By request of alexkidd2
Well, I’ve been putting this one off for as long as I can, but I’m almost out of initial topic requests and I guess it’s time to get navel-gazey. My apologies.
It all goes back to when the first member of the Parish family reached America aboard the Mayflower… no, wait, that’s too far. Nah, I think it was sometime in 1996 when I realized that unlike traditional publishing, the Internet was a platform I could use to create and publish my own work without having to use some sort of elaborate system of agents and press runs and distribution chains and god knows what else. I could just upload my words to the ether! As soon as I figured out this HTML thing. So I bought a giant book and taught myself HTML, and by Christmas I had myself a page.
I don’t remember much about that original website except that almost everything on it was “coming soon” or “under construction.” I also remember that the intro page consisted of an animated GIF I made of a cartoon frog bursting into flames, its charred remains blinking in surprise. It was about 100Kb and took roughly a minute to load. Well.
I muddled around with the page for a couple of years, bringing in more page-building tools to help me put together layouts, axing all the perpetually “coming soon” sections, and basically getting a hang of things. A few people would see the site each day, which felt like a success, since I only knew a few people who even used the Internet.
Eventually, my needs exceeded GeoCities’ capabilities. For instance, I wanted more than 2MB of storage, and I also wanted people to be able to load my site: Neither being features offered by GeoCities. So I moved over to SimpleNet and restarted with a much more developed site, built from the ground up, with no “coming soon” sections — I broke the site into multiple areas but took the time before relaunch to actually fill each of them with material. Video game, anime, and also a section on off-brand breakfast cereal mascots for some reason. I dunno. A few months later, I shelled out a few bucks for my very own domain name, toastyfrog.com.
This is the oldest version the Wayback Machine seems to have on tap:
A bit broken, but you get the idea.
The garish color scheme, site name (ToastyFrog Jump!) and pop-art Japanese text was meant to resemble a Japanese comics magazine, e.g. Shounen Jump. The original conceit of the site was that I was just the business manager for the “magazine,” and the site itself was written by my content slave ToastyFrog (a cartoon frog) and Pretty Soldier Sailor Rorita, a 14-year-old magical girl exchange student from Tokyo. This lasted about a hour before I just turned them into the site mascots. They’d show up in comics, as header art, and of course in the splash pages:
Back a very long time ago on the Internet, people regarded sites as destinations rather than places to scrape content from, and sites frequently had introductory pages to greet readers. I used mine for various pop culture parodies and references… I think all told I made about 25-30 of them through the years. They grew considerably in complexity and often were very obscure. I think the splash pages were pretty rad, personally. I tried bringing them back last year and it made everyone angry, though. The web has moved on. Now I have Retronauts episode covers as my outlet for stupid pop culture mash-ups.
Once I relaunched, I was seeing something like 50 visitors a day, which seemed like a lot. But then the Chrono Cross demo hit Japan and I ripped a bunch of footage one day over my lunch break and gave the video and a write-up to the Gaming Intelligence Agency (R.I.P.) on the condition they’d include a link back to my site to read some additional analysis. Traffic jumped immediately to 500 daily visitors and strangely never dropped. I guess the site was something of a novelty back then — updated daily (usually in the morning before I left for work), sometimes with content, sometimes with nothing more than personal musings or complaints. The word “blog” didn’t really exist yet, so it was just this weird thing in between a legit full-sized website and someone’s personal GeoCities page. It wasn’t great, but it was unusual, and I guess the novelty (and the fact that even back then I was as interested in classic games as I was in current releases) made it worth a bookmark.
This lasted for about half a year until I freaked out about the site’s popularity and shut it down in early 2000. I liked having a well-read site but I was running this sort of aimless project, and decided I wanted to give it better definition — a sense of solid purpose. So I relaunched it as ToastyFrog 2D: A site completely dedicated to 2D gaming, which in the year 2000 was looked upon as the leprosy of video games. I made it into a news and review site, focusing entirely on 2D games (mostly Game Boy Color, Neo Geo Pocket, and WonderSwan, but also sometimes for consoles). Traffic dropped by about 75%. Turned out everyone was there for Chrono Cross and Vagrant Story commentary. I conceded defeat and shifted to less of a structured page, dropping the site categories, and people started reading again.
