A Beautiful Moment

Last week Sony held a video showcase for games people could look forward to playing on the PlayStation 5. To be honest, it wasn’t really on my radar because I’ve always leaned more towards Nintendo and Xbox consoles – not that there aren’t good and exciting games on PlayStations. Anyway, as my housemate Sophie is rather more invested in the PlayStation than I am, we ended up watching the showcase together on our television.

As it happens, I’m very glad we did watch the showcase together because it lead to what I would describe as one of the most beautiful moments of my life. That may sound a little strange, and indeed, if I had told myself that the PlayStation showcase would lead to one of the most beautiful moments of my life, I’d have been sceptical. How could it? Why would it? It’s not like it’s a Christmas meal at Nando’s or a trip to go and visit an old friend.

Well, during the presentation, the game Final Fantasy XVI was announced. Nobody really saw this coming and it was a nice surprise (although to quietly toot my own horn for a second, I did say earlier in the day “Maybe they’ll announce Final Fantasy XVI.”) As someone who rather likes Final Fantasy, I thought that was pretty cool. I hope I get the chance to play it sooner or later as I’m sure I’ll enjoy myself. Sophie, on the other hand, had a different, stronger reaction.

Let me first give you some context: Sophie loves Final Fantasy. She has done all her life. She’s had fun playing the games during the nostalgic years of her childhood and as an adult, continues to enjoy the series and even draws from it to help inspire her creative writing. It helped mould her interest in literature and other media and has prompted her to go on to try lots of other things which she’s also loved a lot. It’s no exaggeration to say that Final Fantasy is one of the core pillars which makes up who Sophie is – she loves it and it is part of her identity.

So when Sophie saw the Final Fantasy XVI trailer, she was screaming with joy as tears poured down her face and she ran around the room with such overflowing excitement that she could not keep herself still. She even spilled her tea. I can honestly say that I have never seen anybody so happy and excited in my entire life. This is pretty significant, because I’ve seen close friends getting married before. I’ve had friends introduce me to new babies.

You might say to yourself, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a video game.” But to me, her reaction is very understandable. How many hours of her life have been spent playing each of the previous games in the series? How many times has a Final Fantasy game been there when she’s had a bad day? How many new things has she been introduced to thanks to Final Fantasy? How many interesting new writing ideas has it given her? Now, consider, Final Fantasy XVI will do all of this for her again. It’s wonderful news and she has a lot to look forward to. Anyone in that position would be so happy.

Sophie and I have known one another for almost seven years and lived together for over a year. We’re very close and to see somebody that I care about so much overcome with such a large dose of pure happiness was overwhelmingly heart-warming. That’s why I’d describe it as one of the most beautiful moments of my life. I can only hope that I get to see my other close friends experience such levels of happiness as Sophie did that night and that Sophie herself has many more moments of undiluted joy in her life going forward.

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Mort by Terry Pratchett

Upon reading Mort, the fourth of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, I felt that the series had reached a new height. I’d enjoyed the three books which came before it, but this one felt like it had a little more heart to it and it’s storyline was certainly something rather unique.

All of the other books had featured appearances of Death to some extent or another. I always enjoyed his appearances (especially when his adopted daughter Ysabell was introduced) so I was delighted that Death was right at the heart of this novel. The story this time is that Death has decided to take on an apprentice and the titular Mort is that apprentice.

Something I especially enjoyed about this book is the way in which it tried to rationalise the way a living embodiment of Death would actually work. We learn a little about his systems and the domain in which he lives. We also learn more about him as a person and the toll that it would take on somebody if their entire identity was the very thing which most people fear the most. He’s something of a tragic figure… but in an oddly down to Earth sort of way which makes him quite relatable.

Though I do think that he is somewhat overshadowed by Death, I did rather like Mort as well. At first it felt like he was a little bit of a joke – a simpleminded fool who had found himself in a situation he couldn’t comprehend. As it went on, he was revealed to be a character with a little more depth than I expected. I have to admit, that he did start to feel like a little bit of a generic protagonist, but I did appreciate the journey that his character went on. His relationship with Ysabell was certainly an interesting one as well.

