As I'm ('I' being Mr Creosote) writing this, TGOD has been online for more than eight years already. Although there have been various short retrospectives on the site itself on anniversaries (which are now tucked away safely in the news archive), there has never been a systematic look back at how the site developed and how it looked in the various stages. So here it is - maybe it'll tickle the memory of your first visit, too.
There will only be very few exact dates mentioned. Everything talked about here is complemented by the news archive, of course.
Although I strongly dislike that 'version' buzzword when talking about different site designs, it seems to be the de facto standard these days. Don't put too much meaning into these numbers!
Version 1 (February 2000 - June 2001)
First of all: The screenshots show what I've dubbed 'Version 1.1' of the site. Version 1.0 is lost. However, the design changes were minimal: Initially, the site had a frameborder and slightly different images. That's about it. So, these screenshots should still give you an impression of what the site looked like when it was launched. A general word of caution: The inherent blurriness (especially in the reddish colours) of some site screenshots is due to the JPEG compression. Also, minor discrepancies in the look might be caused by the old pages being interpreted by a much newer browser (though this mostly seems to work fine - guess the HTML code wasn't so bad after all). Notable differences between intended look and screenshot will be mentioned where applicable.
TGOD first went online on February 26th, 2000. Although you will most likely get the impression from the screenshots to follow, it was anything but a rushed job of throwing a few pages together, but the product of quite an amount of planning. Not so much design-wise - there, it was the product of throwing a few standard images together, putting them into Netscape Composer (anyone remember that one?) and typing in the texts. What I had planned for month was the contents and the style of the site.
Before starting with anything else, I compiled a list of games which I wanted to present on the site. It consisted of roughly 25 games which I really thought should get more attention. No, The Secret of Monkey Island wasn't listed. In fact, the last of these games only found their way to the site on its tenth anniversary.
The initial plan included asking for copyright holders' permission to offer games for download. So I contacted the companies which had made the games on the list. It quickly turned out they apparantely weren't all that interested. Most didn't even bother to reply. Well, a few did, and some of those even with encouraging words. However, that was basically the first blow: Companies not being interested in their own games.
What worked better was the things I could control myself. Believe it, or not, I did try to create the 'ultimate page for gaming[ ]nostalgia' even back then! I had visited lots and lots of other sites. What struck me about them, and what I wanted to do better, was the following. There seemed to be hundreds of sites with the same few games... and there was Home of the Underdogs, which really deserved its name back then - the games it hosted were pretty obscure. Hardly any middle ground (or mixed). Second, hardly any sites were actually talking about the games and showing them. So I wanted to have lots of screenshots and also reviews.
So, after a few months of working everything out in detail (no kidding!), it finally went online. There were four games available then: Balance of Power - The 1990 Edition, Battle Bugs, Brutal Sports Football and Chaos Engine. The latter had been reviewed by Tapuak, the rest by me. Feedback wasn't actually that bad. It was still the time of 'personal homepages' on Geocities, after all, so the site didn't even look that extravagant. Frames, background patterns and centered text (although all that was already on the decline) were fairly common.
Version 1.2 (April 2000 - June 2000)
Based on the first feedback, the design was changed slightly (we're still talking about the first months here). The initially very large text was made a little smaller, and the longer texts weren't centered anymore. Basically, it was all about making things a little more readable.
What might also be interesting to note here is that games had to be downloaded in parts. Abandonware sites were hosted on freehosters in those days, and TGOD was no exception (the initial URL was http://goodolddays.cjb.net by the way - oh, those redirection services...). In order to avoid the illegal contents being detected, it was fairly common to split game archives up into smaller chunks (so that the files don't seem so large) and to rename them to something seemingly harmless (like .bmp). To make the re-renaming easier, TGOD provided MS-DOS batch files which automated this.
What I also got into fairly quickly (already straying from 'the list') was the idea of trashing games which weren't so good. Kind of like 'The Bad Old Days' - only that this section was called 'The most ridiculous games'. Anyone who has written a few game reviews will know the lure of this. It's often way more fun than describing why a game is good. This also went along with the ironic twist of the site's name (yes, it is meant in an ironic way to a degree) - a rose tinted version of the past, as usually found in reminiscences, always leaves the stinkers out. In a way, the inclusion of bad games also makes the whole picture the site draws a more believable one.
