Ratings and Reviews by Andrew Schultz

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Pub Hubbub, by Christopher Drum

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Scrub, Bub, Scrub!, May 4, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: PunyJam 2021

With a title like Pub Hubbub, you'd expect a few cheap jokes, and they're the good sort of cheap, the ones that give good return for relatively little investment. The game may not be super-ambitious, but it's a well-organized first effort with enough humor to keep you going through any frustrations you might have with the parser or with the time limitation. An ominous note saying your boss, John, owes $2500 "or else" adds to the plot.

You start in a broom closet, as with every PunyJam entry, and have four pub-cleaning tasks to complete in two hours of game time, or 120 moves. And while standard parser peeves (some rejected commands cost you a move), I was actually able to figure what to do even without logging on to my boss John's computer. The execution required some parser-wrangling, and in fact my first time through I just missed completing everything. Fortunately, nothing drastic happened, and the drudge work makes enough sense it was easy to replicate. Basic stuff you need to do so the pub isn't too nasty.

The game does a good job of brushing off parser mistakes with a joke. Nothing demeaning, but advice from older wiser relatives pops up if you forget something. The rejects for cleaning you don't need to do also amused me, and when I browsed the source code, I found other things I'd missed.

Nothing's too gross or out there, and in fact, there is one way to die that's lampshaded nicely. And there's a cigarette machine which contains more humor than cigarette machines generally do, and even a puzzle.

Given the game's general tone, I was able to figure roughly what the note was about before my boss John came back, and you may, too. But the details still made me laugh.

This is a good, promising first game. It has a few small bugs (or I think they're bugs and not my own incompetence) I'm glad to overlook, because the main stuff seems to work.

Cragne Manor, by Ryan Veeder, Jenni Polodna, Adam Whybray, Adri, Andrew Plotkin, Andy Holloway, Austin Auclair, Baldur Brückner, Ben Collins-Sussman, Bill Maya, Brian Rushton, Buster Hudson, Caleb Wilson, Carl Muckenhoupt, Chandler Groover, Chris Jones, Christopher Conley, Damon L. Wakes, Daniel Ravipinto, Daniel Stelzer, David Jose, David Petrocco, David Sturgis, Drew Mochak, Edward B, Emily Short, Erica Newman, Feneric, Finn Rosenløv, Gary Butterfield, Gavin Inglis, Greg Frost, Hanon Ondricek, Harkness Munt, Harrison Gerard, Ian Holmes, Ivan Roth, Jack Welch, Jacqueline Ashwell, James Eagle, Jason Dyer, Jason Lautzenheiser, Jason Love, Jeremy Freese, Joey Jones, Joshua Porch, Justin de Vesine, Justin Melvin, Katherine Morayati, Kenneth Pedersen, Lane Puetz, Llew Mason, Lucian Smith, Marco Innocenti, Marius Müller, Mark Britton, Mark Sample, Marshal Tenner Winter, Matt Schneider, Matt Weiner, Matthew Korson, Michael Fessler, Michael Gentry, Michael Hilborn, Michael Lin, Mike Spivey, Molly Ying, Monique Padelis, Naomi Hinchen, Nate Edwards, Petter Sjölund, Q Pheevr, Rachel Spitler, Reed Lockwood, Reina Adair, Riff Conner, Roberto Colnaghi, Rowan Lipkovits, Sam Kabo Ashwell, Scott Hammack, Sean M. Shore, Shin, Wade Clarke, Zach Hodgens, Zack Johnson

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
So I guess I should try Anchorhead some time, huh?, May 4, 2021
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

I'm too close to Cragne Manor to give it five stars officially. I tested a bunch of rooms and wound up emotionally invested in it. I wanted it to be good, and I enjoyed getting so many sneak previews of rooms in the game, but ... how the heck would they all fit together? Nevertheless, it seemed like a fun project to be a part of. I'm glad I was allowed in. This, from someone who will never, ever write a long-form horror game. (Insert "not intentionally" joke here at your leisure.)

However, I also put in so much energy just looking at the rooms that I put it aside. I needed a break. I worried my own expectations were too high. I had my own stuff to write, for better or worse. I'd wait for the walkthrough. The spoiler-heavy one. I'd hope it all fit together. Anyway, it was fun to try and figure which rooms I tested might be next to each other. A modification of the Birthday Paradox noted there would almost certainly be a few. But I'll skip the details, for those who find calculations more of a horror than, well, horror.

