All RPGs and Storygames by Tod Foley are now available at DrivethruRPG and RPGnow. Bring these games to your table!
In January 2015, PwC US announced the launch of its new CareerAdvisor tool. Aimed to help students discover their professional goals and set themselves up for career success, the CareerAdvisor site provides links to reference articles and videos and other resources with career advice. After visitors create an account, they can track their progress with an interactive checklist of action items for career success and add a list of personal ToDos.
Decoupled Drupal has been well understood at a technical level for many years now. While the implementation details vary, most Drupal teams can handle working on decoupled projects. However, we’ve heard the following from many of our clients:
- We want a decoupled site. Why is this web project so expensive compared to sites I worked on in the past?
- Why do our decoupled projects seem so unpredictable?
- If we decide to invest in decoupled technologies, what can we expect in return?
Let’s dive into these questions.Why Can Decoupled Sites Cost More?
Before getting too much into the details of decoupled versus full-stack, I like to ask stakeholders:“What does your website need to do today that it didn’t 5 years ago?”
Often, the answer is quite a lot! Live video, authenticated traffic, multiple mobile apps, and additional advertising deals all add to more requirements, more code, and more complexity. In many cases, the costs that are unique to decoupling are quite small compared to the costs imposed by the real business requirements.
However, I have worked on some projects where the shift to a decoupled architecture is fundamentally a technology shift to enable future improvements, but the initial build is very similar to the existing site. In those cases, there are some very specific costs of decoupled architectures.Decoupling means forgoing Drupal functionality
Many contributed modules provide pre-built functionality we rely on for Drupal site builds. For example, the Quickedit module enables in-place editing of content. In a decoupled architecture, prepare to rewrite this functionality. Website preview (or even authenticated viewing of content) has to be built into every front end, instead of using the features we get for free with Drupal. Need UI localization? Content translation? Get ready for some custom code. Drupal has solved a lot of problems over the course of its evolution, so you don’t have to—unless you decouple.Decoupling is shorthand for Service Oriented Architectures
For many organizations, a decoupled website is their first foray into Service Oriented Architectures. Most full-stack Drupal sites are a single application, with constrained integration points. In contrast, a decoupled Drupal site is best conceived of as a “content service,” accessed by many disparate consumers.
I’ve found that the “black-boxing” of a decoupled Drupal site is a common stumbling block for organizations and a driver behind the increased costs of decoupling. To properly abstract a system requires up-front systems design and development that doesn’t always fit within the time and budget constraints of a web project. Instead, internal details end up being encoded into the APIs Drupal exposes, or visual design is reflected in data structures, making future upgrades and redesigns much more expensive. Writing good APIs is hard! To do it well, you need a team who is capable of handling the responsibility—and those developers are harder to find and cost more.Scalable systems and network effects
- Drupal for content management
- A CouchDB application to serve content over an API
- A second CouchDB application to support internal content preview
- A React app for the site front end
- Disqus for commenting
Compared to the sites our clients need, lullabot.com is a simple site. In other words, as you build, expect to be building a web of systems, and not just a “decoupled” website. It’s possible to have a consumer request Drupal content directly, especially in Drupal 8, but expect your tech teams to push for smaller “micro” services as they get used to decoupling.
Building and testing a network of systems requires a lot of focus and discipline. For example, I’ve worked with APIs that expose internal traces of exceptions instead of returning something usable to API consumers. Writing that error handling code on the service is important, but takes time! Is your team going to have the bandwidth to focus on building a robust API, or are they going to be focusing on the front-end features your stakeholders prioritize?
I’ve also seen decoupled systems end up requiring a ton of human intervention in day-to-day use. For example, I’ve worked with systems where not only is an API account created manually, but manual configuration is required on the API end to work properly. The API consumer is supposed to be abstracted from these details, but in the end, simple API calls are tightly coupled to the behind-the-scenes configuration. A manual set up might be OK for small numbers of clients, but try setting up 30 new clients at once, and a bottleneck forms around a few overworked developers.