Something else which has (thankfully) pretty much vanished from the face of the Internet since then is the 'under construction' signs. A website is always under construction, and there isn't anything to show yet, why put up a stupid sign there will be something in the future? Here's my personal version of this idiotic trend. Finally, see how great this screenshot shows the animation of the word 'e-mail' in the top frame? Those were the days for sure!
From here on, you'll see fairly big broken images on the screenshots. That was the spots housing an ad banner. In order to get some more reliable hosting (from another great webmaster - hey, Tox!), that was the price to pay.
Version 1.5 (June 2000 - September 2000)
June 2000 brought along the first somewhat major layout change of the site. To structure the navigation a little better, the 'link cloud' previously found on top was replaced by distinct buttons on the right. The top part, containing the banner, was reloaded every time a new page was loaded in the main area (to finance more file hosting).
Design-wise, what had just been sheer inability before lead to what I call the 'stylish phase' these days. That meant: Being proud of the 'personal' look and taking it to levels as absurd as possible. Cue to the Monty-Python-themed page headers. Those were really fun - I like them to this day, although they're obviously not very practical and using them would probably even have copyright implications (mad world).
Content-wise, a new development had actually struck me as a surprise: There were other people who were willing to contribute to the site, too. Sure, Tapuak's one review had been there from the start, but I had never imagine that total strangers would (figuratively speaking) ring me up to offer their services. The first of these had actually been J. Durr who had written a second review of Global Conquest which I had happily pasted below my own one. Shortly thereafter, someone calling himself Eff10 was responsible for the first new game entry not initiated by me: Indycar Racing. My (illogical) decision then: list visitor-contributions on their own page, seperated from the 'editorial' contents.
Version 1.6 (September 2000 - October 2000)
The next person to join in, and the first person to really stay for longer, was Gesh. Unlike me, Gesh was quite profound in image processing, so his first interest was making the site more attractive visually. You can see the first of his attempts on this screenshot: a new logo.
In September 2000, the site got an close to actually having a colour scheme for the first time, grey and blue being the dominant colours and most of the background patterns being replaced by a more unified look. Those new 'icy' buttons were actually made by me, not Gesh (just saying that in order not to damage his reputation).
Concerning content, the site was facing a problem which I hadn't anticipated at first. Due to 'the list', the games were added in alphabetical order at first. However, as that list got more and more irrelevant, that natural order wasn't given anymore, causing the games pages to become totally unsorted mess. Remember, that was way before scripted websites were common, and reordering and moving contents every time just to fit another game in between was just out of question. So an abstraction layer was added (big words for something very mundane): Two drop-down boxes which listed all games by alphabet and genre respectively. Those lists were easy to maintain and while they didn't actually solve the problem, they allowed us to take a breath and think about the problem seriously.
Around the same time, the first non-IBM-PC games made their way to the site. I had waited for some month for some other guy to cover the Amiga (he had offered to do it), but as that apparantely didn't work out, I just did it myself. That design would pretty much determine the mindset of the site for several years, but more about that later.
The first Amiga game on the site was North & South. The game pages (see picture - imagine the font used below the drawers on the first Amiga section screenshot for the whole thing) used a fundamentally different approach from the IBM-centered ones: Instead of having one page for the review, one for screenshots and so on, everything belonging to one game was put on one page. To still have more than one screenshot, animated GIFs were used.
Version 1.9 (October 2000 - June 2001)
Back to Gesh and his invaluable contributions. Although I had talked to various people who offered help with designing the site, he turned out to be the only one who really 'got' that the site was supposed to be wacky and look appropriately so. So he applied his considerable technical talents to make the site look a lot better, while keeping the general style.
The front page got a new logo by me again (the blue-ish one), which was animated (the Python foot smashing the logo). After selecting your language (that was what those flags were for, in case you've been wondering all along), you got to see Gesh's re-imagination of the classic TGOD design, though. Better looking buttons on the right (complete with rollover effects), and new page headers with decently traced text, perfectly embedded into the background - while keeping the pythonic imagery.
In those days, I had rented a dedicated server (not a 'virtual root server' as common these days, but an actually dedicated machine) for the site by the way (on which I also hosted other Abandonware-related sites). That meant I had to take care of financing it myself, of course. So the top banner was mine this time, and on the right of the screenshots, you can see a blue button leading too Allclicks (never understood the concept behind that... they paid commission for any click leading to them). Really annoying work to find sponsors, keep track of payments and so on. Yet, free server just weren't an option anymore by that time, because they had become way more alert, deleting Abandonware sites quite quickly and without warning.
