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Civilization – Obama, Autocracy, and Expansion July 2, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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Am I trolling too hard with that headline?

Anyway, everybody was back in town and ready to go last week.  Mattman even had a few a few pictures to share in an attempt to convince us he had actually been in Hawaii, and which gave me the in for my choice of titles.

The utility president

The utility president, it’s all Ku

Mattman claims that the hotel in the background is some place near Waikiki, though staring at it long enough I have half convinced myself that the former U.S. embassy in Saigon is visible.  Still, probably nicer than East Timor.  And I don’t think I have seen the President looking that happy in quite some time.

So we were online, logged into Steam, and in Civ V for our first turn, and it was an epic first turn.  But I expected that it might be.  Both Loghound and Mattman had to figure out what the AI had done to their empires.

For Loghound, who had only missed a week,  it was not too big of an effort to get his empire turned around.  He was a bit miffed that the AI had basically put down a mine on every hill it could find, turning great swathes of his countryside into an industrialize mess.

Mining blight in the golden hills

Mining blight in the golden hills

But otherwise he was able to get things back on track.

Mattman though… Mattman had been gone for three weeks, giving the AI plenty of time to work its magic.

More after the cut.

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The Passing of Another Steam Summer Sale July 1, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment.
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Another Steam Summer Sale has come and gone.

As others have noted, its regularity… and the fact that we get a Holiday sale in December… has taken some of the edge off of the whole thing.  Seeing a whole pile of games marked down was a huge deal the first couple of times we saw it.  Now, however, we have come to expect it.

Oh look, games on sale... yawn...

Oh look, games on sale… yawn…

Such sales have changed my behavior some.  If there is a game I have to have right away, I still buy it right there and then… unless the sale is around the corner.  Steam screwed me on that last year.  I bought the Brave New World expansion for Civilization V the day it launched, despite the summer sale coming up.  And then two days later the Summer Sale launched and the expansion was marked down, a gaffe that even Steam realized might have been a discount too soon.

Steam tries to make up

Steam tries to make up

So maybe I won’t pre-order anything that will launch close to the sales zones any more, but otherwise my behavior on must-haves has not changed.

But for things I am not sure about, games that are not “must have” but merely nice to have… the Steam sales process has changed my behavior quite a bit.  My wish list is now filled with things that I “sorta” want, if the price is right, and I am in a good mood.  The impulse buy aspect of Steam sales has been replaced by watching my wish list.  I look at what is on sale that day, then look at my wish list, ponder if anything is “must have” at their current price, and then move on, generally without buying anything.

This year I did end up buying a couple of games.  One was for the strategy group “next game” plan that I wrote about last week, and which makes a good example of how Steam has influenced me.

While we had a list of potential games, Total War: Rome II was the primary contender, backed by Loghound. (I had other suggestions, but I wasn’t sold on any of them.)  A not-too-old release, it still has a list price of $59.99, the current benchmark price for AAA games from major studios.  As the summer sale was already in progress, it was marked down to half off.  $29.98 wasn’t a bad price.  There is a whole lot of game there.

But Steam has taught me to always wait until the REAL DEAL has been offered.  So while Rome II was the prime candidate, nobody moved to purchase it until Friday, because it wasn’t until Friday that the REAL DEAL kicked in and the price dropped to $20.37.  At that price it was an easy purchase and all of us picked up a copy.  So that is the tentative next game for the group, once we finish up our Civ V game (at some point in August by my guess) and if it turns out to be suitable.  A quick look shows a battle style that gives you a budget to buy units in advance, so I suspect this could mean long lead times before we actually play.  But the single player campaign looks to be worth the investment, so even if we don’t play it much, it was probably worth the money with the deep discount.

So there it is.  Our next game has been chosen.

I did have two impulse purchases, one of which was Europa Universalis IVas it had been marked down to $9.99.  It has been on my wish list since it launched, so I am not sure if it is really an “impulse” buy, but I grabbed it.  It is one of those games… like its predecessors… that I really want to like, but which is so complicated and so deep that I can never get into it and actually play.  I spend most of my time trying to figure out how to do simple things, which quickly becomes frustrating.  I have no reason to suspect that this will be any different.

The other was Ticket to Ride, which I already own on the iPad.  I should have just stuck with that.  The iPad version is the game as it should be played and as it should look and perform.  The Windows version is slow, graphically inferior, and prone to buffering mouse clicks as you wait for it to catch up, leading to many a mis-played moment.  I regret this purchase and I could not recommend this on Steam even at its very low sale price.

