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I'm not likely to buy a new system soon, due to budgetary constraints. But given the breadth of the gaming world I can't help but obsess over the following question: which system should I buy? I already have a Wii, a DSi, and a PS2. My main criterion: which system offers the best ratio of FUN to COST OF OWNERSHIP?

Maybe you can help me out. Poll below.

PC ($1000+?)

  • Tons of games I want to play
  • Lots of indie games
  • Obviously, there are many free and cheap tools for tinkering and development
  • This is the most expensive option, even if I build my own
  • Hungry for power and apartment real estate
  • Might be superfluous, if I can swing decent graphics in my next laptop upgrade (the $1999 MacBook Pro?)---and actually my current laptop can run a lot of good PC games that I don't have time to play anyway

XBox 360 ($300)

  • Also, tons of games I want to play---and most of the PC games I want to play are also available on 360
  • Least expensive of the full-blown console options
  • Netflix! That would be cool.
  • Still a significant chunk of change, and the Gold fee doesn't help with that
  • Not homebrew friendly

PlayStation 3 ($350)

  • The Last Guardian
  • I guess I wouldn't mind having a Bluray player?
  • Pricey; most of the games I'd want to play have (sometimes superior) 360/PC ports
  • PS3? I mean, come on.

iPod Touch ($180 refurbished)

  • Not too expensive, and the software's generally pretty cheap too
  • Accessible to indie developers, vibrant development scene
  • I could use a new iPod anyway...
  • I can't think of any games compelling enough to sell me on the system; I can get awesome casual stuff on platforms I already own

PSP ($170)

  • Surprisingly, there are a lot of PSP games that I want to play: Persona, Class of Heroes, LittleBigPlanet, Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy VII...
  • Sony's going all-downloads for the PSP, which appeals to me
  • Almost cheap enough to be in the "buy on a whim" category
  • Sony's actively hostile to the homebrew scene
  • Do I really need another portable gaming device? Hmm.

[Poll #1414528]
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The following is an excerpted and slightly edited version of my reply to a thread entitled "Why do people like RPGs?" on the Penny Arcade forums. I didn't get many responses (except for someone claiming that "the core mechanic [of an RPG] should be actual role-playing"), so I'm reposting it here. I'm interested to hear the thoughts of the (many) game design-literate folks who read this LiveJournal. Am I completely off-base? Can I refine this idea somehow? I feel like my basic thesis is right, but that I'm not quite capturing all of the particulars.

Read more... )
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Who's making a CGA-era PC Zelda clone for TIGSource's Bootleg Demake competition? That would be me.

The above screenshot is taken from DOSBox, running my little DOS program (compiled with Turbo C!). It's just drawing tiles to the screen right now—there's no animation or logic or anything. Just figuring out how to get pixels to the screen in CGA mode was a pretty big task for me. (I, uh, never really did any hardcore DOS programming back in the day.)

Realistically, there's no chance I'll finish this, but I've been having fun getting it this far...
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This past week I participated in 5-in-5, along with a number of current ITP students and recent alumni. The challenge:

Do a creative project every day for five straight days, starting Monday, July 28th 2008

Projects must be completed in a day, so they need to be as compact as they are creative

Each project needs a name and documentation posted by the end of the day. It should be a stand-alone accomplishment

And so I did! It was fun and productive, but surprisingly exhausting. Here are my projects. The links for each day go to more detailed documentation on the 5-in-5.com blog.

Day One: Mega Man Linocut Prints

Also featured in Bre Pettis' overview video.

Day Two: twbasic: BASIC for Twitter

Send your BASIC listing to @twbasic. (It may take a while to respond... for some reason the replies API doesn't like to update very frequently.)

Day Three: Subwoofer Tactics (w/C. Anderson Miller)

A board game powered by a 30-watt subwoofer.

Subwoofer Tactics from Anderson Miller on Vimeo.

Day Four: Strokeweight (a New Interface for Textual Expression)

Translates between "drawing" gestures and "writing" gestures.

