Is the new Prey taking itself too seriously?

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At E3 in June, Bethesda revealed footage of a long-awaited sequel to Prey. The teaser trailer arrived ten years after the release of the original, a game that itself was in development for nearly ten years.

But the game previewed by Bethesda isn’t actually Prey 2 at all. In fact, in a follow-up video released this week, the developers claim that “Prey is not a sequel, it’s not a remake, it has no tie with the original”. Rather, it’s a ‘reimagining’ of the first Prey – and in fact it looks like a completely different game.

In the trailer, we see footage of a man named Morgan repeatedly waking up in his apartment, and gradually looking more and more worse for wear each time. There’s the insinuation that he’s become part of some dreadful experiment, and we have gameplay footage of some eerie, black, smoke-like aliens scuttling around and looking creepy. We end with a sinister computer voice greeting Morgan and suggesting that it’s about to reveal some terrible truth.

All well and good – but I’m baffled as to how this links to the previous game in any way at all. In fact, the developers explicitly say that it doesn’t. So why is it called Prey? The cynic in me suggests it might be a case of slapping a brand on something to boost sales, a la Metroid Prime: Federation Force. But even if that isn’t the case, the footage released so far seems far distant from the spirit of the first game.

It all just feels slightly off.

The spirit of Duke

3D Realms, the makers of Duke Nukem 3D, helmed the development of the original Prey, and the mark of the Duke is all over that game. Not that it features titty bars and a cigar-chompin’ muscle museum for a lead, more in the sense that it’s surprisingly playful for a game with an outwardly grim plot.

An organic spaceship called The Sphere is harvesting life forms throughout the Galaxy to either mulch into fodder or genetically and cybernetically manipulate into becoming slaves – so a bit like Mass Effect then, except that Prey came out a year before that game. But whereas Mass Effect is all shiny spaceships and galactic politics, Prey is like a B movie horror film, complete with gags and grisly effects. Near the very beginning, for example, you discover what’s been happening to some of the kidnapped humans – an enormous steel machine spattered with blood is winching the screaming victims into position and then skewering them with ridiculously large spikes, before clamping a metal hood over them and chewing up the remains. It’s hideous and shocking… But also kind of funny. It’s funny because it’s just so ludicrously over the top. (Skip to the 5:00 mark in the video below to see what I mean.)

There are moments like that all the way through Prey. It was an astonishingly good looking game at the time of its release, a proper AAA title in terms of graphics, but it had an anarchic, OTT sensibility that gave it a real indie feel – like a genre movie made by a bunch of uni kids that ended up becoming a mega hit.

It’s also very, very silly – and it knows it. At one point early on you get shrunk down and placed on a tiny planet with its own microgravity inside a display case. Then a guard spots you and decides to give chase by shrinking himself down too, and so ensues a Benny Hill style pursuit as you circle around and around this tiny sphere. Can you imagine the same thing happening to Commander Shepherd? (Skip to the 5:30 mark in the vid below.)

Another example is the gravity walkways – white paths that let you walk up walls and across ceilings. They don’t really make any practical sense whatsoever, but they’re an awful lot of fun, especially when you’re attempting to fight enemies above and to the side of you. It leads to a pleasing sense of vertigo as you quickly lose track of which way is up.

Basically, the game embraces fun at every turn, while giving realism a sideways squinty look – and it’s all the better for it. I mean, one of the weapons is a lobbable crab.

Inflated spleens with fangs.

Inflated spleens with fangs.

Which brings me back to Duke Nukem 3D, a game that doesn’t even know the definition of realism but that probably has ‘FUN’ tattooed across its buttocks in magenta. Prey has the Duke’s DNA running right through it – even the aliens bear a passing resemblance to DN3D’s space pigs. In particular, the weird dog things that look like an inflated spleen with fangs could be right out of a Duke Nukem game.

What makes you worry?

All of which makes me worry that the new Prey sequel/remake/reimagining could be missing the point of what made the original so good. The trailer is breathtaking in its sincerity, a super-serious set-up for what looks like a space conspiracy thriller. Its enemies are dark, mysterious and scary. It doesn’t look like the sort of game that has lobbable crabs in it.

