Improbable Island Message of the Day (MoTD)

More beta skin updates: pixelated backgrounds
Admin CavemanJoe2021-07-22 19:29:16 [Permalink]
Hey folks, as I'm sure you're aware the weather is getting PRETTY HAIRY OUT THERE, and at the same time I'm updating my website (which up until very recently weighed in at under a hundred kilobytes) to use great big massive high-def graphics, each of which has its own tiny carbon footprint which when multiplied by tens of millions of pageviews per month adds up to... well, I hesitate to use the term "crime against humanity," but put it this way, there's room for improvement.

So, given that the Beta skin's page background graphics are more to provide a general "feel" than to be looked at closely, I'm experimenting with using much lower resolution images and letting the browser resize them up to big.

Up until fairly recently, putting a small image on your website and telling the browser "make this big" resulted in a horrible blurry mess. Now, we have a method to tell the browser not to make it a horrible blurry mess, but instead resize it the way an old console game would resize something - just make the pixels bigger.

This works great on some skin variants, and not-so-great on others, but by converting our background images to pixel-art-esque low-res versions, we go from around 200kb of images to around 30kb, a massive reduction. So far I've made alternate versions of the jungle, pub, outpost walls and dark stone variants - dark stone and outpost walls work well, jungle and pub not so well. So in the coming days I'll be looking for better source images for variants that don't convert well to a pixelly form. Keep an eye on the beta skin for updates on that front.

Have fun,

New Monthly Memento, embuggerances, catching up, accessibility
Admin CavemanJoe2021-07-14 19:27:36 [Permalink]
Update 2021-07-14: I've spent much of today on accessibility features. Bars (such as the health bar, experience bar, nutrition info in restaurants etc) are now made out of divs instead of tables, and have alt text applied to help out our blind players. I've also added some landmarks to the Beta skin (landmarks help a screen reader to jump quickly between sections). While I was in there and thinking about bars I gave them a little cosmetic prettyup for the Beta skin adding a subtle shadow effect, hit CTRL-F5 to see it. I plan to deprecate the text-only "Accessible" skins in the near future to concentrate on making the Beta skin accessible to everyone (it seems daft to have an accessible skin and an inaccessible skin), so if you use a screen reader and can think of things that'd make playing more fun, please let me know. Have fun, original MotD follows.

Hey folks, it's been a long time since the last MotD! Things got really suddenly really crazy here at Improbable Island HQ, for reasons I won't go into... oh heck alright I'll go into one of them, we had a week of BIG BIG RAIN around father's day and shortly afterwards I heard a ponk ponk ponk sound while I was in my basement workshop. It was a pinhole leak in a copper pipe, surrounded by green. "Huh," thinks I, "guess I'd better cut that sucker out and fire up the blowtorch and solder in a new pipe section," and then I discovered all the other new green bits that were weeks or days away from popping. Our best guess is the flooding upset the chemistry of the local water supply just enough to make a complete bollocks of my ancient pipes. To cut a very long story short, this extrapolated out a bit but now it's over. I hope.

Anyways, this meant I made a Monthly Memento for July, tested it to make sure it worked perfectly on my test server, uploaded it to the live server, and then basically didn't log on for a couple of weeks to see it fail perfectly. So I've spent much of this morning chasing down bugs in July's Monthly Memento. I guess at this point I should tell you what that is, and it's the Non-Functional Tulip!

It's a combined piss-take of billionnaires and a nakedly gratuitous bare-faced cash grab.

I had this idea for a Monthly Memento taking the piss out of Non-Fungible Tokens back in late May, but I knew I'd have to do some interesting programming to make it work the way I wanted it to, and I gambled on whether anybody would still care about NFT's in a month's time. That was probably a mistake but I think I just about got away with it, timing-the-zeitgeist-wise.

The Non-Functional Tulip works differently to other Monthly Mementos in several ways. First, you can have more than one; you get another every time you donate a tenner or more. Second, every Non-Functional Tulip is completely unique, having its own serial number and pattern of petals. The more you donate, the more petals your tulip has.

