Saturday, January 1, 2011

Interviews with Runescape Fan Sites: Sal's Realm

Today's interview is with Salmoneus, founder, owner and developer of Sal's Realm of Runescape. I bet most of you already know who he is, though :)

Of course, this interview is special to me. About half year ago Runewise and Sal's became very close partners and Runewise's forum moved to Sal's. It was a huge step for Runewise and I am glad to say that I never regretted making it. I am grateful to Salmoneus and Sal's community for embracing and accepting Runewise. And I hope that folks from Sal's found something useful and fun amongst Runewise's tools too :)

Enjoy the interview!

Q: How would you describe your site in a few words?
A: Sal’s Realm is a friendly, supportive, community-oriented fansite with guides and tools for players of all levels and interests in RuneScape.

Q: Can you tell us about major milestones of your site? A little bit of a history?
A: Sal’s Realm was founded back in September 2002, about a year and a half after I started playing RuneScape. Back then, my site was not all that popular; likely due to the lack of a complete set of skill and quest guides, as well as a very low-quality layout. In early 2004 I purchased the salmoneus.net domain and redesigned the site, and it began to build in popularity. In November 2004, our community discussion forums were opened, and I think the site really began to take off at that point. We started accepting user content submissions through the forum, and our site continued to grow at a fast pace.
In mid-2005 I wrote the first skill calculators for our site, which were coded in HTML and JavaScript. In mid-2006, our Item Database was released to the public. Shortly after that, I rewrote our skill calculators in Java, and included a highscore-lookup feature. I think these things were pretty important in the development of our site, and acted as a supplement to our guides, thus attracting new players to our site.
As of recently, there has not been much activity on our site; mainly because I’m working on our next major milestone: an updated version of our site, complete with revamped tools and a snazzy site layout.

Q: What inspired you to start a Runescape fan site?
A: Quite simply, I loved (and still love) RuneScape. I always enjoyed playing RuneScape, adventuring around the various areas in the game, completing quests and training skills. It just had that “new” feeling to it. But there wasn’t a whole lot of information about playing the game on the official site, which I think was a pretty big issue early-on in the game’s life. For example, the Cooking skill. There were no real instructions on making all those neat foods we now enjoy on a regular basis (pies, cakes, pizzas). Many people just ate things that were lying around: Cabbage and meat. It was a bland diet! Another example includes quest items: people would be tricked into paying crazy amounts of money to obtain a quest item which was freely available in-game. I created my site to help solve those problems and give all players a chance to unlock those “mysteries” of the game.

Q: What were your original goals for the site?
A: My website started out as a hobby site – something to do in my spare time. I always imagined having a complete set of skill and quest guides, and a handful of miscellaneous “tip” guides. I really didn’t expect it to become all that popular (although I hoped it would!). I guess my initial goal was to simply create a fansite with accurate information on skills and quests, and help as many people as I could.

Q: Had your goals changed over time? If yes, how and why?
A: They have definitely changed. More accurately, they’ve expanded from simply wanting to include guides on skills and quests, to including guides on just about all topics of RuneScape. Not only are guides an important part (and goal) of the site, but various tools such as calculators and databases go hand-in-hand with making the site as useful as possible, and are thus another goal of ours. One goal has remained constant in the last 7-or-so years: we still want to assist as many players as possible.

Q: Was it the first web site you ever created?
A: Yes, Sal’s Realm was my first-ever website.

Q: What technologies were used to create the site? Did you add new technologies into the mix after you created the original version?
A: The first version of the site was actually built primarily using the Freewebs site editor. I had no real HTML experience before that, and it seemed like the easiest way to get my site online. When I redesigned the site in 2004, I simply used HTML and CSS. There was no real dynamic content on the site at that point. As time went on, I added a Perl submission script so that players could submit questions, tips and suggestions to our site. That has since been replaced with a PHP script. I added some JavaScript content here and there to make the site a bit easier to use, and of course, our first calculators were created in JavaScript. Our second set of calculators was created in Java. Our Item Database is also coded in PHP and uses MySQL for a storage backend.

Q: Is there a unique feature/service your site provides to Runescape players?
A: I think our community itself is a pretty unique one. We have a lot of great members and a fantastic staff, and many of our users are more than happy to assist anyone with anything RuneScape-related; you just need to ask! Our guides are also written and proofread by community members, which gives them that “special touch” and uniqueness you can’t find anywhere else. As for site features, we don’t have all that much unique stuff in terms of tools and services right now. However, there is a lot going on with the big site overhaul we have planned, and we think our users will be surprised to see all the neat stuff we’ve cooked up!

Q: Which feature/service took the most time and effort to create?
A: The Item Database, hands-down. The programming behind it is not all that complex, but the content itself is still a work in progress, simply because item data is always changing, and items are always being added to the game.

Q: Which feature/service was the most complex from the programming stand point?
A: The Java skill calculators are probably the most complex project we have on our site at the moment, mainly because of the effort that went into making them compact, and efficient.
If we include projects that have not yet made their way onto the site, I’d have to say that our site overhaul project is by far the most complex of all our projects. It’s taken a lot of work to integrate our content, layout and tools into our new system, and has essentially required a huge rewrite of much of the code throughout our site.

