Less Than the Sum of Its Parts: The Mechanical Dissonance of RE6

(I know the timeliness of this blog is a bit off, but various real-life issues and my continued obsessions with Borderlands 2 and X-Com prevented me from finishing it last weekend. Since I had already put a decent chunk of time in it I figured it would be a waste not to wrap it up, so here it is.)

What was it about Resident Evil 5 that got people like me, the Achievement/Trophy-ambivalent crowd, to play it over and over again, S-Ranking it almost by accident? It certainly wasn't the story. I have no problems appreciating campy fun, but once-through should be enough for anyone. No, what it came down to was the gameplay: the purity of experience only possible when every key system and mechanic hums together in perfect harmony. Capcom, in particular, has excelled at delivering this balance of design throughout the years from Mega Man to Street Fighter to Devil May Cry to Monster Hunter.

So what happened to RE6? Where did Capcom lose the plot and, in their attempt to please everyone, end up pleasing almost no one? It's easy to decry the "actionification" of the series and speak of nebulous things like "feel," but we need to know exactly what went wrong before we start talking about how to make it right. And before we can do that, we need to understand the symphony that was RE5.

Controller Meet Hand, Hand Meet Controller

Right now I imagine I sound crazy to some of you. After all, RE5 was also heavily criticized for the way it controlled. Moving like a tank and having to stand still to aim your gun seemed incredibly backwards for a shooter in 2009. What most people don't realize is that RE5 wasn't a shooter at all (despite what Capcom marketing might have wanted you to believe); rather it was a strategy game more akin to a real-time version of Valkyria Chronicles.

Like this but fewer tanks

*record scratch*

You heard me. The controls, systems, enemy behaviors, and environmental designs combined to create a metered, tactical gameplay loop focused on resource management and efficiency.

The RE series has been moving further and further away from the horror genre since RE4, but survival was still the name of the game all the way throughout RE5. Enemies in RE5 hit hard, would absorb tons of bullets unless you were targeting the right place, and health and ammo were limited. This all would have been bad news bears if not for three key things: the enemies, the environments, and the shooting.

Enemies

Fair and balanced

The Majini were tough to kill. A few shots to the head did the trick, but the only thing a full clip to the chest got you was an angrier Majini. In a world where bullets weren't hanging off of every tree and a strict inventory system forced players to carefully pick and choose between versatility and longevity, it was a blessing that the enemies were so single-minded in their purpose. Their pace was slow and their approach direct, giving you a very clear timer in which to land the shots you needed. The threat was real and if you missed a few shots you were in trouble, but as long as you stayed calm and played smart, standing still wasn't a problem.

Environments

Of course staying calm and playing smart would have been moot if enemies were spawning right on top of you and you had limited space to work with. Thankfully the designers of RE5 thought of this and almost every environment was perfectly tailored for the encounter. Major battles took place in large arenas designed with obstacles to impede enemy movement without obstructing the player's aim. These areas offered looping paths for players that wanted to kite or bottlenecks for players that wanted to stand their ground. The environment was a tool players could use as they saw fit to take full advantage of their particular load-out.

Shooting

Like a rock

These various elements wrapped up as a cohesive package of sublime gameplay in the hands of the player, thanks to the shooting. Sure, Chris and Sheva may have moved like tanks, but they also shot like tanks with a mechanical precision. There were no aiming reticles showing you the general area through which your bullets were flying, there was a laser sight that painted a big red dot on the exact spot you were going to hit. It was exactly what players needed to tackle each scenario as the tactical combat-puzzle it was meant to be.

RE6 Meet Controller, Controller Meet Wall

Unfortunately, it seems the designers of RE6 either lost focus or were completely unaware of what made RE5 so great to begin with, and as a result we are left with a game that is the worst possible combination of survival and shooter. Enemies still hit hard, can still take a lickin', and ammo and health pickups may have been increased but are a far cry from abundant.

Enemies

The new J'avo are even tougher than the BOW's that came before. They come with head armor by default and actually become stronger if you happen to shoot them in the wrong place. They would much rather duck and weave and shoot as they wait for you to hit them in the arm so they can transform and charge into melee range while using their mutated arms to cover their face.

Environments

The pillars!

Unfortunately, the much more linear, cramped environments of RE6 are constantly getting in the way as you try to take your enemies down intelligently. The increased emphasis on shooting means that every area is full of various forms of cover, cover which exists for the sole purpose of obstructing aim. Navigating the environment is rarely an option as it doesn't take very many enemy bullets to permanently lose a chunk off your health bar, but standing your ground is also difficult unless you're willing to waste most/all your ammo trying to take out the melee J'avo before they reach you.

Shooting

And you're going to waste ammo. A lot of ammo. Because in addition to the faster enemies and cramped environments, the developers felt like RE6 needed one more feature to make it feel more shootery: aim variance/sway. The concept of an aiming reticle is simple: rather than indicate a point of contact for your bullets, a reticle designates the general area through which your bullets will fly. This is a thing that shooters do and so, with a total disregard for the experience of the player, a reticle was forcibly inserted into RE6. In order to "balance" this, the optional laser-sight that was rock-solid in RE4 and 5 now swims across the screen as if Chris and Leon have since been struck by some sort of degenerative nerve condition.

One Wrong Note

There was something magical about the way the various elements of RE5 came together to form a shooting experience that actually felt suited for a console (yes, I'm one of those Mouse & Keyboard snobs that finds games like Halo and Gears frustratingly boring). And maybe these faster enemies and cramped environments wouldn't have felt so bad on their own despite the laughable inclusion of "moving while shooting" that is so slow, you might as well be standing still. It's the loss of precision that has changed RE from a math problem, something with a solution that can be approached intellectually, to a dice-roll gamble every time you pull the trigger.

Can RE rise from the ashes?

If RE5 is a symphony then RE6 is a cacophony, a wall of contrary noises forced to play simultaneously, assailing the senses in a manner devoid of any foresight or forethought. It straddles the line between RE5 and console-shooter, inheriting qualities of both but the virtues of neither. Is it the worst game ever made? Certainly not, and considered objectively, it's not the utter disaster most video game coverage outlets and internet forum-goers are making it out to be. But as a Resident Evil game it completely misses the mark, stripping key qualities from the experience in an ill-conceived courting with mainstream appeal.

