Arriving fashionably late at the TGS Centre, Rotterdam on the opening day, Jeroen "taLa" De Ridder casually introduces himself with a eager grin and a cheeky Belgian accent, much to the delight of all his fans in the shape of Fusen and raza. He appears indifferent to the throng of activity which includes idle busy setting up their computers and Adacore being drafted in as a last-minute match supervisor. I offer him a beer which is refused ("it's only the morning!"), and then we move onto more serious business, namely the Crossfire website. The mention of the topic and specifically the 3rd version of which taLa himself has coded brings an almost childlike excitement, and a genuine one at that, with taLa alone being the individual who has brought the project to life.image: talapro

Logging into the live development site for xfire 3, he talks with a sense of pride as he reviews the new design and all the various features it now holds to an ever increasing and admittedly impressed audience amassing behind the large CRT monitor. Afterwards I make a point of cornering him about the possibility of an interview. taLa is not a person who craves the spotlight, and so it took a bit of the old foonr charm to make him agree, but the date was set for the following day, 3.30pm.

I offer taLa the chair as there is only one, and we get down to the nitty gritty. The subject of course is xfire 3, and I begin by asking him just how much of a challenge the process of taking xfire from 2 to 3 has been. This clearly is a subject taLa can speak for a long time on. His eyebrows furrow, and I'm given the sort of look that says 'if only you knew'. He talks about the trials of practically rewriting the site in order to remove all the bugs, and starting the new version from the ground up. He reels through the list with speed, touching on security, expanding features, starting with a blank canvass, not to mention the ever changing objectives being placed before him. Ending with a sigh, this last point seems to weigh in almost heavy fashion on his mind. Having spoken with taLa on many occasions before the LAN, I have an idea what he might say when pressed for the reasons.
While working on xfire 3, taLa was constantly given new objectives, and new features to implement on an ever increasing specification. Deadlines were constantly shifting he recalls coldly, and the high expectations imposed upon him especially whilst working alone were two of the least fond memories he has to bear from the project. Also of note was the stress felt, not least with a highly demanding adminteam, who constantly - and I can admit to being a part of this - demanded more and better things without really considering the difficulty such wants would present when being manifested in code form.

To the outside ear listening to this description it seems amazing that taLa even lasted as far as the bugrepairs in version 2, and when I put this to him he quickly moves to defend his position. He talks earnestly about the motivation that the community gives him; working for a demanding yet appreciative audience that lets him back to all that he has taken out from his days in what he calls the background, otherwise known as the pre-admin period. Observing my bestest boyo recalling his path, it is easy to forget just how taLa became involved in the project to begin with. TaLa's coding expertise is not widely publicised, but have no qualms, when it comes to php, he is one of the best in Europe. Never one to admit this himself though! And so when he speaks of the project as being a challenge code wise, I detect a hint of satisfaction. Clearly building xfire 3 has stretched taLa but to a degree he has enjoyed, and is now able to look down on with an enormous sense of achievement. I myself had a go at coding the html after my design had been approved, but it might as well have been a monkey jumping on the keyboard such was the wretched effort I produced. And here is a person who has coded an entire site, far from my humble skewif layout (I admit I tried to use tables!). While he confides that a bit of extra help would have been welcome, to get where he has in solo mode really cooks taLa's beans, and I doubt he would have it any other way in retrospect.

Throughout the project, taLa admits his view of the community was forced to rapidly change, with suddenly being in a position to know the backstage problem and dirty laundry that tends to be kept pretty well away from public view. When asked if he thought much of the general community anymore, the response was a carefully worded mixture of wishing certain people wouldnt make so many assumptions but also acknowledgement of the understandable guard many place on what is often seen as the true people's community site. And as for the scepticism - this is something he doesn't mind and visibly takes with a pinch of salt, often taking onboard many of the suggestions he is presented with and generally trying to make as many people happy as possible. That being said, there are those people who could be described as taking things too far sometimes, and I ask him if such overt criticism ever really gets to him. A truthful sounding "not really" comes back, as he explains how ultimately xfire 3 was about giving the majority of the userbase what they wanted whilst also fulfilling specific objectives and visions from the core admin team. Whilst in the long run this didn't make taLa's work any easier, the results are a cohesive and user driven site which is able to support the site more than adaptly as it goes into its third encarnation. As we finish our chat, I'm suprised by just how more I seem to know about our coder bunny and the enormous amount of work and personal sacrifice he has put in for ultimately the benefit of others. He also kindly mentions that I might like to include a note about the bugs which will doubtlessly showup in the last minute: to have patience as they will be sorted out soon, and to look forward to the other features which are still being added!

I think it's only right we show taLa some appreciation!