Q: Is there a feature/service of the site you are most proud of?
A: I’m very proud of our discussion forum and how far it has come since we opened it six years ago. Our members are very supportive and our moderators are always helpful and friendly. The fact that we’ve been able to build a successful, active community is a milestone in itself! Our members are what keep our site alive, and I’m proud that we’ve been successful in this area.

Q: Did you start the site alone or with friends?
A: I started the site alone, as a pastime. None of my close friends were really interested in RuneScape, and being as paranoid as I am, I thought it would be safer to get the site started on my own. Our forum was actually started by a RuneScape friend, 1800151100, and me. As time went on and the forum became popular we brought in members to become part of our staff.

Q: Are you the only developer of the site’s code?
A: For the most part, I develop most of the site’s code, simply because it’s difficult to keep multiple developers “synchronized” when a change is made. Neo Avatars, an administrator on our forum, has also contributed quite a bit to the development of our Java calculators, as well as our interactive world maps. He has also contributed to several parts of our big site overhaul, including one large project that is currently in development.

Q: How much time do you normally spend supporting the site? A few hours a day? A few hours a month?
A: I have been spending a considerable amount of time working on the site overhaul – easily 6 hours a day or more – trying to get it released reasonably soon. Time also goes into adding new content to the current site. And finally, some time also goes into regular server maintenance, including software upgrades, patches, optimization, and dealing with those little technical “hiccups” that occur every now and then.

Q: What is the most difficult/challenging task you have to do to maintain the site?
A: Without a doubt, the most difficult task I have is trying to keep the current site updated alongside the site overhaul version of the site. Because both version of each guide are formatted differently, it takes quite a bit of time to update both copies.

Q: How many staff members do you have? How did you find/chose them?
A: We currently have seven active community staff members. Every staff member is chosen by the current staff members based on their behavior on the forums.

Q: Are there aspects of web site management you were able to completely delegate to others?
A: For the most part, I’m not all that active on the community/forum management side of things. I mostly take care of the technical stuff on the forum: upgrades, modifications, databases, templating – just about everything having to do with coding. I do try to help with as much administration as I can, but our staff seems to be on top of it most of the time. I’m generally working on the main site, adding/updating content, or cooking up a new project of some sort.

Q: Did you ever have to deal with hostility and/or attacks from other fan sites?
A: There have been incidents in the past where content and/or images were plagiarized by a member of another fansite; usually fansite owners will take action against the member and have the content removed quickly (which is great!). Of course, there have been various attacks over the years by groups of disgruntled members who have formed their own communities, and attack attempts by “underground” communities.

Q: Did you ever consider making money with the site or is it just a hobby?
A: When the site began I honestly did not want anything to do with advertisements – I despise them. For awhile I was able to run the site on donations by members. However, as popularity grew and we began getting more traffic, the donations were not able to cover site costs, especially after we outgrew shared/VPS hosting and had to move on to a dedicated server. Advertisements are a necessary evil to keep our site running.

Q: What do you think about the current Jagex’s fan sites support program? Do they do too much, too little? Is there something you’d wish would go differently?
A: I definitely think they’ve taken a step in the right direction by supporting fansites. Before they began supporting us, it seemed like Jagex was working against us, trying to draw players away from fansites. But they really have done a lot since then by offering interviews, artwork and various aspects of fansite support. I think they’re also very open to ways they can support us, and they have encouraged fansites to let them know if there’s something they can do to help us out.
There have been suggestions made to fansite support about ways to help fansites on the technical side of things (for example, making game data more accessible for use in our own projects), but the implementation of many of those suggestions are slow (if they are even happening). But it’s also important to note that while Jagex is willing to support fansites and take suggestions on new ways to help, their developers are pretty busy developing for the game, which most likely supersedes fansite support.

Q: Do you still play Runescape? If yes, how often?
A: Unfortunately, I’m no longer active in RuneScape anymore. I log on now and then to check out game updates, participate in one of our fansite events, or to manage our Clan Chat, but other than that I’m rarely online.

Q: What’s you Runescape goals, if any?
A: My goal is to begin playing again in 2011!

Q: What kind of Runescape player are you? Which Runescape aspect is most appealing to you: quests, role-playing, skilling, pking, minigames etc.?
A: I always enjoyed working my way through quests, as well as training Mining and Smithing. The only thing I dislike is PKing.

Q: Are there other Runescape fan sites you personally use as a Runescape player?
A: Because I’ve been inactive in RuneScape for ages, I really haven’t used any other fansites. When I did play, I used Tip.it’s TT coordinate locater, though.

Q: Do you follow/read Runescape blogs and news papers from other sites?
A: Every so often a link to an article or entry will catch my eye and I’ll read it, but I don’t regularly follow any RuneScape blogs or newspapers.

Q: Is there something you don't mind revealing about your RL (age, country, hobbies etc.)?
A: I’m 23 years old and live in Massachusetts, United States. I enjoy programming and web development (primarily in PHP and Java), reading, listening to music (dance, techno, trance, electronic and rock are my favorites), going out to eat, hanging out with friends, and fixing computers. I also love “nacho cheese” flavored Doritos, twisty Mac & Cheese, and Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.


Thank you very much, Salmoneus!

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

YAY! We now know sal likes mac and cheese :O!!!!

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