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Molyneux at GDC
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Poo Bear
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PostPosted: Mon May 09, 2005 7:13 am    Post subject: Molyneux at GDC Reply with quote

I hate to see Peter Molyneux making sense*, but at a recent talk at the Game Developer Conference he had me convinced. A lot that was said seems very relevant to downloadable demo's i.e. people not having a lot of time, having to grab them pretty much instantly, etc. I always thought it didn't really apply to mainstream games, it always seemed to me that the kid in GameStop buys whatever the marketing men tell him is cool and sexy. Is that changing?

I'll try and summarize for you here:

1. you need a clear game concept i.e. GTA = be a gangsta, The Movies = run a movie studio, Black & White2 = be a good or evil god. People need to get what you're doing instantly, they don't have time to dig through to "get it".

2. you have 10seconds to grab them at the shop demo console or cover disc demo - we've gone beyond games needing a manual, or even ingame instructions or tutorial, those days are over. We need simple and obvious to understand, great depth definitely, but very very simple obvious things to do that start entertaining from the off.

3. ability to experiment and play with the environment i.e. in Fable you can play the pre-built adventure or just walk around, talk to people and do little bits and pieces. Don't force people to follow your pre-scripted "adventure" let them do it at their own pace.

4. morphable game play - the game has something in it that appeals to lots of different audiences and their tastes i.e. anyone should be able to get _something_ out of it. You don't know what people like or don't like, everyone is different so don't turn them off. If people don't like research then have an ok but not great "automate" option, if the don't like building or customizing then have an automate option. If they want to build everything before moving on so the game is easier then let them. If they want to kill all the worms in zone1 then let them, in fact encourage them, have them rewarded for doing it, have the locals thank them.

5. make sure you have at least some cool new possibly irrelevant "stuff" to excite reviewers, the hard core and fill screen shots and videos. Mouse gestures, fantastic graphics, voice command control, multiplayer, etc, etc.

6. don't make games that play in the frontend i.e. if you are looking through stats screens, moving sliders, pressing buttons, studying data, etc. Very few people find that fun initially if ever. This is hard core stuff not mainstream. Consider including for hardcore players to find and spend hours fiddling with to get some tiny perceived advantage.

7. make mouse driven games and put the information into the game world itself i.e. look at where the mouse is, work out what he is doing (context sensitive) and put the information/stats right into the world, have someone tell you, not just dry tool tips. Pick up or drag, drop onto something, make something happen. Get NPC's talking to you properly about things you need to know.

8. keep the HUD clear, as the player drags and drops around the world initiating important activities THEN start popping little reminders onto his HUD. The HUD should only ever contain critically important information relevant to that moment.

9. players understand and want complex emotional activity i.e. when making a movie the player wont be interested in the technical aspects of the process but he will immediately understand that if he makes the lead actress and the director have an affair he will cause studio gossip and increase onscreen chemistry. Stats screens, fiddly details and "clever" game activities always need explanation and study whereas more complex emotional or interpersonal activities need no explanation and we are hard wired to enjoy them.

10. let people do what they want within the context of the game i.e. in B&W2 if you want to build faster just grab people and wood and throw it at the building, if you don't want to wait for daytime just grab the moon and drag it round. Don't make them wait, don't make them conform to the world, make the world conform to their will and time commitments.

11. Use physics, world rules and the universal mouse hand to let the player do as much as he wants i.e. make the world respond predictably regardless of what the player chooses i.e. if you pick up a rock and throw it at a wall then it must break the wall properly, if you stack up boulders on a pass and then pull out the one holding them back then all the boulders should roll down and crush everything in their path as you would expect. In B&W2 a volcano use a proper lava physics simulation to have lava properly flow around the map hence the player has to think about where to put it and it's possible for the opponent to divert it. Whatever you expose in your game world, think about how a player might believe he can interact with it and make it happen. Don't put planets in your space game if you aren't going to let them land on them. Don't make it look like there is an easily accessible world outside the race track if you aren't going to let them drive onto it.