Strokeweight: Writing with fruit and Dunsany from Adam Parrish on Vimeo.

Day Five: Binary Telepathy (also with C. Anderson Miller)

I attempted to transmit binary data to eight experimental subjects using only my mind. Of the attempted 64 bits, 36 were correctly divined.

Distribution of Correctness for ESP Transfer

A few of my favorite projects by my fellow 5-in-5ers: Throwing Light, Japanese Family Crests, ZenTV, Flexible Cardboard Surface, and Vikram's honey, lavender and habanero ice cream.

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I made a game for the TIGSource Procedural Generation Competition. It's called Legend of the Tomb of Fate, and you can download it here: Python source for Mac/Linux or Windows executable. There's a little bit of discussion about the game happening on the TIGSource forums.

I've posted more information here, but here's the basic gist: it's an old school BBS door-style RPG (think Legend of the Red Dragon meets Etrian Odyssey) in which almost all the content is procedurally generated: enemies, weapons, armor, elemental affinities, and so forth. They're all generated randomly as you play, so no two playthroughs are the same. There are lots of bugs and unimplemented features, but it's definitely playable (and winnable).

So give it a download and tell me what you think! Here are some screenshots:

Title screen

Battle engine (it r0x0rz y3r s0x0rz)

Procedurally generated elemental affinities
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Penny Arcade? Persona 3? Last 10 levels of Etrian Odyssey? Which should I play?!

(Not to mention Paper Mario GC, Phantom Brave, and Pikmin, all waiting patiently on the shelf...)
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Oh, Skies of Arcadia. You and I have such a complicated history! I bought you almost two years ago, in an attempt to squeeze some role-playing goodness out of my recently purchased GameCube. We breezed together through the first ten hours—remember those sweet days?—and then we got stuck. We got lost in Ixa'taka, and then later above Valua. We didn't even remember what we were looking for, or where we were going. So I took you out of the disc tray, and put you into your box, then onto the shelf.

I had no intention of leaving you there. But, for a long time, I did.

For months and months, in fact. When I sat down with the intention to play a video game, I would look at you on the shelf and ask myself: do I want to spend two hours with you, aimlessly wandering in our airship, waiting for our compass to spin? I would ask myself: Can I, at this point in my life, cope with so many random encounters? The answer, so often, was no.

Then Spring Break of this year arrived and I, having recently exhausted my supply of other games, decided to give you another spin. I'm so glad I did! Once I found that damned Maw of Tartus (or whatever), the story began to pick up, and your charms once again revealed themselves to me. Soon we found ourselves playing for hours at a time. Long hours. Late into the night. Sometimes early into the morning.

These, of course, were hours that would have been better spent in service of my schoolwork, which makes our time together so much more bittersweet. The unflappable protagonist Vyse and his merry band of air pirates, whom I remember now only as my dear friends, may one day soon become my nemeses. In a few weeks, when I present my thesis for all to see, and I'm barely able to fill my allotted time with mumbles and half-assed half truths, your colorful and intricate world (which I explored with the fervor of an addict) will, I'm sure, seem to be nothing more than a Gomorrah of hellish temptation.

So, while I wrested great joy from completing you a few days ago—joy in every way commensurate with the sixty or so hours we spent together over the last two years—most of the pleasure came in the form of relief. I am no longer bound to you! I can trade you away on Goozex! I can once again live the life of a normal man. (At least until your sequel comes out.)

Lengthy musing about SoA's battle system follows. Read at your own risk. )
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kriegspiel screenshot

The game that I've been working on for the past few months has been getting some mainstream gaming blog press recently, so I thought I'd post about it. It's called Kriegspiel, and it's an adaptation of a war game designed by Guy Debord (situationniste extraordinaire). There's no AI, so you have to play with someone else, but there's a good chance you'll find someone waiting in the lobby if you download the game and log in.

