News of the Day


After PAX East and GDC there have been a ton of news flying around through the Internet, electrifying the blogosphere and twitting on Twitter. As a nice person with good intentions, I have accumulated all of the information in one place. It’s a condensed info-blast straight from the horse’s mouth into yours!

  • The new Batman game will really take place in Silver Age and will have the same gameplay as previous Rockstar ones. The world of computer gaming is not ready for this but you will take it. And you will like it.
  • Half Life 3 won’t end on a cliffhanger. That’s a promise.
  • Assassin’s Creed V won’t have a dual narrative. No more jumping into the future for exposition talks. A large number of players present at PAX were very angry about this news and threatened to pre-order the game only three months before its premiere.
  • The new Mass Effect will be taking place before all the races of the universe mixed their DNA with humans. Moreover, there will be no xenomorphs, no zombies and no Cthulhu. This time the ending will fit the rest of the narrative.
  • Activision hired professional level designers for single player campaign of Call of Duty.
  • Warcraft IV won’t have a corruption of an individual at the center of its themes and narrative. A first for Blizzard.
  • The indie developers have created SPLIT (Strategic Platformers Limitations Indie Talks) – a treaty to limit the number of platformers released every year. The current convention proposes the maximum to be an annual batch of 142 games.
  • GTA V will revolutionize open-world gaming again. Because branding.
  • Final Fantasy XV won’t have all the graphics, will have a great story.
  • During the meeting between the presidents of Capcom and EA, a historical agreement has been made. They both agreed that transforming cool horror games into expensive action shooters is dumb. And they won’t do it again.
  • Nintendo promised to release the next big Mario game on every next-gen platform including PC. Fans are outraged because they are worried about the financial results of such a bold move.

I think this is all for the grand news. I strongly doubt anyone got better ones anyway.

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The Unauthorized Biography of Super Hexagon

Super Hexagon is a very simple game for iThings, Androids and PCs. Super Hexagon is about a triangle that mustn’t collide with shapes or it’s game over. Super Hexagon doesn’t have a narrative. Learning to control Super Hexagon takes two seconds, finishing Super Hexagon is possible in two minutes. But you won’t do that in two minutes. It’s an addictive, slickly designed game with a beat. This is what Super Hexagon is on the surface. Here’s what I’ve seen in my mind while playing the game:

It was during a cold winter of 1984 in USSR when Alexey Pajitnov was discussing geometry with tovarish Cavaghnov. They roughly harassed their mighty beards and drunk like mad. And they hadn’t had a civilized exchange of ideas either.  Alexey was opposed to the concept of existence of an object with more than four sides to it in their programming projects. He thought more would be too expensive, too lush, too complex, maybe even blasphemous. “Tetra’ is good enough,” he was repeating in angry voice, “it’s my key to immortality!” But Cavaghnov didn’t listen. He was already scheming pentagons and dreaming of hexagons. Five and six dancing at high speeds in an explosion of colors and beats. What beautiful ideas were born in Cavaghnov’s head!

But he was careless. In a drunken stupor, he let Alexey surprise him and throw him into their prototype time machine that stood just by the window and behind the table. No one knows what it was doing there, but it’s easy to understand why it was there. It was fate, a perfect design of fate. It was waiting for Cavaghnov to fall into it and transport him into the future. Far away from origins of computer gaming and their inherent simplicity and elegance. He quickly become lost in the digital land of high budget explosions and violent violence. Yes, the time machine has taken him to the 21st century.


And yet it wasn’t hate that struck his heart at the time, no, no, that came later. At first, our tovarish decided to acclimate – he changed his name to Terry Cavanagh, he acquired an impeccable command of English and journeyed into the lands of Internet to update his programming skills. There, he learned some Flash and some C#, and created his first digital child – VVVVVV – which he promptly released it upon an unsuspecting world and all was good.

6Vs is fantastic. Graphically it is a relic of the long forgotten past, but in terms of platforming gameplay and satisfaction that it can bring, it was something different. One might go so far as to say ‘better.’ Cavanagh was content for some time, but he knew this wasn’t it. He used a power of six but it wasn’t the six that he was destined to create. The advent of hexa this was not.

