Date archives for June, 2006

June 28th, 2006
Blog Entry

NiGHTS into Dreams

17th March 2007:

There’s so much speculation around the world about NiGHTS 2 at the moment, which means lots of people want to learn about the original game – brilliant! If you’re here from a link on a forum or just from browsing, I hope you feel welcome and enjoy reading about NiGHTS. Today I wrote another article responding to the NiGHTS 2 rumours, which you can read here.

All in all, thanks for coming and I hope you find NiGHTS interesting. If you have any questions I will do my best to answer!

NiGHTS into Dreams Part one – the score system

First of all, I’m certainly guilty of not playing NiGHTS as much as I should. I have put a lot of time into it (at least £500’s worth, I would’ve thought), but I keep telling myself I should play it more often, considering how often I bore everyone to death talking about how brilliant it is. The thing is that it’s a game of such rare quality I feel in some danger of somehow spoiling it; it’s an indulgence. If it were a cake it would be one of those massively fattening chocolate cakes with more sugar than most people can stomach (this isn’t to say I’m better than anyone, by the way.) Something like that, anyway. NiGHTS is a treat in the true sense of the word and, although it has more play value than almost any other game it should still be reserved for special occasions. I’ve deliberately not called it replay value as that somewhat implies you’re repeating things, but with NiGHTS you’re moving ever forward, exploring and discovering with every play. That’s down to some design ideas which still strike me as genius to this day.

The most important aspect of the game is its drive towards improvement by way of score; this system is so well-balanced it lends itself to almost infinite possibilities (though not scores.) Every item is worth a certain amount of points until you release the Ideya – at this point you get a bonus relating to how many seconds you took, and from then on all points are worth double. Simple. When you collect two or more items in quick succession you get a Link bonus – the more items you connect, the higher the bonus. Even one or two extra Chips represent an achievement when added to a Link.

For example, a course might feature two sections containing ten items each. If taken separately, the player will get two Links of nine – if she or she is able to connect them (through Paralooping or an extra item found somewhere) that can become twenty or more, which is much more valuable. This is an extremely simple example – more common in NiGHTS is the use of “teaser” items which promise massive continuous Links “if only” they can be used as connectors. The first time the player successfully achieves that continuous Link forms the achievement/satisfaction stage – the player has proved his or her goal to be attainable, and often recognises the quality of the game design and the understanding of the player’s mind.

After this achievement has been repeated (even improved) a few times comes the “expectation” phase – the player has proved it can be done and now expects him or herself to achieve it the majority of times. Failure to do so often results in increased determination in the player, an incorporation of stage four. In other games such failure could easily lead to frustration and eventually rejection, but in NiGHTS the margin of success* (not error) is so slim that the player knows it would only take an incremental improvement to fulfil his or her expectations. Either way, the sense of satisfaction more than compensates for any frustration the player might feel at their incompetence; if it were so easy to achieve, the sense of pleasure would be considerably reduced.

The stage of expectation is shared with that of altered objectives – the player has demonstrated his or her first target is attainable, and so begins to conjure up other ways in which their score could be improved: getting to the Ideya Capture a second earlier, executing a tighter Paraloop to save more time. Again, the margin of success for these targets is often extremely slim, but a brilliant consequence is that these skills are transferable across all courses; there are familiar item layouts and sequences in many courses, resulting in similar opportunities for continuous Links and so forth. This creates a cogent, ever progressing score narrative* encapsulating the entire game – a high score in one dream is likely to enable you to improve in another and so on. In this manner, the levels are connected through the player’s development, not the plot’s; targets achieved influence the player’s expectations and confidence as well as their abilities and awareness of what is possible within the game.

I’ve tried to investigate and theorise the NiGHTS score system as best I can, but there have been inevitable omissions, particularly the boss multiplier system. What’s here, however, is (pretty much) most of what I think is important to NiGHTS’s score-improving ethos.

Margin of success – the distance between fulfilling and failing the desired objective. Score narrative – the progression and improvements the player makes in his or her score over the game’s lifetime.



Blog Entry

Site updates 28th June

Hi everyone,

I updated the Harvest Moon Diaries to include another two years of Farmer James’s life. Please read it and enjoy it!