While it is the fourth book in the series, you could probably start with this one, if you wanted. Death and Ysabell have both appeared before, but you’re introduced to them through Mort as he meets them for the first time, so you can learn about them at the same pace as he does. Rincewind and the Unseen University also show up, but again, they are used in such a way that you’ll be fine if you have no foreknowledge.

The story is a fascinating one which deals with fate, the path of time, Death’s role in the universe and more. What would happen if Death refused to take somebody who was destined to die? Well, read this and you’ll find out. It’s a pretty profound book a lot of the time, with lots of very clever things to say. That’s all mixed in with a lot of very ‘ordinary’ humour and it might sound like that would be jarring, but it works beautifully. I don’t use ‘ordinary’ in a derogatory way either, just in the sense that the comedy helps the book feel grounded in reality without flying too far off into the realms of philosophic reflection.

If you think the idea of Death taking an apprentice sounds too silly, think again. It has a sense of humour, but this novel is far from being too silly. It’s really beautifully written is so different from anything else I’ve ever read. I strongly recommend it.

Rating: 8.9/10

Buy it here.

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Game & Watch reviews:

Nintendo’s endearing series of retro handheld games, plus the later appearances of Mr. Game & Watch.
YearGameScore
1980Ball6/10
1980Vermin6/10
1980Fire7.3/10
1980Judge6.5/10
1981Manhole2.9/10
1981Helmet6.8/10
1981Parachute7.2/10
1981Octopus5.9/10
1981Chef7.4/10
1982Snoopy Tennis4/10
1982Oil Panic5/10
1982Donkey Kong5.5/10
1982Donkey Kong Jr.7.5/10
1982Green House8/10
1983Donkey Kong II6/10
1983Mario Bros.7.9/10
1986Super Mario Bros.6.1/10
1997Game & Watch Gallery8.3/10
2001Super Smash Bros. Melee ¹9.5/10
2003WarioWare, Inc.: Minigame Mania ²8.9/10
2006Game & Watch Collection8/10
2008Super Smash Bros. Brawl ³9.5/10
2010Donkey Kong Country Returns9.5/10
2012Nintendo Land8.7/10
2013Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D9.5/10
2014Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS8.9/10
2014Super Smash Bros. for Wii U6.4/10
2015Super Mario Maker9.4/10

Connected Series:

Footnotes:

  1. Mr. Game & Watch is an unlockable playable character and there is a stage based on the series.
  2. Vermin and Helmet are used as the basis of two micro games.
  3. Mr. Game & Watch is an unlockable playable character and there is a stage based on the series.
  4. Mr. Game & Watch makes a minor cameo in the background of the level Foggy Fumes.
  5. A new Game & Watch inspired game called Octopus Dance is included.
  6. Mr. Game & Watch makes a minor cameo in the background of the level Foggy Fumes.
  7. Mr. Game & Watch is an unlockable playable character and there is a stage based on the series.
  8. Mr. Game & Watch is an unlockable playable character and there is a stage based on the series.
  9. Mr. Game & Watch is a playable character via Mystery Mushroom.
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Leave Me on “Seen”

I remember when Facebook first introduced the feature which would tell people when somebody had opened the messages they had sent them. I always wondered why. I thought to myself that, not only would it be bad for those who suffer from anxiety and fear that their friends are annoyed by their messages, but it puts pressure on people to reply quickly in order to avoid upsetting their friends and making them feel like they don’t care. When speaking to a friend recently, they suggested that it might have been introduced in order to increase the chances people would reply and therefore spend more time in their Messenger app (or on the Facebook website) where they could then be exposed to more advertisements. I’m sure she hit the nail on the head. It’s a subject I wrote about a couple of years ago.

Today, following the global pandemic, life sure has changed. Most significantly, I would say, the pace of things has slowed down a lot. I lost my job due to redundancy a few months ago, but even before that life was a slower pace. Other than working, I’d not do anything else in the day and the thought of doing more was tiring – a stark contrast to the days when I’d go out, visit people and do lots of things after going to work (and in the actual office, rather than from home).

