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Side Quest – #4

– By Aecium


Here we are. At the tail end of another year. Over the next couple of weeks we will all be inundated with “best of 2018” lists: the best news bloopers (one of my favorites), best books, movies, games, and of course, the best of the worst. I thought of going full meta and creating a “best of 2018 best of lists” but I couldn’t fully get behind that idea. So instead I created a list of some of the programing games that I have played, none of which are from 2018. But I figure now would be a good time to share them with you; with the holidays coming up you may have some time off and be looking for something to help fill the void.

I have a soft spot in my heart for programing games. There is just something about solving a level by piecing together a set of instructions or processes, pressing the play button and watching it run. If it succeeds then you’ve beaten the level and can advance (or just keep running it and marvel in your work). If not, you have the chance to review what went wrong, rework it and try again. Programing games tend to be low pressure, allowing you to play at your own pace and take all the time you need, and try as many things as you want. Regardless of how long you spend working out your solution, there’s not going to be a horde of zombies, mutants, or aliens trying to kill you while you work. I find that refreshing.

Even if you think programing games aren’t for you, I encourage you to give these a try. Each game teaches you by building on the previous levels so you learn the steps as you go. And there are plenty of videos and hint guides out there to help you along. If you are stuck, and it’s either stop playing or get a bit of help, I encourage using hints. With the internet no one needs to play in a vacuum.

In the past there weren’t too many entries in the programing games genre, however, Zachtronics has become a beacon of hope for the genre and all three games I’m covering here are from them (there would be more but I’m only listing the games I have played). These games will have you create solutions to the various problems by dragging and dropping predefined actions or blocks of machinery, or by typing out specific instructions to solve a problem.

SpaceChem was the first programing game I played that did not have you writing actual code to solve the presented problem, which in this game is to create designer molecules. You create these in reactors by drawing out a path and placing instructions like grab, rotate, bond or unbond on that path for a circular atom manipulator called a waldo to follow and execute.

spacechem

The goal is to use the incoming atoms and molecules to create the desired molecule, which must match a given pattern. You also need to be careful to prevent any collisions as the waldos move the bits and pieces around. If there is a collision the reactor will stop and you’ll have to modify your design to fix that flaw. There’s a story alongside the levels which gives context and a bit of drama to what you’re doing as you go, and the creators have even released a stand-alone version of the story incase you don’t beat the game but still want to know what happens. I have not personally beaten the game yet, but have picked it up several times and always enjoy playing until I get stuck. *Shrug* I’m sure I’ll play it all the way through one of these times.

I like to think of the next game, Infinifactory, as a 3D SpaceChem. In this game you are an abductee that is put to work by aliens that don’t speak your language and don’t really seem to care that you don’t understand what they are saying. They also don’t seem very concerned for your safety, as you are expendable and replaceable. Like SpaceChem, Infinifactory has you building a product to match a desired blueprint. However, you are now working in a 3D space and each level has its own shape, which adds to the challenge. Conveyor belts are the main way you get parts from the inputs to the many stations where you will be welding, milling, rotating, stamping or destroying unneeded parts, all before sending them to the output where they will be checked against the requirements. To get the full story you’ll have to do some exploring. In each level you can find a log recorder which contains the story and wisdom from someone who has gone down the path you are on now. Infinifactory satisfies a very specific desire of mine to build a factory line that moves raw materials from station to station, each one building on the last until you have your final product.

Infin

I don’t know, maybe I’ve watched too many TV shows that show how things are put together from start to finish. Regardless of the reasons, I find constructing these autonomous factory lines to be quite fulfilling.

