Big ol’ pile o’ shame – The SteamCon panic edition.

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shame update

Having not given myself any sort of deadline to demolish the pile o’ shame, I wasn’t feeling particularly worried about getting anything finished within a certain time frame. As per the last post, I picked something I felt like painting at that particular moment, and it got finished as and when. The only slight wrinkle to that is the fact that there are a few models I’d like to take to SteamCon in November, so they would need to get bumped to the top of the ‘To do’ list.

Briefly flirting with that top slot were the Ratcatchers. Having played a few games with the Morticians recently, I started to toy with the idea that painting the Rats in time for the convention was something I ‘could do’. Thankfully reality came to the rescue, and it didn’t long for me to realise it was something I ‘couldn’t do’. With work halted on them, I got on with making a start on Rookie Salvo, and building and painting my new Morticians goal token from the Broken Toad Mob-football (read: Guild Ball) goal token Kickstarter.

So here then is my progress. To keep track, I’ve come up with what I’m calling my Super Hi-tec Image Tracker (or S.H.I.T) photo, developed at great personal expense after lengthy research in to the available solutions. I think you’ll all agree that the manner in which it informs you, the viewer, of the current progress at a mere glance adds an air of professionalism to the project. I hoping to get photos of completed models up in the future, along with a write-up on the Green Dragon terrain, but that wont be until after SteamCon at the earliest.

If you’re heading to Manchester for SteamCon, say hello. Other than that TTFN.

Disastrous DiRT Daily Ep2.

Guild Ball – Engineers Starter Set

Time for a little update on my doings within the tabletop realm. During Salute 2015 (which I totally intended to write about, but didn’t), I picked up two starter sets and a rulebook for Guild Ball. The first set painted is the mighty Engineers. Whenever I pick up starter sets, I always make sure I have two sets of forces, one for me and one for my victim opponent, and the Engi’s are mine. The other set I bought – The Morticians – is yet to be painted, but I thought I’d post up some pictures anyway.

 

The starter set in all it's glory.

The starter set in all it’s glory.

Ballista - Team Captain

Ballista – Team Captain

Salvo

Salvo

Velocity

Velocity

 

 

Destiny, I fucking love you!

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I can’t think of another game that has polarized opinion as much as Destiny. When I hear complaints about the game, I usually react by nodding my head in agreement, before returning to work on adding to the 350+ hours I’ve already sunk into it. I’ve even concluded that had I’d been reviewing the game, I probably would have given it a seven too. Despite all that, I love Destiny. Regardless of its many flaws, Destiny is quickly becoming my most played console game, ever. With that in mind, (and before I write about the things I don’t like) I thought I’d go through the things I love the most about Destiny.

Destiny_20141119212713 Hand Cannons. Oh my god, Hand Cannons! I love these bad boys so much, I very nearly made two of these things Hawkmoon and Thorn. Once in a while, I come across a weapon in a game that has the magical X factor, and I fall in love with it. In Halo 3 it was the Spartan Laser. In Gears of War it was the Longshot Rifle. But In Destiny it’s a whole damn class of them. Nothing else feels as good as headshotting enemies with a Hand Cannon – not even killing a Hunter in PvP just after they’ve popped their Bladedancer special. Hand Cannons are so much fun to use, if I had an actual physical version, I would do dirty, dirty things to it.

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Raids. When I first started playing Destiny, all the talk from those further along than I was about the Vault of Glass, and just how good it was. After a frustrating few weeks of no raiding, I eventually lucked in to a group of friends tackling the Vault, and found out for myself what the fuss was all about. Without a doubt, the Vault of Glass is some of the best designed, and most enjoyable video game content I’ve ever played. I could go into more detail, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. What I will say is that in my opinion, the Vault is the perfect example of how you create co-op gaming where every player has a meaningful role.

Destiny_20141124221420 The Iron Banner. Version One of the Iron Banner was not good. All that weaponry and armour we’d been carefully gathering and levelling was more or less meaningless in IB v1, and players were not happy. Bungie went away, reworked the mode, and sent Lord Saladin back to the tower. The first few minutes into my first game, I headshotted another player on the other side of the map with Bad Seed Down, and instantly I was converted. Power finally fucking mattered. Oh boy, did it matter. Since then I’ve taken part in every Iron Banner, and learnt the joy of headshots with a fully levelled Hawkmoon. After a shaky start with destiny’s PvP, I can honestly say that Iron Banner is one of my very favourite parts of Destiny.

