What's Going On With ZHQ?

First of all, let me make this clear: I don't know. I do have some guesses, and I may even know some things, but I don't think my answer will be what a lot of you are looking to hear. This is the best I can do: I don't know a whole lot so I can't tell ya'.

Since my last update of ZHQ on Feburary 15th, 2000, I've received a grand total of 6 E-Mails from Niels. I believe all of those were written to the entire ZHQ Staff; they weren't directly to me alone. One was on April 5, 2001, informing us that the site was updated. Three of those were over a 2 day period. Throughout the course of 131/3 months, there were only two other E-Mails. There's also been two ICQ chats I remember, but Niels and I haven't been talking a while lot. Please understand that fact, and realize that I may not be as much of an expert on the subject of ZHQ as you think. I still maintain the site mailing lists (including the publicly-known ZHQ's Letters Team mailing list, which is no longer able to be found by following on-site links from the main page of ZHQ), but other than that am not involved in the upkeep of ZHQ.

Because I am not regularily speaking to Niels these days, I don't have much up-to-date information. I do, however, have some information that is a number of months old, which is newer information than what most of you have. On this page I tell you what I do know, and what I do think, about where the site's been and how it's changed and I'll mention just a small bit of what Niels has said about its future, and so then you can join me in guessing exactly where things are right now.

Now, I will try to summarize things as I believe they happened:

ZHQ more than a year ago: What (most of) you know

Niels was a kid, who lived in the Netherlands, and who had an internet connection. He created a web site eventually named Zelda HeadQuarters (a.k.a. ZHQ), updated it frequently, and received a lot of visitors. Along the way, he and I met. I showed him my lousy Zelda web site, hoping he'd link to it. (If only my site got a bit of traffic, I dreamed, I could have enough incentive to keep the site updated and improve it until it was the largest and best Zelda site on the 'net.) He looked at it, and I got the distinct impression that he was not impressed. Many months later, though, I received an E-Mail from him saying that he wanted me to take over a rather large section of his web site. He and I worked together, and I had my first serious experience maintaining web pages. During this time, I played my cards right on several occasions in several ways, and my strategic decisions resulted in Niels coming to respect me.

Later on, Niels wanted to get involved in something other than Zelda Headquarters, and made TotalRPG. This was taking much of his time, and instead of the updates every two or three days, updates began to slip to a week or more apart. During the month after Ocarina of Time was released, the biggest event in several years of Zelda history, the site went un-updated for four weeks. Still in the habit of doing things right, I asked Niels for the site and gave plenty of reasons why he should let me run it. He didn't like the idea of parting with his site, but the facts were undeniable: He was working more on TotalRPG and wanted to create yet another website, GameSen. He honored my request so and at that moment I had the glorious position of webmaster of the largest Zelda website in the world.

Then, I stopped playing my cards right. ZHQ's update frequency didn't improve much under my control. I can give a slewful of honest reasons for that, but it's irrelevant. A lot of people felt that I destroyed ZHQ by not updating it, falsely believing the problems only started to occur after I took over the site. On the plus side, I did keep the site alive rather alive. On the negative side, I didn't update it nearly as much as I should have. People's opinions on whether that performance was good or not are mixed. So are my own opinions on the matter: I think I've done quite good when looking at things from one viewpoint, and I am disappointed when considering other facts. This article isn't about me, though, so I'm going to leave it at that for now.

Eventually, I gave the site back to Niels.

Niels over the last year or two: What (most of) you don't know

So why no new ZHQ? The answer is simple: I don't have enough time.
--Niels 't Hooft, April 5, 2001
I'm hoping Niels doesn't mind my explaining, best as I can, what he's been doing. I'm guessing it's not a real big secret: He just didn't tell people excactly what GameSen is because he either didn't have the time and the need for him to explain it didn't seem big enough to him to actually take the time to do it.

