Welcome to part 2 in this series of posts on how to build a WordPress games arcade. If you missed Part 1 you can go catch up here. I had a little bit of spare time last night and this morning to start playing around with a default WordPress installation. I used it to evaluate the principal components that I’ll need to build my WordPress flash arcade.
I’m going to go over my ‘shopping list’ with you here but please note that this list is merely suggestive at this stage and by the time my arcade is up and running it will no doubt have evolved, by which point I will have written a ‘debrief’ that takes note of changes and additions.
I’ll be using the latest release of WordPress to power my arcade. Currently it’s WordPress 2.5.1. I won’t go into all the features packed into the 2.5 branch of WordPress because it’s outlined very succinctly here. Instead I’ll focus on a few features that will be crucial to the operation of the games arcade.
Categories and tags: the main taxonomy of the arcade will fall back on WordPress’ build in category and tag system. Categories and sub categories will be used to organise games by genre and theme. Tags will offer a secondary layer of navigation and serve as a ‘wildcard’ search element. So for example, a typical games category would be ‘action’, this category could include the subcategories ‘shoot em up’ and ‘beat em up’ and then at a game-specific level you’d have tags such as ‘street fighter’, ‘karate’, ‘boxing’ etc.
Custom fields: built into the WordPress core are custom fields. These post-level functions allow you to append a unique field and value to any post and display the ouput once the post is published. An obvious example of a custom field in this arcade context would be embedding a flash game:
By setting up custom fields you can control and enable special attributes in your posts, saving work on hard coding each new game page. For in-depth information on how to use custom fields in WordPress please read the WP codex entry here.
User Roles and Profiles: Part of my intention in building this arcade is to implement an array of user-oriented features. To do this in WordPress I’m going to make user of the built in roles and profiles structure. A user role is simply a level of authentication attributed to a user on sign up or delegated by an administrator. The default roles are (subscriber, Contributor, Author, Editor and Administrator). Each role will allow users to access different parts of the site. This is crucial if you’re thinking about setting up some exclusive user-only content.
Default user profiles are fairly basic, they allow users to change their password, input some information about themselves, provide links to their sites and various messenger services. To add more depth to user profiles, including custom fields, profile pictures and more, I’m going to be using the Userextra plugin that I’ve outlined below.
Ideally I’d want to code a new theme from the bottom up, but I have neither the time nor the ability to do so. However, there is another way of going about this: search for existing themes that can be easily modified and that come with a GPL or creative commons distribution license. You then strip the theme bare and begin reworking the CSS and tweaking some of the php file code.
The following is a personal selection of free themes that could easily be used to run an arcade. As of yet, I haven’t decided which theme I’ll use, but I have begun some preliminary design sketches which I’ll be sharing with you in part 3 of this series.
- The Morning After: A great 3 column magazine type WordPress theme by Arun Kale with impeccable user-friendly coding. Custom fields for featured posts and thumbnail images are already in place so it wouldn’t take much to tweak this for an arcade adaptation.
- Mimbo: Another 3 column magazine theme, this time by Darren Hoyt. This is a flexible grid based theme that has undergone several revisions. It is spacious and simple and provides a solid canvas to build from. Like The Morning After, it also uses WordPress custom fields for featured items and thumbnail images
- The Unstandard: this is a theme by a top notch designer called Derek Punsalan. It is another grid based theme with an emphasis on graphic content. It comes build in with an inline category footer feature that would be ideal for displaying games by category or latest games.
- Monochrome Gallery: This is a theme by Thad Allender of Graph Paper Press. It is probably one of the strongest contenders for an arcade layout. It comes with an automated featured post carousel, an inline thumbnail galleery section and an extendable footer. This theme would probably require the least work to get it up and running as an arcade.
- CSS Gallery: As its title indicates, this theme was intended for use with a style gallery, a site that would showcase other sites using thumbnail snapshots. This theme could be turned into an arcade, it supports user ratings, comes with an ajax sidebar and space for advertising. Another strong contender.