It's a surprisingly subtle game, both complex and complicated, and it really benefits from the adaptation to the computer—I don't know how Guy and Alice kept track of movement ranges, sums of attack/defense coefficients, and lines of communication without a computer. (We've debated about whether or not this is a good thing—the game has a completely different tenor when you're playing it on a physical board. It almost becomes more about trying to find your opponent's mistakes, rather than playing strategically. Maybe that's what Debord intended? I dunno.)

My role in the project has mostly been as a programmer, working mainly on the prototype phases of the game (first in Processing, then in OpenGL, then in jMonkeyEngine). Nowadays I'm only putting a few hours a week into it, but it's been rewarding to be a part of the development of an actual, honest-to-god game from start to finish. (Well, it's still in beta. Almost finish.)
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A smelly man at Target sold me Professor Layton and the Curious Village about a week ago. He smelled really bad, like emergency bad, and I've had a moral crisis over the past week wondering if I should have alerted his fellow employees, or his supervisors, or the local health board—anyone in a position to break the news to him gently, to shuffle him off to a shower or, at the very least, a bathroom. It's humiliating to buy video games at Target in the first place, since you have to ask permission to have opened their cabinet of valuable shrinkage-prone products—you have to take on the role of penitent thief—but it's doubly humiliating to point through the glass at what a pungent man in a red shirt calls "oh, you want Curious Valley," then slink behind him to the register at what should have been a safe, odor-free distance, but which wasn't, god help us all. His sticky stink haunted the first few days of my ownership of this game. Just looking at the cover would call forth the scent, and for hours it would flit here and there in my nose, emerging phantom-like from the combination of commonplace aromatic molecules of the household or city. After a few days (mercifully), the pong exorcised itself from my nose and my memory, but I will forever associate Professor Layton with those brief, panicked moments of conviction: that I had been irrevocably tainted.

As for the game itself: it's awesome. I finished it yesterday. And by "finished" I mean finished: 135/135 puzzles, 5000+ picarats (not sure if this is enough to unlock all the bonus content?), maybe I missed a few hint coins somewhere, and the portion of the game available only to owners of the sequel is still, of course, virgin territory, but I think I did a thorough job of putting this baby to bed. I don't think I've ever devoured a DS game with such intensity, not even Phantom Hourglass.

more review after the cut )


Feb. 17th, 2008 04:34 pm
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Sick; sicky sick. What started as a petite cough on Wednesday progressed through somnambulatory achiness on Thursday, on its way toward today's full-out hippie virus music festival (east stage: post-nasal; west stage: my bronchioles). In the meantime I've been too dazed to do real schoolwork, too listless to engage in meaningful leisure activity, and too wound up to sleep. I really should sleep. Sleepy sleep!

Game status updates:
  • Can't make it through Area 5 of Rez. I've tried it about fifty times. Is it just a matter of practice, or is there some trick? (This is the original PS2 Rez, not your fancy-schmancy Rez HD.)
  • I'm about 12 hours into Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings, and I'm wondering when it'll start to get fun. It's pretty and everything, but the controls feel haphazard; the game's only real strategy lies in choosing your Espers before each round, which is only kind of fun. It is definitely not nearly as addictive as FFTA. Kind of a shame. Oh, and that stealth level was terrible, absolutely terrible.
  • I played and loved the demo of Immortal Defense, and I'll be picking up the full version when I have some cash to spend on games. Good work, [livejournal.com profile] wynand...
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This is the "score" for my Frotzophone performance tomorrow night (details here—NYC folks please come!). The score takes the form of the actual game I'm going to play: it's a Z-Machine executable file, compiled from sources written in Inform 6. You'll need something like Zoom to play it.

As far as games go, it's nothing special. Pretty much just a case of "let's see what I can come up with quick after skimming the DM4." But it's the first complete piece of interactive fiction that I've written, and it has a puzzle, so there you go. It was specifically designed to put the Frotzophone through its paces, and on that level (hopefully!) it succeeds. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

Warning: There are probably a lot of bugs.