Resident Evil will return, and when it does it will be on a new set of shiny boxes. Hopefully Capcom will get the message and make sure that someone in a position of power understands that mechanics for the sake of mechanics does not a good game make. I'm available on a contract basis.

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Playstation All-Stars: How Mechanics Define Games Within a Genre

Ripoff n. a blatant or unscrupulous copy or imitation

Last week the internet was jostled by Kamiya and his condemnation of Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale (PAS) as a rip-off of Smash Bros. This blew my mind. I've always respected Kamiya as a mechanics guy, I mean look at the way his games play. As someone who gets his kicks digging deep into systems, the myriad ways that PAS is decidedly NOT a rip-off of Smash seem glaringly obvious. So Hideki Kamiya, allow me to educate you.

Parallels within a genre

As the medium has grown, genres have been free to develop their own sets of best practices, various bits of design that remain a near constant between games regardless of developer. Take the fighting game genre for example. Pick up any fighting game from the past decade and chances are you're going to have two life bars on top, a timer in between, and more often than not a pair of super meters in the bottom corners. On your controller up will jump and down will crouch. For defense you're either going to be holding back or a dedicated block button.

Throws will beat blocks, blocks will beat attacks, and attacks will beat throws. Attacks will be divided into start-up, active, and recovery frames. Your character will have a hitbox and a hurtbox. And more likely than not, at some point you will be rolling your directional pad/joystick from down to down-forward to forward and pressing a button to get an attack. Bonus points if that attack happens to be a projectile and you used it to truncate the recovery animation of your previous attack.

None of these games is just like the others

Pick up any racing game and you know which shoulder button to press for gas and for brake. Somewhere on the screen you're going to find a minimap giving you a preview of the upcoming track. These things have become standard for a reason, because they work and they work well and they work best. You know what happens when a current-era-army-shooting-from-a-first-person-perspective game comes out and LT/L2 ISN'T ironsights. People throw a fit, and for good reason.

That's the great thing about working in an established genre. You have the work of thousands of people trying to make the best experience possible to use as reference. Ignoring that collective wisdom would be irresponsible and, quite frankly, stupid.

Of course the PAS situation is a little bit trickier. Outside of Power Stone (and a few blips not worth mentioning *koff* Onimusha: Blade Warriors *koff*), the arena fighting genre has been largely defined by a single franchise, Super Smash Bros. While quantity shouldn't matter, this significantly smaller playing field makes it easier to make comparisons and cry foul. But if we look a little closer, we can see that the mechanical divide between PAS and Smash is actually so large that in a more crowded category, each game could be considered part of a different sub-genre.

How are they similar?

Of course that isn't an entirely accurate assessment. In fighting games it has always been easier to split them up as 2D vs. 3D. But what about a genre where no matter the style of game, the playing field is going to be more or less the same like say, the driving genre?

Modern driving games are interesting in that, no matter their race, color, or creed, they're always going to be played from the same perspective. Whether it's carting, arcade, or simulation, the camera is going to be placed behind and slightly above the vehicle (with an optional cockpit/hood cam thrown in on occasion). The gas button and analog stick/D-pad will always be your primary way of interacting with the game liberally seasoned with brake or e.brake, boost, and shoot buttons. There will always be a mini-map somewhere on screen to let you know about your current position and a timer during race events.

Outside of the motion blur and flames, these games look pretty similar

The same parallels exist between PAS and Smash. Both games are played from a pulled-out side view of a 2d playing field. Your analog stick controls your movement and you use your buttons to whip out attacks, blocks, and grabs. On the bottom of the screen space is allotted to inform players of their current status as well as the status of their opponents. But that's where the games diverge.

What makes them different?

So how do you differentiate games like these? Much like the above example of GT5 vs Hot Pursuit, it comes down to mechanics.

In GT it's all about playing conservatively and controlled, following your line and waiting until the perfect moment to make a pass. Similarly, Smash is a position-based game that favors intelligent defensive play. Because of the % system, the only hit that really matters is the last one that scores the KO. This means that you actually derive more of a strategic advantage from avoiding combat altogether

In a 4-man FFA, every time you hit an opponent three players benefit: yourself and your two other opponents. In the cold calculus of the battlefield you are working to give a total of +2 advantage between your opponents while only earning +1 advantage for yourself. The deficit this leaves you at is compounded by the fact that you are now at risk of taking hits yourself which benefits all of your opponents. Tactical play of Smash involves avoiding conflict and pushing your opponents toward conflict with each other (made especially easy in a game designed around attacks that knock your opponent away), taking safe potshots from far away, and waiting for the crucial moment when you can swoop in and land a decisive smash.

Link has the right idea

On the flip side, Hot Pursuit is much more about aggressive risk-taking: drifting, oncoming, near-miss madness to build up boost to go even more dangerously fast. PAS is capturing a similar feeling by making the change from % based ring-outs to a super-meter system. Under this system, the one player benefits when you hit your enemy: you. Also the downsides of getting hit are significantly smaller since you're only worrying about the enemy doing the hitting getting closer to their own KO's, not every enemy on the field.

In a way, this almost makes PAS more true to the names Brawl and Melee. This focus on maintaining an effective offense is facilitated further by the introduction of combos. Unlike Smash where almost every attack is a one-off sort of thing that knocks your opponent away and allows them to reset to a neutral state before you can follow up, characters in PAS will be able to execute true combo strings of multiple attacks keeping your opponent in hit-stun. Sony even went as far as to include an infinite prevention system in the game. That's how far these combos might go.

It's almost as if PSA is MvC3 and Smash is a version of MK9 where every non-special attack is an uppercut.

Situations like this should be much more common in PAS

In conclusion (TL;DR)

All the games in the Smash series are great, and a lot of that comes from intelligent design in terms of UI and controls. It's true that Sony borrowed a lot from Nintendo in this regard to make PAS, but game genres are incestuous as all get-out so this should come as no surprise. When you take a moment to consider the mechanics and the different ways they influence gameplay it should become clear that PAS is no more a ripoff of Smash than MK is a ripoff of SFII than Burnout is a ripoff of Gran Turismo.

Fuck man, video games.

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How being a baritone led to me meeting Tim Schafer

What a week.5 it's been.

