Saturday, February 25, 2017

Game 243: The Wizard of Tallyron (1986)

  
The Wizard of Tallyron
United Kingdom
Star Dreams Software (developer); Future Publishing (publisher)
Printed in the April 1986 Computer & Video Games magazine; sold by the same
Date Started: 19 February 2017
Date Ended: 20 February 2017
Total Hours: 4
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: 14
Ranking at Time of Posting: 24/242 (10%)

This one is going to be clinical and short. Just enough to document its existence. I tried and failed to find some angle that would make it interesting. I can't even do my usual bit where I make fun of the ZX Spectrum and Spectrum owners, since this isn't exactly a conventional commercial title. It's a type-in game printed across 6 pages of the April 1986 Computer & Video Games issue, and offered for sale for £2.50 in the same issue, in case you didn't feel like typing a few hundred lines of code.
     
The typing begins--or is circumvented with a clip-out coupon.
    
As is usual in such cases, the magazine's backstory offers far more text than occurs in the actual game. The Kingdom of Tallyron used to be safe. Hundreds of years ago, some wizards had given the king a Mace of Internal Power, which somehow kept the dark forces at bay. But now one of the Council of Evil has stolen the Mace and taken it to the Island of Lost, allowing evil forces to spill into the kingdom. You play a wizard's acolyte sent, along with two fighter companions, to the island to find the Mace.
  
Exploring the perimeter of the Island of Lost.
    
The Island of Lost is a roughly 12 x 12 grid with five cities, a castle, and some terrain features like mountains and forests. (The cities and the castle are just menu locations.) As you move across the landscape, the game gives evocative names to your squares, like the Great Forest, the Mountains of Sunset, the Marshes of Dawning, and the Plains of Mere. Enemies like wolves, orcs, trolls, balrogs, skeletons, zombies, and snakes appear randomly, and you deal with them via weapons or spells.
   
The totality of the game world.
    
Character creation is just a name. The game starts in the village of Tautree with the wizard and two companions named Karl and Marc. The party has 300 gold pieces and no experience. Karl and Marc being warriors, they can equip swords and mail and get several upgrades during the game as you can afford it. The main character can wield a dagger and wear a heavy cloak, and that's about it.
    
Purchasing some initial armor.
    
The core mechanic of The Wizard of Tallyron comes in managing 6 spell slots. A "Guild of Magicians" in each city offers one or two spells from a list of 8: heal, stun, fear, sleep, kill, dispel, protection, and lightning ball. Each spell has a four-letter code word that has to be invoked in its casting; for instance, heal is "SOTH" and lightning ball is "BOOM." Some spells are initially unavailable but become available as the character gains experience. Spells are free, and by selecting them in towns, the main character loads up his slots for outdoor exploration.
    
Acquiring spells in a village.
   
The interface is simple enough. The 3 x 3 exploration window shows the only "graphics" that the game offers. At any given time, the screen displays all of your options. When you run into enemies--never more than two in a single party--you can fight or run. If you fight, the main character can attack with his weapon or cast a spell, but Karl and Marc just attack. Individual combats are rarely deadly, but a string of several can wipe your hit points fast. Fortunately, no game square is more than 5 moves from a town, where you can pay for healing.
    
Fighting some trolls.
     
A rare death message.
    
The game keeps track of experience points, although there is otherwise no overt character improvement or leveling. There doesn't really need to be, since every enemy is defeatable by the starting characters. As such, the game only barely qualifies as an RPG in the first place. The appearance of "Level 2" spells--dispel, lightning ball, and kill--seems to be tied to some experience point threshold.
  
Checking my equipment status after defeating a balrog.
   
There are a few special one-time enemies, including a giant crab and a manticore. You get "pieces of metal" from these combats. Once you purchase a third piece from a hermit in the woods, the three pieces come together in a key.
    
Perhaps the only "special encounter" in the game.
   
For a while, I couldn't figure out what to do next. A location in the southwest called the Castle of Fear clearly existed for a reason, but there were no options there. Finally, after trying a number of options and nearly publishing this entry as a loss, I tried casting "Dispel" while standing on the castle. It worked. A message said that a door appeared, and using the key on the door brought me to a final confrontation with a Black Knight guarding the Mace.
   
Do you suppose they meant to say "eternal" power?
   
