Alt-F4 #19 - A Retrospective
This week, in the new year, we wanted to take a look back at the project Therenas started four and a half months ago to fill the void that the absence of the FFF left in all our hearts. We asked the people involved in the process about their specialty, making them write down a bit of history of how this all evolved.
At some point, we got the news that the FFF was ending, and in the days following that, there was a lot of general sadness and some discussion on keeping the format going. It didn’t look like anything was materialising though, which is when I foolishly decided to take things into my own hands. I typed out the first issue on Wednesday evening, the week after FFF 360. I also asked the Factorio Discord for suggestions for a name (I’m terrible at naming things), and thankfully a great one was proposed: Alternative Friday Factorio Fan Facts, or Alt-F4 for short. Nice and clever while bearing resemblance to what it was mimicking.
Alternative Factorio Friday Fan Facts, also known as Alt F4
Well, I say mimicking, but the idea behind it has always been to follow a different model than the FFF, even if how that worked exactly still needed to be figured out. What also needed figuring out was a website and domain for the project. I tried to put something together, but I just couldn’t in that short period, so the first issue was just ‘released’ as a Markdown file on Github. Good enough to get people’s attention at least though. I wanted to seamlessly follow the FFF, so it was crucial to me to not skip a week, even if that meant a rather shoddy presentation. I also threw together a Discord for people to have a place to gather.
On the day of release, it got quite a bit of attention, as people really liked the idea of the project. Thanks to Zirr for promoting it on the subreddit and Discord, quite a lot of people immediately took the initiative and offered help. Nicgarner offered his skills as a proofreader (which he still does today!), and a small team of tech people formed to get a website up and running. Within a day, we had a working prototype, which was incredible. The enthusiasm from everyone was so great to see, and what was needed for the project to succeed.
I would never be able to run it all by myself, both on the content and on the technical side. It’s just way too much effort, and it’s not the point anyway. Alt-F4 was never intended to be my personal blog, but a platform for the community. All of this didn’t stop me from wanting to shoulder all of it myself though at first. I tried to keep an eye on everything, giving my input, and considering every single decision. This included the technical side, the editorial efforts, the community management on the Discord, and more. Within a week, I was feeling burnt out.
This was not a sustainable way to run the project, but I never did something like this before, and it was hard for me to let go of the oversight and responsibilities. How would I know that it was being done well if I didn’t check it? Well, turns out you just need to trust the right people, and they’ll do things you never would be able to. I started by bringing Conor_ on board as ‘moderator’ for the Discord, answering people’s questions and writing instructions and so on. His responsibilities instantly shifted to include pretty much everything that I didn’t get to. Our cooperation works out really well because, for some reason, we just agree on how to do things nine out of ten times. This makes things way easier because he can just make decisions and it’s very likely I’ll agree with them, and vice-versa.
Conor_ really took all the small details off my mind, so I could focus on the bigger decisions regarding the direction of the project and the editorial side. The second responsibility I delegated was the technical side. I just forced myself to not look at all those discussions as they were happening, trusting the techies to make the right calls. Turns out they did, making better decisions than I would have. After that, I basically just popped in with requests for features, and a day or two later, they’d be live on the website.
The next big thing that came up were translations. People were really enthusiastic about translating Alt-F4 into their language and didn’t shy away from the tremendous effort that it is. Soon, we had over two dozen translators for ten languages. Conor_ dutifully managed most of this, but he had enough on his plate by this point. So, we approached Firerazer, one of the French translators, and asking him whether he’d like to lead the translation effort. Turns out he did and does a great job putting them together every week.
The most recent additions to our team are stringweasel and nanogamer7, who help me and Nic shoulder the editorial effort. I initially thought I could handle that part myself (see the pattern there?), but I realized that if we wanted the content to be truly great, we needed people to give detailed feedback on their submissions to really improve them. I just didn’t have the time to do that, I mostly concerned myself with improving the language used, not the contents. We also regularly had some incorrect facts in our pieces, which is just embarrassing, so nanogamer7 took the role of fact-checker to make sure we’re not spouting off any more nonsense than necessary.
All in all, every single person we brought onboard does a great job, and the end product is so much better for it. The team that has assembled itself here is really great at what they do and really great to work with. While this piece was about the core team with ‘fixed’ roles, I do want to mention all the contributors that submitted their writing as well, there were some amazingly interesting pieces in there, and I learned quite a bit about the game and community in the process. You are all very much appreciated.
The First Few Weeks
When I first heard about Alt-F4 being started, I immediately loved the idea and knew I had to get involved. For context, at the time I had very little to do due to the pandemic, and I was desperate for a long-term project to work on. I was searching high and low for anything that I could spend my time on when I found Alt-F4, I knew immediately it was the project for me. There was just the minor issue that I had no idea what I could contribute to the project. For me, writing has always been a bit of a slog and I couldn’t think of any particularly good ideas for things to write about anyway so I threw my hat into the Techie ring.