Edit: My performance will be in the second half of tomorrow night's set (sometime after 9pm). Also, there will be liquor.


Nov. 4th, 2007 09:58 pm
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I only post to LiveJournal to fawn over games, it's true. But Psychonauts is worth fawning over, and if you haven't played it, you should hop right to it and get it from Steam or GameTap (I believe it's on the 360 backwards compatibility list as well).

This Zero Punctuation animation/editorial says pretty much everything you need to know. I'd add that in addition to being funny, Psychonauts is heartwarming—and there are a few genuinely disturbing moments, bordering on frightening. It's not a scary game by any stretch of the imagination, but it takes very seriously the idea of the psyche as a dangerous, uncharted, unpredictable place.

Bonus links:
Psychonauts Pumpkin Contest at Double Fine (Dogen is awesome, but I think the Linda pumpkin is the best gaming-related pumpkin that I have ever seen on the interwebs)
Trailer for Brütal Legend, Tim Schafer's next project
Interview with Erik Wolpaw, who co-wrote Psychonauts, but is now better known for his work on Portal.
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Just finished. I... love... this... game. One day I might be able to say something critical about it, but for now: It's just perfect, from beginning to end.

So anyway, I'm off to Japan to live with Eiji Aonuma. More when I arrive.

Hey! HEY!

Oct. 2nd, 2007 07:09 pm
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It's here, and it's awesome.


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1. Incredibly awesome Spore video
2. Quake III Heat Maps, which reveal frequent paths of players and projectiles.
3. µPong, the world's smallest pong game: it's little more than a microchip and a handful of resistors. The guy manages to do all his video output with one pin of the microprocessor. Amazing.
4. Preview video of Night Journey, a video game by seminal video artist Bill Viola. It's dream-like, spacey, abrupt—I'm wondering why this isn't getting more media attention.
5. Tasty blog preview of Nifflas' upcoming Knytt Stories (with screenshots!). The game comes out on Thursday, apparently, and I am lousy with anticipation. (more screenshots).
6. Stupid ass review of Metroid Prime 3, in which the reviewer describes in detail the properties of the mysterious substance called "phozon." Yes, phozon. I will never read a game review on this "GamePro" website again.
7. If you can't get a raging hard-on even after looking at kvance's entries about porting MegaZeux to the DS, then I don't know how to help you. I guess you should see a doctor or something.
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Metroid Prime 2

MP2 is to the original Metroid Prime what the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 is to the original Super Mario Bros. (as opposed to the Super Mario Bros. 2 released in the United States). It's the same engine, I mean. It uses the same mechanics and similar models, and it even uses a lot of the same special effects: the Echo Visor is little more than a palette-swapped X-Ray Visor, for example, and the Luminoth look like feathery Chozo. The "vaporization" animation for Ing Warriors killed by the Light Beam uncannily resembles the way Pirates char and disappear when you whack 'em with the Plasma Beam.

The whole game, in fact, seems designed to reuse as many ideas and assets from the original Prime as possible, and the "dual world" conceit (at least at first glance) makes the game seem even stingier on original content—twice the geography at no extra cost! It's like the original Metroid Prime was a cake that Retro baked, but they had ingredients left over. So they were like, "What are we going to do with these ingredients? I dunno, I guess we better bake another cake. Kind of like the first cake."

more on Metroid Prime 2 after the cut, plus Ico and Riven )
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Tecmo Bowl

I stopped by GameStop on the way home from the train station today. There was a young fellow, maybe fourteen or fifteen years old, talking to the guys behind the desk. He says to them, "What can you tell me about Tecmo Bowl?" One of the register biscuits replies, "Oh, that's an old game. Really old." And the little kid replies, "Oh, like PlayStation 1?"

I think to myself, "Oh my god, this kid thinks that the PlayStation is old. I'm an old man."

Then the register biscuit replies, "No, even older than that, it was a Sega Genesis game."

