Thursday, July 11, 2013

Space Rogue: Won! (With Final Rating)


Space Rogue
ORIGIN Systems (developer and publisher)
Paul Neurath (designer)
Released 1989 for DOS, Apple II, Commodore 64, 
Date Started: 06 July 2013
Date Ended: 10 July 2013
Total Hours: 12
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: 46
Ranking at Time of Posting: 82% (86/105)

I had fun at the beginning of Space Rogue, but after the princess told me that I needed to kill a certain number of ships to become a "space ace," both my enjoyment and progress plummeted quickly (necessitating my Crown of Arthain posting). I tried desperately to kill pirates and Manchi, but my ratio was about one successful battle for every nine times they killed me. After every victory, I checked my status and I couldn't seem to budge from "unknown."

But slowly I got the hang of it and learned the most effective tactics. I learned to fire my missiles only when very close to enemies, and with the "target lock" turned off (having it on allows their countermeasures to deflect the missile), and to use Newtonian flight mode to keep the enemy from being able to buzz all around my head. As I got better at defeating ships, my enjoyment grew considerably. I was able to buy upgrades with the bounties (awarded instantly after the ship is destroyed), my reputation improved, and there is something satisfying about blowing up a ship in space, even if the graphics aren't very good at depicting it.

From there, the rest of the main quest was fun, albeit with a little too much shuttling around through Malir Gates, certainly the least enjoyable experience of the game.

A scow flies around the opening of a Malir Gate.

I also got annoyed with the frequency of combats in the late game, as pirates and Manchi took my reputation (ultimately "deadly") as not a warning but a challenge. I got attacked everywhere and constantly had to pull into ports for repairs to my shields and systems.

The video below shows some aspects of gameplay, including trade, combat (before I got good), and NPC dialogue.


I should have offered a posting between the first one and this one, but to make a long story short, these were the steps to the endgame:

1. Flew around and fought until I got a "fierce" rating. During this period, I continued to trade and solve mini-quests. I reunited two robot lovers and followed some clues to find a "neurostabilizer booster" on the ruins of an outpost where a monster attacked.

There's no way to attack while in third-person mode, so if the monster (on the left side of the garbage piles) touches me, I die. It took me a while to figure out the best path through the area.

2. Returned to Duchess Avenstar and had a long conversation with her. She indicated that Admiral Koth had been plotting to usurp the emperor, and that the previous owner of my ship, Captain Targon, had been on a secret mission to try to find out his plan. She asked me to try to track down Targon and discover what became of him.


3. I found Targon quite by accident on a mining station. The game simply introduced him as a madman, and I tried the neurostabilizing booster on him, as I'd been told it would cure madness. Once he came to his senses, he revealed himself as Targon and asked if I knew his mission's codename, which I did, thanks to the duchess. He revealed that the Scarlet Brotherhood, a band of pirates led by a man named Gut, had been raiding deep into Manchi space to deliberately kindle war between the humans and the Manchi. Admiral Koth, who'd been paying Gut through his associate, Vilanie, figured that if the humans and Manchi devastated each other, he could de-throne the emperor in the chaos. Unfortunately, after his bit of exposition, the booster wore off and Targon regressed to madness.

4. When I returned to Duchess Avenstar, I found that someone had tried to assassinate her, so she'd left the Far Arm for the capital. I never saw her again.

5. Gut wouldn't speak with me unless I destroyed an imperial titan-class ship. This was a little disturbing--the idea that I'd blow up a ship with hundreds of people just to complete a bit of intelligence-gathering. Nonetheless, I found one and eventually destroyed it after about seven tries. Titans are very large and pack a lot of firepower.

Chasing and firing at an imperial titan.

6. Once I spoke with Gut, he confirmed everything that Targon had said. Further, he said that Vilanie, the psionic leader of the Black Hand cult, had paid him a lot of money to land on the Manchi homeworld and steal an egg. He didn't know why, but he suggested that I ask a Baakili trader, as they're known to go into Manchi territory.

