The Midnight Writer -- March 1998
by Mike Lloret
A couple of years ago, as an experiment and as a way of learning HTML by self-imposed OJT, I made a personal web page. I learned several things from the project, including just enough about HTML to use it for the limited purposes required by my work (some training course material on my company intranet) and the fact that I have neither the time nor the artistic talent to produce a really good website.
Around the same time, I started participating in a mailing list for a computer role-playing fantasy game, The Elder Scrolls: Daggerfall, which I reviewed in the AJ in the October 1996 issue. Aside from the usual discussions of bugs, patches, hints, and so on, some of the regular contributors to the list started writing stories based on the game and their characters in it. Soon there were websites devoted to collecting these stories, including several I had written featuring my character in the game: Balefire, the brooding mercenary Warmage, and his sometime partner, Twilight. As I received encouraging e-mail - including a couple of messages from publishers' representatives suggesting that I consider signing contracts to write for them - I decided to put all of the then-scattered stories in one place along with any new ones I'd write. I don't really have the time to write seriously/professionally these days (I did that for awhile, and it's more work than you might think), but I may want to do so in the future, so I wanted to have any samples all together.
My old webpage (the obvious place) was badly out of date and very troublesome to get updated, so I was very pleased when one of the mailing list members introduced me to a friend of his whose company does website design. Initial discussions with the friend, Charlie Hinshaw of D3IS Multimedia, led to my commissioning his firm to design a website to showcase the Balefire stories and to serve as my personal homepage as well. That has turned out to have been a great decision.
I was expecting a pretty straightforward business deal. I would tell D3IS what I needed done, provide them with the material they needed from me, have a look at their drafts and estimates, decide what to have them do, and pay them when it was done. What I got was an amazing level of personalized, sincerely interested service from talented designers who have gone to great lengths to ensure that I not only get what I ask for, but also know what sort of thing I can ask for.
I've exchanged hundreds of e-mail and ICQ messages with Charlie Hinshaw, the main designer for my project, and looked at scores of drafts for text blocks and graphics. I've been given lots of suggestions and ideas for improvements to the site's structure and content, and I've been shown samples or prototypes of dozens of possibilities. Charlie has put in so much work on getting the site design just right that it's astonishing. He's also spent a lot of time educating me in what applications are available for design and site construction, and how they can be used. He's even provided a big share of the content. All of this goes well beyond D3IS's obligations, but it has certainly contributed to making me a very happy client. Hell, we have become friends.
What's more, shortly into the discussion phase, while the prototype site was being built, I leased a couple of domain names and decided that I'd like the site to be housed under one of them. I got a lot of help and useful advice on how and where to do this, too. They've even decided to advertise in the AJ. :-)
By the time you read this, the "real" version of the website should be nearly complete and can be visited at http://www.balefire.com and the prototype, proof-of-concept, post-beta version can be visited at http://www.d3is.com/balefire for (recommended) comparison purposes. There will likely be some typos to correct and some content still to be added , but I believe that you'll find a visit worthwhile. And the site will continue to grow and to improve, with a lot of help from my friends at D3IS. Stay tuned.
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