Virtual Shocktober - part 3 (Dead Space)

Virtual Shocktober continues whether we're ready or not. For some the scares are too much, but my journey to conquer the fictional supernatural forces continue. Around the first of the month I kicked off my marathon by venturing into the ill needed savior of mankind’s abode in (Symphony of the night). After that I made my way to the treacherous Mountains of Colorado and journeyed within the hellhole that is Mount Massive Asylum in (Outlast). This week I continued my descent into virtual madness with Event horizon the video game (Dead Space). If you'd like to check out the first two parts here's a couple of links.

Drop a blog on it! (Symphony of the Night) - Part 1

Drop a blog on it! (Outlast) - Part 2

The first time I played Dead space was after convincing my parents to let me rent it at the now dead franchise of rental stores, Hollywood Video. When this game came out I was around 14 or 15 and was pretty much a big scaredy cat when it came to anything horror. You see up to that point I’d never really played a lot of horror games. Silent hill was but a fictional town in a shitty movie I passed over. Resident evil registered in my mind, but I’d never really played any of them except a brief stunt with Re5 that didn’t end well. (Chainsaw to the face) I’d heard so much buzz that I couldn’t help but be drawn to it though.

I was so scared of anything besides Nintendo that even watching my Dad play a few shooters like Medal of Honor Frontline when I was around 8 or 9 made me extremely on edge. At even at even younger age I remember playing Star Wars shadows of the empire (You remember? That shitty N64 game with the sort of interesting Hoth level at the beginning) and never getting past the second level, because it was so “scary”. I could list other obscure games you probably passed over, or never played that made me fearful, but I think you get the point. I was a big baby.

Fast forward to around the time Dead Space came out – This was a period of time in my life that I really started getting into games. Up till then I was a casual. I was pretty familiar with Nintendo, but everything else was new territory for me. (I missed out on so many classics that I’m still trying to catch up) The year or so after Dead Space released marked my time of transition from casual to hardcore. (I don’t generally use those terms, but they fit for what I’m trying to say here) It was the time I started listening to podcasts, visiting game websites and playing new releases concurrently with other rabid fans of the medium.

I was absolutely scared out of my mind at this point. Playing it again was a little surreal.

Dead Space sort of embodies my wanting to branch out and try new stuff I wasn’t necessarily comfortable with. I remember very vividly how I felt putting the game in for the first time. I remember how ominous the main menu was. (Static and whispers, mixed in with Necromorph like screams) I also remember when I hit the play button and began watching the opening cinematic I was overcome with an extreme uneasiness. When the protagonist’s ship inevitably crashed into the Ishimura and the crew exited the battered ship onto a nightmare fueled station of monsters, I began to literally tremble with fright. If my parents would have seen my state at the time they probably would’ve turned the game off. I continued on out of morbid curiosity and a determination to conquer my fears.

Once shit hit the fan and Isaac was sent running for his life I was in a state of actual panic. What followed was one of the tensest experiences my 14 year old self had ever experienced with a piece of fiction. After everything calmed down and I met up with Isaac’s only two companions in this nightmare, I shut the game off to collect my sanity. During this rental period I made it about halfway through the game and didn’t touch it again until after I completed its sequel, where I proceeded to finish it.

Having played a fair bit of the game again for the first time in years, I wanted to talk about it.

First of all, like I mentioned above, this game is extremely reminiscent of the film Event Horizon. Something I’d never even heard of when I picked up Dead space. Both films center on a group of people going to investigate a derelict ship in the middle of space. When they get there strange things start happening and everything goes wrong.

Dead space starts out with a cast of characters that quickly whittles down to a trio of survivors. One being you, Isaac Clarke, the silent protagonist engineer whose looking for his girlfriend, the no nonsense commander Zack Hammond, and computer specialist Kendra Daniels. Tensions clash between the latter two characters and loyalties are questioned all along the way. Almost all the exposition throughout the game is delivered through video transmissions and audio/text logs. (One thing to note is that audio logs can be played without having to stand in place for its duration. You’re not bound by a physical object and can continue playing the game while listening. Why every game with an audio log system doesn’t do this is beyond me. Alien Isolation knows what’s going on!) You do occasionally come across characters in person, but for the bulk of the game you’re alone. The near constant isolation exacerbates the already creepy feeling you get venturing through the hellhole ship, and makes it when you do encounter someone their presence is that much more appreciated.