Another common mistake is not to allow API consumers to test their integrations in “production.” Think about Amazon’s web services—even if your application is working from a QA instance, as far as Amazon is concerned there are only production API calls available. Forcing other teams to use your QA or sandbox instance means that they won’t be testing with production constraints, and they will have production-only bugs. It’s more difficult to think about clients creating test content in production—but if the API doesn’t have a good way to support that (such as with multiple accounts), then you’re missing a key set of functionality.
It’s also important to think about error conditions in a self-serve context. Any error returned by an API must make clear if the error is due to an error in the API, or the request made of the API. Server-side errors should be wired up to reporting and monitoring by the API team. I worked with one team where client-side errors triggered alerts and SMS notifications. This stopped the client-side QA team from doing any testing where users entered bad data beyond very specific cases. If the API had been built to validate inbound requests (instead of passing untrusted data through its whole application), this wouldn’t have been a problem.
There's a lot to think of when it comes to decoupled Drupal sites, but it’s the only way to build decoupled architectures that are scalable, and that lead to faster development. Otherwise, decoupling is going to be more expensive and slower, leaving your stakeholders unsatisfied.Why are decoupled projects unpredictable?
When clients are struggling with decoupled projects, we’ve often found it’s not due to the technology at all. Instead, poor team structure and discipline lead to communication breakdowns that are compounded by decoupled architectures.The team must be strong developers and testers
Building decoupled sites means teams have to be self-driving in terms of automated testing, documentation, and REST best practices. QA team members need to be familiar with testing outside of the browser if they are going to test APIs. If any of these components are missing, then sprints will start to become unpredictable. The riskiest scenario is where these best practices are known, but ignored due to stakeholders prioritizing “features.” Unlike one-off, full-stack architectures, there is little room to ignore these foundational techniques. If they’re ignored, expect the team to be more and more consumed by technical debt and hacking code instead of solving the actual difficult business problems of your project.The organizational culture must prioritize reliable systems over human interactions
The real value in decoupled architectures comes not in the technology, but in the effects on how teams interact with each other. Ask yourself: when a new team wants to consume an API, where do they get their information? Is it primarily from project managers and lead developers, or documentation and code examples? Is your team focused on providing “exactly perfect” APIs for individual consumers, or a single reusable API? Are you beholden to a single knowledge holder?
This is often a struggle for teams, as it significantly redefines the role of project managers. Instead of knowing the who of different systems the organization provides, it refocuses on the what - documentation, SDKs, and examples. Contacting a person and scheduling a meeting becomes a last resort, not a first step. Remember, there’s no value in decoupling Drupal if you’ve just coupled yourself to a lead developer on another team.Hosting complexity
- HTTP servers
- Deployment scripts
- Testing and automation tools
- Caching and other performance tools
- Local development for all of the above
What’s important here is to remember that this instability isn’t due to decoupling—it’s due to front-end architecture decisions. There’s nothing that stops a team from building a decoupled front-end in PHP with Twig, as another Drupal site, or anything else.If we invest in Decoupled Drupal, what’s the payoff?
With full-stack Drupal, it’s easy to create and show content that is impossible to view on mobile or set-tops apps. By decoupling the Drupal front end, and using the same APIs as every other app, it forces CMS teams to develop with an API-first mentality. It puts all consumers on an equal playing field, simplifying the development effort in adding a new app or platform. That, on it’s own, might be a win for your organization.Scaling large teams?
Most large Drupal sites, even enterprise sites, have somewhere between 5-10 active developers at a time. What if your team has the budget to grow to 30 or 50 developers?
In that case, decoupled Drupal is almost the only solution to keep individuals working smoothly. However, decoupled Drupal isn’t enough. Your team will need to completely adopt an SOA approach to building software. Otherwise, you’ll end up paying developers to build a feature that takes them months instead of days.Decoupling with your eyes open
The most successful decoupled projects are those where everyone is on board—developers, QA, editorial, and stakeholders. It’s the attitude towards decoupling that can really push teams to the next level of capability. Decoupling is a technical architecture that doesn’t work well when the business isn’t buying in as well. It’s worth thinking about your competitors too—because if they are tech companies, odds are they are already investing in their teams and systems to fully embrace decoupling.
