RPGFan Letter From the Editor Vol. 3: Lightbringers

What's new, what's not, why that stuff is new or not, and even how we got here.

08.08.19 - 8:52 PM


Welcome to a new and improved RPGFan! It's been a couple weeks since my "maintenance" notice. While there is still some work to be done, recent changes have progressed enough that I can talk about them here. We know that some people have seen errors in the page layout during this time. We're hoping these are largely resolved by today. If not, please try a hard refresh (Ctrl-F5 for Windows, opt-reload on macOS, or clearing your caches on mobile devices), and most visual errors should go away. Now, let's talk about what changed and why.

If you've read the site for a while, you likely know I'm a big fan of Final Fantasy XIV, having penned many a review across the 2.0-3.0 series. So it's possibly a little ironic that right after that game's latest expansion released — which tasks our Warriors of Light to restore darkness to a world overrun with light — that I would also be working to change RPGFan's main palette from one of darkness to what you see now.

Design & Layout

Of course, the most obvious change to RPGFan is the new visual design. Gone are pages of white text over black and 4 different shades of dark green. It's more than just swapping colors, as we've cleaned up the pages too, so everything you read isn't always in a bunch of boxes. It's less visual distraction that hopefully results in easier reading.

The new color scheme also provides better contrast between page elements. By having a neutral background, we aren't doing anymore green-over-green-next-to-this-other-green everywhere you look.

Font sizes got bumped up nearly across the board, especially when really small text that made sense when everyone's resolution was 800x600 was being used.

All told, the goal of the new look was to modernize by making pages cleaner and easier to read. And yes, we know: We've had dark backgrounds for 20 years, and it's a stark change. We know there are people that would prefer to stick with dark backgrounds. We're discussing an optional dark theme, but at this time, it's not a guarantee, nor can I promise a release date yet. We hope given time, you will adjust to the new look, however!

Finally Mobile Ready and SSL-Enabled

Wow, that took us some time, huh? It's been killing me for so long now that we weren't offering a proper SSL site, and even more that our site didn't properly scale to mobile devices.

I am so very pleased to announce that nearly every corner of RPGFan should now be properly responsive and scale across desktop, tablet, and mobile. If that's all you need to know, feel free to skip to the next section. If you're curious what took so long, I'll quickly explain.

RPGFan is an old site, built largely on manually-coded HTML. But we did some smart things a long time ago, which included making the site header and footer into a single file that's automatically inserted on every page. This makes updating our logo or navigation really easy.

Unfortunately, our site stylesheet was not included in this header file. Worse yet, as CSS files need to be placed within a site's tag, and that tag was also not in our header file, there have been things we couldn't quickly add site-wide, such as our gallery lightbox effects.

But this had another side effect: Many old pages linked to our CSS in a way that wasn't SSL-friendly. Loading one of these pages under https://www.rpgfan.com/ would break the layout completely, and even though we asked Google not to offer up secure URLs until we were ready, we know many of you saw these broken pages. We're truly sorry for that.

So how did we fix it? The only way we knew how: Pull every HTML file from the whole site, and run a series of text replacements that would canonize our headers, uniformly link to our CSS file, and modify the top portion of every single page to allow us to make site-wide changes moving forward. It's been more work than I can explain to you, and until I had all these things in front of me, it didn't really sink in that RPGFan is made up of over half a million files, with 2000+ game review pages, 2000+ music review pages, and almost 3000 galleries, most with multiple pages... all of which needed updates. And because of age and inconsistencies, many have been manually checked and updated.

And that, my friend, is why this has taken so long. Well, that, and the time it took to actually develop a mobile layout to make all this worth it.

New Features

Why stop at making the site work better and not take advantage of the situation and add some new things too? You may have already spotted some of them:

  • We added a brand-new on-site Twitch page, which will let you view and chat, if you don't want to leave RPGFan (you sweetheart, you).
  • We added a new "Latest Media" section to our main Media hub, which visually displays newly-updated galleries.
  • As mentioned above, without the restrictions of our old code, the last many years' worth of reviews now feature updated gallery effects, with images loading faster on all devices.
An All-New News Page

Another thing that made this project balloon in complexity was updating our news layout. The old one was a relic of the days when websites were made with tables, and as much table code as we've excised, the overall site container and news pages were still built with blasted tables. There was no way to make those tables work right on mobile, so this new layout was called for. No more awkward avatar in the upper right, and with the elimination of the right-hand sidebar across the site, media and videos on posts can display wide enough that you won't always have to zoom or go full screen if you don't want to.

