Age of Wonders II Heaven Julia with Gameplay background

Building AoW2 Heaven, Part 1

When the staff began thinking about AoW2H, we all agreed that some things needed to be done differently from the current site:

  • Speed up average loading time (especially for dial-up users like me!)
  • Make colors easier on the eyes to read.
  • Uniform template design so that pages could easily be moved around with out reassigning filenames.
  • Main header and double-navigation bars throughout.

The current "trend" of HeavenGames sites is following this streamlined site structure, e.g., Dungeon Siege Heaven and Age of Mythology Heaven. It's worked very well for those sites and so AoW2H would follow this structure, but retain a signature HG artistic look. This structure also works well when viewing the site in various resolutions, from 800x600 to 1280x1024.

When designing a website, you want that "signature" look so that the visitor instantly knows (a) which game the site is for and (b) that they're visiting a HeavenGames website. Using a theme is the best way to do this. For example, we have a medieval leather and parchment theme for Age of Kings Heaven and a sandy, desert theme for Pharaoh Heaven.

For the current Age of Wonders Heaven site, we have a fantasy theme using game graphics familiar to the user. Anyone who has played Age of Wonders will instantly recognize the big red dragon from the in-game navigation menu, the parchment scroll and familiar green background. We also have a small clip of actual game graphics in the corner that a new visitor would see and associate with the game.

Actual design concepts and artwork for AoW2H began back on February 10, 2002. It was around 2:30 AM and I couldn't sleep. I was browsing through some of the latest screen shots for AoW2 and a few ideas began coming to mind.

I fired up the most advanced graphics program I have on my computer, none other than trusty old MS Paint, and hastily began some simple cutting and pasting of images along with blacking out parts I didn't want. At 3:07 AM, I had cranked out my first "sketch":

click for larger image

All this really consisted of was isolating two parts of the game's interface, and setting one on top of the other. Simple, huh? I took it all from this screen shot at GameSpy. It's not too pretty, but it was a good, rough layout of where I wanted most of the future content to go.

Zen happened to be online at the time (what can I say, none of us sleep; heck, it's nearly 2 AM right now!) and we started chatting about AoW2H. I showed him my "rough draft" and cleaned it up a bit, which resulted in this Concept #2:

click for larger image

Remarkably, Zen whipped up a "main header" graphic for me in only a few minutes (he's a Photoshop monster). In stark contrast to the rest of the site, this header would barely change its basic design over the course of the next few months; tweaking only its colors and subtle changes to the graphics.

Little did I know at the time that AoW2H's design would change dramatically between this first concept of mine and our final design. All in all, AoW2H went through over 60 concepts! While Zen was away for a month, poor Angel Nojd got a crash course in Photoshop from Zen and I promptly proceeded to drive Nojd insane requesting tons of minuscule changes to the design.

In the next segment of this article I'll talk about why this initial concept was actually a bad design and how we proceeded to modify it.

<< Introduction Introduction Part 2 >>

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