This design would last for quite some time. In its lifetime, numerous changes were made to the details, new things added and so on. One was the 'Game of the Day', showing the screenshot of a good game on the welcome page. That was the first server-side scripted part of the site: 10 lines of Perl written by a fellow called Yotz (who later broke contact after an argument about the Vietnam war - no kidding).
Another one was the launch of TGOD's own forum which replaced the (in the last millenium) mandatory guestbook. At first, it was a threaded one hosted by the then popular Freetools. Again, surprisingly, it was actually used (the first regulars: Eagle of Fire and dregenrocks, who joined into a discussion about the best race in Master of Orion). This, in turn, was replaced by a self-hosted forum powered by the Ikonboard script (version 2).
The games section was finally split up into pages for each genre to get around the problems of sorting the entries touched on earlier. The center selection (the one showing a bit of C code) lead to the third PC game section (beside the default one and the one about bad games): the games written by me.
In the regular games section, you could now find something pretty similar to the game listings as they are still to this day: A small title screen and general game info on the left, a short introduction (along with reviewer information even, then) on the right and then links to more. These days, we've become lazy and the first paragraph of the regular review is displayed on those listings, but then, we wrote one or two sentences just for that.
As it had become obvious the site had turned into a team effort, short profiles of the active contributors were listed. Adhoc (who also wrote quite a few reviews himself) deserves extra praise for answering the plea that we were looking for someone to translate articles. With Gesh, we had our first regular contributor who didn't speak the site's second language (German), so someone had to translate his reviews. Unbelievable that a person willing to do stupid translation work exists - kudos to Adhoc there (of course, you can see what happened to the site language-wise after he left again two years later...)!
Tapuak had, in the meantime, launched the third system-specific section of the site, and the first console-centered one. The idea back then was basically to have 'section webmasters' who run the system-specific subcategories pretty independently. Not such a bad idea, and it had been tried before by others on other sites. The inherent problem with that is, of course, that people don't usually want to restrict themselves to contributing to just one section. Still, the idea stuck for quite some time, and Tapuak was basically considered the 'boss' when it came to the SNES.
So, some things again were a little different. The game listing pages didn't have a title screen, but one from in-game. Review and screenshot were on the same page (like for the Amiga), but the screenshots being individual files and shown in a vertical column next to the review. Which meant the number of screenshots had to complement the length of the review roughly.
The design is yet another example of an 'intermediary' one, showing the transition of the site away from background patterns to a 'cleaner' look.
The SNES section apparantely had a huge pull, and many regulars of the then very active forum added to it. That hadn't happened with the Amiga, for example, and although the site is still very much focused on classic computers, the consoles are - counted relatively to their size - much more popular for some reason.
Although this is supposed to be a history of the site, the forum deserves at least this one paragraph, though. During this period, I would come from work at noon and have a few hours before going back to work again. After finishing dinner, I would sit down in front of the computer, and visit the Spam Club only to find dozens of new posts there. Interesting ones, too. Not just the usual requests for games and technical help, but people were discussing about basically everything. And while I was in the middle of replying to the new posts and threads, even more would suddenly appear - the other regular visitors were online at the same time. It was genuinly hard to get back to work again, because I could just have stayed and carried on with the conversations for the rest of the day. Things were going very, very well.
Not related to software (or even computers), but somehow fitting with the idea of Abandonware (preserving out-of-print media), TGOD got a subcategory about Masters of the Universe comics. Like basically everyone who had grown up in the 1980s, I had been a fan of that series, and in the early 2000s, it got sort of a revival amongst the now grown-ups. I didn't really want to create a full-fledged fansite archiving every aspect of it (from the toys to the cartoon) - there were others who did that very well back then.
What it pretty much started with was an e-mail exchange between me and Vemperor (who also became a contributor to the site later) after we had competed against each other in some ebay auctions. I had won most of them, and he wrote to congratulate me and ask if I could maybe send him a scan of the one comic he hadn't gotten. I figured why not, and then, the logical step was to put the scan online for everyone else as well.
Even putting the downloads aside, the comics section has by now grown into the most comprehensive listing of the classic Masters of the Universe comics on the whole Internet - which is a reason to be proud for sure. On the other hand, it never attracted any real contributors (like the rest of the site did). Some people were nice enough to send in some scans, but nothing beyond that, which is why this section has had its extended times of nothing new being added.
