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Evolving the Fantasy: Pay to PlayFollow

#1 Aug 09 2010 at 7:55 PM Rating: Excellent
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Evolving the Fantasy: Pay to Play

From the full-motion videos of Final Fantasy VII to the in-game aesthetics of it's successor seven installments later, Square-Enix has made it's mark on the gaming world with compelling stories intertwined with stunning graphics.

But, at what cost come those graphics to fans outside the console realm?

Screenshot

      Above, a battle scene from Final Fantasy VII.   


In 1997, Square-Enix released Final Fantasy VII – a mainstay for fans in the flagship series and a game filled with firsts for the developer.

Prior to this seventh installment, previous versions featured 2-D graphics with sprites traveling on flat backgrounds. Advancements in technology allowed designers to develop characters shaped by polygons to travel on pre-rendered scenes(1).

IGN(2) wrote:
Accordingly, VII stepped off the 2D grid and into a breathtaking 3D world, with fully rendered battles and MIDI sound traded in for Nobuo Uematsu's deeper compositions. Super-deformed avatars roamed the world and field maps and switched to full-scale sprites for battle screens, but all were rendered in three dimensional polygons. VII's production team swelled into the triple digits with dozens of new faces working on 3D software packages the veteran FF team had never heard of before. [...] The size, the scope, the raw passion fueling the entire project swept everyone up. They were coding history, and they knew it.


In 1998, Square-Enix took on the task of porting the new installment for use on a budding gaming market, personal computers. Comparably, one could find a computer to run the game today for less than $300, however in 1998 the cost of witnessing the historic installment was steep.

In order to run Final Fantasy VII, a computer needed a 166 MHz Pentium CPU, 32 megabytes of RAM, the ability to support DirectX 5.1 sound and video, 260 megabytes of hard disc space and at least Windows 95. A set up near those specs, with only half the required RAM, would have cost around $840 (3).

Square-Enix continued this precedent of requiring mid- to high-end hardware with their next ported installment.

Screenshot

      Above, Final Fantasy VIII protagonist Squall speaks with teammate Rhinoa.   


A mere two years after the series' PC debut, VIII required a 266 MHz Intel Pentium II CPU, 64 megabytes of RAM, a video card with 4 megabytes of RAM, 300 megabytes of hard drive space, DirectX 6.1 and at least Windows 95. A capable processor was released in May 1997, first hitting the market for $775(6).

The next few installments would not see a PC release. Rather, Final Fantasy IX ushered in the advent of PlayOnline, which was intended to be a source of information for players with access to a PC. Final Fantasy X would not make use of the PlayOnline system, however, Final Fantasy XI – the series' first online installment – would rely heavily on it.

A Mithra interacts with Goblins in Final Fantasy XI.

     Above, A Mithra adventurer interacts with Goblins in Final Fantasy XI.   


Developed for, and initially released on, the Playstations 2, Final Fantasy XI was Square-Enix's bid into the massively-multiplayer online role playing game market. Between November 2002 and September 2004, XI was released throughout various regions with requirements set at a Pentium III 800 MHz CPU, Windows 2000 or XP, 128 megabytes of RAM, DirectX 8.1, an Nvidia GeForce with 32 megabytes of RAM or an ATI Radeon 9000 or higher and 9.5 gigabytes of free hard drive space. Some of the aforementioned requirements were released to market as recent as 2002, including the ATI Radeon 9000 which ran for $90 to $100 then(4), but can be scooped up today for less than $40(5). The Pentium III 800 was released in 1999 and at the time was estimated to hit shelves at just under $800(7).

Square-Enix would again dip Final Fantasy out of the PC market for it's experimental release X-2 as well as for XII and XIII.


Screenshot

     Above, adventurers clash with crabs in Final Fantasy XIV.   


As the release of Final Fantasy XIV – SE's next online installment – draws near, message boards and fan sites are ablaze with questions regarding the developer's choice in hardware requirements and recommendations. From self-building advice to top-of-the-line pre-built rigs, hopeful gamers face spending anywhere from several hundred dollars to more than $1,500 to get the experience of their choosing as SE prepares to release another game on the graphical cutting edge.

However, with this installment marking another first for SE – the first installment designed to be initially released for the PC market – the company shows that it is committed to staying on top of a rapidly changing hardware market. A sign that, for some gamers, there always is a steep price to pay.




