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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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programming ides: annoyances

Written: 09:49 on June 09, 2008  |  By: jon  |  MORE…
I have used several IDEs for scripting PHP over the past five years. Since starting my job in 2006, I've been forced to switch a couple of times for hardware reasons. A bit of back story. When I first began to dabble in PHP I used UltraEdit32, on recommendation of a friend that was proficient in C. It suited my needs as a HTML editor originally, and was pretty flexible when it came to PHP (offering syntax highlighting) but no code completion.

Some time in 2004 or 2005 whilst I was at university, I was lucky enough to win a copy of Zend Studio 5. Obviously I began to realize what I was missing in my IDE. Before this point I don't think the IDE I was using really crossed my mind. However, the code completion was absolutely excellent (still unrivaled for PHP, I reckon) and the spread of features was awesome. One of my favourites was the built-in support for version control (CVS and Subversion) which became a bit of a killer app for me whilst coding my final year dissertation project.

Now, some of you might have tweaked that I said I switched due to hardware, and Zend Studio (as it is written in Java) is cross-platform. When I started my job I was thrown into the world of Apple Macintosh. After getting used to the basics of the operating system and falling in love with the BSD-esque underbelly, I got my copy of Zend running nicely under OS 9.0 Tiger. After a couple of months of glorious use, it began to get extremely sluggish. Loading it up took 20+ minutes, and each keystroke seemed to lag for about 2 seconds. Obviously, this was completely unusable. Apparently, it's something to do with the cache folder that Zend creates inside the user preferences directory. Despite following those instructions, it didn't remedy the situation.

I moved to OS X and a new (more powerful) iMac hoping that it would remedy the situation. Not really, I found. It still feels much more responsive on my PC in my home office, despite the specifications of the machines not being that distant from each other. In frustration, I went through some other popular IDEs for Mac:-

  • Dreamweaver CS3 - Terrible. Honestly, I can't understand why people use this IDE. Crash-happy, slow, irritating text-completion. The site-wide (or project-wide) search is a decent feature, though. I hope more IDEs pick it up.
  • Coda - Very enjoyable to use. Obviously an exercise in Cocoaforge for the authors, who have a very good grasp on GUI programming. It is missing certain tools, and some of the features are annoying (and cannot be changed via preferences). The IDE will shine with the advent of modules or plug-ins, if that ever happens.
  • TextMate - My current IDE of choice. I switched to this for it's flexibility (code completion via Textmate 'bundles' is a fantastic idea and full-circle, reminds me of UltraEdit32). Thanks to my co-worker for praising it enough for me to take notice(!)

And so, I come to the REAL reason I started writing this blog. The PHPDoc competition for classes in the standard PHPdoc textmate bundle is ass. It is nowhere near as good as Zend Studios… but since that IDE isn't an option for me currently whilst I'm in the office, I've reverted to hacking away at the bundles in order to make it more 'Zend-like'. After reading through and putting into practice the TextMate and phpDoc Comment Blocks article at Killersoft, it became obvious that it is completely possible to do what I am trying to achieve. (Note: if you also follow that article, make sure you get the newlines correct in the bundle- if you copy-paste like I did, it does not work. Get the text-only version they supply and copy-paste that!)

So yep. Zend is great and all, but for the time being I'm flitting between Coda and Textmate. Is there any better alternative for scripting on a Mac? I can't get the Eclipse-based Zend Studio 5.5 by the way, since my license key won't stretch that far, and I refuse to pay for the upgrade!
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blog spam, captchas and ways around

Written: 10:45 on April 25, 2008  |  By: jon  |  MORE…
I really really hate blog spam. I get so much of it as well, despite all my little modifications to the forms such as adding a simple arithmetic 'CAPTCHA' (I didn't want to go down the image route because I find them intrusive) and testing against known spammy URLs. We even have an XML-RPC service checking the comments. Yet they still get through. How?

Interestingly, a lot of the comment spam I have been receiving lately contains spammy qualities, but the content (i.e. the the links that they are trying to embed) are useless. They are all made up of a random composition of URI-legal ASCII characters, with a '.com' suffix slapped on the end. I've been trying to think of a possible reason why this is happening. My first thought was that somebody was using my blog as a 'test bed' for some automated posting software, using my form to help the bot 'learn' how to overcome my CAPTCHA (solving the problem would be very easy once a human told the bot what to do). It seems viable, although I'm unsure why somebody would bother with my blog. It isn't really read heavily, has no 'subscribers' per se, and doesn't rank highly in google for many common search terms.