TIS-100 is the final game on this list, and it’s the first one that actually has you typing out code to solve each level. Now please don’t let the word ‘code’ frighten you off. In TIS-100 you only need to use 15 commands to move and manipulate data that can be moved or loaded from 6 locations (registers) per node (more on that later). In this game your uncle has died, and your aunt has sent you a strange computer that your uncle had been working on along with the user manual for said computer. The manual has parts highlighted and some notes that your uncle had jotted down. While all progress that had been made seems to have been lost, you do find notes and musings that your uncle stored in otherwise unusable nodes in the TIS-100. You progress through each stage repairing the antiquated computer by rewriting its missing/corrupt programs. As you continue to find these notes, you start to piece together what it is you’re working on. Each level has 12 nodes arranged in 3 rows of 4 nodes. In most cases not all the nodes are usable, which adds to the challenge. There are set locations where the input comes in and set locations where the desired output needs to be moved to. In the simplest case you just need to move the given input to an output with no change to the input value. You can see an example in the screenshot which shows the first level with the game’s example code in the leftmost column.

tis100

While the TIS-100 is a fantasy computer, the steps you take and the solutions you come up with are nonetheless programing. And more specifically it is most like assembly language (albeit a simplified version), which is a class of low level programing language that all computers and smart devices run on and is only one step above the raw zeros and ones of binary programing.

All three of these games have an added challenge that you can take on. They all track statistics from your solutions like instructions/blocks used, cycles needed to complete, foot print of your design and they show you how you stack up with your friends who play, as well as with the global user base. If you solve a level and then see your buddy solved it in fewer cycles or using fewer blocks, you can, if you so desire, rework your design and try to beat or at least tie their score. Each level has a best case solution that you just can’t surpass due to parameters of the level.

I hope that if you do find yourself with some down time, or maybe you’re just looking for your next game to play, that you consider any or all of these great games. Even if you don’t fancy yourself a programer, these games might help you discover that you actually enjoy a bit of programing. After all, programing is not just for creating the games you enjoy, it can be the game itself.

While all three of these games are worth their face value, you can always snag them at great prices during sales on your favorite game delivery platform like Steam or GOG.

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Review – Bad North – Rethinking Strategy

I’ve been a fan of strategy games for a very long time. I’m also a graphic designer and have a sweet spot for great art and beautifully crafted experiences. When I first heard about and saw the first concepts for Bad North, I just had to check it out.


Bad North takes place in a Norse inspired universe. Your goal is to explore as many islands as possible; find new allies and powerful artefacts as you defend the land from the vicious attacks of incoming barbarians.

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As straightforward as this sounds, there’s a lot more to Bad North than meets the eye. The seemingly simple and endearingly looking game unpacks its complex tactical mechanics as you progress in the game.

Units/Parties

You start off with two parties composed of a specific number of units. Parties have the ability to move around the islands without many restrictions, but so do enemies. Choosing your path and unit placement around the islands becomes extremely important if you want to mount a successful defense.

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Specializations

Basic units can acquire one of three specializations: Pikemen, Knight and Archer. Each one of these comes with stats and equipment as well as with upgradeable special abilities, adding a layer of unit composition to the game. Upgrades can be bought by defending islands and collecting gold from each of the buildings. If the enemy destroys one of these buildings, you’ll lose the chance to profit from it.

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Specializations are important as you’ll be facing different enemy units that can be weak or strong against some of your specialized units.

Islands: Terrain/Weather/Buildings

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An island’s terrain and surface can be used to your advantage during engagements. But time is of the escence and reacting timely to incoming enemies is important as it will take time for your units to move from point A to point B. There are building structures in every island which you can use to heal the parties that have suffered losses.
But beware, parties are innactive during this process and you can face the situation of falling a few men short during a battle if you decide to heal at the wrong time.

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Weather also plays a role in range and effectiveness of archers. Windy environments, for example, can affect the reach of a shot if your archers are placed in the wrong location.

Items

Items can be found after defending an island and can aid you in battle by calling in reinforcements and boosting your fighting capabilities. Each party can carry one item. Items are also subject to upgrading.

Game over

Bad North is an unforgiving game. Once all of your parties die, your journey starts all over again.
But don’t lose hope just yet! Fleeing the island is an option. You can use the enemie’s boats to evacuate your most battered parties to save them from death. Abandoning the island all together, however, comes at the cost of not receiving any gold.

Additional parties can be found when you aid islands against incoming enemy attacks. But gold is scarce in this hostile word so choose your upgrades wisely.