I’ll be keeping the Sonic-themed design for a while yet, as it took me a long time and I think it looks great. I celebrated the special day by wearing a Sonic badge to Uni, playing some Sega Superstars and baking Sonic a special blue cake with blue icing. Here’s a word of warning on that front – although food colouring is non-toxic, that doesn’t mean lots of it will have no effect.

Cake.jpg

Smallcake.jpg

Just to prove it was blue all the way through.

Sonic City has some great birthday wallpapers, screensavers, an iron-on t-shirt transfer and a competition to win some very nice Sonic-themed prizes. You need to be a member of Sega City to get in, but that’s free and takes no time. You could even try www.bugmenot.com

Sega of America, being useless, made little mention of the happiest day of the year apart from a small picture and a revamped site for the next-generation Sonic the Hedgehog title which, in my opinion, could well be total rubbish. Apparently this one features a telekinetic hedgehog from the future and Eggman kidnapping the “Princess of Soleanna”, and is Sonic’s first time in the human world (then what were humans doing in Sonic Adventure?). We’ll wait and see on this one.

In other non-Sonic-related news, I recently updated the music section to include another song from my album “Long Distance”. I’ll be regularly uploading songs both old and new (when I get some new ones!), so please check back regularly and feel free to leave comments on pages to let me know what you think.

Don’t forget you can subscribe to my RSS feed using http://www.prosody.co.uk/feed/, and if you see something you like feel free to comment or trackback it, or pass it on to a friend. Thanks for reading!


June 27th, 2006
Blog Entry

Fall

This next diary is a bit more complicated to pin together. I’ve grouped it all into one chapter, “Chapter Three: Happy Harvesting”, but judging by the dates given it seems to cover more than one year. Anyway, from what I can tell this is the 1st of Fall in the 1st year of this “chapter”, which makes it the third year for which I have a diary.

Here’s a quick update: James, Muffy and Boris are living happily in Forget-Me-Not Valley. Another two years or so have passed since the last chapter, and Boris certainly seems to have matured. James is still working hard on the farming side of things, but is Muffy satisfied with her life? Is James’s approach to Boris’s career guiding or stifling? Read on and make your own decisions!

1st Fall

Saw Hugh crying by the pond – offered him a flower and some fodder, but he wasn’t interested. Wally doesn’t seem to know what’s wrong with him, he just keeps talking about running.

This morning there was a wild hurricane. It was immense – sheets of rain and great rumblings, it was very scary. I thought of sticking with the animals but they seemed fine, so I walked around picking flowers until it finished after about six hours. It’s been raining ever since.

I planted 4 x Carrot A, 5 x Sweet Potato B and other stuff. Possibly Turnips. And Strawberries. I want to hybridise them at some point.

My new house.jpg

My new house.

2nd Fall

Going to be dry today, apparently.
Eliza’s going away – too many ducks, not enough chickens. Bye bye, Eliza.
6:30 – RAINING!
Lolly needs a wash.
It’s boring in the rain. I tried making crop circles in the grass, but it didn’t work.
TOMATOES ARE READY! 2 x Tomato A and 8 x Tomato B. Going to hybridise Tomato and Melon! Got a Tomato Seed, so restarted (omm).
Saving the melons to hybridise with Turnips, Carrots and Strawberries. Bought 15 Turnips, just to fill up my field.
Ella is only giving milk twice a day now, and it’s only A. I might sell her, even if we do go way back. I could use the room for a Star Cow ♀. I’d have to sell another animal too, maybe Lolly when she grows up.
Boris is much better behaved these days, especially at bedtimes. I’ll show him more animals tomorrow. I went for a run, bath then bed at 11.

3rd Fall

Woke up at 5am to birds chirping and no sign of rain. Hatman says sun for today!
No sign of my carrots sprouting yet. They’re A-grade and they better not fail. They have to be magnificent. I’m hoping to be farming all A or S-grade crops next year, so I’ll save Upseeds, buy fertiliser and get some fine crops.
Ou est Van? He set up about 1:10pm. Lots to sell today!
Got 2 x Turnip S and 2 x Turnip A! S went in the Seed Maker, A is going into my crop experiments, as well as B.

Hybrids! Watermelon + Turnip = Turnip :(

Turnip A + Tomato B = Trady B √

Hybridising seems to be rather luck-based. I’ve put my Turnips A & B in the Seed Maker so I can use one bag to plant and one to hybridise. I’m a genius, me.
About 3pm I saw something mysterious and blue running through my field! It might have been an alien… but it was Boris.