And, in a sale related matter that isn’t really about Valve or Steam, I was just a tiny bit annoyed to see Planetary Annihilation early access up on the list of things on sale… or even available at all.  I backed their kickstarter, but not at a level high enough to get early access yet.  I get a finished copy and that is all, but I actually paid more for that than the early access sale, which also gets you a full copy.  And Uber Entertainment, the studio behind the title, hasn’t been the best about communication when it comes to actual progress towards release, they are a year late at this point, and  they are out there hawking early access at retail.  I realize early access is basically a retail pre-order, but it still makes me think, “Dude, remember me? I gave you money nearly two years ago?”  Just the nature of Kickstarter projects I guess.

And then there was the contest.

In order to spice things up… and get people to spend more money… Valve put everybody on teams and set us against each other for the possibility of getting something for nothing… assuming you didn’t buy anything for this gimmick.  Clockwork over at Out of Beta covers the whole thing better than I, I just want to grouse about the level of exclusion.

Summer Adventure Gimmick

Summer Adventure Gimmick

Anybody who wanted to participate got dropped onto one of the five color teams.  However, to actually do anything to help your team, you had to be level 10, at least as far as I could tell.  So despite years of Steam usage and owning over 100 games, I wasn’t able to play because I was only level 7.

Level as of July 1, 2014

Level as of July 1, 2014

While that was up from where I stood last year, it still wasn’t enough.

The problem is… well one of the problems I suppose… is that I purchased most of my library before they got into the whole levels thing.  And one of the prime ways you earn points to level up is based on how much money you spend, so most of my purchases didn’t count.  The other problem is that I am not inclined to spend money just to level myself up on Steam.  But that probably excluded me from the Summer Adventure thing anyway, as Clockwork pegs the whole thing as a pay to win affair.

And, on the annoying front, one of the ways I could have earned a few badges and points was by voting on the content of upcoming sales.  Only you must be level 8 to earn anything by voting, so once again Steam failed to engage me by imposing what looks to be an arbitrary level limit on rewards.  Bleh.

So, the score for the event.

  • Purchases at the lowest possible price as Steam has trained us: 1
  • Impulse purchases: 2
  • Engagement in sale related events: 0
  • Games on Steam I haven’t even played yet: too many

Maybe I will be the “right” level for whatever event Steam has planned by the time the Holiday Sale comes around.

Civilization – Autocracy and the Pursuit of Happiness June 24, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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We had something of a small turnout for our game last Friday.  It was just Potshot and I, with Mattman still on vacation and Loghound busy until late that evening.  Still, part of the idea behind this epic length game was that people could drop out from one week to another and have the AI take over for them so the game could continue to progress.  And, if it had to be two players on, then Potshot and I were probably a good pair, as we had been working together on our continent, unlike Loghound and Mattman, who went to war about as early as they possibly could, leaving at least Mattman somewhat weak in a neighborhood of hostile AI players.

We started off the game, wondering what might happen now that both Loghound’s Celts and Mattman’s Chinese empires were being run by AI players.  The AI players tend to be somewhat bizarro world in their behavior, and the AI did not waste any time getting straight to it.

The Celts, with whom Loghound had been mercilessly hounding Russia last week, taking city after city, launched almost immediately into a public denunciation of the Chinese because… I don’t know… eff Mattman?  The Russians then forms a mutual admiration society with the Chinese…

R2Wk8RussiaChina

and then with the Assyrians…

R2Wk8RussiaAssyria

and then… I don’t know.  They all sat around and glared at each other I guess.  China advanced far enough to choose an ideology and went with Freedom… and then the people of China overthrew the Freedom ideology and demanded Autocracy, or so reported the People’s Daily.

R2Wk8ChinaRises

Freedom just isn’t in the cards for everybody I gather.

More after the cut.

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Civilization – Operation Torch and the Russian Front June 18, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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There were only three of us online and in the Google hangout last week.  Mattman either decided to enjoy his vacation or he read last week’s post and took it the wrong way.  Hrmm…

But for those of us online, the game started getting more interesting.  After much laying of groundwork last time, all of us seemed ready to get stuck into things.

Potshot and I left off wondering where our first expeditionary force ought to land.  As we started off, Potshot declared for “Operation Torch,” a reference to the 1942 allied landings in North Africa, which included Casablanca amongst its rather dispersed objectives.  In the game, Morocco was to the southwest of us and I had already started forming up the beginnings of a landing force with Casablanca as a target.

Landing north of Casablanca

Landing north of Casablanca

I actually had to fight my way against yet more barbarian hordes in order to grab a foothold on the island that Morocco occupied, so in initially I was probably helping Morocco out.  Then I planted a city on his island to act as a forward redoubt in case things did not go well.