Spam causes huge inconvenience to Internet users and headaches for site owners. Spam is one of reasons why you don’t need a comment section on your web resource. However, allowing your site visitors to post comments and any other content means communication and feedback. Allowing them to express their opinions and share their ideas on your site has its good sides as well. So it would be not right to get rid of this option all together. Luckily, Drupal can offer you a solution — and not just one.Read more
As per the extreme version of Tour de Drupal, my plan is to cycle from Switzerland to DrupalCon Vienna by crossing the Alps 6 times. The tour will take me over some of the most challenging Alp passes using my road cycle.Josef Dabernig Wed, 08/23/2017 - 09:14
I’ll visit 5 different countries, including: Switzerland, Italy, Germany, Slovenia and Austria. Overcoming the Alps with the bicycle has been one of my long term dreams... Inspired by the sport achievements of my uncle, I am taking this challenge to see if I can make it from Switzerland to DrupalCon Vienna by taking some scenic and challenging detours over the Alps.
The final destination is DrupalCon Vienna which serves as the perfect goal because it’s my favorite conference and my hometown at the same time.
#DrupAlps in numbers
- Days: 31
- Distance: 2361 km
- Total elevation gain: 57864 meters
Here is how I planned out the route so far
Depending on weather and physical conditions, I will adapt the route along the way while riding.
Over the last months, I have been riding various passes to get ready for the tour. Longer rides included St. Moritz - Splügenpass - Chur, Erstfeld - Oberalppass - Chur, and Zurich - Vierwaldstättersee - Lucerne. In 2015, we cycled the Pyrenees as part of #TourDeDrupal Barcelona(1, 2, 3), early 2016 we cycled Sierra Nevada(1, 2) and later summer 2016 I cycled the biggest mountain of Austria on the Großglocknerstrasse.
Until now, I have no experience in cycling more than 3 consecutive days, so I am really looking forward to seeing how it will go while being in the saddle for so many days in a row.
For DrupalCon Barcelona we cycled along the Pyrenees.
Amazee Extreme Challenge
“After three years of fulltime employment, our employees get one month off to free their mind and do something really extreme.”
I would like to thank Amazee for giving me this unique chance. Find out about what my colleagues are planning or have already accomplished at the Amazee Labs Extreme page.
DrupalCon is the biggest Drupal conference, organized by the Drupal Association and will take place in Vienna from 26-29 September this year. I am especially looking forward to this one in my home town!
On Monday, there will be sprints, training sessions & summits organized by Drupal Austria.
Tuesday to Friday is packed with the official conference program and I am particularly excited about the site-building track, which I am a track chairing this year. Check out my blog post about what to expect from this week at DrupalCon.
Join Tour de Drupal
If you’d like to join my for the last few days of cycling, the last days are planned to be flat along the Danube river. For example, we plan to cycle from Linz to Krems on Saturday, 22nd of September. On Sunday, 23rd of September we go from Krems to Tulln where we will have a lunch break at the webshapers office. After that, we’ll cycle towards Vienna to arrive on Sunday afternoon.
Along the route, I will post regular updates about the ups and downs of the Tour de DrupAlps. To stay tuned, you can follow me here:
[Photo credits: Ben Finklea, Jan 2017. Photos captured from iPhone video shot at Texas Grappling Challenge Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournament in Cedar Park, Texas.]
My Drupal developer friends and I (like any friendship) don’t always see eye-to-eye. While we have much in common—we both want stylish, high-performing websites—in some areas our goals are different. This can create the appearance of conflict. However, after working through the issues (or hitting the mats, as they say in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu), we can find common ground and mutual respect.