I began experimenting with the page layout quite a bit, and my daily entries became longer. (Also, like everyone else in the world, I was shocked by how good Metroid Prime turned out to be, it seems.) This was a pretty rocky and difficult period in my life — I left home because of a girl, couldn’t find a way to make a living in the place I hoped to make my new home, retreated in defeat, took temp jobs, was laid off an unemployed for a while, and eventually landed a job with the embryonic 1UP.com and transplanted myself to San Francisco thanks to the kindness of Nich Maragos. This site was my constant during that period; no matter how worthless I felt as I struggled to find work and make ends meet, I did at least have this little place on the Internet where people would come, read what I wrote, and converse with me about it (at least once I added comments and a forum). Of course, often what people said just made me feel worse about myself, but that’s the Internet for you.
During this period, I created my first self-published project (ToastyFrog Zine), which I made in the spirit of ’90s game ‘zines in that I produced it on photocopiers and mailed it to people, but also not in the spirit of ’90s game zines in that I laid it out in Quark XPress. Had to put that graphic design degree to work somehow. I also experimented with short stories, comic blogging, and other things that never quite took.
This site was always a sort of hodgepodge of ideas, a place where I could test ideas and see if they were any good (usually they weren’t). But it wasn’t until I started working at 1UP that this actually proved to be a good thing — I’d try out different inspirations here, and when they worked, I’d bring them to my day job as something to help 1UP stand apart from the competition. Stuff like the comic reviews of We Love Katamari, Lost in Blue, Animal Crossing: Wild World, The Legend of Heroes, or Epic Mickey happened because of all the mucking around I did here. Note to self: Get some comic-style reviews on USgamer. Not everything I’ve published has been golden; in fact quite a lot of it has been junk. But I always tried to create something unique, and keeping this little petri dish of a website on the side gave me the courage to make the effort.
I went super-minimalist after moving to San Francisco!
Then more complex, with my first experiments in Game Boy Camera photography adorning the top of the page. In the olden days, I had to plug my camera into a Game Boy Player and capture it with a PC video card. It was crappy and inconvenient!
As you can tell from the top entry, the monotony and plainness of the site wore on me after a while.
I tarted it up a bit, but that still wasn’t quite enough.
So I performed my final tech jump toward the end of 2005: I started the site over from scratch on WordPress, where I am now. I also integrated a wiki for articles, making for a dual-CMS approach. I wanted the whole thing to be wiki-based, but at the time wiki tools were terrible for blogging; so I used WP for the frontend, working with the natural division of content (blog vs. articles).
With wiki tech came the potential to collaborate, so that’s what I did: I began inviting others to contribute to the site, making ToastyFrog — now GameSpite — into an online magazine about video games.
Contributors began blogging, too! For a while, this site was really humming along. But eventually the bloggers lost interest, because that tends to happen with blogging — no mark against them. I appreciate everyone who’s pitched in over the years, and tried to make it worth their while. But ultimately this site was never structured to be anything more than a personal site, and working at 1UP meant I couldn’t really take the time or make the effort to turn it into something grander.
Incidentally, the change to the name GameSpite came as part of a plan that never really panned out. After posting a few one-off comics about a thinly veiled 1UP operating under the name GameSpite (with a logo suspiciously similar to GameSpot’s), I thought it would be interesting to start an ongoing comic about life behind the scenes in the gaming press. GameSpite was going to be a three-times-weekly comic about ToastyFrog getting a job as an intern at gamespite.net, the hippest new video games website… but that never panned out, because my developmental art efforts were extremely poor and I lost faith in my ability to draw and basically became discouraged and gave up illustration for the better part of a decade. Oh well! It would have been a fun comic, but these days the reality of the gaming press is more depressing than amusing. So that’s an idea whose time has long since passed.
I ended up keeping the name, though, at least until I changed the URL to 2-dimensions.com. Same story there: 2 Dimensions was going to be a mini-magazine, like ToastyFrog Zine, focusing not just on games but also other forms of 2D media (e.g. animation, comics, manga, fine art). That plan came just inches from reaching fruition, but then I was upgraded to editor-in-chief of USgamer and never had time.What might have been…
I still have an issue that’s about 50% percent written that I’m going to finish up next month and hand out as a bonus to Patreon backers, though.