What does that have to do with anything? Well, I find it even harder to keep on top of my messages than I ever did before. It’s to the point where I also expect other people to reply in an equally timely manner. I can remember when one of my messages being “seen” but a reply not sent felt like a bad thing. These days, I’d say it actually feels like a slight positive. If they read it right away, that means they were so excited to see my message they wanted to read it right away – of course, the reply can come days or weeks later, but being “seen” feels good. It’s nice how a former negative has become a current positive (if only a mild one).

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Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move

This game was an interesting development in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series. Most significantly, it brought the series into 3D for the first time and changed the gameplay quite significantly. On a lesser note, it took “vs.” out of the title, which I liked because I like both Mario and Donkey Kong and I don’t want them to fight one another.

When I first started the game, my initial impression wasn’t great. It feels like it was more cheaply made than the games which went before it in that it has no storyline or opening cutscene and Mario, Donkey Kong and Pauline (the only characters outside of the Minis) only appear as almost entirely static images on the menus. Sometimes they blink and that’s the only thing which stops them from just being pictures. Their presence in the game is minimal. Additionally, the 3D graphics are all very basic and the music, while not bad, is very generic and not all that memorable.

But, you know what? I was wrong to judge it too hastily, because this is actually an excellent game and just as good, if not better, as what went before in the series. The way that the Minis are used has been completely reinvented and the new formula is highly addictive and rewarding.

While the previous three games had been based on directing Minis through 2D maps, you now have to get them from one point to another on a 3D grid-based map. They’ll emerge from a Warp Pipe and you then have to place tiles onto the grid to make a path for them. Different tiles lead the Minis in different direction (so, for example, one might be a straight line going downward, while another is a curve to the right) and you have to place them carefully in order to take them through the safest path. This same gameplay is applied across various game modes.

In Mario’s Main Event, you have to guide your Mini from point A to point B, collecting coins and avoiding obstacles as you go. You are given a random selection of tiles in order to make the path for the Minis and it often won’t be what you’re expecting, so you’ll have to think on your toes. You can’t stop to think because your Mini will fall into the void if you haven’t placed enough tiles for them and you automatically fail if you allow too many tiles to appear without placing them. In Puzzle Palace, you have a set number of certain tiles and there is one specific way to make the right path for your Mini – it creates a very different dynamic, though is still very fun. In Many Mini Mayhem, you have multiple Minis on the map at once and you have to get them all to the exit. In Giant Jungle, your Mini is put onto a giant grid, much bigger than any of the others and you’re timed to get them to the exit, with lots of coins hidden throughout the map for you to collect. Every mode is fun, but I found Mario’s Main Event and Puzzle Palace the most enjoyable, while Giant Jungle was, sadly, my least favourite. Completing these levels gets you stars and these stars are then used to unlock toys in a toy collection, the toys are all different Minis and it’s a good incentive to keep playing.

There are also four mini-games which you can play simply for high scores. One has you throw Mini-Marios at a cube in the sky to break it. One has you fishing for Fly Guys as they fly past. Another has you adjusting the height of Mini-Marios on a platform in order to avoid Bullet Bills. One last one has you throwing Mini-Marios at targets to earn points. They’re all basic, but they’re all pretty fun. The Fly Guy fishing game is probably my favourite.

As usual for the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, I wish it contained more Donkey Kong elements as aside from Donkey Kong, Pauline and a few jungle palm trees, there’s practically nothing and most of the content is based on Mario games. On the bright side, you can choose which Mini you use (Mini-Mario, Donkey Kong, Pauline, Toad or Princess Peach), so I had Mini-Donkey Kong out all the time.

I think this game is an overlooked gem. Sitting quietly in the 3DS eShop, I feel like a lot of people might never have even heard this, which is a real shame. I used to play this game on the bus and do one or two levels every day. I really enjoyed it and looked forward to playing it. If you’re looking for a fantastic puzzle game to add to your 3DS library, then make it this one!