Thus, the process of designing begun anew. The memories of time travel – rapidly changing shapes and explosion of colors – have haunted him throughout. And a certain harshness of the whole process returned and invaded his mind. There was no fear or anger in Terry’s head. Instead, there was a godlike understanding. He finally understood what needs to be done. And then, then when he finished the thing, he saw it for what it it was – a computerized monster he brought in his brain from the void on the verge of time.


Though, I guess, a more appropriate term would be ‘a virus’. When other people see you play it, they will easily get interested and maybe even catch it too. But it’s dangerous – the visual transmission of Super Hexagon may lead to drastic results! Photosensitive seizure warning has never been more essential to a game’s spirit. If you are prone to dizziness, it will eat your eyes and liquidize your spine.

In this way, I believe Super Hexagon could easily be used in training of cosmonauts. As a matter of fact the game uses a lot of subliminal advertising of Pentagon. The word is often repeated during playthoughs, and one can imagine that Cavanagh struck this ad deal with the US Department of Defense after they failed to weaponize SH.

They failed because, despite what some individuals may think, Super Hexagon isn’t a crazed, difficult weapon of gaming hatred. I mean, in the beginning it is – when you lose a session after 2-3 seconds, it’s impossible to feel differently. But give it a couple more hours and you shall start to see things and understand things. Super Hexagon is like a palate cleanser of the mind. The further you get, the more you fly away, the less frustrated you feel. And your muscle memory does the rest. It’s strange and different even if in reality it’s such a simple simple thing.


[Here’s the trailer for the game, because you need to see it move and sing. Here’s the online demo, because you need to experience it. And here’s a link to the official site. The game seems to be on a $1 sale on various platforms.]

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Mediums in Glasses, Ghosts in Ties – The Blackwell Bundle


Rosa Blackwell had a number of powerful headaches one day. They grew stronger and stronger until a smart-ass ghost straight from the past jumped into her house through a window. Since then the literal headaches disappeared and figurative ones begun as the spirits kept showing up and Rosa had to become a ghostbuster of sorts. She has taken it upon herself to send all the ghost into the light. Oh, and that first guy? That’s Joey Mallone, her supernatural partner in crime.

Despite the abundance of spiritual encounters, Blackwell games never really aim to scare the player. For the most part they are retro-looking point-and-click adventures more concerned about spinning an entertaining detective yarn while keeping you clicking than presenting a modicum of challenge. In other words, they are old school in visuals and tense in story but smooth in gameplay.

Also, despite the narrative hook not being the most original ever, the writing is very sharp throughout the story. There’s definitely no words wasted and characters are brought to life seemingly without effort. It’s keen and incredibly well-paced as the build up for finale in each of the four games is perfectly executed – the stakes raise and the suspense heightens until the mysteries are revealed and ghosts sent to afterlife. There’s more too – even though every game in the series has a self-contained story, various subplots are continued and a larger mythology is being built in the background.

But enough about the merits of the fine games. The aspect that actually interested me a lot (aside from the story) is the evolution of the series. As I mentioned, there are four games, and they have all been published 1-2 years apart. So that leaves a lot of time for upgrades, changes, maybe even experimentation. Theoretically, there’s no space for revolution as games are built in the same engine, but there’s definitely some evolution going on. I’ve played them one by one and made some notes:

The Blackwell Legacy (2006)

Blackwell Legacy Day One

The first part in the series is the weakest. It’s an origin story, so it’s mainly concerned with laying the foundation for the future. As a comic book reader, I’m deadly tired of such slow introductions. We all know the guy from the cover will show up and you’ll go on an adventure together. Just get on with it! Also, the main character Rosa is significantly different from the usual game protagonist material – she’s a nerdy writer type. And in theory, variety is good, but shyness really overcomplicates simple things in adventure games.

Legacy is also low-budget through and through. It’s obviously visible because of the low-resolution pixel artwork but also audible. Voice-actors hadn’t yet gotten into their characters one hundred percent and it often feels they aren’t talking to each other but just delivering their lines. The recording equipment wasn’t ideal either because occasional hisses and other bzzts are heard throughout. Besides when characters talk their animated portraits show up in corners of the screen and the lips movement is completely random. It looks quite ridiculous, but my brain somehow shut it off after some time. I don’t know if that’s healthy.

