Let’s Play Sony – A Strange And Unlikely Case.

An amusingly apropos subheader sometimes, if you take out the apostrophe...

An amusingly apropos subheader sometimes, if you take out the apostrophe…

It’s amazing what slips by when you’re not looking in the right place. Sony, last October, apparently filed to try and trademark the somewhat broad and generic term “Let’s Play.” They haven’t got it yet, but it’s quite clearly referring to the practice of Let’s Playing, as the service it is trademarking is:

“Electronic transmission and streaming of video games via global and local computer networks; streaming of audio, visual, and audiovisual material via global and local computer networks”

A bit generic sounding even here. Anyways, since it was only discovered yesterday, by members of the NeoGAF forums, and it requires clarification before June on the part of Sony before its finalised, it’s merely something quixotic we can point to and say… “Huh!” Here’s at least a couple of reasons why.

It’s Rather Broad

As the definition stands, it can cover a multitude of commerical services and goods, including… Game trailers. Those are streamed electronically, and consist of, funnily enough, audio/visual material of video games. This is, at a guess, at least part of the reason why a clarification has been requested.

It’s Already In Use By Several Commercial Entities

This, potentially, is the real killer. The biggest competitor for the title, as far as I understand it, would be RoosterTeeth productions, who use the channel name as a specific brand (In fact, there was much amusement among the Something Awful Let’s Play community when the channel was grabbed before anyone thought of it), and, as far as I understand things, they would then have prior rights of usage. There is also the fact that many Let’s Players are commercial, and directly identify their service as “Let’s Play” already, even if we were not to take into account that RoosterTeeth specifically use it as a brand for their content. Not to mention… Er… Something Awful’s own “The Let’s Play Archive” (Where you can find at least one Let’s Play by yours truly. ūüėõ )

It’s A Common Phrase

While this might be less of a problem than you might think, the term Let’s Play has already entered common usage, and, as such, this might be a difficult one to enforce. None of these are insurmountable obstacles, but they are, nonetheless, obstacles, at least one of which has presumably hit Sony when they tried to trademark the term back in October.

But Why Do It?

Well, for all the talk of a sinister reason, this one’s actually somewhat hard to enforce. Not just due to the common and prior usage, but also because you can be providing a similar service without calling it “Let’s Play.” That’s even assuming it goes through. More commonly speculated is that it may be related to the streaming service they’re planning to roll out.

Either way, much virtual headshaking, and no real best wishes in the trademarking process there. After all, it is a silly trademark.

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On Goodwill, And Why I Can’t Go Back To Sword Coast Legends Yet.

Oh yay, we get to see more of this guy rather than a DM mode. The joy on my face is comparable to his.

Oh yay, we get to see more of this guy rather than a DM mode. The joy on my face is comparable to his.

So, back when I reviewed Sword Coast Legends, I said that, to give it a fair shake, I would return to it when DM Mode was updated, as was promised 10 days after release. I’ve already said that this was bad communication and planning, but I was willing to give it a chance. Indeed, many people who bought it, bought it because hey, it promised a DM mode. But development is fluid, and fluid, as we all know, has a nasty habit of getting on your nicest shirts if you’re not careful. Such is the case with Sword Coast Legends.

Community Pack 3 was meant to fix DM mode, or rather, add some basic functionality into it that was going to make it less restrictive and boring than it is now (You can put monsters down, and make basic quests, but that’s pretty much it. No dungeon modelling. No script, as such. No AI fuckery, beyond the absolute basics.) But, for whatever reason, a free expansion has instead been planned as the priority. And, again, it took until after the time had passed to state this.

So, let’s talk goodwill. Let’s talk about how it’s a finite resource, and how this is another fine example of companies failing to, or being pushed into (It is not yet clear.) making moves that drain that goodwill.

Firstly, this was not communicated until yesterday. Communication is important, and I can understand why the devs and publishers might sit on this news. After all, it’s happened many a time before. There would be an outcry. Unfortunately… Delaying an important communication like this gives a bad impression of everyone involved. It implies folks aren’t on top of things, or that All Is Not Well. This drains goodwill faster than “Whups, we fucked up, we are fixing it”, but some folks seem to believe that game fans, and indeed purchasers, have a short memory. Unfortunately, the opposite is true. In RPG and Strategy circles especially, folks remember the fuckups for a lot longer than you might think. I still remember how Dark Sun had a game breaking story bug, for example. Or how people reacted to Master of Orion 3. And I can look it up any time. This isn’t the first time I’ve said “Communicate better” either… See above.