"BUT FOR GOD'S SAKE WHAT DOES IT DO," I hear you cry. Well, the clue's right there in the name, it doesn't do much. This is a piss-take of a weird and appalling thing that rich people do for no reason, after all. You get a minor all-day Stamina buff, and there's a possibility of a Requisition payout bonus. More expensive tulips have a higher chance of adding the Req bonus. That's about it.

"WELL FOR GOD'S SAKE WHAT'S A NON-FUNGIBLE TOKEN," I hear some of you cry, and I envy your innocence. Treasure it.

Anyway, if you donated to get this month's Monthly Memento before today, the 13th of July, then you'll have gotten one that didn't work properly and was not unique - or, in other words, you have a non-functional Non-Functional Tulip. The difference between Non-Functional Tulips minted after the 13th of July and the earlier ones is that the earlier ones are all the same, lacking serial numbers, and not unique at all. To compensate for this disappointment I've given you another tulip, a working and unique one this time, and re-given you the same number of Supporter Points you bought with the first non-functional Non-Functional Tulip. Perversely, there are now more unique Non-Functional Tulips in the game than there are faulty non-functional Non-Functional Tulips, making the faulty ones a rare collector's item akin to a misprinted stamp or a fucked-up coin with an upside-down date code or something. I wonder what will unfold there.

Anyway I'm gonna crack on with some new skin stuff and some accessibility fixes, have fun!

Another quick skin update
Admin CavemanJoe2021-06-15 20:01:50 [Permalink]
Hey folks, I've got my testing ipad and the first thing I noticed was how much of a pain in the arse it is to try to hit navs accurately, so there's now an option in the Beta skin to make the navigation links a bit easier to poke with a finger.

I've also made a little update so that line height expansion works properly in things like lists of Places on the map; hit CTRL-F5 if you don't see the change.

Have fun!

New Monthly Memento, more SKIIIIIIN
Admin CavemanJoe2021-06-10 19:41:31 [Permalink]
Hey folks, the Monthly Memento for June is the Hydrating Juikebox. I hope you enjoy this silly typo-based Memento.

In some skin update news, there's now Stone and Outpost Wall variants on the Beta skin; check them out and let me know what you think.

I think I'm nearly ready to start wiring this skin up to game environments!

Have fun,

Mmm, delicious skin
Admin CavemanJoe2021-05-18 20:29:01 [Permalink]
Hey folks, more skin updates for you. I've added the Beach variant and a rainy subvariant thereof, and I've started hooking in the raindrops to be addressable (see the skin beta testing area in Outposts to see them in action).

It's nearly time to start putting all these variants together into the time and weather system and having them change dynamically as you move around the game! I'm very excited about this, and particularly about moon phases, as that opens things up to having weird things happen on a full moon, perhaps the Mythical Monsters idea I've been kicking around. Many of the ideas that pop up during development remain in a Some Day pile until another idea pops up that would go well with the first idea, and that's how we end up with no new features for ages and then half a dozen all at once.

Someone in chat mentioned it'd be nice to be able to combine the top half of some skins with the bottom half of others, and that's a thing I'm looking into. We've also identified some bugs with iPads that have been a bugger to fix, because I don't have an iPad. Thanks to the feedback of players who have iPads, we're getting a little bit closer to solving these problems; if you have an iPad and you're willing to put in a few minutes of testing at a time convenient to both of us, please make yourself known to me via Distractions and we'll set up a time to do some testing.

Have fun, and stay tuned for more,

Yet more skin updates, couple bugfixes
Admin CavemanJoe2021-05-14 19:53:01 [Permalink]
Hey folks, just an update for y'all 'cause I said a week or so ago I was gonna try and do better about doing regular MotD's about what I've been up to lately.

If you find you can't click anything, do a CTRL-F5 or clear your cache, and that should fix things right up.