He was no more difficult than the average orc or troll, and he died with one "Lightning Ball" and a couple of melee attacks. I got the screen below, and that was the end of the game. 
   
   
On a GIMLET, The Wizard of Tallyron earns a 14, with the highest rating in "economy" (healing eats up a lot of gold, and there are suits of armor to strive for), but it suffers from a lack of character development and NPCs. 

The game is credited to four developers: Mike Turner, Lin Turner, Paul Jefferies, and Justin Middleton; Middleton amusingly takes the credit for "graphics." The Turners owned Sussex-based Star Dreams software and published a series of forgotten adventure game titles during the 1980s.

In the August 1986 issue, the same team offered code for Tallyron II. The backstory here is that the main character is now the court wizard to the king, and he hears of a magic bell (called, for some reason, a "hare") that can negate the power of the Mace. Again taking Karl and Marc, he enters the dungeon of Woldcrest in search of the bell.
   
The opening screen lays it out.
    
Tallyron II is a first-person wireframe dungeon crawler in which the player maps corridors, climbs ladders, and opens chests. It uses the same combat system as its predecessor and has no monster portraits. The main character has six different spells at the outset of the game. There is no town and no healers, so all characters must be healed by potions that you find in the dungeon itself, and spells are replenished by finding scrolls. I had intended to combine my explorations of that game with my account of the first one, but when I fired it up, I saw that the game drops any pretense of tracking experience. No character development means no RPG, and I was thus spared playing it to the end. If you feel cheated, I can tell you that the end occurs when the party discovers the bell, climbs back to the surface, and gets a message that, "You take the Crystal Hare of Wold to the Tower of the Moon, where the Keeper disables it forever."
   
Tallyron II looks a bit like Wizardry, but it's not.

We haven't had many type-in games on this blog. I think that The Wizard's Castle (1980), Quest 1 (1981), and The Valley (1982) might be the only previous ones, and they were published quite a bit earlier, with nothing that I know of in the intervening 5 years. Of course, magazines like C&VG offered several type-in programs every month. This raises the question as to whether there aren't many type-in RPGs or whether these four are the only ones catalogued. In any event, while not a masterpiece, The Wizard of Tallyron did offer a welcome break from the exasperating Martian Dreams.

46 comments:

  1. Just checking: mace of "internal" power? Not eternal? I mean, 1) I wouldn't put it past the programmers to have botched that, and 2) maybe it's better to be self-powered anyway, but I figured I ought to ask.

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    1. Oh, jeez, I see you made the same comment halfway through. That's what I get for thinking, "If I don't ask about this quirky thing in the first paragraph now, I'll never remember by the end of the article." Maybe it's a mace-o-matic, that runs on gasoline.

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    3. And here I was thinking it somehow aided the wielder's digestion.

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  2. Oh boy, type in games, I remember these from my C64 days. My mother was a secretary and helped type while I read out the text. First time we did it after pages and pages of DATA codes program didn't run - my mom had typed every 0 (zero) as O (letter O). And no search and replace function of course... Another time I jumped up in a Euraka scream when finished, only to pull out the power cable - before saving on the tape drive of course which we had skipped since it took so long (this was before TurboTape compression became available). Thanks Chester for giving me nightmares on endless typing tasks tonight :)

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    1. I remember being drafted by my brother to read line after line of code using Compute! magazine's machine language compiler. Just line after line of numbers...at least it used a checksum to detect errors as they happened...god, that was torture, and killed my budding interest in programming.

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  3. So, this one is my fault. Sorry.

    Mike Turner was at least somewhat known for a handful of text adventures over the years. His one claim to fame is that his work actually charted in the UK: a text adventure of his, "Aural Adventure" was included with The Stranglers’ 1984 album, "Aural Symphony". I haven't played it, but that fact alone is somewhat cool. It's also the first example of multimedia tie-in that I know of.

    I reviewed his brief Christmas game, "A Spell of Christmas Ice" for The Adventure Gamer for December 2015, if anyone wants to check that out. (http://advgamer.blogspot.com/2015/12/missed-classic-16-spell-of-christmas.html) I've been doing a Christmas-themed adventure game every year and it's been fun largely because you find these somewhat obscure developers with interesting backstories that I enjoy trying to piece together from 30-years later.