Rating: 8.8/10

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A Dramatic Change of Taste

I generally like most food (so long as it’s vegetarian friendly). In fact, over the years, a few people have commented that I tend to describe an allegedly unusually large amount of things as “delicious.” Speaking of which, I recently decided to try a type of jalapeno flavoured vegan cheddar cheese. A nice combination of things, I thought, and something that would doubtlessly go very nice in a toasted sandwich.

So I bought the vegan cheese and then the next day used it in a toasted sandwich. As expected, I loved it. It was delicious. I started having it in a sandwich every day for lunch. Roughly a week went past and before long, I didn’t have much left. On the morning I expected to be eating the last of it, I woke up with a strange feeling. I didn’t want to eat any of it. The thought of eating any more utterly repulsed me. I felt like I’d actually be sick if I did eat it. This was odd, because I’d never found myself suddenly hating something before.

I thought to myself “I guess I just don’t want it today” and I didn’t have it. Days went past and now I don’t think I ever will eat the last of it. Whenever I think of it, it’s as if I’m thinking of a really disgusting food. It’s interesting, I think, in that it shows how fickle our sense of taste is. Just like that, we can find we don’t like something. Likewise, I’m sure, we can find that we suddenly do like something too. Our sense of taste can change just like that. There had been times with me previously where certain foods had become less exciting because I’d had them so many times, but I had never gone from loving something to hating something in the space of a day.

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Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

If you’re after a classic nineteenth century adventure novel, then this is one book I heartily recommend. I’m happy to say that this is one of my very favourites of its kind.

The story follows a group of three people (Professor Aronnax, his servant Conseil and a whaler called Ned Land) who find themselves on board the Nautilus, a highly advanced submarine belonging to the mysterious Captain Nemo. The four of them become involved in various adventures under the sea, all while wondering if any of them will ever get a chance to get home.

Captain Nemo is probably my favourite thing about this book. He’s such an enigmatic character. He has exiled himself to the bottom of the sea, after growing to hate humanity. This is possible due to the extremely advanced capabilities of his submarine and the fact that he makes genius use of the resources available to him under the water. It made me ponder the question, could somebody really manage to live exclusively under the ocean? It’s quite a whimsical image. On board, he has a huge library filled with many books and the idea of this library travelling under the sea was really very charming to me. This was just one of several things which Captain Nemo and his crew have on their vessel.

It wasn’t just his curious living situation which drew me to him though. As the story goes on, you’re left to decide for yourself whether or not Nemo is a sympathetic character and, for me, he certainly was. He acts as a kind of antagonist in that he doesn’t want to allow Aronnax, Conseil or Land to return to land – but this is because he doesn’t want to break his exile. By the end of the novel, you still don’t really know too much about his origins, but I read him as a man who was rebelling against the colonial attitudes of his time. Someone who didn’t want to associate with the increasingly destructive nature of humankind and so had become misanthropic… yet, despite his cold exterior, he’s shown to be a very compassionate man who is very sensitive to the great social injustices of the world. He’s a fascinating character.

The other characters were all pretty likeable too. Ned Land does sometimes come across as a bit of an idiot (and I’m not too keen on him, being a whaler), but even he has his moments. But besides Nemo, I’d say that it was Conseil who was my favourite. He is insanely loyal to Aronnax, even to the extent of endangering his own life, but despite all this, he never loses his calm demeanour – this contrasts (sometimes comedically) against Ned, who’s always quite hot headed. Meanwhile, Aronnax acts as a level-headed mediator and narrator of the story. Aronnax is fascinated by Nemo and is conflicted about whether he truly wants to leave behind the exciting life under the sea, unlike Ned, who definitely wants to get home ASAP. The contrasting interests of the different characters makes for some great reading.

Finally, as someone who finds the ocean really interesting, I enjoyed it being used as the setting for the story. In addition to using several real-life natural phenomenon as story points, it even delves into the world of mythology. At several points throughout the story, the characters head out on the sea bed in diving suits and I just find the whole thing terribly exciting. Plus, you have to respect the fact that Jules Verne did a pretty good job at predicting some of the ways in which submarine technology would improve in the coming years. There was so much to love about this book and if you’ve not read it yet, I strongly recommend it!

Rating: 9.6/10

Buy it here.