7. It took me forever to find one (I guess they show up randomly in space station pubs), but when I spoke to him, he told me that the Manchi are basically evolved ants, and they still have a sort-of hive mind, including the worship of a queen. When the queen senses her death, she lays a single egg to hatch the new queen. It was this egg that Vilanie had paid Gut to steal.

Oops.

8. Gut suggested that I steal it back from Vilanie, offering to attack her station and distract her guards while I did so. I got bogged down in this part for a long time. Vilanie was on a base in a secluded section of space, and she kept killing me with psionics before I could get anywhere near the egg.

The death descriptions in the game are pretty good.

Finally, I gave up and went wandering around the galaxy, re-talking to every NPC I could find. Eventually, this bore fruit. I found a man named Omas on a remote base. He said he'd lost his wife to the Black Hand cult and asked my help in finding her. I traveled back to Vilanie's base and found the woman, Nycene, but she said she didn't want anything to do with Omas anymore. I returned to Omas to give him the news, and he rewarded me with a "psionic shield" that would block their attacks. The annoying thing was that Omas's base was four Malir Gate jumps from Vilanie's, so I had to travel the path three times, for a total of 12 gate jumps. Since Malir Gates sap armor from the ship, I had to stop and repair in between each of the jumps. This episode alone took up about 20% of the total game time.

That was just cold.

9. With the psionic shield, I was able to infiltrate Vilanie's base again, ignore her attacks, and find the egg.


10. With it, I now needed a way to jump to Manchi space--difficult since none of the Malir Gates went there. Gut directed me to a scientist who was working on a warp drive, and fortunately, when I got to him, I had the "transmission coil" that he needed to complete it (I'd picked it up from a station earlier, not knowing what it was for). He asked me for the coordinates, and thanks to the screen shots I'd taken during my conversation with the Baakili, I had them.

The end game was fairly fun and challenging, as I had to navigate to the Manchi homeworld while dodging (and, unfortunately, often destroying) Manchi ships. I made it with only a little armor to spare. There was a satisfying series of endgame screen shots, describing how they gratefully accepted the egg's return and ceased their war on humanity.


I then left the Far Arm for the empire's capital, where Emperor Hiathra rewarded me. In a possible setup for a sequel, he indicated that the traitorous Admiral Koth had disappeared.


Altogether, it was a reasonably original, interesting, and satisfying plot and endgame.

A quick GIMLET:

  • 6 points for the game world. The political structure of the empire wasn't well-defined, but in general the game supplied a detailed back story, an evolving world, and a compelling entry for my own character. As I hit certain plot points, the world changed--in more ways than I realized during play. A walkthrough mentions how various characters offer new dialogue options once Avenstar disappears, for instance. The "world" is also reasonably large and nonlinear.

There are occasional notes in the ships about particular asteroids and planets that, although you can't do anything with them, add flavor to the game world.

  • 2 points for character creation and development. Like Starflight, the human PC is nothing. You can name him, but he has no other attributes save his reputation (something I've covered more under quests and gameplay) and equipment (for which I gave points in that category).
  • 6 points for NPCs. The game is clearly an ORIGIN game in this respect. It's one of the earliest games that offers dialogue options and not just keywords when speaking with NPCs, although some of them have keywords, too. These options allow for some significant role-playing opportunities. Talking with NPCs is vital to progression in the game and understanding the game world. I like the way you can collect intel from bartenders but get drunk if you're not too careful. The only reason it doesn't get a higher score is that there just aren't many NPCs--about 30--and there aren't a lot of the dialogue options that I praise. Still, a significant step in the evolution of RPGs.
  • 5 points for encounters and foes. The encounters are mostly all in the form of ships (save the monster I had to dodge on one station), and they do behave differently depending on whether they're imperial, traders, pirates, pirate hunters, or Manchi. All of these are well-described in the game manual, and dealing with them is a careful process of weighing their strengths compared to yours. It's neat how pirates will often flee but Manchi never do. More than once, a pirate hunter swooped in and killed a pirate I was trying to kill myself. These are nice touches.
  • 4 points for magic and combat. No magic, of course. Space combat is reasonably tactical, with a lot of fast-thinking required as to the best times to fire missiles versus lasers, keep targeting turned on or turn it off, fight to the death or offer surrender (I think this only applies to merchant vessels), flee, or try to surrender yourself (something I never did). I hated the controls a bit, but blowing up enemy ships with missiles never did get old.

