Welp, we tried

Sad as I am to say it, the site just isn’t getting the traffic we anticipated, or hoped it would based on what happened in the past. Thank you all who are left for sticking with us for this long, and I hope we will all stay in touch through the steam group.

The site will remain up until the next billing period, that is 8/15. At that point, I will downgrade the hosting (which means the database will have to go). The forums may remain up indefinitely, depending on whether or not I renew the domains come 2014.

Once again, I’m sad to see this go as mAI has been a big part of my life for years now, and leaving it just feels wrong. But this time, it’s our own decision, and not the forced exile we experienced from mAL, so we have no one to blame but ourselves.

I wish you all the best of luck in your future endeavors, and hope your cakes are not falsehoods. It’s been fun.

We officially own myApertureLabs.com – and all the content

The domain transfer hasn’t finished processing yet because it apparently takes a while, and I may be jumping the gun here, but I’m tentatively announcing that we now own the myApertureLabs.com domain! That’s right, I talked to Nick the other day on a whim and it turns out that not only was he on, he was willing to give us the domain – and all the old site’s content. He apparently had a backup of the old database, which he’s uploading to our web server so that we preserve the efforts of 4 years of portal mappers.

So what does this mean? Well, for one thing, it means we no long have to be myApertureInnovations. Do we want to switch back? Put a little “Formerly mAL” in the site header? Discuss in the comments thread.

Secondly, it will take a little while to get all the old maps in the new system, but once I do our content will explode. None of it seems to have any associated data (title, description, publishing date) as of yet (it’s not finished uploading, nick might have a metadata file at the end of it – I don’t know). So, if it doesn’t, I may need to put together a team of content-sifters to go through it all and put in the relevant information for all the files. If you’re interested, post so in the thread.

Finally, I discovered recently that my well of pocket change does run dry, especially in the winter. Once again, any site donations are welcomed and will be put to use. We currently own 2 domains, so unless that changes the average yearly cost is going to be higher than before. I really don’t want to have to put advertising on the site but it might come down to that, if this kind of thing happens again.

Anyway, happy new year and happy testing.

First Official Mapping Contest Results!

Hey folks, you heard it right – we’ve got the winners of our first official mapping contest! It’s been a great couple of months, and we got a better-than-expected turnout! Now, you’re probably all anxiously awaiting to see if you won, so here we go:

First place: Imperator by Coppermantis!
Second place: Conspiracy by Idolon!

For the rest of the results, and specific numbers/judge feedback, just take a look at the results page here.

Just to remind you, the first place winner will receive the Cake Poster, a $30 value item or game on steam, first Community Spotlight, and an mAI seal of approval, as well as recognition on their forum profile. The second place winner will receive a $15 value item or game on steam, an mAI seal of approval, and recognition on their forum profile. Everyone who submitted a map will get a badge on their forum profile. Expect to see the site-based ones visible on the site within the next week or so, and as for the rest, just contact me (p0rtalplayer).

Excellent work to everyone who participated, we got some great maps submitted to the contest that were truly enjoyable to play. Keep up the great work, and happy mapping!

myApertureInnovations First Official Mapping Contest

Hello employees, Cave Johnson here. You all have permission to take a temporary break from your work to listen to this important company-wide announcement. That is, I gave permission for a mandatory break. Stop what you’re doing or you’re fired. Also, your pay stops until the break is over.

Every time I look at our little community here, I am reminded of the old site. Now, it wasn’t big. Just a simple mapping site. A simple mapping site that produced great maps. These maps were the backbone of the activities on the site. Make ‘em from scratch. Spare no expense. And never cut corners. Well, except for when making fancy custom aesthetics with rounded edges, obviously you cut them there. Point is, we had a pretty good thing going. Until, one day, the site up and died. Just like that. And I thought to myself, “Cave, that won’t do at all.” So I went and I built this site from scratch, with just a text editor and an FTP client. Inspiring stuff. Oh, and some other people helped too. Point is, we’re almost done! Still some spit-shine left to put on, but I think it’s high time we put ourselves back out there as a portal mapping community. So that’s why we’re having a contest to promote the site.