(1) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pre-rendering
(2) http://retro.ign.com/articles/870/870770p2.html
(3) http://news.cnet.com/IBM-Pentium-II-PC-dips-to-1,099/2100-1001_3-209286.html
(4) http://www.techspot.com/reviews/hardware/fic_radeon9000pro/
(5) http://techspot.pricegrabber.com/search_getprod.php/masterid=607037/search=radeon%209000
(6) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Intel_Pentium_II_microprocessors
(7) http://www.activewin.com/reviews/hardware/processors/Intel/iii800/conclusion.shtml




Edited, Aug 10th 2010 12:59am by Sephrick
#2 Aug 09 2010 at 7:59 PM Rating: Excellent
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Good read :)
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#3 Aug 09 2010 at 8:08 PM Rating: Good
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Good read. Cant believe that systems back in the day were going for so much for what they are now. Technology is truly remarkable and seems almost endless right now with how quickly we are going through them.
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#4 Aug 09 2010 at 8:10 PM Rating: Excellent
Another very well written column, Seph. Good work! Smiley: cool
#5 Aug 09 2010 at 8:10 PM Rating: Good
pretty sure the pic with the mithra should be changed to FFXI, take out the V. But yes, this was a good read.
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#6 Aug 09 2010 at 8:11 PM Rating: Good
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Note to Elmer/Pikko: This deserves to be a news post. Good read.
#7 Aug 09 2010 at 8:14 PM Rating: Excellent
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pretty sure the pic with the mithra should be changed to FFXI, take out the V. But yes, this was a good read.



Rule of thumb in writing: Editing is easiest after publication >.< Thank you for catching it, though. And thanks to everyone else for the support. Smiley: smile
#8 Aug 09 2010 at 8:16 PM Rating: Good
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Excellent read.
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#9 Aug 09 2010 at 8:17 PM Rating: Excellent
Very well done Sephrick! Quite the microcosmic timeline of showing how we've come a long way in terms of technological requirements for gaming.
#10 Aug 09 2010 at 8:20 PM Rating: Excellent
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As said for the 10th time... good read! :P
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#11 Aug 09 2010 at 8:26 PM Rating: Excellent
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Wow, this was really good! Way to put things in perspective. I know it's showing my age, but I love to look back at how things were "top of the line" a decade ago, and we've since trumped those standards a hundred-fold if not more.
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#12 Aug 09 2010 at 8:32 PM Rating: Excellent
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Wow, this was really good! Way to put things in perspective. I know it's showing my age, but I love to look back at how things were "top of the line" a decade ago, and we've since trumped those standards a hundred-fold if not more.



If someone could go back to 10-year-old me, as I sit there playing Bonk's Revenge on my friend's TurboGrafix-16 thinking it couldn't possibly get any better, and described an iPhone to me, I'd tell them they were out of their mind. "What's an Internet, and how does it get on a phone that doesn't attach to the wall?"

Edited, Aug 9th 2010 10:34pm by Sephrick
#13 Aug 09 2010 at 8:55 PM Rating: Excellent
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Sephrick wrote:
Quote:
Wow, this was really good! Way to put things in perspective. I know it's showing my age, but I love to look back at how things were "top of the line" a decade ago, and we've since trumped those standards a hundred-fold if not more.



If someone could go back to 10-year-old me, as I sit there playing Bonk's Revenge on my friend's TurboGrafix-16 thinking it couldn't possibly get any better, and described an iPhone to me, I'd tell them they were out of their mind. "What's an Internet, and how does it get on a phone that doesn't attach to the wall?"

Edited, Aug 9th 2010 10:34pm by Sephrick


Lived in a old house myself, rotary dialing :P then to pulse dialing, then finally tone dialing weeee!!!!!!
Internet HA! gota new 56k modem! let me plug it into the phone and listen to the screachin!!!
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#14 Aug 09 2010 at 10:32 PM Rating: Good
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fantastic post Seph. Way to put things in perspective.
#15 Aug 09 2010 at 11:44 PM Rating: Excellent
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This post reminded me of how much I loved Red XIII (too bad he was such a minor character) and how much I hated Final Fantasy 8.

Edited, Aug 10th 2010 1:45am by KarlHungis
#16 Aug 10 2010 at 12:08 AM Rating: Excellent
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I'd say good read, but I think everyone before me beat me to it. ^^ It's nice to see where it came from and where it's going.

It made me think that I would rather SE push for high end graphics now, so that years on, we still have a beautiful game to play - even if I have to suffer with a sub-par system for the first months.
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#17 Aug 10 2010 at 12:12 AM Rating: Good
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I definitely have a strong appreciation for technological advances, but in this day and age, it is especially easy for people to take all the amazing innovations for granted...