The Invisible Boris.jpg

Lolly grew up! Now I’m going to sell her. So heartless.

4th and 5th Fall

I sold Lolly – she was just taking up space. I think I’ll sell Bella’s baby and buy a Star Cow ♀. Yummy.
Spent a long time helping out Farmer Jim over at Parker Farm. He’s just starting out so I showed him the ropes, and he soon had his cow Wendy giving A-grade milk. He’ll go far.
Saw a lizard by the river! Carter told me he thinks Flora is strange as she spends all her time at the dig site (not true – I see her in town all the time.) He also asked me to smuggle in some food as he’s sick of her cooking. I don’t think he’s put 2 + 2 together yet…
No hybrids yet, but maybe tomorrow.
Attended the Harvest Festival in town, too. Not very exciting.

6th Fall

Time to hybridise! I’ve got four of each grade Turnip, four Tomato As, 4 Watermelon Ses and 6 Potato Bs.

Watermelon S + Turnip S = Raury B √

Tomato A + Turnip A = Trady B √

Potato B + Turnip B = Radita (Winter-Summer) √

That’s enough for one day. I can grow my Radita next season, fertilise them and re-seed them. I should get a good four or eight seeds. Not too much else going on today.

7th Fall.

Time flies! Again, a fairly unexciting day. I Harvested my Sweet Potatoes and another Turnip S – the S.P.s are going to Van, the Turnips on the Seed Maker. Next year I’ll have lots of S-grade crops, including Trady and Radita, as I bought a load of fertiliser. Next season is Upseed season too. Cool!
Ella’s stopped giving milk. I can’t get her pregnant yet because Bella is pregnant, but I’m thinking of selling her to get a Star Cow. I know she was my first cow, and she’s done my proud, but I think it’s time to move on. Maybe not for a while, as I wouldn’t be able to get the new one pregnant either. I could sell Ella and keep her space free until I can get a new cow, or buy now, sell later. I don’t know what to do. She needed a wash and I found her by the trough already. Clever girl!
She’s going. Selling normal cows is worthless, and no milk (it was only A) means she’s out. Better get Good Fodder now. I might sell Bruce and get a Star Cow ♂. Movin’ on up. I’ll have to take a picture before she goes.
Boris: Dwawing fun! I hope he doesn’t become an artist! I want a rancher son! It’s all he keeps saying! And then he wouldn’t go to bed!
Stupid artists. I’ll straighten him out tomorrow.

8th Fall.

Lovely IsabelWoke up at half five to find Takakura taking Ella away. I’ll miss her, and I never even got a photo of her. Bye bye Ella.
It’s a beautiful day today, and my strawberries are ready! Next season I’m not going to have many crops at this rate. I’ll have more S Strawberries and some B Potatoes to fertilise, but that’s about it. What to do..?
I’m selling Bruce and buying a Star Bull. Definitely moving up. I’ll beat that Farmer Boris from Tallula farm yet!
The new cow is here! Her name is Isabel.

Hybridised Upseed and Radita to get Radita S – should save the old fertiliser!
The field is so bare. I can’t wait to fill it up with more crops!

Fall 9th

The new cow should come today, and it’s bye bye Bruce.The butchest of butch bulls
Hatman forecasts rain today. Might plant some Carrots, but I might not. I’m fed up with Turnips.
The barn is so empty and quiet without Bruce and Ella.
Next season I’ll have 16 Strawberries, 5 Potatoes and a Radita. Busy! Might try the Turnips too, they don’t take a whole season.
The new bull is here! His name is Vince.

It’s snowing! It stopped raining for a few minute and now it’s snowing! Hugh seemed to like it, arms aloft.
Why did Rock buy Golden Wool? Is his hair a wig?

A woolly wig? You decide!

Planted 4 x Turnips, 4 x Strawberry S and 4 x Strawberry B, should get two yields from the last two, I hope. Shame it’s so dark!
Visited the Harvest Sprites. They’re weird and boring.

Fall 10th

Had a raw fish for breakfast at 5am.
I love the way the sun creeps down the hills and along the fields in the morning.
Typical! I let my animals outside and two minutes later it rains!
Muffy felt like music, so went to the river for two hours. Obviously.