Putting a missile directly up the nose of a pirate.

  • 4 points for equipment. Most of the interesting equipment in the game was ship-based: armor, electronic countermeasures, shields, beam weapons, and missile weapons. But there were also special quest-awarded items that supplemented both personal and ship effectiveness, such as the psionic shield, the stealth box, and a damper that prevents the ship from taking damage in wormholes.

I never did find out what this was for. Funny seeing the term "blog" in 1989.

  • 5 points for economy. The trading aspect of the game (influenced, I guess, by the 1984 game Elite) was interesting but not extremely well-implemented, and it became unnecessary once I could get paid for killing pirates and Manchi. I did reach a point where money didn't do much for me (save the occasional repairs and restocking of missiles), but part of that was my fault for over-doing the trading in the early section.
  • 6 points for quests. I thought the main quest was interesting and original, but equally important were the handful of side-quests, which usually produced some item or hint reward. A few of these featured role-playing opportunities. I could have kept the MAID droid as a repair droid on my ship instead of returning her to her lover, for instance. Also notable is the option to approach the main quest from several angles. You could get the "combat experience" required by the duchess by hunting pirates (as I did), becoming a pirate yourself, or ignoring both factions and just fighting Manchi.

It's hard to imagine being evil enough to choose the second option.

  • 2 points for graphics, sound, and interface. Probably the worst part of the game. This is not an era where graphics have advanced enough for the player to truly enjoy 3D space exploration. Sound is bloopish and unnecessary. I thought the controls were awful. Yes, perhaps I should have tried harder to connect a controller instead of relying on the keypad. In any event, the keypad was unintuitive, unresponsive, and too difficult to navigate in pitched combat.
  • 5 points for gameplay. Perhaps the best part is the non-linearity. I think you could do the steps of the main quest in almost any order, save a few examples such as getting the psionic shield before stealing the egg. Right at the beginning, you're encouraged to just explore the game's nine systems and all their stations, talk to NPCs, trade, fight, and start solving quests at your leisure. I'm always sucked in by such open-endedness. There is some replayability in terms of both the side quests and different paths on the main quest. I thought the interface made it frustrating at times, and the Malir Gates were just annoying, but the overall pacing was okay.

I'm going to add one bonus point for the HIVE mini-game. As a reward for delivering a letter, an NPC told me that if you get to Level 5 in the game, you start to win credits. I never got that good, but it was still an innovative addition and a nice alternate path for someone with more manual dexterity than me. From the walkthrough I consulted after winning, the rewards can be considerable.


That gives us a final score of 46, quite respectable. I think it's easily the best of the "in-between-Ultimas" offered by ORIGIN and I'm sure elements went into their Wing Commander series a few years later. For a reasonably good game, it doesn't seem to have made much of a splash at the time, although almost everyone who reviewed it gave it a good rating. In the December 1989 issue of Computer Gaming World, Omar DeWitt perhaps offered the reason:

This is not a game for the "junior joystick" class. If they survive the Manchi fighters, they must still negotiate the wormholes into another solar system. On the other hand, there is always the danger that real joystick jockeys may get impatient with trading and "social interaction" needed for success in Space Rogue.

This suggests that RPG fans found it too action-focused with annoying controls (the way that PC gamers today complain about interfaces clearly designed for consoles), and action game fans found that there were too many moments without action. In any event, DeWitt concludes that "Space Rogue is an interesting blend of arcade action, role-playing interaction, and economic strategy."

This is the second game on which long-time ORIGIN employee Paul Neurath was credited as the designer. (His first, Deep Space: Operation Copernicus was an action game I didn't play.) He would later go on to design the Ultima Underworld games and eventually form his own companies. His last credit is as creative director for a National Geographic game called Great Migrations in 2010.

It was a "minor" game, but a good one. Let's continue to push towards 1990 with Sword of Aragon.