Secondly, even with the mollification that it’s a free expansion, precisely¬†because development is fluid… There is no guarantee CP3 will materialise. It relies upon the studio making sales. It relies upon the studio keeping up with the goodwill, and it relies, basically, upon more factors than just “We decided we wanted to focus elsewhere.” I invite the publishers and devs of Sword Coast Legends to remember Arkham Origins, which¬†also decided to focus on DLC over fixing a core feature. That DLC was not free, it’s true. But already, people are reacting in a way that’s all too familiar to me. It’s been played out before, with many a game. It doesn’t help that the Rage of the Demons DLC will involve… Drizzt Do’Fucking’Urden. This is a goodwill draining move in and of itself, because… Drizzt being in anything more than a cameo role usually involves him dominating the plot, to the detriment of pretty much the rest of the story. Of course, I’ve had a few months to potentially bitch about that being a thing, but honestly, if the DM mode actually came first? I wouldn’t care about Drizzt.

I’d like to continue saying “The developers continue to support this game”, because,¬†technically? Sure, an expansion is support, in that the game is being added to. But goodwill, and its companion, trust, are important. Games, as much as some folks like to pretend otherwise, are a popularity game: You can’t get a game sold unless people know about it, and you can’t keep selling or making games when nobody trusts you to deliver. Moves like this erode trust, so, for any other developers or publishers who read this?

Don’t do this. You can look up what happened to other games that did this, and the answer is¬†never “They did well despite these decisions and lack of communication.” The My Alibi Glitch in Arkham Origins is alive and well. Blur never got a sequel. There’s an entire graveyard of games out there, whose epitaph reads “They squandered trust.” And there’s also a few allegorical hospital beds waiting for some bigger publishers who just keep squandering trust like this.

Don’t. Do this. You can be better than this, games industry.

You can read the CP3/Expansion post in question here , and the original announcement of the development plan here.

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Going Back: Antichamber

Regardless of your position on the worth, correctness, or validity of Art Games, Antichamber is a game I would defend as “An Art Game” to the death. It is, in its sense, art. It is most definitely a game, with challenges, obstacles, and mechanics. And it is a utopian game.

Wait, what the hell is a utopian game when it’s at home? Read on, and I’ll try to explain.

There's a lady who knows... All these puzzles are gold... And she's sung in the title of the puzzle.

There’s a lady who knows… All these puzzles are gold… And she’s sung in the title of the puzzle.

Antichamber is a game without a fail state beyond you giving up. Now before you think that’s boring, let me point out that that¬†doesn’t mean you’re not going to fail to solve a puzzle. But you’re not only always going to be able to have another go, you’ll be able to travel between most puzzles without a care in the world. Nothing is going to kill you. Nothing is telling you you’re shit at the game. In fact, quite the opposite: The game’s signposts are basically life advice, generally quite chill life advice at that. And it’s often pertinent. For example, there’s a bridge of sorts, and the signpost for both crossing it successfully, and falling off it reference a tightrope. The game shows you what happens if you take that bridge too quickly beforehand, and what¬†doesn’t happen if you take it slowly (It won’t disappear from under you unless you deliberately step off it or speed up at the wrong time), so… It’s basically an analogy for tightrope walking, which is generally best done at a relatively sedentary pace. Another has a sheep leaping off a cliff, after you followed an instruction to, er… Jump off a cliff. Something something cliff something something everyone else something? I’m sure, if you’ve even encountered fictional parents, you can fill in the something somethings there. It’s a thing parents like to say.

