CoN History, Part III
The Caves of Narshe - The Last Seven Years
Last Updated 31 July 2012
A long time has passed since we last updated CoNHistory - nearly seven years, specifically (how we failed to do an update at the tenth anniversary blows my mind). While those seven years might not have been quite as exciting overall as the eight that proceeded them, a great deal has happened in that time and we've been remiss in not catching up before now. Though some of the smaller details might be lost to the mists of advancing age by now, let's hit the big parts together now, shall we? We'll break it down so we can hit as many of the highlights as we can, and then we'll wrap up with a discussion of how we got to our brand new, fifteenth-anniversary skin, Skyglade.
New Game Coverage
Even though our team has gotten smaller over the years, and our pool of willing volunteers has shrunk with it, we've worked hard over the years to continue to grow our game coverage. Some of those updates have been small building blocks, such as the very cool Google Maps-enabled map features we first rolled out for Final Fantasy Tactics back in 2009. However, we've also executed both new content and huge overhauls to old sections in the last several years, starting with Final Fantasy IV.
For a long time, we felt that the Final Fantasy IV content on the site was among the weakest we had to offer. Our coverage of the original SNES game as well as the PlayStation release had a tendency to be buggy and confusing, and with the first-in-series re-release of the game on the Game Boy Advance, we knew we had the opportunity to really turn that around and make it one of the site's jewels. We started working on refurbishing the section just after the last time we updated CoNHistory, and while it took us almost two years, we managed to extend the coverage to cover three different releases, including an all-new, built from the ground up walkthrough. While there have been two more releases of the game since 2007 that we've been able to cover, we remain the most useful guide on the internet for this game, right in line with our goals.
After that time, we took a break. Final Fantasy IV was difficult to get where we wanted it, and it beat us all up pretty good. However, a year later, another opportunity came our way to do something that many of the staff had wanted to do for years, even before CoN was out of its infancy. I'd resisted extending the site beyond the series of classic Final Fantasy games for a very long time, but with the fervor of the staff and an upcoming release for the Nintendo DS, we decided to dive in and create coverage for Chrono Trigger in late 2008. We were able to use a walkthrough written by our long-time staffer Neal that he had originally written in the late 90's, and we were able to begin building the data stores using a Chrono Trigger site that Tiddles had built himself while simultaneously working on CoN5. The excitement for this new section was a revelation, with people lining up in chat to pitch in for the first time in a long time - we started the section in October 2008 and had the entire thing ready to go for an April Fool's Day prank in 2009. In some ways, Chrono Trigger remains the best coverage we have, with its wide variety of content for three versions of the game combined with the best multimedia coverage we have for any of our seven games.
Even more difficult was our revamped Final Fantasy V section, completed in February 2012. We started that project way back in 2009; however, Final Fantasy V remains one of our less-popular games,, and that lack of popularity made it very difficult to get the project underway. It also didn't help that about halfway through the project of converting Djibriel's walkthrough for CoN use, I managed to destroy all the work that we'd accomplished so far thanks to an epic typo. Having lost four months' work, we again pulled together as a team (mostly out of pity) and redid everything that was lost in half of the original time, and again managed to create a lot of new features that we hadn't yet tried in game coverage before. While the project took far longer than it probably should have, the work itself is great and it showed everyone that even for games that don't motivate the userbase, CoN is still capable of putting out really great content that really offers something extra to the user.
New Site Features
While it's intensely difficult to add quality game coverage, of the quality that the Caves of Narshe expects, it's somewhat easier to try to add in new features to try to keep the site fresh and fun for the users. Does it work? Well, it doesn't not work. I think.
Leading this list of features is the new fanart system debuted in 2008. For the longest time, CoN slowly grew its fanart collection by taking submissions via the forums, and then even more slowly by manipulating them into the site's format. With the new system, developed over the course of several months, we shifted most of the burden of adding fanart to the site to the webserver, which now accepts user submissions directly and prepares them for the site on the fly, so that poor, overworked site admins like yours truly need only click a few buttons to send them live. It's not the kind of system developed from scratch by many hobby sites, and it's a prime example of why more than a few people have been surprised the Caves of Narshe is not a full-time job.
We added a host of new features in 2009, starting by continuing the earlier trend of accepting user submissions by revamping our news. Instead of using the forums, where only staff have the ability to post news, we turned to the opportunity to crowdsource news by developing an all-new front end which can publish news through a staff approval process. The system not only allows regular CoN users to help us out with our news, but also allows us to syndicate the news in a variety of ways, such as with RSS, via social media, or through more granular categorization on the site itself. The friendly URLs that the system creates even help us get traffic from search engines.
Additionally in 2009, we revamped the Wallpaper selection of the site to include a much wider array of sizes and styles of desktop wallpaper for our users. Considering all the styles, colors, and sizes of wallpaper we offer now, there are over two hundred options from which to choose. Naturally, there's work to be done here as we attempt to offer our wallpaper in sizes appropriate for more of our users, with the great explosion in mobile use, as well as the constant struggle to design new styles that will appeal to our userbase - what we can do, though, is make sure that what we do have now and in the future are available easily to you all using our mad ridic categorization skills.