I think my intentions here are clear

I think my intentions here are clear

More after the cut.

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Civilization – The Slow March of Time June 11, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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I was going to be late last time around.  My wife and I were watching the pilot for The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency on HBO, which it turns out runs two hours.  That was going to push me about 15 minutes passed the planned game start time.

But I figured that would be okay.  I could let the AI run my empire for a while.  Last time around Potshot and I had evicted our only continental neighbor, so aside from just bankrupting me again and selling off city improvements, I would probably be okay.  So we finished up watching the show before I meandered over to my computer to see how things were going.  Last week we finished up at turn 430.  We try to stop at a round number and always finish that turn, so in this case, when we started the game up again, it would be the start of turn 431.  Given our usual rate of advancement, I thought we might be somewhere between turn 440 and 450.

However, when I joined the game, it seemed that things had not been moving forward at all.

R2Wk6WilConnects

When things finally loaded up for me, we were still at turn 431.  I had not missed a thing.

Well, I had missed something.

It seems that up to that point Mattman and his antique coal fired Ye Olde ThinkePayde portable difference engine had been trying to get into the game via the WiFi connection at the Dili Beach Hotel in East Timor.  However, after a couple attempts at getting into the game even as an observer failed, the idea was dropped.  Just because we were playing a world spanning game that featured 19th century technology did not mean that such things were going to integrate smoothly over Steam. Charles Babbage wept.

And that is when I showed up.  Just in time!

More after the cut.

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Civilization – Embracing Spanish Confucianism June 4, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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Three of us, myself, Potshot, and Loghound, got into the game about on time on Friday.  Mattman had something going on and expected to be late.

Just a couple of turns into this round, I got what I considered a bit of an ill omen.  There on the edge of my lands was an Assyrian scout.

Nice cattle...

Nice cattle…

Just what I needed, the Assyrians nosing around.  As was noted last week, the Assyrians are a bit of a power in our world, at least relative to me.  My military advisor had dire warnings about the Assyrians.

Beware the groove...

Beware the groove…

While they were not close by and hadn’t dropped a city in my midst… a favored tactic of Civ AIs since forever… I did worry a bit about any interest in my goings on.  Assyria had been sitting on Mattman pretty heavily since early in the game when Mattman declared war on Loghound over city placement.  Loghound had to drop out for a bit just after that and when the AI took over it denounced Mattman and his Chinese empire (and the AIs take denunciations seriously) made common cause with Assyria who in turn took a city from him and has been growling menacingly at Mattman ever since.

More after the cut.

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Civilization – The Siege of Madrid May 28, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Hardware, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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We setup our game for the usual time.  Loghound, who had faced a trying week, was uncertain if and when he might be able to get on with us, but since the AI will keep the game going in the absence of individuals, we kicked off at our usual time.

Potshot, Mattman, and I were all online and in the Google hangout.  Potshot started up the game and sent invites out for us to join.  I hopped right in the game and clicked the “ready” check box.  An odd aside, the ready control never works the first time I click it.  It selects and unselects on the first click, but then works correctly thereafter.  No idea why.  But while I was doing that, Mattman was having some issues.

He was trying out Civ V on a laptop… an older pre-Lenovo logo, IBM ThinkPad laptop… in hopes of being able to join in on games while he is traveling for the next couple of sessions.

I remember my old ThinkPad T42 quite fondly.  It was one of the nicer laptops I have been issued over the years.  I miss having a 4:3 aspect ratio screen, as I tend to work on things that lend themselves well to lots of vertical space, but do not benefit much from a wider screen. But considering the IBM logo disappeared from the ThinkPad line at some point in 2007, and that Civilization games are traditionally tough on the generation of processors current when they ship (Civ V can bring my quad-core i7 to its knees when it feels like it), this seemed like it might be an exercise in the purest form of optimism.

While Mattman struggled to get Civ V loaded, Potshot and I started off the nights game, picking up at turn 301.

I started off the evening with one simple goal.  I was going to break my isolation and come into contact with all of the other civs in the game.  That would open up trade and diplomatic possibilities as well as filling out the “unmet player” spots on the scoreboard.  There were still six civs with whom I had yet to come into contact according to the scoreboard at the end of last week’s round.

r2wk3turn300score

My hope was, with research leading to the compass, which would give me the caravel unit, the first ship that doesn’t need to stick to a coast line, that I would be able to sail out and find everybody else.  Scouts were not working out, as I had them mostly deployed to keep the barbarians at bay.  And the few I let go explore inevitably ran into more barbarians.

More after the cut.

