Monday, November 14, 2022

BloodNet: We'll Take Manhattan

New York has gotten so intolerant.
After the first entry, I toyed with restarting with a stronger character, or one with more hacking ability, or both. But based on the comments, it seemed inevitable that even a stronger character had a chance of screwing up based on the plot order, so I just decided to see how far I could get with this one. If BloodNet is like many adventure games, it will require a large number of false start characters before the real one takes the accumulated knowledge and blazes through the game. My tolerance for this sort of gameplay is heavily influenced by how long it takes to win once you know the steps.
Thus trying to play more organically, I look through my notes from last session and decide that my best lead is probably found in Tackett's WELL, and that to access that, I need someone with better hacking skills. I have contacts at a hacking group called the Houston Matrix Rovers, and while my notes don't promise a joinable NPC among them, I figure they're my best option. My contacts list refers to their "Canal Street meeting room." I go to my map; on Canal Street, I have options for the Rovers and Cafe Voltaire.
Seconds later, I'm in their vaulted-ceiling lounge, with five of them sitting around. I don't know if this will always be the case, but so far all of the locations in this game have been a single screen, with no way to walk off-screen at the edges.
I like how the game offers a description of each location.
Bit by bit, I work my way around the room:
  • Penn Martinez: Greets me with, "What's the frequency, brother?" to which I reply, "Too much noise, not enough signal." Cute. Stark refers to Martinez by his nickname "Smiley" and asks for help. Martinez says that they'll assist with any computer code I can't interpret. He suggests I talk to the "new guy," Hakim Maghsoudi, a former mercenary. Finally, he says I can "jack in" at their location any time. An object on the table next to him turns out to be a Pulse Emitter.
  • Reflex Symptoms, or "Flex": Says he's working on some code he stole from some place called Hunan Storage. 
If you misread this dialogue, you might think you were playing a very different sort of game.
  • Hakim Maghsoudi: Doesn't like me right away. (Calls me a "freejack," which reminds me of the 1992 film with Emilio Estevez, which makes me realize I haven't seen him in anything in about 25 years, which makes me check his IMDB profile, which alerts me that there's a sequel to Young Guns in the works called Guns 3. How in the world did they not call it Old Guns?) He has nothing else to say. I was hoping he would join me. Something on the floor next to him is a Patch Cord.
  • Larry Owen: Has some intelligence on someone Stark was previously investigating named Timothy Goldfarb. (Finding him is one of my "to do" items.) Owen has learned that he's been experimenting with "Morph Codes," meant to interface with the human brain and produce the types of changes you normally need chemicals for. I'm beginning to think that this Goldfarb might be who I'm looking for, but then Owen says he gave himself severe brain damage messing with it. "He's running crazy on Wall Street with a loose-knit gang of psychos called the Autonomy Dogs. Calls himself Wild Child now."
  • Rags Trammell: Has some intelligence on the "Star Chamber," some project or division of TransTech. During his narrative, he drops the bomb that Abraham Van Helsing is on the board of TransTech and is working on some massive project: "Real estate purchases, hardware, secret projects in the Notional and Syntactic workshops . . . force field emitters and holograph projectors." He mentions that Van Helsing has a couple of enemies on the board, but when I suggest I could speak to them, he tells me they're as inaccessible as the President.
Man, there's a lot of text in this game. It reminds me of Challenge of the Five Realms in that regard. On a replay, I may have to start an encyclopedia.