    I keep trying to play Martian Dreams with you, but I've been pulled into Lego Dimensions as a stupid game that I can play without thinking. Now, if only they had an Ultima lego set. I could really go for a Lord British minifig...

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    1. You don't have to apologize. My goal is to be as comprehensive as possible. I had forgotten that you were the one who e-mailed me about it.

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  4. Several things about this game -- especially the part about putting together a key -- seem oddly reminiscent of that "excruciating pseudo-RPG" on the TRS-80 Model I, Quest for the Key of Night Shade (aka Nightshade). And Tallyron II bears a slight resemblance to Dungeons of Daggorath ("incant", potions are the only way to heal, those ladders, etc.) for the Color Computer.

    Probably it's all coincidental, but it put my antennae up for a possible connection or TRS-80 influence.

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  5. Karl and Marc huh. It's a wonder the castle isn't called Das Kapital

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  6. There probably aren't a whole lot of type-in RPGs as any sort of storyline will involve a lot of typing.

    That said - isn't every game typed in, really? It's just that for most games, only the author needs to do it!

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    1. Indeed. All the games I spent hours typing into my C64 as a kid were universally disappointing. Turns out programming is hard!

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    2. Your question raises an issue that I didn't deal with well. I just assume that any program small enough to fit into a few pages in a magazine can't possibly be sophisticated as an RPG. But how would the size of this program compare to, say, Wizardry? I honestly don't know.

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    3. It's pretty hard to say -- as you might expect, two programmers with different talent levels, education, and/or life experiences might approach any program very differently. So both thinking time and lines of code could vary significantly for the exact same program requirements.

      What I think is most antithetical between type-ins and RPGs is the fact that any text or information that shows up in the game has to be entered somewhere. Type-in programs are unique in that the intended end-user is the one typing in the code. So a) any secrets have to be obfuscated in some way, perhaps in the binary DATA sections, and b) each letter of any plot text has to be typed in in some form, even if obfuscated or compressed. These listings were printed in magazines. I bet any given entire type-in programs were shorter than just the text from just one Wizardry game.

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    4. I agree with Iffy Bonzoolie that 'lines of code' is not a very meaningful measure. Though it's interesting that you picked Wizardry: somebody reconstructed the source code of the Apple II version of Wizardry I (it's on the Asimov archive), so we can give a pretty good answer. It has 15000 lines of code. Printed at 50 lines per page, that would be a 300 page book. Note that that does not include maps and graphics and such.

      There will of course be a lot of variation from game to game, but "one book" would be a good general estimate for an early 80s game, and "a couple of books" for a 1990 game.

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    5. At least I recall most listing in the mid 1980ies to have been of the DATA statement variety. In those cases the more reasonable comparison metric is the filesize. The listings I recall are a lot closer to this wikipedia example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type-in_program#/media/File:ComputesGazetteProgramPage.jpg

      A rough lower limit estimation would give use 20 bytes per line, 50 lines per column and 3 columns per page, so ~ 3k per column. To file a C64 floppy side (165kB), you'd need 55 pages. I don't think I ever saw anything like that, but I do recall most massive type-ins to have been over 10 pages long.

      Still, Iffy's point stands. The top of the line RPGs were rather data intensive compared to action games, and I doubt there were many notable ones amongst the type-in games.

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  7. I probably ought to put this link here:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kF8POaO-9TY

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    1. This is a reference that's going over my head.

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  8. As regards the giant crab, were you able to attack its weak point for massive damage, or did the lack of historical accuracy and real-time weapon change make that difficult?

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    1. This is a reference that's going over my head.

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    2. It is a reference to the PS3 game Genji: Days of the Blade, more specifically to the E3 preview presentation. The developer went on a long spiel about how the game was based, after extensive research, on actual battles of feudal Japan - two minutes before showing a boss fight introduced with "so, there's this giant enemy crab". Much touted features of the game were the "real time weapon switching" (you change weapons without going into a menu) and the ability to attack enemies in their weak points for MASSIVE DAMAGE. This went memetic not only for the obvious contrast between the claimed historical accuracy and fighting giant monsters, but for the fact that both "real time weapon change" and "attacking the weak point" have been part of video games for literally decades, dating back to very early NES games.