Antichamber owes a lot to… Well, a lot of things. Life is what the game is an analogy for, but it owes bits and bobs to Portal (As it uses a sort of non-violent, puzzle solving “weapon” with multiple functions unlocked as the game goes by), to M C Escher (As it plays with perspective, direction, and space being a bit bendier than usual), and to logic puzzles (As everything has internally consistent rules, and so you can deduce, reasonably, how doing thing A will affect problem B with at least good accuracy most of the time.) You are… Well, you, really. And you’re in a maze. A maze that is life. You start with no tools, no knowledge, and a fleeting sense that you don’t have enough time¬†(Because, at first, it appears you¬†are on a timer, and it’s not a long one for a sprawling puzzle game.) As the game goes on, you accrue knowledge (Certain walls go away when you do one thing, this part of the maze acts like this), tools (One of four cube guns, each one adding an ability to your arsenal, from the ability to take individual cubes and put them somewhere else, to the ability to make nigh infinite cubes, to the ability to make¬†walls of cubes, moving them around), and, along the way, you discover… That actually, you can take the game at your own pace. Just like life, Antichamber is not a race to the end. Stop. Enjoy the flowers. Or, in this case, a picture of a man with his trousers off, and the associated life lesson.

You may be mistaken for thinking this is an easy puzzle. It still has challenge. Because everything except those crates is lava. To that brick.

You may be mistaken for thinking this is an easy puzzle. It still has challenge. Because everything except those crates is lava. To that brick.

The thing being, of course, that you are, in this game, trying to get to the end. The game tells you what a bad idea it is to try and race there. It shows you little easter eggs, misdirects you, tries to slow you down with increasingly more skill intensive puzzles… But you’re curious. There is something that eats light. Something to which doors are no obstacle. Something which seemingly eludes you at every turn. And… When you catch it… It’s all over. That’s right… The game ends, and oblivion results. That something, that nebulous, slightly ominous thing you’ve been chasing for no reason you can determine beyond the goal… Is death.

It’s rather clever. But it doesn’t stop there. Everywhere you look, there aren’t only puzzles involving perspective, there’s the overriding message that hey, maybe… Just maybe… If you look at things from a different viewpoint than the one you’re used to, think sideways? Things will go better for you. You’ll expand your mind. You won’t only get better at the game, you’ll get better at being¬†you. It’s a positive message. In fact, the only negative messages in the game are that you shouldn’t really hurry (The antithesis of many games), and that you won’t get through things consistently by just bulling your way through (And you won’t.) Like I said, utopian. No danger unless you actively seek it out. No challenge that you have to accept (There’s often another way until near the end, when your choices narrow due to… Well, having solved everything else!), and you can always,¬†always go somewhere else… Maybe play with an old puzzle just for the heck of it. You just have to remember how to¬†get there.

It's kind of clever, really. Normally, this room is actually quite well lit.

It’s kind of clever, really. Normally, this room is actually quite well lit.

Finally, it’s tightly designed. There is no HUD. The options, as well as the map and your collection of signposts are all in a single, easy to return to location, and whenever a new mechanic is to be introduced, you can guarantee something’s going to either be nearby to show you how it works, or you’re going to come across something that teaches you sooner or later. Good example, Eye Walls. Eye Walls are terrible at staring contests, fall asleep, and vanish when you stare at them for a time (The time being dependent on the door.) There’s a crossroads at one point early in the game, a door that won’t open if you look at it, and directly opposite that door? An Eye Wall. Walking slowly backwards, you’re guaranteed to see it close. Or, another, sharper example happens when you enter a room with a tantalising hole in the ceiling. Inside the hole? “Don’t Look Down.”

Well… Whyever no- AAAA EYE AAAAAAA FALLING AAA WHERE DID THE FLOOR GO?

And then you land harmlessly somewhere new. Because the game’s cool like that. And you’ve learned a new thing.

So, Antichamber is tightly designed around a theme. Good. It imitates life (Via analogy). Good. It is, indisputably, a game. Cool.

So it’s an art game. And it’s well worth checking out.

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Pony Island (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where To Get It: Steam

Lucifer, it appears, is a game developer. Through the receptacle of Daniel Mullins Games, they have created something devilishly amusing, and somewhat fourth wall breaking. There’s just one problem with reviewing it… If I tell you pretty much anything that happens, it’s going to spoil the damn game. So let’s talk in generalities, and in mood.