First up, couple of bugfixes; Valentine's Day Cookies now add the correct buff, and Place names are formally allowed to have colour in them (but not bold/italics/justification formatting). Formerly Place names weren't allowed to have colour but some folks found a workaround and instead of taking away the colours I figured fuck it and decided to make colours in Place titles Officially Allowed.

Next up, the beta skin! I've added three new subvariants on the Dense Jungle variant. There's now a lighter, darker, and mistyrainy subvariant, all of which are accomplished basically by altering gradient colours. I added a lighter version of the Pub variant too. Because a subtle change to one or two lines of code can have such a big effect on the feel of the page, this is giving me ideas on how to make different places feel very different without inflating page sizes too much.

I also painstakingly, pixel by pixel, recreated the old .gif-based foreground tree shadows as 8-bit .png's. Combined with the new CSS background powers that we can use now that we no longer have to support crappy old Microsoft browsers, the tree shadows look a lot better now. The old shadows were single-colour-plus-transparent images that we overlaid on top of the beige page background; because the beige background varies in colour and the shadows did not, they'd appear to fade in and out at different points on the page. The new images are blended dynamically with the beige page background and I think they look soft and nice and more like shadows than overlaid images. I'm pleased that I was able to reuse the old shapes but update them for a better look.

Here's a before and after of the tree shadows that I think probably explains it better than the wall of text above. Notice how towards the bottom of the first screenshot you'll see the tree shadow is actually lighter than the surrounding page content!

I've put a raindrop demo in too. At the moment they're a little rudimentary but choosing Dense Jungle (misty) and Raindrops darkest does give a nice drizzly feeling to the page. Try a combo of Dense Jungle (lighter) and Tree shadows light for a nice sunny feeling instead.

Unrelated, I've been thinking about making the hunt for the Drive a more map-based thing. Like maybe after defeating your final master you're given a Drive Detector and told to head out onto the map and follow an arrow, rather than going between Outposts. I think it'd be a more interesting endgame and it'd also be an opportunity for otherwise-grindy players to notice some of the neat Places y'all have been building. Distract me or try to catch me in chat if you've got input on this idea. (for avoidance of doubt this idea is about putting the Drive on map squares, not about putting the Drive inside Places, which would be a logistical, narrative and moderation nightmare)

Talk soon and have fun!

New Monthly Memento, more beta skin updates
Admin CavemanJoe2021-05-04 20:07:24 [Permalink]
Edit 2021-05-04 20:00 UTC: "Pub" beta skin variant added, probably the first of several. Original MotD follows.

Hey folks, the Monthly Memento for May is the Itchy Insulation, because fuck, that's what I'm doing. Since Nerv was born the old office is her room, and Improbable HQ moved upstairs to an attic room - last summer I couldn't work up here after around 2pm because the temperature would creep into the 40's, breaking monitors and being generally intolerably hot, so I decided to redo the attic insulation. I'm only about two thirds done but it's already having an effect - we had the first 30-degree day of the springsummer last week, and it was only slightly warmer upstairs than down, so hooray, more time to make y'all cool stuff. Itchy Insulation gives you a substantial stamina cost reduction buff to all actions, at the expense of an experience debuff. Pls give lots of tenners, insulation ain't cheap.

I've got some updates for you on the new beta skin! If you click on "Check new skin features" from an Outpost, you'll be taken to a new page that shows off a couple neat features. In the past week or so I've added Sunset and Daytime Plains variants (Daytime Plains looked really goofy the first night, if it still seems overly bright please CTRL-F5) and made some scaling adjustments to all the variants. I've also expanded the display menu to include line spacing adjustment, an extra margin on the right, and even a recreation of the old Vertical layout in the beta skin!

If you've been on the beta skin and doing the occasional CTRL-F5 lately (CTRL-F5 overrides your cache, reloading all the CSS and javascript etc) you'll have noticed things changing as I work on them. How it usually goes is I'll work on a thing throughout the day, test it on my local machine, upload it around 21:00 or 22:00 UTC, and stick around for a chat and see what y'all think before making dinner. This way you get to see my fuckups and works-in-progress as well as the good stuff, and we can talk about them as they go online and do a bit of live fiddling, which is kind of how a beta is supposed to work. I enjoy these chats and I think they've been helpful.

