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New Site Launched! Noteworthy Features and Lessons Learned

Alex J. Champandard on April 26, 2009

If you're reading this then no doubt you've noticed the brand new version of the site already. We've been online for a few days and let me tell you, it's been quite a ride! Thanks so much for your feedback, encouragement, and kind words — but also of course your bug reports and suggestions. Rest assured we're working on them.

Over the last two years, AiGameDev.com has grown very organically: first as a blog, then as a forum, and finally into the premium area. The site has certainly been needing renovations, so we took the time to completely rebuild the backend and create a new design — and this time we got professional help.

New and Noteworthy

The big theme for the redesign was to help explain the site better, and in particular emphasize the incredible community behind the site and also the amazing content we've been creating over the past 2+ years. Now it should be more obvious from first glance we're not just a game development blog or an also-ran news site!

In particular, we made it much easier to browse around on the site and see what's going on at a glance:

  • Front Page — A lot of time and effort went into the root page of the whole site, in particular from a content and navigation perspective. It helps bring together everything together from different sections on the site and highlight what's important.
  • Media Section — To help emphasize the depth and variety of the content, we also added a section that catalogs all the forms of Media listed on the site. We'll be annotating the few hundred existing articles so this section will grow incrementally.
  • Integrated Search — You can also access all the content on the site via the search button, so everything is at your finger tips.
  • Site Accessibility — We also smoothed out the process of helping you log-in to the site by adding it to the top menu, and it's also much clearer how you can sign-up to the site.
  • Access Levels — The different user levels on the site are now much clearer: articles for regular visitors have no icons, those for Insiders (free sign-up) have a yellow star, and the Premium Member articles have a red crown.

Coming Shortly

We decided to focus the relaunch of the site on the key features, as I listed above. In the process, we pushed back some additional features that are ready — but will come online shortly:

  • Topics — Based on popular demand, we'll be including topic specific sections on the site using category-like, for example navigation, character animation, or strategy. These will help you find relevant articles if you have a problem to solve!
  • Events — As part of the Premium Membership we run a couple live sessions every month, either interviews or masterclasses. We also run public sessions now and then for everyone to join. To make it easier to keep track of what's going on, these will be available on the front page and in the sidebar.
  • Papers & Code — In the Media section, as we annotate the existing and new articles, we'll include new subsections that reference all the white papers and source code & libraries available on the site.
  • News — We've maintained a separate news blog for over a year now, but we'll migrate this to the front page of the site. This will encourage us to write smaller articles about current events so we can stay on top of the important news without having to wait for the weekly roundup!
  • RSS Feed — We spent a lot of time customizing the RSS feed on the old site so it looks as good as you see it. We're obviously very proud of this, and it's one of the many reasons why almost everyone uses it to read the main blog! The new site's feed isn't included yet, but it will be shortly once it looks as good!

Known Issues

Also, there are a few things that don't behave quite fully as designed yet. These will be fixed shortly:

  • Categories — Some of the categories of the public articles couldn't be imported, so all articles don't show up yet when you click on the sidebar links. We'll be re-tagging some articles manually and remapping the previous categories automatically where possible.

  • Redirects — Occasional links in the new site are not redirected to the right place yet, and some old links for the categories are not remapped correctly yet. If you find an old link that doesn't work or redirect correctly let us know!

  • Login — When logging in, you're currently always redirected to the front page. Also, the forums seem to remember you from a previous session when the main site doesn't always...

Lessons Learned...

Now, for those of you that followed the relaunch via our front page or Twitter, you probably realize there were a few glitches. Once the site was up and running, there were some performance issues and we had to optimize and upgrade to a new server — which took longer than expected. The site was under maintenance for about 36h.

Of course this wasn't planned and I apologize for those of you that tried to access the site. But in retrospect, lots of great things came of this:

  1. I was amazed by the personal emails, instant messages, and Twitter comments from everyone who sent us support while the upgrade was underway. Thanks for those, they mean a lot!

  2. Traffic actually increased significantly the day *before* the launch, obviously from people trying to get their fix from the forums or keen to see the new site!

  3. We setup the official AiGameDev.com #gameai IRC channel on irc.freenode.net, and that has been fascinating so far! We've hit 10 people already, and it's a friendly atmosphere.

Anyway, the new site marks a new phase for AiGameDev.com. Over the next week, we'll be pumping out loads of cool features we had planned for the relaunch. We'll also be sharing more details about what we do as a startup, and what you can expect in the near future. Finally, we'll also be re-opening our Premium Members area in a bit more than a week, so if you want to be notified and get some exclusive previews feel free to sign up right here.

Discussion 1 Comments

thaspius on April 28th, 2009

The new site looks great Alex. Thought I would point out mibbit for anyone unfamiliar with IRC. Here is a direct link to mibbit that will connect to the [URL="http://widget.mibbit.com/?settings=251aec75ba21a77d1f1b9d878e9dc6e9&server=irc.freenode.net&channel=%23gameai"]AIGameDev chatroom[/URL] It may take a second or two to load.

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