44 comments:

  1. Sword of Aragon is a cult-classic. I believe there is a Facebook fan group for it and there is a fan-made remake of the game that can be played online as well.

    Take the time to play around with the soldier equipment options. Taking heavier armor prevents them from equipping certain weapons, so you can reasonably create companies of infantry designed for different engagements (skirmish, light, medium, etc), though it's been too long since I've played to remember if that's actually a viable strategy, or if going Full Plate/Halberd all over simply works better.

    It's also a Microsoft QuickBasic compiled game and a big influence on my desire as a kid to learn how to program.

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  2. Oh, man, I have been looking forward to Sword of Aragon. Awesome game, even after all these years. I remember seeing it on the Amiga and just being blown away. Now here was a computer game of the type that I always dreamt of, the things computers were really capable of. When I played it again a year or two ago, I still liked it. It's a good *game*. In the old sense of the word, not how it means today "a game is what gamers game" but the older sense of "your computer is so advanced it can play a game with you".

    I will give some non-spoilery unsolicited advice of the type likely to save trouble, that would only be figured out from playing the game for a while: name heroes consistently according to their class and seniority, as it will be easier to keep track of them while running around the board everywhere. Also turn the CPU waaaay down, so that the cursor flashes at a normal speed instead of a blur.

    I'm just worried it will be too much wargame and not enough RPG for our host. Still, enough roleplaying choices if you have an imagination, and a mostly open-ended world, especially in the middle of the game. If you're expecting hundreds of pages of dialog, or are able to appreciate an environment where you narrate your journey wandering around and affecting the destiny of the land of Aragon.

    The game's maker is still around, here is what passes for an official SoA forum these days.

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    1. Could not agree more! "Sword of Aragon" was an all time favorite of mine to this day. I remember being so impressed when I equipped my troops with chain armor or plate, halberds or great swords, short or compound bows, it was all represented in the simple little graphics of the day, I could see at a glance what they had equipped.

      It's been a long while, but I think I'll pay along with the addict on this one.

      Quick tip. Bowmen are your friends as is heavy cavalry. Train them up early and get good equipment. It's also a good idea to never leave a city undefended, even if it's just a small contingent. The monsters will almost always attack an unguarded city. At least until you start clearing the "danger" out of the region, but even then.. they can come out of nowhere and ruin your day.

      Hope you enjoy it!

      -Cheers

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    2. One last thing, (I just can't shut up)
      If you can, play the Amiga version. Graphics are about the same, but the sound is so much better. Bows sound like bows, cavalry gallops, troops march. The PC was still using that obnoxious beeping on this one.

      Delete
    3. Thanks for the tips. I'm having a lot of trouble really getting into the game, but I'll keep at it.

      Delete
  3. What's up with Origin's cover art of the period? The one for Knights of Legend was arguably a juicy bit of gay fanservice, and this one probably qualifies too ;)))

    Also, am I the only person in the world, who prefers keywords to dialog trees? ;)

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    1. Lol, true, but remember when this came out, straight guys were wearing half tops and knotted shirts! It also seems to have a little "Knight Rider" in it.
      Agree with the key words, at least you had to think a little back then, now it's just going through a menu.

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    2. @Atom

      Oh, you're spot on about the Knight Rider vibe :))

      Delete
    3. Damn, why did these outfits ever go out of style. Man, I want to look like that. Leather, denim, *sigh* There is a reason I collect old beat up, un-biker patched, leather jackets.

      Oh, Knight Rider you say? I may have to go watch this show.

      Delete
    4. No. It's not even good for kitsch value.

      Delete
  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. Um, is this spam or not? I can't tell.

      Delete
    2. PetrusOctavianusJuly 13, 2013 at 4:52 PM

      If in doubt, it's spam. But then my spam treshold is very low...

      Delete
    3. Definitely spam.

      Delete
    4. Great. Comment spam that ineptly quotes bits of your own blog posting. Honestly, what's wrong with people?

      Delete
  5. PetrusOctavianusJuly 11, 2013 at 3:13 PM

    Watching that video I found out what would be a perfect name for any Elf characters Chet plays: Mablung.