I've been thinking a lot about interface changes lately, when it's appropriate for a site to do a major interface overhaul (hardly ever) and how fraught it can be. Bigger sites than this one have vapourized practically overnight because of messing around with the interface. I've been a webmaster for so long that I still use the word "webmaster," and I've seen it done badly many, many times - I'm paying close attention to Ravelry, Digg, Reddit etc and making lists of how not to do interface overhauls. In comparison, ours is going really well.

I think a thing that helps is that the new skin has a killer feature, namely dynamic context-based background changes, that wouldn't be possible in the old skin. And because this feature is so open-ended, it's taking a lot of fiddling and adjusting and you all get to see the new stuff and give me ideas as I make it, so the transition is softer and there's more of a sense of curiosity about what's next than there would be if I just straight-up switched you all over to a completely different look overnight.

Furthermore, all the cool features of the new skin - the dynamic backgrounds, the programmable trees, moon phases and positioning etc, whatever other neato stuff we end up adding in the near future - all that stuff is going to be integrated into Places programming, so Place owners are getting really excited about giving their forests and caverns and night scenes that extra sense of space. I'm working on some interior scenes too, pubs and stuff, perhaps with dynamic lighting. There are a lot of possibilities!

It's all adding up to an interface change that feels humane, so thanks everyone for giving me ideas and feedback and suggestions and helping me sand down the rough edges as we go.

If you haven't tried the beta skin yet, the "Check new skin features" nav in any Outpost will give you the option to take it for a test drive.

The "Check new skin features" nav talks about the last-few-days-new stuff in more detail than this MotD, because it seemed an appropriate place to talk about things that you could play with while reading about them. I haven't been doing many MotD's lately because the skin development has felt really fluid and things are constantly altering, so I was basically choosing between an MotD every night and no MotD's at all, and I chose poorly. I'll try to be better about actually announcing the changes formally, rather than just shouting them into Banter and trusting that whoever's there at the time will kinda pass the news along.

Have fun,

New Monthly Memento, mind the GAP, general catch-up
Admin CavemanJoe2021-04-13 18:05:04 [Permalink]
Hey folks! This is more of a general catch-up MotD than one to announce one particular thing going on.

April's Monthly Memento is the Chocolate Bunny! This funny little creature generates some chocolate every day. Don't ask how.

We're still accepting applications and nominations for a spot on the Featured Places Committee, and I've got a massive list of Place programming improvements to make this summer.

I've been very busy and having tons of fun (and the occasional frustration) making the new display skin! If you haven't seen it yet, and you're playing on a desktop or laptop computer (this isn't for mobile yet), click here to set it as your skin and check it out. This all started as a simple font overhaul, but about a week ago I added THE GAP.

Since the Island began, I've wanted to give it a sense of space and time, of being part of a real world, and I wanted the display skin to change depending on where you were and what you were doing. The closest I came to realising this was making the Island's time and weather system, which changes outpost descriptions based on a combination of seven different time-of-day states and seven different weather states. It's also responsible for the occasional glimpses of rain or tree shadows on the page background that you'll see in places like Kittania, or when it's raining - and it lightens or darkens the page background based on the time of day, weather conditions, and indoor/outdoor state.

It doesn't work terribly well. I mean, all the parts are there, but the big problem is that it's really hard to change the page background dramatically enough to be noticeable, while still having all the various colours of text readable. To figure out what time it is in the game, I usually end up looking at the game time clock rather than at all the outdoor-state hints that I've programmed into the way the game displays.

I also would like to have added some pictures to the game, but this is a text adventure. Having the images rendered on the awesome graphics card that lives in your head is kind of the point. Without images, everyone playing has a different picture of the game, and that's cool. So any images I add to the game have to be pretty unobtrusive and not terribly detailed. My job is to give your imagination a starting point, not to override the images of the Island that already exist in your head.