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Civilization – Thoughts on a Wider Multiplayer Game May 21, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games.
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Nearly every time I put up a post about our ongoing Civilization V game, I get a note from somebody wanting to join in.  I have, I hope politely, declined to add people to our game, it being made up of a group of Potshot’s long-standing friends.  I went to high school with him back in the dark ages, while Mattman and Loghound were college roommates of his during the time when you could sit down, read pretty much all of Usenet that interested you with your morning coffee and feel like there wasn’t much there.  So it is a bit of a special group of cranky old guys who can all pick on Potshot equally.

Still, there is clearly some interest in multiplayer Civilization V out there.  So I was playing with the idea of how to set up a game that readers and fellow bloggers could join.  Our own closed game has shown that players can jump in and out of a game, with the AI holding down the fort, pretty well.  So it seems like maybe one could create a semi-open regular game that people wander into if they so desired.

So I started on a plan, on which I hope people will comment.  The plan so far:

  • Find somebody to host the game at a regular weekly interval for 2-3 hours.  It doesn’t have to be me, but to keep continuity it probably should be the same person over the course of the match.
  • Find people interested in playing, get all linked up on Steam.
  • Decide on game version and parameters
  • Actually bring it all together
  • Profit… or play… or something

There are clearly some holes in that plan.  Basically, in my mind’s eye, I see one person will launching the game every week, inviting players who are online and ping him via Steam chat, them dropping into the open slots, and the game running… adding late comers if there is room… until the time slot is up, at which point there will be a save which will be used to start the game the following week.

Comedy will no doubt ensue when it comes to picking game parameters, picking a time slot, picking a day of the week, what the AI does with civs when people are away, people not getting the same civ every game, the game being full, timer impatience, client crashes, connection issues, that guy trying to join in on his laptop using WiFi at the Starbucks in Tierra del Fuego, and the usual disparity of skill level when playing against real people.

Chuck Hestonia nuked and open

Oh, and nuclear terror…

But aside from that, what could go wrong?

Anyway, I am looking for input on this idea.  Is it viable?  Should we try?

Oh, and most importantly, we need to call this something.  I have tentatively tagged the post “Summer Civilization,” but am not totally invested in the name.

Civilization – Hands Across the Something May 21, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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In which nothing happens in my corner of the world.

Another round with the big map with Civilization V… and I still haven’t come into contact with Mattman or Loghound.

We started off at the usual time even though Loghound hadn’t showed up yet.  We have grown confident in Civ V’s ability to let us come and go at need.  The first order of business seemed to be to take SynCaine’s advice from last week’s comments and get a few scouts out watching our respective hinterlands, as barbarian camps won’t spawn in hexes that you have under direct observation.

I actually knew that somewhere in the back of my brain… the founding of my most southern city was most to cover my exposed flank that way… but I had not considered putting out some scouts to expand coverage.  Not that I could get full coverage with a reasonable number of scouts.  Too many hills in my area.

Barbarian wildlands

Barbarian wildlands

But it did cut down on the amount of time I had to spend fighting the barbarian hordes.

Then it was time to see about getting into the thick of things.  My only neighbor was the Spanish.  I said something about attacking them, maybe in conjunction with Potshot, last time around.  However, my military advisor wasn’t very optimistic on the subject.

Basically, forget about Spain for now...

Basically, forget about Spain for now…

Basically, I had no real advantage to exploit to give me leverage over the Spaniards, and I hadn’t gotten close enough… physically or diplomatically… to Potshot in order to plan any sort of campaign against them.  The Spanish would have to wait.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the fog on the map, Loghound joined in and got into a shoving match with Mattman.  Judging from the comments on our Google Hangout (I have so many different voice coms apps on my system, Skype, Vent, TeamSpeak, Mumble, RaidCall, and probably a couple others I have forgotten, plus all the built-in coms, but we managed to find yet another way to hook up voice communication) Loghound was building a city or cities in what Mattman judged to be his sphere of influence.  As this was all off under the fog and involved civs I had not yet met, I cannot tell you who had real claim here, but the whole thing came to blows.

Mattman declared war because of these incursions, which seemed to surprise Loghound.  However, this did not end up working out well for Mattman.  Shortly after the declaration of war, Loghound had to drop out of the game for a bit, letting the AI take over for him.  The AI managed to make common cause with another of Mattman’s neighbors and soon he was facing a multi-front war.  He managed to sue for peace, but I think it cost him a city.  Loghound got back to find things had rolled his way.

While that was going on, I managed to push out a couple more cities to bring me into closer proximity with the Spanish.

Slowly expanding empire

Slowly expanding empire

I also started trying to focus on building up some sort of technological lead I could exploit when the time came to turn on them.  Towards that end, I also concluded and “open borders” pact with Potshot and was able to send a scout out to get the lay of the land at his end of things.