Version 2 (June 2001 - April 2004)
Evolution can only take you so far. At some point, it had become clear that the previous layout and design had lived past their prime. The frames were becoming a limiting factor (because the buttons on the right were slowly increasing their numbers), browser incompatibilites I hadn't been aware of before were embedded deeply in the code and so on and so on. The final straw was Gesh leaving. He had been responsible for pretty much all of the imagery of the site as it was, so without him, nothing could ever have been changed again.
So I went back to the drawing board myself, and came up with something completely new (actually, inspired by another design idea Gesh had had): the wooden theme (mind you this was years before a certain operating system with a funny name made brown the new hype colour). The idea was basically this: The site would be built around a chest of drawers. Picking a drawer (depending on your language preferences), you'd switch to an overhead view of the open drawer which housed the 'main' contents. Meaning: PC games, applications and misc pages.
This design was actually used in two backend incarnations. The initial one was still pretty much raw HTML (with some server-side includes). From April 2002 on, it was rewritten to use an SQL database, but still looked the same up front. What you see on these screenshots is the latter version, but the only real difference is the additional methods of listing games (by different criteria) which didn't exist initially.
In spite of having 'started fresh', there were a few design ideas which were carried over from the previous version. One example of this is the way to put the games listings (which, in fact, is still very much the same at the time of writing) - no point in scrapping a good layout just for the sake of it. The one subtle difference was that all the links to further stuff concerning the game (screenshots, downloads) could now be found on the review page instead of the overview page directly.
On the review page shown here, you can also spot an indicator of a sad bit of site history: just a few days after launching this new site version, we received a cease & desist letter from the IDSA (now known as ESA), threatening legal action if we don't stop distributing their members' games. This came as a tough blow, and after disabling all download initially, it took quite some time to sort out which downloads could be reactivated. That's the kind of work which is no fun, obviously, and lots and lots of stupid e-mails from angry visitors blaming us for some kind of 'fraud' (or whatever) didn't exactly help. However, the site survived it, also because we had been in it for more than just downloads from the start - all the regular contributors and crewmembers stayed and were extremely supportive during that time.
Back to the magic chest of drawers, though. The 'topical' design of the Amiga section had been a very good one before already, so not much was changed there. However, the Workbench look received a new 'frame': It was now embedded in a monitor sitting on top of the chest. The great thing about this idea was that this monitor could house pretty much any OS, so doing more designs for other sections / systems wouldn't have been that hard. In fact, at one point, I made an Apple II - themed one which never saw publication due to the person who had promised to come up with the contents disappearing without having delivered anything.
At some point during this site incarnation, we worked around the obvious limitation of using animated GIFs to show screenshots in the Amiga section (filesize...) by adding a 'screenshots archive' which could be added for each game entry. A hack, but it did its job then.
Another new feature (in fact, I'm leaving chronology a little here - it was in 2003) was game comparisons. Many other sites had some sort of 'if you like this game, also try' links for their game entries, but we took it a step further by naming pros and cons. In fact, when it came to implementing these comparisons for all the sections, it struck me this codebase had to be replaced again - but more on that later.
Talking about the different sections, Tapuak renewed the look of the SNES corner with an excellent and clean green-ish design. Notably, this was the first subcategory lacking a direct relation to the chest of drawers I talked so much about. Yet, we were still talking about 'section webmasters' back then, and each of those being free in his or her decision how to carry that section.
This pretty much cemented the general opinion about TGOD not being one site, but a frame of more or less independent sites during those days. The memory of who said this first has become cloudy, but it was a very true statement repeated many times by many people. Not just design-wise, but also code-wise, the sections had nothing in common. Each part was coded individually, accessing a common database, but completely distinct tables within that. Those table structures weren't even similar for each section and so on and so on.
At the same time, there were things which just made sense when covering games regardless of the system they were made for. So, the same general game information could be found anywhere, but presented differently and implemented each time again and again.
So, when it came to new features like the option for visitors to leave comments about games (shown beside), I had to program it several times - as many times as there were different system sections. And in spite of my tries to get things together on some sort of common ground by then, certain historically grown differences forced new differences in these implementations again.
The upside of this was a huge flexibility when it came to designing and working the different sections. For example, the C64 section had an actual text-based interface which allowed visitors to enter commands to navigate the pages instead of the boring old common mouse-driven interfaces (the latter being an option as well, of course). This was very well received with old-school fans.