Boris is definitely leaning towards artistic, so I took his c
olouring book. I don’t want him turning out like Farmer Boris from Tallula Farm’s son, Harry.

What an exciting season that must have been for all on Kent Farm! What will the hard Winter season hold for the family? Winter’s diary is coming soon!


June 26th, 2006
Blog Entry

Share something beautiful

If you’ve come here from the “Carnival of Creators” over at The Tool Rest (or any other site), I hope you feel welcome here. If you like this article, please do submit something creative – a link to something on your website would be very welcome!

You can subscribe using the RSS feed http://www.prosody.co.uk/feed, and bookmark the site with http://www.prosody.co.uk. Thanks for coming by and I look forward to celebrating your creative talents!
Two years ago I wrote a song called “Break the Silence” for my album Long Distance. I think it’s a nice song with some good lyrics and a nice melody and so on. What I really like about this song is one little melodic phrase halfway through. It’s almost inconsequential when you think about how long it is compared to the whole album, but I think it was a little gemstone. Here it is.

Break the Silence (sample)

Whenever I hear this it makes me happy and sad. I think it’s really good, but whether it is genuinely good or not doesn’t really matter. What makes me sad about it is that I’m proud of it but so few people have heard it.

I think a great shame in life is creating something really good that few or no people will ever see, hear, read or appreciate.

Good creations need to be shared with friends, family, other artists, or even the world. Part of the reason I started this website was to share my creations with people, whether I know them or not.

I understand that creations are precious things, and we might shy from sharing them because we think they’re fragile, and they – or we – will break if we open the cage. But I believe that anything that has been created with love and passionate vision is beautiful and strong.

I would like to invite you now to share with me something you have created that you’re proud of. We do sometimes have that mixture of pride and nerves which can hold us back. I would relaly like you to overcome that and share your creation with me.

It might be a poem, a piece of music or some art. It might not be any of these, but whatever you have made has genuine value and it deserves to have that value shared.

This is quite a gamble for me – it could easily fall on its face if nobody wants to make a gift to the world. It’s a gamble that might fail but it won’t stop me from trying.

If you have made something, whatever it is, please share it with me. Leave a comment with your creation, whether it’s a song, poem, art, fiction, video or anything else. You don’t have to leave your real name, but I’d like it if you did.

I look forward to you taking charge and sharing your talent with others. Remember you can subscribe using the RSS feed http://www.prosody.co.uk/feed, or bookmark me at http://www.prosody.co.uk. Thanks for coming by, and have a look over the rest of the site, particularly my “prose and poetry” section.


June 23rd, 2006
Blog Entry

Happy birthday Sonic!

NGPCrun.jpgIt’s my very favourite hedgehog’s 15th birthday today, and to celebrate I’ve made a very special Sonic design for the blog! It took me bloody ages so it might stay a while, but it’s my way of showing some love to Sonic.

Later on I’ll be baking a Sonic cake, photos of which will be online afterwards. I think I might also celebrate with some Sonic games, and by wearing Sonic badges and possibly even a t-shirt.

I do hope you will celebrate with me on this momentous day.


June 19th, 2006
Blog Entry

Player POV – Shining Force III

ppov.gif

Introduction.

This article is part of a joint-blogging project with my brother over at Sodaware.net. Every two weeks we will be looking at some of the best games ever made and taking two very different approaches to them – I will be dealing with a very player-oriented angle, whereas as a game developer Phil will be examining the game’s design and production to see what lessons game developers can learn from them.

The accompanying half of this article is over at www.sodaware.net

What is Shining Force III?

Shining Force III is a roleplaying game for the Sega Saturn console in 1997/1998 that uses a turns-based battle system, rather like chess. It was released in three separate scenarios, although the second and third scenarios were only available in Japan. It remains my favourite RPG of all time, despite very scarily being almost ten years old now.

Mixture of gameplay

I think one of the principal factors in Shining Force III’s (SFIII) appeal is its balance. Nintendo’s Fire Emblem series uses an almost identical battle system, but loses out because it fails to develop its characters and world as successfully as SFIII. The gameplay in SFIII varies from hardcore tactical battling to more open-hearted town exploration, and your journey through the SFIII world takes in cursed ghost towns, rich autumnal castle towns and everything in between.