Brasil!

Brasil!

We seemed to be fairly well positioned to put the squeeze on Spain when the time was ripe.  Their empire could best be described as something of a wedge in between Potshot and I, with a city not too far up the coast from Tuckahoe representing the point of the wedge.  Now we just needed to get our act together.

In the end though, we never got there.  My military advisor had the same message for me as when we kicked off this round.

We made it through 80 turns before we decided to call it a night, stopping upon the completion of turn 300.  Things did not look good, score-wise, for the human players.

r2wk3turn300score

I think  I am out in front of the humans mostly based on population.  As we saw at the end of the last game, population influences the score noticeably.  But we are still early on in the life of the game.  I am currently working on navigation as a technology, which will open up the seas, while gunpowder looks to be a ways off.  The demographics showed me out in front in two categories this time.

Demographics at Turn 300

Demographics at Turn 300

I still have the most land area, which isn’t a real advantage currently, and my crop yield is the best out of the empires in the game, so my cities are growing.  But growth also means problems with happiness.  And the turn timer… well, after last week’s post everybody seemed to be a bit more aware of not letting the timer run unawares.  But the clock also grew to close to allowing 12 minutes per turn.

r2wk3Timer

We shall see how big that number will grown.

So not a very productive round, aside from laying groundwork for future moves.  Maybe I will get stuck into things next time around.  This game is going to go on for a while, which should be interesting, as Mattman will be going away on vacation for a stretch in June.  Maybe the AI will revive his fortunes.

Civilization – The Big Map May 14, 2014

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in entertainment, Other PC Games, Strategy Group.
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In which we attempt to release flags of all nations.

After finishing up our first multiplayer game of Civilization V, the strategy group was keen to try it again.  However, this time the plan was to go bigger in all possible dimensions.  After all, if a small map with a few players was fun, then a huge map with even more players should be… well… more fun.

So two Friday’s back we set out on our next campaign, upgrading our game parameters all across the board.

Starting Configuration

Starting Configuration

As noted, we went from a small map up to huge.  We changed the speed of the game from Quick to Epic, which decreases the amount of time advanced per turn, but the time it takes to build things stays fairly constant relative to the number of years that pass.  So if a monument took 5 turns to build at Quick, it might take 15 or 20 when set to Epic.  But you get to move your units around during those extra turns.  In any case, we were happy enough to try and stretch the game out.  We also disabled the turn limit on the game.  Nobody was going to win just on points.  There was going to have to be a decisive victory.

We also opted for a more random layout with continents.

As for the other setting, we went with Raging Barbarians, because barbarians make everything more fun, right?  Okay, maybe that isn’t a universal opinion.

We also opted for Complete Kills, which means that to be totally eliminated from the game you have to lose all your cities AND all of your units.  That was done as a “just in case” option, should anybody die early.  Though I am not sure that was entirely necessary in hindsight, but I will get to that.  We turned on Random Personalities and Disable Start Bias, the first means that AI driven players may not act like their historical selves (cue Murderous, Pillaging Warlord Gandhi) while start bias means that the game won’t try to stick you in an area geographically similar to the real world historical origins of your civilization. (Roll on Snow Pharaohs!)

Then there was Quick Combat, which was frankly the only setting I was willing to go to the mat to get.  Loghound had expressed a desire to see combat animations.  I must admit, the animations can be quite nice.  They are actually not so bad until you close in on the modern era, and then they become an intolerable burden.  You only have to have an AI civ attack you with 20 aircraft every turn for a few turns before you’re ready to pull your head off in frustration.  Expressed in such a way, Quick Combat was left enabled.

Finally, we decided to go with the dynamic turn time.  If you set the turn timer to zero, it starts at two minutes and is supposed to increase slowly over the course of the game.  Since there were time when some of us were feeling time constrained in the last game, we figured we ought to give that option a try.

We paused for a bit, as the game had an error up in the game start window which said, “WARNING: Unsupported number of players!”  We were not sure what that really meant.  Did we have too many human players?  Could the CPU not support as many players as we had for a multiplayer game?  The warning didn’t stop us from starting the game, so we just carried on and the game seemed to support that many players just fine.  Later we found out that the error meant that the map size we had selected was meant for fewer players than we had starting the game… or, basically, pick a bigger map.  It would have been nice if the error had just said that.  And since the game assigned us the number of players we had listed when we chose the map size, the error seems not only uninformative but an indication of some mis-match somewhere in the code.  Life in software.  I am sure that error made complete sense to the person who wrote it.

We got all that decided upon, ignored the warning, and started the game.

More after the cut because words

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