12. the true mass market care about people, reality, relationships, emotion, beauty, conflict, death, pain and entertainment - minorities care about shooting, war, stats, levels, repetition, rules, etc.

13. "digital clay" the nirvanna of construction - an object you can just grab and drag into rough shapes, the game recognizes those shapes and then creates the object properly i.e. if you want a chair just make a rough chair shape and then it will pop into a proper nice chair model. No lists to scroll through or buttons to press.


*populous3 was a big let down, DungeonKeeper was clever for about 30mins, Black & white didn't actually work for 3 months until they patched it and then it just didn't deliver and Fable was unbelievably hyped up (although it was about the best of the bunch).
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PostPosted: Mon May 09, 2005 9:29 am    Post subject: Re: Molyneux at GDC Reply with quote

Poo Bear wrote:
if you don't want to wait for daytime just grab the moon and drag it round.

This is my problem with interfaceless interfaces. Sure, this sounds wonderfully intuitive after you've been told, but who's going to expect that to happen? Yes, you can experiment and figure these things out eventually, and that's cool, but that's in a game designed by a genius. Then of course we see everybody else trying to copy it and coming up with stupid and opaque interfaces where exploration is an exercise in masochism. Until we have natural language processing and sufficiently bright computers to understand what you're asking them, we're not going to have a "natural" communication with the game. Right now we're interacting like infants shaking a rattle, pointing a clumsy finger or shouting "Ball!"

I agree quite strongly with points 1 and 12, even though I can see that I'm not always good at thinking in that way.

Actually, come to think of it, point 1 is probably a large part of the reason I haven't bought a game in the shops for so long. I don't mind so much if a game can't be described in a few words, but it is important to clearly demonstrate itself in a few screenshots. I know I'm living in the past here, but I really don't think 3D graphics help here, and certainly not those aiming to be photorealistic. They can convey a lot in terms of atmosphere and theme, but are generally poor at communicating what I will get to do in the game. In fact, I'm not sure interfaceless interfaces help either - I like to see at least one or two indicators on the screen so that I have some idea of what I'm doing. (BTW - Make HUD more beautiful and less confusing in Starscape 2!)

My head is all foggy today. I'm going to post this now before I forget, and I apologise if my thoughts are a bit rambly and disconnected.
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Hamish
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PostPosted: Mon May 09, 2005 10:03 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree that interfaces should be as simple and easy to learn as possible, but going to the extent of having the player draw the spell is a bit too much. In Black & White I would of much rather clicked a button with a picture of a fireball on it.

I think he has some great ideas about design, but his games fall flat in the execution. I enjoy them for a while while marvelling at the cool features, then when I'm over them the gameplay is pretty bad - Dungeon Keeper and Populous 3 just required a big mass of one unit and some braindead use of spells, B&W doesn't feel like a God sim at all when you're running after farmers lost sheep and walking your giant farm animal around on a leash. I haven't played Fable but I hear it's a dissapointment too.
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PostPosted: Mon May 09, 2005 12:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Looking at the latest unreal tournament stuff on 1-UP, they talk about really evolving speech to text, and resultant parsing of that text. (see page 3)


If the kind of stuff the are on about works, then it could be really interesting.

*Surely it won't work when a woman gives it directions?

"it's in the thing over the on the left"


*Sexist assumptions based purely on my wife's direction giving abilities - apologies to all ladies out there capable of reading a map... Very Happy
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PostPosted: Mon May 09, 2005 8:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Most adventure games are a good example of the stupidity of programming, how many times did I buy into the hype of some grand fantasy adventure only to get stuck 10mins into it. At which point one of my long suffering friends would be dragged in to help me out and the conversation would go like this:

"I'm stuck, some bandits are blocking the only exit out of the village, that
bridge over the river, they are too tough to kill."