Allow me to introduce the first official mAI Mapping Contest! Community building event, with some advertising thrown in. The theme of the contest is Custom Content. A good map doesn’t just have a difficult puzzle, it also makes itself look real pretty. Hold on… Greg tells me that the contest also allows audio content. Point is, make your map something special, so the judges will like it. That’s right, you’re being judged. Stand straighter.

All right, any questions? That was a rhetorical question, as this is a pre-recorded message. All right, get back to work. And get started on those maps!

You can view the contest details here.

What’s the news with the News?

So after breaking the site approximately 15.67 times, I’ve finally managed to get news and forums inextricably linked together. Okay, so what does that mean? It means two things, basically:

1) Any posts I, or the other admins/moderators make will automatically be posted to the forums under the correct user (this sounds boring but believe me, it’s a lot harder than you’d think)

2) Comments (assuming I open them up on the blog side of things, not sure if I will yet) will be automatically cross-posted back and forth, so you’ll be able to see forum posts on the blog and vice versa (though the versa is less necessary)

Now, that’s the first piece of news. The second piece is more of a request for feedback on something. Some of us agree that a contest would be a good way to promote the site, once it’s ready for launch (which, excitingly, is getting very close now). Here’s what we need to figure out for that:

– What is the contest about? (SFM, Portal 2 mapping, TF2 mapping, etc)
– When does the contest take place? (School needs to be a consideration for some)
– Who will be judging (I need RELIABLE judges, and I might want to enter myself – it’s also possible that we could open this up to the community, if it’s something workshop compatible, and see what has the most upvotes at the end of a specified period or something of the like)
– What will the prizes be? (I can provide funds for some cheap ($15-$20) first/second place prizes, if necessary. Contributions would be welcome, too)

Try to mainly use this thread to discuss the contest. Keep the news post thread for bugs/feedback on the news feature.

A Visit to Valve

As some of you may already know, I had the opportunity to visit Valve Software today, by way of a Digipen Summer Workshop. It was a unique experience and one I h ope to have again, because that place is so full of interesting and exciting things that I couldn’t possibly remember all of them. This blog post will cover some of the salient points.

So we pull up to Valve’s building – a nondescript skyscraper in the middle of Bellevue. There isn’t even a sign for them anywhere on the bottom floor or the surrounding street. We walk in, and take the elevator up to the fifth floor – Valve owns 4-9 of the building, and the lobby is on 5. There, we enter the lobby. It’s smaller than it looks it pictures, but just as awesome – pics coming at the end of the post. After waiting around for a bit, our tour guide came in. She introduced herself as Christina (looking at the Valve people page, I don’t see her – it’s possible I misheard and she’s Christen Coomer, though she said she worked on internal stuff at Valve which doesn’t match up) and then we started through the door labeled with the Mann Co. Label.

The first thing we passed on the tour was a testing room, equipped with 5 or 6 of the famous mobile desks, each with computers sporting a range of biofeedback sensors. I think we would have been using this room or one similar later in the day, but alas, we were unable to do the playtesting part of the session due to their machines being configured for a Dota tournament.

Next thing we passed was their ITG – that is, IT group room. They had a slew of half-assembled computers, bundles of peripherals, and various sized monitors lying around. The tour guide told us that they change out all the employees’ computers every 6 months, to keep them up to date and because, apparently, they fill up fast (hard drive space, I think is what she was referring to). She also said the parts from used computers are repurposed for their testing machines – computers where they test software compatibility on any given hardware setup.

