YOUR suggestions for "Zone: 0.1"!
Wednesday, 23rd July 2008, 11:24pm (BST), 6 Comments
Update: Gameplay page added to the Sonic 2 section
That's right, Zone: 0 is currently undergoing a BIG redesign, as you might already be aware, in fact it'll be its proper launch (until now, the site's design has technically been in a temporary WIP state), so you could call the update Zone: 0 v1 (or Zone: 0.1?). If you're already pretty familiar with the site and its contents, I'd very much like to hear any suggestions you might have to improve things!

In terms of what's already in the pipeline, you can expect to see a much better and more stylish overall layout, with graphics that I'm really rather proud of. The actual contents and structure of the pages won't be changing much, but you can expect an improved comments feature in which you'll be able to view and add notes to each individual section of a level or page in a little drop down box. Hopefully captions for images will be improved, with universal formatting across every browser and there should also be a full-size feature in place, allowing you to see the full screenshot for each of the cropped images on the page. I have plans to make more files available for download too, beyond just maps, and including manual scans, artwork and music perhaps. Subject to bandwidth I guess. The door will also be opening for the articles feature of the site, which I'll eventually be using to suggest some methods for ordering and classifying the games and levels of the series, and hopefully Palmtree Panic will be included to kick off Sonic CD too.

So I suppose I'm looking for more handy little features like that. Rather larger ideas like the addition of video guides and a google maps-like interface for viewing the level maps would be very cool, but not particularly practical over the next few months. So if anything's occured to you lately, go ahead and leave a message and I'll see what I think! If you do happen to have a bigger idea that might be very cool, do feel free to mention it too, I just may have to put it in the back of my mind for a while. In that vein, I'd be particularly interested if anyone would rather fancy a Zone: 0 forum for highly interesting discussions of Sonic level and game designs.

It'll be great if I can launch it in sync with the whole project's fourth year anniversay on 31st August, but there's no guarantees on that, as my back-end admin system also needs a complete rebuild and I still need to convert most of the existing pages to a dynamic form. I definitely want it done by the time the Sonic Site Awards start this year though, after being respectfully nominated for three awards last year - I think the improvements, and the site's increased notoriety since then might just give it that extra nudge.
Comments   6 Comments have been posted.
#1. Comment posted by mercury on Thursday, 24th July 2008, 2:56am
Hmm... how about an RSS feed to alert us of updates?

I can't wait to see the new design, and the Articles sound like they'll be a blast, too.
#2. Comment posted by LiQuidShade on Thursday, 24th July 2008, 10:18am
Oh yeah, RSS will probably be there too! That was a suggestion from a while back so I'll definitely see what I can do about that.
#3. Comment posted by Reckoner on Saturday, 26th July 2008, 6:25am
Here is one suggestion that I have: use PNG instead of GIF. As long as it is properly compressed, a PNG will generally always be smaller than a GIF, and it is supported by all the major browsers (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_web_browsers#Image_format_support for a comparison). And note that, while IE 6 and below can't handle alpha channels, they can still do single color transparency like GIFs.

For best compression, I recommend a tool from Ken Silverman, called PNGOUT. It's a freeware command-line program for converting images to PNG format (and optimizing existing PNGs). It produces file sizes smaller than just about any other program I know of, and its compression is completely lossless. You can find it at http://advsys.net/ken/utils.htm. I used it to re-compress some of the images on the site and got some nice results; for example, the first summary image in the Sonic 2 Aquatic Ruin page, s2-arz-summaryimg1.gif, was reduced from 23.5 kB to 11.1 kB in PNG format, which is less than half of the original size. It seems you can also shave about 9-10% off of your maps, just by re-compressing them.

And about those maps, I was wondering if it might be possible to reduce their colors enough to fit into a palette-based PNG. The Genesis can normally only display 64 colors at a time, and this is doubled with a single mid-frame palette change (such as the switch to the underwater palette to render the below-water portion of a Sonic level), so that gives a total of 128 colors in any given stage (and thus a theoretical maximum of 128 colors for a plain, unedited map, though 40-50 is more typical). Naturally, since you reduce the maps to about half of their original size, you must apply some type of filtering so that they still look pretty and that will add additional variations in color. Combined with the little markings, arrows, and the map legend, many more unique colors are added, but I still think you could take the existing maps and reduce them to a palette-based image in Photoshop without much loss of quality, but with a huge decrease in size.

Just as an example, I took your Metropolis Zone Act 3 map, which was nearly four and a half megabytes, with over 160,000 distinct colors, and reduced it to an 8-bit palette-based PNG, and the resulting image was only 842 KB (a reduction of nearly 82%!), with very little noticeable decrease in quality (I can email you the image if you'd like, so that you can evaluate the quality yourself). Getting those maps down to a reasonable size would not only make your users' downloads faster, but it'd also help with your bandwidth.
#4. Comment posted by LiQuidShade on Saturday, 26th July 2008, 11:41am
Thank you Reckoner, your suggestions intrigue me. While bandwidth isn't a problem right now, it's likely to be a big issue as the site gets more popular and I add more maps and other files. If it'll save me the cost of having to buy more, not to mention having to turn away visitors because I've run out of bandwidth that month, then it's definitely worth looking at. I'll check out the program you've suggested and in the meantime if you could email me that Metropolis zone map (just click on my name at the start of this post), I'll have a look at that too, thanks!
#5. Comment posted by Rachel on Saturday, 26th July 2008, 3:27pm
You could make a blue backround.
#6. Comment posted by supersonicsmash on Monday, 8th February 2010, 10:01pm
I just wanna say this: don't change the logo. That's a beautiful picture of Sonic.
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