In March of 1998 I uploaded the first version of the Dark Tower on free web hosting space, that was available to me at the time. After looking at it for a few days, I asked myself… “So what’s next?”
“I uploaded my one lowly page of animation and called it Mordor!” ~ Joe Russell
Amazingly, I still have the Photoshop file I used to create the original version of the animated Barad-dûr back in 1998. I called the file darktowr1.psd.
After uploading the first HTML file, I realized I wanted to add more pages, about Sauron, the Black Gate, the Nazgûl and more!
I knew I would need a menu, which people could choose from to go to the different pages. So in that same Photoshop file, I added a menu to the left with links to the pages. I titled them The Dark Lord, Barad-dûr, Orodruin, The Nazgûl, The Morannon, Gollum and Shelob’s Lair. I cut up the file once it was complete and reassembled it in an HTML file to create the links I needed. Then I began working on more pages.
It soon became clear, that what I really wanted to do was create a website that featured all of the evil creatures and dark places in Middle-earth, along with quotes from Tolkien’s writings and illustrations from the many wonderful artists who had been illustrating The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for years. So I soon added the Dark Servants and the Dark Domains to my Mordor menu!
These were the ‘wild west’ days of the internet, when everyone who chose to express themselves on this newly christened World Wide Web had to figure it out as they went. There were no design templates or pre-programmed and coded pages to chose from, you had to do it all yourself. What takes me only seconds to post today, took hours of determined trial and error to see what worked and what didn’t.
For me animation was a big part of what I wanted for the pages in Mordor. I wanted those who came to my site to feel like they had really entered into Mordor. However, getting things to move and change on the internet was tricky back then and in some respects is still difficult today. Back then it was animated gifs tucked into cutup parts of a .jpg file, which then had to be re-assembled in HTML. You can go HERE to see how crude the original attempts were, but to me it was an exciting way to share my passion for Middle-earth! Even though it was a labor of love to create these pages, it was well worth it when someone who appreciated Mordor as much as I did saw this site and loved it!
It that same year, a new shareware called Anfy Java was born. It was one of the first Windows + Apple Mac tools to add animated special effects you could easily add to web sites, including the popular “Lake Applet”, which went viral with millions of downloads. It worked perfectly for my Watcher in the Water page. Those early Java Scripts allowed me to add a new level of complexity to my vision of Middle-earth, but was only the beginning of my drive to create interactive content for Mordor.
I would eventually replace most of the animation with Macromedia Flash files, that allowed for more user interactivity and complex movement, sound and animation… but more on that in an upcoming post!
As I stated above, it’s lucky I saved that original Photoshop file, because a lot of the first website files were lost in time. There was a hard-drive crash, where I lost most of the first level versions of Mordor forever, that and the fact that at the time it never occurred to me that one day I might to want share with others those original HTML pages. I also wrote over some of the first HTML files, adding new elements and making changes to update the site. The web was and still is a fluid medium, that changes and updates constantly.
Luckily, I have been able to recreate some of those first pages from the original Photoshop file. Some of you might remember these early pages, but even if you don’t you can see how these pages influenced and are reflected in the ones we have today.
Take a peek to see how those first files looked below…