So I haven't gotten what I came for, but if I still want to successfully maneuver in cyberspace, maybe this Goldfarb is still my best option. I decide to go to Wall Street. It's close anyway.
I find the Autonomy Dogs hanging around on a street corner beneath a lamp. Tim Goldfarb turns out to be the first one I speak to. His image suggests that he, too, has become a vampire, and his dialogue indicates that he's not going to be useful to me as an NPC. Stark asks him about the Morph Code, and he just babbles but also suggests a WELL with the password ICE.
I think Irene said this in her sleep once.
Sabaccatus St. Aubens is the leader of the Autonomy Dogs. He belonged to some purity league and hates people with cybernetic enhancements, including himself. (They were apparently installed without his consent to save his life after he was shot by a rival gang.) He offers me $40,000 to assassinate the leader of a gang called the Hard Metals, which "flaunts and celebrates the joining of flesh and circuitry." A third member named Briss says that she'll burn me with lasers if Sabaccatus orders it.
Having still gotten nowhere, I decide to try the Abyss, where I have a contact named Lash Givens. I don't know if he or she has any hacking skills, but it can't hurt to check. The Abyss is up in Times Square. Fortunately, it seems full of people willing to join me. Kyle Avery says he's good at "fighting, decking, you name it." He wants $25,000, and I have about five times that amount. A guy named Cisco seems perfect but he insists he's retired. He'll only join me if his partner, the aforementioned Hakim Maghsoudi, says yes. I quickly jump back over to Canal to talk to Hakim again, but he'll only join if I find something called a Praxus 3000.
Max Bax seems like a strong fighter, but he's also insane, and claims to have killed a number of people that he perceived to be socialists. He's also reluctant to take on corporations like TransTech: "God's authority over man is reflected in the companies' great power and wealth. There may be a link between the corporate and the divine." It's good to know that prosperity theology is still alive in a century. He offers to join for $4,500.
Ha! I knew that "Willis Tower" wouldn't stick!
A guy named Slash McLachlin offers to join for $15,000 without telling me much about himself, but getting him to join was another of my "to do" items. A guy named Nimrod has some kind of cybernetic attachment across his face and speaks robotically, but he also claims to have done work for the Genetic Purity Council. He wants $14,000. Finally, my friend Rymma Fizz is sitting in the corner. She says her husband is working for a gang called Electric Anarchy and they're tracking the growing presence of vampires. I confide in her that I'm a vampire and that I'm trying to stop the vampires from getting something called "Incubus," which I don't think I've ever even heard of before. She'll join for free. I note that none of these people is named Lash Givens.
I take a save and add each one to the party, checking out their statistics. Rymma says she also wants me to take on her husband, Garrick. For now, I just go through their status and skills. Rymma is a strong, agile fighter with impressive cyberskills. Max has high combat skills, but not significantly higher than the others, and he doesn't excel at much else except "Faith." Avery also has high values for combat skills, "Bribery," and "Fast-Talking." Slash is supposed to be more of a thief, with high values in "Observation" and "Lock Pick," but his combat skills are nothing to sneeze at. Nimrod's strengths are in "Melee," "Courage," "Bribery," "Observation," and "Bio-Tech"; he also has a perfect 100 strength. I reload and take Rymma, Slash, and Nimrod for now, deeming Avery too expensive and somewhat redundant unless "Fast-Talking" is a crucial skill, and Max is both redundant and ethically problematic. I note that all of the NPCs are significantly better than I am. Their worst scores are on par with my best.
We already had the discussion this year on the origin of "Nimrod."
Each NPC has his or her own inventory, and I spend some time shuffling through it and making sure everyone is armed and armored. 
The party returns to Tackett's Lab, where Rymma has some comments. I plug in and enter cyberspace. I note that there's no option to tell another party member to enter cyberspace, so I hope I'm still able to use their skills. 
This time, on the second screen, I encounter a famous hacker named Elvis, who says that he's permanently stuck in cyberspace, his body long dead. He says if I can get him out into the real world again, he can help me. I agree to assist. He says I should download him into my decking unit and then put him into a cyborg body. Apparently, that works; "Elvis's Mind" appears in my inventory.
"You know cyberspace like the back of your hand? Prove it." "Um, there's a mole on my thumb, and a scar on my wrist, from when I fell off my bicycle."