    Space Rogue was another game on my play list that I ended up skipping, mostly due to the combat, which was a decline compared to the ancient Elite. I loved facing swarms of small pirate ships in Elite, and I eventually became "Elite". That game really spoilt other space combat games for me...

    Looking forward to Sword of Aragon. I loved it back in the days, but when I tried to replay it (as a Mage, which was rather frustrating due to weak heroes and armies) the poor AI was noticeable, just like it was when I tried to replay Heroes of Might&Magic, another old favourite. If I hadn't already completed it before, I would have stuck with it, though.

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  6. You're churning through the games now that Nethack is off your list, the light is at the end of the tunnel for the '80s! I also noticed you have reshuffled your order for 1990, strategically placing "classics" every 5 or so games, meaning in 15 games we get Wizardry 6 and 20 games to Ultima 6. I'm looking forward to it.

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    1. Only 9 games left now before the end of year award show/post!

      For my part I mostly look forward to Champions of Krynn, Eye of the Beholder and Elvira

      Delete
    2. I'm also looking forward to EotB, but I have sneaking suspicion it is not actually as good a game as I remember it. Elvira was a game that I always saw in the shops (because with box art like that how could you miss it) but never actually plucked up the courage to buy it.

      Delete
    3. Yeah, in my experience EoB1 is a bit like Baldur's Gate 1. It paved the way for things to come, but it's only Part 2 where the series acutally gets good. (Again: IMO, of course.)

      Delete
    4. What I did in my "reshuffling" was to order them by date of release. However, for almost half the games (the ones tagged 01/01/1990), I didn't know the specific date, so I just interspersed these throughout the ones that I did know the date.

      It did seem to produce a "classic" in somewhat even intervals; perhaps this is because companies tried to schedule big releases so they wouldn't conflict with each other?

      dahauns, I must be the only one who likes BG1 better than BG2.

      Delete
    5. You are not the only one. It may just be the absurd number of times I've replayed the series, but Baldur's Gate I just seems so much more open and replayable than the second game. There are many more NPCs and directions to go. Baldur's Gate II makes it easier to get into a rut in which all of your playthroughs go the same way. It's also less balanced, heavily weighted toward mages, and there are many more cheesy tricks available.

      Delete
    6. I'd sit with Chet\Tristan on the BG1 front. IWD was prettier, Torment was better written, and BG1 had greater depth of content.

      BG2 reminds me of playing a campaign that the DM loves, but has gone on too long. He's lost control of the power balance and throws strongholds\vorpal swords\sexy elf girlfriends at the PCs to keep them playing despite the heavily railroaded plot.

      Back on EOTB - It's going to suffer due to it being a dungeon crawl. A pretty, balanced, well executed one maybe, but it's still just a dungeon crawl.

      (At least Westwood have an excuse this time.)

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    7. I disliked Baldur's Gate 1 so much I never got around to playing the second. Which obviously puts me in quite the minority on a site like this, but between the abusive second edition rules, the uninteresting NPCs ("no, see, it's FUNNY, because he thinks his hamster is..." Yeh, sure, great), the generic plot, the ... seriously, I just don't get what part of that game I'm supposed to love. I guess I'll find out if I hang out here long enough.

      Delete
    8. Same thing for me, except that I tried BG2 before BG1, but couldn't play either of them for more than a couple of hours.

      Delete
    9. While BG is one of my all time favourite games, I will confess I've never beaten it. For some reason I lose interest after the Cloakwood. I really should finish it, I'm so close....

      Delete
  7. I wanted to test some javascript stuff for drawing charts. So I did some charts using the CRPG Addicts ratings as base. Some people here might be interested in it.

    http://www.lysator.liu.se/~ragnar/addict/crpgaddict.html

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    1. And looking at the numbers for years is interesting.

      The average rating has been around 35 since 1985, but 1989 seems to have raised the bar a bit with average of 40 (although there are not as many really good games compared to 1988). Both 1987 and 1988 have considerably lower average because there are so many games rated below 30.