PonyIsland.JPG

PonyIsland.JPG

Your mood when you begin (Or, indeed, look at the Steam page) can be summed up as something like ‚ÄúOh christ, ponies. Fucking ponies.‚ÄĚ Followed quickly by ‚ÄúOh christ, Creepypasta… Bloody creepypasta.‚ÄĚ It is my recommendation that you ignore these first two instincts. After all, the store page pretty much told you that the game was (in-game, at least) written by the Devil themselves, so you only have yourself to blame if you think these things after it’s outright told you.

Indeed, once you ignore these two beginning urges, you get to the puzzle elements of the game. And they’re clever. At first, they’re simple, switching symbols to get code to work. That much, I can mention. But it gets cleverer, and requires timing, and both the puzzles and the game begin to escalate. Kill things as soon as you’re able. But don’t kill other things. Beat the devil at his own game, or rather through the code of his own game (While playing his own game), and eventually, you will come to an awesome, hectic, and somewhat odd finale. Then, if you’re a good person, you will uninstall the game. All the while, you will be encouraged to give your soul to the developer of the game within the game. But screw that! (At least partly because it is “common wisdom” that we reviewers don’t have one. Pfeh, common wisdom. We just don’t like giving them away.)

ALSO PonyIsland.JPG

ALSO PonyIsland.JPG

Of course, I am a moustache twirler, not a nice person. So I reinstalled, and went back in. And not everything fits as well as it could. The overall narrative? Yes. It twists, it turns, it has some clever moments that are only implied through showing, never outright shown, never outright told. But it has moments of ‚ÄúBUT THOU MUST‚ÄĚ that you’ll probably only notice on a second playthrough. I can’t deliberately fail certain moments, though I know I want to fail them, no matter how innocent (or not) they appear.

But the simple sound, the lo-fi aesthetic, the implications within the story (Despite having all the time in the universe, the Devil, it seems, is an insecure and passive-aggressive game developer) draw me back in for another go, to see the rest of my life story (Such as it is, and slightly cliched though it may be), and to experience that finale one more time. For ¬£4 , I won’t say it’s for everyone. Not everyone’s going to appreciate the puzzles, or the switches between a simple arcade style using the mouse, and the not so simple segments. But if you’re okay with games that switch between simple (And I do mean simple) arcade games, a boss fight or two (More complex), some logic and timing puzzles in between (Forming around half of the game), and humour that I’m guessing is aimed at ‚ÄúOldschool Gamedev‚ÄĚ… Y’know, the kind of folks who think a game isn’t fun without a death pit, or one-hit kills, then this might be worth a shot.

If you guessed this was also PonyIsland.JPG , you can now give me your soul as a reward.

If you guessed this was also PonyIsland.JPG , you can now give me your soul as a reward.

There’s a lot I could say about it. About how the dutch angles are a nice touch, nice and subtle. About how the developer has nailed “Sickeningly cutesy” in places, and “OhGodWhy” in others. Little touches, little things. But all I will say is: It’s worth a go if you like something moderately amusing that will take you about 3 or 4 hours to finish the first time, then go back to see if you can get all the tickets, or remember a password, or maybe learn the full story of… Well, something.

Things it is not too much like: Undertale. Things it is somewhat like: Frog Fractions. Things it is exactly like: Not a bleeding one, it’s its own thing.

The Mad Welshman also wants your soul. Well, actually, all he really wants is to pay his bills. He has enough trouble with one soul, ta muchly!

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2015: “Dark Cloud Risin'”, 2016: “Don’t Give Up”

So, 2015. What a year, eh? Let’s go over the fuckups, the foibles, and some of the nice points, shall we? Because it does highlight some things that need to change.

The Year Of Shoddy Releases

2015 has seen an increase in big budget releases that can best be described as “Rushed”, “Shoddy”, and, in some cases, “Laughable.” Arkham Knight’s release was, let’s face it, a trainwreck, and even after release, it was… Disappointing, to say the least. It says a lot that I had an entire article ready to say why I wasn’t going to review Arkham Knight even if it¬†was properly fixed when WB said it would be, and… Well, that didn’t really prove necessary, because the sexist writing, shitty foreshadowing (I won’t say who the Knight is, but it’s really easy to guess), increased grind for the sake of padding (Hi, Inexplicably Jigsaw-Like Riddler!) and bugs (some of which, by all reports, persist to this day, much like Arkham Origins). Asssassin’s Creed: Unity has become almost memeworthy with how badly it ran on release, HoMM VII had its fair share of problems, Netcode problems abounded in games like Driveclub and CoD: Advanced Whatever The Hell The Word Machine Came Up With Today, and, overall, it’s been more notable when a AAA game has been relatively free of flaws (Alien: Isolation and The Evil Within… Note I said¬†relatively.)

