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sex, violence and videogames.

Written: 09:51 on July 15, 2009  |  By: jon  |  MORE…
I thought this was really well done - entertaining as well. Who said sex doesn't sell? Just to note: this video may not be safe for work.


Kotaku dropped this intro earlier today; It's the start of a German documentary, which begins with a montage of arcade classes such as Pong and Pac-Man set to a beat, but steadily escalates into crazy sex and violence between Space Invaders, Guybrush Threepwood, Street Fighter's Ken & Ryu, Lara Croft, Mario and many others.
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mark gormley: the next big meme?

Written: 10:11 on January 20, 2009  |  By: jon  |  MORE…
Can you hear that? It's the internet gearing up, rumbling and creaking into motion. A new meme is stirring.

"The Uncharted Zone" is the most important music show along the gulf coast, according to the website. It appears to be hosted by the eccentric Phil Thomas Katt, a Tommy Vance-esque front man (for those that remember the VH1 Rock Show), and it features music videos of unsigned acts. Sounds relatively normal, right?

Right. That is until you peruse the current Top 25 charting singles. At the time of writing, Walter Weyburn holds the coveted number one position with the seminal Walk On By. Observe.


Despite holding only positions #5 and #11 this week, I wish to draw your attention to Mark Gormley, a local singer/songwriter. Tall in stature, with a whispy mop of ginger hair and an excellent mustache, Gormley is here to take the internet by storm. All his videos (which appear to be directed by 'Katt Productions', which I imagine is Thomas Katt's company) are Gormley on green screen. He shuffles nervously as the angle changes wildly, and video is played behind him. His shrill voice over the top of acoustic guitar, or harpsichord. Simply beautiful. Possibly the funniest of the lot, however, is the 'intense' "Without You", a rock anthem if ever I heard one. The dirty guitar riff perfectly compliments Gormley's voice, whilst the video shows a (passably) attractive lady walking alone in various locations (emphasizing the 'Without You' lyric)!


It apepars we're not the only ones fascinated by Mark Gormley; Coilhouse have run a post about this fine fellow as well. Be sure to check his related videos for more musical excellence.
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short videos for short attention spans

Written: 09:26 on November 25, 2008  |  By: jon  |  MORE…
5 second films logo

I came across this website this morning, and I have to say it is pretty damn funny. Well, if you like *that* sort of humour it is (and I certainly do). It looks like it has only just started out (October 2008) but there is a wealth of good shorts on there already. Reading through the about section of the website, I get the impression that it started off as an 'idea' amongst a group of friends. With that in mind I thought there may be a lot of in-jokes and shorts that I just 'would not get', but it doesn't seem to be the case. Most of them are accessible and immediately amusing: something of a byproduct of the films being just five seconds long!

One of the reasons I find this funny stems from something the prefabricators stumbled upon by accident many moons ago. On the TinyPic Video page, there are occasionally clips that are a few seconds or less long. It was here that the infamous bus good clip was found, amongst others. Will any other clip ever surpass its greatness? I doubt it.
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nintendo announce the nintendo dsi

Written: 11:24 on October 02, 2008  |  By: jon  |  MORE…
Nintendo announce the new Nintendo DSi handheld console

This morning in Tokyo, Japan - at the Nintendo's Fall Press Conference, it was announced that they will be updating the Nintendo DS with a new model, known as the Nintendo DSi (see above).

Nintendo is currently (and has been for a long time) the dominant force in the handheld gaming market, commanding a 70% share. The announcement of the new handheld device comes only a couple of weeks after Steve Jobs' (Apple's CEO) laughable statement about the iPhone as a gaming platform, where he said "…you can make a pretty good argument that the [iPod Touch/iPhone] is the best portable device for playing games on".

The move is entirely unsurprising of Nintendo, who do have a habit of releasing minor revisions of their handheld consoles every few years. The new console has an interesting new feature set, and it is difficult not to get excited by the prospects (scroll down and watch the video if you are impatient!).