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    2. Cool! Also, thanks :)

      Delete
    3. I have noticed a fairly solid group of games as of late, which kinda makes sense. People are learning what makes games fun, and are less limited by the technical specs of games as they go along. I mean, common, having to look up stuff in a book because you can't fit that much TEXT in the game? o.0.

      Delete
    4. That was a lot of fun. Thanks, Ragnar. Interesting how the average score barely budged from 1985-1988. I'm curious to see what happens in the future.

      Delete
    5. Me too. Unfortunately it will take a while, but it will be very interesting to see what happens with ratings as years pass. Will it rise considerably or will it flatten out or even go back down again? Also compare to the "Ages" (e.g. "Golden age of CRPGS"). Are the these really representative?

      Delete
    6. I did some additions to the page now. Most notably I added graphs for individual ratings.

      Good games seem to have good rating in Game World, Gameplay, and Encounters. Also good graphics/sound is usually a trait of a good game.

      Delete
    7. Nice stuff Ragnar! My job hsa me working with stats a lot, and this inspired me to do some correlation values on each of the cetegories, something you could think about adding to your charts. I found that the highest correlation was 0.72, between NPCs and Game World (this means that if the game has a good game world it is also likely to have good NPCs, and conversly if one is bad then so to the other), followed by Quests with Game World, and then Magic/Combat with Character Development.

      At the low end of the scale, with a 0.18 correlation, the quality of NPCs has essentially no bearing on the quality of the combat.

      Encounters has the highest correlation with the final score of 0.82, meaning you can get a reasonable gauge of the score just from looking at the encounter score, but Graphics/sound has the lowest, proving the old adage that good graphics doesn't mean good game.

      Lastly, a stat Chet may or may not want to read, on his play time! He has averaged 1 hour and 24 minutes per day on this little project of his (Almost exactly 10 hours per week), which is quite frankly much lower than I was expecting!

      Delete
    8. I might do that.

      Regarding correlation. Note that no game so far has a graphics/sound rating of 7 or higher. Is it the same correlation if you take that into account (i.e. count 6 as a high rating for graphics/sound)?

      Delete
    9. Correlation should work independant of scale, although with a smaller range a change of 1 has a bigger impact. Even though graphics had the lowest of all categories, it still had a 0.6. This makes sense that all scores are reasonably correlated to the final score seeing as how they each make up part of it.

      Delete
    10. It also doesn't invalidate your statement "Also good graphics/sound is usually a trait of a good game.", as although this is the case, many of the bad games also got relatively highish points in the graphics category, e.g. Don't go Alone got a 4, which worsens the correlation seeing as how the current highest is 6. Graphics also has the lowest standard deviation.

      Delete
    11. The direction of the implication is important too. It might be that a good game (usually) have good graphics. But a game can have good graphics but still be rubbish.

      Delete
    12. I linked to the site from my sidebar as we discussed. Thanks again for putting this out there.

      I really do like good game sound, and we simply haven't reached an era in which the technology supports it, so it makes sense that I've never awarded very high scores in the category that combines it with graphics and interface.

      Delete
  8. Space Rogue is a game I've seen a bit over the shoulder.. I remember reading a quite favourable review of it too. For some reason, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

    --Eino

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  9. I thought I'd mention some additional details about the game. The forged cargo papers you mentioned in the first post indeed allow you to take contraband to imperial bases, where those sell for big profits. Another thing is that how easily Gut accepts you depends on your standing with pirates. If it is neutral, you just have to go rob a merchant ship. Better than that, and he accepts you directly as a friend to the pirates. If you want to be everybody's friend, you pretty much have to wander around hoping to find pirates fighting Manchi.

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    1. Thanks, Timo! In my rush to finish games, I often don't have time to explore every facet. I appreciate when commenters fill in the gaps.

      Delete
  10. This was one of my favorite games. I never got the psionic shield. Instead, I got drunk which seemed to have the same effect -- I was wobbling around, but Vilanie's attacks had no effect.

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    1. So... failed so hard you became awesome instead?

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WEt4B1poOfM

      Delete

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