Of course, if it was just the bugs, I’d be okay. But unlike many of us, who have rightfully consigned Battlefield: Hardline to the deepest parts of the Styx, I remember how, on release, the game’s design disincentivised nonlethal play, and made a bunch of castings that could, in any sane universe, be called something like “Ever So Slightly Racist.” The Current Big Three (For they do seem to flux over the years) of EA, Ubisoft, and Warner Brothers… Are not doing so well. I highly suspect, although I cannot confirm, that refund requests have been the highest in recent memory as a result of these many and varied fuckups.

It wouldn’t entirely be fair to say it’s all them, though. I’ve seen the graphical glitches of Sunset, and the inconsistent writing. I’ve seen Hidden Object Puzzle Adventures not only not improve, but actually¬†get worse.¬†17 flowers and 12 gems over three screens,¬†Mystery of A Lost Planet? Some of which are extremely pixel hunty, or right next to the sodding UI? Or perhaps¬†Contract With The Devil, whose conflict between writing and aesthetic, and lack of colorblindness support, led to a five minute long rant on twitter? Budget does not excuse poor puzzle design. It doesn’t excuse a lack of such a basic accessibility feature as colorblindness support (Although it helps not to pick¬†two extremely similar colours for your “Make all the colours not touch each other” puzzle.) It¬†definitely doesn’t excuse the fact that of the HOPAs I’ve seen this year, I can count on one hand the ones where somebody isn’t damselled, and, much like Princess Peach in Mario 1, disappears for the majority of the game, leaving the player not a single fuck to give. And, of course, there’s the actual shovelware. I’m not going to name names, but there’s been an absolute slew of… Well,¬†tat. It’s by no means limited to AAAs and AAs, although that’s where it’s most visible.

You can stop pretending everything is fine, games industry. It’s really not, it’s just that up till relatively recently, there hasn’t been as much scrutiny.¬†Speaking of scrutiny…

Rise (And Fall… And Rise… And Fall) Of The Internet Shitlords

If games existed in a vacuum, some strange, objective reality where only the games themselves were there, judging each other, this probably wouldn’t have been a topic. But no, human beings, overall, have also somehow managed to become shittier. Except, once again, it wasn’t so much the fact that humans actually¬†have gotten shittier, more that it’s gotten, like the games industry, to the point where it’s¬†obvious. You’d think I was referring to Hashtag Fucking Gooble Grump (Pretty much every person involved with the games industry knows what I’m referring to, although I know most folks¬†outside that circle neither know nor give two shits unless it affects them directly), but no… 2015 seemed to be the year where abusers and assholes, atheismugs and fanatics of various stripes have crawled out of the woodwork. Or rather, once again, people are finally¬†noticing that this shittiness exists.

The DWP Disability Living Allowance Suicide Statistics. A veritable cornucopia of ill-justified police shootings. The continuance of “The War on Terror”, despite the fact it’s¬†pretty much established we’re making more people terrorists by doing so. I could go on, and on, and on, and on about the shittiness, the broken-ness… But let’s talk celebrity for a second. Let’s talk¬†Star Citizen. Let’s talk Early Access.

Star Citizen is, no bones about it, a dangerously ambitious game. It’s a risky investment, but it’s quite clearly making progress. Am I saying it’s going to succeed? Honestly, I have¬†no fucking idea. I am not a game designer. But due to the level of investment people have put into the game’s development, and due to the fact that the transparency in the devblogs and broadcasts and the like show what a fustercluck the development of a big game¬†is¬†(And make no mistake, it’s not uncommon for big teams to get fusterclucky by their very nature), there’s a largely invisible Sonic Vs Mario type PR holy war, between the “Development is so slow, it¬†has to be a scam!” crowd and the “This game is going to be the last word in video games, STFU!” crowd.