In space, no one can hear you scream...but they sure as hell can in a small house.

The atmosphere in Dead space is incredibly well fleshed out. Everything from the mutilated decoration of the Ishimura, to the absolutely amazing sound design is carefully crafted into one hell of an experience. Seeing is but one sense of the receptacle that is the human psyche. Something even more frightening than seeing a threat right in front of you is the unknown terror of what’s to come. Some of the best horror fiction (Hp Lovecraft for example) leave things to the imagination. No matter how horrifying something actually ends up being, what we imagine in our minds will always be scarier. Sound plays into this by constantly making us second guess ourselves. More than once in the game I would occasionally stop, catch my breath so to speak, and just listen to the background noises. Clinking metal rods, the sound of something scurrying super-fast in the roof above you, the loud groaning that’s indecipherable as to whether it’s the sound of heavy machinery off in the distance, or maybe something…else. All of these are flavor that heavily flesh out the Ishimura and make you really believe you’re on a derelict ship gone to hell.

Opting out of a traditional Hud system, It’s all smartly contextualized in the world itself. The player is able to see the status of Isaac at all times very easily though the rig on his back. The blue spinal light tells you how much health he has left and the small blue circle tells you how much stasis. (Slowing down enemies is an especially welcome advantage in a place where they can sometimes swarm you faster than you can act) The ammo count is on the weapon itself in a small holographic display. Everything you need to know is right on the character. It's a really smart way to give feedback to the player without breaking immersion. As scared as I was playing the game for the first time, I was at least able to immediately appreciate this sleek aspect of the design.

Another thing the game does is make you manage your systems in real time. Popping up your handy holographic submenu doesn’t pause time like it normally would in any other game. (Hey! It's like Dark souls guys! ...sorry) Checking to see how much plasma rifle ammo you have left, or trying to see if you have enough credit to buy that cool looking blow upy gun could be to your detriment if you aren't careful. The (somewhat confusing) map is also in the real time display, and while that could’ve been annoying to try and constantly pull up to see where you have to go, they smartly map a straight up bread crumb trail to a button. Clicking in the right stick will always show you where you need to go next. Kind of wish I had that in real life sometimes.

As fluid as all this is, one of the major tropes of the genre still influenced the game. Controlling Isaac feels just as sluggish and irksome as other games in the genre. While it’s not as rough to control as early resident evil games, it’s heavily reminiscent of the days when a character moved around like a tank. Although instead of a tank, it feels like your moving through an environment filled with water about waist high. More often than not clunky controls equate to annoyance rather than tension, but it’s not too egregious here. (I actually preferred the changes they made for 2 in respect to the ease of movement.)

People sure do go to awful lengths to write helpful messages right before they die in games.

The actual gameplay is thrilling. Right from the start the game hammers away the importance that shooting enemies in the usual dead shot places won’t get you very far. Shoot the limbs! Dismembering enemies is the most effective way to take them down. The way we usually confronted enemies in the past was subverted. It may not seem like much, but it changed the whole dynamic of approaching combat. You could still take enemies down the usual way by putting half a dozen rounds into their gut, but you get your most bang for your buck ammo wise by taking off the things they use to move around. Makes sense right?

I know this series is most often labeled “monster closet the game”, (and to some extent it is) but I usually feel that if a game (or any horror fiction for that matter) can establish enough atmosphere and tension within its setting, that a “jump scare” can be earned. Dead space makes liberal use of the genre trope and it can easily come off as a crutch to make the game scarier than it actually is. But when you really think about it it’s not that odd within the setting. The Ishimura supposedly housed thousands of people. A parasite came on board and killed/infected everybody. That shit probably spread fast! So when monsters are constantly jumping out it makes sense. They’re predators trying to hunt down and convert every living person to a monster.