All in all, my hype for this game was met with more than what I expected. This title by developer Plausible Concept mixes tactics, real-time strategy and tower defense elements into a seamless gaming experience. If you’re into all things strategy games, make sure to grab this title. Bad North is now available on Steam and is purchaseable in all major consoles.

 

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Grizzly Gaming Journal #3 – Post Blizzcon: Looking back

Blizzcon

-By Grizzly

What an amazing experience.

That sums up the entire five days of pre, during and post Blizzcon adventure. As a first time attendee, I was amazed by the caliber of the event. There was no moment where I felt let down by it. I wanted it to keep happening for just a little longer.

Blizzcon is in fact, a celebration. A celebration of gaming, passion, and dedication to something we love. Despite the odds, the rough starts and the moments of doubt, we made it.
For me, it was the validation of my goals and dreams for my future. It was the most genuine pat on the back: “it’s all gonna be alright, little bears”.

It’s surreal to meet people you’ve known for so many years, for the first time and have it seem like it was always that way; just the way things are.

Registration Day

Blizzcon isn’t the first tech and gaming related event I’ve ever been to, but it’s definitely the first one I’ve ever attended in which, despite the number of people, everything ran smoothly.
Although fast, the feeling of getting my badge was one of the greatest things I’ve ever experienced. Not only was it the culmination of a long-term goal, but also a testament to hard work and dedication.

On this day, we finally had the chance to meet our dear friend OFY. A long-time supporter of the stream, OFY is a genuinely nice human being. We shared stories, great food, and seats as we watched the WCS Global Finals for StarCraft 2.

So much to do, so much to see

Blizzcon was everything we thought it would be and we saw just how proud the Blizzard crew and community members are of the games they put so much passion into.
We also had time to try out new stuff like new character releases, merch and licensed products that were coming soon(TM).

Blizzcon Tracer

The art of Blizzard is everywhere you turn.

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Blizzard is bringing Overwatch to the LEGO Universe. As a long time fan of LEGO, these two sets immediately caught my attention. What do you guys think?

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By far the best community moment apart from the Community Nights was The March of the Murlocs, which paraded the venue spreading the love for Blizzard games in true nerd fashion.

Overwatch Arena

The Overwatch Arena. Once you step into this area, you realize just how important Overwatch is as an esport. China, played some sick games.

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There’s no arena that embraces its lore as much as the Hearthstone arena does. Fans of the game gather around the hearth in this fully equipped tavern-like battlefield to witness epic battles.

WCS Global Finals

Since the World Championship Series became a thing, I might’ve missed some series but I’ve never missed a final.

All throughout our viewing, the hype was on a constant rise as players battled it out on the beautiful StarCraft 2 arena.

Blizzcon See8

Seeing Maru play and lose so quickly was an obvious upset, but I also think it is a testament to just how hard StarCraft is. As a game itself, but also, as a competitive practice.
The stakes in this tournament were huge and a lot of players crumbled under the pressure. Surprisingly, Maru fell 0 – 3 vs sOs and that was the end of what had been a very successful year for him.

But it was a historical Blizzcon for StarCraft as Serral was crowned the 2018’s WCS Champion after beating Stats in a beautiful 6 game series that represents everything that is beautiful and terrifying about StarCraft. How incredibly unforgiving a loss can be versus the magnitude of a victory.

Friends Galore

After years of watching each other’s streams, we finally had a chance to meet with Poizon and OFY, two long-time viewers and friends of the bears.

Family Photo

StarCraft Family Photo (The Beasleys are missing, though…)

Seeing friends is always nice and I also had the chance to say hi to another long-timer, DukeNukem.

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Duke has been a long-time friend during my streaming years. Was happy to finally meet him.

I made some new friends as well and finally had a chance to meet face to face with one of the coolest individuals I’ve ever met. Temp0 was as excited to meet me as I was about meeting him, which I felt extremely honored by. We got to chat quite a bit and share the passion for StarCraft and the community.

Temp0

Maybe now, I’ll become a grandmaster and be faster.

