First steps toward a potential new design
February 27, 2011

Okay, the comments in previous threads got my mind running and I've just spent the last couple of hours or so on what may be the start of a new design of the current site that keeps the current content but provides reviews with a more prominent focus throughout the site. I believe that this design implements a lot of the feedback that some of you have provided.

To give you a general idea of where I'm headed with this idea, though of course it's up for modification, the site's top bars would lose most of the current links. Instead, there would be a single bar that lists the various systems (as there is now). A few key user functions (such as Submit, My Blog, HG Mail(#), Logout/Login) would be placed on the site near the logo so that they appear on each page but don't take up extra real estate. The search bar could perhaps move to the right vertical bar or something along those lines.

Below all of that, you'd have your content for individual pages. The change I've worked on in the last couple of hours would be relevant on the site's main page and on system index pages. It could also frame reviews.

Instead of listing a bunch of content for each content type, the index page would now list the newest staff reviews and the newest reader reviews. Here's an example box:

There would be four or five of the newest staff reviews, along with four or five of the newest user reviews below that. Each review would be previewed in the box that you see above.

Some notes about the box:

1) The picture in the upper left corner would include game cover art for the game being reviewed. As on the current site, the "HG" logo in a black box would appear if no cover art is available. Clicking on that image would take the viewer to the game profile page for the game in question.

2) The title would appear on the black bar and would potentially be clickable. It also would lead to the game profile page.

3) "Review by..." would be followed by the full account name for staff members or the username for user reviews, as is true now. The date in parentheses will let viewers know at a glance how new the content that they are viewing is.

4) The review excerpt will be just that--an excerpt--for staff reviews, which have that functionality. For reader reviews, which have not had that functionality, the first paragraph from the review can be included as a sample. People like samples. They're more likely to read a review if the sample catches their eye, and of course the first paragraph in any review should catch a reader's eye.

5) The image in the lower right corner will be the one that appears on the site forums, resized to half its usual size. This will make it easy to identify the author at a glance, and because forum avatars are chosen from approved images on the site, will make it more difficult for users to post reviews and then switch avatars to make something inappropriate appear on the site.

Now all that's left to explain is the content on that lower white bar, which would to a certain extent be dynamic.

Read Full Review
Links to the review and also allows "Read Full Review" to serve as an internal link, which can't hurt from an SEO perspective.

Leave Feedback
This could say "Leave Feedback" if no one has left any feedback, or it could say "Comments(#)" if someone has left comments in a feedback thread. That will make it easy to tell at a glance if others have started commenting on the review, which may get more discussion going sooner for reviews... and keep it going once it starts. Users who aren't logged into their accounts and who try to start a feedback thread would be taken to the account log-in/new account page.

Author Profile
This link would take the user to the review author's blog.

Review This Game
This link would take users either to an account sign-in page, or automatically to a page that allows them to submit a review for the game (if they are signed into their account), reminding users that they are encouraged to submit content and making it easy to do so. Constant, subtle reminders increase the likelihood that readers will get involved. The call to action also can help with SEO.

Related Content
This link could take readers to the game profile page, which can in turn list all content types. This would ensure that other types of content, such as cheats and FAQs, still have a chance to be viewed and appreciated but no longer take up unnecessary space on the front page.

I am quite fond of the new box because:

1) I think that it looks reasonably attractive and can be blended into an updated site design in an attractive manner.

2) The new box does a lot of things well that the current design does not, including the aforementioned calls to action and the SEO perks.

3) A design that uses the box in the right places will make it clear that the community is one that is focused on reviews, but intelligent design around the boxes will allow other content to flourish, particularly as the review-centric site continues to build a larger audience and more readers start using and contributing other content types. Meanwhile, the site no longer suffers if that content is updated less frequently in the present.

I'm not sure how effectively the potential design comes through in this forum post. I'll try to produce a mock-up design soon so that you can see it in action. In the meantime, I wanted you all to see what I'm working on and get a feel for the sort of things that I'm considering.

The design as noted above has an added benefit, by the way: because no content is removed from the site, we can move toward an updated design in shorter order and without any content lost, giving us a chance to continue evaluating future changes at a more comfortable pace. Some of the other ideas presented in the feedback--many of which revolve around completely new features for the site rather than changes to the current features--will be possible to consider more efficiently once we have ensured that current content is performing to its fullest potential.