With the E3 hookups, Dr. Peter Green

So as a baritone of talent in the LA area I had the unique opportunity of being called in as a ringer to perform with one of my old choirs in the Video Games Live concert during this year's E3. Since becoming a father I had to put all of my extracurricular musical activities on hold but I couldn't pass up the opportunity. Arrangements were made and I managed to find the help I needed to free myself up for two evening rehearsals and a full afternoon for the show.

Driving to my first rehearsal I was running late as usual. I'd like to blame extraordinary circumstances, but really it was because I was reciting the "just one more drop" mantra while playing Diablo III. Imagine my surprise when I walked into the choir room to hear them in mid-rehearsal of "And the Heavens Shall Tremble", the main theme from the game! It was a very surreal experience.

The Choir with Tommy Tallarico and Russell Brower's arm

So I grabbed my music and we went through it. Mostly basic stuff with a lot of "aaah"s and "oooh"s, it is background music after all. The last piece, however, was something entirely different: "The Song of the Dragonborn". I had never actually heard the piece since I was completely uninterested in Skyrim due to being an Elder Scrolls hater despite trying really really hard to like Morrowind (decidedly un-tactical combat and a dumb leveling system, the two reasons I play RPGs). I was immediately blown away, it's a great piece of music and VERY fun to sing if you're the type of performer that gets into the theatrics of a piece.

So fast forward two-and-a-half weeks to the day of the show. I won't bore you with the details, but by the time I reached the Nokia Theater at 5:00PM for my 4:00PM call I was exhausted from only getting two hours of sleep before waking up at 6:30AM in order to do heavy lifting for the next nine hours. Basically the manager at my new apartment sucks and moved my move-in day twice, the first time without informing me at all (I learned about it by accident!) and the second time by calling me at 5PM the day before.

Tommy and Emmanuel with Russel in the back

Anyways, I snuck on stage and thankfully they hadn't started rehearsing the choir bits yet. We went through the numbers and it was a lot of fun finally being able to put our sound together with that of the orchestra. All of the conductors were extremely easy to work with, full of enthusiasm and positive energy. I already knew we would be performing with Russell Brower of Blizzard fame, the composer of the Advent Rising soundtrack Emmanuel Fratianni, and of course the charming Tommy Tallarico himself, but it was a pleasant surprise to see Austin Wintory there as well to conduct one of his pieces from Journey.

So the concert started. A lot of talking happened in between acts but unfortunately they did not turn the monitors on for the choir meaning we couldn't understand a single thing being said. For some reason Walter Day was there in his trademark referee's uniform handing out a bunch of plaques to various random people from the development industry. And incredibly creepy looking Billy Mitchell was following him around holding posters for something but I have no idea what was going on. As a neat little bonus, however, one of the awards they handed out went to Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert. Immediately after the concert ended I ran into them backstage and (it's odd how familiar these people can seem when you've been watching them talk to you online for years) walked right up to Tim Schafer and said, "Hi, I gave you $100." In my defense I was only half-awake and they gave me some promotional buttons so hey, I must not have been completely horrifying.

This dude is totally a thing

There were a fair amount of solo-acts. Martin Leung, the Mario piano dude, played a Mario medley and then a bunch of random stuff while filling time for a Guitar Hero segment suffering from technical difficulties. Laura Intravia, the Zelda flute girl that I saw on Geekologie once, apparently made it as she was not only the soloist for a Mario medley and a Zelda medley, but was also the vocalist for "Still Alive" and the song from Journey. There was a guy called Viking Jesus who played a metal version of music from Star Fox that sounded completely unrecognizable. Finally, they doubled down on their Zelda with the violin girl Lindsey Stirling. She's a pretty solid player when you consider all the jumping around she does, but some of the hip gyrations she did near the end seemed a bit inappropriate. Maybe it's because the choir was viewing her from behind.

The concert went without a hitch for the most part outside of the aforementioned technical difficulties. The version of Guitar Hero they were trying to emulate wasn't working properly and it was interesting listening to the professional guitarist/guitar maker sitting next to me in the choir grumble about his low opinion of the game. Oddly enough he seemed genuinely interested during the "Still Alive" sing-along and I passed along all of the JoCo information I could. I'm proud to say I was able to sing along word-for-word without having to look at the screen for the lyrics.

AMATEURS!