We then walked down a couple halls with a bunch of neat concept art. In one, they had tacked up a whole bunch of fan art and letters they’ve received. I noticed at the end they had that Valve Time clock – pretty sure that one’s a permanent installation. In another they had about 35 portal 2 concepts – including some I’ve never seen before and I’m pretty sure have never been released. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed outside the lobby, but luckily some of them were reproduced in a book in the lobby – pics at bottom. Here we stopped and she talked about Valve’s management structure. I won’t reproduce it in detail here since it’s already been covered other places, but basically, employees work on whatever they want by moving their desks into cabals, and they try to eliminate all sense of failure – there’s no deadlines, and they don’t put their name on anything they’re not completely and totally proud of. That bit about no deadlines, even though I have heard it before, did catch my attention. That’s why Valve Time is a thing, and it’s integral to their whole structure.

After passing through a couple more of these – with some tantalizing arts from Left 4 Dead, and concepts of the steam 10′ UI (more on that later) – we hit the famous Valve Snack Bar. It wasn’t exactly what I expected – it’s more of a convenience store than a restaurant counter. But the variety of stuff that they had there was impressive, and apparently it’s kept stocked according to employee demands, which is cool. They also have food stations on every floor, which are more tailored to whoever happens to be working there at the time. We weren’t fortunate enough to eat in the iconic lines of orange chairs, but we did get to have pizza down in the conference room. On the way down we passed what was labelled the “Pinball Zone” – a collection of 11 or more pinball tables that immediately made me realize that Mojang was probably copying them.

So then we had lunch in the conference room. This was the end of the tour, and I was a bit dissapointed to not have seen anything potentially leakable – I guess that was all on floors 7 and 8, which the tour didn’t touch at all. (Floor 9, the tour guide mentioned, was under construction at the moment because they are building a sound studio where they can have bands play and have voice actors come in). After eating and enjoying the view, we waited around a bit for the next part – a Q&A session with a Valve programmer.

Tom Bui’s official bio pretty much covers everything he told us about himself – he graduated from UC Berkley with a degree in Computer Science, he worked on Spore and the Sims, and once he joined Valve he worked on some parts of TF2 (mannconomy) and Portal 2 (presumably, the bot enrichment). He’s currently working in the Steam cabal – apparently he contributed to the workshop, among other things. Then we got down to the really interesting bits.

I asked three questions here (more than any of the other students, made me feel a little awkward). The first was kind of stupid, I had earlier mistaken the 10′ UI concepts for some kind of windows 8 metro UI concepts. I asked about that and he corrected my assumption, and mentioned that they didn’t have anything planned for a special “app” version of steam for windows 8 – I guess that makes sense with what Gabe said in an interview recently. The second, more relevant here, was to ask when SFM was getting Portal 2 support. He said that the SFM team is mostly focused on fixing bugs right now, but the next game they’re officially supporting is Left 4 Dead. Dissapointing. And finally, the third, and probably the juciest – is there going to be an update or replacement for hammer coming? His answer: Yes. Well, he amended, they’re working on the next gen tech (he stuttered and said engine – not sure whether this means they’re trying not to refer to it as a new engine, or what) and it will, in fact, have a new set of tools to go with it. He didn’t clarify any further, but it’s cool to get confirmation of that.

In response to some of the other questions (mostly from the workshop instructor, Keith) there was also some interesting information. For example, he mentioned that Valve hires based on experience rather than education. Having shipped several games is preferable to having a piece of paper that says you’re a game designer. Also, he said that Valve doesn’t do internships because their flat management structure means that no one has the micromanaging skills to keep an intern busy all the time.

That was just about it. After this wewould havehad that playtesting session, but again it was cancelled. Instead we went back out into the lobby and they gave us goody boxes – cardboard companion cubes with some Valve swag inside. I got a plush companion cube, an aperture science iPhone gelaskin, and a Dota sticker. I snagged a couple pictures of their impressive trophy case and magazine display, and then we had to go.

I really enjoyed it there, and I think I would love to work at such a weird, but awesome game company. Guess I have to get a head start making games – and so should anyone else who wants to, it would seem.