So, I've made some alterations. Change to the beta skin, click the Display Menu link and open the Colours & Background Menu to see what I mean. We still have the standard classic leather background in its traditional variety of colours, but there are now extra options for graphical backgrounds which, eventually, the game will be able to switch between dynamically depending on what you're doing and when, to give that extra sense of space.

Keep an eye on the beta skin to see new features as I code them in. It's gonna be an interesting project.

In other, less awesome news, development may be delayed a little as I get used to some adjustments to my workspace to counter the hand/wrist/neck pain that's been creeping back lately.

I've been typing heavily since I was a wee lad, and started getting pain from it when I was still in my twenties. Switching from a modified hunt-and-peck to proper touch typing helped a bit. Switching to the Dvorak keyboard layout in 2012 helped a lot, and since then I've been typing much faster with less pain. Of course, this also means I've been typing more, because I'm a fucking idiot (if you're in your 20's as you're reading this, take it as instructional, don't be a fucking idiot like me). And now, because every rainy day reminds me that the Big Four Oh Monster is grinning behind my shoulder holding a hammer and chisel and eyeing up my joints, I'm having to change things up again to stay one step ahead of the pain.

Ergonomic keyboards are fucking expensive, but they're way less expensive than American healthcare (and marginally less likely to get me addicted to smack) so I'm currently trying to get used to a split ortholinear keyboard that I got secondhand, called the Keebio Iris. It's a weird little beast that comes in two halves connected by a wire, so as I type this, my hands are as far apart as my shoulders - that's what the "split" bit means, and it's wonderful. The "Ortholinear" bit means that the keys are laid out in straight up-and-down columns, the way your fingers go, rather than having the traditional diagonal stagger that allows room for the mechanisms inside the typewriter that haven't fucking been there for over fifty years, god damn keyboards are idiotic machines.

It's taking a bit of getting used to because the bad habits I developed like reaching for the X key with my right index finger just aren't possible now, because the X is about 70cm from my right hand. It'll take a while before I'm back up to speed, but the ergonomics are great.

The issue with this keyboard is that there aren't enough bloody keys on it. There are only 56 keys on this whole thing, a little over half what you'd get on a normal keyboard. See, like many "mechanical" keyboards, this thing has a little microcontroller in it (it's one of the newer flavours of Arduino) and so the keyboard is basically a wee computer in itself. The idea is that fewer keys helps you to keep all your fingers on the home row, so you're supposed to reprogram it and give it eight different bloody shift keys and try to remember which one makes the sodding equals sign.

Did I mention that none of the keys have any markings on them? Yup, proper performative nerdy 1337 bullshit right here. But at least my right shoulder feels better.

If this keeps up I'm gonna end up like the My Keyboard Guy.

Have fun, and feel free to donate to the Ergodox fund so I can spend three hundred bucks on a sodding keyboard and feel like a right class traitor,

Rainbow Torch update, Code of Conduct update
Admin CavemanJoe2021-03-23 01:43:05 [Permalink]
Hey folks, the Rainbow Torch Monthly Memento will now guarantee success in running away from a fight when it's activated!

Also, we've made a couple of minor updates to our Code of Conduct, which are listed in the changelog. The CoC is a living document and it's descriptive of the site's culture at its best rather than prescriptive of how the staff want it to be, so it's gonna update every now and then. If you've already read it then you don't have to read the whole thing again, just have a look at the new stuff described in the changelog.

I'll have a bigger MotD for you in the next few days, it's been a super-busy week (yes I know it's only bloody monday) and there's a load of interesting dev stuff to tell you about yet, but those are the two big ones for today.

Talk soon and have fun!

Oh no I'm changing everything
Admin CavemanJoe2021-03-15 20:40:15 [Permalink]
Edit 2021-03-16: The Beta skin now has a font selection menu accessible via a link at the top of the screen, next to the text size and colour scheme buttons. Original MotD follows.