I find a FATS unit, enter the code HOPE, and fortunately find myself in Tackett's WELL. There I find her journal, which indicates that she's been fighting a private war against "the vampire lord, Van Helsing." The journal mentions a faction called the Red Cross Knights, "a brotherhood of knights in the medieval tradition." They live in the Cloisters, in the extreme northern end of Manhattan. The journal tells me what the "Incubus" is; apparently, I was supposed to find this during my initial visit. It's the ultimate hacking program, allowing its user to access any system. Van Helsing wants it. Tackett's followers, the Lost Kids, have uploaded themselves permanently into cyberspace so that they could hide and guard the Incubus in a private WELL. "Someone must find them in cyberspace before Van Helsing does." Finally, the diary mentions a cyberspace engineer named Sampson on 125th Street.
A WELL is a freaky place.
I return to regular cyberspace. At another FATS, I try ICE, but apparently that's not the password to a WELL. I try some other keywords from my dialogue with Goldfarb to no avail. I cross some more screens, find nothing, and ultimately exit.
Next stop: Ludwig Sampson's Lab at 125th Street. He initially recoils from me when he finds that I'm a vampire but ultimately agrees to help. He believes that vampirism can be reversed, and he gives me the password to his WELL (ZARATHUSTRA), which has a text file that summarizes what I have to do to become human again. Then, for some reason, he gives me a Praxis 2300XC, which I guess is a better decking unit?
Sampson's lab as I arrive.
Back I go into cyberspace, find a FATS, and enter ZARATHUSTRA. Just as I get into the WELL, my implant warns me that "hostile data entity draining decking integrity." There's also nothing to find in the WELL. I immediately exit. Sampson tells me that my "humanity is defunct," and that he too has vampirism, and he too had an implant that he hoped would save him. "The pull is too great, the seduction irresistible. Van Helsing wants your heart for dinner, and by my hand he shall have it." 
Didn't any of my party members note that he was doing something strange?
Finally, I experience combat. It begins with the game asking me to place each of my characters around the room. I surround Sampson before realizing that's probably a bad approach with firearms. Every character starts in "free combat," which has the computer select a target. You can click on each character and issue other orders, including defending a position, moving, biting (for vampires), using items, changing weapons, charming an enemy ("Exert Will"), and retreating. 
The game appears to have a system of individual body part damage.
Since there's only one enemy, I leave things set  on "free combat." Stark blasts Sampson in the head with a shotgun and immediately kills him. That was easier than expected. He has power cells, a Refraction Unit, and laser cells on his body.
When I first entered the lab, I tried the "Search" command, and the game said that Sampson stopped me. Now that he's dead, I try again. The game notes that Slash McLachlin, who has the highest "Observation" skill, performs the search. This is an example of the game's PAL system, by which the character with the highest skill automatically performs related tasks. It was in Challenge of the Five Realms, too, and I think maybe one previous Paragon game. Twilight 2000?
This is about the only way you can interact with each area.
Searching reveals hidden items, including plans for a pulse gun, a cybernetic arm called a Schonbrun S2. I equip it and then find that I can't un-equip it. 
This trail exhausted, I consult my notes and decide to try the next bullet point: visiting the Flux Riders motorcycle gang for intelligence. They hang out on West 79th Street. The leader, Hondo, won't speak to me because Nimrod is in the party. Another member, Jaz Bob, offers to sell me an "Azrael" for a 16TB memory chip. I decline for now but note it for later. A member named Bid Dina gives me a "Data Spider" for free and tells me that the weapons dealers Sid & Nancy just made a big score. 
At this point, my last lead is the rumors of vampires killing people in a shanty town on Great Lawn in Central Park. Going back to the map, I realize there is no Central Park. Central Park is between 59th and 110th Streets; Great Lawn is right in the middle, about 83rd. But the map just shows buildings throughout Manhattan. Still, it shows a travel point at 86th, and "Central Park" is one of the destinations. 
Does that look like a park?
It's a slum. Homeless people crouch under shelters constructed from trash. A search produces two piles of dirt. I start talking to the residents. A kid named Slick Earl offers to sell me a hose, a nozzle, and a tub for $300, saying I can use them to make a "fine weapon." After I buy them, the "Jury Rig" screen says I have the components for a flamethrower, but I still need a tool kit to assemble them. A kid named Marty sells us an electrode for $35. A girl named Jeaudie offers to trade some circuitry for psilo blossom, which I don't have.
This is the second vampire-themed game we've seen lately that thinks a "flamethrower" is as easy as a hose, a nozzle, and a tank. What puts the liquid under pressure?! What's the ignition source?!