I'm a bit bummed that amidst the confusion of the move I managed to forget to bring along my copy of the DIII CE soundtrack to be signed but part of me feels that doing so would sully my self-image as a professional musician. The only thing that I'm really upset about is the fact that my phone hasn't been charging properly so I wasn't able to take very many photos before it just up and died on me. So instead I'm co-opting pictures from other choir members that were posted to the group's Facebook page. At the end of the day, as beaten and worn down as I was, I can say that the experience was definitely worth it. I hope we get invited back next year.

~~~~~

Tommy doing his impersonation of a hummingbird for Emmanuel and Russell
I was there!
The venue
During rehearsal
Pre-concert cosplay contest - the kids in the middle won
Tuning the orchestra
Dramatic Russell
Dramatic Emmanuel
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Day One With Skullgirls - The Progression of Filia

When queried in the matchmaking thread about whether or not anyone knew a 6k+ damage combo with Filia using no assists and one meter I thought to myself, as the resident combologist, that I probably should. After burning through the Tutorial mode (mostly out of curiosity, I mean I know how this dance is done) I hadn't spent any time with Skullgirls because of other distractions like my continued addiction to ME3 multiplayer and LoL sessions with my BFF. The fact that I had just upgraded my PC to once again be able to handle my capture hardware cinched it, it was time to make some new combo videos for the WMFightClub (CBSiFightClub?) YouTube channel.

As with most fighting games, I was going to have to invest a significant amount of time acclimating my hands to the timing of the cancels and the general pace of the game. As a father of a now very active nine-month-old, I wasn't sure how I was going to pull this off, and at first opted to build the combo in segments.

So what came first? Well, since I was dealing with a juggle system a la MvC or BB the first thing I wanted to figure out was how to relaunch. After testing out her various normals I realized I could get some extra damage and height by chaining Filia's cr. into her . This, combined with her air-dash and multi-hitting j. gave me an easy way to bring the enemy back down to the ground for another chain into launcher. In between chasing my baby around the house I managed to grind it out, launcher>air chain>relaunch. In the end the notation looked something like this: +>+>+>>xxSJF, Air >>xxADF, , Land, >>+>>

Now I had to figure out if I could get another relaunch out of the combo. With the vague knowledge I had about the Infinite Prevention System I knew I couldn't abuse her j. again so I started looking for a ground-bounce. A few tests later and I found it in her j.. This time I worked on launcher>ground-bounce>relaunch which looked something like this: >>+>>xxSJF, Air >>(1 hit)>, Land, +>>

With them back in the air it was time for the ender. This ended up being Air xx+(3 hits)xx+ , Land , >>xx+ On paper this all seemed to make sense and so I offered up the following combo for testing despite the fact that I didn't actually know how much damage it did or if it would even work: Air xxADF, , Land, +>+>+>>xxSJF, Air >>xxADF, , Land, >>+>>xxSJF, Air >>(1 hit)>, Land, +>>, Air xx+(3 hits)xx+ , Land , >>xx+

Of course I couldn't leave it at that and kept grinding it out until I made it past the ground-bounce and, fuck me, the infinite prevention system kicked in. I couldn't understand why, I thought the rules stated that I couldn't start two chains with the same attack which I definitely didn't do, but I kept working at it making minor tweaks the further I got. In the end I found that I had somehow broken the infinite prevention system three times. A little research told me that the actual rule was no starting a chain with ANY attack used after the first two chains. A few adjustments and I recorded the following combo for the interwebs: Air xxADF, , Land, >>+>>xxSJF, Delayed Air >xxADF, , Land, >>+>>xxSJF, Air >>(1 hit)>, Land, +>+>xxSJF, Air >>xx+(3 hits)xx+ , Land, >>+xx+

At this point I was feeling pretty good. I had met 's goal of 6k damage and had a pretty snazzy looking combo. Unfortunately it wasn't long after posting this combo to Shoryuken that disaster struck. You see, due to the understandable limitations of an indie development team the training mode in Skullgirls is devoid of AI options. As a result, I could not set the training dummy to auto-guard or, more importantly, auto-tech. Because of this I was forced to undergo the crushing revelation that a blue impact circle indicated a ground-bounce that could be teched out of. My combo was not a "true combo."

In my frustration and exhaustion I did something stupid. I tacked on a ridiculously impractical jump-in to boost my damage and simply cut the entire second relaunch out of the combo without any significant thought. Here's the offending combo in question: Air xxADF, >, Land, >+>>xxSJF, Delayed Air >xxADF, , Land, >>+>>xxSJF, Air >>xx+(3 hits)xx+ , Land, >>+xx+

Again my good friends over at SRK.com called me out on my bullshit. It was already midnight and I was running on 4 hours of sleep 20 hours ago. I was exhausted and my baby was being angry about going to bed and honestly I just wanted to close my eyes and let it all fade away. I suppose it was fortunate that it was a particularly fussy night as I was forced to sit on the sofa with my daughter and surround her with blankets and pillows while waiting for her to fall asleep. Since I was there I figured why not give these BnBs another try.

Maybe it was because the onset of delirium was giving me clarity of mind, but I finally really started to think about how I could make the infinite prevention system work for me rather than against me. That's when I realized that I didn't have to give up the second relaunch. After all, where a ground-bounce fails a wall-bounce may suffice and that's exactly what Filia's Gregor Samson Blockbuster provided me with. Two-and-a-half hours later with my baby passed out in a pile of pillows I was finished recording the absolute best practical BnB I could conjure up for Filia in one, two, and three-meter varieties: +>+>>xxSJF, Delayed Air >xxADF, , Land, >+>>xxSJF, Air >>xx+(3 hits)xx+ , Land, >>xxSJF, Air >>xx+((3 hits)xx+ , Land, >>>+xx+[xx+])

Bleary eyed, I tucked my baby in to her crib and flopped down on the bed. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't dream of combos that night. But at least I was able to sleep satisfied in the knowledge that I had come up with a 100% practical BnB that was better optimized than any of the other BnBs I had seen online. Also with her ridiculous 2.9k damage jump-in she can hit 6949 damage for one meter so I still met my original goal.

Thanks if you stuck with me this far, I know I threw a lot of jargon out there and this probably wasn't interesting to most of you but the way I rapidly uploaded these videos offered a unique insight into the way the combos I develop evolve. I figured why not share? Now that I can finally use my capture card again I'll probably continue doing combo videos as time allows. I'm trying to decide between tackling Cerebella, Peacock, or Valentine. Any thoughts?

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ME3: The Ending - A Different Perspective [Spoilers]

The internet is currently flooded with varying levels of dissatisfaction at the closure (or lack thereof) to one of the greatest epics in the medium of video games: Mass Effect. While I've popped into a few threads here and there just to say, "I'm cool with it," I've had some difficulty figuring out how exactly to articulate the reasons why. That is, until I came across a link to the following article: "Mass Effect 3 Ending-Hatred: 5 Reasons The Fans Are Right". Since the article seems to be a fairly thorough compilation of the more prevalent complaints, I wanted to take some time to address them one by one.