Yep, that's a tossable crab.

Yep, that’s a tossable crab.

More to the point, it doesn’t look like anything particularly new. One of the delights of the original game was the depth of ideas – the gravity walkways, the puzzles with portals (a full year before Portal made a whole game about them), the shrink ray, the fact that you could leave your body and enter the ghost realm to nip through walls and pull switches. I mean, you’ve got a bloody spirit animal – how many first person shooters do you see that in? It’s also worth mentioning that the main character Tommy was a Native American, and it’s still the only game I can think of that has a Native American in the lead. Indeed, Tommy’s voice actor, Michael Greyeyes, praised the sensitivity with which the character was conceived, comparing it with the way Hollywood regularly relegates indigenous cultures into a “single pan-Indian construct”.

In other words, the original Prey was a breath of fresh air, something noticeably different from what went before. The impression I get from the ‘reimagining’, on the other hand, is of a game that doesn’t seem to offer anything new – and that might very well be taking itself a bit too seriously.

Hey, wait! It might be good!

Of course, this is all just mere speculation based on a tiny scrap of game footage. I’m sure that Arkane Studios know what they’re doing, and judging by how well Dishonored turned out, the franchise is probably in safe hands. The trailer is just what the studio and publisher want to show us, after all – the spleen dogs and shrink rays could be just out of shot.

Next-gen coffee in the Prey trailer.

Next-gen coffee in the Prey trailer.

One point from the trailer that did make me think of the original was the loving detail that’s been put into Morgan’s apartment. It put me in mind of the ludicrously detailed bar that the original game opened with, featuring a fully working jukebox, flushing toilets, a massive mirror (something that was impressive at the time) and even a fully playable arcade machine with a reworked version of Pac Man called Rune Man. Indeed, so much work had clearly been put into that bar, which features in the game for all of five minutes, that I wouldn’t be surprised if it was one of the reasons why the original Prey took so long to make.

Seeing Morgan wake up, grab a coffee and look in the mirror (mirrors again!) got me wondering whether that toilet is flushable, whether you can play around with that coffee machine and whether there’s a fully playable version of Rune Man on his laptop, just out of sight. Perhaps there are still plenty of silly, OTT touches – we just haven’t seen them yet.

There’s nothing wrong with being serious – and in fact the original Prey had a shocking twist near the end – but it would be a shame if this remake forgot to add the fun.

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It’s almost impossible to earn Pokécoins in Pokémon Go

I’ve been playing Pokémon Go for more than a week now, and I’ve yet to earn any Pokécoins whatsoever. I’m level 10, I’ve filled up a good chunk of the Pokédex, and I’ve fought in my fair share of gym battles, but I’ve yet to receive any sort of Pokécash for my troubles. It’s getting a bit frustrating.

A suspiciously rich Pikachu.

A suspiciously rich Pikachu.

There are various items you can buy with Pokécoins in the Pokémon Go shop – really useful things like extra egg incubators, storage upgrades and lures to attract Pokémon. Most of the items in the game can be picked up for free at Pokéstops, locations in the real world which spit out three to six random items every time you visit them. But as far as I know, lures and storage upgrades can only be obtained via the shop (or if they do appear as free item drops, they’re incredibly rare).

You can buy Pokécoins, of course, with prices ranging from 79p for 100 to £79.99 for 14,500. But – supposedly – you’re also able to earn them in-game by holding onto gyms. For each Pokémon you have installed in a gym run by your team at the end of each day, you earn 20 Pokécoins. It’s a pretty paltry amount considering that the cheapest item in the shop costs 80 Pokécoins, and that earning those meagre 20 Pokécoins is colossally difficult.

I partly blame my choice of Team Instinct. When you reach level 5, you’re asked to choose a team to join: Team Mystic (blue, mascot Articuno), Team Valor (red, mascot Moltres) and Team Instinct (yellow, mascot Zapdos). The decision was purely made on the fact that I like the colour yellow, and I’m rather fond of the legendary electric-type Pokémon Zapdos on the basis that it looks like an evolved version of Snoopy’s mate Woodstock.