Imagine the screenshots shown here with a true C64-like font - it worked extremely well emulating the BASIC OS look and feel (screw humbleness). What you can see there in addition is a hint of the strange, freaky and extremely fascinating software which crewmember std added - Contiki being the prime example.
Generally speaking, this was still a very hectic, but also extremely productive time. Gems like dregenrocks' Catch the Kreis (pretty much developed in our forum) and my own The End of He-Man (published on the second site anniversary) popping up, lots and lots of work on the dedicated server we were then running (also to host other sites, like for example NetDanzr's 21st Century Oldies which also shared the forum with us).
On the other hand, those were also times of instability (we weren't the greatest server administrators) and of other negative effects. Most notably, exploding bandwidth requirements. Transfer costs were still quite expensive in those days, and the bills got higher and higher. This lead to experiments with download rotation (only offering some downloads at the same time and changing that on a weekly basis) and file size limitation (and offering all larger files through another, cheaper server - which is still in effect at the time of writing). Those were the years when the 'Abandonware' concept peaked in popularity, and the sites were generally not well prepared for the endless onslaught of visitors - this site being no exception.
Back on the topic of diversification versus unification, another new section launched was the so-called 'Hall of Fame'. The idea was to present classic systems without the need or promise to actually expand the contents of their sections. Just pick three to five typical games, provide emulators and write something about the history of the system.
Presented in yet another of Tapuak's excellent designs, this section was meant to be expanded primarily by user contributions. Want to present your favourite classic system to the world? Here's your chance! Worked up to a degree (NetDanzr and Dizzy, both forum regulars, came up with the articles for the Spectrum, and Johann67's Vectrex-related articles, which had been scheduled to compromise their own section before, were incorporated as well), but after the initial drive was gone, it grew silent as it turned out normal visitors weren't really looking at it, but were apparantely preferring the individually labelled sections. The Hall of Fame would be transformed into regular sections in the next site incarnation (see way down), but it nevertheless was an interesting experiment.
The comics section had their period of fastest growth in this incarnation. After a first undirected explosion of me scanning just about anything which I got my hands on, the different series were later systematically completed with the help of many visitors. Oh, and that's the top of the chest of drawers which a comic book is lying on, of course.
The end of this incarnation of the site came along in late 2003 (although it was online until April 2004 - programming the successor took that long). The main reason has been running all through this commentary: The code had become very complicated to maintain with a different codebase being used for each section. The game comparisons, for example, had first been implemented in mid-2003, but only for Amiga games. I just couldn't get myself to program the same thing again for all the other systems.
Similarly, due to the increasing collection of games spread amongst all those sections, it was getting harder to find things. The PC section at least had different ways of listing the games there (by year, by alphabet and so on), but none of the other sections offered that flexibility. To make matters worse, the one way of listing was a different one in each section (by genre for Amiga, by alphabet for SNES,...). To make this a little more bearable, I had programmed a function to search all the sections for games at once, but this was (due to the mentioned heterogenity of the database parts) just a bit of duct tape holding the growing cracks together in a fragile and obvious way.
The last straw was a discussion about what we then called 'combined view'. In an attempt to treat all systems equally (for the first years of the site, the IBM PC was considered the 'main' section, as obvious by the design choice to present it in the 'default' design, for example), I wanted to the wooden themed design to list all games of all systems, and each system-specific subsection to be visually distinct. After building a first prototype to accomplish this kind of listing based on the old database which somewhat worked, my patience had come to an end: Just more duct tape to hold the heterogenous set of sub-sites which were drifting apart more and more instead of coming together. Once again, this system had been pushed to its limits.
What made the decision to once again relaunch easier was that the idea of having section webmasters running their part of the site more of less autonomously was failing on two counts. First, although there was Tapuak (SNES), of course, std had made huge contributions to the C64 and I was running the Amiga part of the site, it never really caught on that people other than me (and to a degree Tapuak) actually felt responsible for the sections they had built. Second, nobody really ever wanted to limit himself to just one system, but cover games for other systems as well, thus making the title of 'section webmaster' moot. Again, a great idea in theory, but it never worked out as intended - which made the hard distinction between the sections pointless.