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Warlocks. Apart from having an exceptionally cool sounding name, Warlocks are also blessed with having some of the best looking armour in the game. The Iron Banner set for example is simply beautiful. And if there’s anything better than swishing around in robes, firing off Nova Bombs – I’ve yet to find it. I do have a Hunter and Titan, and I’ve found them quite fun to play, but they don’t have the same sort of swagger the Warlock does. Flying electrical fists and golden guns are all well and good, but let’s be honest, they’re not the same as tooling around in a cool outfit, wielding Hawkmoon, and fucking shit up with purple balls.

 

Destiny: Crota’s Cheesy End

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Sorry about the title, I couldn’t help myself.

Cheese. Bungie does not like it apparently. Not if the content of their latest update is to be believed, anyway. If you’ve been following Destiny’s progress, you’ll probably know that the new Raid – Crota’s End, has been suffering from a particularly cheesy odour since it’s introduction as part of the Dark Below expansion. Tales of Guardians using various cheesy methods to run through the raid easily, hoovering up loot, were becoming commonplace, and it was only a matter of time before Bungie stepped in.

Not cheesing this time round.

Not cheesing this time round.

Now that they’ve at least begun that process, I thought I’d talk why I’m glad they’re trying to de-cheese the Raid. Firstly, I’d like to say that I’m not against cheesing per-se. As someone who’s crimes include hiding beneath the stairs in the Cerberus Vae Strike, I’d be a massive hypocrite for a start. But mainly it’s because the whole thing is a massive grey area. Where does cheesing end and exploiting a game bug begin, for example? If its possible (although highly unlikely) to be killed whilst hiding in a “cheese spot”, is that cheesing? There’s no right or wrong answer in my opinion.

So why don’t I like it in the Raid? I’ll explain. Destiny is a strange game when it comes to challenge. Unlike similar games within the genre, its possible to replay the entirety of Destiny’s story mode content whilst being hugely over-levelled. The gear and weapon levelling mechanics eventually render the game’s “normal” difficulty curve meaningless, and beyond the odd Heroic stipulation on various Bounties, the game never really insists you turn the difficulty up. The vast majority of Destiny’s PvE content therefore, relies upon the player choosing to be challenged to remain meaningful, and that’s why I have a problem with Raid cheese.

Definitely cheesed this one

Definitely cheesed this one

Players solo-cheesing their way through Crota’s End are rendering the most meaningful content in the game meaningless. They’re rendering the achievement of earning Raid gear meaningless. And in a game that relies upon the player to keep content relevant, I don’t understand why you’d do that. What is the end game anyway? You cheese your way to a full set of Raid gear, and then do the Raid as intended? That doesn’t make any sort of sense. Destiny is all about the gear you’re wearing, and the guns you’re wielding, and I personally don’t know how you can take any pride in that when you’ve cheesed your way there.

As I’ve said, cheesing is a ridiculously grey area, and something I myself have partaken in, so I don’t want you to go away thinking I’m making a judgement here, because that’s not my intention. This is an expression of bewilderment at the specific issue of soloing Crota’s End to short-cut your way to Raid gear and weapons. So by all means, feel free to ask me why I’m not also questioning whole Raid groups cheesing bits of the Vault of Glass, or to tell me I’m taking a bunch of pixels way too seriously. I won’t mind. Yes, its ridiculous the Raid can be solo-cheesed. Yes, Bungie should fix it PDQ. But also yes, I think the players have a responsibility to resist the cheese, no matter how fragrant.

 

The Obligatory Festive Blog Post

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Seasons greetings!

As we’re all in that weird period of stasis – between Christmas and the New Year, I thought I’d bore you with some words. Hopefully you had a great Christmas and enjoyed all the traditional seasonal things like turkey, too much chocolate, and PSN outages. Personally, having spent Christmas Eve night throwing up, I spent the holiday gingerly eating things in an effort to work out what made me sick in the first place.