Zapdos: an evolved version of Woodstock.

Zapdos: an evolved version of Woodstock.

Seems like I chose the underdogs, though.

People are already making fun of Team Instinct’s leader on Twitter, and a quick scan of the gyms near my house reveals that all of them are controlled by Valor or Mystic. Occasionally one will turn yellow briefly, and I’ll dutifully drop one of my Pokémon in to defend it, but within half an hour said Pokémon will be unceremoniously kicked out. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

I even spent a good while taking down a gym in the park the other day and installing my all-conquering Snorlax as its supreme leader, only for it to turn red again THE VERY MOMENT I WALKED AWAY. It’s basically impossible for me to earn any Pokécoins.

It turns out that Team Instinct are very much the Liberal Democrats of the Pokémon world - perennially in third place.

It turns out that Team Instinct are very much the Liberal Democrats of the Pokémon world – perennially in third place.

The way gyms work is that if you keep training your Pokémon at your own team’s gym, you can level it up to allow you to install more Pokémon in it. At level 9, the maximum, 9 Pokémon can be placed in a gym, and any attacking trainer will thus have to defeat 9 Pokémon in a row with their team of 6 Pokémon.

The thing is, the highest gym level I’ve seen is level 4, and it’s relatively trivial for a trainer with sufficiently powerful attacking Pokémon to take down any gym. The number of Team Instinct gyms in Edinburgh may be vanishingly small, but I see the Valor and Mystic gyms regularly changing colour too. Which means that NO ONE is earning any Pokécoins, because gyms have to be controlled by one team for at least a 20-hour stretch (I’ve heard it’s 21 hours) to pay out any money.

I very much doubt that this Weepinbell will last long at this level 2 gym.

I very much doubt that this Weepinbell will last long at this level 2 gym.

The only way to really earn Pokécoins is to get together with a group of high-level players on your team, then pick a single gym and tirelessly boost it up to level 9, installing extremely powerful Pokémon. Then it would be a case of returning regularly to keep the gym prestige topped up and stop it falling to another team.

But this basically means that only really high-level players have any hope of earning Pokécoins, and they also need a group of similarly high-level friends on the same team. But right now, so many people are playing Pokémon Go and constantly taking down each others’ gyms that it’s absolute carnage out there and no one is getting a Poképenny.

"Daddy, what did you do in the Pokémon Wars?"

“Daddy, what did you do in the Pokémon Wars?”

In other words, if I want that damn storage upgrade, I’m going to have to damn well pay for it.

And yes, I know the game is free, and it’s ridiculous to be complaining about not getting free stuff in a free game, BUT I’M DOING IT ANYWAY.

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PES 2016 has been chock-full of “oh yeah” moments

FeyenoordI’ve played Pro Evolution Soccer every year since I was a teenager who was just about to start studying at uni. To put that into some context I am now in my early thirties and have been working in my (perhaps poorly) chosen career for more than a decade.

That’s a lot of life stages Pro Evolution Soccer has been around for and with how good the game has been in recent years there’s no sign of it going anywhere. Unless Konami decides to do a Konami and decide its done with video games again, that is. Bar that though I don’t see myself dropping off the PES bandwagon any time soon.

For good reason too; the PES 2016 has delivered a plethora of “oh yeah” moments this year. Perhaps more than any game since PES5 way back when.

Sure the Euro 2016 update may have been a great way to retcon the miserable road the Netherlands have had since the World Cup, but taking my beloved Feyenoord to the top of the Eredivisie is still where it’s at for me.

And taters deep into Tits McGee’s tenure at the club, things are going from strength to strength at De Kuip. Captain Kuyt is having a whale of a year, Korean import Yun Il-lok is running rampant in the midfield, and the defence is rock solid backing up the safe as houses Vermeer. Life is good sitting at the top of the table and well clear of second-placed PSV Eindhoven.

And it’s goals like the one below that win matches, as a sneaky cross finds the head of Vilhena, and the back of the net. Nothing left to say but “What. A. Header!”, really.