Comments? Head over to the forums to post.

To see the pictures, check out the album here.


Download Database is a Go!

That’s right folks! I’ve been working my butt off (well…sort of) the last couple of months to get this thing working, and with absolutely zero PHP and Javascript experience, it’s been quite the ride. But after much testing, it’s finally ready.

Well, almost ready. Here’s what’s working:

  • File uploads
  • Viewing files
  • Downloading files
  • Recently uploaded files

And here’s what still needs work:

  • Moderation of files (that’s right guys, moderaters will have power in the file database too!)
  • Proper searching (this is the very next thing on my to-do list)
  • Comment threads (for now, feel free to go ahead and create yours manually in the appropriate Releases section
  • Adding a PTI file submission option
  • Ratings

It’s been pretty dead around here, so I’m hoping this helps to stir back in some life!

Check it out, and start uploading your files here. Keep in mind that I’m still working on it and it’s possible that your files could be deleted accidentally. Also, the site not being stable yet, maybe don’t spread it around too much yet.

Thanks for sticking around, and have a good summer.

Comment on this news post here.

News? Sure.

The last post was rather brief, placeholder to make sure the blog was working. This post will be longer and explain what exactly the plans are for the site in the future, and how they will be achieved.

The first thing I’d like to talk about is the main part of the site – the file database. All of the other parts – the wiki, forums, and this blog/news thing – came as easily installable modules with the website software. I did a bit of modification and I still have lots to do on each, but the file database is going to be completely from scratch. Well, is, I should say. I have started making it, but I’m running into lots of road bumps due to my inexperience with PHP and mySQL.

The current state of this is a mockup of the front page, and a file upload page that sort of works. The front page currently has very little interaction, though eventually it should show recent maps, recent news posts, and maybe recent forum posts. The upload page contains a form for uploading map files. This part I want to get up as soon as possible, so that we can start functioning as the site we want to become. I still have a few changes to make on this, and I’d like to get the map browsing pages up before it “goes gold,” but if you want to check out its progress, just go here.

As I mentioned, I have very little experience with PHP and mySQL that would be the backbone of this facility, err, site. If you think you can help, by all means message me on steam, I’d be glad of any help I can get.

Now the next order of business, the forums. I’m more or less satisfied with their current condition, though I would like to get some more options for topic icons. Colossal’s current ones are okay and I might end up going with them anyway, but some people don’t seem to like them. Most of what I want to do with the forums is automation – getting news posts, file uploads, and events up there. I’m more familiar with the forums as a user than a developer though, and most of phpBB is impenetrable to me…there’s a wealth of information out on the web though so I think it should be fine.

And then we come to the wiki. This portion of the site is subject to much debate, which you can follow in the wiki thread. Current plans are outlined there, though they are definitely subject to change. Not much to say that I haven’t already said at much length there.

Finally, this news site. I don’t want it to stand out so much from the main site, and in fact I’m considering not using the wordpress as the blog system. That is, I’m considering having all the posts be automatically published to the forums, and having comments be forum posts. This’d require some work to make seamless, though, and I’m still thinking about it. WordPress does have some nice features, like a record of posts organized by date, so I’m not sure I want to do away with it entirely.

In terms of development, this section has been getting fairly little progress. I attempted a few weeks ago to install a plugin that would allow forum users to access the blog and make comments with a single account, but I ran into weird problems installing this, and it had poor support, so I gave up in favor of the plan I mentioned above. Besides that and the news post I’m writing now, the only thing I’ve done is add in the code to reference the header.

Hopefully this blog…news…whatever it’s gonna be called…post gave you some insight on where the site stands and what’s going to be happening with it. We’re not on a set timescale and I’m prepared to take as long as necessary to provide a rich, friendly experience that will maybe make us on par with that other site and the workshop. We’ll see.

Comments should be disabled. To talk about this post, visit the forum thread.