Horror is such a subjective thing anyway nowadays that whether you find the series scary or not is all up to your personal perception. I remember playing PT earlier in the year and thinking it was great in that it set up a fantastic atmosphere and foreboding. The way it built a slow tension moving from one end of the seemingly endless hallway to the other with minor yet affecting changes until something inevitably happened was great. Yet I saw plenty of people write it off as a jump scare fest that lost all tension because you’d never die. (If I could manifest a shoulder shrug in text it’d be right here) The Dead space series may have lost its way in some respects with the more action focused 3, but Dead Space 1 still holds up as a modern horror classic. The way it builds atmosphere through sound design is top notch. The gameplay, especially on harder difficulties, demands you be smart with supply management. And the setting itself is incredibly well realized. Do yourself a favor and boot up the game with a nice pair of headphones, a dimly lit (if not pitch black) room, and settle in. The game’s probably like 5 bucks now. So the barrier of entry’s fairly low.

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Drop a blog on it! (Outlast)

October has come into effect and all are partaking in the month’s themed festivities, by watching, reading, playing (and whatever other descriptive verb applies) our favorite horror media. Spooky themed marathons abound, at the very least for those of us who thrive on nerdy pastimes. Not too long ago I began doing this myself. So, here we are again. Last week I kicked off the month with Symphony of the night, but having vanquished Dracula it was time to move on to something else. Something more…green let’s say.

Outlast came out last year sometime in September and promised us scares, spooks and chills galore, and all from a studio comprised of ex triple A developers. I’m sure plenty of you have either played this, or watched our own Patrick klepek do so by now. So let’s briefly look back and go over this game’s strengths and weaknesses.

The conceit of Outlast is that you, Miles Upshur, are a reporter who was anonymously tipped off by an inside source from an insane asylum in the mountains of Colorado. Miles is known for going for the more dangerous scoops, so obviously he jumps at the chance. When he arrives things turn bad fast. Trapped and with nowhere to go but deeper in the madhouse, he looks for clues as to what exactly happened there. Journalism, right?

Generally speaking, the conceit of a protagonist constantly carrying around a camera can sometimes seem a little hokey, but here it makes sense. The player is a reporter and is trying to get video proof. It also serves as a tool for alternative purpose, given the camera has a night vision setting. This comes in handy given how freaking dark it is most of the time, and the ability to see what your enemies can’t can be pretty useful. That green tint of the screen can give a welcome sense of relief, but like all things it can’t last indefinitely. You have to find batteries to keep that fleeting sense of security going, but fortunately you’re never in short stock of them for too long.

He probably just wants to give me the batteries I missed down the hall.

The game does a great job of building atmosphere. What was once a mission to find incriminating evidence of an asylum probably up to some bad stuff, turns into a journey to escape hell itself. Venturing throughout the halls of Mount Massive Asylum you slowly learn what happened in this dammed institution and the mystery of seemingly supernatural occurrences turn from speculation to reality. Damaged souls abound within the hellhole and though you occasionally come across docile individuals, most of the time you’re running away from the ones that aren’t.

There are a few “characters” in Outlast that give the asylum a face of sorts. Just like in resident evil 2, there’s a giant hulking monster that comes out to say hello throughout the game. Eventually you also come across a demented doctor who looks just like the crypt keeper. Offering you a brief glimpse at freedom right before whisking you away to somewhere a little less desirable. My favorite set of characters were a seemingly sedate pair of brothers that talk of how they want to kill you every time you come across them. They’re usually behind some sort of fence or cell that keeps them from reaching you, but they’re effective nonetheless in unsettling the hell out of you.

The sense of dread you experience for most of the game is fantastic. There are no weapons in the game at all. You’re powerless. When you encounter a threat all you can do is run and hide. This de-empowerment of the player is a trend that’s very much taken over the genre nowadays, and one that generally works. Running around an asylum full of dangers, you already have an immediate discomfort for the situation. It’s amplified by the reality of your own helplessness and the knowledge of an impending doom you have no means to counter. While games like Dead space are scary in their own right, at some point you find some respite in the weapons you have, even if ammo is scarce.

The encounters, for most of the game, work really well. The terror you experience running away, bursting though doors and hiding under beds/ in lockers to find that brief safety from enemies is an effective formula. Unfortunately it can wear thin after a while. Over time the routine becomes predictable and it’s repetition of the “Find three things” so you can move on doesn’t help keep things interesting either. The dread becomes more of an annoyance in that case. Oh, and there's also plenty of reading to do in between the running for your life and all.