Obviously from a gaming point of view, the big news of the holiday was the attack upon Xbox Live and PSN. Both services went down at one point, and rather predictably, Xbox Live recovered quickly whilst PSN stumbled around for days until users patience had run out. I know a lot of people got hot under the collar about the outages (probably justifiably so), but I simply can’t bring myself to be angry.

Maybe it was the Christmas cheer, or maybe it’s my time spent playing Eve Online (where the best way to beat the griefers is to just ignore them until they go away), but my response was to simply play Far Cry 4 offline and ignore it all. The ONLY time I got slightly fretful was when I realised Xur had the Hawkmoon upgrade for sale, and even then my panic was quickly alleviated by PSN coming on for long enough for me to buy it.

Apart from that, my Christmas was spent either sighing at the sight of all my children’s presents spread across the living room floor, or wistfully glancing at my unfinished modelling projects, and wishing this could all be over so I could get back to doing them. Pretty much the same as usual then! Hopefully you enjoyed your festive period as much as I did. Come the New Year normal service (whatever that may be) will resume, until then, have a good new year!

The Game Jar Files: Cutting Costs; The Xbox One price cut rumour

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Originally published on The Game Jar – February 19th 2014

A few weeks ago, a rumour popped up on the internet regarding a potential Xbox One price cut, and ever since then I’ve been considering just how likely that would be. Well, to be honest, I spent a fair amount of that time rolling my eyes at the notion, given that a price cut at some point is almost inevitable. But today I’ve started to take it a little more seriously after reading the news that Sony’s PlayStation 4 is still outselling the Xbox One. I know that sales between the two consoles are reasonably close, but as I noted a little while ago, I don’t think Microsoft knows how to ‘do second place’ any longer. Leading the race is where they’re most familiar, and I’m sure a price drop is one of the things they’ve talked about to get them there. What I want to know is; what does a cheaper Xbox One look like?

The discless option

Removing the Bluray drive was one of the things being guessed at by the internet hive mind, and I guess it kind of makes sense given Microsoft’s push towards a digital future, but to me it seems a little contradictory. ‘Welcome to the all-in-one, Xbox One’ is the tagline encapsulating the multimedia pitch for the console, but doesn’t removing the disc drive mean making it a little less all-in-one? The thing I think that people forget is, you’re not just removing the capability to play Blurays. You’re also removing the capability to play DVDs and CDs, and that is a big deal. I know we have iTunes and Netflix, but just imagine saying to every household with a large DVD collection ‘here’s a box that will do everything except play all the movies you’ve spent years collecting’. Its insanity. Removing the disc drive from the Xbox One would only be viable if Microsoft fully committed to the digital delivery only model, and as we all know, they’ve already pulled back from that.

The kinect-less option

Removing Kinect from the box is perhaps the most obvious option when trying to reduce the cost of the Xbox One, but to my mind it’s also the least likely. If you watched the initial Xbox One reveal, you’ll no doubt recall how much of that presentation was given over to demonstrating how Kinect was central to the Xbox One experience, and as such it makes removing the peripheral a massive PR disaster. Kinect is absolutely integral the console’s design. It’s why they couldn’t launch with a cheaper, Kinect-free hardware bundle. It’s why they redesigned an operating system that didn’t need redesigning. Admitting they got those decisions wrong by removing Kinect (which is essentially what they’d be doing) would be a step too far for Microsoft, and that’s why I think they won’t do it. Kinect is a game-changer as far as Microsoft is concerned, it’s what separates their console from the rivals. To abandon that just a year in after selling it so hard? Inconceivable!

