Wednesday 9 October 2013

This site is not going anywhere :)

Hey all,

Just had my domain and site renewal in today, and even though I haven't updated this site in a scary number of years, I have decided to renew for another 2 years :)

There are a number of reasons for this, mainly because I want to experiment with new HTML5 features, new frameworks, and also expand Shields Down into new games.

Not only that, but also that I now have my own personal server sitting at home, and a new broadband line being installed this week (76Mb down, 20Mb up). This allows for a serious amount of flexibility of hosting new -things- and services. (Excluding hosting my own game servers, something I've wanted to do for oh-so-long!).

So this site is not going to disappear. When I get time, I will update this with the new framework, with the new user-editable pages, but alas, time is short for me at the moment.

So this will all happen one day. I'm nto sure when, but one day :)

Have a good one!


Sunday 20 January 2013

New framework... Yet again

TL;DR: Fell out with PHP (site program language), but new tech means I'm rebuilding the site from scratch using a new PHP framework. No timescales yet, but I will be opening a "build schedule", progress, and a "poke" to keep me active. More info later.


Some of you will have noticed this site is built in PHP, but I would imagine only a few of you will realise that I coded this site over 10 years ago. Back then I didn't know anything about keeping my code tidy, readable, user-friendly etc. and that's hindering my development efforts as some of my code is, well, scary. Real scary.

But at the time, this code worked and I had no need to go back and re-do it; I had so much more I wanted to code instead. This was a mistake. And I'm paying the price for it as every time I revisit the code to redevelop it, I shudder and lose motivation, easily becoming distracted.

So why am I telling you this? Well, apart from hoping a new coder somewhere will take note of my mistakes, it's more of a "What I'm going to do now". I want to get ready for HTML5, I want to get ready for all that new technology and have something in place to experiment, play around and see what work and what doesn't. So I've made the decision to rebuild the site from scratch.  That's not a decision I take lightly as, well, I made that decision last year, and that was also a mistake...

I started building a new site using the PHP Framework Kohana and it was going well, but when I wanted to get something more complex involved, I found I had to do a lot of configuration to do something simple. Maybe I was doing it wrong, trying to be too complex with Model auto-committing and eager loads, but it just didn't click. I was spending too much time tweaking to make it work and not enough time building the content. This was coupled with a catastrophic hard disk failure and I lost a lot of the tweaking. I didn't go back after that (NOTE: Make backups. Now. Because you never know when the same will happen to you!)

This also came with the famous "PHP Hammer" (and related article, well worth a read if you code). I laughed when reading the "bugs" on PHP as about 3 of the issues I was experiencing were documented, and to be completely honest, I lost every ounce of motivation for PHP. And, hence, the site wasn't updated since.

But another article recently appeared, stating "Why 2013 is the year for PHP" and it appears the latest versions of PHP has fixed a number of the issues that I experienced last year, and included a number of new, needed functionality (finally, literally!). The release for this PHP 5.5 is in Feb/March, and I for one cannot wait.

There's also been a large amount of chat about a new framework, Laravel and I've heard nothing bad about it. So that's what I'm using, and after 3 days I am absolutely loving it. I still have a ton of coding to do before I can get close to having a website online, but it's progressing nicely and I'm not being blocked by constant "tweak this" and "re-work this". It just.. works. And as a coder, that's all I want for now.

So, that's my plan. New PHP Framework, starting from scratch, and to keep me motivated I'm also going to make my "todo" board public where you'll decide what's more important, and help me decide what to work on next. I'll also have a "poke" button so if I do go quiet again, you'll be able to poke me for an update and/or to get it done.

I hope this will be a new era for Shields Down, for myself, and something you will enjoy and use in the future.

Have a good one!


Thursday 19 April 2012

ICO Cookie - Login may be disabled soon

Hi Everyone,

The EU will soon put into force the ICO cookie EU directive which basically means websites must explain if cookies are being used, how they are being used and in some circumstances allow the user to opt-in before the cookie is created. Some work is required to make this site comply with this directive, but I thought this would be an appropriate time to explain the current situation and what needs to be done.

First, note the "some circumstances". Essential cookies don't require permission, and this is something I am reading on to see what classifies as "essential". IE to access certain parts of the site, I need to use a cookie to remember who you are...

Also I need to update (*cough* create *cough*) a privacy policy.

In fact, that's about it... the advertising doesn't use cookies/tracking/etc (one of the reasons I love Project Wonderful!) and the only time a cookie is placed is when you log in. I need to change how the cookies work on the site as well - I have them on a persistence basis (so it remembers who you are) - this will need to change to a session basis so it removes the cookie once you close the browser.

So in a nutshell - there may be some "behind the scenes" changes to how cookies are handled, also I may have to temporarily deactivate the login section of the site next month (I'll warn you all before that happens).

Anyway, that's enough from me. Sorry I haven't been active, mix of economic climate, workload, external projects and other external projects means most the time I'm exhausted or working on other major projects. The new site code is still there and I will hopefully be working on it again soon. Feels that every time I finish one job, two more gets added...

Take it easy!


PS This post was edited at 23:43GMT 19/04/12

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Saturday 23 July 2011


Well the ARG event is complete, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. But you may be asking what is an ARG and how it may have involved you and Shields Down. Well, let me explain.

ARG stands for Alternate Reality Game, an event where you, the player, participate and affect a story based on your actions or ideas. In this version I based it on the highly successful ValveARG, (it's end result was releasing Portal 2 earlier in the week). I wanted to try this on a small scale (seeing as the ValveARG was MASSIVE!)