If I fail to address your specific complaints about the ending feel free to post them here and I will share my thoughts. For ease of reading I am going to use the male pronoun in reference to Shepard but don't worry, I started my femShep play-through about an hour after wrapping up with manShep.

5. Brevity

In all honesty, I think this simply comes down to a matter of resources. Yes, if they took more time with the game, they probably could have created the hundred+ cut-scenes that would have been necessary to show the exact repercussions of every key choice within the context of each of the three end decisions. Is that what Mass Effect 3 deserved? Maybe. Is it something we should expect? I don't know.

I think there's something to be said for the thrill of not knowing exactly what happens next. After all, we view the universe through the eyes of Shepard who meets his ultimate fate regardless of the ending we choose (although it's unclear how much of his awareness he retains when he Assumes Direct Control). Shepard makes his exit from existence with his eyes blinded to the future. Isn't it fitting that we should follow suit?

4. Confusing and Under-Developed

How did Anderson and the Illusive Man get there?

Right before Shepard finds him, Anderson makes a comment about how the entire structure is transforming around him. It stands to reason that the pathway he took to the platform morphed itself away. TIM could have easily arrived the same way.

<Insert picture of Xzibit here> something something Synthetics something something

A lot of people seem to be taking the Catalyst's explanation of the reason for the cycle in a very reductive manner. "It wants to stop synthetics from killing organics by having synthetics repeatedly kill organics? That makes no sense!" But if you listen to its logic, it actually makes perfect sense.

It is the nature of organic life to to create synthetic life in the pursuit of science. This is inevitable. It is the nature of synthetic life to eventually seek the eradication of organic life as it is inferior. This is inevitable. If these two theories are true, then the eventual elimination of all organic life is inevitable. Luckily, whether or not we agree with the Catalyst doesn't matter. These are the opinions it has formed and therefore it has acted accordingly by creating an enduring cycle that ensures the continual, nonspecific existence of organic life.

In regards to ghost kid, the AI is obviously super advanced if it was able to create the Citadel, Mass Relays, Reapers, and engineer this 50,000 year cycle. It makes sense that it would be able to dig into Shepard's brain (full of synthetics) and manifest itself in a sympathetically and emotionally resonant form.

3. Lore Errors, Plot Holes

The Mass Relays are destroyed, why did they not kill everyone like in Arrival?

I think that this is a problem of limited perspective. Yes, when Shepard crashed the asteroid into the Mass Relay at the end of Arrival, it triggered a massive explosion that eliminated everything in the system. This has absolutely NOTHING to do with what happens to the Mass Relays at the end of ME3.

The Mass Relays are the creation of the Catalyst, and therefore it stands to reason that the Catalyst would have an understanding of its technology that far exceeds, by magnitudes upon magnitudes, anything that organic life has gleaned since the last reset. Even with our modern, mundane technology, there are plenty of things that make a big boom if you hit it hard enough with a rock despite being able to serve a significantly less lethal purpose.

Inferred Holocaust, isn't everyone is trapped on Earth without enough supplies?

"Without the mass relays no one who came to help Earth is going to be able to get home." This conclusion seems logical enough. "Everyone will die of hunger." This seems like a bit more of a stretch. In order to believe this, we have to believe that the billions of aliens throughout the galaxy obtain a majority of their sustenance from goods shipped from their home-planet and have no means of generating food on their own. We already know this not to be true, as the Quarian Liveships are able to provide for the entire migrant fleet.

As mapped out as the galaxy seems to be, it seems unlikely that the various races would be unable to located a planet close enough to start colonizing before they ran out of supplies. This may actually be impossible, but as far as I can tell nothing in the ME lore speaks definitively either way. Of course, there is also the possibility that some of them managed to escape because...

What's up with the Normandy at the end?

The Normandy, along with almost every other ship in the ME universe, has an FTL drive. Now, based on the speed at which the red/blue/green energy washes across London during one of the final cut-scenes, I think it's safe to say that it was moving at a speed of several hundred or thousand miles per hour. Hardly the 186,282 miles per second that light travels at and an FTL makes you faster still. Even if the energy gradually accelerates beyond the speed of light, that still gives every ship with an alert pilot a significant head start. Maybe hitting the Mass Relay kicks it into overdrive which explains why it caught up to the Normandy mid jump, but there seems to be no credible argument as to why Joker and the crew couldn't have made it to the Relay first.

Which brings up what seems to be one of the bigger sticking points for most people, how did the crew get back aboard the Normandy? Whelp, in order for the crew NOT to make it back aboard the Normandy we have to assume a few things. Your squad members that accompanied you on the run to the Conduit were taken out by Harbinger. The Normandy was too busy fighting in space so there wasn't enough time to pick up everyone before the Crucible kicked in. But there are other assumptions that can be made just as easily.

Your squad members following you to the Conduit were taken out by a Harbinger blast at some point, likely early in the run, but were not hit directly. It's clear that there's a lot of concussive force in the general area meaning a near miss could have resulted in a 20-foot tumble leaving whomever too groggy and too far behind to catch up to the rest of Hammer team. At this point it would appear that the push to the Conduit has been an utter failure, after all they wouldn't immediately be aware that Shepard and Anderson made it through, leaving them with absolutely no reason to stay on the surface. And what do Normandy crew members do best when they're stranded and in deep? They radio Joker for extraction.

And isn't that what Joker and the Normandy have done best throughout the series: operate independently from whomever they're fighting alongside and pull the crew through impossible situations? The Normandy is future fast and stealthy. Do you really think Joker would leave EDI and everyone else to die on the ground if there was a sliver of a chance he could save them? That's not the Joker I know. Then it makes perfect sense that once the Crucible pops and the weird energy comes out, he would want to get everyone away from it as quickly as possible since they would have no way to know what the energy actually is. And again, with his super piloting skills and one of the best FTL drives around, if there was any ship that could make it to Charon before the energy wave it's the Normandy.

2. Key Philosophical Themes Are Discarded

Tolerance and Unity

Now, this one seems a bit odd as it comes entirely from the perspective of a Paragon Shepard. After all, my Renegade femShep has a mean streak of space-racism and is really distrustful of synthetics. Hell, she told Legion to blow up all the heretics when she had the chance. Her consistent theme of INtolerance fits right into the Red ending where all synthetic life is destroyed.