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Top 10 Songs from “Weird Al” Yankovic

For my third Top 10 music playlist, I’m covering another artist who was, at one point, my favourite musician: “Weird Al” Yankovic! Around the ages of 13 and 14, I was obsessed with him and barely ever listened to music by anybody else. Nowadays, he may not be my favourite, but I still have a lot of respect for him and his music. Indeed, considering his huge library of exceptional work, it was hard to choose just ten for my playlist!

Sadly, I think people can be quick to dismiss parody music as “silly” and as not holding any real value, but I love his music. A lot of the time, I prefer Weird Al’s parodies over the original songs they’re based on. If I’m having a bad day, his high energy, comedic music is a great way to help lift my spirits. Also, thanks to him making parodies of so many different artists, I have actually been introduced to a number of musicians who I might not have come across otherwise.

It’s not just parodies either. Though his songs are always comedic in some way, he has completely original pieces too and these are equally as good. I love his sense of humour – it’s wacky, but well-intentioned. He doesn’t go out of his way to tear anybody down, but instead sings about day to day things which many people will relate to or understand. I’ve tried to include a nice mixture of parodies and original pieces in my selection below:

  1. Bohemian Polka
  2. White & Nerdy
  3. Everything You Know Is Wrong
  4. Whatever You Like
  5. Headline News
  6. A Complicated Song
  7. Virus Alert
  8. I Was Only Kidding
  9. You Don’t Love Me Anymore
  10. Jurassic Park

If you’ve never listened to Weird Al before, I hope you will enjoy sampling his songs in my playlist and if you’re a fan, I hope you agree with my choices! He’s a fantastic musician and covers a broad range of musical styles in his work, so I think a lot of people will be able to enjoy him.

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Shovel Knight

Shovel Knight was a game which had been on my radar for a while. To me it looked like it was kind of fun, but I also thought that it looked like one of those 2D platformers which focuses too much on being excessively difficult to emulate the style of, say, Mega Man on the NES. I don’t really enjoy excessive difficulty, so that didn’t appeal to me very much. It also looked like it was built on the foundation of NES era nostalgia. While I do like quite a few NES games, I wouldn’t say I was nostalgic for the console. Because of these factors, it took me quite a while to finally give it a chance.

When I did finally sit down and play Shovel Knight, I realised that I should have done so much sooner. This is a game filled with characters I find quite endearing, a setting I genuinely enjoy exploring, a really amazing soundtrack and, most importantly, air-tight gameplay which is endlessly fun. If you’ve ever enjoyed a 2D platformer, I think you’ll love this as it’s one of the best I’ve ever played.

While you might expect the story of a game called Shovel Knight to be a bit goofy, it has some genuine heart in it. Shovel Knight and Shield Knight adventured together for years until Shield Knight became trapped within the Tower of Fate. Years later, torn up by the loss of their friend, Shovel Knight then discovers than an the evil Enchantress has taken over the Tower of Fate and recruited knights across the land to work from her. Shovel Knight then heads out across the land to evict the evil Enchantress from the Tower of Fate, fighting her knights along the way. (I used neutral pronouns because you can decide if Shovel Knight is a man or a woman and even whether or not that affects the story and how people talk to you, which I liked.)

You make your way across a world map, going through several very distinct levels which each have an enemy knight to fight at the end. For example, you go through a creepy graveyard-based level to fight Spectre Knight, you go through a submarine at the bottom of the ocean to fight Treasure Knight and through a fleet of air ships to fight Propeller Knight. Though occasionally a little hard, the game always had a fair level of difficulty and I thoroughly enjoyed every single level. The 8-bit art has been used to create some really beautiful scenery, to an extent which was never possible on actual 8-bit consoles. Every level has its own unique background music too and these 8-bit tunes are wonderfully atmospheric, further adding to the experience.

The game uses check points, but doesn’t have a life system. If you die, you drop some money and go back to the check point. It is possible to recollect the money you dropped the first time, but if you die again, it’s gone for good and you drop more. If you want a real challenge (which I never did) you can destroy the check points to get some extra money.

