Well, not exactly. But it makes for a good title, doesn’t it? I am however, on a bit of a theme development binge this month and next. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that last week I released the first of many themes on ThemeForest (affiliate link) – a marketplace for themes and templates spanning many platforms.

Why ThemeForest?

Because they’re paying me. I was approached by the owner of the Envato network a few months back who offered to commission me to develop 5 themes for WordPress that would be released on ThemeForest. With no restrictions placed on our agreement and with the prospect of still retaining revenue generated from my theme sales, it would have been silly to pass this up. The bottom line is that I get to roll out a handful of themes at very reasonable prices – something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember. It always comes down to time, and my lack thereof. This is the perfect arrangement that allows me to get the passive income training rolling.

Black Aperture

My first theme caters to one of my favourite hobbies, video games. Black Aperture is a news and reviews theme that comes packed with a nifty options panel for basic customization out of the box, among other goodies. As you may have guessed, the name is a throwback to one of my all-time personal favourites, Half-Life 2. Black Mesa. Aperture Science. Get it? Good! Moving on…

Black Aperture

Falling Back on Trends

Normally, I like to consider myself a “think outside of the box” kind of guy. But when it comes to creating something that needs to appeal to the masses, I bench my personal preferences and gut intuitions and start tapping into current trends.

For starters, gaming sites seem to inherit a dark colour scheme. I’m not talking just publications, but official game sites as well. I knew dark was the way to go with this and literally started with a black canvas. With this being my first theme release for ThemeForest , I knew it was going to take longer than the rest, so multiple colour schemes were out of the question. Instead, I opted for a neutral layout with a customizable accent colour. This would give the user a bit of freedom without having to tap into the CSS themselves. But of course, if someone would like to jump in and start making drastic changes, there’s no stopping them. And I welcome it, actually.

Gorgeous Featured Posts Showcase

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty tired of the typical featured posts slideshow that every other website is sporting these days. I wanted to allow people to feature content, but needed to take a new approach to this popular method of displaying features. There is no slideshow – just three big square(ish) images with some nice effects overlayed and a title and tagline, also overlayed. Images are resized dynamically, so the author just has to meet the minimum size requirements.

Black Aperture

Super Simple Reviews

Posting reviews with a set criteria isn’t the easiest task. I never bothered with criteria on my blog, but I do use custom fields to display the box art and 5-start rating. Similarly, I’ve done this for Black Aperture, but implemented a much more elegant solution than simply using custom fields.

When posting a review, you enter your title and main content just as you normally would. But under the main text area, there’s a new box called Additional Information which houses the review criteria, and images used through-out the site.

Black Aperture

On the front-end, reviews are displayed unique from other posts in a few ways. For starters, when reading a review, you’ll notice a nice big area at the top which houses the box art, rating, and criteria.

Black Aperture

Reviews are styled differently in post indexes as well. The thumbnail image is replaced by a smaller version of the box art and rating, and both are aligned to the left inside a grey box. Unlike the thumbnail which is floating right with a dropshadow.

Black Aperture

If This, Else That

When it comes to general theme releases, there are a lot more things to take into consideration. I really have no idea how people are going to use my themes, and which parts they have no interest in. With Black Aperture, I included things like the social buttons in the header which may or may not be of use. Every unique bit like these buttons are wrapped in a conditional statement which tells the theme to only display them if there’s content entered. Same goes for image thumbnails in posts, even. If there’s no path entered for the post image, the thumbnail container doesn’t show up at all. I feel that this is a very important step to ensure my themes are easily implemented. The last thing I want, is for someone who has just purchased a theme to become frustrated while trying to remove an unneeded feature.

Much of Black Aperture is controlled from a settings panel within WP-Admin. From there, you can change the accent colour, remove the left sidebar entirely, construct the main navigation bar, and even manage ads.

Black Aperture

Other Uses

I know many of my readers have their own blogs already and will have no use for Black Aperture as a theme. But perhaps as a learning tool? When you purchase Black Aperture, you have my source files for the entire project, including the original PSD . So if you’re wondering how I did something, or would like to use some of the code for your own work, it might be worth the $25.

Next Up

I’ve already begun working on my second theme. This one entitled Spectre, which is a reference to the fantastic sci-fi RPG game, Mass Effect. The original colour scheme I worked on reminded me of the armor your character wears at the beginning of the game. Spectre has an entirely different focus, and is aimed at the web professional. It’s a portfolio/showcase theme that will be based on the innards of Black Aperture, but you wouldn’t know that from looking at it. Expect Spectre to hit ThemeForest later this week, or early next. You can always follow me on Twitter if you don’t want to miss it.



Great stuff, as usual. Impressed with how quick you’ve been turning these things out.

Any significant advantages and/or disadvantages you see between publishing for ThemeForest vs. WooThemes?