In 2009, 10 years after properly launching toastyfrog.com, I discovered print-on-demand thanks to my wife. Our online magazine became a printed book/magazine. This was kind of the death knell for the site, though. I realized it was more fun to create for print than the web, especially in the wake of Ziff-Davis selling 1UP and killing all the game magazines I contributed to, so my attention shifted there.
And then, in 2011, I became EIC of 1UP, which really crippled this site. Running a big site like 1UP or USG doesn’t leave nearly as much time for side projects like this as when you’re just a small cog in the big machine. There was also the fact that I got married that summer, too.
So I still post here sometimes, and inexplicably (on days when I update) the site still gets about half the traffic it saw in its prime. Considering how much less material I create here and how erratic I am about it, I have to admire the tenacity of those who still visit. It also doesn’t help that I’ve split my side projects into standalone sites — Anatomy of Games, Metroidvania, Game Boy World.
After nearly half my life mucking around with this site, it’s changed considerably. So have I. I’m older, I have more responsibilities, I want to spend more time with family. I’m past the age of wild experimentation and creativity and am more interested in focusing on things I’m good at and improving my skills in those areas. In a way, this site doesn’t really need to exist. But I just can’t seem to let it go… I’ve done a lot of good work here, created a lot of good memories, and I’m just too fond of it to let it disappear entirely.
And who knows, maybe I’ll eventually find time to make the GameSpite comic a reality. I’m only like 25 years out from retirement, you know? The site’s nearly that old already! What’s another website lifetime between friends?
Reminder: These “by request of” posts help fund the server that runs this site and, more importantly, the Talking Time forums. Be a pal and chip in, won’t you?
7 thoughts on “By request: The history of this site”
So much nostalgia…
I remember those early days of ToastyFrog Jump. LCU’s net nanny used to block the page (because the blamed thing keyed on words, not content) until I found a way to get around it. Paula loved the ‘Toasty ripped my flesh’ jump page and considered highjacking it for her computer in the library. Then there was my student worker who thought you were fabulous. I think I might have a copy or two of your Toastyzine around here still in manilla envelopes. :)
I know I started following your work around the time Chrono Cross was a big deal, and I’ve enjoyed reading your stuff every time since then, it’s usually very insightful. Thanks a lot.
Thanks for all the work you’ve put into this stuff. Your writing was a real revelation back in the days that 2d gaming seemed dead, and I’ve had a lot of good times that have come out of reading your articles and following your recommendations. Shiren the Wanderer is one of my all-time favorites and I never would have found it without you. You do excellent work.
I remember finding this site – via your work on 1UP – back in the early Gamespite days. Circa 2005, I think. And devouring nearly of all your individual game reviews (separated by consoles and franchises). At the time I was really more interested in older games (older not meaning retro, but meaning anything not especially current), and it was really refreshing to see honest and thoughtful takes on anything ranging from Final Fantasy to, well, Final Fantasy XII (yep, it’s still the best in the series). Been visiting daily ever since.
I know you’re not really interested in that mode of writing anymore, but I distinctly recall cheering when I read your Xenosaga Part 1 review… verbal spew indeed.
One of these days I really should redesign my blog, and start posting to it again. I managed to post daily for over a year (including on my wedding day, since I’d written the post in advance and scheduled it) and, out of those several hundred posts, managed to write a few that people actually really liked and keep on linking to years later. (My all-time biggest traffic spike came a few months ago when Kurt Busiek linked to a post I’d made all the way back in 2012 about a Final Fantasy 4 comic he wrote in the early 1990’s that was never completed or published; it got picked up by a few of the big comics sites.)
I don’t suppose I really have any less free time now than I did when I was posting daily; I just never quite got back into the groove.
It probably doesn’t increase my productivity any to know that I really need to give the whole thing a ground-up redesign, either. I’m still using essentially the same design I did around the turn of the century (though I’ve rewritten the backend a few times, moved stuff around here and there, made a handful of reluctant concessions to modern web design) and, while my minimalist/programmer sensibilities haven’t changed much, I’ve been building websites as my day job for two years now and I kinda couldn’t help but pick up a new perspective on a few things.
I’ve been around since about 2005. Really loved the simple layout with a banner pic and a short blurb, made it much more interesting to peruse than just having a line of text.
Keep at this, man!
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