I have been a long-time Neuro viewer for a few years now and I didn’t expect to just stumble upon him the way I did.
He was an easy person to talk to, friendly and open to say hi, and because of the great spirit he puts into the StarCraft community, I had to ask him to sign my Field Manual, which I brought with me as a sort of yearbook for my new friends to sign. His is by far the best signature I got.

Other honorable mentions are:

Meeting Maynarde.
I was really looking forward to saying hi to Maynarde because of the design work I had done for him. He was a pleasure to work with and I really wanted to express my gratitude for giving me an opportunity.
He was very kind and generous with his time. Unfortunately, I was too anxious to ask for a photo or a signature so, in the end, I just kept the good memories.

Meeting Rotterdam.
It’s awesome to exchange a few words with someone and immediately realize how passionate they are about StarCraft. That was the case when we approached Rotterdam. Over the years, Rotti has become one of my favorite casters. His passion and love for the game come through in his casting. We only exchanged a few words but I was glad I gathered the courage to say “hi”.

I really appreciated everything that Blizzard does to bring people together. Pin and badge collectors were all over the place, displaying their loot and trading with others. It was a scene worthy of any town market I’ve come across in gaming. Blizzard also included their very own trading posts and mystery box stands.

Closing Ceremony

We chose to watch Lindsey Stirling’s presentation and we were not disappointed. At first, we had to watch from the sidelines as all seats were taken, but half into the show we were ushered by a Blizzard crew member (bless that woman), and we were taken along with other people to our new seats.
I wish I would’ve asked the guy who sat next to me for some contact info because he was super friendly and just excited to be there. I did make sure to give him one of our stickers so I hope he’ll reach out one day.

The Aftermath

Last weekend I had the sudden, “wow, this is our first weekend after Blizzcon” moment. There was a bit of nostalgia involved but at the same time, I felt excited for the future. We plan on going back in 2020 in the hopes of seeing more of our friends there.
Coming back from Blizzcon, I feel more motivated than ever to continue working on this dream. The awesome community that has backed us for so many years is to blame for these amazing moments and the amazing experience that we had.

 

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Grizzly Gaming Journal #2 – The road to Blizzcon 2018

-By Grizzly

Not everyone allows his or herself to dream. To visualize something that they really want and commit to achieving it. Put everything they are on the line.
Sometimes, the opportunity just isn’t there. There are other priorities in life. The means are harder to attain than we iniatially thought. Maybe, we were afraid. Afraid of failing and being deeply disappointed by said failure.

The road to Blizzcon 2018 has been full of those moments. Moments in which we doubted if we were doing enough, working enough, streaming enough. “Are we even good enough?”

After almost a year of insanity, working hours that ran way beyond a nine to fiver; powering through hours of ladder, photoshop canvasses, illustrator artboards, classes and excel spreadsheets, I’m so glad the day is so close. I’m so grateful for today and for the adventure that awaits. It’s been a long time coming and every ounce of effort that we’ve put into making this trip happen has been worth it.

Amidst the turmoil of a world that doesn’t stop spinning, an event like Blizzcon happens. People from all around the world gather to celebrate a passion so innate to the human condition. Long time friends who are meeting for the first time and others who’ve waited for months to catch up; to have fun and celebrate another year at Blizzcon.

I’m the kind of person who spends a lot of time thinking about the future. But for the next few days, I’ll do my best to just be present and take it all in.

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The GrizzlyGaming Journal – Entry #1

-By Grizzly

This post was written many moons ago, but I wanted to keep it as raw and at the moment as possible, for which I decided not to edit anything regarding the time at which this was written.


Hi, friends!

I’m writing live from work at the moment and I can’t wait to get home and play some StarCraft (this is my life now…).

I’ve been sneaking in some writing time between classes to work on this blog and make this all the more exciting, rich and worthy of your time.

I have to say that right now, life’s pretty great and I believe that after so many delays, issues and “To Do’s”, I finally feel like the train is back on track and marching as smoothly as ever. Which also means I’ve been able to give the whole GrizzlyGaming endeavour some more love.