To wrap up the site updates for 2009, we brought back the once-loved CoN Quiz. Our quizzes grade you on speed and accuracy, and we offer them every month for games we cover, Squenix games we don't cover, and the wide world of gaming as a whole. Like many of our features, the true quality of the quizzes flies under the radar of a number of people who visit the site, so you should probably check them out if you've never taken them before. They can be pretty fun, whether you really know games or not.
The latest addition to the site in 2010 came in the form of forum awards. Like the achievements and trophies that our users know from their modern gaming systems, our users can add badges to their CoN profiles for being long-time members, for participating in adding content to CoN, or for participating in one of our many contests and competitions. Most recently we added in awards for giving ratings in our fanart section, and we're working on more ways to set up bling on your CoN account all the time.
As social media has begun to dominate the internet landscape, CoN has tried its best to keep up with our sometimes-limited resources. We have pages on YouTube and Facebook, and a Twitter account all meant to keep you up-to-date with what's happening both on the site and with the world of Square Enix. We know that most people spend a lot more time with social media these days than they do any other site, even CoN, so our goal is to make sure that you can always rely on us for information even if you're not visiting us every day.
Those who have been visiting us for a long time (or have read previous History chapters) know that we have had problems with keeping a stable place to host the site almost from the very day we first started taking the site seriously as a legitimate gamers' resource. That trend has continued but slowed, largely thanks to making the choice in 2005 to shift the site to a type of hosting called a "Virtual Private Server." To avoid being too long-winded, a VPS allows us to host CoN (and the other sites that pay for hosting so that we can offset some of the cost) in a way that give us the horsepower and flexibility to keep CoN running and growing. We had to switch VPS provider in 2009 after our previous company outsourced their support in a way that caused them to break the server more than maintain it, but since then it's been largely smooth sailing - knock on wood. The increased capacity offered by our server setup has not only allowed us to host other sites as a revenue stream for CoN, it has also allowed us to extend hosting to other folks who provide service for our audience and would otherwise be stuck on unreliable free hosting. We've chosen thus far to offer this hosting to a pair of folks historically very active both at CoN and in the Final Fantasy VI modding and analysis scene, Master Zed and Djibriel.
As the Caves of Narshe has survived longer and longer, the site has become somewhat of a elder statesman for Final Fantasy communities, as well as for other gaming-related communities as well. In the last few years, we've been interviewed by a number of other sites to discuss our philosophies and plans for the CoN, and, egomaniac that I am, I've been quite happy to share them with everyone. We were first interviewed in 2008 by a webcomic community site called Coloring Dragons (which appears to now be either temporarily or permanently down); that interview was not published for several months after we gave it, and was then edited in ways that didn't necessarily thrill us; as such, and because the site is down, you can enjoy the original transcript hosted by us at Google Docs.
Later in 2009, we were interviewed by CoN member and fanartist Kame for the starmen.net radio channel. Kame is a long-time member and DJ for Radio PSI, and she chose to interview Tiddles and me a few years back to talk about this history and future of CoN and to offer up a bit of punditry around the Final Fantasy series. A great deal of what we discuss are things you, dear CoN reader, already know, having read all of our history, but should you want to hear my awful radio voice and Tiddles' smooth British jazz, YouTube has your fix.
Our rash of media coverage continued in 2010 with our biggest interview yet - or at least it was meant to be. 1up.com did a feature in the spring of that year to discuss the history and future of gaming fansites, and among many others, CoN was selected to offer opinion which was and is pretty exciting! However, with so many sites interviewed, CoN was somewhat unfairly relegated to the end of the feature, and as such we've elected to host the entire interview right on CoN. Really, though, you should feel free to read the entire feature sometime, as it's really pretty interesting despite not focusing solely on how awesome we are.
We haven't been contacted much recently to offer our opinions, so please do feel free to get us some more attention!
You're soaking in it.
Simultaneously to the release of this update to CoN history, we finally after over a decade released an all-new refresh to the site. Dubbed "Skyglade," the new design is the product of several years of on-again, off-again work, and is meant to be a clean and easy-to-use update to the site you love so well, with the added benefit of reminding everyone out there that CoN is here to stay and is not as stagnant as one might think from having seen Persona on the site for so long (of course, Persona and all of our other site skins remain for you to select should you choose!).
Skyglade is such an evolution for the CoN that it has its own article in CoNHistory. You should read it.
Beyond the new skin, we've also been working hard to update the underpinnings of the site to make the content pages more managable, and to give us additional flexibility should we ever want to again do the foolhardy thing of adding another totally-new site skin. We've slowly been banging the drum for new content, as you read above, and we've been working to keep our wonderful community afloat even as it has sadly slowed in terms of traffic over the last five years.
All that aside, we continue to plug along. We're working on refreshing site content even now, despite so many of us being so painfully busy in our lives beyond this website. We continue to love CoN and we continue to want nothing but for it to keep growing and be loved for many years to come, and that's why we're glad you have taken the time to read all about us yet again.
That's it for now, unless you're ready to read more about Skyglade and how it came to be. Why not stop in at the forums and tell us how much you like CoNHistory?