To this day, I personally consider this the best looking incarnation of the site design-wise. Loading up the sections and browsing around for the sake of making all these screenshots, I'm once again amazed how much time went into all the little design details, especially graphically (I've lost pretty much all the skills in digital image processing by now, and even though it was never a really strong side of mine, I'm very proud of the parts I did for that design). Obviously, such a design style (using many images and trying to 'look like something') is a severely limiting factor as well, and that was one of the things I had a go at in the next incarnation of the site...
Version 3 (April 2004 - February 2006)
This design was the result of the lessons learned with the previous one: Trying to unify the different parts of the site again (look- and code-wise). Code-wise, it was meant to restore maintainability, design-wise, it went back to a much earlier idea which had been tried by someone else already a millenium ago: Have one single design, but change the colour scheme depending on the section the visitor is browsing. Taking this one step further, not only the colours changed, but also the logo and the menu buttons (each using a font somewhat reminiscient of the system or at leas the era it was current).
Just as planned, the 'default' section became the one showing games of all systems at ones, with the option to enter a system-specific subcategory and not be bothered by anything outside of one's favourite system. Coming up with colour schemes for computers was easy - just take the colours of the default operating system.
Although the look itself wasn't too refined (especially compared to the previous one), with little contrast and the page elements not really being connected optically, much thought was put into designing the navigation elements. By now, there was so much stuff on the site that a simple menu just wasn't enough anymore. So, on the left, the menu elements could be openend and closed on demand (would have been quite 'long' otherwise). The beef of the site, the games, got their own menu on top.
This was a complete novelty (and pretty much unsurpassed to this day): Offering visitors the option to combine as many attributes as they liked to submit very specific choices. While the rest of the world was (and still is) stuck with simple listings like 'Adventure', '1990' or 'L', everybody could now look for commercial games published in 1991 by Lucasfilm with a top rating. Of course, the same flexibility still allowed for the 'classic' listings by just choosing one single attribute.
On another front, a simplification took place. Instead of the classic rating scale of 0 to 20, we now used a reduced one of 0 to 6. The reason for this was that 21 steps were just too many when used by different reviewers. There was no way these ratings could be compared. I still think it's a good scale, but only if a dedicated crew who is discussing the ratings amongst themselves is using it - something not given on a hobby website. 0 to 6 was chosen, because there just had to be a rating for 'mediocre' games (3 filling that role).
In the same vein (acknowledging there are no objective ratings), the idea was to have short autobiographical information about the reviewers so that the visitors could understand what the writers were coming from and getting at better. Unfortunately, most contributors didn't fill this empty space.
Due to the complex menu structure, this incarnation of the site also introduced the scheme of those strange looking URLs housing the encoded information about the user choices in both the left and the top menu. It is, of course, more common to save such information in a session, but I wanted this information to be persistent, i.e. people should be able to link to each page they got to or bookmark those pages directly (which is not possible just using a session).
An unwanted side-effect of this was that the same contents are available under many different URLs (once plainly, once with menu A open, once with menu B open, once with menus A and B open and so on and so on). Search engine spiders hate that, because they'll index the same page over and over again. Especially the Googlebot went absolutely crazy, constantly going round and round in circles - which left me with no alternative, but to lock it out of the site for a long time.
Due to financial problems (and also time constraints) we dropped our dedicated server, moving back to shared hosting. This was also possible, because bandwidth had become a little cheaper. The amounts formerly only available for dedicated servers could be bought with simpler accounts, too. This meant, of course, that the number of sites we hosted was cut down gradually. As cynical as this sounds: It was easy, because those sites were being closed anyway. The big hype about classic games was over alright.
This also struck TGOD to a degree. Contributions were getting slower, the site being focused more on my own contents once again. Many formerly regular crewmembers left due to various reasons, and hardly any new ones filled in the gaps they left (Wandrell being the obvious exception - he has become the longest-running crewmember apart from me by now).
Getting a bit bored with all the reviewing, I tried some new things during those two years. One was simply a motivational trick: Others would suggest games, and I'd review them, no matter whether I had played the game before or not. Quite fun for some time. The other was a different format: the 'discussion review'. The idea was that two or three people played a game, and then met on IRC to discuss the game. This discussion would then be edited for readability and structure and put on the site instead of a 'classic' review. Although pretty much everybody said it was a great idea, it was tough finding people to participate. I did one with dregenrocks and Johann67 (Heart of Africa), and two more with Tapuak. After that, it seemed like the concept was cursed: Everyone who agreed to do it disappeared promptly.