But let's think about the Blue ending. The Reapers are a very advanced form of AI yet they seem incapable of true independent thought. After all, the true nature of synthetics is to eradicate ALL organic life rather than perpetuate some cycle. The only possible reason the Reapers have not evolved to this point must be because of shackles placed upon them by the Catalyst. So if you believe that synthetic and organic life can co-exist peacefully yet do not want to homogenize the galaxy into organic-synthetic hybrids, you have to remove the Reapers from the equation. By integrating with the Reapers, this is exactly what Shepard accomplishes. The cycle ends and the races of the galaxy are left alone in the hopes that they will learn to get along.

Synthetics vs. Organics

This entire argument seems to hinged off the fact that Legion and EDI disprove the theory that left to their own devices, synthetics will without fail ultimately seek the end of organics. First off, this is an extremely narrow view to take as relationships and opinions inevitably change over time. Just because Legion manages to convince the Geth and EDI seems to be super into organics (if you know what I mean) that doesn't mean that the peace will last. After all, the cycle is set to 50,000 years. Who knows what another 50,000 could yield.

And all of this doesn't matter because this entire organic vs. synthetic ultimate fate of ultimate destiny is nothing more than the Catalyst's personal belief. Just because it is a super duper awesome advanced AI doesn't mean that it's always going to be right 100% of the time. Maybe the Catalyst is wrong and given the right circumstances, we can all be friends. That's the problem with beliefs, they're incredibly hard to change no matter how intelligent you are.

Free Will

Sure, all three options at the end of ME3 suck in their own way. But sometimes there are sucky decisions to be made (Sophie's Choice anyone?), and sometimes your epic story turns out to be a tragedy. I've seen some arguments for a Shepard that says "fuck you Catalyst, we're going to do this on our own," and to me that seems like the most un-Shepard decision possible. After all, no matter how he is played, Commander Shepard is not an idiot. He knows full well that even with the combined might of all the races, there is no chance of beating the Reapers in an all-out war. Refusing to take the Catalyst's offer is an effective death sentence for every space-faring organic race out there. As idealist as he may be, when he is backed fully into a corner, he is willing to start doing the cruel calculus of war and execute on whatever is necessary to save as many people as he can in the best way he can. And the Blue ending is perfect for the idealist Shepard since he doesn't have to commit genocide and he doesn't have to alter the very fabric of life against everyone's will. He simply stops the killing.

1. Player Choice Is Completely Discarded

Complaints that the endings are too similar are short-sighted. They come from players thinking about the ending at a mechanical level based on the specific images they are shown at the end of the game. If you take a moment to consider the potential consequences of each of the three decisions you realize how drastically different each situation is. Sure the Normandy crashes on the same planet no matter what which I am okay with since it seems a bit ridiculous to expect Joker to flee in a significantly different way simply because the color of the scary energy coming out of the Crucible is green instead of blue. People are faulting the storytelling and ignoring the actual story.

In the Blue ending the Reapers are gone but everyone else is very much alive. While the landscape of the galaxy has been drastically changed, no specific judgment has been levied against anyone. They are all free to pursue their lives in a way they see fit, according to their established values. Shepard trusts the galaxy to figure it out for themselves and hopes that organic and synthetic can truly coexist.

In the Red ending Shepard sends a clear message by blowing up the Reapers and the Geth (and presumably EDI). Synthetic life is bad and does bad things. This will create a prejudice that will echo throughout the galaxy. Should AI ever be developed again in this reality, the outcome should seem obvious. Catalyst's predictions are likely to come true.

In the Green ending the galaxy is on the verge of a utopia. Everyone is a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll, meaning there is no more reason to fight. No war. No discrimination. Shepard wants to turn the galaxy into a giant bonfire with all the races in a drum circle singing Kumbaya. Of course it's probably too saccharin to be true since living things always seem to be able to find reasons to kill one another.

-----

Wow, I can't believe how much I just wrote (especially consider the last time I slept was for three hours, 22 hours ago) but it feels good to finally get all these thoughts out there. Don't get me wrong. I agree that the ending scenes seem like they were rushed and everything post-Conduit is a bit of a convoluted mess. But even if the rough edges defy the overall polish that the trilogy has consistently delivered, I firmly believe that these endings bring the saga of Commander Shepard to a satisfactory close.

Of course maybe it was all a dream (INDOCTRINATION LOLOL) but hey that could be cool too maybe...? Anyways, thanks to all the people that have stuck with all of my ramblings. I look forward to your comments.

I am super tired and have done almost no proofreading, so, troll away I guess?

16 Comments

Confessions of a Sith Who Hated the Beta: Two Days In

After I got into the ToR beta some time late August I was pretty sure I wasn't going to play this game. On my four-years-old rig, even running the game on the lowest of settings was a painful process. Everything looked ugly as fuck, the game lagged significantly, loads took forever, I was averaging about 10 FPS, and most of the time when entering a new area the terrain textures would fail to pop for several minutes leaving me running in a black wasteland with the word "DEFAULT" patterned across it in purple text. It was so bad that even though I received four subsequent invites to the testing phase, I ignored every single one. I even went so far as to tell my WoW compatriots for the past six years that I probably would not be joining them.

HOWEVER

I couldn't leave it at that. I had preordered it mere hours after preordering even became an option. Once I noticed @CL60's post on these boards that the release client was available for download, I logged back on and (after being forced to add something like seven security questions to my account, seriously EA?) got myself ready for some early access shenanigans. I am now two days in and I have to say, I FUCKING LOVE THIS GAME.

How it runs

Amazingly (given the circumstances). I know my computer isn't the beefiest thing out there. The processor is still riding the curve well but my 8800 GTS is pretty much the minimum spec on everything that's come out in recent memory. Still, at the default "Low" settings the game runs incredibly well. I don't know what the fuck they did during the four months in between my part of the testing phase and now but it worked. FPS stays hovering around a comfortable 40-50 for the most part, only starting to dip after I've been running the game for six+ hours. Textures look great. Loading is quick (outside of entering an entirely new planet). And most importantly, combat is crisp and clean with almost no notable lag.

How it plays

Say what you will about WoW, it has the crispest, cleanest combat out of any MMO out there. The interface is clear at-a-glance and the game gives you excellent, immediate feedback as you use your various tools and abilities. The only downside (which all MMO's suffer from) is the fact that for a number of WoW classes, combat is spent watching your character auto-attack and pushing a button every ~4 seconds. That's what made the Death Knight such an exciting class when it first came out. Every GCD (global cooldown) mattered and you often couldn't push buttons fast enough to accomplish everything you wanted to do.

