Finding My Way Home

Developing a Classic BattleTech Fan Site is a lot like finding your way home after being lost in the woods for a day. Sure, you enjoy the great outdoors, the fresh air, mother nature and so on, but ultimately, as the sun begins to set and the temperature begins to drop you’re looking for the safety of your bed and home.Building a Battletech-inspired and faction specific web site is just like a day out in the woods. Every tree, every rock, every awe-inspiring vista is another piece of BattleTech you’ve fall in love with. Whether it’s the Capellan Confederation’s Red Lancers this week or Clan Ghost Bear’s Alpha Galaxy, a fan of BattleTech is usually an indecisive fellow who’s faction allegiances wax and wane with the rising of the moon.

And rightly so.

Don’t all of us have those “Wobbie Days” where we feel like nuking our problems away? Doesn’t that frustration sometimes play out in how we affiliate with our hobby? Of course. It’s why, when asked, why so many players have one, two, maybe even three favorite factions. The BattleTech universe is a huge and wonderfully varied place, and like any kid in a candy store, players are often at a loss deciding on just one faction to call their own.

Still, claiming a multitude of factions for game play isn’t too difficult to accomplish. A few new record sheets, maybe a different playing style and “bam!” You’ve gone from playing Trueborn Clanner to dezgra Inner Sphere freebirth in a matter of moments. Building a faction-specific website isn’t as easy and can prove to be a truly painful experience for the dedicated BattleTech hobbyist.

The root of the problem lies with the inherent difficulty of building a comprehensive web site while also maintaining your love of all things BattleTech. While that doesn’t sound like much of a stretch, or even that hard to begin with, building a faction-specific site often means “turning off” that part of you that loves anything other than the faction you’re trying to build.

If not, two distinct hurdles start to rear their ugly head. Hurdles that can sometimes end a project before it’s finished. The first is a matter of flavor. Every BattleTech faction has its own distinct flavor – whether it’s the Japanese-inspired Draconis Combine or Kraut-stepping Lyran Commonwealth – to call their own. Since building a website if very much akin to branding a product or brand management, the intrinsic cultural values of a faction must be taken into account (if you’re a snobby purist like me at any rate.) Things like wording, colors, faction nomenclature, etc., should be factored into your site design and “theme.”

Speaking of theme, a side problem many site creators (this one included) has struggled with is theme. Theme is a succinct way of say, “Why is this here and how will the information be conveyed?” For example, a general Lyran Commonwealth site might be themed towards an electronic report (like some of the newer sourcebooks) and authored to the Archon by a member of Loki or the LCAF. While a theme also includes simple stuff like color scheme, background or structural images, etc., the fictional foundation of your site will help in formatting text, content, not too mention your site’s sitemap.

Once you start building a site theme, you’ll quickly begin to realize why paying close attention to a faction’s flavor is so useful. For example, utilizing material from the Draconis Combine’s logo and samurai-culture background can shave hours of work when designing a Draconic Combine Fan Site by providing the site’s basic colors and look. While patterning your fan site’s content theme as an ISF Director’s Report to the Coordinator gives direction to your text format, tense and wording. To say it plainly – theme and theme creation is extremely important to a site’s design and function. Do not skimp on doing building it right the first time.

Coupling theme and flavor together provides the foundational building blocks for the site’s “look” or frontend. For you non-web types reading this. Websites are generally broken down into two parts. The “Frontend” is what the user views through a web browser. So what you’re seeing now while reading this is the frontend of the OurBattleTech.com Blog. The second part is collectively known as the “Backend.” A website’s backend is everything you’re browser’s not reading and you’re not seeing. Things like PHP and Javascripting language, flash forms, CSS and XHTML are all part of a website’s backend. While the two parts work together, they’re not mutually exclusive. More than one website “looked” rather plain and simple from a user’s perspective, but supported a seriously complicated and uber functional backend.

The reason why we separate the two parts (beyond the obvious) in this particular instance is because a site’s frontend is directly related to the overall form of a fan site and the root of that second big hurdle. The name of this hurdle is scope. Building a functional website, in general, is labor intensive. Unlike playing a quick scenario of BattleTech, building a fan site is more akin to planning and then executing the Second Succession War. Because commitment to a singular faction is already inherently difficult, once you start working you have to stay the course. Like so many fan projects, fan websites often fail to materialize or reach completion simply because their builders burn out by focusing too hard and for too long.

While skill sets and technical know-how are important, it’s not an end-all site building deterrent. The great equalizer, as it turns out, is content. While it is probably safe to assume that if you’re already a web designer then designing a fan site or any website will be much easier to accomplish than your average Joe Schmoe, those skill sets still won’t make you any more likely to populate your site with content or finish the project. It would seem that Content, is the universal crucible for any fan project, albeit a website or fiction project.

Next up: How the Star League Core suffered an ongoing identity crisis and how content and scope ultimately determined the new site’s final frontend and future direction.

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