When I was growing up, I saw my grandparents quite a lot, and they are now 85 and 90. I still do see them now and then, but I live farther away now than when I was younger. Point is, my grandfather is as old world as it gets, and he loves to share stories from his life, and he has some incredible ones. When he was a kid, he used to listen to one of his elders stories, and those were anecdotes from the closing of the wild west days. That's a far cry from today's age... Even from a young age, that's always given me perspective as to just how fast we are going.

All things are relative though, and many people today expect incredible innovations handed to them. To think that every couple years, the computing power of our technology doubles, is truly astounding... To think how much people take it for granted, is even more astounding... Nevertheless, it's in the nature of our society to keep pushing the envelope, whether we are going into space, curing diseases, or even just moseying about a digital world created purely for amusement. When you think about it, the costs of taking part in this age are not so high. Can you imagine what someone, a couple hundred years ago, would have payed for even the weakest computer on the market?

Yet here we are, in an age where so many people have GPS features on their cell phones, we are able to use space telescopes to gaze billions of years into the past, and when we aren't paving the way into some sci-fi fantasy future, we are adventuring around increasingly beautiful in game environments. I wonder how long it will be before we are no longer confined to a computer chair when we want to experience these little digital worlds... The day you can get up and walk around in a virtual place will be an interesting day indeed. That's all assuming that moore's law doesn't thwart the industry of course, lol. But for now, I'm looking forward to enjoying all the hard work SE has put into FFXIV, and I'm sure it will keep me content for quite some time.

And I've enjoyed gaming almost all my life, ever since playing FF1 on my old NES. A little hard work towards affording the next generation of this hobby that only a few decades ago didn't even exist doesn't seem like a steep price to me. But at the same time, that doesn't mean I run out and buy the latest greatest iphone or PC part every time one comes along... FFXIV on the other hand, I was more than happy to upgrade my PC for.

I guess this is a bit off topic, but I just can't help it when you go and lay the progression of the series out like that, demonstrating the advances we've made. To think it all started with FF1... I never imagined it would lead to these amazing mmo's.

Oh and as a little side note to the OP... The party in that FFVII screenshot just so happens to have been my favorite party setup, and seeing it again sure takes me back. Red XIII was an awesome character, I wish more games had that kind of style. I'm rating that post up, if for nothing else, because you have good taste in picking screenshots. ;)

A side note to everyone else... Something tells me we won't be picking on crabs this time around in FFXIV... They do not look nearly as harmless as they once did, lol... And I can only imagine what kind of hellspawn the new rabbits will resemble... o.o;
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#18 Aug 10 2010 at 12:36 AM Rating: Excellent
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I never really thought of FF in terms of the PC. I was one of those omg which new console will get FF? Oh crap I'll just buy them all. I did learn of course that FFXI was on the PC and had 360, PS2, and PC versions of it. The one E3 conference where they stated FFXIII would be coming out for the 360, I felt so cheated. Then I got to thinking, wow, Ninetendo is really the one whose girlfriend walked, they had FF 1st lol.

I wonder if there is a console timeline for Final Fanatasy. It is interesting that Playonline existed before FFXI was even released. I did not know that.

Edited, Aug 10th 2010 8:59am by Tolerance4u
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#19 Aug 10 2010 at 6:22 AM Rating: Excellent
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I guess this is a bit off topic, but I just can't help it when you go and lay the progression of the series out like that, demonstrating the advances we've made. To think it all started with FF1... I never imagined it would lead to these amazing mmo's



Great response, Tiger. When I worked as a reporter at a small town paper, we'd interview people cognizant enough every birthday 100+. One of the most moving interviews I've done was with a woman who was 101. To think of all she had seen. The wars, the Model-T, Prohibition. Our society has come very far in the past 110 years. To think of all she saw in all those decades.
I'd hate to use a game as an example, but perhaps it's befitting, look at Red Dead Redemption. It's storyline takes place in 1911, not because it's just a random year but because life still was like that so recently.
I do remember sitting at home playing Final Fantasy Tactics thinking, how cool would it be if I could play this with people? By that time, dial-up internet was becoming common, so the thought of being able to play a game online seemed reasonable.


