 23 April 2005: Elena99 shifts roles to be an advisor to the senior staff.
- 14 September 2005: The beginning of the new wad of staff: Mr Thou becomes a global moderator and senior staff, Hanyou becomes a global moderator, and Sabin, Caesar, Djibriel, and Super Moogle all join up as forum moderators.
- 7 October 2005: Slightly late, we announce the joining of SilverFork as a News Reporter, and Kappa the Imp, Del S, and Mimic as staffers.
- 3 November 2005: The last current staff changes bring the number to a surprising 19, and add Karasuman, Laszlow, and Zero_Hawk as News Reporters. SilverFork moves right in to oversee them as our latest News Editor.
CoN5, without doubt, has been the most popular site we have ever developed. There are a lot of things that go into that, of course; adding more and better coverage of games, our compilation of RPG and Squenix news, and even the evil way in which we run the forums and supress all forms of free speech, opinion, or individuality seem to be bringing folks in. Of course, there are many things that also take away from traffic numbers, like random site outages, server moves, or just sea changes—all of which have come in from time to time over the last years.
As we said above, our bandwidth has nearly doubled in just the last two years. Since the very beginning of CoN5, it's more like eight times the original value between the most recent stats of October 2005 and the original stats of August 2002. Of course, bandwidth is not the only factor in determining a site's traffic, because there are a lot of variables that make up the value of a transfer statistic. The same can be said for any stat, really; however, it's clear from looking at the chart to the left that traffic has been on the rise and is still trending generally upward.
Logocoaster... wait, no.
Being educated as a soulless advertiser, R51 understands the power of branding. Up until recently, though, CoN had no true brand of its own, no single unifying factor that visually identified all items under a unified, recognizable banner. Altogether late in the game, that's changed. As a celebration and a gift to those who helped CoN reach one hundred thousand posts at the forums, we debuted a new logo that will from now on form the basis for things that need to look like they came from here. The logo will start appearing on all sorts of items over the coming months, both on the site and physically within the CoNStore. Take a look to your right, as if you haven't already, to check it out, and add your voice to the rave reviews.
A few trivial facts about the new logo:
- The logo began as a digital doodle, not as a specific plan; R51 created silhouettes of icons and art for several different FF games, but really liked the Chocobo.
- The design was created all within the CoN team using Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator CS.
- The text below the graphical elements of the logo is made up of a combination of graphical elements and the Segoe UI font. If it looks really familiar, you're probably a Windows Vista beta tester (Segoe UI will be the default Windows font in the new Vista), or you really know your fonts and have seen the Frutiger font on which it's based.
- It's quite flexible: it's been tested with several different color schema and texture additions, and can be used at virtually any size.
- The logo represents many stages of the CoN life cycle up to the present time.
- The chocobo silhouette is modified from Final Fantasy Tactics concept art.
- The diamond shape behind the chocobo, as well as the inclusion of Japanese text, is inspired by the Shin-Ra logo from Final Fantasy VII.
- The Japanese text itself appears on the Final Fantasy VI soundtrack—thanks to Karasuman, it reads "Colliery Town Narshe." The coal mines of Narshe gave the site its name many years ago.
So, what's next? Well, a lot and a little. With all the new staff, we're looking forward to better serving fans of all the games we cover. We're hoping to rebuild the Final Fantasy IV section to work a lot more like Final Fantasy I, with better switching functions and more accurate data. We want to build out all our game sections to have all the new and fancy technology that already runs the Final Fantasy I and Final Fantasy VII sections.
We're working on some design tweaks for the site, not to mention our usual enhancements to the way the site runs for you. The logo's the start, so like we said plan on seeing it pop up more places as we go further on. We're also working out a new submissions system for fanart and fanfiction that will help our dedicated staff get your hard work up on our site just as fast as possible. The goal remains what it always has been: bringing you quality coverage and an active community dedicated to the games you still love—because we still love them too. Most of the time.
That does it. You're up to speed on the history of CoN. Why not discuss it?