Most recent blog posts from Jason Venter...

EmP EmP - February 27, 2011 (02:51 AM)
I approve. It sounds like a better way of funneling focus and showing off what we have.

I think there still might be some place in the site for the 10 star rating system to be intergrated. It might be worth seeing if that can also be included.
jerec jerec - February 27, 2011 (02:54 AM)
Seeing those on the front page looks more interesting than box art/game title link for new reviews. Especially if the writer manages to use that sample text to great effect to get people interested in reading.
fleinn fleinn - February 27, 2011 (03:24 AM)
"Ooooh! My respect for you has increased greatly!" :p

Seriously, though. This along with more easily accessible buttons for the forums and blogs - looks great. I mean, I've always liked the retro-look. So keeping it for the text-links and the content and so on, without making it dominating the frontpage.. that looks very nice, in my opinion.
Leroux Leroux - February 27, 2011 (05:20 AM)
Thumbs up bro. Looks nice.
wolfqueen001 wolfqueen001 - February 27, 2011 (08:03 AM)
I think this is a great idea. It's definitely a step in the right direction, in my book, and certainly can't hurt anything, I don't think. As you said, once this idea gets put into place, we can see how well it actually works then consider making further modificaitons as needed.

Thanks, Jason. I really mean that. I especially appreciate the manner in which you posted this and consulted the community. I think that's what a lot of people would have liked to see from the very beginning.

I'm actually pretty excited now, and I haven't been in a long while, I must admit.
overdrive overdrive - February 27, 2011 (09:11 AM)
I do like this idea. Seems to have a lot of potential.
pickhut pickhut - February 27, 2011 (09:53 AM)
Sounds interesting, though I can't really say much without seeing a full, frontpage prototype or something. For some reason, I keep picturing a row of giant pills taking up the index page. >_>
Suskie Suskie - February 27, 2011 (10:35 AM)
I like.
JoeTheDestroyer JoeTheDestroyer - February 27, 2011 (12:04 PM)
I dig it.
WilltheGreat WilltheGreat - February 27, 2011 (12:17 PM)
That's pretty slick, Jason. I really like it, and I like the inclusion of the excerpt text even more.

Eight or ten of those on the index page might look a bit cluttered, though. But we'll see.
pickhut pickhut - February 27, 2011 (12:19 PM)
Wtf, I didn't know there was another end, my browser ot whatever keeps cutting off the right end of that image.
Halon Halon - February 27, 2011 (02:41 PM)
Seems good and I support this idea 100%, but I never really had a problem with the design in the first place. The problem is the lack of community and enthusiasm, and if this is something that could potentially bring new blood in and/or inspire the vets to write again then I'm all for it!
honestgamer honestgamer - February 28, 2011 (02:43 AM)
I have toiled for most of the last 15 hours or so and the result is the following page:

I'm quite pleased with the new page for a number of reasons:

1) It's now much easier to keep track of which of the latest reviews have received feedback (and it should be easier for conversations about various reviews to get started and to be maintained thereafter).

2) The text-heavy format for reviews in the main column has already caused me to look at reviews I might not otherwise have read, and I anticipate that the same will be true for others. We're a literary group here and not afraid of reading, so I think the new design better reflects that even if it's not especially flashy.

3) The design on the right side of the site would feel off-balance with the current design, but with the new design it's eye-catching and can make duller pages (such as game pages that people will use to browse the database) more attractive.

4) More Featured and Exclusive reviews can now be listed on appropriate pages throughout the site at once, which should provide additional incentive to submit here exclusively... and to win Review of the Week!

There are a bunch of tiny details in the design that I'm very pleased with, but I'd bore myself to tears going over all of them right now and providing notes on why they're an improvement. I realize that the design isn't perfect and that in some areas there are small trade-offs, but overall I consider the new design a vast improvement because of its ease of use and its tight focus. I hope you all like it as much as I do.
jerec jerec - February 28, 2011 (03:20 AM)
That's looking pretty good. I like how the site looks more modern, shows more information at a glance... it just looks a lot more appealing.
wolfqueen001 wolfqueen001 - February 28, 2011 (06:04 AM)
Yeah, that's pretty swanky. I do have one question about it, though: are the forums / staff / featured / exclusive review section really at the bottom of the ten "most recently submitted" section, or is that just the way it sort of copied into the model you had? I ask only because I could easily see all that as a left and/or right column, though that might get a bit crowded. However, I am concerned that, depending on how the front page actually looks, people might find it inconvenient to scroll all the way down just to check the recent forum posts or look specifically at staff / exclusive/feature reviews. Also, would there still be a focus window?