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  9. Anyone care to explain (preferably with colorful language) just how difficult it would have been to 'translate' this to work on another computer? Imagine you're a C64 owner and really want to play this game. How much effort would it take to make the necessary code changes?

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    1. Fucking hard?

      The different dialects of BASIC used by these early computers (or, really, any computers) are similar enough to be recognizable but any complex work really required you to use platform-specific commands and syntax. I used to be able to do C64 BASIC and AppleBasic and knowing both helped me, but no amount of BASIC knowledge could let me do sprites on an Apple or give me mixed text and graphics modes on a C64.

      Compare this with more industrial languages like C that were standardized across systems and so would be more portable. (But even those had to deal with the local vagaries of hardware.)

      The Infocom people spent much of their time and energy on building a Java-like engine that would let them write portable code that would work on many platforms of the day. But that's a different story...

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    2. That's what I figured. I know each system had its own version of BASIC so it never would have been as simple as banging it in. I think I learned that a long time ago as a kid when I stubbornly typed in a program on our TRS-80 and never understood why it didn't work. My limited knowledge of PEEK and POKE gives me the sense that one memory table can be a lot different than another.

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    3. I recently looked at a type-in on TAG and the amazing thing was just how awful it was to type. 90% of the game was just long lists of integers which you had to type in exactly, page after page after page.

      It turns out that was a cheat to let you code in assembly while still being a "type-in". The integers were the real machine code and then you had a couple lines of BASIC code at the beginning to start it running. Completely unintelligible, impossible to debug, and I suspect led to a lot of frustrated people trying to type it all in....

      Personally, I always felt that the type-ins were best seen as educational tools. I LOVED to know that I could almost understand how software I liked worked. I didn't understand quite enough of it, but it was there and just out of reach. Now-a-days, no one really gets that experience.

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    4. Didn't most of those type in magazines have checksum programs that helped avoid mistakes? Or was that just Ahoy?

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    5. I had a book of 100 type-in Spectrum Basic games. They were quite good, mostly only 2-3 pages, and often actually fun to play. I never really learned much from them before I started coding myself - except, perhaps, that you could do it.

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    6. Kurisu, those checksum helpers came later, for a long time there was nothing but manual comparison when it didn't run.

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    7. When I was a kid I would type in games on my C64 that were written for other computers. There was a lack of C64 books at the library and it was pretty simple to replace the unknown lines and symbols with ones teh C64 could understand. The real problem was the character limit. You could only have 3 screen lines worth of text before it was too long. I had to learn all the shortcut characters (like using $ instead of PRINT) and even then sometimes the lines were too long. I learned a lot about programming basic. Good times.

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    8. It depends a lot on the program. Simple games and utility programs, sure, they'll probably just work, or take minimal adjustments for syntax variations.

      If you see PEEK and POKE in the code, then it's directly looking at and manipulating things in the computer's memory. Probably BIOS routines and other things not written by the program you're trying to port. Adjusting those requires not only that you're familiar with the two different dialects of BASIC, but also that you know both platforms well enough to translate things like how the hardware interfaces with its keyboard and screen. When you consider how many games made use of "hacks" by finding bits of BIOS code that could be used to perform operations other than their documented purposes, trying to port them can quickly become a nightmare. In some cases it would be easier to just write an entire emulator for the original system than to attempt to port the code. Or to write a clone of the program that does the same things, but entirely from scratch.

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  10. The magazine that I looked at didn't have any checksums, but the "endless stream of numbers" thing may have been particularly egregious for the time.

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    1. The Color Computer magazine RAINBOW had lots of these sorts of programs -- lots of numbers tied up in DATA statements, where the real program code lived. It was annoying to type in, but (1) at least there were checksum programs available and (2) given that BASIC is orders of magnitude slower than assembly, I'm not sure what the alternative would have been.

      Still, I certainly had my share of crashes and ?SN ERROR (syntax errors) to painfully diagnose...

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  11. Chet, thank you so much for this incredible blog. I love reading about obscure RPGs and look forward to each new post.

    I've seen you post about Fallout 4 and have been wondering: what do you think of the FO4 holotape CRPG Grognak & the Ruby Ruins?

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    1. To be honest, I never found that one.

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    2. You can read about it here: http://fallout.wikia.com/wiki/Grognak_%26_the_Ruby_Ruins

      It's a turn-based, party-based RPG that plays a lot like Bard's Tale with Ultima-style top-down exploration. It's simpler than those games, of course, but way more complex than the other holotape games.