Unfortunately at the beginning, it was quite unorganized (as most projects are in the early days) so I wasn’t particularly sure what to work on. I knew very little about the website setup itself, so in true Factorio spirit, I decided my best option was to try and automate something. With the help of lovely_santa, I created a few Github actions to automate some basic tasks such as posting new Github submissions to the Discord, as well as the crème de la crème of Github actions: the automated release. This is the only action that’s survived from that first wave and has been improved since then, allowing the posting to Reddit and Discord entirely automagically. It also allows me the opportunity to say “Starting automation” during each release, which makes me chuckle every time. I even managed to escape the age-old issue with automation (see xkcd #1319), which is always a positive.
After a few weeks of running Alt-F4 largely single-handedly, the almighty Therenas recognized his limitations and decided he needed someone to help manage the Discord and Github so he could focus on editing and content. Ever since that day, I have had absolutely no idea what my role in Alt-F4 is, but I’ve had a lot of fun doing it. I went from “Techie” to “Moderator” to “Technical Editor” with the final goal of one day reaching my full potential as
”Lord high overload of Alt-F4” “Therenas’s personal manservant”. Part of this stems from the community around Alt-F4 constantly wanting to improve and innovate, causing regular shifts in what Alt-F4 actually is. Translation was a great example of this where a single person translating a single release has led to a large translation effort headed up by Firerazer, making Alt-F4 more accessible to as many people as possible.
I really love working on this project and I knew that neither myself nor Therenas could run it single-handedly. I’ve seen amazing community projects like this one peter out after a few weeks by relying too heavily on key people who couldn’t sustain their involvement levels. This led me to push to bring on more and more people, especially in the editing process. We are first and foremost a written publication and that means that content is always and should always be our number one priority. My first effort to improve the quality of Alt-F4 releases was to formalise the “content editing” phase for submissions. During this, we try our darndest to bring the best out of the contributors with focused feedback about what we want more of in the submission. I believe this is one of the most important parts of Alt-F4 which sets up apart from a simple Reddit post and I hope is the reason people keep coming back every week.
A New Submission’s Journey
Alt-F4 would not be possible without the creative Factorio community continuously submitting great articles that we can publish. Each of these submissions goes through quite a journey to reach your screens every Friday. What does that journey look like? And how hard is it to create a submission? Here I will give you a quick glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes, and what you might expect when submitting an article.
When you submit an article it will most likely arrive on my (stringweasel) doorstep first. This can be a simple text file or a Pull Request on our Alt-F4 Github Repo, because that is where it will ultimately end up. I’ll read through it and see how it can fit into our structure and content. I’ll give you some feedback on how it reads and where you could possibly expand. Next nanogamer7 - our thorough fact-checker - will read through your submission. He will make sure there are no accidental factual mistakes, that all the links point where you expect them to point, etc. He’s like your guardian angel and has saved my submissions from stupid mistakes a few times already. And don’t worry, we ignore spelling and grammar initially to focus on the content.
However, since it will be published online, someone needs to have a look at your grammar and spelling at some point. Here Therenas, our editor in chief, is the local expert. He will improve your sentence structures and spelling, and make you sound almost as smart as he is. He has detangled many of my terrible tongue twisters into smooth phrases without changing what I said. And if that’s not enough, our other expert nicgarner will do a final review to make sure Therenas didn’t miss anything. And after your piece is silky smooth, Firerazer and his capable team will take over. They will translate your article into a variety of different languages. This team deserves a lot of praise for all the rushed articles which they dedicatedly translated when there were last-minute changes. And remember, it will likely be the first time anything you wrote will be readable in more than three languages!
Finally, Conor_ will do the fateful merge-to-master, after which it will disappear into the Git void. This final step is a mysterious and chaotic place, full of CSS and HTML (and spidertrons!), but it’s a place that has been tamed by Conor_, Dr. MagPie, and their tenacious techie team. Then at some point on Friday afternoon, like a butterfly emerges from its cocoon, it will emerge on our beautiful website to be enjoyed by all of you. This is usually the point where Klonan does his duty as Wube Community Manager and find some mistake in your article, which we will fix with a ninja-edit before anyone else notices.
Now you are a published author - or at least in our eyes. And you get to have the
Contributor role on our Discord server, which comes with a nice orange colour. And we will hope that you might send us a submission again in the future!
This was the first part of our two-part retrospective, we hope you found some of this insight interesting or insightful. We had so much to talk about that it couldn’t possibly fit into a single issue, so there’ll be more talk about the translation process and some technical issues that came up next week! There’ll also be some more touchy-feely stuff, so you can look forward to that.
As always, we’re looking for people that want to contribute to Alt-F4, be it by submitting an article or by helping with translation. If you have something interesting in mind that you want to share with the community in a polished way, this is the place to do it. If you’re not too sure about it we’ll gladly help by discussing content ideas and structure questions. If that sounds like something that’s up your alley, join the Discord to get started!