"Have you tried just killing all the respawning beasts in that little woods, maybe you just need to get harder?"

<5mins later>

"I tried that, it makes no difference. They just beat me up in a cut scene, laugh at me and then I end up back in the middle of the village. Anyway, how come no matter how many giant rabbits I kill in the woods there are always more waiting?"

"Errr. Have you talked to everyone in the village?"

"No, why should I do that, I should just be able to swim across the river, or make/steal a boat, or wait till night and sneak across or pay some of the villagers to help me or set fire to that wagon and push it at them or build a bridge from some trees or disguise myself or lure them away or...."

"Look, just go talk to everyone for goodness sake."

<10mins pass>

"Ok, I talked to everyone and nothing. Various people rambled on about needing various things, monsters in the woods, a lost son in some caves, blah, blah. Nothing relevant."

"No, most of those things are mini-quests, one or two might be needed to get you out, you better do all of them."

"You're joking right? Ok. Tsk!"

<60mins pass>

"Jeez, it turns out the bandits have blocked the village off until some kid is turned over because he had it away with the head bandits daughter. He ran off into the caves to hide and was captured by goblins. After I freed him he gave me his ring so I could prove to the bandits I had seen him and they wouldn't immediately kill me. Then I could take some other loot I'd been able to find and use it as a bribe to satisfy the bandit leader to let the kid off and free the village. I've now got some talisman that means if I ever run across more bandits then they will help me."

"So, that was cool then? Nice bit of story, it all linked together and you seem to be setup for more bandit related stuff later."

"Not really, I thought the kid should have been strung up and I wanted to kill all those stupid bandits. Why on earth can't my character swim? What about those high and mighty villagers, why didn't they rescue the kid or stump up the bribe money? And what's with the monster rabbits? Why can't I just burn the woods down then there'd be no more rabbit beasts and as a side bonus everyone in the village would presumably starve or freeze to death or both. Mwahahahahaha. Stupid game."

"Why do you bother if you aren't going to put the effort in?"

"That's just it, I like the idea of fantasy adventuring, fighting, saving the day and all that. BUT - I don't want it to be a load of hard work, I want to be entertained, I want to have fun. Talking to EVERYONE and making sure I clicked on EVERYTHING and completed EVERY single go here, kill this, fetch this ****** side quest, level yourself up monster treadmill is not my idea of fun!"

"Please either stop buying games or stop talking to me about them."

Anyway....

One approach to putting things right is mentioned by Molyneux, use a predictable response physics engine so as much of the world as possible works. Use context sensitive responses so as much of the world as possible does something predictable when you prod it. Use procedural systems and rules so that items can be used together in unpredictable ways and still actually do something that makes sense. Build intelligence into NPC's so that you can influence them by fear or reward to go somewhere or do something.

The problem here is you soon see combinatorial explosion of possible actions and outcomes. Even at a basic level this is a ton of work to get through and nobody is going to hang around long enough to experience it unless the game looks fantastic anyway (which is also a ton of work). Even in the world of academia AI and reasoning are still at a pretty dumb level.

Another approach is to try and predict everything that is reasonable for a player to do and make as many of those actions as possible actually work. Then take all the ones that wont work and try to make it obvious they wont work. Either by just telling them they can't do it, or constraining the ways they interact with the world, or explaining certain limitations via story and environment. Now add systems to encourage and tease the player along one of a few paths through the adventure while offering many minor entertainments along the way. This is what everyone has been trying to do recently, but I still haven't seen it work that well yet.
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PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2005 3:49 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