The best parts of using a Death Knight are exactly how combat in ToR feels to me. By taking auto-attack off the table and transforming it into an activated ability, combat has become significantly more active. Not only does this give you a button you can always be pressing regardless of available resources, it adds a higher degree of complexity to standard ability rotations. There's always a decision to be made and my character only hits when I want her to hit. I rolled my eyes at first too, but it really does make me feel more connected to the action.

Also it's nice that they went out of their way to make you feel bad-ass by balancing the game around standard pulls of thee to five mobs. It's super satisfying to Force Charge my way into a group of looters and (with the help of a grenade toss from my companion) Smash my fist into the ground to kill them all in one fell -swoop.

Welcome to the Galactic Stage

Despite all the praise I've been lavishing on the game, the fact remains that ToR is basically WoW with tighter design, rougher edges, and a Star Wars skin. Don't worry though, ToR still has a huge advantage that has hooked me for the past two days and will likely keep me there for months to come: an epic story with the distinct BioWare flavor.

From an early level, the plot has been sowing the seeds in my mind for what is likely to be an epic end-game experience. The characters are all well written and acted, and I often times find myself carefully considering how I want my Sith Warrior with a heart of gold (that's right, Light-Side Sith, bitches!) to act and react in various situations. I'm playing her as a sort of noble samurai, loyal to her lord and master but honorable and just, and as crazy as that might sound it the writing and acting actually make it work.

Most importantly, BioWare has managed to give a real sense of weight to the decisions I make. During my last play session, as I was about to leave my second planet, a special event occurred that directly referenced a decision I had made several hours and over a dozen quests ago. It was less Rachni Queen and more Giana Parasini, if you catch my drift.

Even more exciting than the single-player campaign's storyline are the Flashpoints. While they fulfill the same role as instances in WoW, the experience is drastically different. Every Flashpoint is basically a self-contained thirty-minute (or more) storyline featuring multiple combat and dialogue scenarios. What really sets these Flashpoints apart is the way in which they handle group conversations. Early during the first Flashpoint, a key decision is made on whether or not to kill a certain individual (with the requisite Light/Dark-Side points). During the scene, each player in the group makes their decision (earning the relevant points regardless of the outcome) and a roll determines whose decision is actually carried out.

I was grouped with my close friend playing a Dark-Side Agent and happened to win the roll. He had run the Flashpoint numerous times previously but, as we progressed on to the next area, he started to become bewildered. Because I chose to let the character live, the game had sent us down a completely different path than he had taken during previous runs. By the end he had experience the Flashpoint in a completely new way with a drastically different ending, all because of a choice I made. It may be a minor thing in the overall scheme of things, but knowing that I had altered my friend's experience gave my decision a weight more significant than anything I could have experienced while playing alone.

It's the little things

I could type all day about the things that I love about ToR despite the fact that I burned out on WoW years ago. Instead, here's a quick list of all the other little things that I've loved during my journey to level seventeen so far.

  • Solo-questing as a Tank spec is viable thanks to the DPS my companion provides
  • With smart play and help from our companions, my friend and I have been able to duo every piece of 4-player content we've come across
  • Crafting and gathering are now passive activities, allowing me to do both while leveling
  • The hearthstone will take you to any bind point you've previously discovered, EVER
  • Quest rewards are always intelligently tailored for me and my companion
  • Orange quality gear can be continually upgraded as you level if you want to maintain a specific look without sacrificing stats
  • I have a star-ship
  • Eventually my guild will be able to purchase a capital ship that all the members can dock at

TL;DR

I am sick of WoW, but the tweaks to the combat formula and engrossing storyline of ToR have managed to hook me. If you have any questions about the game or want to know more from a level 85 Blood Elf Paladin's perspective, feel free to ask.

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Y'all gonna get hugged! Ultimate Haggar and Frank West combos

If you recognize my user-name/avatar from the forums, you probably know me as the Capcom fanboy that fights tooth and nail to defend the existence of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Well all you haters out there can suck it. I've already gotten more play-time out of this $40 game than any of you got out of Rage and my game doesn't even come out for another day.

But I'm not here about that, I'm here to tell you about Haggar and Frank West and why they're the bestest of friends. Haggar's biggest buff in Ultimate is the ability to OTG with his cr.H to extend his combos. Unfortunately, he needs an assist to properly capitalize on this. Fortunately, I run Haggar on point so I always have 2 buddies waiting to help out. Beyond giving him extra damage, the biggest benefit of this change is how much easier it makes it for Haggar to end an extended combo with a Hyper and continue with DHC's. Also being able to do 1 Million damage after a command throw is nice.

So where does Frank factor in to all this? Well if you watched the previous video you probably noticed how long his Shopping Cart assist stays on the screen letting me take full advantage of Haggar's OTG. Even more exciting is the fact that Haggar's Lariat assist is the perfect tool for getting Frank to level 4 where he gets access to the awesome Paddle-Saws. If any of you have been watching the recent flood of UMvC3 footage on YouTube you might have already seen people showcasing their Level 1-5 Frank West combos. What you might not have noticed is the fact that every one of those combos requires either 2+ bars of Hyper Meter or an opponent that is in the corner. My combo works from anywhere on screen and requires no Hyper Combo Gauge.

So what's next? Well I'm almost 100% certain I'm going to ditch Ghost Rider. I simply don't like the way he feels. I still need a wall-bouncing assist, however, so I might be looking at either Iron Fist or returning to the well that is Spencer. Unfortunately this leaves my team incredibly vulnerable to any sort of zoning so I don't know, maybe I'll suck it up and learn how to make fools LOOK IN TO MY EYES.

Got any characters/teams that you're not sure how to use best? Let me know and if it's within my abilities, I'll make a video for you. It's good to be back.

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Diablo 3 Theorycrafting

I'm taking my thread and turning it into a blog post, seems more appropriate.

Melee-zard (Sword Sorc)

Without knowing how much damage monsters on Nightmare actually deal and how much armor you can realistically get as a Wizard, it's hard to say if this build will be viable.

Spectral Blade - Golden (Indigo)

The only logical choice of signature spells. Golden will make sense if the Arcane Power generation is necessary to keep refreshing Explosive Blast. If not, then Indigo makes the most sense with the additional range and damage.

Explosive Blast - Alabaster (Crimson/Indigo)

PBAoE Arcane Power dump. Provided the charges fire off quickly enough, Alabaster will provide the optimal damage but if not, Crimson or Indigo would make more sense depending on how fast Arcane Power can be generated.

Ice Armor - Golden

Bonus armor plus a LOT MORE bonus armor if you're actively being hit, which a Wizard at melee range is going to be.

Magic Weapon - Alabaster