Quote:
I wonder if there is a console timeline for Final Fanatasy


I could work on a more in-depth one, but a quick overview of the American side of things is FFI was released around 1988 on the NES. II around 1990ish. Then III, IV and V were released as Japan only as Square felt there wasn't a market for hardcore RPGs off the island.
VI was released as III in the US in 1994 on the SNES. Squaresoft initially was developing VII for the N64, but late in development, Nintendo decided it was going to stick with cartridges rather than CDs. Squaresoft was stuck with a game deep in development for CD, so they turned to Sony who was just about to release their first console, so in 1997 VII was the game that really pushed Playstation sales.
VII and XI both were Playstation exclusives. As were X, X-2, for a time XI and XII exclusive to the PS2. Around the time of X, they became Square-Enix.
Then SE took a significant hiatus. Believe it or not, XIII initially was developed to be cell-shaded on the PS2. They eventually scrapped what was developed in favor of working with the PS3. Obviously, this was the first time in more than a decade SE developed something not exclusive to Playstation.
Now we have XIV. A sore spot for console fans as the PS3 has been pushed back and SE has said a 260 release isn't likely.
Of course that's only part of it, there were a few other consoles in Japan early on, but I'd have to read up to be more thorough.
#20 Aug 10 2010 at 6:52 AM Rating: Good
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Nice work there on that console timeline. It goes to show how how much life Final Fantasy has had. It also goes to show how much fanbase there really must be out there, not to mention the wide range of age of the playerbase. This is turn does lead to the T rating, which I feel is mandated at this point. Many sites have stated that FFXI was a more mature group, and that FFXIV seems to be following suit.

FFXIV may not be a WOW killer nor does it claim to be. Judging from it's lifespan, it's longevity, and the higher range of age bracket on it's playerbase, it will be one of the more sophisticated MMO's that is on the market.

Just one minor correction. FFXI was cross consoled, which included PC, PS2, AND 360. The 360 version got added at a much later date and is easily overlooked, but very good job on the console timeline. I appreciate that you took the time to do that. ^ ^
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On the 8th day God saw that they were sad and lonely, God then threw down a Squarenix staff member and thus was born the male Miqo'te.
#21 Aug 10 2010 at 6:53 AM Rating: Excellent
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Great post! It's amazing how far computers and graphics have come in the last 10-years.
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#22 Aug 10 2010 at 6:55 AM Rating: Excellent
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I really enjoyed reading this. I must admit, it is better than many articles one may find online and offline. You should probably full-time your writing if you aren't doing so already ^^
#23 Aug 10 2010 at 7:42 AM Rating: Excellent
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Well written article indeed. I remember when I found a demo of VII for the PC, all I could think of was, "Holy crap, it's on PC?" Time lines are great, they really put things in perspective.
#24 Aug 10 2010 at 7:47 AM Rating: Excellent
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Excellent read, sorta funny that i did just shell out about $200 for a new graphics card for the game about 20 min ago xD
#25 Aug 10 2010 at 8:27 AM Rating: Excellent
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This reminds me about a few things:

1. Using Bleem! to emulate Playstation games on the PC.
2. How much more advanced consoles were than PCs for gaming.
3. (Not really related but) How arcades were awesome and now pretty much irrelevant.


This was a very good article Sephrick. I thought it was a cut and paste job at first.

It has a very neutral tone considering some people's very strong opinions about this subject.

I think a good follow up article (or an extended piece) would be the "whys?" Even though some of the answers might be obvious. Why did SE make games for PC in the first place? Why did these games require so much power? Did this help or hinder the games sales? Why didn't SE continue to make more games for PC?

#26 Aug 10 2010 at 9:13 AM Rating: Good
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Reminds me of http://xkcd.com/768/
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#27 Aug 10 2010 at 9:57 AM Rating: Excellent
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...flashback to Bartel as a boy in the mid-90's.

"But mom, I'm in a chat room!"

"What's a chat room?"

"It's this place where I can pretend to know stuff I don't and no one can say anything because they can't see me! I'm so cool"

...flash forward to present day.

Some things never change. >.>
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#28 Aug 10 2010 at 10:50 AM Rating: Excellent
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Finally got to read this, well done Seph!
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#29 Aug 10 2010 at 11:33 AM Rating: Excellent
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Seph, this should be published!

I just sent a link to this to my wife. This is an excellent history of FF and how it pushes the limits of technology time and again.

It supports an argument that I have been making for years - that FF is the epitome of technology, art, culture and story telling. The Japanese culture has one of the oldest and richest histories in the world. Each game has used the latest technology, the most acomplished artists and musical composers available, and has a deep storyline with compelling characters. In my mind, the FF series is consistantly the best entertainment that the world has to offer.