In a nutshell, the new Nintendo DSi will:

  • be 12% lighter
  • have a 17% larger screen (now 3.24 inches large)
  • have improved speakers, and AAC support
  • contain a 0.3 mega-pixel VGA camera (capable of 640x480)
  • have two touch-screens! Both are now touch sensitive
  • NOT have a GBA game slot…
  • …instead, have a SD Card slot
  • support web-browsing (probably via Opera Mini)
  • run downloaded 'DSiware' games: similar in concept to Wii ware
  • come in two colours (see above): "White", and "Frosted Black"

So, when can we get hold of it? It is currently slated for a November 1st, 2008 release in Japan, which is a little over a month away at the time of writing. Nintendo has thus-far been relatively tight-lipped about release dates of the Nintendo DSi in other territories. Currently, the Nintendo DSi release date is pencilled as Spring 2009. Price wise, it will be released at JPY 18,900 (which is we work backwards, comes out as about USD 179, EUR 129 and GBP 99). As you can see, it's not all that different in price to the existing Nintendo DS. And what about games? Well, check out this video for an overview of expected releases. It's probably worth noting that some of these games look very Eastern, and as such I will be surprised if all of them make it over here to the most conservative West (which is always a shame).




I was interested to hear about the DSi Shop. Apparently, customers will get 1,000 points free upon purchasing the console that they can spend at the DSi shop, which do not expire until March 2010. Games (and other such things) in the shop fit into four categories: Free, 200 points, 500 points and 800 points. The top level, I assume, will be for premium games such as new releases. This is fantastic news. If I understand correctly, it equates to at least one free game upon purchasing the console!

One final thing I have heard regards the built-in camera. Although I find 0.3 mega-pixels terribly disappointing (couldn't they fit in a 1.0 mega-pixel camera, at least?), it's a nice addition. A lot of people have critisised the decision to introduce a camera into the DSi, stating that most people these days have at least one device that can already do that, and better (a typical mobile phone these days has a camera at least five times better). I suppose they didn't want to include a camera capable of massive resolutions due to the lack of storage space on the DSi. It was probably part of the reason they chose to include an SD Card slot on the console just for memory. Oh, and another thing: photographs taken on the DSi can be put straight into your "Photo Channel" on a Nintendo Wii console.

Overall, I'm happy with the announcement. I think the games are the clincher, especially a new Kirby game and of course Chrono Trigger. The camera, I couldn't really care less about. The lack of a GBA game slot? Hmm, we'll it's a shame that the old Advance generation has been put to sleep by Nintendo, but it has to happen at some point. I am interested in how well Activision are going to take it however, since their new-ish "Guitar Hero on Tour" requires the GBA slot for their fret peripheral. The improved audio capabilities are welcome — although, I play many DS games with the volume off. Perhaps the new sound capabilities will have me turning up the sound, or using headphones. Larger screen, yes, good. Lighter? Doesn't bother me too much. Thinner? Good I
suppose, but a lot of this just feels superfluous: I just want it to play games. One genuine improvement over the original though, is two touch screens. I can imagine that will make the next iteration of Wario Ware a lot of fun!

So what do you think of the new console? And have you heard anything else as laughable as Apple's claim? Leave me a comment.
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ea's spore released on 7th september 2008

Written: 02:13 on September 04, 2008  |  By: jon  |  MORE…
Sandbox game addicts, get your wallets ready. One of the most anticipated games of the year, and perhaps even the past five, is about to hit stores on 7th September 2008. Spore's release date has been widely publicised since it slipped last winter by six months.

So, what exactly is Spore? It comes from the terrifyingly clever mind of Will Wright and his team at Maxis (the same company behind the phenomenally popular 'Sims' franchise), now a subsidiary of Electronic Arts. It is also a game which has proven difficult to explain, although the best explanation I have heard so far is “it is Sim Everything”. You start out as a small organism and, much like the real world, it's survival of the fittest. Progress through the game is rewarded with upgrades, where you can spend DNA points on upgrading your lil' fella. As the game progresses, you move from simple organism to pond life, to a land animal, and from there to founding society, then civilisations, and onto becoming the dominant species of your world. But that is not all – from there, the game folds out allowing intergalactic travel to other worlds, where the local monsters have been populated from a huge database of other people's creations.