02Scen1.jpg

It’s this creation of a sort of networked world around the player that really sets this out as an accomplished RPG.

Towns feel like they belong together in these countries, and although they’re all sufficiently different to mark them out they have a very familiar and recognisable style. Villagers, too, are all individual but not bizarre; it’s an RPG that focuses on a coherent world rather than trying to show how many different races and wacky ideas it can fit in. You really get the sense that this world hangs together.

Although SFIII does include traditional epic-fantasy RPG elements of great evil and resurrections and so on, it also has a very grounded and quite serious plot involving two warring nations, and the decisions that have to be faced by those lands’ leaders. I’m not going to pretend that it’s an in-depth political commentary, but it does help to frame the impending huge-scale disaster by including more realistic issues of famine and refugees.

Brain Training

What else is it about Shining Force III that captured me? Well, it’s a game that needs brain power. Not in the puzzle sort of sense, but the battles certainly require brain power and strategy of the highest order. The comparison with chess is probably a little strong here, but you do need to calculate several moves in advance against the larger enemies to figure out who should go where, when and what they should do. Some battles, not content with facing you against squads of highly tough warrior dwarves and hooded mages, include refugees to rescue or ancient temples to explore. These optional diversions really do help branch out and develop the battles by allowing a degree of differentiation – the player has control over as much or as little of the battle as they want. Don’t want to rescue the refugees being persecuted by the Empire? You’re heartless, but it’s your choice.

TimeSync

Following on from this, the decisions you make in Scenario I affect events in the other games through Camelot’s “Synchronicity” system. When you finish the first game, you create a save file which can then be used at the start of the second game. As all three games happen simultaneously, and use some of the same characters, locations and events, your actions have consequences for other characters. Getting to see the same events from different perspectives is also a refreshing idea, and although the second and third discs were in Japanese, I find it rather intriguing to think about the subtle differences there would be in how each side sees the same situation.

Summary

RPGs are supposed to have elements of fantasy, but there is only so far the player can suspend their disbelief when considering the world presented to them. Generally, elements such as fantastic creatures and magic are accepted because they relate to the player’s imagination, and often I think the player wants to believe in them. I want to believe in birdmen and magicians who can summon the phoenix and so on.

For an RPG to stretch the player’s imagination and yet remain mostly acceptable, it has to operate within some form of logical boundaries. Shining Force III does this brilliantly by creating towns and villagers that fit together by not always being outlandish, almost garish characters. The game’s small details all combine to create a background to one of the most involving games I have ever played.

For the other half of this article, be sure to head over to www.sodaware.net/blog to read a really interesting look at the game and what lessons game developers can learn from it.


June 12th, 2006
Blog Entry

Part two

Here’s some pages from one of the other diaries I found. I think it’s from a few years after the first one, as James seems to refer to a wife and son, who don’t appear in the first diary. I’d love to know what happened in the years between these books, but unfortunately I don’t seem to have the missing books. If anyone has any ideas, let me know.

Chapter two: Happy birthday!

Galen.jpgForget-Me-Not Valley has changed quite a bit since my first year here. It’s still mostly the place I fell in love with, and even in as small and insular a place as this progress is inevitable. The saddest change this year was when we lost Nina. Poor Galen hasn’t been the same since, plodding around town and tending to Nina’s grave and memorial. I try to get through to him with polite conversation and crops and milk, but he doesn’t seem interested, just grumbling and fixing me with his glassy eyes. Sometimes he stands on the bridge and stares at the river flowing away to the sea. I worry about what he might be thinking… he must be so alone.

A slightly happier change is the arrival of Samantha, Kate and Grant, a new family whose house is the middle one in this photo.

Houses in the rain.jpg

They’re a funny family really. Kate seems a bit of a spoil little brat, Grant is always running to and fro to the city (or the Blue Bar!) and Samantha seems a very uptight and proper lady. They’re a bit of an odd bunch, and it’s rare to see them together, but all the same, Forget-Me-Not Valley is richer for their presence.

Elsewhere around me I can see the effects of change. Lumina’s piano playing is fantastic now; I love hearing her play, and I’ve just noticed that Hugh and Rock seem older these days. I think in my mind they’ve been these cute little boys for the past few years, but now I can see they’re becoming young men.