In all the conversations I've had with Niels lately, he portrays himself as a forward thinker. He is apparently quite involved in many projects in the Netherlands. Namely, there's Gamesen, which Niels describes on his site as "the largest video game network in the Netherlands". Gamesen is a website in the language of Dutch, which I can't read. There's also the Television department, which also goes by the name Gamesen. I'm really quite unclear about the details of this: at one point in time I've been under the impression that it's a local television station, much like KVOS TV. (KVOS TV is a local television station viewable by people living in Bellingham, WA, and nearby cities such as Vancouver, BC, Canada, and perhaps as far South as Seattle, WA, USA). At other times, it's sounded more like Niels creates some sort of television show about Video Games, in the language of Dutch, which is distributed nationwide (around the Netherlands) on as many different TV stations as he can sell it to. Maybe both is true, or maybe I'm a bit off on both of these understandings. Either way, it sounds fascinating, but I really don't know the details of exactly what it is, or how much of it is actually publicly-enjoyable and how much of it is still in a pre-released state. (Either way, it's taking up much of Niels's time.) A third thing that I found out Niels has been involved in is writing a book, related to video games. I don't remember the exact topic: I think it might be about art in video games. All of this is in Dutch, and so all of this is stuff that I can't really appreciate myself because I don't understand the language, except maybe the TV stuff he works on which I could watch without understanding any spoken words if only there was a way for me to view it.

The kid... no, scratch that. I used to think of Niels as a "kid". He was a kid, was younger than me (and believe it or not, still is), and was under the age of 18, living with his parents. However, he is an adult now and is probably living on his own. His life is very much different from when I first met him, and from when he and I did talk to each other a lot. People change. And relationships change.

The man is actively involved in video games, apparently with quite a bit of responsibilities at a company called Vice Versa Communications which invests in Niels's projects giving him some financial backing. Even if we, his present or past fans, can't enjoy the fruits of his present labor, it does sound like ambitious projects and a very exciting life. These are the impressions I got from Niels when I spoke with him. Critics may say I'm well known by some as being nieve, and that I don't have enough information to know if Niels's life is really all it's cracked up to be. Well, right. I don't have enough information. I said at the beginning, I don't talk to Niels very much. And the last thing I want to do when I don't have enough information is to be making negative judgements of people. I have no evidence that any of what Niels says is not true.

Honestly, if you could either be involved in the projects he is, or spend your time on a fan site dedicated to a single series of video games written in a language you know well but which isn't your native tongue, hoping to satisfy people halfway around the world more than what the competition is satisfying those fans, what would you be doing with your time? Some of you would answer, "Zelda is cool and I'd stick with ZHQ". Well, maybe so. However, regardless of what we would do ourselves, I think that the choice Niels makes is perfectly understandable.

End of the line for the current site

ZHQ is about as good as it can get in its current incarnation. The site wasn't originally designed to be as big as it is. It was just a place for Niels to mess around with making a web page, and to show off his artwork. The site was never built from the ground up to be as large as it is. This leads to some problems: Navigation isn't as easy as it should be. Keeping track of the files on the site in order to update them can be confusing at times. A lot of work needs to be done on the site if it's ever going to expand much, and doing that work would take almost as much time as making a new site from scratch. Both Niels and I have independantly come to the conclusions that the best thing to do would be to make a new site from scratch, which is designed better from ground zero. He and I have some real differences on exactly how that should be done, and as a result Hylia.Com and ZHQ.Com are still seperate web sites which will be quite different after they are both launched (since both sites do say they will launch).

HYLIA.Com is actually more like the old ZHQ than the vision Niels has described as "the new ZHQ". The main change in my site re-design is going to be to make navigation and updating of the site easier (which hopefully, combined with other things such as staff policy changes, will result in updates being less unnecessarily time consuming and therefore able to be more frequent). On ZHQ's 4th birthday, the main page was updated and said:
...that[big changes]'s exactly what's going to happen... ZHQ has traditionally been something of an archive with loads of info. That focus will change in the upcoming new version, which is going to offer you [tons] of interactive content, dynamic news on all the new Zelda games and interesting articles featuring everything a Zelda fanatic wants to know. Of course, ZHQ's near-infinite Zelda knowledge will still be in there somehow!
--Niels 't Hooft

As for the well known staff of ZHQ, it is not known how or if they can or will fit in the "new ZHQ". The whole of the entire staff cannot simply make a transition over to Niels's new version of the site, having the same roles and positions as they did before. Maybe some could, maybe none could have the exact same roles as before, but certainly not all. If you do not understand why, you probably don't fully understand that ZHQ is going to have a "new focus" and all the implications of that statement. He had a vision of the site that would get the users of the site active. The truth is, when he wrote the statement "ZHQ's near-infinite Zelda knowledge will [be in the new site] somehow!", he had no idea how. Somehow, he expected. Somehow the knowledge would get in there because he wanted to have that information, but he really didn't know just how to fit it in with his other radical new ideas. The reason that there may not be room and availability for the entire staff on the new version of the site is because the new site is supposedly going to be quite different than the old one.