Money is quite important too. There are a couple of towns and villages you can visit where you can buy new items to attack with (these can also be found in levels), new armour or health upgrades. These are mostly optional, but are well worth tracking down to give yourself an easier time later on. The towns are also home to several little side quests. They’re all populated with bizarre, whimsical characters and they often made me laugh. It was a pleasure interacting with them and it helped make the world feel more lived-in.

I would recommend this game to anyone, even if they don’t like the NES or that era of gaming. I feel like it takes all the best elements of games like Super Mario Bros. 3, Zelda II and Castlevania and mixes them together to create something that surpasses anything that was ever actually possible back in the 80s. It’s like revisiting an old game and finding its aged perfectly and is actually just as amazing as all the people who played it as kids back in the day always said it was.

Rating: 9.5/10

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Cancel Culture

I wanted to write a little bit about so-called “Cancel Culture” since it’s such a hot topic at the moment. What I find frustrating is that so many people, no matter what their perspective on the matter is, seem to write about the subject inaccurately. I thought I’d go over different points related to it and what my own perspective is.

The first is the notion that this concept is anything new. People no longer wishing to consume media from a certain creator after they are revealed to have done something bad or after revealing that they have negative views is nothing new. For example, when Gary Glitter was arrested for paedophilia in 2007 interest in his music took a sharp decline and people on both the left and the right of the political spectrum can agree that it’s reasonable to not want support someone like that. It’s only natural that people would be less interested in something if they consider its creator to be a bad person. You can’t force someone to like something (or someone).

The second is the idea that anyone has really been cancelled at all. J. K. Rowling is an example of somebody who claims to have been cancelled due to her attitudes about trans-women. The reality is that she still has an enormous platform and most publications will happily print whatever she wants to say. I’m also sure no publishing house would turn her down if she wanted to write a book about trans-issues, because she’s just such a big name. She hasn’t been ‘cancelled’ in any sense – all that has happened is that people have asked her to apologise after she has said things which have been deemed as offensive. Her voice has not been oppressed in any way whatsoever. It’s all about her ego.

The third point I want to address is the idea that “Cancel Culture” is a behaviour exclusively exhibited by people who hold on to left-wing beliefs. This is not true. I’ve been involved in the Doctor Who fandom for well over ten years. I can remember people responding to LGBT representation in the show by saying that they would no longer be watching it due to the clear “gay agenda” behind it. More recently, people claimed they would not watch due to the casting of Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor in the TV series. This is exactly the same mentality. I don’t think these people were wrong to do this – they’re entitled to watch whatever they want.

My fourth point is with regard to certain episodes of old sitcoms (or entire series) being removed from streaming sites. This is not what any modern day social movement is asking for. Yes, there is a minority of people within these movements who call for things like this, but ultimately the action is being taken by large corporations in an attempt to give solidarity to current social movements. I think this is unproductive as it shifts the conversation on to something which it was never about to begin with. For reference, I think that this kind of thing is harmful. I do think attitudes in certain older shows can be harmful as well, but we mustn’t forget about them, that would be white washing history and acting like these things were never problems to begin with. Furthermore, there is nothing wrong with people watching and enjoying this older shows in spite of these issues – you can enjoy something while also acknowledging that parts of it are problematic. Indeed, something can be simultaneously progressive and problematic at the same time – just look at 60s Star Trek: progressive on issues of race, but uncomfortably sexist at times.

An example of this harmful censorship is the way that some schools in America have banned To Kill a Mocking-Bird due to featuring the N-word. This was an accurate representation of the time and the novel was actually written to raise awareness of the problems of racism. A simple note about historic context should suffice in nearly all situations where peopled are worried about content like this.

So, in conclusion, so-called “Cancel Culture” is nothing new, just a flimsy moral panic created by the media. It’s only natural that people would choose to not to watch things which come from people they dislike and, though usually politically motivated, it’s something that occurs across the political spectrum. It’s a complete non-issue, if you ask me, but I feel that it is being used to avoid talking about more serious problems, because this is ‘easy’ for the average person to understand and take a stance on. People can watch or not watch whatever they want. They always have done and they always will do.

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