If you haven't already, you should try some PC RPGs - I recommend Deus Ex 1, Fallout 2 and Baldurs Gate 2. Fallout 2 in particular gives the play immense freedom to do what he wants while still maintaining a coherent and progressive storyline. Just make sure not to read any walkthroughs, if you know what to do it's possible to completely break the game and get the most powerful items right away. But for a first-time player it's perfect.
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PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2005 5:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

yah deus ex is the greatest game ever
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PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2005 6:16 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I agree. It's a real shame they screwed up the sequel so much, it seems like there's no room in the mainstream for games like that anymore Crying or Very sad
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PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2005 7:40 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yeh, I thought DeusEx was cool too until I was trapped in a supply depot filled with containers which I couldn't work out how to escape from. The depot had these patrolling robots that would kill you if you were on the floor. This meant the game turned into a platform jumping challenge except it wasn't really well designed for that so every time I missed a jump I fell off and broke my legs but didn't die. A nice bit of humiliation followed as I crawled away from the robot which was pretty much guaranteed to finish me off.

So, four problems conspired to make me never play again:

1. The game I thought was a first person shooter adventure turned into a platform game and not a very good platform game (it was hard to know when to jump or how far you would go). So rightly or wrongly I felt that most of the time I was falling off because the game wasn't very good, not because I wasn't very good (which would have been fair enough).

2. A game renowned for offering player choice didn't seem to be offering me any choice in this particular challenge. I wasn't interested in jumping around on containers but I couldn't see any other option.

3. I couldn't work out what to do in the depot yard after repeated attempts.

4. The game didn't just kill me, it humiliated me by breaking my legs and leaving me crawling around.

p.s. in all honesty DeusEx was great and I enjoyed it up until this point. I'm sure there were lots of other approaches I could have taken but I wasn't willing to put the work in to find out.
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PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2005 7:55 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Funny thing is I cannot remember the last mainstream game I actually finished and it is always for the reasons mentioned above.

1. The mechanic changed to something I wasn't expecting and wasn't the core of the main game so hadn't been implemented very well.
2. I didn't know what to do to make progress.
3. The game killed me in a seemingly unfair or humiliating way.

I don't really remember not playing something just because I didn't like it or was bored, but that is probably because I wont buy something unless i've played a demo.

Ion Storm made another game that felt like DeusEx called Thief:deadly shadows, I think I enjoyed it more because I got further before hitting problems 1,2,3. In that game you moved from one house to the next stealing items and uncovering an ever more insidious plot that saw you evolve from a simple thief to a save-the-world hero. Initially the game let you do what you want, go where you want and kill who you want. There were consequences but it was wide open. Later all these "quests" emerged with you as this hero figure and you were pushed into very tough confrontations and forced to use stealth and not kill certain key important characters. Around that time I felt I'd had my ability to choose removed and was being forced to act a certain way and take on certain tough challenges. Needless to say that was the point that the game was uninstalled.

The last games I remember finishing were SpaceTripper and Halo (oh that is mainstream isn't it).
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PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2005 8:00 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hamish wrote:
It's a real shame they screwed up the sequel so much, it seems like there's no room in the mainstream for games like that anymore Crying or Very sad


How come Invisible War made $5million in the UK and Thief:Deadly shadows (which was a great game in the same style as DeusEx1 was) made only $2.5million ?
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PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2005 8:17 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Marketing?

I've only played the first level of Deus Ex, and I hated it. Still, far more people I know have heard of the Deus Ex games than of Thief:Deadly Shadows.

In the little bit of Deus Ex (the first one) I played, it felt like Old Man Simulator. It seemed I had to get lots of XP just to be able to play without hindrance.
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PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2005 8:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Invisible War is alot more basic, I still finished it but felt incredibly let down compared to the original. I have no idea why it sold more, maybe the public find anime-looking guys with guns in the future more appealing than dark medieval backstabbery. I liked Thief 3 much better although it was far from perfect for the reasons you mentioned.