Then I thought to myself, "Wait, no. Tecmo Bowl was on the NES!"


"Jesus, so I'm old, and I'm a dork."


Can someone recommend a good book on Java? I have a summer internship starting in a few weeks (with Alex Galloway!) that will require me to present myself as being more fluent in Java than I actually am.

I've done a bunch of Processing over the last two semesters, and hacked together some stuff with Java and OpenGL. I'm familiar with Java basics (like having to put f after all my floating point literals, for the love of holy), but I don't think I could put together a clean project written in idiomatic Java on my own.

So I need a book. I need a tome that will, with a knowing wink, guide this stripling into Java's fragrant bosom. Others have suggested Head First Java, which looks good but seems like it might spend too much time on stuff I already know. Any ideas?

A Poll

[Poll #973507]


Mar. 22nd, 2007 02:22 am
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  • Ninbento: Visualizing audio with a circuit-bent NES. Screwy, psychedelic, awesome.
  • Knytt: This kept me up late last night—a brilliant (freeware, but Windows-only) platformer, focused on exploration. Plays and looks a lot like "Seiklus: The Lost Levels." (In fact, the designer cites Seiklus as a primary influence.)
  • Cool Bubble's "Elle": A brilliant way of making L-systems interactive. Other applications of L-systems that obviate all other inquiry: Luke DuBois' dissertation. Be sure to watch the video—the guitar is being played live, and a computer translates the notes into instructions for drawing the plant-like structure. Really amazing. (We're studying L-systems in one of the programming classes I'm taking this semester, and all I got out of it was some crappy generative poetry. I sure wish I'd come up with these ideas instead.)
  • Heaven's Gate: The Sequel: LA Weekly's retrospective/follow-up on the Heaven's Gate suicides. I didn't realize that they raised money by doing web design. Or that they ate at Marie Callender's the day before they headed off to Hale-Bopp ("39 chicken potpies, 39 salads and 39 pieces of cheesecake").


Mar. 15th, 2007 03:48 pm
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Lunar Knights

I had been looking forward to this game for a while. An action RPG with vampires! I mean, how could you go wrong? The game is certainly beautiful and you can tell a lot of effort went into it. But I'm nine hours in, and I'm bored to tears. Four reasons, I think:

1) The levels are huge, and not in a good way. They're sparse. It takes forever to get from one side of a level to the other, and the rooms all look the same. It's a navigational nightmare, in other words, which spells disaster for a game that requires so much backtracking. Beautiful graphics, dull level design.

2) Inventory management is annoying. Maybe this is just my style of play, but I tend to level up until I'm strong enough beat a dungeon without using many health power-ups and so forth. So when I'm traipsing around slaying demons, my inventory is generally stocked to the brim. In LK, though, you can only hold a small number of items (15, I think? 20?) at once, and items don't stack. This means that whenever a creature drops an item, or I come across a chest, I have to throw something out so I can pick up whatever it was I found. Now, I love inventory management as much as the next guy. But don't force me to decide between trivial items (20% energy power-up or 20% health power-up?!) every ten seconds. Not cool!

3) The controls are awkward. Again, this might just be my problem, but I find it impossible to keep the right shoulder button down while continually pressing Y and still keep a firm grip on my DS. This means that I have to prop my DS up against something when I'm playing or risk having the damn thing shoot out of my hands and onto the passenger sitting next to me. Also not cool.

4) I guess once you get further into the game, there are puzzles based on the temperature/humidity/time of day or whatever. But at the beginning of the game, there are no puzzles to speak of at all. Plus, the prospect of having to run back and forth from some deep dungeon door to that creepy scientist's house to play with a paraSOL doesn't really appeal to me.

The game is so boring that I've started to leave my DS at home rather than face yet another boring dungeon on the train. Oh, Kojima, I really tried to like your little RPG, but I think this shit's getting traded in.