The suck it up option

Assuming that Microsoft haven’t reduced manufacturing costs for the One by the end of the year, the ‘suck it up’ option is the most likely route to a price cut in my opinion. Having ruled out removing either the disc drive or Kinect, Microsoft is left with no other choice than to simply swallow the loss on each unit sold until costs come down. I know that sounds drastic, but it’s not unprecedented, and it doesn’t dilute the integrity of the Xbox One’s offer either. For all my criticism of Microsoft’s original pitch, I do believe they’ve got a good console on their hands, albeit one that costs too much. By leaving the console as it is and cutting the price, they could fully support the hardware – Kinect and all – whilst competing with Sony on price. For many people, the only thing preventing them buying an Xbox One is the price. Temporarily making a loss on each one sold is the quickest way to solve that problem

Whether Microsoft drop the price of the Xbox One is a question that doesn’t need asking. There’s absolutely no way they’ll want to go into a second holiday period with the most expensive hardware – especially as they’re already being outsold. How they go about it is the real question. All consoles get cheaper to manufacture over time, and usually these cost savings get passed on to the customer, but will Microsoft wait that long? In the end, I’m only making educated guesses here, but of the options I’ve listed, only making a loss in the short-term makes any real sense to me. No doubt time will tell how wrong I am, hopefully I’m not too far off though, as I have an Xbox One-shaped hole under my TV that needs filling.

The Game Jar Files: What will the next Gears of War game look like?

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Originally published on The Game Jar – February 24th 2014

I have a pretty special relationship with Gears of War. It was the game that convinced me to buy an Xbox 360, the game that showed me what Online Co-Op could be like if done right, and the game that encouraged me to venture out in the world of gaming communities. I’ve had a lot of fun playing these games. So when the news broke that Microsoft had acquired the rights to the franchise, and also revealed that there would be more Gears of War games on the way, I was slightly surprised to find that my reaction was one of trepidation. Having followed the development of multiple Halo games, I’m of the opinion that Microsoft aren’t really a ‘hands off’ type of publisher, so what would a new Gear game look like now that Microsoft have direct control of it?

In 2013, Gears fans got a taste of what a non-Epic made Gears of War game would look like. The People Can Fly developed Gears of War: Judgment arrived with much fanfare, but ultimately failed to capture the same spark the previous games had. For whatever reason – the lack of Horde mode, a changed multiplayer, or revamped mechanics, fans just didn’t take to the game and now they’re quite rightly wondering how the next game will shape up. Fans can be somewhat reassured that the studio responsible for creating the next Gears game – Black Tusk – is being headed up by series veteran Rod Fergusson, but how much freedom will they have to make the kind of game the series desperately needs?

If we’ve learnt anything from Halo 4, it’s that Microsoft doesn’t appear to like taking risks with their premier IP’s. There’s a set formula for making successful Halo games for example, and I don’t doubt for a second that Microsoft made it very clear  to 343 Industries they were expected to stick to it. To give 343i their due, Halo 4 was a pretty good game, but it came after five other Halo games and had no ambition to be original whatsoever, and as a result it was never going to be a truly great game. Playing it safe held Halo 4 back in my opinion, and I fear the same will happen to the next Gears game. Having witnessed PCF’s failed reboot of the series, will Black Tusk be given license to stray from the Gears of War formula? I think not. So I find myself asking; is that really what Gears of War needs right now?

Personally, I like to think the reason Judgment wasn’t that great was because People Can Fly would rather have made Bulletstorm 2, and as a result their heart wasn’t quite in it, but that’s just me being mischievous. Very probably Judgment’s lack of stellar quality arose from the studio being unable to fully unleash their creativity. I say that because I’ve played both Bulletstorm and Judgment, and I find it difficult to reconcile to two games. The former is a brilliantly fresh take on the genre that doesn’t pull its punches, and the latter is a game that never feels confident in the changes it’s tried to make. It’s almost as if someone was looking over the developers shoulders, constantly telling them ‘you can’t do that in a Gears of War game’

The trouble is, Gears of War’s particular brand of meathead combat has already been perfected over the course of three games, and it’s hard to see where the franchise goes next. The most obvious option is to explore the Pendulum Wars, but with the storyline never really being the series selling point, it’s difficult to think of a scenario that won’t simply be Gears of War with different weapons. In my opinion the game needs to start with a blank piece of paper, perhaps one that does away with single player all together, and focuses solely on Co-Op modes and multiplayer. Whatever direction they go in, one thing is for certain; the next Gears game needs to be a triumphant return to form.