Overall, the game took me around 3-4 hours to complete. It was very straightforward and easy. Unlike in other games of this type, items are used automatically when needed and it’s mostly dialog-driven. No puzzles to be seen either. I had encountered one obstacle in my playthrough where I couldn’t communicate to the game what I knew I had to do. In retrospect, though, I think it was my fault. Lastly, the cool part about the game’s ending is that it lets you to make a couple of choices in dealing with your final encounters. The uncool part is that there is one very over the top element in that ending that just doesn’t fit the narrative at all. But the whole thing was a lot of fun anyway.

Blackwell Unbound (2007)

Blackwell Unbound

This is a sequel that is a prequel – a second released game in the series but the first in the story chronology. It changes one of the protagonists to the aunt of Rosa – Lauren – and allows you to control Joey the ghost too. That’s a great addition to gameplay (spirits have a different set of skills after all) that also gets expanded in the next two parts as Joey doesn’t have all that much to do in Unbound. Importantly, the story is a lot sharper than in Legacy – the characters are more capable and the ending is quite thrilling this time around.

Unfortunately, there aren’t really much left in terms of choice, or playing for that matter. The answer to most problems is ‘use the phonebook to find an address/number.’ And worst of all, the characters’ portraits are no more which made me a bit sad as they were fun despite their madly mad lips.

The music in the game is also a lot better than in the first one. There’s some jazzy sounding tunes that fit the story and add to the atmosphere. The voice recording still isn’t perfect and there is one elderly lady who sounds like a young woman faking an old lady voice (to silly results).

I finished it in three hours and had not encountered any difficulties. Blackwell Unbound is the least challenging part of the series. But its story is, again, really interesting and it plants a lot of intriguing plot seeds for the next game. I’ve flown through it and excitedly jumped into Convergence.

Blackwell Convergence (2009)

Blackwell Convergence

This is a proper sequel to the first game that also feeds on a lot of plots from number two. Moreover, this is my favorite part of the series in terms of story. Even though it’s as short as Unbound (2-3hrs) it’s got a denser narrative that also juggles themes of death, success and art while exploring some New York history. That’s a really satisfying and tasty mixture of elements.

The portraits return and the hilariously desynchronized lips with them. Also, the previous games required the player to mix topics in the notes to get clues, and that’s got removed. Before it wasn’t used to great effect because there were very few topics available, but it was a nice variation to the gameplay. So its disappearance was a shame.

The other nitpick I had was the game was reeeaally eager to help me out. Blackwell Convergence is easy enough by itself, but it wants to be even easier. The hinting and winking goes clearly out of hand at times as some important phrases are repeated just to make sure, you’ll know what to do.

Blackwell Deception (2011)

Blackwell Deception MiLaw

The latest game in the series is also the longest, clocking at five hours. If the previous ones felt like episodes of a TV series, this one is a full movie. It’s also got sharp drawn portraits that do not have moving lips, which may be for the better! What is more, Rosa has gotten herself an iPhone which means easy access to notes (mixing them for clues is back too) and the in-game internet. Now, we truly live in the future! Darn, there are even some real puzzles and conversations that require thought to work out properly. In terms of gameplay design this is a big jump forward for the series. Of course, it never goes too far into the land of ‘use monkey as a wrench’ and instead stays in the realm of relative realism (or as real as it can get with ghosts bouncing all over the place.), which is definitely great.

OK, now let me reiterate a number of important points that may have gotten lost in my trying to be snarky – the games are awesome.
That is all.

[The Blackwell games usually get sold together and rather cheaply – the normal price of the bundle is $15 (on GOG) and they are now in promo on Steam for around $5. And here’s the official site they have different pricing and confusing naming, but there are demos for each of four games. I like demos.]

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The Private Eye #1 – Going Meta with Comics


I’m excited about comics at this minute, so bear with me as I gush and gush.
Brian K. Vaughn (of Y: The Last man, Ex Machina, Runaways and Saga) and Marcos Martin (Spider-man and Daredevil) have teamed-up for a completely digital DRM-free, pay-what-you-want creator-owned comic. It’s a dystopia about a world post-internet with everyone caring about their privacy to absurd levels. It’s got a detective in it who looks and moves like a modern Assassin’s Creed protagonist but with a cooler hoodie. And, damn, The comic is really good too.