In Drupal 8 SEO, I lay out a list of modules that should be installed on your Drupal website to enhance SEO. I wrote this book for marketers and provide the step-by-step details you need to increase Google ranking, website traffic... Read the full article: A Drupal SEO Expert and a Drupal Developer Hit the Mat
So obviously, the pendulum of progress stopped swinging on my game. As much as I tried to prevent it, pressing obligations just wouldn’t take a back seat (nor would the burglars who, a few weeks ago, stole 90% of my wardrobe and who last week stole my monitor). So after a string of hectic weekends and even crazier weeks, this weekend has been pretty wide open for doing whatever I want to do. And not a moment too soon!
So after doing all the other things I try to do with my weekends, I finally loaded up the ol’ Inform 7 IDE and started working on my game. To get me back in the swing of things, so to speak, I started reading through what I’d already written. It was an interesting experience.
Strangely, what impressed me most was stuff I had done that I have since forgotten I learned how to do. Silly little things, like actions I defined that actually worked, that had I tried to write them today, probably would have had me stumped for a while. Go me! Except, erm, I seem to have forgotten more than I’ve retained.
I also realized the importance of commenting my own code. For instance, there’s this snippet:
A thing can be attached or unattached. A thing is usually unattached. A thing that is a part of something is attached.
The problem is, I have no idea why I put it in there – it doesn’t seem relevant to anything already in the game, so I can only imagine that I had some stroke of genius that told me I was going to need it “shortly” (I probably figured I’d be writing the code the next night). So now, there’s that lonely little line, just waiting for its purpose. I’m sure I’ll come across it some day; for now, I’ve stuck in a comment to remind myself to stick in a comment when I do remember.
It reminds me of all the writing I did when I was younger. I was just bursting with creativity when I was a kid, constantly writing the first few pages of what I was sure was going to be a killer story. And then I’d misplace the notebook or get sidetracked by something else, or do any of the million other things that my easily distracted self tends to do. Some time later, I’d come across the notebook, read the stuff I’d written and think, “Wow, this is great stuff! Now… where was I going with it?” And I’d never remember, or I’d remember and re-forget. Either way, in my mother’s attic there are piles and piles of notebooks with half-formed thoughts that teem with potential never to be fulfilled.
This situation – that of wanting to resume progress but fumbling to pick up the threads of where I left off – has me scouring my memory for a term I read in Jack London’s Call of the Wild. There was a part in the book where Buck’s owner (it’s late, his name has escaped me) has been challenged to some sort of competition to see if Buck can get the sled moving from a dead stop. I seem to remember that the runners were frozen to the ground. I thought the term was “fast break” or “break fast” or something to that effect, but diligent (does 45 seconds count as diligent?) searching has not confirmed this or provided me with the right term. Anyway, that’s how it feels tonight – I feel as if I’m trying to heave a frozen sled free from its moorings.
The upside is, I am still pleased with what I have so far. That’s good because it means I’m very likely to continue, rather than scrap it altogether and pretend that I’ll come up with a new idea tomorrow. In the meantime, I’ll be looking for some SnoMelt and a trusty St. Bernard to get things moving again.
So I didn’t get as much coding done over the weekend as I had hoped, mainly because the telephone company *finally* installed my DSL line, which meant I was up til 5:30 Saturday am catching up on the new episodes of Lost. That, in turn, meant that most of the weekend was spent wishing I hadn’t stayed up until such an ungodly hour, and concentration just wasn’t in the cards.
However, I did get some stuff done, which is good. Even the tiniest bit of progress counts as momentum, which is crucial for me. If the pendulum stops swinging, it will be very hard for me to get it moving again.
So the other day, as I was going over the blog (which really is as much a tool for me as it is a way for me to share my thoughts with others), I realized I had overlooked a very basic thing when coding the whole “automatically return the frog to the fuschia” bit…
As the code stood, if the player managed to carry the frog to another room before searching it, the frog would get magically returned to the fuschia. This was fairly simple to resolve, in the end – I just coded it so that the game moves (and reports) the frog back to fuschia before leaving the room. I also decided to add in a different way of getting the key out of the frog – in essence, rewarding different approaches to the same problem with success.