Unclear if this will synergize and grant increased damage and life drain to Spectral Blade. If not, life-drain is still incredibly useful for any melee character.

Diamond Skin - Indigo (Obsidian)

Combined with Evocation, Diamond Skin will never expire. Of course if enemies are consistently out-damaging the shield in 5 seconds, it may be smarter to boost the absorption amount rather than duration.

Slow Time - Golden

Basically 35% damage reduction for free plus an easy way out of ranged damage. With the reduced cooldown and Evocation, you should never be without it for more than 3 seconds at a time.

Galvanizing Ward

Free life regen plus a bigger buffer to avoid forgetting to refresh your armor.

Blur

20% less melee damage for a melee character.

Evocation

20% reduced cooldowns plus smart rune selection will help make sure that you rarely have to go without key abilities Diamond Skin and Slow Time.

Magic Find Barb

When they first announced D3, the Barbarian seemed like the last class I wanted to play. I've always been averse to melee characters in general and, even though I ran around a fair bit in Diablo II with my WW Barb, it was never nearly as fun as my Bolt/Orb Sorc and Javazon. Now that I've been poking around I've made an interesting discovery that has made me completely flip my opinion of the Barbarian.

Anyone who was super serious about D2 knows that in that game, magic find was king. "Playing" D2 meant getting a Sorc to a high enough level to repeatedly kill Mephisto/Baal/Pindleskin/cows while rocking nothing but magic find gear and magic find charms. Well in D3 it seems that Barbarians are the only class that effectively get a bonus magic find effect from their abilities with proper Runestones. I made this build to take full advantage of this unique ability.

Frenzy - Crimson

The idea behind this build is maximizing the effectiveness of Battle Rage which gives all critical hits a 20% chance to drop additional treasure or health globs. For this purpose Frenzy makes the most sense as a rage generator. Unlike other abilities that increase attack damage, Frenzy increases attack speed and more attacks means more chances to crit. Since none of the rune effects improve the chance to crit, I figured the most sensible one would be Crimson which grants a maximum 120% increase to Frenzy damage.

War Cry - Alabaster (Obsidian)

More appealing for the ability to frontload an encounter with a free 30 Fury, the bonus max health/health regen seemed most in line with the general theme, staying up close and swinging for as long as possible. Depending on how pervasive elemental damage is at higher difficulties, it may be more efficient to slot in an Obsidian rune instead for the extra resists.

Threatening Shout - Obsidian

Only there because it grants a 22% chance to drop extra treasure. With its short duration it may only be useful right before the enemy dies depending on how fast Fury can be generated.

Hammer of the Ancients - Golden

Synergy! An ability that grants a whopping 55% chance for additional treasure or health globes whenever it crits. It also has an innate 15% critical hit bonus, making it the defacto Fury dump.

Battle Rage - Obsidian

The inspiration behind this entire build, grants a bonus to crit and a 20% chance for additional drops whenever any attack crits.

Overpower - Crimson

But you need to be able to deal damage too right? Not only does this greatly improve group combat with a strong AoE skill, but it costs no Fury (you just need to crit with an attack to use it), and it grants you a buff for an additional 22% crit with the right rune.

Bloodthirst

Maybe this is just the D2 player in me but I feel like health drain is a key to success in Diablo.

Ruthless

More crit chance and more crit damage, a no-brainer when it comes to a build like this.

Inspiring Presence (Weapons Master/Superstition)

More passive health regen seems like a good thing and having to cast Battle Rage less often means more Fury for Hammer of the Ancients. However, if Fury is plentiful then it may be worth picking up Weapons Master instead for the extra 5% crit with Maces/Axes. On the other hand, if elemental damage is the endgame killer then Superstition may become a necessity.

ROCKETEER! Demon Hunter

Demon Hunter was another class that seemed boring, mostly because I couldn't find any set of skills that would make it resemble my beloved Javazon. The thought of having to manage of two separate resources just made it seem more unappealing. Then I saw a little passive ability that mentioned an extra 100% damage from rockets. Wait what? Rockets?

It seems like a number of Demon Hunter abilities can also, with the proper rune, fire off homing rockets. HOMING ROCKETS. Of course once I became aware of this I knew that I HAD to make a rocket man/rocketeer build.

Multishot - Obsidian

The go-to ability for attacking large groups of enemies + rockets.

Strafe - Obsidian

The ability to attack while moving + rockets sound amazingly useful when fighting smaller groups/single enemies.

Rapid Fire - Obsidian

For optimal single-target damage + rockets, this ability is the way to go. Also with Marked for Death synergy, it should actually generate Hatred instead of costing Hatred.

Marked for Death - Golden

The bonus damage is just the icing. A 40% chance to generate 35 Hatred every second off of any of your attacks combined with 3-6 attacks per second with either Strafe or Rapid Fire equates to infinite hatred as long as Marked for Death is active.

Companion - Crimson

With all the bases covered as far as active damage is concerned, the remaining slots should be dedicated to passive or fire-and-forget damage. Free damage plus a snare that happens on its own is great. Also spiders are awesome.

Sentry - Obsidian

More passive damage plus passive rockets. Woot.

Fundamentals

Infinite hatred with Marked for Death is only useful when your target is marked for death. Weaker enemies will likely be dying too fast to warrant the Discipline costs of refreshing Marked for Death which means an alternative source of Hatred generation is necessary. Fundamentals seems like an incredibly solid way to achieve this, just 2 normal shots = a free Multishot.

Custom Engineering

Double duration for Marked for Death and Sentry effectively doubles your Discipline regeneration. If Discipline regenerates fast enough this may prove to be unnecessary, but Blizzard seems to be implying that it is verrry slooooow.

Ballistics

When making a rocket themed character, double rocket damage seems like a good idea.

2 Comments

"I got blisters on my fingers(thumbs)!" A Skarlet BnB Kombo Video

I'm bowing out of the midscreen meterless BnB combo race at 48%, mostly because I don't think anyone will be able to beat it before they nerf her damage.

Welcome to the most time consuming combo video I've created yet. The problem with a character that has infinity moves is that it takes FOREVER to explore all the possibilities. After hours to testing and tweaking and throwing my controller across the room I've finally gathered enough footage to create a basic BnB video for Skarlet. Rather than focus on damage, I started investigating her 50/50 mixup game.

Any time Skarlet initiates a combo against her opponent, she can easily do 33% and reset the opponent into a standing staggered state. While locked in that state, the only thing the other player can do is block which means you have the freedom to immediately initiate another combo off of a low or an overhead, a true 50/50. This leads to another reset to another 50/50 etc. If this game had no breakers, 3 wrong guesses would be a KO against any opponent. As it stands, players will need to be even more judicious about their meter usage when fighting against a top-level Skarlet player.

So I think I need to take a break from MK9 kombo vids. I started seriously getting angry at my thumbs and the game today and my babbby is scheduled to be born sometime this week anyways. In the interim I might post some footage of me losing horribly in AE/MvC/MK just to try and keep people interested. Thanks for watching!

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