Myst Online: Uru Live

After reading Andrew Plotkin's thoughtful and enthusiastic review, and after realizing I was never actually going to get around to cancelling my GameTap membership, I decided to give Uru a try. I'm glad I did, and I'm glad I did it the weekend before my spring break—otherwise, I'd have missed a lot of class over this game.

(Andrew Plotkin, incidentally, is one of the people I want to be when I grow up. That central moment of revelation in Spider and Web gave me the brilliance chills. I don't think solving a puzzle has ever made me feel that smart.)

Even though it's called Myst Online, the bulk of the available content is the single player campaign (or "the journey" as it's called in-game), which has been available in one form or another since 2003 (as Uru: Ages Beyond Myst). The multiplayer content is largely MIA, but man. So much potential there. Think: an immense online world with a nuanced backstory, an imaginary culture and language, and constantly expanding potential for exploration! It's like my 14-year-old fantasy come true. And there are ARG elements too! I totally want to be the guy that digs up Robyn Miller's Receda Cube.

So my frame of mind while playing the single player game was this: "I need to finish this so I'm up to speed with the other people playing the game." In this context, it's a compelling game. I feel prepared for the mysteries that await me. I'm not sure, though, how I would have felt about it if I'd played it back when folks thought that Uru Live was cancelled forever.

Here's why. The visual design and the art is impeccable: immersive and beautiful beyond belief. The level design is just laconic enough; it's almost always clear what is intended to be just atmosphere and what is part of a puzzle. The puzzles themselves, though, are hit and miss. Most are fair (the steam vents in Eder Gira, for example). Many are unintuitive (prison cells in Teledahn), and a few have almost arbitrary solutions (everything in Kadish Tolesa). I had one eye on the hints for practically the whole game.

There are also some fundamental interface problems. The camera, for example. When you're playing in the third person view mode, the camera is completely useless. There's no range of motion. I switched to the third person view only in order to get a second opinion about how far away something was, but otherwise spent the entire game in the first person view. Many have complained about the fact that you have to jump and move stuff around in the game; personally, I like my adventure games with a bit of physical embodiment. Still, it would have been nice to be able to pick up things instead of having to kick them around.

Overall, though, Uru Live is good stuff, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it goes. Is anyone else hangin' down in the Cavern? Want to take a crack at Eders Delin and Tsogal?
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Fit the First: Do You Not Like My Mouth Words?

Hello there. Today I learned how to use various saws. This was part of a "Safety Seminar," whose completion allows me to use the shop at ITP. Saws are new to me, so I was timid at first, but soon I got swept up in that masculine rush only attainable from loud activities that threaten your digits.

My physical computing course (of all my courses the most likely to require use of the shop) daunts me more than any of the others. There are like wires and stuff. And solder. Tools. This, the realm of the tangible, has been foreign to my sphere of study for so long that now I almost feel it necessary to don some kind of moon-helmet. I'll put on a helmet, breathe canned air, bounce with care across this lunar landscape and hopefully fail to cut my damn fingers off. Or electrocute myself to death.

Fit the Second: On Being Very Late to the Party

Did I tell you that I bought a Gamecube? I bought a Gamecube. At $4.99 used, Metroid Prime is perhaps the best value in gaming of all time (according to my instruments, it registers over four bajillion metric fun units per cent). I'm chipping away at Skies of Arcadia Legends, I managed to get through "Classic" mode on "Easy" with Pikachu in SSBM, I have Super Mario Sunshine but that's kind of on the back burner (simmering there with Animal Crossing, which I can't justify playing much since I spend 30 minutes or more with AC:WW daily). Good stuff.

So anyway, here's my question. Aside from those I've mentioned above, what games are really worth playing on the Gamecube? Is it, for example, worth getting gouged on eBay for Ikaruga and/or Beyond Good and Evil? Which should I play first, Wind Waker or Resident Evil 4?

Here's another, related question: Can someone defend Yoshi's Island to me? I'm playing it on the GBA and am finding no grounds on which to agree with those who claim it's the best platformer of all time.

March 2016

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