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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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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On Fandom, Early Access, and Backseat Developers

There is a great confusion surrounding Early Access games these days. It’s not entirely undeserved, as the field is relatively new, and Mistakes Have Been Made. Some games have come out too early. Some came in too early. And some never really made it out. But not all the confusion is ‚ÄúShould I buy this thing?‚ÄĚ or ‚ÄúWill I burn out on it before it’s released?‚ÄĚ

Part of it is the role of the person paying the money. This one is a common one, and it is technically our fault, as an industry, that the problem exists. The other fault, of course, lies with entitlement, and a misunderstanding that refuses to go away: By paying for a Kickstarter, or an Early Access, or a Patreon, you are not a shareholder. You are paying for the product it produces, in the belief that it will work. I’ve done so with Formula Fusion, because I know the developers have a pedigree with Future Racing games, and I know they can produce another good one. I did not back it because I thought it would be another Wipeout game.

And yet… People are already asking ‚ÄúWhat kind of Wipeout physics they’d like to see in Formula Fusion.‚ÄĚ Seems like an innocent question, doesn’t it? But there’s an assumption there, and a dangerous one at that.

Not Wipeout. I can understand some confusion. But it's not.

Not Wipeout. I can understand some confusion. But it’s not.

Formula Fusion is not Wipeout. It’s not in the game plan, although features inspired by previous games they’ve worked on (Which, hey, happen to be Wipeout) are part of this plan. What makes this even more insidious is that people are assuming based on an alpha build. Specifically, version 0.0.4, the first public build. Thankfully, cooler heads have pointed out these facts, and the fact that accessibility for new players is a far more important concern than the wishes of us old horses, but it’s a common trend I’m starting to get sick of.

I may sound like I’m over-reacting, but this is by no means the first time I’ve seen talk similar to this. Starbound is an excellent example. See, Starbound starts you with… Some very simple kit. It’s got a slow-ish start, taking something like 4 hours to get off the first planet, and into the wider plot. But one of the most common complaints I saw, throughout the Early Access of the game, was the Caveman Tier complaint. Why do we gots to start so slow, Chucklefish? Why do we gots to make our tools, Chucklefish? Why can’t we just be exploring, murdering stuff and building massive bases, Chucklefish? Wouldn’t it be better if, wouldn’t it be better if, wouldn’t it be better if

Burn Down Cavema- Oh, Wait, I got past it. Never mind.

Burn Down Cavema- Oh, Wait, I got past it. Never mind.

If. If. If. I can understand disappointment when a game isn’t quite to expectations, or when expectations are misled due to some poor sod on the Marketing end (Journo, copywriter, or PR rep) who’s been told something that later turns out not to be the case. Dungeons, for example, was considered by many to be a spiritual successor to Dungeon Keeper. Problem is, ‚ÄúSpiritual Successor‚ÄĚ does not mean ‚ÄúSequel‚ÄĚ. Hell, often times, sequels are different beasties. Going back to Wipeout, Wipeout Fusion is a very different beast to Wipeout 3, itself different in important respects to Wipeout, the original. But this is precisely why so many journos, myself included, say things like ‚ÄúDON’T PREORDER!‚ÄĚ Because expectations without critical thought can lead to talk like ‚ÄúUgh, Burn Starbound Caveman Tier‚ÄĚ, and other backseat developer talk.

Sometimes, I’m with you, because advertising can be misleading, and the games industry has a nasty habit of ‚Äúsexing up‚ÄĚ their footage before they’ve actually sexed up the game (As Breach, a game where even the UI dropped in quality between E3 and release showed, it’s not limited to AAA heartbreakers like Aliens: Colonial Marines). But this kind of backwards looking backseat commentary isn’t productive. Mighty No. 9 is a prime example of how unproductive this entitled viewpoint can get. A community manager jokes about wanting Beck, the protagonist of Mighty No. 9 to be a lady, and suddenly, death threats are flying over the internet, because how dare anyone suggest that Mighty No. 9 stray from the Megaman vision! Assumptions. Mighty No. 9 looks and plays a bit like Megaman, and has the lead designer from Megaman. But y’know what else plays like a Megaman game? A.R.E.S. Shovel Knight. The (Sigh) Angry Video Game Nerd game. And I don’t hear angry players complaining about the differences in The Vision with any of those. I certainly haven’t heard of death threats being sent.

This is not Dungeon Keeper. It is a "Spiritual Successor". There's a difference.

This is not Dungeon Keeper. It is a “Spiritual Successor”. There’s a difference.