For the depot, I think you might be talking about the one in the airport. In which case you could sneak past the robots on the ground level (probably the toughest option), kill them with EMP grenades or the rocket launcher, or take the sewer route to the docks and bypass them completely. I never found out you could jump on the crates until my 3rd play of the game, in which case it was very difficult to make the jumps without the jumping augmentation.
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PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2005 11:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Poo Bear wrote:
Yeh, I thought DeusEx was cool too until I was trapped in a supply depot filled with containers which I couldn't work out how to escape from. The depot had these patrolling robots that would kill you if you were on the floor. This meant the game turned into a platform jumping challenge except it wasn't really well designed for that so every time I missed a jump I fell off and broke my legs but didn't die. A nice bit of humiliation followed as I crawled away from the robot which was pretty much guaranteed to finish me off


yah the airport is hard unless you bring the GEP gun and lots of rockets (in the begining always pick the GEP gun beacuse (A) the crosbow is caryed by half the enamys in the first level and (B) thare is also a sniper rifle in the first level
also the GEP gun is the safest way to take out robots and MJ12 comandos)
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PostPosted: Tue May 10, 2005 3:43 pm    Post subject: Re: Molyneux at GDC Reply with quote

Poo Bear wrote:
1. you need a clear game concept...
2. you have 10seconds to grab them... simple obvious things to do that start entertaining from the off.


Agreed. The depth needs to come as you play, not right at the start. If you do have a tutorial, have a big obvious "skip tutorial" button, before it loads.

I thought Descent:Freespace (also called Contact:Freespace in parts of Europe) did a fairly good job of this. You had a couple tutorial missions to teach you the most very basic stuff -- here's how to move, here's how to get target indicators around enemies, here's how to match speeds with an enemy. Really, though, they could've done even less -- start the first mission with the "auto-target enemies" setting on, and just let you play. What was nice, though, is that as the game went on there were a couple more short training missions that would introduce you to new technology -- "oh, by the way, you have countermeasures you can drop to avoid missiles" and "here's how to use these new shield systems" and stuff. You mostly got to just fight stuff, but there was just enough training to make you feel like you weren't totally lost.

Quote:
Don't force people to follow your pre-scripted "adventure" let them do it at their own pace.


This is why I'd recommend Baldurs Gate 1, not BG2. In BG1, you have lots of open countryside to explore. Plus, you don't start someplace as dark and depressing as Irenicus' dungeon (which, by the way, wasn't even necessary story-wise. It still doesn't make sense why he's such a psycho at the end of the game.)

Quote:
4. morphable game play.... If people don't like research then have an ok but not great "automate" option


Depending on the game, you may want an "automate" option, or just a "recommend" option. Possibly even allow people to automate / recommend based on a few preset strategies -- let them choose between fast and dangerous, slower and safer, or thorough and methodical. This would determine, for example, whether you went for blaster 2's right away or held back and built station defenses and scoops.

Quote:
7. make mouse driven games and put the information into the game world itself i.e. look at where the mouse is, work out what he is doing (context sensitive) and put the information/stats right into the world, have someone tell you, not just dry tool tips. Pick up or drag, drop onto something, make something happen. Get NPC's talking to you properly about things you need to know.


Allow the information to be accessed multiple ways. If you want there to be a mouse shortcut to make it daytime instead of nighttime by dragging the moon around, you should ALSO have a simple menu command that does the same. That way, someone can just look through the menus and spot the command and realize it's there. If they don't know it can be done, they'll never try it.

This is also why game manuals, or at least reference sheets, are still useful.

Quote:
8. keep the HUD clear... The HUD should only ever contain critically important information relevant to that moment.


Give the player the ability to customize their HUD (again, like in Freespace.) Let them show or hide menu bars and status bars. Let them choose to add indicators they might find "critically important" even though you, the game designer, don't. Make the default HUD only have what seem to be the most important of these, but include plenty that end users can access.

For example: one thing I'd love on the Starscape HUD would be some sort of indicator of the current status of my R&D stuff. How many mins do I still need? How many items are still being built? Has it finished? I hate warping out only to find that if I'd spent 20 more seconds in the zone, my research would've completed and I could start building that ever-important item, but instead I'm going to have to fight a whole zone full of guys before I can even start building because my research was 2 purples away from being done.