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    3. Thing is, you can beat it under 30 minutes.

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  12. Thanks for digging this up. The graphics remind me of Stuart Smith's Ali Baba game. What was the "metal" the old hermit was selling? Was it crucial to the game? Is 100 gold "outrageous" in this game?

    The divide between games in this time can be staggering.

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    1. It was the third part to the key, so it's pretty crucial. 100 gold pieces would be a lot in the early game, but I didn't explore that forest square until late.

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    2. What would the hermit need the gold for? If he's going to use it to buy stuff, it would defeat the purpose of going into hermitage, won't it?

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  13. I'd expect one who is savvy enough could edit the game to expand and improve it.

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  14. What do hares have to do with bells? The only thing I can think of is the Harebell flower, which is quite common here in the UK. Admittedly, a slightly obscure connection...

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    1. A quest for a buried hare reminds me of Kit Williams' Masquerade...

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  15. I can recall a few type-ins from Spectrum magazines and books that might possibly fall within the Addict's remit (to such extent that they could in those days, at least!).

    One that I don't think *quite* would, but is still, I think, somewhat interesting, would be Assault of the Ogroids from Sinclair User's May '87 issue - being effectively a solo boardgame with (very) light RPG elements with the CPU handling the mathematical admin side of things - so encounters were largely 'use the computer to generate a value, then look it up in the table in the magazine'. Character progression is - if I remember rightly - limited to accumulating certain tools to make encounters easier, so wouldn't really fall under the remit of the Addict. I'd still regard it as an interesting quirk of the era. I'm sure SU had a second, similar boardgamey experiment, too, starring their mascot cartoon character, but I'm really struggling to find it, and suspect it's no closer to being within the remit anyway.

    There's a second potential-RPG from Sinclair User, thinking about it - one appeared on a covertape at one point and I've got a nagging feeling it may have been a type-in at one point.

    (After doing research to remind myself): Right, there's an author named Martin Page who made a number of RPG-esque titles; the first - Forest of Long Shadows - was a type-in, as was Goblin's Mountain, the next. Portals of P'thaal, the one I can actually recall, was a covermount. I've a nagging feeling I *may* have mentioned Portals before with Chet deciding it didn't fall under his remit, but I'm not sure and searching comments is nontrivial!

    There is another type-in that springs to mind, but this one is offset by the fact that I've often had difficulty recalling the source - I took a book out from the library that was something like "Five type-in adventures for your ZX Spectrum!", but it used the term 'adventure' loosely - IIRC, two were straight text adventures, one (pegged as a 'tribe adventure', if I recall) was a loose strategy game in the vein of various simple town management sims ("How many people do you want working the fields/guarding the town/resting" sort of thing), and I'm sure one - possibly two - was a very loose RPG - I remember a line drawing of a sabre-toothed tiger as an enemy encounter. Again, they'd be somewhat limited based on just how much people could realistically be coaxed into typing in!

    I wouldn't be hugely surprised if there weren't more out there (and on other platforms, too; I did a lot of stuff with BBC Basic too and I'm somewhat surprised I'm not recalling any content on that front), but I think all of it will be inherently a *bit* limited simply due to a question of scale.

    There's another mention somewhere up there about how some type-ins would have to obscure the text somehow - shifting focus to text adventures for a moment, I do recall a few type-ins doing that, with simple text encryption of any key strings. One notable pair would be a couple of Usborne books, which included listings (and a whole bunch of theming and storyline content) for one reasonably-sized text adventure each; I've just looked on Usborne's site, and the two in the series - Mystery of Silver Mountain and Island of Secrets - have been put up for download. I now need to resist the urge to set up a BBC Basic environment when I've got a free weekend!

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  16. Wouldn't the simple way to obscure text be to have the player type it in ROT13ed, then run a decoder on it before displaying to the screen? That would only add a line or two of code but keep you from having to type in numeric data.

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    1. I think that's what the Usborne text adventures I mentioned above did, effectively. I think there's a bit of a problem, though, in that it's still a bit awkward to input apparently-arbitrary strings of characters; when you're transcribing something into the UI from paper, being able to work with explicit *words* is a huge boon.

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