Against the desires of the ZHQ staff, Niels suspended the site during the re-design. He focused his attention on the site re-design, which did not use simple HTML like most of ZHQ did. The new site involved "server-side programming", and building a site with these web browsing technologies takes time. A lot of the work, from what I gathered, was being done by paid programmers of Vice Versa Communications, and not by Niels himself. Please note that what I just said might be inaccurate: I really have only a small glimpse of what was going on in the Netherlands.

The creation of these underlying technologies, which were to be used for not only ZHQ but also TotalRPG and GameSen, took longer than expected. Much longer. I'm not sure, but they might still not be done yet today. If they are done, though, they're not powering ZHQ, or TotalRPG. (Niels sold off the TotalRPG site at some point. At a later date, he declined to sell me ZHQ and price wasn't even discussed at that point: Niels was simply not interested in permanently giving up ZHQ. Today, TotalRPG.Com is registered to Rob Smit at Vice Versa Communications, who as I recall is Niels's boss/supervisor.) Niels got busy doing other projects.

ZHQ's Future

There's still no new ZHQ, though. And you won't see one anytime soon, either. It's not because I don't want to; I still love making websites and I still love the Zelda series.[...] I'm not abandoning the idea of a new ZHQ site completely. Someday, somehow, I'm sure that the site will rise again.
--Niels 't Hooft
Niels still wants to re-launch ZHQ, although he says it's not coming anytime soon. I fully believe it's not coming anytime soon. If it were just around the corner, I think Niels would still be saying that the site is gonna be re-launching any day now, just like he did on ZHQ's 4th birthday in April 2000 even though there was a lot of work to be done yet. That's not what he said. He's got a lot of projects to be working on, and it appears that ZHQ isn't top priority. As I said earlier, Niels is very much a forward thinker. He has no interest in running a website like the ZHQ we're all familiar with, something he did quite happily for a number of years. That ZHQ seems like an old concept to him. He feels he's outgrown that sort of a website. He has some grandiose visions of something bigger, and when Niels has visions of something new he wants to pursue, there's no talking him into doing something old and unrevolutionary.

Niels does not appear to have left the world of making websites. His GameSen website, although completely unreadable to the vast majority of people who live in the same country as myself, does appear to get some of his attention. Even if the technologies needed to make his new ZHQ work aren't finished yet, I think work may still get done on them because they can be useful on other websites that Niels/Vice Versa Comm. are working on. The stuff Niels described all sounds perfectly possible to me from a technological standpoint. His descriptions portray things I've seen on other sites, as well as things I haven't personally seen on other sites but which I have no doubt either do or could exist elsewhere. Even if I have seen them on other sites, though, I haven't seen them on other Zelda sites.

So, when will this happen? Likely when the technology is mostly or even all the way complete, probably not created just for ZHQ. He's got a lot of things going on, and he's actually moved the ZHQ project from "something I'll do some more work on very soon as soon as I get something else here finished and have a chance to work on ZHQ some more" status to the status of "I've come to realize it may be a while before I work on the site, and have publicly admitted this to the visitors". Someday, when things are all ready and going, I expect that Niels will be able to copy a lot of the tools and functionality from another web site, make the site look a lot more Zelda-ish, and launch the new ZHQ. I'm sure he'd inform me about it, and of course HYLIA.Com would mention ZHQ's relaunch.

I think that if Niels takes well over a year before launching the new ZHQ, chances are real good that most of the features would still be unique among all Zelda sites. When it does launch, most of the frequent, possibly multiple-times-a-day maintanance will easily be able to be done by staff members other than himself, likely even staff members who don't know HTML or any web-specific "language" but just know how to fill out a form. There are other features too that Niels has mentioned to me which would result in the site being able to be updated more frequently. The high level of ability for the website to be updated without Niels needing to spend his own time personally making the update happen would result in a stand-out site.