I toyed with the 'creature creator' a few weeks ago. It's a small part of the game that EA released early, so we could get a taster of what is to come. The creator is fantastic fun – I made a crocodile with a huge head for instance, and I laughed at it for probably fifteen minutes straight. The bright and colourful models together with the very cutesy animations your creation performs (my crocodile almost shat itself in excitement when I gave it an extra set of eyes, for example) not only entertained me, but roped my non-gamer girlfriend in too. It was interesting to see what monsters she came up with. Inevitably, the first one looked very sappy and cute, some sort of hug-monster. I have a sneaking suspicion come this Friday, I may have competition trying to get on my PC!

So what is this blog about? The pitfalls, really. I don't mean to be cynical but I'm British, and it's in my genes. I really want this game to succeed, I really do. A few things worry me, however. First off, great, it's a game where you can 'level' your monster up (reminds me of E.V.O. on the Super Nintendo, if anybody remembers that game), which is great. I'm familiar with that concept, and together with the creation mode, it sounds like a game I'd have a lot of fun with. What about the other areas of gameplay? If you watch the trailer, it shifts from top-down munch-em-up to a third-person action game, then to an RTS, then to a space-faring sim. The variety looks great and I applaud it, but I hope it doesn't feel like I'm just playing a set of mini-games with a tentative link between them all (the link being your creation, as it will be constant throughout, although you can 'upgrade' it). It's that sort of detached feeling that made Wii Sports a decent game and not a great game, in my eyes.

The second is the fact that content comes from other people. If this thing gets as big as 'The Sims' did, which lets face it is likely, there will be a hell of a lot of content within Spore. Somebody has already mentioned: what happens when the Star Wars, Pokémon and Futurama creations start appearing? Are they protected from take-down notices? Will EA have to screen all the content? If you're new to the whole concept of Spore, or gaming in general, you may not be familiar with the one core concept rooted deep within our kind. If you give a gamer (especially a male one) a sandbox environment where you can build or model things, they will. make. a penis. I haven't got the statistics to hand, but apparently there have been thousands of cock-monsters uploaded already and the game isn't even out yet. Spore has an ESRB rating of E10+. Would you want your ten year old daughter and her interstellar pal 'Mr. Cuddles', the green snuggle-monster to suddenly arrive on a planet filled with huge pulsating penis-monsters, wriggling around and oozing god knows what? I'm not so sure either.

I hope it lives up to the huge weight being placed upon its digital shoulders by the Internet. I'm sure it will pull me away from reading and programming in the evenings for a while, at least. The game has to be admired, just for the sheer scale, the ingenuity (you can give a creature a billion legs and it just works out how to walk), and the love that has gone into designing something this complex. At five or so years in the making… let's see if can match the hype.
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nested sets (again) with group_concat()

Written: 16:34 on September 02, 2008  |  By: jon  |  MORE…
A little development blog I've had on my mind lately. Consider the hierarchical nested set article which I have linked to previously. I began using this paradigm extensively for my hierarchal data and one thing that immediately leapt out at me (about the MySQL article) were the examples. I found that whilst informative, I couldn't really contrast or compare the two methods (adjacency and nested) in several ways, since the outputs were different. The example they gave for retrieving a "single path" from a "root" to a "leaf" is a good one for illustrating my point. Often whilst working with the nested set model, I have wanted to get results related to a node in the system (with joins with other tables). Also, I have wanted to grab all the tree that relates to something (for example, imagine a 'purchased' table that links items within the 'nested_category' table to a user) and also have information about the path to that product. I achieved this with a sub-query.