Although everything in life is moving forward and towards our goals, I have to admit I’ve had some difficult times as well. Times at which I have doubted myself and the relevance of my own existence. It’s a dark place to walk through and slowly but surely, I’m making my way out of that tunnel.
In a way, the experience was very similar to what I was currently dealing with in StarCraft. Like an endless fight in the dark.

Lately, I’ve been working harder than ever before. Feeling the dream of Blizzcon so close has given me a strength and will that I wish I’d had much earlier in life to pursue this dream. But, better late than never.

Despite the struggle, I’m feeling stronger day by day and the setbacks are becoming more scarce.

Also, I’ve been making some important decisions regarding my life goals and where I want my passion for StarCraft to take me. But, that is a subject for another journal entry.

In the meantime, I wish you all a fantastic day and I take this opportunity to let you guys know that, if you ever need someone to talk to, I’ll do my best to share some of my time with you. Also, there are some amazing people in the GrizzlyGaming community, so feel safe to hop on our Discord and share a bit of yourself with us.

SideQuest – #1

– By Aecium

My journey to creating Side Quest is a winding one that has given me the chance to face my anxieties and which I can trace back Starcraft.
I actively played Starcraft & Starcraft: Brood War from their release until somewhere around 2004.
The campaign is what hooked me, with a story that spanned the depths of space and three very unique races.

After beating the campaign I played custom maps, free-for-alls, and comp-stomps. The ladder was not a place I felt comfortable in. The few times I did click that button, the games ended fast and painfully; I was not up to the task.

Eventually, my attention turned to other games and to more “adult” goals, including a full time job, a girlfriend who is now my wife, buying a house and so on.
Being a computer geek at heart, games were still a part of my life, just not always as much as they had been.

As 2010 approached, I heard about and felt the hype for Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty. However, I steered clear. I was not ready to get sucked back in just yet.
My resistance to StarCraft 2 held strong until mid 2013 when I stumbled onto to the Twitch app on the Ouya. That weekend, StarCraft 2’s World Championship Series happened to be a featured stream. I watched players like Polt, Scarlett, Jaedong, and MC playing StarCraft 2: Heart Of The Swarm at amazing levels. I was hooked all over again.

Within a week of watching the WCS, I bought Heart Of The Swarm and was pulled back into the the Starcraft universe.
Again, I started with the campaign and was reintroduced to old friends in the continuing saga where the very existence of the universe was again in the balance.

After saving existence as we know it, for the time being, I turned from the safety and comfort of the single player to the ladder. This time, thanks to the advancements in matchmaking and league placement, it was not as scary. I still lost a lot but not as badly or as often.

During a ladder game, my opponent and I got to chatting and became friends in game, and when we were both online we would play games together. At one point, he joined a clan called TripleT. (A clan is just a group of players with similar goals of getting better and willing to help others grow their skills.) After that it did not take too long before I was invited to join TripleT. It was with the help of TripleT that I was able to rise from Bronze league to Gold (StarCraft 2’s leagues are Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, Diamond, Master, Grandmaster).

More importantly in my journey to Side Quest though, was that TripleT turned out to be associated with a startup StarCraft 2 tournament organizer, the ASL, which had tournaments for all levels of players Bronze to Grandmaster. I played in all 6 seasons of the ASL. After season 1, I began volunteering for the ASL, helping with admining, Twitch moderation, building and maintaining the website, and so on.

Toward what ended up being the winding down of the ASL, they were looking for people to create content for the Twitch channel. I took a chance and pushed past my anxieties and hesitations, I offered up a show based on Archon mode, a new mode of play added in the latest expansion of StarCraft 2: Legacy Of The Void.

I thought Grizzly was the perfect person to co-host the show. I had came across Grizzly earlier by mere happenstance when I responded to a Tweet from her. She was a streamer dedicated to improving in StarCraft 2 while building a fun and entertaining stream with a great community.