For the most part, Outlast is an effective haunted house filled with genuine thrills and terror. The story ends up getting weird near the end (And by weird, I mean bad), but it’s a really cool game that’s worth checking out for anybody looking for some fun scares. (Perfect for this time of the year) I haven’t played the Dlc, but I did watch Patrick play through it, and it looks really good. In fact, it’s probably a better rounded experience than the main game itself even.

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Drop a blog on it! (Symphony of the Night)

Now that we’re in the month of all Hallow's eve (Spooky ghost noise), I figured it was time to once again venture into Dracula’s castle and vanquish the ill needed savior of mankind. Game's like Alien Isolation and The Evil within are on everyone's minds right now, but those are still a few weeks out. So instead, let's talk about something that's a little more fun, but still appropriately themed for the current festivities!

To start out, I think we can all agree that Symphony of the night is pretty awesome, right? When you look back in the pantheon of gaming’s history it’s a highlight to say the least. It’s a game I try and go back to every now and then, and easily lands into the category of “fall back” game I know I’ll always enjoy. What exactly makes this Symphony of the night a great game though? Glad you asked.

Starting the game your map is pretty empty, but it fills up fast.

(The fun of discovery)

Dracula’s castle is an expansive labyrinth of secrets waiting to be discovered. There are a ton of hidden paths, items and various other little gems to find throughout your journey to vanquish the evil Dracula. You’re pretty much always happening upon new and exciting things. Oh, a new room with a relic I've yet to find. Oh cool, I just found a sweet new sword that messes up those knights throwing their stupid scythe heads at me. What? I found a cool new piece of armor because I accidentally hit that wall and opened up a secret area. The game is riddled with little stuff like that.

The experience of running around, taking an unexpected detour and coming across something you’d have otherwise missed is always a delight. It’s that little tingle of satisfaction that we get in our brains when we find something we think we weren't supposed to that I love so much. Uncovering a path that wasn’t on the map - Reaching places that were once out of our reach - Obtaining an item that changes how we interact with the environment - It all works so well together.

The structure of progression is really well designed too. There is a linear path you can follow in Symphony of the night. A series of bosses to conquer along the way, but it never really feels like your being funneled through a specific path or destination. For a large part of the game you can pretty much decide what direction you want to go and what bosses you want to tackle first. It really gives you a lot of freedom to decide your own pace.

(Gameplay is great)

I truly appreciate when a game focuses on just being fun. Story is nice and it certainly has its place in the gaming space nowadays, but good gameplay is more often than not an essential element for a true classic that I know I’ll keep on revisiting for years to come. (For me, a fun game with a bad story is much more welcoming than a great narrative with boring interaction)

That’s where this game shines. The tight mechanics allow you to always feel like you’re in control of the moment. Whether or not you fuck up is all on you. Which is what specifically draws me into games like these. The puzzle mentality applied to gameplay and the knowing certainty that whether or not you can overcome and outcome is based solely on you. No matter how difficult a situation or encounter may be, as long as you can discern those AI patterns you can prevail. Now, I wouldn’t necessarily say this is a hard game, but it still employs the same ideas and logic you get with games like Mega man, Dark souls and Vulgar. Give the player a series of tools, drop them into a game world, and let them figure it out.

Just like in Metroid there are specific power ups required to progress, but there’s also relics, that enhance/modify your interaction with the game, familiars that fight alongside you, and spells (You activate with Street fighter esque button inputs) that can give you an edge against the enemy. So, on top of the basic mechanics there's a lot going on to benefit the player.

Look at all the numbers!

The game also employs a pretty cool rpg system. (You level up and everything) Finding items to bulk up Dracula’s son is both fun and rewarding. You’ll find that items do drop off enemies, but most of the time you’ll find your best equipment laid about throughout the castle. (Which encourages you to explore every inch of the megalithic structure.) The best part about it is that it’s in no way overwhelming or truncated. It’s probably the most simple, yet effective implementation of an rpg mechanic I’ve seen in a game. You can kind of ignore it if you want, but being able to basically go and grind your character, while gallivanting around your dad’s residence, makes it feel like you’re never really wasting time.