Quote:
9. players understand and want complex emotional activity


Again, depends on the game type and the intent.

Is it going to be an RPG that I pour 3 hours at a time into? I probably want some good character development. I want to like the characters I'm playing with.

Is it doing to be a quick little shootemup game I'll play for 15 minutes at a time, like Raptor: Call of the Shadows? Then don't bore me with dialogue or characters, just let me shoot stuff.

Starscape was sort of stuck in the middle here, for me. It had more character development than I want in a quick shooter, but not as much as I'd want in an RPG. It felt kind of cheesy, because it was incomplete.

Quote:
10. let people do what they want... Don't make them wait, don't make them conform to the world, make the world conform to their will and time commitments.


There definitely needs to be a "speed up" button in any game that has long building phases or long travel times.

In shooter type games, this often comes down to level design -- if you're going to make a level I'm going to have to cross 5 or 6 times, there better be a "short way" across. It can be a way that gets opened once I've fought my way across once (say, a locked door I can access with a key later on, or a walkway that wasn't safe before I'd taken out a certain guard post) but it has to be there. If there's a long and tedious maze, there should definitely be a way to avoid it later on, or at least a way to open some shortcuts.

Quote:
11. Whatever you expose in your game world, think about how a player might believe he can interact with it and make it happen.


Agreed.

Quote:
12. the true mass market care about people, reality, relationships, emotion, beauty, conflict, death, pain and entertainment - minorities care about shooting, war, stats, levels, repetition, rules, etc.


See what I said about #9.

Let me say it more strongly -- if I'm playing a VIDEO GAME, I'm probably not doing it in the interest of relationships. I have a wife, friends, siblings (7 of them), and a whole host of other relationships. I don't need artificial relationships in my games.

Some games are more serious than others. In the non-serious games (Tetris, Raptor, Minesweeper), just give me a game to play. In the more serious games, make me care about saving the world I'm trying to save (Baldurs Gate 1 did this very well -- I wanted to protect Beregost and Gullykin and Nashkel; BG2 wasn't so good -- I didn't care one bit about anyplace but D'Arnise Keep, and even that was questionable.) But don't make my caring about the world depend too heavily on specific relationships -- for example, if the only reason you give me to care about your game world is a romance you thrust upon me, you'll probably fail miserably because you're not going to give me a character who truly interests me romantically. Optional romances are fine, but make me care about the world by making me want to save everybody, not just one character.

Quote:
13. "digital clay" the nirvanna of construction... No lists to scroll through or buttons to press.


Major, major disagreement here. Anyone who's ever used a Palm Pilot rather than a keyboard can tell you, it can be frustrating having to try to create a symbol the computer recognizes instead of just pushing a button.

-----------

Quote:
I don't mind so much if a game can't be described in a few words, but it is important to clearly demonstrate itself in a few screenshots. I know I'm living in the past here, but I really don't think 3D graphics help here, and certainly not those aiming to be photorealistic.


I totally agree. I often see photo-realistic 3D screenshots of a game, and I have no idea what sort of game it is. RPG? FPS? Puzzle game? Who knows; all I see is a fancy 3D rendered scene.

Quote:
"I'm stuck, some bandits are blocking the only exit out of the village, that
bridge over the river, they are too tough to kill."

-- snip: much dialogue --


Man, I know exactly how that is. That's one thing you REALLY don't want to do. If something is absolutely critical to finishing a section of the game, make it like in Baldurs Gate 1 -- where like 3/4 of the people in Nashkel say something about the Nashkel mines and the iron shortage. Hint, hint, maybe you should go to the mines, hint.

And, as you said... try to predict everything a player might want to do, and either make it work somehow, or make it clear why there are limits on it.

Man, I have a lot of thoughts on game design!
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