A guy named Sanders Tomalin has the same disease I have. I offer him the design plans for the neural implant that saved me. In return, he gives me a four terabyte memory chip, a samurai "soul box," and a database chip with technical specifications for over 300 lock mechanisms.
Kimba West introduces himself as the "mayor" of the town and a former TransTech employee. He says that a lot of the residents have a grudge against TransTech, and I can help them by giving them a supply of fiber optic cable; he suggests I get it at TransTech's headquarters in Brooklyn. He knows a "data angel" named Lenora Major who can give us security access. I can find her at the Cafe Voltaire on Canal.
You guys should be down on Wall Street.
I notice a little triangle on the screen, and I realize that it indicates there's more to the area in that direction. So not all areas are a single screen. Going back through my screenshots, I realize there was another one of those in the Abyss. For now, on the second screen, I buy another data spider for $500 and a Dermal Filament for $250. I meet a guy named Bartleby who says that something haunts their nights. A nun named Mother Mary is ministering to the poor; she says to meet her at the rear of St. Patrick's.
You're supposed to say, "Let it be."
I return to the Abyss. The other half has eight people! I decide to save here and investigate them next time. For now, I head over to The Adventurer's Guild and check in on Will's progress. I have to be careful because I want to co-blog without spoiling things for myself, so I try to practice the art of skimming his account of areas I haven't visited, looking for only light clues and not detailed spoilers. For areas I have visited, I look for things he encountered that I didn't. From his accounts, I gather that the Patch Cord I found in the Houston Matrix Rovers' hideout is why I was able to successfully navigate cyberspace. Although it's always Stark who visits cyberspace, the cord lets him use other party members' skills.
It's Stark's favorite bar, but he never knew until now that there was another room.
Will notes that he keeps getting slaughtered in the Trinity Church Cemetery, so I decide to check out my luck in the same place, expecting that I'll just die and reload at the Abyss. The worst that can happen is that I learn a bit more about combat. 
The moment I arrive, someone named Louella Travesty shouts: "The undead walk before us! Kill the hellspawn bastard!" Combat begins; there are five enemies in Travesty's group. I place my characters around the periphery of the cemetery, firing inwards, and set the game to "Quick Combat." Stark manages to kill one of the enemies, but that's my only success before the entire party is killed.
My greatest enemy is actually paralyzing procrastination, but I admit I don't know how I'd represent it graphically.
I try again, this time putting my characters together in the center, firing outward, and use regular combat but with the actions set to default. My characters run out of ammo a couple of times and are given the option to switch weapons or reload; if you choose "reload" but don't have any ammo, you not only waste your turn, but also the character does nothing in subsequent turns. Anyway, this time I manage to kill two of them. 
Issuing orders to my party.
On my third attempt, I line the characters up on the right side of the screen and issue orders so that two characters each concentrate on one enemy. This one goes really well. I manage to kill three of them, including Travesty, before one of the remaining two manages to kill Slash McLachlin. Despite a couple of characters running out of ammo, we manage to kill the other two.
A lot of stuff happened this round.
There's a ton to loot. But I don't know why we just killed all these people, and I don't want to lose McLachlin, so I reload. Lessons learned: placement and concentration of fire matter; I probably need a fifth party member; I definitely need more ammunition.
The loot screen after a partially-successful combat.
Next session, I'm probably going to have to explore being a vampire. Stark has two statistics that I have to keep an eye on: "Humanity" and "Bloodlust." The latter is how much he needs to feed; the former tracks the consequences of feeding. Right now, they're at 100% and 44%, respectively. There's an option to feed on random NPCs, but you can also "bite" in combat, which appears to cause you to lose humanity more slowly than when you feed on innocents. Either way, Stark is getting hungry.
Despite the dire GIMLET predictions, I'm enjoying the game so far. It's quite thickly plotted, but that's more of an issue for blogging than for playing. My biggest issues are note-taking and not knowing what all this stuff is supposed to do. I am rather enjoying the unique, quasi-impressionistic visuals, and the dialogue has been at least tolerable since the prologue. I can't say how it will end, but for now I'm still curious to see where it goes.
Time so far: 5 hours


