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Community Interview: Xyphos, Items Database Creator

This week we've managed to interview Xyphos, Items Database Creator (http://xyphos.com).

Hello Xyphos, could you give us some background info about your AO life?

Sure! I sadly regret not playing AO when it first launched back in 2001. I didn't know AO existed until a hacker buddy of mine who also played AO mentioned it so I decided to check it out.

I started playing as a Froob circa 16.4 (2006) and tried out every profession just to get familiar with it, I re-rolled a lot during that period, heh.

Some time later, I just happened to wander clueless into the right place at the right time, when I met DJ Nushen of GSP who was streaming live from the glass dance floor at Reet Retreat. I saw the massive crowd just dancing, chatting, having a seemingly good time and massive sparkling and light-shows coming from the ARKs who were in attendance... I was hooked ever since.

After I tuned into GSP for the first time, Nushen was playing "Safety Dance" and I named my next character "Uano" who is/was an MA on RK2 in Nushen's honor - since the verse from the song sounded like "You can dance if U-an-ooh"

I leveled that MA to Level 86 in Foremans before groaning to myself that the XP grind on RK was lame and I sought to buy the Shadowlands pack that I kept seeing people mention in OOC chat. Make way! Sloob coming through!

I, like many others learned the hard way that SL was an entirely different experience all together. Many months later, I dinged 218, learned how to twink for PVP and started getting involved in TL7 tower wars. A few more months later, 17.0 patch (Lost Eden) hit live, and changed everything. my MA was no longer able to PVP effectively due to the imbalances that the global research perks inflicted, messing up my hard work and undoing my twink; I ended up rage quitting AO for over a year.

It wasn't until I started to run out of hard drive space when I began uninstalling unused programs and I saw AO was still there - curious, I loaded it up on RK1 (by accident) just to see how things had changed. rolled a Male Nanomage Engineer. After many name attempts, I wound up going with "Bitbucket".

Which is a reference to my experience in both computer programming and debugging and my time in AO. "Bit" as many call me in-game, is well-known on the RK1, with a reputation of being a trustworthy tradeskiller and a very reliable damage dealer (although he's Grenade and other engis could OD me) which I hold with a small sense of pride and honor.

Currently, I am back on Hiatus, away from AO due to economical reasons, of which all I can do is shake my head in disappointment, but, AO (still) is unlike any other game I've ever played and is by far one of my most favorites, and respectively, GSP has been my main Shoutcast station ever since - unless due to technical problems, I never turn GSP off! :D

What made you decide to create an AO Items Database fansite?

Ever since I was little and as far as I can remember, I was always the type of person that would take things apart to see how they worked. This still holds true to this day.

Auno began to slack on his updates, Mainframe went defunct. Things weren't looking good. I discussed this with some of my org mates; one of our guests in org chat said I should make a site to replace Mainframe. I thought about it for a while and replied that I could make it in to a downloadable application instead, since honestly I'm more experienced in PC programming then I am at web design.

And so, I started doing what I do best - taking things apart to see how they worked. I loaded up the RDB files into my custom-made hex editor and immediately started noticing patterns, structures and other things mixed in the data, along with a lot of unknowns I had to figure out through guessing, trial and error.

Finally, with the help of our most dearly beloved (and sadly departed, I miss her so much...) AODevs member, I made my RDB tool "XRDB3" - an unreleased and buggy predecessor to the now public and stable RDB tool "XRDB4" which was partially based on Jayde's RDB tool for Mainframe, which kept breaking a lot with each patch Funcom released (and auno didn't release his tool at this period in time) using XRDB3, I started working on exporting data from the RDB to MySQL.

Many attempts and designs were made and scrapped before I finally settled on a schema that worked, and with it began working on the application. shortly into the application's design, I realized the flaws of my plans and implementation and so I sought to make it a web-based resource instead.

Knowing almost nothing about web design, (aside from Perl, PHP, JavaScript and Flash Player ...mostly programming aspects) I gave my best-effort by using PHPBB for a back-end and framework, since most of the code for it was already debugged and working, all I had to do was take it apart to find out how it worked and modify it, then find a suitable template theme and do likewise. Finally, after much work I managed to release a (very ugly, buggy and incomplete) beta version to the public, of which can still be seen if you're a registered member and change your personal preferences to "oldStyle"

How long did it take to build the site before making it public?

I started researching the RDB in November 2008, figured out most of it's workings by mid-January 2009 and the beta site was opened in early-March 2009. I learn very quick, but I spent most of February teaching myself basic HTML and CSS through http://www.w3schools.com just to meet the goals and deadline that I had set for myself.

What do you think sets your site apart from others of the same kind?

Aside from the fact that I (attempt to) update often, nothing much really. If you throw a ball and say "fetch", your pet dog will happily obey. Same thing applies to search engines. Although I don't mean to brag, my search engine offers additional methods and parameters for searching, and a slightly cleaner method of displaying results via categorized pages so you can find exactly what you're looking for in a few clicks as opposed to scrolling though a huge, almost endless list.