If you want to understand the new ZHQ, please re-read the following quote which is not just some fluff words, but accurately describe Niels's plans:
...that[big changes]'s exactly what's going to happen... ZHQ has traditionally been something of an archive with loads of info. That focus will change in the upcoming new version, which is going to offer you [tons] of interactive content, dynamic news on all the new Zelda games and interesting articles featuring everything a Zelda fanatic wants to know. Of course, ZHQ's near-infinite Zelda knowledge will still be in there somehow!
--Niels 't Hooft
The current ZHQ has a large amount of Zelda knowledge and some interesting articles, but it doesn't have a great amount of interactive content or multiple people with the ability to post up-to-the-minute news.

And where does that leave us...

Finally, please understand that I'm going to take my time forming the new ZHQ team and developing the new ZHQ, to make it as good as I possibly can.
--Niels 't Hooft, April 2, 2000

As for the well known staff of ZHQ, it is not known how or if they can or will fit in the "new ZHQ". The whole of the entire staff cannot simply make a transition over to Niels's new version of the site, having the same roles and positions as they did before. Maybe some could, maybe none could have the exact same roles as before, but certainly not all. If you do not understand why, you probably don't fully understand that ZHQ is going to have a "new focus" and all the implications of that statement.
--Conrad VanderWoude

Have you ever thought about how the staff has reacted to all this? They were all happily serving a single website with a long history behind it when I, Conrad, returned the site into Niels's posession. Suddenly, when Niels started describing his plans for the site, their future of working on the site at all seemed to be in great jeopardy. Not fun.

There's been some breakup of the staff. We've lost some staff members who either came to the conclusion that they wouldn't fit well into the new ZHQ, or Niels came to the conclusion that they wouldn't fit well into the new ZHQ. I know of the plans that one of the more notable ZHQ staff members had to become staff of another major Zelda website. I also know that I likely wouldn't have become a part of that same website, and if ZHQ turned out not to be much of an option for me I would have sought out a position at one of a number of different sites. It could well have been an entire breakup of the staff if it weren't for one thing...

For a while I hoped not to share with all the ZHQ staff the nitty-gritty details of my upcoming website, which at the time was little more than an intention. However, when I began to sense that the future of the staff at ZHQ began to look a bit questionable, I began to offer my alternative. My web site was going to have a lot of the qualities that the old ZHQ had which the new ZHQ wasn't planning to include. My site had room for staff members. My site would be webmastered by someone that the staff of ZHQ (which I had been webmastering) knew they could get along with. My staff didn't include a bunch of ZHQ-bashers who might not get along with an ex-ZHQ-staffie.

When HYLIA.Com launches, which at present it appears to me is going to be before ZHQ's relaunch, most of the ZHQ Staff members will have a position available to them on my new site. Although I don't plan to demand that people work "either on my site or ZHQ but not both", if people are busy on my site I have a hunch that they might not readily leap for an opportunity to do more work on another website, particularily if they enjoy their position on HYLIA.Com more than what the new ZHQ might offer them. I'm not trying to speak for any of the ZHQ Staff, but that's just my hunch.

So, are any of the ZHQ staff doing work on that site right now? It would appear that the staff who have agreed to work for HYLIA.Com tend to be submitting work to me more than they are to Niels. Makes a lot of sense to me, considering that I've said that HYLIA.Com will have a place for such work whereas Niels has, in some cases, said outright that he intends to spend his energies on other focuses and that material such as the stuff being sent my way just might not fit in with the new ZHQ very well.

I'm not ready to call ZHQ dead. I'm also not going to say that a massive re-launch is just around the corner. The word I think of most often for ZHQ's current state is "dormant": Lying asleep or as if asleep; present or potential but not active, but capable of being activated. However, please keep in mind that everything said here is biased the way I see things, and I don't claim to be the foremost expert on ZHQ's progress. I'm only writing this in responce to the fact that many people have asked this, and I am not writing all this in an attempt to spread my own personal beliefs. Don't blame me for misleading you if something in this article is less than 100% fully accurate because I've said from the get-go that this article may be just that. Come to your own conclusions.

--Conrad VanderWoude