I'm not sure what to do now. Lawrie kindly pointed out that we'd had a bit of spam via SMS a couple of days ago, so I've tweaked it a little bit. Has anybody got any ideas of more unobtrusive ways to cut out this crap? Integrating Akismet into my blog looks like the only way…
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what is wrong with facebook

Written: 22:31 on June 11, 2007  |  By: jon  |  MORE…
What the devil are facebook doing? They've just started allowing "developers" build inline applications using some specialised subset technologies (FML instead of 'SQL', FML instead of 'XML'). This seems like a great idea on the surface. They are some pretty decent applications popping up (like the iLike music application) but companies have been quick to jump on the bandwagon. I think the Red Bull app was one of the first ones out there. It just goes to show really. I've very hap-hazardly signed up to most of the social networking websites going (well, the popular ones anyway… I needed to join a lot of them as 'research' for my University project). Facebook in my eyes was one of the few that I can actually use as the original developer intended.

Take myspace - everybody has heard of it and it is generally a big heap of shit (code-wise). The CSS is easy to override, which means surfing from page to page A) takes hours since clueless people stick 2Mb animated GIF backgrounds in their pages. B) burns your retinas since clueless people stick 2Mb animated GIF backgrounds in their pages. Meh, you see where I'm going with this. It's terrible, and has grown so large I doubt the developers can do a thing about it. And why would they? It's hugely popular despite it's shortcomings. I prefered facebook for several reasons. It has set styles to each page: each profile is similar to the last, just the content changes. I like the fact that you're drilling into a specific format; it's both easy on the eyes and easy to find what you're looking for. The AJAX is over the top and crazy, and it works. That's great. I also love the fact it (previously) was 'invite-only' as far as you needed a college e-mail address to have an account. That really helped 'cement' the network part of the social network.

Now they've introduced applications, it's going down hill (in my opinion). I've had a look at developing one and it seems pretty easy, i've thrown up a couple of forms and written some FML. They've been clever with the CSS (It's parsed and sanitized so you can'd do anything crazy like on myspace) and the 'Platform' as they call it, is genuinely well thought out and well documented. But my 'latest' feed is flooded with literally tens of 'so and so has done this, and wants you to use this application' posts. If I wanted all that crap I'd have a myspace? In conclusion, overall, it's a good idea. If I were part of the facebook development team, I'd have some sort of quality control though. Implementing QC on a social networking website would probably lead to either a rebelion or something though. Code-Jocks! They'll beat you up and steal your C++ textbooks and API reference cards.
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windows vista launched

Written: 14:34 on January 30, 2007  |  By: jon  |  MORE…
Windows Vista Logo
So, Microsoft finally get around to releasing their new operating system Windows Vista. I read a quick clip-out from the Metro on the train about the first guy to pick up a new laptop with a pre-installed copy of Windows Vista on it. "I really like the GUI" he remarks regarding Vista's new Aero interface, and obviously satisfied with himself that he managed to slip an acronym in. "Apple OS-X has had a nice GUI for ages, it's about time Windows followed suit". There was a small picture of him holding a generic looking laptop with a big, knowing grin on his face. Very. Irritating.

The problem for me with Vista, as a gamer, is the way Microsoft have gone about this release. People like myself that play the latest games on high-spec machines rely on new graphics cards and driver releases in order to keep our systems graphical capabilities up to speed. Traditionally there are two ways in which 3D graphics are rendered on computers. These are OpenGL, controlled by Silicon Graphics or DirectX, controlled by Microsoft (although they both do more than just 3D). Now, certain games run on both, but the majority will only run on DirectX (that's an oversight by game programmers in my opinion). The issue here is, Microsoft have turned around with this release of Windows Vista and said that DirectX 10 is only available for Vista, and not for Windows XP. This basically boils down to "if you want to play the latest games, you're forced to get a copy of Windows Vista". It'll be interesting to see how this pans out for Microsoft. In a way it's clever… but I hate being backed into making a decision I don't want to have to make.

On top of the whole DirectX issue, and we've known about this for a long, long time, Windows Vista no longer comes with WinFS. WinFS (Windows Filing System) was supposed to replace the ageing NTFS (the current standard within Windows XP) but was scrapped back when Windows Vista was still being referred to as Longhorn. I really, really liked the idea of WinFS, mainly because it was based on the idea of a huge relational database for storing files. Everybody who has worked with databases knows how quick they are… and can see the benefits. Abstraction, Polymorphism, Inheritance…it's like a Computer Scientists wet dream. With some good forethought and forward planning by Microsoft's GUI team, they could have made an absolutely revolutionary piece of software. I'm almost convinced that they've decided to exclude it so they can work on things like the Aero glass interface because of stupid bellends like the guy mentioned earlier, smiling away with his shitty Packard Bell laptop playing the new look Solitaire. As long as it "looks nice" most people don't give a shit how it works. There is something so frustrating about that.

So, yeah. Not too fussed about Vista at the moment — but if I want to play the new Halo (well, I know I'll want to play) or even stuff as forthcoming as the new Unreal Tournament (damn you, Epic) then I'm going to be forced into "finding" a copy. Otherwise, I'll be doing my best waiting for Windows "Vienna"
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