In the case of Formula Fusion, the Kickstarter video goes on for about half an hour as to what they want to do, and, unsurprisingly, it’s not ‚ÄúAnother Wipeout‚ÄĚ. Wipeout is mentioned, a lot (Which may lead the inattentive to think things), but it’s in the case of ‚ÄúWe liked this idea which didn’t work last time (Fusion’s upgrade system)‚ÄĚ or ‚ÄúWe wanted to present a more dystopian world than [the Wipeout Series]‚ÄĚ

Sometimes, your beefs with a game are based, not on whether it’s like that thing you liked, but whether it works, and I’m down with that too. I’ve got an article lined up as to design mistakes that Quantum Rush Champions makes, and not a one of them is ‚ÄúUgh, it isn’t Wipeout‚ÄĚ. Wipeout is a comparison point for difficulty, but the design decisions themselves are unique to QRC, and they are not good. I am definitely not alone in thinking them bad either. Whether something is a common complaint is something I like to check when writing an article or a review, but I also check whether it’s an opinion thing, or actually has an effect. In the case of, for example, weapon pickups having small hitboxes, that’s definitely a problem. That the viewpoint in QRC is not exactly like a Wipeout game is definitely not among my gripes with QRC.

So, hopefully, at this point, you’ve been reading and nodding, thoughtful. I’m going to summarise now, so as to make sure we’re all clear on this. You are not the developers. You are not shareholders. Your input is valued, but if you do not like the product, unless it’s to do with crashes, bugs, and things that definitely don’t do the game justice, that is on you. Please don’t backseat develop, it’s somewhat rude, and is not going to help your enjoyment of the game. Please think before assuming a game is going to be like a game before it.¬†You’ll be less disappointed and clearer headed for it.

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When Is It Okay To Harass Over Framerate? (HINT: NEVER)

Games today are tricky business, and it’s no lie to say customers are dissatisfied with corners cut in the process. Shoddy launch releases, DLC of dubious value (or worse, good DLC that might as well have been part of the game itself, because it was pre-sliced into “Game” and “DLC” for pre-order cash), and… Framerate locking, the practice of making a PC game have the same frame rate (which can affect physics, control responsiveness, and fluidity of animations) as the consoles because… Well, the reasons vary, but not very many of them are good. But one Steam curator has tried to point these games out as they come, TotalBiscuit’s The Framerate Police

There’s just two problems with this. Firstly, he hadn’t considered all the possibilities… And secondly, he hadn’t considered that there is a segment of gamers out there willing to harass and aggro over things at the drop of a hat.

Framerate Police came to my attention when the creators of Guild of Dungeoneering (A game I should be reviewing soon.) posted a tweet basically saying “Alright, you can stop sending death threats, I’ve¬†mentioned that the game runs at 30 FPS!”

The ridiculousness of the situation almost immediately hit me, because Guild of Dungeoneering is a turn based game with¬†some animations. Y’know, the kind of thing that doesn’t¬†need¬†60 FPS and 1080i visuals. In fact, it looks quite charming on its own.

And yet, some idiots decided it was perfectly okay to send threats, harassment, all kinds of aggro their way, because… REASONS. It becomes even more idiotic when you look at some of the other games curated, and how the reviews actually work. Here’s some examples of both at the same time.


Okay, so what’s wrong with this picture? Well, let’s start with Heroes III HD. Yes, okay, it’s a modern “remaster”… But again, turn based, so no physics, no reaction times,¬†no actual need for 60 fps. Pandemonium is even worse, because¬†it’s from the fucking 90s. So, in fact, is Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver.¬†These games originally ran at 30 FPS, folks. ORIGINALLY. They were PS2 games, and ran at 30. F. P. S. So, in fact, did many of our original greats. Secondly, do you see any “PLEASE HARASS THESE PEOPLE”? No? No. All it is is a list of which games are 30 FPS, completely disregarding whether they were¬†originally 30 FPS (or less!), and nothing more.

So let me make one thing very clear: Seeing as, at no point that I’m aware of, TB has¬†asked any of you to do this, you’ve done it of your own volition. You have harassed because you genuinely think that a game in the Year of Our Lord 2015 cannot, under¬†any circumstances,¬†not need 60 FPS on PC. Yes, when a modern game does it out of laziness, it’s shitty. Guess what?¬†Still not a reason to harass. You harass over a game, and you are Being A Shithead. Lemme spell this out for you in a way you’ll understand:


“But 60 FPS is objectively better in ever-” No. It is not. There will always be situations where you do not¬†need 60 FPS. I agree that frame locking a game can be a pain in the ass. I agree it’s an alright idea to tell people which¬†modern¬†games are frame locked. I do, however, think this was done without thinking it through solidly. “Framerate Police”? Kinda implies the people frame-locking are¬†always bad folks of some description, TB, old chap. And no context beyond genre? This, if anything, shows the¬†importance of context. Of knowing, not just “Guh, 60 FPS gud…” , but¬†when it’s good… And when it’s just a pointless frippery.

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