I figured it would take a while for the main authors to put stuff together, and it did. But once I started playing, I saw it wasn't just about lumping everything together. There were big-picture items you couldn't put in the individual rooms. The coffee cup seemed like a weird joke, until it became useful indeed, with a clever trigger so your character understood what the swirls meant. The trolley pass helps shrink the map with shortcuts and gives an amusing reject if you try to guess the colors of stations you haven't been to yet. Even the error messages seem helpful. And CM probably needs this, because you have all manner of similar but non-swappable books, keys, and pieces of paper. It'd be nightmarish, except that fortunately most items have only one use, and you get a backpack with all sorts of zippered compartments, helpfully labeled and organized into ... the sort of item types you find in the game. In short, the lack of technical horror helps you concentrate on the narrative horror.

This wasn't enough to get me hooked right away. I wrote my own stuff and laid low until there were a few walkthroughs, and the game's big enough, you'll probably need a few, to contrast ways through and sort out trivial typos. There's no one that's best. And discovering a room I tested was like finding an old friend, until it wasn't. There were some I forgot I tested, which was freaky, and some I didn't remember I did, which was freaky too. Some rooms seemed to pop up much too early, and some wound up much too late. For some of the early ones, I didn't have an item I received automatically during testing, because they had two separate small puzzles. So I felt, well, held back by some unknown force.

Eventually it all fit. I wound up worried writer X's room might be tricky, because I found something they wrote to be thorny. Or one person in the Discord (or was it Slack?) community mentioned their room was a bit bigger than they intended, and I worried it might be a mess. But in the end these fears were baseless, and everything pulled together. And the overall effect was: this game never feels it's done "right" or properly, but it's done very well. The jokes and references swing from very technical (hexadecimal humor) to more literary. The rooms swing from mostly scenery, with a few things to search and maybe just a door to open, to changing identities you make spiritual journeys through space and time, as one does in games featuring the supernatural. And if anything about this confuses you, the main authors drop in a device that lets you see room-specific CREDITS, if the room authors chose to include them. It dropped at the right moment for me, and it has a few amusing touches, especially for the longer blurbs.

And though horror isn't my thing, and I knew CM would be forgiving, I definitely had shivers of "oh dear I better save here." Or "I better not mess this up." With some rooms, this turned out not to be a problem due to strong design, or maybe you could immediately undo any deaths. But with certain rooms I didn't see, after the room creators submitted the game, the tension really built. With all the death and occult stuff piling up, I felt sure I had overlooked something, even with walkthroughs to follow. There are a few bring-them-all-together puzzles at the end, which are well beyond the rather neat library puzzle you see early on, where you need to return a bunch of creepy overdue books. This one in particular got me, because I still had a few library books to return to a suburban library. They waived the fines because of COVID, and I could keep them as long as I liked, but I just couldn't check any new ones. And when I returned a few materials just before trying to finish CM in earnest, there was a lot of social distancing and using a machine to check things in. So having CM overlap with real life like this was unexpected. It was probably going to happen in some way, with all the different ideas the room writers threw out there. But this was almost freakishly on the nose.

And just the game's sheer size worked in its favor to create an atmosphere I didn't expect. I've had smaller games just throw stuff at me and leave me exhausted, and I wound up worrying I'd missed something that could lock me out of a win here, even though I logically knew I shouldn't. The sheer number of key/door combos and articles to sort and remember, as well as rooms named similarly but not too similarly, left me disoriented but genuinely glad when I found shortcuts. For instance, some keys only open doors that save you time walking, but it relieves your helplessness a bit to actually see, yes, these two rooms that seem like they should link up, do.

I'm hard-put to find weaknesses of CM. It's definitely exhausting, and even with a walkthrough, the disambiguation gets to you after all. And perhaps sometimes it feels like inside baseball. But even so, I think every community should have a game like Cragne Manor. One where even sitting down with a walkthrough over the span of two late nights is a rewarding experience.

And I do feel I missed a little by attacking the walkthrough directly. There's certainly stuff I glossed over for efficiency's sake. While I took time to do some things wrong, just to see what horrors might pop up, there are bookmarks I placed in my mental map of CM for next time. There will also be stuff I weirdly forgot and weirdly remembered, and it will make for an entirely different experience than winning for the first time or testing the rooms.

I think any long-lasting creative community would be lucky to have an effort like Cragne Manor. It was a relief to see relative newcomers step up and to see former IFComp competitors show something I hadn't expected. It was exhausting, but by the end, I wished there was more.