As should be obvious, this was mainly an era of stability for the site. The changes from the former incarnation to this one had been huge: the unification of formats, the advanced search methods as well as the ability to have more than one review and rating per game (both of the latter not really being used for some reason). So feature-wise, the site was pretty much saturated. Way above anything the 'puny competiton' offered. The same system is still pretty much in action at the time of writing (although version 5 has been a complete rewrite - the functionality is still largely the same, though, just coded differently), and it's still the cream of the crop as far as sites like this one are concerned.
Version 4 (February 2006 - August 2008)
Although the functionality of the site was top-notch, its looks bothered me. It really didn't look very good, and at the same time, it wasn't even all that simple to add new sections. The last new one in the third incarnation of the site was the NES, and when I created that, all the complicated stylesheet manipulation as well as creating many buttons was just annoying. If it had been for a good cause, it might have been ok, but the effect was just a mediocre-looking site.
The layout (i.e. the way the elements were arranged on screen) was quite good, though, so this makeover was only of a purely optical nature. The default category became grey, signifying it's system-agnostic nature (and because I really like grey). Unofficial CSS declarations made corners round, boxes got an interlaced look and menus became 'shelves' attached to the main parts. Simple, yet attractive in my eyes.
However, that design brought along the end of one long tradition: browser compatibility. The previous designs had put that above formal correctness (of course, this had been due to the bad state of the common browsers of the time). Here, I did it the other way around, and promptly, the ancient Microsoft product stopped working. The whole top menu was completely broken for users of this antiquity. Complaints were rushing in (but seriously - whose fault is it that things didn't work for these people?).
Putting that issue aside, it was once again a period of tweaking rather than groundbreaking changes. A small tweak of the upper menu, a small tweak introducing small screenshots directly on the review page, the ability to submit reviews directly through a form, the option to download reviews in PDF format, links to reviews on other sites. All introduced step by step and most of them widely ignored and hardly used (which is, for example, why the PDF export isn't part of the current site incarnation anymore).
In addition, I started an initiative to get the secondary language of the site (German) back on the track as it had been falling behind with many articles and reviews only being published in English (the source of many complaints from German visitors). Of course, none of the whiners were willing to help, but surprisingly enough, many others lent a hand so that at least since then, the number of English-only texts hasn't increased anymore.
Content-wise, the growth rate was picking up again during that time. Mostly, that was due to old contents of closed ex-affiliates being incorporated. The collection of the former sister site 21st Century Oldies was added in 2006, and parts of The Keep found their way to TGOD in 2008. Of course, Wandrell, me and ever-changing other contributors carried on as well. Due to technology not getting in the way of things anymore and most things being automized by then, we all could concentrate on the contents - which is why there's little to tell about those years, although the site grew tremendously. Small so far, but it might become the future: I started toying with offering full CD games on the site. Again something nobody else really does.
The rewrite of the site (version 5) was originally scheduled for the eigth anniversary of the site in 2008. That fell through (in fact, I missed the deadline by several months as you can see), but as a first precursor to the changes, the comics section was seperated from the rest of the site again code-wise. After years of getting things together, this was a complete turnaround. However, in this case, I guess it makes sense, because TGOD is still two sites: one about classic computers, one about comics of the Masters of the Universe. It's a natural split.
The comics section also got a breeze of fresh air when I started systematically adding more scans again. My hope was to get others to join in and work together. Hope in vain, as it turned out, but still, a good deal of new scans (of a lot higher quality than the old ones, too) were added.
Version 5 (August 2008 - June 2011)
This was the site which was launched when this article was first written. Not a lot was changed in the backend. The main change concerned the frontend to administrate the site: The forms used to add and edit contents (which had existed since 2002) were made public so every registered user could use them. Registered user, in this context, meaning the existing forum accounts: Since the forum software is also my own work, sharing the accounts and user sessions was a logical step to integrate the two. This required a rewrite of these frontends, because once you let the whole world use something, there are much higher requirements for robustness, security and integrated help.
In the backend, all contents were converted to Unicode (long overdue). Almost the complete functionality had really been there before, though - just that it had become more visible. And it was, of course, accompanied by a change of appearance. Navigation elements were now grouped in a clearer manner: The left hand side providing acccess to many general sections, the top menu letting visitors search for games and the second top strip providing links to pages related to the current one. The obvious reason being that the amount of contents made it once again more important to provide cross references where appropriate: direct links to technical help for games, for example.