Hey folks, I'm working on some changes to our default interface. If things look funky, hit CTRL-F5 or empty your browser cache to remedy it.

To cut a long story short, we're gonna change the font!

Or rather, we're gonna declare a font. Um. Because we hadn't. Not really. Not in the way that you might expect for a website made in the last ten years anyway.


Here's how the Island looks to Windows users. Back in the olden days, you couldn't just whack up a font on your webspace and expect Internet Explorer to use it, you had to choose from maybe half a dozen fonts that you could expect people to already have installed on their computers. Everyone was bored of Times New Roman (which is now cool and retro) and we wanted to use a serif font so people could tell an l from an I, so it was pretty much Georgia or Comic Sans.

This is still how the Island works today - if you don't have Georgia installed, the Island falls back to whatever default serif font your system or browser thinks is best.

Obviously this is bad because it means that people on phones, people on tablets, people on macs, people on linux boxes, pretty much everyone who isn't using a Windows laptop or desktop sees a completely different font. These days webmasters can upload a font to their webspace, set a CSS rule, and have browsers automatically use the font from the webspace, so we're no longer limited to using half a dozen fonts that pretty much everyone has on their machines, which is a good thing because the number of people browsing from Windows boxes is dropping quicker and quicker as people get increasingly pissed off with Windows.

So, now we can set an embedded font, and we're doing it, probably about ten years too late. This is how the Island looks using a font called Libertinus. It's a hair smaller than Georgia so we'll be scaling up the size maybe 10% before we actually go live with it.

There are a couple of really nice things about Libertinus in particular. First, it's open-source and free to use, whereas Georgia is a Microsoft thing. Second, it's not just a font but a whole font family - there are variants in sans-serif, monospace, keyboard icons (note the left-hand navs) and even fancy outlined capitals that we could use in page titles and stuff. Currently we use a mixture of sans for system messages (email confirmation, badnav resolution etc), serif/Georgia for normal text, and monospace (I think we even use Courier specifically in some places) for chat timestamps and other numbery things that change but need to take up the same amount of space on the page so things don't jump about around them. They all look pretty different! If we switched to using the Libertinus font family, then the different font styles we use on the Island would look more visually cohesive.

We could also pop a wee Javascript thingy to switch between serif Libertinus and sans Libertinus at the top of the page, like we do with the colour scheme and font sizes. Here's what the Island looks like in Libertinus Sans.

I switched to Linux pretty much immediately after building the Island's basic skeleton, and Linux doesn't come with Georgia, so I spent ten years never seeing how the Island actually looked to most people. It was only when someone said that they had a hard time telling between zeros and letter-O's, which look REALLY different on my machine, that I realised I dun goofed. Top fucking quality development right here, folks.

This (in the content side anyway, ignore the navs, I was mid-fiddle here) is how the Island renders on Firefox in Ubuntu Mate 20.04. Georgia is for windows boxes only, so mac users, iphone users, android users, BSD users and folks on their Fuck Yeah Internet Fridge will all see something different, and it's whatever serif font their system has arbitrarily decided is default.

This looks REALLY DIFFERENT to Georgia! As far as I can tell this is DejaVu Serif. It's a nice font but it's really heavy compared to Georgia or Libertinus.

The difference between this font and Georgia is much bigger than the difference between Libertinus and Georgia, so when folks in Banter mostly said, like, "Eh, it's pretty, it's a small enough change, I'll get used to it," I was really surprised because to me this looks WAY different.

Anyway, if you're on a desktop or laptop you can join the beta and preview the upcoming changes by switching your display skin to "Beta," via your Prefences, available in any Outpost. Or just click here and then close that tab and poke at any page on the Island. If you accidentally hit this link on mobile, or you want to return to default Horizontal, you can scroll all the way down to the bottom of the colour testing page and choose the mobile skin again.

Let me know what you think of the beta and have fun!

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