(Music)

Last but not least, let’s talk about the music. Man, the music in this game is fantastic. The fantastical adventure of Castle Dracula sets a great tone right off the bat. Then there’s the playful, mischievousness of Marble Gallery. The wistful beauty of The lost painting stands out as well. Throughout symphony of the night you’re treated to a plethora of auditory goodness.

Here’s a few other highlights I couldn't think of any hoity toity descriptions to go along with, but still think are worth mentioning.

Reverse Garden (Probably my favorite track in the game)

Dance of Pales

Dance of Gold (Blood Skeletons! Now you remember.)

The music really establishes an atmosphere and theme that feels purposeful. There’s plenty of outright creepy/haunting tracks that go a long way in complimenting the Gothic themes.

A few examples…

Metamorphosis Requiem for the godsAbandoned pitEnchanted Banquet (This one is very Dark soulsy, mostly due to the operatic elements.)

Oh yeah! For some reason they included a 90's love song with a Kenny G saxophone in the end credit sequence that’s tonally divorced to every other aspect of the game. I am the wind

And before I end things here, I’d be remiss if I didn’t briefly bring up another gem I played through earlier in the year. I was super surprised when I played through Aria of Sorrow (You know, that Gba game with the funny name), because it's probably the closest another game in the series has come to reaching the heights of Symphony of the Night. It’s pretty much identical in respect to the wonderfully tight controls, amazing soundtrack and creative level design that Sotn captured. Alucard himself’s even in the game! I whole heartedly recommend that anybody who’s a fan of the series check that out. I’d write something a little more comprehensive about it, but it was a while ago.

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Drop a blog on it! (Destiny n' Wolfenstien)

I don’t usually do blogs. The last time I did was a few thousand posts ago. Given how much I enjoy reading the blogs from other various users on the site, I thought I’d contribute to the machine. So, here’s some thoughts I have on stuff.

As time goes on, I’m less and less looking for narrative heavy experiences when It comes to games. I keep looking for experiences that can satisfy that wonderful gameplay cycle loop itch. You know what I mean, right? Something that can be fun minute to minute.

I like to try and stay current with the releases though, so all this led me to start playing Wolfestien the new order. I remember back when this was first showing it didn’t have the greatest fervor around it. It was one of those games like Deus Ex Human revolution that had a lukewarm demo showing. Fortunately, also like Deus Ex, it ended up being pretty damn great.

I really didn’t know what to expect tonally coming into this. Was it going to be all bro-ey hoohah America, or maybe an extremely sobering look on the nazi empire and what it could’ve been if given the power to expand it’s empire. The answer was somewhere in between.

The cast of characters were surprisingly endearing. The performances came across as genuine and above all I actually became attached to my fellow compatriots. So, when things escalated later in the game I actually gave a damn.

But aside from all that story stuff, the game was just flat out fun to play. Running through various levels double wielding shotguns, mowing down Nazis is all too satisfying. There is an element of stealth you can take advantage of occasionally, but they never really force you to outside a few de-empowered instances.

If you want to run up and knife a dude, then throw that very knife across the room to take out the clueless guard unaware of how badass you really are then feel free to do so all stealthily like or commando style. You too can feel like the protagonist from one of the best action movies to grace cinema.

In the end, Wolfenstien is a hell of a game I hope most people put at least a little time into by Goty time. It’s well worth it, and at this point it might just be my top pick.

We've come a long way in gaming. Or have we? ...nope, we have! Did you know you go to the moon in this game. Kind of like another game I know of.

And speaking of Game of the year, I somewhat recently made a preemptive list for later on in the year. By doing so I realized just how few games I’ve played that actually came out this year. At least ones I’d personally consider top ten contenders. Sorry Mighty Gun volt, you were okay…just okay though. I’m sad to say, but I’ve mainly paid attention to high profile (AAA) stuff, so I haven’t even touched my steam copy of Transistor yet. The same goes for games like Valiant Hearts and Divinity (which to be honest I’m a little intimidated of). I’ll get around to them hopefully at some point before the end of the year, but you know, life and stuff.

Besides having played through the aforementioned Wolfestien, I've been playing a whole lot of another game. Maybe you've been playing it. Maybe you bought it and were a little disappointed. And maybe you were disappointed due to unrealistic expectations set by the developers themselves.