What this incarnation also showed, though, was that the days of revolutionary changes were pretty much over. Over the years, many decisions had been gradually developed which simply made sense. Why change something which is good?
Content-wise, the idea of discussion reviews was revived during this period. Another attempt to broaden the site's spectrum (and to cover a gap which no other site was taking care of), the floppy disk image collection was launched. While for most other systems, disk image formats had already been the common and prefered format for storing games for years, for some unknown reason, this was very different for IBM PC games which were usually preserved in installed (i.e. non-original) format. At the time of writing, the number of preserved games is already approaching 1000.
The one thing which triggered the next change was the realisation that it had taken one thing maybe too far: The navigation/interface was extremely optimised, but only geared towards regular, "expert" visitors. For these, it allowed very efficient ways to finding the contents they wanted. However, it left first-time visitors more or less puzzled - they couldn't unleash the full power of what the site was capable of. For a site whose goal it is to introduce new people to what "we" know and like, this was not ideal.
Version 6 (since June 2011)
This is the site you're looking at right now. Again, the usual question: Why? I'm not someone to answer this valid question with a 'why not'. It is just that a development like the one of this site, even if it spans more than a decade and it is very successful, still always has to deal with certain ups and downs.
Over the years, a lot of very different contents have been amassed. This showed in the previous, "complicated" design which tried to cover everything at once. This also lead to many parts of the site which were more-or-less filled with contents, but nothing new was ever done there. After all these years, the site needed to be re-focussed.
Discussions how to run the site in the future started in early 2010, but quickly went nowhere. Almost a year later, the consolidated ideas were picked up again; it turned out that the site should be about games. What does this mean? There are now only two main pillars carrying the site: the game archive itself and the articles. The latter (articles about general gaming topics) had been a part of the site before, but pretty much neglected. This incarnation of the site tries to put the focus on these musings.
Meaning: Hopefully, you'll be able to read more about general gaming topics here in the future. The treatment of individual games should not disappear, but the articles should give space for phenomenons and musings which are not specific to a certain game, genre or even system. Again, this is something we will be trying to do, but which is not really happening yet on many other sites.
The game archive is mostly what it used to be, but with one major policy change: A game entry does not necessarily need to be accompanied by a full review. The reason for this being twofold: First, the endless title discussion. This might seem like a non-issue at first glance, but everybody who has ever managed a database of anything will know the problem: Under which name do you enter something into your database? The most logical choice is the title in the country/language of origin. On a primarily English site, this leads to very low visibiblity of any games which do not originally come from English speaking countries, though. Do you know "ゼルダの伝説"? I bet you do - just under the title The Legend of Zelda. The new policy allows for different titles of the same game being entered, ensuring both correctness and visibility.
The second reason was an ongoing discussion about very similar games and alternate versions of the same game being virtually impossible to get into the database. Sometimes, these don't really need a complete review again - the existing review of another game/version is sufficient. Time will have to tell how this will turn out, but the basic rule is still that games should be reviewed; any exceptions need a good rationale.
This focus is meant to be reflected in the design: fewer, but clearer navigational elements. The side-effect being that some contents which have been labelled secondary can now only be found in hierarchical levels below the top one. Some contents have even be removed completely. This affects the applications: Although TGOD was once the largest site for classic applications of the whole Internet, that branch had been abandoned for many years already. There seems to be little chance to revive this; at least the current crew's motivation is virtually non-existent. Therefore, the applications which have worthwhile descriptions will be continued to be preserved here, but as a read-only archive. All applications which were only there fore "practical" reasons (e.g. emulators) have been removed completely.
So this is narrowing the topics on top level (games & articles), but on lower levels, these selected main topics should get even more details in the future. Our own original contents are already pretty strong thanks to years of discussion and work. Links to external sources, on the other hand, have not been very prominent yet. These should get more visible and extensive: whether it is reviews from old magazines or gameplay videos, interesting resources for this have been formed on the Internet over the years which we would like to reference as much as possible.
Reflecting this long history for the sake of this article, it is unbelievable that this hobby website has grown to proportions nobody would ever have imagined all those years ago... Nevertheless, the site still does get better and better. At least I'm very proud of it, and so should everyone who has taken part in it (sorry I couldn't list you all in the course of this article, but it has already become quite long...). The Good Old Days is here to stay - since "new" games become "old" all the time (more than one generation of games is already younger than this site), there will never be a lack of things to write about. It's just a matter of what the people who come here make of it.