Whether Gears of War can ever be the system seller it once was, I’m not so sure, but to stand a chance, Microsoft need to allow Black Tusk the kind of creative freedom that gave birth to the franchise to begin with. If the studio is given the freedom to tear up the Gears blueprint and start afresh, the next game could be truly special. After a lacklustre last game, the last thing the series needs is a publisher determined to play it safe by holding on the hand brake. As much as we love chainsawing Locust in half, we’re also ready for something new. Whether Black Tusk are allowed to give it to us, only time will tell.

Everything stops for Destiny.

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As per usual, a long period away from my blog usually means I’ve gotten my head buried in a new game, and so it has been this time around. The release of Destiny in the early part of September has seen my tenuous grasp upon the idea that doing something productive with my day is probably “a good idea” finally desert me, and all I have left is the bewildered mental haze I now find myself in. Thankfully, just as I was about to decide that playing Destiny at 7 AM whilst my children were getting ready for school was something I could totally do, I realised the danger I was in and pulled back. Currently I’m using the fact that bounties don’t refresh till 10 AM to stay off the game until a reasonable time, and over time, I will kick this habit.

But I didn’t want this post to be exclusively about Destiny, so I’ll move on to the tiny bits of my life that haven’t been consumed by Bungie’s latest game. A few months ago, I stopped writing for The Game Jar. The seed for doing so was planted during E3, during which time I paid absolutely no attention to what was going on there. Man oh man, did it feel good. For that short period I wasn’t thinking about games. I wasn’t pouring over coverage hoping to find inspiration for my writing. I even started to wonder whether I gave a shit about gaming culture at all. When I did eventually get back to paying attention to gaming, I did so knowing my heart wasn’t really in it.

Part of that was because of the pressure I felt under to produce content for the site. Admittedly it was pressure that I stupidly placed upon myself, but it was still there, and just I couldn’t find a way to stop worrying about it, no matter how hard I tried. Then, when it looked like the site was going to go through some big changes, I asked myself whether I still enjoyed writing about games, and the answer was a pretty convincing no. I’ve never been one to do things hard-heartedly, and once I’d combined that with doubts about whether anything I’d written was at all interesting, to anyone, my decision was made. I felt like I didn’t have anything interesting to say.

But I’d be lying if I said it was all about my own confidence in my work, other hobbies were calling out to me. You may have noticed that over time the content on this blog has shifted, and that’s because it reflects how I’m spending my time now. Modelling – a pastime I’ve indulged in for a very long time – has returned to me, and I now find that I want to spend the majority of my days painting toy soldiers! I do miss writing about games from times to time, and I certainly miss being part of the Game Jar crew, but I’m reluctant to swap my paintbrush for a keyboard. Hopefully, when I feel like I have something to say again, I’ll figure out how to spend time on both things happily.

So that’s where I am today. Stuck between my desire to play Destiny, and paint little plastic men. With my bingeing period over, things on my blog should get back to some sort on normality. Already I have updates to projects piling up, awaiting  photographs and other such finishing touches. Over the next few weeks I’ll get caught up, and we can all pretend this whole sordid affair with a certain game never happened. Until then, thank you for reading, and please keep visiting my tiny little corner of the internet. I’ll get lonely if you don’t :-p

 

 

The Game Jar Files: The gaming clichés that need to die

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Originally published on The Game Jar – February 7th 2014

Clichés are funny old things. Usually they sound kind of right, and if enough people repeat them often enough, we all convince ourselves they must be right. The thing is though, most clichés are nonsense, and once you stop repeating them out of habit, you soon come to realise they simply don’t stand up to logical scrutiny. The world of video games is no stranger clichés, our hobby has a fair few of them, but I think it’s time to shine a light on some of them. Below I’ve listed the five gaming clichés that irk me the most. By exposing them, I hope to drain them of their powers, thus removing them from our collective conversations. So buckle up everybody, as I take some gaming clichés down!

The PC Master Race.