No other games deliver quite the same feeling sports simulations do. Which is why no matter what else is sitting underneath the telly waiting to be played, I’ll always find time to get my virtual sport on. Even if they don’t quite capture the magic and unpredictability of the sports they’re based on.

Still, if this is as good as it gets for the time being, that ain’t half bad.

Want more coverage of sports video games? Let me know in the comments below!

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Spiffing Reads: Pokémon Go, Video Game Cartoons and the Joy of Repetition

Welcome to Spiffing Reads, a new section on A Most Agreeable Pastime where every Friday we list gaming articles that have caught our eye this week. We’re always on the lookout for interesting gaming sites, so if you’ve found a brilliant blog, or you’ve read something amazing this week, please share it in the comments. OK, here we go!

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First Footage of the Football Game From the Man Who Knows Nothing About Football (Kotaku UK)

I love the idea behind Behold the Kickmen – it’s wonderfully silly. After you’ve watched the video in this link, make sure to click the first link and have a read of the original story – Dan Marshall’s responses to tweets are priceless.

How the internet was invented (The Guardian)

Despite the fact that I use the internet every day, I only had the vaguest of ideas of how it came to be. Well, this is how, as it turns out.

The Unexpected Joy of Repetition in Video Games (Kotaku UK)

Games are often criticised for lengthy grinding or repetition. But sometimes this is also why we play them.

captain n

10 Video Game Cartoons That You’ve Completely Forgotten About (Digitiser2000)

I fondly remember Captain N: The Game Master – essentially a massive advert for Nintendo, but fun nonetheless. It took me a long time to work out what game Mother Brain was from, having never heard of Metroid when I first watched it. And in those pre-Internet days, it took even longer to work out where the mysterious Eggplant Wizard hailed from.

Car crash trauma depicted in VR (BBC News)

The emergency services team in Leicestershire is doing their best to scare the crap out of young drivers with VR footage of car accidents.

Premium Early Access (Aidy’s Gaming Rambles)

Some well made points here in an incisive article. Why should gamers pay full price for games that are unfinished or light on features at launch? Perhaps we need an equivalent of Steam’s Early Access on consoles.

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I’ve Had Enough of 90’s Gaming Nostalgia (OnlySP)

There’s something of a love affair with the 1990s in gaming at the moment, particularly with the launch of Mighty No. 9 and Pokémon Go. But is this a case of rose-tinted spectacles?

Actually, Pokémon Go isn’t really a Nintendo game (Eurogamer)

This article on Eurogamer took a fascinating look at who actually owns Pokémon Go and how Nintendo is involved in it all. I presumed that Nintendo was behind the game, but it’s not quite as simple as that…

And speaking of Pokémon Go, here’s a round up of the most interesting Pokémon stories I came across this week:

Can you learn anything playing Pokemon Go? (Videogamer.com)

Pokédex Battery Case is The Most Authentic Way to Play Pokémon Go (Kotaku UK)

Pokémon Go Is Bringing People Together (Kotaku UK)

The 7 stages of Pokemon Go addiction (VG24/7)

Finally, here are a couple of bits of Pokémon Go fan art that caught my eye. The first is a series of alternative loading screens from artist Magdalena Proszowska – click the link to see them all.

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And finally, this brilliant Pokémon Go comic strip by Alex Law:

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Spiffing Reads is a regular feature where we pick out the best gaming articles of the week. If you’ve read anything interesting, please let us know in the comments.

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To brand, or not to brand? The Metroid misstep

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Metroid Prime: Federation Force has come in for a bit of a kicking from Nintendo fans, which seems to have taken the company somewhat by surprise. In hindsight, perhaps it shouldn’t have come as such a shock.

By all accounts it looks like quite a fun game – a cooperative 3DS shooter with added cosmic football for good measure. But as a Metroid game it falls somewhat short of expectations. Fans have been clamouring for a new Metroid game for years – the last entry in the series was the divisive Metroid: Other M back in 2010, and there was an expectation that a new Metroid game might arrive for the Wii U, perhaps one that took advantage of the second screen for scanning and shooting. That expectation peaked this year, which is the 30th anniversary of the Metroid series. What better time to bring out a new game, perhaps even one that could beat the high of Metroid Prime?