Obviously TF is a bit of a larger, anyone-can-submit theme marketplace whereas WT is a bit more quality controlled, invite-only type of market – which have you seen as more valuable from the theme author perspective?

Great question, Jesse!

Working with WooThemes and ThemeForest have been two completely different experiences.

With WooThemes, I was hired to design and provide markup and CSS for one theme with multiple styles. There was a three week turn-around time and I was bouncing ideas off the WT team through the process. Ultimately, the final say was with them, but they gave me complete control over everything with merely a list of functionality they wanted to see in the theme. Once I was done with the markup and CSS, I zipped it up and they built out the theme. I’ve been hands off since then and don’t see any of the revenue from sales. I was paid my full rate for the 3 weeks I worked with them, though.

With ThemeForest, I was offered a flat rate for creating 5 themes. Honestly, the time frame is unrealistic and I’ll likely have to put in some evenings and weekends to finish it up, but I receive 40% of all sales, just like every other TF author. I’ve already made $200 from Black Aperture, and it hasn’t been a week yet. So in the long run, I think TF will work out in my favor.

Another point that should be mentioned – WooThemes handles all support for the THiCK theme I did for them, since they developed it and sell it under their name. Where as, with ThemeForest, support falls on me. I haven’t had much to deal with yet, but half a dozen emails or so. I’m actually thinking about setting up a forum once all of my themes are out in the wild. Users helping users should take some of the strain off me.

It’s the costumization that really blows me away, along with the user-friendlyness.

The design is something we’ve seen alot these days and are more or less tired of, but this consant costumization of content is really a good way of thinking.

I think you thought this the right way through, focusing on content above design and I must say that I’m really impressed with the pace you keep while spreading some quality themes. Job well done!

Thanks, Joel!

I kept the design relatively simple, and opted for large background images in places where I would normally wouldn’t in order to make things easier to change. Replacing the entire design wouldn’t take a whole lot of effort, considering the source files are all part of the package.

Great designs as always–but like Joel, I’m most impressed with how much you’ve integrated it with admin panel. Since most of the WP work I’ve done is for single-use sites, it hasn’t been too much of an issue for me, but I’ve thought about releasing some themes as well and wanted to get into that end of WordPress.

Have any links for good resources on that?

Most client work I do these days includes some sort of options panel for WP-Admin. Some times I’ll create widgets that have options (change number of posts, edit title or description, etc.) as well.

The options panel tutorial I used has been removed, but the custom write panel tutorial is still online.

awesome work, its interesting to see just how different these themes look from each other.

Have you considered on publishing an online book on wordpress development? Cause I would buy that.


Welcome to themeforest then ;D

Black Aperture looks really nice and I am curious what you are coming up with during the next weeks =)

Thank you, sir! You’re a veteran around ThemeForest, eh? I’ve definitely been taking notes as to what makes themes sell, and what a theme needs to have a decent price tag. And your themes seem to always be at the top of the lists. Good stuff!

Tempted to buy this theme and use it on GameAbuser.net. Would save me time and $25 is a good price! (Keeping in mind I would use it as a temp. solution).

Nice one!

Nice! Even if you were going to use it as a framework of sorts, it would make a good starting point.

Yeah, I want to get a site up before GameOn starts over here in the UK so I can do first real coverage direct.

Missed the bit where you said it includes the PSD; major plus point!

Just need to sort out the server now…

Cool. I’m more more familiar with expression engine but interested in trying to use WP and custom fields the way you describe (it’s easier to do in EE) and making it easy to use for non techies. Any tips or links you have for custom fields would be appreciated. I presume you still have to use the standard file uploader for all the images?

Is the custom appearance settings you created for the theme easy enough to implement?

Yeah, working with custom fields is a bit clunky in WordPress. I wish you could do custom field sets like you can in EE.

I linked this up above, but here’s a great tutorial for creating a custom write panel using custom fields.

The theme looks fantastic Matt. I also think you’ll have a great opportunity with sales over at TF. I know a good portion of the great templates/themes have brought in thousands of dollars from a couple hundred sales.

I’ve contemplated doing the same myself even for just some HTML/CSS templates too.

Granted, it’s only 40%, but the more you sell, that does increase.

I’ll definitely end up getting my hands on your Black Aperture theme, as it would work out perfect for a project I’ve got coming up 🙂 Looking forward to seeing what other ones you’ve got!

Awesome job. The design and code came out looking great. Really inspires me to create a theme for Theme Forrest too. can’t wait for the next one. Keep up the good work!

Great read and the theme looks amazing. You touch on a lot of (seemingly) little items surrounding the back-end customization that you wouldn’t normally think about if you were developing a theme for personal use.

I’ve been following the development progress on Twitter and I must say it’s impressive how quickly you’ve turned this around.

Nice work.

I like Black Aperture theme, just dont like that it is so… black! May be it is reasonable to make the same, but just light version?