Which brings me to the main thrust of today’s post. I have such exacting standards for the games I play. I love thorough implementation. My favorite games are those that build me a cool gameworld and let me tinker and explore, poking at the shadows and pulling on the edges to see how well it holds up. A sign of a good game is one that I will reopen not to actually play through again, but to just wander around the world, taking in my surroundings. I’ve long lamented the fact that relatively few games make this a rewarding experience – even in the best games, even slight digging tends to turn up empty, unimplemented spots.
What I am coming to appreciate is just how much work is involved in the kind of implementation I look for. Every time I pass through a room’s description, or add in scenery objects, I realize just how easy it is to find things to drill down into. Where there’s a hanging plant, there’s a pot, dirt, leaves, stems, wires to hang from, hooks to hang on, etc. Obviously, unless I had all the time in the world, I couldn’t implement each of these separately, so I take what I believe to be the accepted approach and have all of the refer to the same thing. Which, in my opinion, is fine. I don’t mind if a game has the same responses for the stems as it does for the plant as a whole, as long as it has some sort of relevant response. Even so, this takes a lot of work. It might be the obsessive part of me, but I can’t help but think “What else would a person think of when looking at a hanging plant?”
Or, as I’ve come to think of it: WWBTD?What Would Beta Testers Do?
I’ve taken to looking at a “fully” implemented room and wondering what a player might reasonably (and in some cases unreasonably) be expected to do. This is a bit of a challenging process for me – I already know how my mind works, so trying to step outside of my viewpoint and see it from a blind eye is hard. I should stop for a second to note that I fully intend to have my game beta tested once it reaches that point, but the fewer obvious things there are for testers to trip over, the more time and energy they’ll have for really digging in and trying to expose the weaknesses I can’t think of.
I’ve found one resource that is both entertaining and highly informative to me: ClubFloyd transcripts. ClubFloyd, for the uninitiated (a group among which I count myself, of course) is a sort of cooperative gaming experience — if anyone who knows better reads this and cares to correct what may well be a horrible description, by all means!– where people get together on the IFMud and play through an IF title. The transcripts are both amusing and revealing. I recently read the Lost Pig transcript and it was quite interesting. The things people will attempt to do are both astonishing and eye-opening. In the case of Lost Pig (which, fortunately, I had already played before reading the transcript), what was even more amazing was the depth of the game itself. I mean, people were doing some crazy ass stuff – eating the pole, lighting pants on fire, and so on. And it *worked*. Not only did it work, it was reversible. You obviously need the pole, so there’s a way to get it back if, in a fit of orc-like passion, you decide to shove it in down Grunk’s throat.
Anyway, my point is, the transcripts gave me a unique perspective on the things people will try, whether in an effort to actually play the game, to amuse themselves, or to amuse others. Definitely good stuff to keep in mind when trying to decide, say, the different ways people will try to interact with my little porcelain frog.Other Stuff I Accomplished
So I coded in an alternate way to deal with the frog that didn’t conflict with the “standard” approach. I also implemented a few more scenery objects. Over the course of the next few days, I’m going to try to at least finish the descriptions of the remaining rooms so that I can wander around a bit and start really getting to the meat of it all. I also want to work on revising the intro text a bit. In an effort to avoid the infodumps that I so passionately hate, I think I went a little too far and came away with something a bit too terse and uninformative. But that’s the really fun part of all of this – writing and re-writing, polishing the prose and making it all come together.
Whattaya know. Midnight again. I think I’m picking up on a trend here.
Grrr… I’ve been so bogged down in work and client emergencies that progress on the game is at a temporary (no, really! Only temporary) standstill. I’ve managed to flesh out a few more room and scenery descriptions, but have not accomplished anything noteworthy in a few days. Hopefully after this week most of the fires on the work front will be extinguished, and I’ll have time to dive into the game this weekend.
(She says to no one, since there’s been one hit on this blog since… it started.)