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Some websites are just unbelievably quick — James Hague's wonderful Programming In The 21st Century is foremost in my mind, but there are others. The common thrust is a return to the simple origins web design: inline CSS, no JS, no images. In effect, 1 HTTP request per page. I challenged myself to see how close to that level of speed I could get, while still having a lush design with a touch of playfulness.
For the home page, I wanted a big splashy graphic (to keep up with current fashions, naturally). Of course, loading such a big graphic would miserably slow things down. It occurred to me that I could procedurally generate something. The necessary JS would only be a few thousand bytes. The initial render could probably happen within a few milliseconds. But what could I render that would be visually captivating? The "star bar" at the top of socket.io has always stuck out in my mind as a super-simple, super-cool bit of web design. Stars are pretty simple — a dark background, some points of light, maybe a few cloudy color regions for that Homeworld feel. Should be easy.
After a bit of experimentation, I managed to create a screenful of stars and nebula-esq clouds that looked almost photographic. It loaded instantly, and rendered in under 40ms. Success!
Then came optimization: Can I get that 40ms down to 20ms? Can I make it look as good on a dim monitor in daylight as on a bright monitor in the dark? And interactivity: Can I make the stars slide around while scrolling, for a striking parallax effect (a la Firewatch)? Tweak tweak tweak tweak twe... and somewhere in the flurry, I caused a bug — or, rather, fixed a bug that had been present all along. While optimizing the initial setup, I corrected some code that was inadvertently reinitializing the buffer on each redraw. Suddenly, instead of a fresh image every frame, I had stars and nebulae drawing again and again on top of the same buffer. They streaked and puffed and flooded the canvas with color. And that was it, the high-impact splashy graphic I wanted for my home page. It loads faster than any image, renders in a flash, and is an immediate statement of identity.