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The present and future of UnrealSP.org

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User avatar ividyon
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Subject: The present and future of UnrealSP.org

Post Posted: 26 Dec 2015, 19:48

Hello, dear UnrealSP.org community,

you've most likely wondered why, a good 1.5 years since the advent of the updated UnrealSP.org v2 website, development seemingly halted entirely, and sections that were promised to become operational soon have not, to this date. Since I've kept awkwardly quiet about it for a good time now, I feel it is time for a statement on the matter, and for transparency as to what has been stagnating the site.

Past and present


When I took over webmastering duties for UnrealSP.org, it was a simple, purely HTML-based site with a nice phpBB forum section, both of which were treated as separate parts. Since the community mostly collected in the forums, which had little reference back to the main site and its content, the articles and reviews written up by staff regulars often went less appreciated than conversation and upcoming projects on the forums.

My hopes with UnrealSP.org v2 were to bring forth many, many features that would bring life to the community, and make creating Unreal content much more fun.

For one, I would unify the site and forums, bringing them into one continuous, seamless form, where news and article updates are visible plainly on the front page and sidebar, while the forums remain as integral a part as they've always been. Additionally, I hoped to do this with current technology, allowing easier editing and addition of content, and even allowing staff members to pour their writing into the system right away, without requiring me to tediously work it into the site manually.

Future possibilities included a system for modders to post and manage their own projects, highlighting screenshots, updates et cetera on the sidebar and main page, and for users to easily write their own map reviews on-site, even if they were not staff.

If I had fully seen it through at the right time, my role at UnrealSP.org would've been reduced to technical maintenance, as well as proof-reading and approving new articles wrought by our talented community writers.

However, it was not meant to be. After I crammed several months' work into a few weeks to rush USP v2 to completion before the site's anniversary, I had a mostly functional and stylish website integrated right into our phpBB forum software; a custom content management system hand-written as a phpBB extension. However, the finishing touches I promised to deliver were interrupted by my departure from university, and the fact that I suddenly found a job and became a full-time web developer. After a lifetime spent in school, and several years of care-free, idle living on study fees, I suddenly had a daily routine to maintain, 8-9 hours to work every day under the week, and other worldly matters to worry about. Adulthood came fast and hard, and while I successfully wrestled it into submission, passions like the work on USP had to wait on the backburner for a good while.

When my spark returned, and I wished to finish what I started, I saw before me a system that was bugged and broken by the phpBB software updates that had since happened, and changed the extension system I worked with. Additionally, I could no longer read my own spaghetti code, and with a year's professional webdev experience under my belt it dawned on me just how terrible my work on the CMS was. I was faced with an ugly, outdated bunch of scripts, along with a hacky, utterly unmaintainable CSS style which I could never decipher and build on. I had since learned webdev practices and established workflows which made my work on USP v2 look like a nightmare.

And with such tough conditions, even after hours invested into the matter, I could never get behind the bugs that sealed the article/review system off from users with the notorious "No permission" error, and I could never find it in me to continue working on USP v2... and so continued the "eternal beta".

The future


So, what now? What's next?

As already outlined, I'm employed full-time now. The time I can devote to the site is scarce, as in the evenings I prefer to unwind and keep webdev things as far away from me as I can. However, occasionally the developing fever does get to me, and it has brought with it a potential UnrealSP v3.


This is a screenshot from early 2015 which depicts an in-progress version of an entirely remade UnrealSP.org site, based on the Drupal framework. At my workplace, we exclusively work with Drupal, and I have very quickly collected experience with it in the year I've spent at the company, making me well-equipped to take on USP's unique challenges using Drupal as a backbone.

What does Drupal mean for USP?

It means that I can very quickly and efficiently work on site features using software and workflows I'm acquainted with. I've easily implemented news, articles and reviews within a few days, while the new styling had cost me a little more than that. All the features I've dreamt of and thought impossible, like users managing their own project pages (as if they were part of the website), and perhaps even doing so in groups, with a project lead and other members being allowed to post project-related content, are easily realizable.

The possibilities are endless! Special badges for writing x articles, making x useful comments, comments that can be rated up or down, reporting bad content, custom background options, differently-colored styles to choose from, notifications when a staffer you like published another article (or, any article at all is published)... many, many features that the current site lacks could easily be added using Drupal modules, which are all open-source and available for easy implementation.