Each of the components are the best available. And truely, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Edited, Aug 10th 2010 1:35pm by RufuSwho
#30 Aug 10 2010 at 12:11 PM Rating: Excellent
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Sephrick wrote:
I could work on a more in-depth one, but a quick overview of the American side of things is FFI was released around 1988 on the NES. II around 1990ish. Then III, IV and V were released as Japan only as Square felt there wasn't a market for hardcore RPGs off the island.


Ugh...

Final Fantasy was released in 1987 in Japan, but didn't reach America until 1990.

Numbers 2 and 3, both on the Famicom (2 came out in 1988, 3 in 1990), never reached America because they were considered outdated - All three Famicom FFs were already out in Japan when the first one was released in the US, and the fourth had already begun development for the Super Famicom. This new console was to be launched later that year in Japan, and the next year in America. The logical option at the time seemed to be to ignore the remaining two NES games, focus on translating the SNES game, and plaster over the numbering gap. Thus...

American FF 2 is Japanese 4.



Squaresoft tried to localize FF 5 for America twice, first as FF 3, and later as FF Extreme; both times, the project was canceled because the game did poorly in focus testing and was deemed inaccessible to general audiences.

Quote:
Squaresoft initially was developing VII for the N64, but late in development, Nintendo decided it was going to stick with cartridges rather than CDs. Squaresoft was stuck with a game deep in development for CD, so they turned to Sony who was just about to release their first console, so in 1997 VII was the game that really pushed Playstation sales.


Citation Needed - I think you've gotten different stories confused here.

7 was originally going to be another 2D RPG for the SNES - that version was scrapped, but elements of it appeared in other games, including Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy 8, and Parasite Eve. They later produced a tech demo of Final Fantasy 6 characters fighting a battle in real-time 3D that ran on SGI workstations (SGI being Nintendo's design partner on the N64). Afterwards, they started development on a new FF 7, which is the one we have now; they announced early in the development cycle that the game would be on the PlayStation. (This development started late in 1995, and it was announced as a PlayStation game in January 1996.)

The game that was originally developed with CD in mind was Secret of Mana, which was intended for the SNES CD-ROM; when that was canceled, the game had to be reworked into a cartridge game.



Nitpicks:

Quote:
Around the time of X, they became Square-Enix.


More precisely, Square was bought by Enix in 2003 (a merger which was delayed by the heavy losses of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within).

FF 10 was released in 2001 in Japan and North America.

Quote:
Then SE took a significant hiatus.


Or to be more specific, unprecedentedly long development cycles for 12 and 13. Record-breakingly long, in fact; until Starcraft II came out, FF 12 had the longest development time of any game that actually made it to release. EDIT: At least according to Guiness. I suspect Battlecruiser 3000 AD may actually edge out FF12 on that count, though.

Quote:
Obviously, this was the first time in more than a decade SE developed something not exclusive to Playstation.


More significantly than just breaking 13 years of Sony exclusivity, FF 13 is actually the only game in the franchise main-line that was not platform-exclusive at launch.

Assuming that by "something" you mean numbered Final Fantasy games, rather than SE games in general.

Edited, Aug 10th 2010 11:32am by BastokFL
#31 Aug 10 2010 at 12:30 PM Rating: Good
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Wow... looking at those screenshots is eye-opening. I can't believe how long ago FFVII was. In my mind I remember that the graphics being 10 times better than that, but seeing the evolution in those screen shots is mind blowing.
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#32 Aug 10 2010 at 12:43 PM Rating: Excellent
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@ BastokFL: THanks for clearing up those points. My brain was a little fuzzy this morning. Like I said, I was doing that overview off the top of my head so I knew there would be holes and memory lapses in there Smiley: tongue
#33 Aug 10 2010 at 1:15 PM Rating: Excellent
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Oh man the N64 tech demo with Locke was awesome!!!!11!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMjkzEhIsj8


#34 Aug 10 2010 at 1:33 PM Rating: Excellent
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Kierk wrote:
Oh man the N64 tech demo with Locke was awesome!!!!11!!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BMjkzEhIsj8




that is totally awesome. I would kill for a FF6 remake.
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#35 Aug 10 2010 at 4:05 PM Rating: Excellent
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Great job seph.


Loved the read and you did a great job remind me of all the wonderfulness of the
FF universe

rate up!!!
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