I hadn't done a whole lot with my eponymous website in a decade; not as if the thing gets a boatload of traffic, but as someone who makes his living and has his major hobbies all connected to the web, it was a bit awkward to have something quite so stale. In the time since the site was last refreshed, I've learned a great deal about design and development, changed my focus personally and professionally, and lived in a great many varied places, and that's something I wanted to reflect in my own personal webspace. Hence, this new alvies.org site.
The Design Impetus
For a long time, I'd toyed with the idea of making a site that had a design personalized to where I was living, all the way back to when I first moved to the suburbs north of New York City in 2004. While never a New Yorker per se, native or adopted, living in a place so far removed from where I grew up had quite an impact on me that even my brief prior stint living in Chicago didn't quite match. I never did get around to acting on that impulse, though, and after another couple months living temporarily in Chicago, I moved to Boston, adding another major city to my stable of homes.
My family has moved even more since then, coming back west to Kansas City, then back for another sojourn to New England, and most recently to the south, living on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain just outside of New Orleans. It's been educational to say the least, and the most recent move really rekindled my interest in having all of these cities reflected in my own personal portfolio.
Once upon a time, this idea in my head involved illustrated skylines of each city. As a web dev intern in Chicago at the turn of the century, my team had executed a similar idea for a site for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Chicago, and I always appreciated the simplicity of it, but as I thought about it more, it became too simple. Certainly each city has its share of unique features in its skyline, whether it's the Willis Tower or Navy Pier in Chicago, the Empire State Building in New York, or the Citgo sign in Boston, but outside of these major features, cities have a tendency to look pretty similar when viewed as a flat, abstract line. The features themselves become more the key, as I realized while working with a similar yet fictional theme for the current iteration of the Caves of Narshe.
Thinking about that, I came to realize that I probably have decent photos of many of the sites I'd want to feature from generally being a tourist in many of them. But I've also never been much of a fan of sites that are designed around large photos - I find them quite distracting, by and large, even in many cases photos that are intentionally taken to create abstract or impressionistic forms. I find that they end up needing to be too washed out or too simplistic, and even then you end up forcing the user to download a lot more information than they need to to get to your content. So I needed to come up with something that served that purpose but without the downsides, and then over time it formed in my head: River City Ransom.
RCR is, to me, one of the best examples of 1980's 8-bit gaming. It's a side-scrolling beat-'em-up game with the option for cooperative or even semi-competitive play, with role-playing game elements, simple, goofy graphics, a great soundtrack, and a pointless storyline. It's just about everything that people might expect from early console games, in one tidy package. I played the game like crazy back in the day, and it was even one of the first Christmas gifts I remember buying with my own money, for my brother ages ago. The game itself has floated around the outskirts of gamer culture and the internet ever since, being modded by fans, remade for newer platforms, and even serving as homage to another game from a completely different universe. IGN even called it the #15 NES game of all time, which is pretty impressive for a platform that had nearly seven hundred titles in the United States
As an early adopter of this cult classic, I've always had it in my head. I've used scenes and characters from the game as avatars many a time, created a two-foot-tall version of the game's hero out of fuse beads for fun, and had bits of the music stuck in my head for nearly thirty years. And, given the number of resources the game has available, I decided that remixing the game's environments in the style of my favorite home cities was just the way to go.