If you haven't used them before, sub-queries are a very handy addition to your developer's tool kit. Traditionally, they are used to grab parts of data where the grouping in the main SQL query makes it difficult, or for getting similar result sets to outer joins. Going back to our nested set model, if you look at the examples for the adjacency set you can see that when they are getting the path to a node, the result set is one row containing several fields.
+-------------+----------------------+-------------+-------+ | lev1 | lev2 | lev3 | lev4 | +-------------+----------------------+-------------+-------+ | ELECTRONICS | PORTABLE ELECTRONICS | MP3 PLAYERS | FLASH | +-------------+----------------------+-------------+-------+ 1 row in set (0.01 sec)
As the article rightly states, this method is extremely limited as the SQL query has to be written knowing how 'deep' the tree will go. If the depth is always the same, then it isn't so bad. The nested set model offers a lot more flexibility. However, when we are figuring out the 'path' from a specified root to a leaf, the results come out in the same column as different rows (shallowest node first). You can try this for yourself (I'm just reiterating what can be found in the article currently) with the following queries:
CREATE TABLE nested_category ( category_id INT AUTO_INCREMENT PRIMARY KEY, name VARCHAR(20) NOT NULL, lft INT NOT NULL, rgt INT NOT NULL );
INSERT INTO nested_category VALUES(1,'ELECTRONICS',1,20),(2,'TELEVISIONS',2,9),(3,'TUBE',3,4), (4,'LCD',5,6),(5,'PLASMA',7,8),(6,'PORTABLE ELECTRONICS',10,19), (7,'MP3 PLAYERS',11,14),(8,'FLASH',12,13), (9,'CD PLAYERS',15,16),(10,'2 WAY RADIOS',17,18);
Now, the query…
SELECT parent.name FROM nested_category AS node, nested_category AS parent WHERE node.lft BETWEEN parent.lft AND parent.rgt AND node.name = 'FLASH' ORDER BY parent.lft;
…will result in the following result:
+----------------------+ | name | +----------------------+ | ELECTRONICS | | PORTABLE ELECTRONICS | | MP3 PLAYERS | | FLASH | +----------------------+ 4 rows in set (0.00 sec)
Now, I get to my point. What if I wanted to get the full tree, with a column inside that result set that showed me the path to each node in the set. My initial reaction was to do it as a sub query. As my original result set is being built, I know everything about that node (with the select *). I can just use the path query on every row. However, as the above 'path' query pulls back several rows, they will overwrite each other. So, instead of obtaining a path to say, the 'FLASH' leaf, i'll just have the name of the product 'FLASH' again. This is because FLASH is the last row in the pathing query: it will overwrite 'MP3 PLAYERS', which in turn will overwrite 'PORTABLE ELECTRONICS', and so on and so forth.

So, what do we want to do? We could do it programatically with a loop, and use two queries. I am always incredibly weary about placing queries in loops and I decided against this. All we really need to do is concatenate all the node names together into a string. Makes sense? So as we traverse the path, PORTABLE ELECTRONICS is appended to ELECTRONICS, and then MP3 PLAYERS is appended to the previous string, and finally FLASH is appended to this string.

Unfortunately, this method doesn't work either. Your 'node' and 'parent' elements will concatenate together, but again they will overwrite the previous concatenation. The only way around this is to use an aggregate function that is present in MySQL 4.1 called GROUP_CONCAT(). This will concatenate a field together based upon a GROUP BY clause. If we run the query:
SELECT GROUP_CONCAT(parent.name SEPARATOR ' -> ') as path FROM nested_category AS node, nested_category AS parent WHERE node.lft BETWEEN parent.lft AND parent.rgt AND node.name = 'FLASH' ORDER BY parent.lft;
It produces:
+-------------------------------------------------------------+ | path | +-------------------------------------------------------------+ | ELECTRONICS -> PORTABLE ELECTRONICS -> MP3 PLAYERS -> FLASH | +-------------------------------------------------------------+ 1 row in set (0.00 sec)
Notice the 'SEPARATOR' modifier I added in. All this does is decide the 'glue' of the concatenation. If you leave this out, it will default to a comma. As you can see, this would be useful for pulling out CSV (comma separated values) of certain datasets. Now, if we introduce this as a sub query to the original query, we shall get the entire result set required.
SELECT parent.name, (SELECT GROUP_CONCAT(parent2.name) FROM nested_category AS node2, nested_category AS parent2 WHERE node2.lft BETWEEN parent2.lft AND parent2.rgt AND node2.name = parent.name ORDER BY parent2.lft) as path FROM nested_category AS node, nested_category AS parent WHERE node.lft BETWEEN parent.lft AND parent.rgt AND node.name = 'FLASH' ORDER BY parent.lft;
+----------------------+----------------------------------------------------+ | name | path | +----------------------+----------------------------------------------------+ | ELECTRONICS | ELECTRONICS | | PORTABLE ELECTRONICS | ELECTRONICS,PORTABLE ELECTRONICS | | MP3 PLAYERS | ELECTRONICS,PORTABLE ELECTRONICS,MP3 PLAYERS | | FLASH | ELECTRONICS,PORTABLE ELECTRONICS,MP3 PLAYERS,FLASH | +----------------------+----------------------------------------------------+ 4 rows in set (0.00 sec)
Please forgive my unimaginative naming in the sub-query… but you get the idea! if you use a 'EXPLAIN' query and check out what's happening in that query, I think you'll agree it isn't too bad. The only irksome part I'd say is the temporary table when checking for equality between node2.name and parent.name (i.e. where this path's node name is the same as the original's parent). Note that I also put an INDEX on the 'name' column in the table, and this drastically increases the efficiency of the query (in this instance cutting down row scan from n to just 1).