Throughout Destiny’s marketing over the past few years I’d had grand hopes for what it might be. I was captivated by the early dev diaries and concept art. Bungie seemed to set out to create something larger than life, or at least grander in scope than the average game coming out nowadays. Their vision was exciting to me. Becoming a chosen warrior of the traveler, travelling throughout space and distant lands, finding threats to overcome with your fellow guardians. It was exciting to hear pitched. I’m the kind of person to get caught up in that kind of stuff too.

When it comes to games I generally consider myself an optimist. I give things the immediate benefit of the doubt, so when I came into Destiny, having an idea of what it already was from the alpha I was as I said optimistic. Optimistic that what I saw in the alpha would be expanded upon. That there would be more than the simple repetitive mission structure and lackluster point a to b story mission. I was hoping that there’d be more than one area for each planet. In fact, I could keep going on about the things I perceive to be wrong with Destiny, but instead let me mention some things I like about it.

For one the gameplay is so, so good. As I mentioned earlier nowadays I’m gravitating towards games that are mainly fun to play. Games that give me that moment to moment satisfaction. Destiny certainly fits the bill in that respect.

Even though the mission types are very repetitive and uninspired, I find myself happily doing them anyway. The crucible provides a fun alternative to the story missions and rewards you fairly frequently to boot. At least compared to the main part of the game. I actually ended up hitting the level cap midway through Venus. And at this point I’ve kind of abandoned the main story. I’m mainly playing for that gameplay loop dopamine cycle. I’m sticking to completing bounties and doing PvP. It has me satisfied all the same.

I’ll finish off the story at some point I suppose, but as of now I’m happy forgetting it exists. The jury’s still out whether Bungie can put out content later in the year that can fix or at least put a bandage on some of the more problematic things with Destiny. At the very least, do something about that thing where legendary engrams might spit out items for classes other than your own.

Seriously, who thought that was a good idea?

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Outlasting the Amnesiac pigs

Well, I figured since I was nearing my 2000th post, I should try my hand at a blog finally. I kind of just wanted to do a short write up on both of these games seeing as there out very soon. A refresher if you will.

Here we go.

A Machine for pigs and Outlast have both been in the sadomasochistic production house for a while now and are finally nearing release for the audience at large.

Two games, both seemingly cut from the same cloth, are looking to be whole fully interesting and equally terrifying. For those unfamiliar, A machine for Pigs is an indirect sequel to the cult classic Amnesia The Dark Descent. While the first game was developed by Frictional games, this time around The Chinese Room is at the helm crafting various swine related ways to slowly chip away at our psyche. You may have known them for such gems as Dear Esther and the recently announced Everybody's gone to the rapture.

While I never did play through all of the original Amnesia, based on what I did I will say it was very effective at inducing a constant feeling of scarcity and isolation. Managing resources, such as timberboxes and oil were key to avoid literally going insane.

I'll have to find out for myself, but from the released footage, the sequel looks to carry on the tradition of scaring the bejesus out of me. September 10th is when the amnesiac pigs will be set free to roam the steam filled interwebs.

A trailer for good measure.

" My dear Mr. Mendez I admire your vision, I truly do, but there are surely not enough pigs in the whole of London to feed the appetite of such a machine. "

" That all rather depends Professor on what one considers to be a pig. "

Oh boy.

Hello sir. May I be of assistance to you?

Outlast, developed by Red Barrels, is set to come out on the 4th of September and seems to be as equally frightening as it's horror counterpart.

From what I understand, the excursion throughout the hell bound asylum in Outlast is to be highlighted by the uncertainty of never knowing when an inhabitant will show up. Running and hiding are the only means of escape. Armed with only a video camera and your steeled wits, you're to navigate and uncover the horrors that lie in an abandoned insane asylum in Colorado.

A few months back, red barrels gave the IGN staff a demo to play. Here it is, screams, gore, giant hulks and all the night vision you can handle.

Only through some ill determined fate were these two games destined to come out within a week of each other. The morbid anticipation on my part has only arisen as the time has gone by. Unfortunately, I never did get around to finishing the first amnesia due to a hard drive crash, but I plan to rectify that by completing both of these games. Why? Because I'm a masochistic maniac.

It very much looks to be an early Halloween this September. Are either of these games tantalizing enough for you. I'd love to know what you plan to play first, if at all.

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