- wpSnap: a good showcase of the best free WordPress themes.
- Smashing Magazine: A series of 4 mash up posts outlining some of the best WordPress themes.
- Unmatched Style: A neat collection of free themes.
- Free WordPress Themes: a site that does what it says on the box.
- Theme Prestige: showcasing free ‘premium’ WordPress themes.
Further theme resource sites:
- Akismet: “Akismet checks your comments against the Akismet web service to see if they look like spam or not. You need a WordPress.com API key to use it.” Akismet is the WordPress frontline against spam. It’s the bare minimum for any serious blog or WordPress powered site. As many of you will know, flash arcades invite a serious amount of spam on a daily basis. Many of the existing arcade scripts struggle to deal with spam. I doubt that Akismet will be enough on its own, but combined with a couple of other security measures it should do a pretty good job.
- All in One SEO Pack: “Out-of-the-box SEO for your WordPress blog. By uberdose.” This is a fantastic plugin that does what it says on the box. It rewrites post titles, adds meta tags to all pages and is highly configurable. You can run it so that all SEO functions are automated. But if you really want to push your search engine rankings and make each post/content item unique, you can add SEO data straight into the WordPress page editor using this plugin. This little baby will be fundamental in getting my new arcade out and about across the Intarwebs :)
- cformsII: “cformsII offers unparalleled flexibility in deploying contact forms across your blog. Features include: comprehensive SPAM protection, Ajax support, Backup & Restore, Multi-Recipients, Role Manager support, Database tracking and many more.” I’ll be using this plugin to power some of the user-side interactive functions such as game and video uploads, direct contact forms and more.
- Kimili Flash Embed: If you want to embed flash games in your WordPress arcade you are going to need a plugin to handle it, because WordPress doesn’t support flash embed out of the box. Fortunately the kimili Flash embed plugin is the perfect answer. It is very straight forward, simply upload it and activate it, then use a single line of code to call the function within any post or page.
- Post-Plugin Library: “Does nothing by itself but supplies common code for the Similar Posts, Recent Posts, Random Posts, and Recent Comments plugins.” This one is merely there to power the Similar Posts plugin that I’ve highlighted below.
- Role Manager: Allows complete control over user roles and permissions from subscriber (level 0) to Administrator (level 10). As mentioned previously, this plugin allows you to give specific permissions to user roles on every aspect of the site’s functionality, from approving comments and reading private pages to writing new posts and uploading files.
- Similar Posts: “Displays a highly configurable list of related posts. Similarity can be based on any combination of word usage in the content, title, or tags.” I’ll be using this plugin on game-specific pages to highlight other content in the arcade. Simple but necessary.
- UserExtra: “Extends user profiles to include admin-defined attributes, and provides for category access controls with user-level granularity.” As I mentioned before, this plugin will allow me to extend user profiles and make them into something worth using. More to come on this as I work on it.
- WP-PostRatings: “Adds an AJAX rating system for your WordPress blog’s post/page.” This plugin will allow me to set up user ratings and generate a most rated and most played list. It is highly customisable and comes with around 10 different icon sets for ratings (stars, hearts, thumbs up/down etc).
- WP-Super Cache: “This plugin generates static html files from your dynamic WordPress blog. After an html file is generated your webserver will serve that file instead of processing the comparatively heavier and more expensive WordPress PHP scripts.” This plugin will help speed up operation time. A lot of people have commented on how slow WordPress would be as a games arcade. I don’t believe that’s necessarily true, as long as WordPress is properly configured and content is properly balanced.
So that concludes Part 2 in this series. Part 3 will take a look at some of the initial design elements of my new arcade and highlight some more key functions that come to light as I continue working on the project. So far I’ve been able to spare a couple of hours here and there to this new arcade. But over the coming weeks I expect to have a ‘beta’ version up and running. I’ll be looking for some beta testers to try out the new site and I’ll put a special call out for that. So if your’e interested in helping out, probably in exchange for some link love or something, drop me a line. Thanks for reading. Phew! That was a long one :)