So there you have it. GROUP_CONCAT()… I feel stupid that I never knew about it before. I use it every now and then in queries like this to produce a CSV from a dataset and use WHERE IN() or just return the string and 'explode' the list with PHP. Hopefully my little adventure with the nested set model and this MySQL string function proved useful to you. If you have any further ideas for making the query more efficient, or you can rewrite this without a sub-query, please: leave a comment!
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rpg2knet development: can it be too complex?

Written: 11:30 on August 25, 2008  |  By: jon  |  MORE…
The development of my pet project, rpg2knet 4 is continuing very nicely. I've overcome certain problems I was having earlier (including one small issue I had with my nested set model code) meaning so far… so good. No problems that remain unsolved. One of the more esoteric problems I have been pondering over lately is this: am I making this website too involved and complex?

Looking through what is complete at the moment (and I'd say we're definitely closing on half-way done), there is a tremendous amount of interactivity. These days, with the advent of the social web and the advances in user experience and interactivity, I'd say this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Conversely, the forum element has been dubbed 4um4-lite, as layers of complexity have been removed. The use of the forums is a much more tied in experience with the rest of the site. Previously, the forum had upwards of 85% of the traffic whilst the rest of the site languished behind. Now, there will be more of a reason to visit the main site as a lot of information is available there.

My main concerns, due to the lack of problems with the codebase, are turning to two other things. The design, which I have tried and tried to perfect but doesn't come off quite right, and content. The site will inevitably feed from user participation and submissions from the users, but I think a site of this size and complexity will definitely need some very devoted people to keep it fully stocked. With the issue of design, I'm contemplating asking (very nicely) a friend and colleague of mine to see what he can come up with. Either way, these concerns are trivial — I still have a lot of motivation, regardless of the criticism and comments from certain people.
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verizon believes 0.002 dollars is 0.002 cents

Written: 11:41 on August 11, 2008  |  By: jon  |  MORE…
This is pretty old (circa 2006) but I've never seen it before… so I thought I'd write a quick piece about it. Verizon (a phone and data carrier in North America for those of us in Europe) seem to be really struggling with simple multiplication. It all revolves around the customer service representative not being able to discern the difference between 0.002 cents and 0.002 dollars. Obviously, the unit different here means there is a one-hundred fold difference between the two. I say 'obviously', but the caller in this recorded phone-call to Verizon explains to the representative in a multitude of different ways. No matter how hard he tries to get through to the sales rep, he fails to understand.

I can't believe it. How stupid do you have to be to not understand the difference between a $0.002 and 0.002¢? The poor guy had soaked up 35,893Kb of data transfer whilst in Canada (which Verizon charge 0.002¢ for, which is $0.00002). However, when he got home he had a bill of $71.79. Obviously, they have charged $0.002 per kilobyte instead of 0.002¢. Hilarity ensues when he attempts to get his bill rectified (and so he should, considering his bill should only be $0.72). The recorded phone-call is pretty long, so if you want it compressed, there is a YouTube video (~3 minutes long). The YouTube video doesn't really go into the same amount of detail as the phone call, but if you listen to the call first and then watch the video, you can see how prolific the problem is. Furthermore, the guy in question chronicled his quest for a refund in the Verizon Math blog. Worth a read!


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rpg2knet development: nested set model

Written: 19:52 on July 26, 2008  |  By: jon  |  MORE…
Squirrel, the mascot of rpg2knetAs most visitors I imagine will know (since they are mainly friends), I used to run a website about game making called rpg2knet.com. The site has been down for many years now (since around about this time in 2006) and I have been trying to get it sorted and back online again. It has only been recently that I have really been pushing hard to get this all completed. I got really wrapped up with Counter-Strike: Source for several years (starting around about April 2005 and ending just recently), which caused me to struggle finding time for programming. Now that I have effectively retired from the source scene, I have had plenty of time to get on with rpg2knet.