Well, we did (or will) get a new game in 2016 – but it’s a co-op shooter that has nothing to do with Samus Aran, and doesn’t really seem to have much in common with any of the other games in the series. Cue the sound of a deflating balloon.

To be fair, Federation Force does have a precedent of sorts. Metroid Prime Hunters was a first-person shooter for the DS with a multiplayer element, but it wasn’t amazingly well received – and it has the lowest sales for any entry in the series, bar the Metroid Prime Trilogy rerelease. So it’s probably not the best route to go down if you’re planning a new Metroid game.

MPFF-Gameplay

But as I said above, as a game in it’s own right, Federation Force looks quite fun. If it was launched as a new IP, I suspect it would have received a much warmer reception. But launching a new, untested IP is a risky business for a company – attaching the game to a brand is a much safer bet, and will probably result in much higher sales.

I mean, you only have to look at Pokémon Go to see the logic of this. The game is essentially a reskin of Ingress, a game released by Niantic in 2012 that seems to have been modestly successful, but that pales into insignificance nest to the phenomenal success of Pokémon Go. Nifty game + appropriate branding = ker-ching!

I suspect what may have happened in the case of Federation Force is that it never started out as a Metroid game. This is just a hunch, but I reckon one of the dev teams at Nintendo came up with a fun coop shooter, and at some point someone decided it needed to be attached to a brand to generate sales. Looking at Nintendo’s brands, very few of them fit with the model of a first-person shooter – many are just too ‘kiddy’ to fit with the game’s ethos. Metroid is one of the few brands that can be coaxed into becoming a coop shooter, so it’s no surprise that Federation Force ended up as a Metroid game.

But of course, it has left fans who were hoping for a ‘full-fat’ Metroid game disappointed. And many have pointed out that coop shooting is very much against the ethos of Metroid, which built its reputation on solo exploration. I mean, it even spawned its own genre – Metroidvania – and the fact that Federation Force isn’t a ‘Metroidvania’ game seems to indicate that perhaps the branding isn’t so appropriate after all. Sure, Metroid is ‘adult’ and ‘scifi’, unlike many of Nintendo’s other brands, but it’s also synonymous – literally – with Metroidvania-style exploration.

Then again, that’s not to say brands can’t be diversified. I mean, look at the insane range of games that Mario has appeared in, everything from tennis to football to art packages. There’s undoubtedly room for diversifying the Metroid brand across other genres – but in this case that comes at the expense of the Metroidvania-style game that fans have patiently been waiting more than six years for (or nine years if you want to skip Other M and go back to Metroid Prime 3, the last first-person game).

Perhaps it’s a case of right brand, wrong time. If Federation Force was released soon after an entry in the ‘main’ Metroid series, I have no doubt it would be warmly welcomed. But coming when it does, thrown out into the hot white ball of hungry Metroid fans’ pent-up frustration, it’s no wonder that people were upset – it’s the equivalent of flinging meagre crumbs from the high table.

tabane-federation-force-spot2

Will this anger hit sales? Possibly. Would the game have sold more if it had been launched as a new IP rather than a Metroid game? Probably not, but who knows? As it is, Federation Force has given Nintendo’s reputation a bit of a knock – and reputation is much harder to measure, and harder to accumulate, than games sales.

Still, I’m sure all will be forgotten and forgiven as soon as a new ‘proper’ Metroid game is announced – and I’m sure Nintendo knows that, too.

Buy Metroid Prime: Federation Force on Amazon (and we get a little bit of cash if you do).

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Advertising drivel: What rhymes with Nintendo?

I love old advertisements and marketing material. They in many ways embody a time and place better than anything else around; mainly because they’re specifically designed to capture and appeal to society’s psyche en masse. In the 1990’s video games were at the cutting edge of consumer trends and so are cracking little depictions of what was ‘cool’ at the time. Nintendo’s own marketing efforts around the Game Boy are some of my favourites and are nothing short of brilliant if not cringeworthy. And of course everyone remembers the all-encompassing “Mortal Monday” marketing push behind the arrival of Mortal Kombat on home consoles.

