the Mouth of Madness:
By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman
What's new this week in loonygames? Ask our loony editor.
very now and then I get asked about the various tools I use to make loonygames a reality every week, and since I use so many different tools, I thought I’d take the opportunity to lay it all out for everyone. I use a combination of free and commercial tools, so any would-be webmasters may find this helpful. On the other hand, you might find it to be a complete waste of your time…but hey, it’s my column, and I’ll write what I want to, dangit. ;)
Regardless, let’s take a look at my editorial process. loonygames contributors send me their work in a wide range of formats, from Chris Hargrove, who sends it to me in HTML text, to others, who send it in via Rich Text Format. I suggest to my contributors to send it to me in any format that supports italics and stylized text, since we use italics for emphasis instead of capital letters. (A bit of advice: capital letters are really irritating on web pages.)
Regardless of what format I receive it in, I convert it to Microsoft Word ’97 (with SR2) for editing purposes. SR2 has a slightly better HTML converter than ’97 out of the box, so I highly recommend it to anyone who does their editing in this. And while ’97 has its problems, it’s far better than ‘95’s amazingly clunky HTML converter, which was an afterthought rather than an out of the box feature. If the article I’ve received has areas that have been cut and pasted from e-mail (or Josh Vasquez’s work, which comes from an archaic Mac OS version of Wordperfect that I can’t retain line breaks in) I have to go back and fix all the line breaks in the article. I’ve got this pretty much down to a science, and I should stress how important it is to remove any premature line breaks before converting to HTML with Microsoft Word. Word will interpret your text almost exactly, so if there’s all kinds of funky line breaks, they’ll be interpreted as <BR> commands within the HTML, and the end result will be a less than spectacular looking HTML page when you’re done. Not a good thing. MSWord does a very good job of recognizing premature line breaks, so they’re pretty easy to spot…they all show up as grammatical errors thanks to the AutoCorrect feature.
A quick note about AutoCorrect. While it’s very nice in theory, many of its features are big time no-nos for web pages. Be sure you turn off the smart quotes feature! Since smart quotes aren’t actually part of the standard ASCII set, they come out as illegible characters in many non-Windows platforms…not a good thing for a web page. Also, many other AutoCorrect features, like the smiley face one, will use font-specific changes, which requires the viewer to have that particular font on their computer. Since not all loonygames readers have Wingdings, the smiley’s a definite no-no.
Once I’ve edited to my heart’s content in Word, I hit the "save as HTML" feature, and create an HTML file from the rough document. After doing a quick word count check (you can get it from Tools: Word Count) I close out of Word, and re-open the HTML file from Notepad. (Any text-editor will do…I sometimes use Super NoteTab, but most of the time I stick to plain old Notepad.) I use Macromedia Dreamweaver for most of the loonygames HTML work, so I also open up my template in that program at the same time.
Jumping back to Notepad, I determine how many pages the article in question’s going to be, and select the first portion. I try to stick to roughly 1,200 words per page, which while it may sound small, is actually pretty huge for a web site. loonygames pages tend to be fairly large comparatively. You’ll note here that I skip everything in the HTML file that’s not within a <P> tag. Since I’m pasting it directly into Dreamweaver, I don’t need any of the header junk that Microsoft Word sticks in. Switching back to Dreamweaver, I paste the contents of the first portion into Dreamweaver, and update any relevant parts. I run Dreamweaver’s kick butt spellchecker to make sure Word didn’t miss anything, and save the file. If there needs to be other pages, I then repeat the steps above for the subsequent pages.
Once I’ve made the actual article, I update its SSI with Notepad. I update the contents page using Dreamweaver, and upload the whole shebang using CuteFTP. Once the whole update’s done (this is a several hour process, I’m skipping all the inserts, and extra articles I do each night) I telnet into my server using CRT, and run the search engine spider. As I’m watching the scrolling text go by (I always run the spider with the verbose setting, so I can be sure it’s working, and at the same time monitor any dead links) I congratulate myself on another successful update. Until, of course, I find the first error, of which there’s usually one or two every night. ;)
So why do I use the tools that I do? Well, for editing, I use MSWord because I’m used to it, for one…I’ve been using Word in one form or another for ten years. But also, because it’s got a great spellchecker (better than Dreamweaver’s, which is pretty much a functional one and not much more than that…it makes for a great last minute tool, but not anything serious) and while the grammar checker isn’t exactly perfect, it’s probably the best one you’re likely to find.
Dreamweaver’s my favorite program these days, because it does everything I need in a GUI style HTML editor, but it does so without tinkering with my precious code. I did an experiment when I was first looking at the program…I created a file using Microsoft’s Front Page (a program I detest, because it adds all kinds of irritating stuff to my code) in Dreamweaver, and much to my surprise, the program didn’t change a thing…not even the tag Front Page created that indicated that it was created using it. I was impressed. I’ve used Dreamweaver since the day loonygames launched, and I’ve grown quite fond of it. I know a large number of keyboard shortcuts for the program, and I use them constantly…it’s made my life very easy. I highly recommend using it, if you know HTML. It can be very techie, and it’s not intended for HTML novices, but if you’re reasonably familiar with code, check it out…you’ll probably dig it.
As far as graphics work, I primarily use both Photoshop 4 and 5, since I prefer version 4’s text engine. I use a program called Graphics Workshop from Alchemy Mindworks for graphics conversion…this is a fairly esoteric program, that’s done real wonders for me. When it comes to batch conversion the program’s unmatched, and it’s shareware, which just totally rules. It’ll convert everything from Photoshop PSD files, to ASCII to well…everything (almost 30 file formats are supported!). For a $40 registration fee, it’s pretty damn cost-effective. I also use Adobe Illustrator for free-form illustration and general HTML layout, although I haven’t used it much here at loonygames. Lastly, I use Opera to check my pages, since any page that looks right in Opera is guaranteed to work in every other browser…it’s an invaluable tool when creating a page. Be sure to check it out.
I hope this has been at least mildly helpful to any would-be webmasters…come back next week when I’ll do a quick tutorial in rudimentary Photoshop skills. This will be limited to skills webmasters need…so if you’re looking for in-depth stuff, check out our developer’s corner articles. They’ll take it from here.
Until next week…stay loony!
- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor-in-chief here at loonygames. He really, really, really, wants a Dreamcast. And a PSX2 would be pretty swanky as well.
Credits: From the Mouth of Madness logo illustrated by and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. From the Mouth of Madness is © 1999 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't do it...or we'll just forget about you. Let's see how you like it.