Reflections, by Tristin Grizel Dean

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Lots of light, little glare, April 28, 2021

The danger of relying on the old fairy tales is that you don't wind up saying or doing anything new, or you wind up getting too wild and rattling on. Reflections does neither. It gives you a cell phone to navigate certain puzzles, and it keeps familiar fantasy elements without cliche. All this makes it a good fit for the Text Adventure Literacy Jam as well as a good short game.

The goal is to find five different ways to see your reflection. And yes, the cell phone plays an integral part in a few of them. The best part is, you can't and don't have to call anyone, or find any numbers, or anything like that, though one common side-feature of cell phones is necessary to use and ewll-clued.

Positive interaction with animals is most important, and it's never twee. The puzzles and setting avoid the cliches of fantasy as well as gross anachronisms. They're also comfortable enough that you shouldn't struggle with the parser. And while Sentient Beings, the other game the author entered in this comp, is more ambitious and memorable, Reflections really takes the tutorial requirements for the jam and makes them come alive. So the author should be proud of writing either of these games, much less both.

This game also circumvents a potential pet peeve: you have some baking to do, which normally isn’t my thing, because bigger games may get into details too quickly. Here, it doesn’t feel forced on me. I’m the sort of person who is relieved when a recipe isn’t very complex, so the game’s courtesy was appreciated her, and I think in general any game that takes on something you aren't usually interested in and keeps you interested has clearly done something right.

Because the final point of the game is for (Spoiler - click to show)looking through the mirror in your house after traveling to a cave, it has a there-and-back feel to it. And just knowing what the final point should be certainly left me feeling competent when I needed to think about a puzzle near the end. Overall the game does a lot and avoids overdoing anything or trying too hard to get me to like it, which is a very real risk when writing fantasy stuff, so I do recommend it.

Dungeons of Antur, by Ricardo Oyon Rodriguez

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
DoA is definitely not DOA, April 28, 2021

It's been done before, combining an RPG with a text adventure, but Dungeons of Antur (DoA) wound up performing much better than other text adventure and RPG hybrids I've played. Adventuron is partly responsible for that, but the author definitely did a lot of things right. Once I got out of "it's been done before" mode I realized this is the sort of game I'd have really enjoyed when I was 12, with or without the tutorial. A tutorial which notified me that tab-completion would help me cycle through all valid verbs. Since the competition explicitly wanted tutorials, and I had trouble guessing one verb (the author has since fixed this,) I was quite pleased to be able to approach future Adventuron games knowing verb-guessing would be less critical.

DoA's not huge--it might be exhausting that way. It has alternate endings. It has a few puzzles. It has strategy. It's randomized each time through. It even has an interesting NPC at the end. And I can't say DoA has a huge, overarching story. It's well put together, though, and it doesn't make mistakes. It's supposed to be sort of a demo for Adventuron's tutorials and a sequel, and I think it fits well.

As for specifics without spoilers: the puzzles and atmosphere are more the focus here. There's a grate that shuts down as soon as you enter the room, something to fish out from a well, and another grate that doesn't seem to have any mechanism at all. Skeletons contain messages in their bony hands. There's a secret room you should be able to find if you pay attention to the tutorial and another that requires a bit more trickery. Some weapons work better against certain monsters. You have armor and a few healing devices.

The graphics above the text give you a good view of the room or the enemy, along with your current stats. While a status line could display all this information, it wouldn't look as nice, and it'd feel a bit intrusive, too. DoA wasn't the only Literacy Jam game that gave me the feeling that, hey, I could make something attractive with lots of user-friendly features in Adventuron, but it managed to be a legitimate RPG and convinced me I could maybe stretch Adventuron's bounds to do my own thing.

As mentioned above, I do wish there were more games like DoA when I was a kid. But instead I figured I'd better be happy with what I got: Infocom games that blocked me at the first tough puzzle, but then again, if I could finish them too early, I'd have nothing left to play.

I used to be quite impressed with adults being able to make games hard, but as I've grown older, I'm more impressed with programmers who pace their games well, and DoA is an example. I got stuck often enough to feel challenge, but it wasn't frustrating. The battles are also well-balanced. It's possible you'll get wiped out, but saving and restoring is part of the general RPG procedure. In fact, there's one battle near the end where you almost certainly will get wiped out if you don't have a good think.

Finally, the writer deserves credit for doing a great job maintaining the game. They've made several bug fixes, small and large. And while anyone who writes a game in something other than their first language deserves approval for their courage, the author was quick to fix the sort of grammar nuisances that even native English speakers mess up. That bodes well for the potential sequel mentioned at the game's end.