But having looked through a metric shit-tonne of old retail advertisements for video games in the 1980’s and 1990’s, I can unequivocally say that they absolutely take the cake in a shithouse kind of way. So shithouse that it’s hard not to love them.

So what rhymes with Nintendo?

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I can imagine a marketing executive at the Grace Bros. Department store went home proud as punch on the day he thought up this little ditty. Well done, son.

On a side note: the weird-but-surprisingly-bonza Dragon’s Lair branded version of ZX Spectrum game Rollercoaster for a cool $19.95 is a right bargain!

Source: [1994 ‘Advertising.’, The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 – 1995), 7 September, p. 15, viewed 18 July, 2016]

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Earth Defense Force 2 has me playing my portable system portably again.

I think the PS Vita is a speccy piece of kit. And being a bit partial to the odd handheld system since the days of the Game Boy I’ve amassed quite the game collection. Problem is my Vita never fulfils its life purpose to be, well, portable.

It all started off okay, and at a time where the 3DS was gathering dust, there I was on the bus with my brand-spanking-new portable system playing a shiny new Wipeout game. All was good in the portable gaming cosmos as it had always been. But after a while I just fell off  – or perhaps fell out of the habit of – taking it with me. Sure, I’d play it at home in front of the telly while the cricket or whatever was on, but it never managed to find its way into my bag as I’d rush out of the door in the morning.

For good reason too,  because while the system itself was friendly enough for short bursts the games largely were not. Sure like the Playstation Portable before it, the Vita was great for 2D fighting games, which in turn are bloody cracking on-the-go. But you can only beat the crap out of a bloke so many times before it gets old. At which point I’d reach for something with a little more meat on it to get my gnashers into.

And what a catalogue the PS Vita has accumulated over the years. It’s so good that, between Experience Inc’s prolific output of old-school dungeon crawlers and one-off classics like Killzone: Mercenary, I have never really been left wanting. Which is why it’s so disappointing that I’ve never really let it soak in the sun in the great outdoors, instead confining it to the bedside table, relegating it to a somewhat nocturnal existence.

That is until I splurged on the remake of the second Earth Defence Force; aptly titled Earth Defense Force 2: Invaders From Planet Space. Now I’ve come to really enjoy the Earth Defense Force series since its ballsy budget release on the then-futuristic Xbox 360 not terribly long after its release. Earth Defence Force 2017 was an outright cracker  of a game that ought to have been downright shithouse.  It’s kitsch-as-hell premise combined with its absolutely brainless gameplay resonate with me much more than I care to admit; particularly when anything more than “aim and shoot” is just a bridge too far for my brain to deal with. Whether it is shooting ants or spiders, or any of the myriad of 1950’s sci-fi inspired alien machines, it never really strays beyond being a quick and dirty arcade shooter. And sometimes that’s fair dinkum all I’m after.

And here’s the thing: Earth Defense Force really feels like it’s in its element on a handheld. Despite most of my history with the series being confined to my telly, its short missions and mindless action are absolutely perfect distractions for travelling or just the odd minute or two of downtime throughout the day. Earth Defense Force 2 may have been born as a budget home console game, but after the 15 or so hours I’ve spent preventing the destruction of Earth in the palm of my hands, I might find it hard going back to the big-boy console games.

At a time where mobile gaming is ridiculously relevant, and Pokemon Go is ‘the shit’ so to speak, it’s good to be enjoying a favourite pastime from long ago. For years I’ve been searching for the game that would spark that natural affinity I have for handheld systems. Earth Defense Force 2 on the PS Vita fits that bill perfectly. It may not be as fancy as Pokemon Go, or as simple as a smartphone game, but it is reminiscent of the sorts of games that made portable games so appealing in the first place. I’ll freely admit that Earth Defense Force 2 isn’t the greatest game in the world, but at the right time and in the right place, it can be the perfect game to whet your portable gaming appetite.

EDF2 Vita

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