So I approached her about the idea and when she agreed, Party Like An Archon was born, a two hour show that I ran production for and starred Grizzly and me playing StarCraft 2 on the ASL channel. Toward the end of 2016, Party Like An Archon was the only live show on the ASL channel. And by that point, Party Like An Archon had changed from just a way to create content for the ASL into friends hanging out, playing games, and having fun.

We wanted to grow Party Like An Archon so we made the leap to Grizzly’s Twitch channel where we quickly expanded the games we played from just StarCraft 2 to a larger set of games including OverWatch, Diablo 3, Portal 2, Heroes Of The Storm, and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. With more games came new challenges. Production wise, there were more scenes, more overlay configurations, more things to go wrong. And they did. Once I streamed the first 20-30 minutes to my local server instead of Twitch, and I have had my fair share of having the wrong scene up or leaving the mics muted.

One of the most surprising things to me was that I survived those mistakes and I had not died of embarrassment. People still watched and Grizzly reassured me that it was alright and continued to join me on stream. At the beginning, my fears and anxieties would have me think and feel like I could not succeed and that I was foolish for trying (but that’s another article), and yet Party Like An Archon was more than halfway through its second year.

I decided I was ready for more! I had streamed on my own channel every now and again, but I never had a set schedule. I would just stream whenever, which tended to be less and less often. I decided full playthroughs of games would have the right balance of variety to keep it interesting. At the time I pitched the idea to Grizzly and Polaris, all I knew was that I would like to do a show doing full playthroughs of games and could commit to doing it once a week for at least two hours. I didn’t even have the name until a few weeks later when I realized what I was looking for was a Side Quest. That is, I wanted something that was not a main day-to-day requirement like my career, and was important enough to put time, effort and resources into it. More importantly, it would be an opportunity to push myself, build new skills and have fun doing it. This project has also given me an opportunity to create a custom font and an animated loading screen.

Looking back on everything that led up to Side Quest, it makes me realize how amazing the gaming community can be. It gave me a space to create and the encouragement to continue in my journey. I started off being afraid of playing ladder in StarCraft: Brood Wars, where all anyone could see is your name, to being comfortable playing and making mistakes in front of people, something I would never have thought I could do and survive.

When Grizzly and I started Party Like An Archon I was not a streamer or a content creator. Now I’m very proud to be able to call myself both. What I realized is that it doesn’t matter what you are or are not. Just start doing whatever it is you want to be. Before you know it you’ll have accomplished more than you would have thought possible. To that end, I’m not a writer, and yet here I am. Please join me as I take the next step in my journey.

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The GrizzlyGaming Journal – Entry #0

-By Grizzly

What drives GrizzlyGaming forward more than anything else, is the great passion and commitment that this rather small but hard-working team puts into gaming and sharing our love for it.


As you know, the past year has been crazy for the bears but despite the turmoil, we’ve been able to regroup and move forward with this journey.

Our goal this year is to attend Blizzcon for the first time. This has the primary objective of having fun but also, of getting closer to the community, the games and the creators that we admire and are passionate about.

Thanks to your help through subs, donations, design commissions and viewership, we are past half way there. This is a huge accomplishment for us which also makes us appreciate every single one of your words of encouragement, your memes and the friendships we’ve built together.

Rest assured that this year, GrizzlyGaming will continue to grow as a community where friendship and gaming are the connective tissue that bonds this crazy dream together.

This blog has been long in the works, but we’re very proud of what we have accomplished. This is the content that you’ll find here:

  • Grizzly Gaming Journal: Once a month, a member of the Grizzly Gaming team will be posting an update on current relevant projects and ramblings.
  • Side Quest: Once a month, Aecium brings us on his journey as a person and as a gamer and gives us an insight into this amazing project and all that came before it.
  • Game Reviews: The Grizzly Gaming team share their thoughts and fe Content
  • Creation Lab: For the content creation section, we’ll be posting short (or long) tutorials or guides related to different aspects of content creation.
  • Design Portfolio: All design projects will be curated and shared in our blog.

 

In the meantime, stay tuned on stream and on this blog for more on our projects and the things that we’ll be sharing with you in the upcoming months leading to November.

 

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