It’s 32 pages done in a completely non-traditional way with panels don’t accepting any of their usual places as they stretch all over the two-page space. The art is dynamic as Marcos Martin can make this happen seemingly effortless – the characters move with a grace that’s rarely captured in static images. And everybody wears masks as if it was Halloween or if they were superheroes. But they aren’t, they just don’t want you to know who they are, because social media ruined privacy for everyone.

The Private Eye feels like a statement. Like an old man saying the young people that they will be old too, and their electronic thingamajigs will eat them and spit them out as the history will be repeating itself. And yet it doesn’t feel sappy at all, because Martin puts into a form that’s far from normal or typical. His coloring is bright and varied and his style that looks simple doesn’t stray from hiding details all over the place. There’s a racing young heart at the core of the comic, and it spits new ideas every other page.

Crowd Marcos Martin Eye

Yeah, I’m babbling. It’s 2076 and everyone wears masks in a non-superhero way. It’s a first issue out of planned ten. It’s as cheap as you want it to be and as visually fresh as it gets. Here’s ‘it.’

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Far Too Many Words About Doom the Movie

New Doom Logo

I haven’t seen it until now, because the rule of game-to-movie adaptation inexplicably says it’s not worth it. They’ve all been average or worse, and in the case of Doom there isn’t even enough source material to create anything vaguely interesting. “Hell gates opened and a badass marine destroyed everything that got out.” Ho-hum! My expectations were about as low as the bottom of the Dead Sea.

But my recollections from the story of Doom 1-2 weren’t all that accurate. As Wikipedia informs me there is a little bit more to it in terms of backstory – the marine is actually working for a corporation called UAC, and some of the action takes place on Mars! So, yeah, about enough for a short film. The part of “shooting monsters in the face with a shotgun” is too essential to the spirit of the game to not create an adrenaline-fueled blood-exploding apocalypse in a visual form. But that would not be the most efficient way of spending money.

So they didn’t. Just like almost every reboot of a franchise in gaming – Doom the movie does something completely different and slaps the brand’s name on the front to lure in all the people who ‘heard the title somewhere.’ And they hide behind the utterly-beloved-by-movie-producers term ‘prequel,’ too. The warning lights were lighting up all over my brain.

Worse yet, this Doom tries to be The Thing or Alien! But how can it succeed when all the main characters are heavily archetypal marines who can’t deal with two slow monsters? They run around the base with their guns out like the professionals they are supposed to be, but die like flies on a windshield. It’s a disgrace and the main reason why the horror elements just don’t work at all.

All the Wrestling Faces of The Rock are showcased in the film.

Though, despite the plot holes, the story isn’t really as tragic as expected – genetic experimentation had gone awry on a secluded Mars base, and these corporate marines are sent to retrieve the data. It could go places! Most of the running time of the film is taken up by a slow build up to something that could be effectively used for some serious plot twisting. I was even beginning to buy into it. And then a 180 happened – that ‘something’ turned out to be a superhero first person segment and a wrestling match.

I believe this is the right moment to admit that I enjoyed the movie a lot. The creators may barely know what Doom is about, but they know the lore. I mean, the lore is maybe too strong a word, but the geekiness lies in the details! The head doctor working in the base is named Carmack (as in the lead developer of Doom), one of the marines is nicknamed Duke (as in Nukem) and BFG (the most powerful weapon of the game) is used as a blatant Chekhov’s gun. There is more too – there are quotes, there are various winks. There is intelligent thought behind the dumb exterior of the film – there is life!

There is even a strong audiovisual connection established between the games and the movie. Firstly, the music done by Clint Mansell is filled with audio cues to the original soundtrack. There are many familiarly sounding remixes that just fit the picture very well as the slow ambient clashes with industrial madness. The visuals are often borrowed straight from the game too, which was even a boasting point in the interviews. As a result the monsters and the set look very videogamey. And not in a good way.