We won't be going back and changing old news posts before last month to the current style — there's no singular quick way to do that across almost 20,000 files, plus we decided to simply look forward in terms of news.

Cleanup

I have a real problem with leaving things as "good enough" sometimes. It's taken a lot of self-convincing to not overhaul every old page as I've gone through everything. Still, some things needed a bit of manual adjustment. We have some old features that were partially illegible, and needed some light adjustments to not display, say, black text over dark green, and some that simply needed a quick facelift. Oh, and that single packaging image in our Mana Khemia 2 gallery that has apparently never displayed? Fixed! (I apologize on behalf of whoever made this error in 2009.)

Known Issues & Plans

There is a (thankfully) short list of items that are still being worked on as part of this change, which I want to list here in case you come across one of these items before it gets updated:

Galleries
There are still galleries that need to be updated. Most should display just fine, new and old. The most common issues are videos not displaying, but these are in the process of being fixed. As of this writing, less than one third of our galleries remain in need of some TLC, and we expect them all to be done by next week.

Features
Most features posted in the last several years will display just fine, but because of the amount of unique requirements for many features over the years, we continue to identify visual adjustments that are needed for usability. These are a little behind galleries in terms of progress, with nearly one quarter of them checked and updated. Though remember that this doesn't mean the other three quarters don't work, as most will be perfectly usable.

Twitch Status
At the moment, we don't have a "live" indicator for Twitch. We had been using an external service for this, which sadly does not support SSL (despite repeated community requests since 2016), and we didn't want to jeopardize the security of our site by embedding a non-secure component (We want those browsers to retain that nice padlock icon). We're looking into replacements in the meantime, so hopefully we will have this indicator back in the near future.

No Search Box on Mobile
Wait, you people really use that Google search box? Kidding aside, it's a finicky thing to work with, and we didn't yet find a mobile layout for it we were totally happy with, but we know you want this, so it's coming as soon as we're able.

Music Reviews
Our music reviews are one of the rare sections we didn't modify much for mobile screens. Because of the way they are structured, it would take a whole lot of fine-tuning to restructure the pages to enable that. We know this isn't ideal, but know that this exact layout isn't forever.

[New] Podcast Feeds
As part of our shift to properly support secure content, we had to update our podcast feeds to match. We've learned that this is causing our podcasts to be reset to 'unplayed' status for some people. We apologize for this inconvenience, but even at some point we would have had to change this regardless, as iTunes and other major podcasts portals will eventually require secure links. All we can suggest is to either note where you are if you're listening to our show backlogs, or listen to them all again from the start! (You don't really have do this.)

[New] In-Content Ads
You may occasionally notice ads loading within articles. Like everything else, we had to update our ad setup. We need them to keep the site running (so if you don't mind whitelisting us, it keeps us alive), but we've never wanted ads on RPGFan to be overly intrusive, so we are continuing to refine these placements if we spot anything particularly problematic, we will do our best to resolve it.
The Future

I talked about this mobile update and more back in 2017 (!?). That year, we actually put this "interim" site redesign on hold, because we foolishly thought we were closer to the new database-driven site we'd been working on. That is still on ongoing process, and I wish I could share how that's looking, because it's shaping up really nicely. But like all big projects, it's gradually gotten more and more involved — enough so that I revived the design you're looking at now, because I really wanted you all to have a site that didn't look as terrible on phones as the old one did. So as much as we're putting into this stuff, it's still being done with the intention of replacing it as soon as we're able.

As that projects comes closer to fruition, we will start sharing it with you, because it will probably be easier to digest new features a little at a time, and not in a single 2000-word post!

Bug Reports

Finally, it's time to put our readers to work ask for your help and feedback. With the above caveats in mind, if you do still come across something that doesn't look right to you and you can spare a moment of your time, we invite you to let us know via this form:

Bug Report Form


Again, while we expect general visual issues should now be cleared up, if you're still seeing frequent ones, please try a hard refresh (Ctrl-F5 for Windows, opt-reload on macOS, or clearing your caches on mobile devices) to clear cached settings and files, before submitting them as a bug.

Wow, are you still reading? You're my favorite. Just don't tell the others. And if you have any non-bug report feedback, do let me know.

RPGFan