Naturally, prominent faces have arisen everywhere for all of these issues. None of them will be named. Few of them¬†deserve to be named, because quite a few of them are the same as the extremists that have made 2015 such a depressing shithole for every other poor sod out there. Funnily enough, a litmus test of whether they’re worth listening to is the proportion and volume of such seemingly normal words and phrases as “Censorship”, “Free Speech”, and “But do you have PROOF?”

Net result: An internet ad world filled with misery and stupidity, with the usual cultural and fiscal inertia making governments and companies slow to react.

There’s A Light… Over At The Frankenstein Place…

Of course, there have been some awesome things happening. Undertale was pretty cool, subverting RPG tropes¬†somewhat (Mainly in the story, and that¬†not attacking is the way to the best ending.) More games are including women and PoC protagonists, diversifying. LGBT games are on the rise, further expanding the area that games can reach (Such as Read Only Memories, one of the few games I can think of this year that bothered to ask for your pronouns), and people are¬†getting that game design is a holistic thing, at least in part because game making is, itself, becoming more accessible. People are¬†starting to make moves on internet harassment, and shitlordery. Sites are beginning to realise what a pain in the arse ‘pretty numbers’ are becoming, and¬†actual discussions of games industry ethics, employment practices, how the recession is affecting things (Make no mistake, we are still in a recession, and many EU countries are handling it… Er… In a similar way to the way they handled it¬†last time (To no effect)), and accessibility issues.

There is light. But it needs to grow. So all the folks who are actually trying to make progress, to make games more accessible and interesting and talk about things that need talking about? Keep it up!

The folks who seem to think “Because it ‘worked’ before, it’s still working now, why won’t everybody realise this, shut up, and live in our perfect world?” Guess what. It didn’t really work before. It’s not actually working now, not even giving the¬†appearance of working properly.

But let’s imagine, for a moment, this glorious future we¬†could build. Games would actually be…¬†GASP… Be more accessible than they are without being “dumbed down”! They could be cheaper, because they’re more tightly focused! And,¬†because they’re reaching more people, and because less people are asking for refunds, and because they’re cheaper,¬†more people would buy games, and talk about games. And in this bright future, they wouldn’t have to fear being dogpiled, or devalued because they’re the “wrong” shape or skin tone, or not following outdated binary gender preconceptions. And¬†because they’re not afraid, the¬†games could talk about more things too! And the people¬†making games wouldn’t have to fear kneejerk reactions from their fans! Edutainment would be a proper thing again, but this time, with games that aren’t afraid to tackle subjects from different viewpoints! Oh, how glorious it would be, to have games that explore sexuality over the centuries, how it’s shifted and changed from culture to culture, from decade to decade. Or games about utopias! It’s a common (mis-)conception that a utopia, by its nature, is boring to write.

But think about this for a second… If it weren’t for the ending of Antichamber,¬†the entire game would have been positivity, and encouraging you to beat its obstacles in a friendly manner, and telling you “Hey, at your own pace, my friend, it’s all good here!” Isn’t that… A utopia, of sorts? It’s certainly not a standard one, but hey, what’s standard in games? One of the first art games was about an alien bee-thing that did different things to flowers depending on where you touched them, and it had a¬†score counter. The first “multi-media¬†experience” was a C64 spinning-“plates”-and-dodging-things game narrated by Jon Pertwee, and with music by Ian Dury. Games could experiment. We could… Talk about them. With more people. And at least some of them, preferably a lot of them, would have interesting things to say that were cohesively designed, so even the “fun” games… We could¬†learn from. And maybe… In discussing things… We’d find new ideas. Ideas like a good form of government, or using games to test the feasibility of colonising a new world… Games that weren’t just games, but humanity reaching out, with their collective minds, and saying:

Hey… Those stars aren’t actually that far away. And now that we’ve had a proper look at things?¬†This world ain’t so bad after all, now that we’ve looked after ourselves properly. Let’s have a nice… Relaxing… Stretch… And enjoy¬†everything

In a truly ideal world, I would be out of a job, because we’d all be talking, comfortable and self aware and unafraid to explore other spaces. But I’m 100% okay with that, because my golden handshake would be… Participating in that world. And, okay, this is the 80s child in me, but it also has to have personal jetpacks of some description. If only to throw a jaunty two finger salute at Tomorrow’s World.¬†See! We got them! Eventually!

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