  1. Megatraveller 2 had the PAL system, I wouldn't be surprised if MT1 and Twilight: 2000 had it, too. I wish Might&Magic had it, instead of having to give all the items to the character with the merchant skill (or having a chest explode because you forgot to switch the active character).

    This game has a strong Shadowrun vibe, but I guess that's just the shared Cyberpunk roots, and not a direct influence.

    1. Yeah, despite the presence of the supernatural it's closer to Cyberpunk (the tabletop game) than Shadowrun.

  2. "My tolerance for this sort of gameplay is heavily influenced by how long it takes to win once you know the steps."

    That will definitely be a saving grace here. I'm not seeing any speedruns, but the game doesn't randomize passwords or anything like that.

    I have very mixed feelings about the writing in this game. Some of it is very good (Max Bax's rant is fun). Some of it is very goofy and bad (the character names, oh god). A lot of it kind of leaves me cold (the cyberpunk material generally feels very surface-level). But my main problem with it is just that there's so much of it, and a lot of it feels like it's just crammed into the game. You've already encountered at least one instance of dialogue that has an incorrect trigger (the conversation about the Star Chamber), and it won't be the last time.

    Since you're already expecting to have to replay a few times, I won't flag any potential dead man walking scenarios. Finding those is part of the fun, anyway.

    1. Technically, since he's a vampire, isn't he already in a dead man walking scenario? :)

    2. That was going to be my subtitle, but Will stole for his TAG entry.

    3. Although I like "Goldfarb" ("Goldcolor"). Google tells me it's German/Jewish in origin and it somehow reminded me of old German silent movies. My brain probably made an unconscious similarity to "Rotwang" of Metropolis whose name I just looked up now.

    4. You say the character names are goofy, but I'm fairly certain at least 80% of them play in the NFL.

  3. "If BloodNet is like many adventure games, it will require a large number of false start characters before the real one takes the accumulated knowledge and blazes through the game."

    Maybe you are thinking of early Sierra or Infocom games, where you can easily die or become deadended because you missed some key item earlier, but by 1993 this design philosophy was mostly extinct (courtesy of Ron Gilbert and Secret of Monkey Island, back in 1990).

    Mind, I'm not saying that is not the case in Bloodnet. I did finish it with my first character, but I played very conservatively and made liberal use of save/reloading.

    1. I think this was a typo and meant actually general crpgs or one kind of crpgs...

    2. No, I meant adventure games. The ones I'm familiar with can be speed-runned ("sped-run?") quickly once you know all the secrets and puzzles. My knowledge is definitely weighted towards the early Sierra and Infocom titles.

    3. That is the thing, it didn't make sense for me because you are referring to a game design that is, well, mostly extinct for adventure games (or now called point n click games). Unless we are in visual novel/"choices matter" ones, which btw I personally dislike.

    4. Fortunately, "many" is an ambiguous term. There were "many" Infocom and Sierra games.

    5. We definitely speak different languages, because Infocom was not doing any Infocom thingy from 1994, where Bloodnet was released, and Sierra had already left behind the old school way of design with dead ends at that time. I am thinking of Divide By Zero, of Revolution, of Adventure Soft, of Cyan... but also I cannot see any sense on the concept of speed running an adventure game, where the gameplay rewards are basically part of the story, so a replay is like reading a book twice (better to do with some space). Unless with "adventure" you mean "all the adventures I have played that take place before Monkey Island". Anyway, this is a fruitless conversation because I cannot see you trying to understand my point.

    6. I understand your point just fine, Carlos. You're saying that what I said about adventure games doesn't apply to many adventure games, particularly after a certain date. I'm sure you're right. But what I said DOES apply to many adventure games, particularly the ones I have experience playing, including almost all the RPG/Adventure hybrids that have come before this, like Quest for Glory, B.A.T., Beyond Zork, Journey, Tangled Tales, The Third Courier, and Elvira. Look at any Quest for Clues book from the 1980s. The series of winning steps for most games can be offered on two pages.

      I don't care whether such games are representative of the adventure genre or not. I wasn't trying to make a point about the adventure genre. I was just speculating about what might happen in this game. Replace "like many adventure games" with "like [all the games I just listed above]" and the point is the same.

    7. I honestly don't know what it is about my commenters lately that they want to focus on the least important part of what I say.

      ME: "I just won 2 billion dollars in the lottery! I'm as rich as Kanye!"

      Regular person: "Wow! 2 billion! That's incredible! What will you do with it!"

      Commenter: "Technically, I don't think Kanye has that much money anymore. He hit is peak early in 2022, but he lost so much money in the . . . ."

    8. And Carlos, even though you "cannot see any sense on the concept", people do speedrun adventure game, and Chet is right in that most of them can be done ridiculously quickly if you know all the secrets. has an extensive list - for example, here's King's Quest I done in less than a minute:

    9. I think "speedrun" is the wrong word and has thrown people off the track. That's deliberately trying to play the game as fast as possible for some baffling reason. What we're talking about here is going through a game until you establish what you need to do to win, and then abandoning your screwed up playthrough and starting a fresh clean one that can proceed smoothly to the finish now that the correct path is known.