That's just one thing, though. I'd like to stress that I really do think this is a neat layout and has immense potential in my mind. It just looks all around appealing, and hopefully it'll work out great when it's time to actually implement it.

Thanks, Jason.
Halon Halon - February 28, 2011 (09:18 AM)
I like it a lot. The leave comments for reviews is great and way better than sloppy system we have now. Also I'd "dumb down" the forums a little bit. It probably wouldn't hurt to add features such as quote, bold/italic/underline, youtube, links, image (maybe) etc. If you don't know html or at least willing to look up tags you're pretty restricted on these forums.
zigfried zigfried - February 28, 2011 (09:47 AM)
Liking it so far.

honestgamer honestgamer - February 28, 2011 (10:16 AM)
Here's a resized screen capture to give you an idea of what you should be seeing on the site:

I took that screen capture in Firefox, since that's what a lot of you seem to use, but it looks pretty dang close to identical in Internet Explorer. Please view the page and press 'F5' on your keyboard to make sure that you're loading everything fresh, not from a cache. Let me know if what you see resembles the above screenshot.

It seems to me that the new design is a winner. I'd like to implement it on the front page and make a few tweaks to some other key pages sometime later today so we roll out the first phase of the new design. More will follow, obviously, since there's a lot of work involved in making a new design have proper integration throughout the site. I'm anxious to have things set up and operating smoothly ASAP so that I can have more time for things like site promotion... and playing and reviewing games, and freelance work... and sleep.
wolfqueen001 wolfqueen001 - February 28, 2011 (11:45 AM)
Hm... Well, I don't know why it's not displaying like that on my browser (I tried the F5 thing and opened it on a separate window), but hopefully that won't matter when you implement it in real time. That resized screenshot, though, looks fantastic, and that's rather how I imagined it'd look, so that's all good by me. Hopefully whatever's going on with your mock up design is just some stupid browser issue on my part and won't really effect anyone else, or even be an issue once the design is actually implemented.

It really does seem to just be me, though, so that's probably a good thing.
JANUS2 JANUS2 - February 28, 2011 (12:59 PM)
There needs to be another black line between the last two entries in the tables on the right side of the page. Between Castlavania and Game Dev Story for example.
honestgamer honestgamer - February 28, 2011 (01:00 PM)
Actually, the goal wasn't to have any black lines between most entries. I'll look into that.
WilltheGreat WilltheGreat - February 28, 2011 (01:05 PM)
My only criticism would be the excerpts seem a bit wordy; what do y'all think bout them to about half their current length? Or would that be too much?

Overall I like it. Having a bunch of those on the main page doesn't look cluttered at all like I thought it might.
honestgamer honestgamer - February 28, 2011 (01:28 PM)
I already have some exerpts from user reviews being trimmed, but I can trim them further. Probably another 200 characters or so. It's tougher with user reviews because people don't write first paragraphs thinking (necessarily) about how it'll look in that little box. So I'm still working toward a reasonable balance.
jerec jerec - February 28, 2011 (01:30 PM)
Can there be an excerpt box on the submission form so we can put any passage from the review in there?
Suskie Suskie - February 28, 2011 (01:38 PM)
Excellent work, Jason. I do have a few further suggestions, and while these are are very small, I figured I'd offer my input while you're still ironing out all of the kinks:

1. Love the look of the front page's review feed, but the sidebar still looks a bit generically boxy. I was initially going to suggest removing the names for the staff/featured/exclusive reviews (thus leaving just the cover art images), but while that would probably result in a cleaner look, I understand it's not practical. Still, I'd say the boxiness of the sidebar contrasts with the main page's more modernized look.

2. Is there a way we'll be able to choose the excerpt that goes on the front page, rather than simply making it the first paragraph of the review by default? I don't know if this is a good idea or not, but I figured I'd throw it out there.

3. This is entirely a matter of preference, but I'd change the "Read Full Review/Leave Feedback/Review This Game" links to "Read full review," etc. I'm not a fan of excessive capitalization, but again, that's just me.

That's all I can think of for a moment. It's looking great so far and we appreciate the work you're putting into this.

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