Thinking about the younger residents of the Valley makes me cast my mind onto my son, Boris. It’s the hardest thing in the world to judge whether Muffy and I are doing a good job as parents, but I think we are – Boris is well-behaved (if not a little energetic!) apart from bedtimes, which have seen quite a few struggles! I think the key is not to play with him too close to “night night”.

He seems interested in eggs and milk, and anything to do with animals, which I suppose is natural growing up on a farm! All the clichés about parenting being “the greatest adventure” seem very true now!

The farm continues to grow, with new buildings, animals and crops. We have a couple of ducks called Jilly and Billy, a few new cows and a sheep. Money is thankfully no problem, so I can commit to giving Boris the best upbringing I can.

That’s all I could salvage from this second diary, but I think there are some great insights in there, and it’s clear that James has really settled into his life in Forget-Me-Not Valley, both in terms of farming and family. The next diary was much more intact, so I’m posting it up a season at a time. Click here for Fall’s diary.


June 10th, 2006
Blog Entry

Harvest Moon diaries

Looking through my chest of drawers earlier I found some old books bound in cracked leather under a pile of dusty blankets. The pages flaked in my hands when I touched them, but as I read the blotty handwriting I felt a sense of a story coming together. They appear to be the diaries of a farmer by the name of James, and as a service to him I thought I’d post what I’ve found. Some chunks seem to be missing, but what’s here is, I think, genuinely fascinating. I hope you enjoy reading it.

Chapter One: The Beginning

I moved into Forget-Me-Not Valley a few years ago to take up the farm my father left me after his death. Those first few years were hard – I had to learn a new trade in a place that was completely foreign to me. I didn’t know anybody, and the pace of life seemed so different to what I was used to.

For the first year I tried to focus my efforts on making money from the farm. Wow, I remember what it was like back then; a run-down, ramshackle sort of place with a cow and a tiny house. It took a lot of effort to turn it around, but within a few months my cow was happier and I’d successfully grown my own crops for the first time. Whoever said that homegrown crops taste better should have tasted mine back then… I guess every rule has its exception!

That year went so fast, and by the end of those first four seasons I’d begun raising chickens, sheep, had a pond installed and even got engaged to my dear Muffy. Quite an eventful year!

Click here for the second diary


June 8th, 2006
Blog Entry

Links

Here are some websites that I find interesting, enjoyable and helpful in my life. Give them a click and see if you agree.

Phil Newton.net
PhilNewton.net is dedicated to helping you get the most out of your life through various methods. Articles are regularly published on a variety of subjects, from time management to beating procrastination.

PhotoRouge
PhotoRouge is the photography website of Hannah Marshall where you can find inspiring images of breathtaking insight and beauty.

Sodaware.net
Sodaware is a UK-based software business formed in 2006 run by my brother, and includes a blog and articles to help other software developers.

The Shots Still Ringing
A fantastic fansite dedicated to the increasingly world-conquering band Embrace.

The Mean Machines Archive
A massive shrine to the video game magazine Mean Machines, including loads of interviews with old staff members – quite the feat!


June 4th, 2006
Blog Entry

It’s all changed!

As you’ll have realised if you’re reading this, www.prosody.co.uk has undergone a quite serious overhaul. Here’s the heart of what’s new:

  • My blog is now powered by WordPress instead of Pivot. Pivot was great for me and I really do recommend it, but with moving servers I wanted to give WordPress a go. I may even end up switching back, you never know.
  • New look for the site as a whole, mostly linked to the WordPress thing. Phil’s awesome design is gone and I’ll probably be designing the look of the site myself.
  • A more integrated hub for all things to do with me. Previously parts of me have been flung to the four Internet winds, but they’re now all here – music, writings, art, the lot.

I’ve now also got up lots more content that I’ve been promising for ages, particularly the fabled Harvest Moon diaries, and in the coming months I’ll also be adding more music, art, writing and longer articles on topics as diverse as motivation and the beauty of the turns-based battle system in RPGs.

If you haven’t visited Prosody.co.uk before, welcome, and thanks for coming! You can find out who I am by looking in the “About” section at the top there, and from then on my site is your site. Have a look around, read some articles, leave a comment here or there telling me what you thought about it.

Note to everyone – the address of this site is now just www.prosody.co.uk. I’ve dropped the /blog bit, so if you could just link to the main page that would be great.

I hope you come back soon!


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