So what's the holdup?

The first challenge is time, which I simply have very little of. The second is motivation, as this is a hobby subject and I find myself sinking into my PC chair dried out like a ghoul after work (Still not used to it!), rather than working on even more websites.

The third challenge is the forums.

The forums are a HUGE part of the community; in fact, the forums ARE the community. UnrealSP's main site is simply the results of our community banding together and setting their mind to writing, exploring the broad, rich scene that is Unreal's, and the many custom works it has spawned. So, obviously, keeping the forums operational is a pretty big part of the entire ordeal.

However, it is beyond my ability to fuse the phpBB software we use with the Drupal framework.

There are existing bridges, however they are meant for outdated versions of either software, and simply do not apply to our case. I'd have to write bridges between both frameworks' login systems myself, while somehow keeping a unified style between them. It would throw the "known workflows and approaches" I've talked about earlier straight into the garbage. It is not feasible.

So there's two choices: Keeping the forums and site separate, or completely translating the phpBB forums into a similar, but functionally entirely different equivalent using existing Drupal modules like Advanced Forum, Privatemsg, User Points to maintain post count/other feats, etc.

I have not been wiling to do the former, as it's a cheap and lazy cop-out and would lead to two entirely different appearances between forum and site, making the entire point of UnrealSP v2 moot. And I have also been very hesitant on the latter, as it's a daunting task that will take a lot of time.

TL;DR


All in all, the current iteration of UnrealSP (v2) has proven unmaintainable and unsalvageable. A v3 is in the works, but time, passion & coding constraints have dampened progress for a long time.

I have not given up on the scene or community, but the three challenges outlined above have, quite simply, been stalling development.

With proper SEO practices and basic attention paid during development, the community could regain considerable size and momentum simply by attracting new blood. I have no doubts of this. Additionally, I've just unlocked the temporary Articles forum to let you enjoy the writing our staffers have been held back from publishing for so long.

I'm running off a cup of coffee and zero sleep had this night, so the post may be very unstructured and difficult to read. I may retouch it later on. But until then, please let me know your thoughts!
UnrealSP.org webmaster & administrator

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User avatar UnrealGecko
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Subject: Re: The present and future of UnrealSP.org

Post Posted: 27 Dec 2015, 11:17

*salutes*

Thank you for all the hard-work you have put on this site. I hope everything will go well in the long run and those challenges will be solved for you ;)

Good luck!
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User avatar Sat42
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Subject: Re: The present and future of UnrealSP.org

Post Posted: 28 Dec 2015, 00:56

*hats off*

Really nice post, ividyon. And rest assured, it isn't difficult to read :) The statement delivers in terms of letting us users know what's been going on and what we can expect for the future of the site, and I for one find it reassuring!
I'm happy to see the commitment here, and at the same time it's natural that we all have lives to get on with (which may delay some progress with one hobby or the other), so just remember that at the end of the day, everything comes in its own time ;)
Cheers!
Nali: Magic or Telekinesis
Waffnuffly wrote:It's tarydium-doped smoothies. Drunk by the player, I mean. The player is tripping balls. The whole game actually takes place in a large city and the player thinks he's on an alien world.

User avatar Hellscrag
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Subject: Re: The present and future of UnrealSP.org

Post Posted: 29 Dec 2015, 00:22

ividyon, you can only do what you can do. In the unforgiving context of 'real life', I've been through the same battle for energy and time and can totally understand how you feel.

Respect. :tup:
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Life is what you make of it.

Doublez-Down
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Subject: Re: The present and future of UnrealSP.org

Post Posted: 30 Dec 2015, 13:43

Hellscrag wrote:ividyon, you can only do what you can do. In the unforgiving context of 'real life', I've been through the same battle for energy and time and can totally understand how you feel.

Respect. :tup:


This!
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User avatar Darkon
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Subject: Re: The present and future of UnrealSP.org

Post Posted: 29 Jan 2016, 23:26

Great work I think.. but yes, it's usually a huge task to do this kind of stuff. You could perhaps try to do it in chunks and/or have the heavy work (moving of the forum) .. perhaps even in chunks if possible .. done by people here that would be interested/willing to share this burden..?
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