In a sense, if you threw a ball and said "fetch" my dog would come back with your shoes, your keys, your wallet, a newspaper, AND the ball you threw. But if you had said "fetch the ball" my dog would come back with just the ball.

Is the site exclusively run by you, or are there other contributors involved?

I am more active on it then others, but Vhab and Iriche are also admins with full unrestricted access to it, inside and out. Iriche is the one who offered to host the site for free as long as advertisements were placed, after my previous host mailed me about copyright infringement in relation to the RDB data.

How much work goes in to updating the site when a new patch is released?

1) Update AO
2) ???
3) Profit.

Honestly, almost no work is involved at all - most of it is entirely automated through the custom XRDB4 plugin that I wrote specifically for the task. It'll extract the data, parse it, post-process, dump to file(s), zip it up, FTP to the site, SSH in to console, executes a bash shell script, logs out, cleans up and quits.

All I have to do is make sure AO stays updated and run the tool whenever it's needed. Eventually, when I find the time and willpower, I'll probably make a new tool that is completely automated and launched server-side via cron job so no human interaction will ever be needed and updates will continue to be processed completely unattended.

Is it daunting to take on the role that other sites filled for so long, and not having the years worth of comments on items to help others?

Heheheh... ya, I think I bit off more then I could chew. I understand the comments is a major asset to Auno, and I offer the same abilities (using PHPBB) but, not enough people are posting and I can't exactly rip Auno's comments due to legal, ethical and technical problems that would follow.

Do you edit/moderate the comments left by players to remove the flames/spam that Auno was plagued with? If so, how much time does this take up?

Only when necessary, which fortunately isn't very often. As an Admin, I can see the hidden "Item Comments" forum as if it were a normal user forum, search it, sort it, etc. The topics with the most replies often catch my attention more then others.

I will admit to deleting double posts, fixing broken links, wrapping technical information inside code tags and doctoring links to "click here" format instead of the user's original url just because it looks cleaner that way. At most, I spend no more then an hour a week doing this, mostly because I usually don't have to do anything at all.

As for spam, most "automated advertisements" aka "spam-bots" can't get past the registration process, since I modified it to require the submit button to be clicked, triggering some JavaScript voodoo - spam bots don't utilize JavaScript and fail the registration right away.

There have been a few incidents where spam has been posted manually, but nothing serious. - the moderation control panel can delete all posts from a specific user (and issue bans) which is a process that can happen faster then a person can register.

Some features seem to be quite complex in detail, do you have any plans to provide a simplified version of say, the Character Designer feature?

If by "complex" you mean "half assed P.O.S. stapled on, duct-taped and bubble-gummed on" then yes. Originally, my site was meant to be just a search engine and therefore the database which it uses was optimized specifically for that reason.

But because of that fact, other features that were added later on by popular user requests, tend to suffer greatly; for example, the "Item Bank" "feature" is nothing more then a storage queue to hold search results, and from these results, equipment configurations can be made.

I understand that many users are not accustomed to this method, but it's the best I could do with what I have to work with. Plans are "on the table" to re-create the site from scratch, without PHPBB and utilizing better schemas and optimized caching to facilitate all of the user's demands, but re-ripping 140+ patches from v11.0 to current is something that makes both me and my computer shudder. Also, time isn't currently an asset I can afford.

We saw a donation button at the site, is that how the site is funded or do you also have a sponsor?

As I mentioned before, Iriche hosts the site, he is my sponsor. I am very grateful for the services he provides. However, below that donation button is the famous Tradeskiller's motto: "Service is free, tips are welcomed." I decided to try that approach in real life... it doesn't work too well lol

It's no surprise that I haven't received many donations, $50 USD from Germany is the highest so far,but I'm grateful for whatever people have to offer, if anything at all.

Are you involved in any other AO related projects?

Currently, no. But if I was, I probably wouldn't mention it due to "the nature in which I could be involved" ;)

Ok, why white and blue? was it a nod to the old Mainframe items database?

White and blue was Iriche's doing... and only because I failed art class in grade school. Have you seen the other themes in the user control panel? ya, they're not very pretty... and I've no clue what primary/secondary colors are.

Thank you for your time Xyphos, is there anything else you wish to add in closing?

Oh. Thank you for interviewing me, I think it is a great honor and in closing, if "pro" and "con" are opposites, does that mean "Congress" is the opposite of "Progress" ? if so, it would explain a lot... LOL!

But seriously, I am looking for an AO v15.00.00 disc or an ISO of it - it's "the missing link" that I need to complete the database; currently I'm skipping over this data but I'd prefer to have it for historical reasons. If you or anyone you know might have it, please mail TheGreatXyphos(at)gmail.com

Thanks!

Last updated on 01.09.2012 by Khuri
Article written by Windguaerd
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