Two reasons.
Generate Hype - Shields Down had been offline for a while and my fear was if I flicked the 'on' switch, no one would notice. I wanted to generate some hype, some chatter around the site returning.

Interest - I loved being part of the ValueARG, and I wanted to try one out myself. It looked fun, and I thought "why not" and "when would there be a better opportunity?"

The Plan
The initial plan was to send a large, encoded message, partitioned to many players based on their activity on Shields Down, IRC chat and activity on Core Exiles. Decoding and placing the fragments in the right order would have produced a CE related spam message, but with a hidden embedded URL. The url would have taken you to the "he/is/safe" website.

These messages would have been sent to players and staff alike - I didn't even tell the staff this event was happening! (Apart from Coops; he kindly gave permission to use Core Exiles as the host for the event)

*The next step has been removed from this post as I think it's a great idea, and I might use it again in the future - Sorry!*

Finally, the mech battles. A couple of core mechs to start a timer, followed by more mechs to quicken the timer.

What Actually Happened
With advise from some close friends, I decided to test the water before jumping straight into it.

And am I thankful that I heeded the advise of others.

In the end I decided to encode a small phrase containing some key words - specifically about a Phoenix. If successful I would have reverted to the original plan. If not, I would modified it.

The first few hours didn't go well. Some players were concerned it was a hacker, taking control of my SDLottery account, trying to scam other players. Other players didn't know what to do, so deleted them without reading the message. It got to a point where the Core Exiles staff took administrative action on the account, resetting the account's password and limiting my access. I realised my errors too late, and thought this event was lost.

But, the following morning, I found players had started posting on the forums about it - decoding & putting different fragments together. Successfully, you got the quote, so I continued the ARG. I changed the scenario though, skipping the next step, claiming the password was the quote's author (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra). In IRC, I placed a link to the he/is/safe link.

The event went well after this: 6 major mech battles over the weekend started a clock, followed by many minor ones to quicken the clock. As you hopefully saw, the clock was the time remaining until the site came back online, reducing after each minor mech was destroyed.

What I learnt
A heck of a lot. Almost too much to put in a blog post, but a couple of key points:
  • Build up a background story. I instantly went into an ARG with 1 line giving a background - and that made players concerned and confused. I think building up a story will ease them in, or realise a game is being played
  • Be ready for anything. An ARG is directed by you, the players. The creator may have a plan and may even have players following it, but others will see things that aren't there. This isn't a bad thing - I found a couple of routes they saw that I didn't, so coded them in as I liked them.
  • Confusion by other players. I couldn't customise the mechs names any more then the next person, so if someone else used a mech prefix of SD, others may think it's part of the ARG when it isn't.
  • Monitor and intervening - I was monitoring the chat and the forums, seeing where you were looking and going with the ARG, but there were many times that I wanted to intervene and steer you to my path/plan. But, doing so would make me a director, preventing you from being a player of the ARG. Most the time I was developing on your ideas and thoughts, realising any plan I had was useless. I did make one, major intervention though - when the CE staff got involved in regards to the hacking suggestions. Apart from that, this ARG was created by all of you!
The Conclusion
Overall, I would classify this as a success. The beginning was iffy, and I'm confident that if I went for the original plan to begin with it would have been a complete failure. I'm happy that you found the pattern and worked together to combat the mechs. I learnt a lot from this, and I personally really enjoyed expanding the story based on your actions.

I'm already planning the next ARG, but I'll leave it to you to find it when it starts.

The Recovery

I realised last week that I wasn't progressing as much as I wanted on my new framework, and with each passing day I was delaying my relaunch. After a long coffee I decided that the delays weren't fair on you, the players, the community who want the site back. As such, I changed my goal:

Get the old Shields Down back online and re-secured, and then work on the framework.

So, that's what I did, and that's what happened. It's the same site as before but with each query being checked and going through a vigorous query checker before being executed. I am confident the attacks that happened will not affect the site again.

I've updated some of the schematics, but some of the very new schematics caused my script to collapse. I'm reworking the issue and will update you when the remaining are updated.

Apart from there is one change. You might notice a new tab above. You might want to check it out - especially if you are going to be actively involved in the Stomp The Staff weekend on the weekend of the 29th July 2011!

Take care,

Thursday 19 May 2011

Alert: Virus Outbreak - Starbase 70 (Derren)

This just in from the ISN Twitter feed:

Deadly virus found infection captains on Starbase 70 in the Derren system of the Furnace Galaxy. Dozens infected!! More later.

More news as and when it comes in.

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Saturday 16 October 2010


I have a strong feeling that 10 months, 16 days ago I made a resolution to care and promote Shields Down to the best of my abilities. Sufficed to say I didn't even get close to this. There are reasons why and excuses, but at the same time I look back at the past 10 months and I think 'I could have done more'.

Saying that, I'm not going to promise that I will update it. Don't get me wrong, I will try, but I have new work projects that need to take priority, often leaving me at my desk until the wee hours of the night.

The site will remain alive, I've got no doubts about that. I'm also keeping eyes on the latest developments in Core Exiles, and noticed a HUGE number of new schematics have become available. I will attempt to get them on here as soon as I can :)

I will apologise to all of my users, it must be hard and frustrating not knowing when an update will happen or if the information is up to date, but feel free to kick me on an email if I seem to be failing on my task to update this site.

If anyone has anything they want to see on the site which they could use please email me or catch me in chat.


PS, What's the penalty for breaking a new years resolution?