I read that the movie cost sixty million dollars to make and it isn’t visible, because the sets and monsters look extremely cheap and fake. It’s CGI at its worst and it does everything it can, to take you out of the experience. Even the segment that presents the original first-person shooting reworked into movie form looks wacky. The gun hold by the protagonist is out of place, and the enemies jump out to dance or pose. It’s ridiculous. As a matter of fact it’s so ridiculous it’s fun, because no one cares that it’s stupid and treat it like the coolest thing since phone sex.

Doom monsters
It may be a side-effect of low expectations but I had a ball watching the movie. Its production values are for the most part as bad as in a Uwe Boll flick, there is barely any tension, and the actors aren’t doing the work of their lives, and yet I wasn’t bored. I know, what a success! The thing is Doom doesn’t hold under scrutiny. Pick it apart and you will see its ugly emptiness gazing at you. In this way, it’s a McDonald’s hamburger equivalent of a cinematic movie. But frag that! The pacing is ideal, the finale crazy, the easter eggs are delicious, and the incompetent characters are far from stupid. In the B-movie land, this is actually pretty fun.

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Home Alone with Dead in it – Mad Father

Mad Father logo

I’m still in a horror-appreciation mode, so when I saw a free Japanese adventure game about a haunted house with monsters running rampant and a large basement filled with dread, I couldn’t say no. Haunted mansions are a really potent concept to me. It may be just nostalgia for gaming classics of first Alone in the Dark and Resident Evil but this idea just speaks to me. I imagine it was born many gothic years ago out of the suffocating loneliness of living in a house alone, and a fear of the dark. In gaming, though, there is also the promise of exploration – visiting different rooms which all have their own identities and sometimes riddles and dead bodies stuffed in the closets. In my book, that’s fun.

Mad Father has more to offer, though. It’s hard to ignore its story which is partly over the top silly, and partly dark and gruesome. You play a seven-year-old girl called Aya living in a house with a slightly unhinged father. The guy is performing some unethical experiments on living beings in the basement. Also, he has occasional sexual intercourse with his assistant. Understandably, the mother didn’t like it, but she died so her opinion doesn’t count. Besides, the father really loves and cares for Aya. And for it, the girl loves him back. Then, one night, the monsters come, take over the mansion and go after the father. She can’t let that happen and decides to try and save the bastard.

In other words the game is built around a proper and well-thought-out horror concept. You are a defenseless girl, you cannot kill anyone throughout the game. But you, yourself can and will die. Unfortunately, the author sometimes strays off the adventure path and there are a couple quick time events placed around the game. After being caught by a monster springing out of nowhere, you need to “tap Z” like crazy in order to escape. It’s a working, and arguably even effective, game mechanic. But it’s as cheap as these jump scares.

And, unfortunately the whole game is quite shallow. It has many great elements that don’t work together to create something special. The plot is well-constructed but could actually be a perfect vehicle for a a number of interesting metaphors as it juggles parental love, conflicted parents, selflessness and egotism. But it isn’t. It concentrates on fun instead, and fun it is, but I was a bit disappointed by the waste of potential in terms of story.

Visually the game looks and also plays like a Japanese RPG – the view is top-down, the graphics are pixellated and the characters can’t move diagonally. Though, as mentioned earlier you don’t fight and instead interact with objects and items while also occasionally dying. Fortunately, the save points are always placed in appropriate places so deaths don’t pose much of a problem. Also, the game is about three hours long, thus it doesn’t take much time to finish. The puzzles are usually self explanatory and the game knows what it wants from you, and sometimes even offers sound cues to steer you, so it’s not simplistic, but not too difficult either.

During dialogs the game displays characters’ portraits drawn in a characteristic manga style – it fits pretty well, because the protagonist is a little girl. It works for the father too as he is drawn in such a way as to never show his eyes – emphasizing that he is a character with a lot to hide. And the mother totally has a squint-eye and I spend the whole game wondering if that was an intentional choice made in the name of realism, or just a lack of skill.

All in all, Mad Father has a lot of interesting ideas in it and it’s completely free. You can spend a couple of hours a lot worse. Despite the gruesome imagery that it produces, the game is actually very fun and succeeds at creating an atmospheric little adventure with psychos and monsters abound. Plus, yeah, it will make you jump.