I thought, since I'm coming up to roughly the half-way mark in terms of coding, I could start using the group blog here at dovka as a devlog as well, since posts can be filtered quite easily with our tagging system. So, today I thought I'd let people know about how things are progressing. This weekend has mainly been spent working on part of the site that I have toyfully been calling Nutforge (a play on sourceforge). It is a tool for starting a game-making project, finding your team/friends with certain skills to help you work (and rating them on how useful they've been, etc), talking about your game, showing off screenshots, and uploading/releasing your game to the masses. The 'end-game' for nutforge is to have your hard work reviewed by the panel of reviewers here that we shall (hopefully) hire for rpg2knet.com, just like it happened last time.

One of the features I have implemented is a "skill set" system. Using the excellent Hierachical (Nested) Set paradigm, I've managed to come up with a tree of skills that you can tag with different levels of proficiency. The idea being, you can search for 'free' people that have listed that they are looking for a project to help out with, and order them by their proficiency, filter them out and well… cherry pick the people you like. Obviously I can foresee a problem with trolls putting all their 'proficiencies' at maximum just to clutter up the search results. With that in mind, I've been thinking about adding in a modifier system where community members can vote a member up or down in skill level if they have been involved in a project with them. That way, if somebody is a time waster, they'll essentially be flagged as such and this will warn others about undertaking a project with them.

This tiny feature is something that I consider to be, at the time of writing, very unique. I can't see any other RPG maker based website doing anything like this, although I'm aware I may have been mildly inspired by the excellent assembla.com. This is what rpg2knet.com is all about in my eyes. Something original, that nobody else has thought of, or something that nobody else can do. If all goes to plan and we can couple this website up with the sort of community spirit the old rpg2knet.com had, I believe we are really onto a winner. And that spirit is exactly what keeps me programming every night to get it completed *hurl*. As cheesy as sounds, it's true.
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chrono trigger ds announced!

Written: 13:35 on July 02, 2008  |  By: jon  |  MORE…
Chrono Trigger's main playable characterIf you're a fan of RPGs like myself (obligatory link to rpg2knet), the fact that Chrono Trigger has been announced for the Nintendo DS probably hasn't escaped your attention. It's pretty fantastic news if you're a fan of the struggling Square-Enix. Lately, they seem to be pretty obsessed with releasing poor rehashes or half-sequels of their old classics. Fanboyism asside, I played through and thouroughly loved Final Fantasy VII when it was first released. I locked myself in my room with my friends Playstation and played it solidly, only coming out for toilet breaks and meals. I cared for the characters, and I don't feel any other game has managed to surpass it so far. Even a fool can see they are attempting to cash in on VII's success by releasing tripe like Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII.

Finally it feels like they are getting back on track by developing something that the fans actually want. I mean, I know it's still a bit of a cash in (with it probably being a direct port of the SNES game [although people have hinted Square-Enix will continue porting the FMV into the DS versions of their games, as seen on the PlayStation edition of Chrono Trigger) but at least it is a product that the fans will actually be interested in. I think the Dirge of Cerberus tie-in was a complete insult to the intellect of their fans (duuur you like FF7 so you'll immediately buy this game). A large cross-section of their fans would not have played previous Final Fantasy games and bought FF7 on the strength of the reviews it received. If you're the sort of gamer, you're not going to rush out and buy any title that has been labeled an obvious doozey by a reputable magazine such as EDGE. Final Fantasy tie-ins are no exception.

Well… rant over. I'm just glad to see something that, in my eyes, is worth doing by Square-Enix. With this announcement, I thought I'd compile my top 5 16-bit era role-playing games that I would like to see get the DS treatment:

  1. Earthbound. And Mother 3. I will CRY if they announce this.
  2. Secret of Mana (imagine link-up play for co-op!)
  3. Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals
  4. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the 7 stars
  5. Shining Force 3 (I wish they'd done the map engine in 2D, though)

All relatively unlikely, but a gamer can always dream…
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