Apart from being mystified as to why you’d want to use a term like master race given its historical connotations, I can’t work out what PC gamers are trying to say with this one. That they’re some sort of superior gaming life-form perhaps? Or that console gamers are of sub-human intelligence maybe? Whatever it is they think they’re saying, I’m willing to bet its nothing like what everybody else hears. Because here’s the facts when it comes to PC gaming versus Console gaming; they both have their pros, they both have their cons, and one isn’t vastly superior than the other. It’s that simple. Trying to pretend you’re part of some special elite because you use a mouse and keyboard doesn’t make you look cool or special, it makes you look like a jerk. So instead of trying to insist your part of some special group with a vaguely fascistic sounding name, why not celebrate the fact that we all get to play cool games, regardless of the platform we choose.

I can’t use that controller!.

If you’re staunchly loyal to one brand of console or another, you’ve probably (at some point or another) declared that you simply cannot use the opposing brand’s controller. If you have, I won’t judge you, but please, allow me to illustrate just how silly that statement is so that you can avoid future embarrassment. Homo Sapiens have roamed the Earth for approximately two hundred thousand years now, and during that time, our very survival has depended on our ability to adapt to our surroundings. We’ve gone from flint tools to outer space, all because we have the mental and physical dexterity to overcome the challenges that lay in our path. And yet, despite all the evolution that has gone into producing us, some of you are flummoxed by a small piece of plastic. Do you have similar trouble with unfamiliar door handles? Or perhaps you take your own cutlery to restaurants? No, of course you don’t, you get used to it because human beings are infinitely adaptable. Not liking a controller is perfectly fine, insisting you absolutely cannot use it? Not so much.

Publishers are EVIL.

There’s a reason small independent shops are dying out and giving way to major chains. It’s because we as a society don’t care enough about keeping them open. As much as we might complain about yet another Starbucks or Tescos opening up on our doorsteps, we continue to give them our money. That nice little coffee shop on the corner closed because you never went in there. Your favourite game studio closed down because you didn’t buy their latest game. It’s simple, brutal economics. Games publishers are businesses, not empires of evil. They’re not trying to seduce mankind with their corrupt wares, they’re entities that respond to our buying habits. If we stopped buying games containing all the things we claim to hate; the micro-transactions, the on-disc DLC, and the Online Pass codes, they’d be gone tomorrow. If you really think EA or Activision are evil organisations out to ruin gaming, I have a solution for you: Stop buying FIFA and Call of Duty.

Gamers want a multimedia box.

No, they don’t. They want a games console that also delivers other forms of media in a convenient way. A games console first, a media device second. I realise some of you are probably shaking your head right now, but be honest with me here, can you name a single person that told you they wouldn’t be buying an Xbox One because it launched without an iPlayer app?When choosing your next-gen console, were TV and music streaming apps top of your shopping list? No, of course not. No gamer looks at the available media apps before they look at the games when deciding whether to buy new hardware. We’re gamers. We want to play video games. Media apps on a console are a great addition. They’re the sweet topping on an already awesome cake. But what they aren’t is the reason to buy a console. That would be the games, and no amount of PR spin is going to convince me otherwise.

Making games should be kept artistically pure.

One of the biggest gaming clichés doing the rounds today is that fans are having an increasingly worrying level of input into game design, and that developers are starting to pander to our every whim. ‘Leonardo da Vinci didn’t have to put up with this kind of shit!‘ they cry, upon reading about the latest assault on a developers artistic integrity, before going on to tell you how it doesn’t happen with films or books. The thing is though, that’s not quite true. Film directors will often re-cut a film, or even re-shoot scenes, based on audience feedback at test screenings. Authors don’t proceed straight to the printers after finishing their latest book, they hand it to a publisher who will give feedback and recommend changes based on the target audience. Creative changes happen in all these industries, all the time, and it’s foolish to pretend otherwise. So yes, Leonardo did indeed ‘have to put up with that kind of shit‘, as do film directors, and authors, and game developers.

So there we go, my least favourite gaming clichés debunked for all time. From this moment on, you are no longer allowed to perpetuate these clichés, and must correct all those that use them. Well OK, you’re not actually duty-bound to do any of that, but hopefully I have made you think a little. We should question these things from time to time, because if we don’t, they start to develope a weight they really don’t deserve. So do as I do, and laugh in the face of clichés everywhere.

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