Wesnoth.org and the Prosilver transition

Most people who frequented phpBB 2 forums have met the Subsilver theme at some point. Wesnoth’s community is not the exception, and the phpBB 3 switch completed by cycholka/Mist in March 2008 during the third-to-last host migration involved switching everyone to Subsilver2, which is the last incarnation of the good old Subsilver. Most of us Wesnoth forumers have become accustomed to the cleanness, quirks and old-school feel of Subsilver2.

However, that will eventually change.

Maintaining patches for mods affecting the forum user and moderator front-ends involves editing three template sets, which are Prosilver (phpBB 3’s new built-in and default style), Subsilver2 and AcidTech, which is Subsilver2-based with some essential layout differences. There are even some mods that don’t provide MODX instructions for Subsilver2, since it’s not essential for approval in the official modifications database to include support for this style that’s most likely going to be dropped in future phpBB release series.

If you take a look at my Projects section you’ll also notice that I’ve needed to write a couple of Subsilver2 hacks in the past to add minor functionality that’s present in the official phpBB 3 “Olympus” forum theme by default. There’s a third custom change in my tree, corresponding to the Quick Reply editor toggle button.

It quickly gets time-consuming for me to ensure Subsilver2 compatibility for all the modifications applied to the Wesnoth.org forums codebase — which is managed using a Git repository that lives on my laptop with a single remote, private mirror. Having learned more about web design essentials has also led me to dislike this style’s HTML templates since they heavily rely on tables for the purpose of outlining the board’s layout. This is both a semantic and aesthetic problem that I have to cope with as a user, and administrator. It also negatively impacts page presentation on less common terminal types including hand-held devices, text terminals, aural (TTS) interfaces and braille screens for the visually impaired.

(Cue people claiming that a turn-based strategy game such as Wesnoth isn’t intended for visually impaired people. Never mind occasional visitors from external websites, and other visual terminals with limited functionality mentioned above.)

If Prosilver were perfect, I’d immediately migrate all Wesnoth forum members to it and remove Subsilver2-based styles. It is visually pleasing, it uses CSS rules to define the forum layout on top of more semantically accurate XHTML 1.0 Strict DTD elements. However, I cannot allow myself to do this yet since there are still some arguments in favor of keeping our legacy theme around for both users and developers.

  • Many people are used to Subsilver2’s viewtopic presentation of user profile previews to the left of message bodies, which also stems from the fact that Western Europe and derived languages and dialects are written and read from left to right. I have already applied a Prosilver patch to switch profiles to the left — which can be found in this Knowledge Base article — solving this “problem” on forums.wesnoth.org.
  • Prosilver lacks icon legends for some reason. As with the above, phpBB.com has a Knowledge Base article addressing this minor lack.
  • The differences amongst read/unread and post/forum icon pairs in Prosilver are less noticeable in comparison to Subsilver2’s imageset, even considering I have relatively a normal vision.
    Prosilver/Subsilver2 imageset sample comparison
  • I am unable to find a single visually-pleasing dark theme based on Prosilver. AcidTech was introduced to our community board to replace the unmaintained “wowgold”, originally introduced by cycholka/Mist since he prefers dark color schemes.
  • People are simply used to Subsilver2 already.

The last point might need some back up since it doesn’t really make sense nowadays for phpBB 3 forum users to prefer Subsilver2 over Prosilver. The problem is that users just prefer whatever the default is, similarly to how most Internet Explorer marketshare stems from a majority of users who’ve been forced to install it as an operating system component ever since Windows 98 (and 95 OSR 2.5) and Windows 2000, and use it as the system’s default.

The alternative “wesnoth” style which is built upon the Subsilver2 templates with an imageset and CSS sheet crudely mimicking Glamdrol — the website’s layout, by Ettin — has been the board default for guests and newly registered users twice: once during the timespan between March and July 2008, and again fairly recently, since December 2009 and until around July 2010. For these reasons, we have the following figures as of this writing:

Table 1. Forum styles usage statistics, as of August 13th, 2010.
Style nameTemplateImagesetUsed by (including robots)
AcidTechAcidTech (subsilver2)AcidTech13
AcidTech OrangeAcidTech (subsilver2)AcidTech Orange40

If people still can’t be bothered to change their user settings to try out each style, it is possible to preview them at work on phpBB.com without registration of any kind:

I’m still searching for an alternate Prosilver imageset that solves the aforementioned shortcomings to allow me to throw Subsilver2 away. A dark theme akin to AcidTech isn’t a necessity right now, although it’d be nice to find one so users of the Subsilver2-based styles go through a less drastic transition. Once we can switch everyone to Prosilver, it’ll be possible for me to apply changes more easily while making it easier to write my own mods — with a smart embedded IRC gateway being amongst my future plans for Wesnoth.org — increasing the board’s usability to serve the community better.


Updates 2010-08-14:

I’ve already replaced Prosilver’s topic icons with an alternate set which I obtained from a third party site I can’t recall right now. The ridiculously long profile blocks on viewtopic have been shrunk and the attachment view size constraints have been lifted. I’m also considering switching most of the Prosilver imageset and theme to Prosilver Special Edition since some people suggest that Prosilver is possibly too bright for their liking — a point that I have to agree with as well.

Also, there’s a poll on this matter in the Off-Topic forum, but if you are reading this, odds are you came from there in the first place.

Update 2010-08-15:

Prosilver Special Edition’s stylesheets and imageset are now used instead of Prosilver’s at forums.wesnoth.org.