[Here’s the link for the game with the translation and various tips]

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A Stroll Down The Hell Lane with The Cat Lady

cat lady logo

The cat ladies have don’t have the easiest of lives. Every day they need to feed their screeching feline army and argue with the annoyed neighbors while at the same time deal with bad PR from The Simpsons and being portrayed as an internet meme. But the sociology had taken them under their wings and has been busy giving them back their humanity and adding the tragic layers of solitude in the social world to their public image.

The Cat Lady, the game, fits into all this in two ways. It is a story of a depressed cat-sympathetic woman who we meet at the moment of her death and then trying to deal with the aftermath, or rather the second chance she is given. So, the humorous interpretation is taken off the board at the start – this is serious and quickly becomes gruesome too as she walks into a dream-like land full of death.

Moreover, this is a horror title with a connection to the exploitation genre – true emotions and suffering of the protagonist intertwine with over-the-top serial killers getting their faces stabbed in fits of rage enacted to quench a thirst for bloody justice. The horror element so very clear in the surreal beginning of the game is replaced with a grounded experience of dirty lonely life. I had my problems with this, because that constantly changing forest riddled with bodies, was a promise of an otherworldly game.

This was one of the fun and cool-looking moments.

Then again, the shifting of gears from phantasmagoric to down to earth is neither abrupt nor lasting. The creepy visits to the other side of reality are still encountered in later parts of the game and I find them as my most memorable and most fun moments of The Cat Lady. But, of course, they are not the main dish. That titles is reserved for the story of a woman getting back the control over her life.  She claws her way out of the terrible depression by dealing head to head with a dreadfully sad and strangely drastic world filled to the brim with disturbed individuals.

Though, I find the intrigue to be truly fantastic, the gameplay at the start is beyond simplistic and straightforward. The game doesn’t support a mouse and instead is controlled with directional keys which is blasphemous to the oldschool adventure games’ spirit, but in this case is also quite elegant and comfortable. The Cat Lady is just incredibly streamlined. There is no chance to miss an item or a place of interest because they light up when you pass by. Fortunately, in the second part of the game, the possibilities open up and there is some item-on-item action to be had, but challenges are relatively small throughout.

The creator was quite clearly mostly concerned with the story and didn’t want the gameplay to get in the way. Although player’s actions can’t really change how the narrative unfolds, there is a chance to individualize the experience through dialog interaction. I mean, it’s mostly about creating the illusion that your choices count, but still it can be fun – you can speak your mind to a number of arrogant characters which I think is quite cathartic. And awesome.


Crucial to the experience is also the peculiar artstyle of the game. It’s a colorless photoshopped creation which sometimes look like cutouts, and sometimes like a strange mixture of computer-generated and drawn pictures. It’s effective in creating a consistent vision of this sad reality, but isn’t always so consistent in looking good. Actually, my first thought about the game was that the screenshots are somewhat poor. There is clearly a lot of Photoshop action going in the backgrounds, thing get muddied at times and the characters are less detailed. But in-game it just works, and has a visible charm. It can also be rather beautiful when all the right elements fall into place.

Musically, the game is quite varied. There are sounds torn out from dead computers but live instruments also get a chance to play and ooze some creepy atmosphere. It’s all appropriate and well-adjusted to the happenings on the screen. Sometimes simple yet extremely effective. There are even parts of the game where vocal songs are used to emphasize certain plot twists and emotional conundrums. It’s all very filmic, but in context they work very well. Also, worth mentioning is the dubbing of The Cat Lady. Lynsey Frost voicing the protagonist has a very calm voice that feels quite perfect for the main character. The rest of the cast does a wonderful job too, though sound mixing isn’t always perfect for some of the secondary characters. But the overall quality is very high for an indie production.

At first glance, The Cat Lady isn’t the most alluring of adventure games. For the most part, it feels like a short story masquerading as a game. But that story is incredibly engrossing and the photo-warped graphics are original and atmospheric. The horror is masterful but the game doesn’t lose sight of the emotional impact which can be powerful and quite unexpected. In my opinion, it’s a must-play for fans of horror that doesn’t aim to strictly entertain through shallow violence, because The Cat Lady skillfully balances between dread and gore.

cat lady 2
[Here’s the official site with a demo, and here’s one of the places where you can get it. It’s now on GOG too.]

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