    10. basically, like a speedrun.

    11. I think Harland made a useful distinction, and I agree with it. I'm not trying to win the game as quickly as possible. But so far, most of the length of the game has been in dialogue. I'm 5 hours into the game, but to get to the point that I'm at, if I just clicked through the dialogue, now that I know what the character's are saying, would only take about 15 minutes.

  4. "It's good to know that prosperity theology is still alive in a century." -- Thank-you for making me laugh out loud!

  5. Another comment by me! I must be very interested in the game.

    Your success compared to mine (I usually died very early on when I played in the 1990s, and then got bored in the late 2010s) is encouraging me to give this game another shot.

    I suspect what I should learn (as I used to when I played games I really liked) is to make notes. Relying on spoon fed quest markers, and no ability to get into an unwinnable state has dumbed down roleplay games in recent years (I'm looking at you Skyrim/Oblivion).

    It does seem you are heading in the right direction. Once again, I'll watch closely though I'm wondering if I too should give it a go myself.....

  6. Nice reference to the Great Gonzo! I think the issues folks are concerned about will hit you at the end of the game.

    1. I was wondering if the subtitle is taken from the 2012 TV movie (which has a jazz soundtrack) or whether we will read something about Berlin next, but now I see there is also a muppet movie, so no idea.


    3. aww. haha. i kind of wanted it to be the r.e.m song [by way of leonard cohen.]

      ie: "first, we take manhattan."

      [i understand it's not the addict's taste, of course, but i like it a lot.]

  7. I really appreciate the way you are playing this because it reminds me of, well, the way I was playing adventure games Back In The Day: some friends, or my sister, or my sister's boyfriend, were playing them at more or less the same time, so we were giving each other clues when someone got ahead.

  8. 'The Lost Kids' - is that maybe related to the 1987 vampire movie 'The Lost Boys'? Which itself, as I just learned, is a reference to characters from 'Peter Pan', who, like vampires, never grow older. Though here it seems it's a group actually fighting against vampires or at least Van Helsing.

    1. That was the movie where all the underage boys were being sexually assaulted by the Hollywood producers while on set. Decades before Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein were exposed. Everyone in the entertainment industry knew, but it wasn't a problem for them. They all knew.

  9. Chet: "My greatest enemy is actually paralyzing procrastination, but I admit I don't know how I'd represent it graphically."
    Well, you could go with any movie still of Jack Nicholson after his lobotomy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.... ;-) That's how I look when suffering from paralyzing procrastination!

  10. Wow, I completely forgot about the Corn Syrup Cartel, that's a hilarious reference in retrospect.

    "Ha! I knew that 'Willis Tower' wouldn't stick!"
    What you talkin' about Willis?

    A question about cyberspace, spoilers because I don't think any of this has come into question yet...
    Qba'g lbh qvr vs lbh zrff nebhaq sbe gbb ybat va gurer? V'z phevbhf vs guvf Cngpu Pbeq Purg sbhaq ceriragf gung. V whfg erzrzore qlvat va plorefcnpr nsgre n srj zvahgrf bs gbgny gvzr, juvpu znqr ehaavat nebhaq va plorefcnpr n tnzoyr.

    1. ROT13: Gur Cngpu Pbeq yrgf lbh hfr lbhe cnegl zrzoref' fxvyyf va plorefcnpr. Ertneqyrff, nsgre n pregnva crevbq bs gvzr va plorefcnpr lbh'yy "qvfcrefr" naq qvr. Lbh fubhyq trg n jneavat orsber vg unccraf, gubhtu.

  11. "Despite the dire GIMLET predictions, I'm enjoying the game so far. It's quite thickly plotted, but that's more of an issue for blogging than for playing."
    I'm surprised, too. Judging from your experience and contrary to some contemporary critics this sounds like a game I would enjoy pretty much. I'm all the more curious how it turns out in the end.

  12. I dont' know about you, but I'm getting intense 'Escape from New York' vibes from the screenshots.

    1. Yeah, good call. I haven't seen that movie in decades.

  13. I'm glad you're having fun with it so far!


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