Sandcastle Master, by EldritchRenaissanceCake

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Kid stuff, but not just for its own sake, April 27, 2021

With games featuring youth I'm always a bit worried that there will be nostalgia-pandering, but this game left my worries baseless. It doesn't try to be too cute, it deals with limits seamlessly, and it uses Adventuron's features quite well.

You're a kid who needs to decorate a sandcastle you helped your father build. Which doesn't sound too hard, and it isn't. Your father gives you a map of the beach to start, and you can’t go too far away from your parents. That helps keep the game small, so you don’t have to go wandering off anywhere. Which makes sense. Your parents wouldn't like that. Also, nicely, two of the map squares are inaccessible: some water is reserved for fishing, some for boats. This certainly brought back memories of places I couldn't go on the beach and made them a bit more fun.

The treasures aren’t terribly tricky to find, or valuable, but you would find them at the beach, and you would enjoy them as a kid, an the rainbow text sort of reenforces that--as an adult, I wondered if it was really necessary. It wasn't, but it made the game that much more enjoyable. But the game's not just simply about fun at the beach.

It also touches on things a kid doesn't know and won't realize until later. It winks at the older player. Not too sly for its own good, but a bit of thought fills in some things I might not have recognized when younger.

Once the father built the sandcastle, the kid may not realize parents need and want time to themselves. But there might not always be friends to hang with. So after helping his kid build a sandcastle, the father sends them out on a small fetching expedition to keep him entertained. There's another kid to sort of make friends with and a few older people to help along the way. Which keeps a day out fun for the kid.

Well, for the kid AND for me. And probably you, too. And you don't even have to pack up the car or suffer through traffic to enjoy it.

Sentient Beings, by Tristin Grizel Dean

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful:
Plot: Bot, Spot a Lot, April 25, 2021

Day and night are often just slipped into a game to provide realism, or give the player unofficial barriers that don't feel like puzzles. But in Sentient Beings, they offer up variety and puzzles that aren't out of place in a tutorial-style game.

And it's so well-executed that even when I saw what was going on and worried it didn't work, I wound up getting through without worrying about many of the technical aspects. I'm not the sort of person who'd generally gravitate to this game, but I liked it, and I hope that's not just a backhanded compliment.

You're this cute little robot who needs to pick up 24 specimens and bring them back to your rocket ship. Twelve are nocturnal, and twelve are diurnal. You need to do some preparations, such as measuring the temperature and light and air composition, before you can store anything in your rocket ship. While this may feel pedantic, it fits in well with the theme of the jam, which is to teach people about text adventures. And the science-y bits also provide for ways to explain verbs to you so you won't be guessing.

If I could change one thing, I might allow the player to return in their rocket ship after getting 22 or 23 of the samples, with a slightly less happy ending. If a casual player has, say, a 96% chance (this number was pulled out of nowhere) of finding any one specimen, there’s an 70% chance they’ll miss one (1-.96^24), so that could be frustrating for someone who doesn’t take disciplined notes right away. (Or maybe the game just put me in enough of a scientific mood to be OK with writing something like this.) However, even there, the game has a lovely walkthrough and you can guess which specimen you may've missed because (Spoiler - click to show)area 1's specimens go to the top left, area 6 to the bottom right, and so forth.

Lawnmowering through is a strategy that should work, though--there aren't TOO many things to observe, push, or search under, either at night or day--and the stuff that needs manipulation is pretty obvious. Plus, it's actually pretty scientific to go through room-by-room, in keeping with the whole science theme and taking careful notes and such.

But the game does a lot to make sure you don't miss details. It’s wonderful to be able to shut the robot off until the next day/night. So it makes the push-pull between wanting to explore more and wanting to nail down getting all the specimens in one area a little more interesting. My experience was worry the game might be a bit big, and once when I discovered its boundaries and found everything, I was a bit disappointed there wasn't more. I enjoyed the variety of terrains, and the different graphics in the day/night switches helped that.

The game is robust enough that I was able to work around a (now fixed) bug. I felt more focused the second time through, and I had a better plan, because the game allowed it. It's probably the most complex game of all the entries in terms of features as well, with an option to set robot humor and so forth.

This game also deserves serious credit for using custom verbs the best of any of the entrants. They're relatively intuitive, using some nouns that doubles was verb. MEASURE also requires an guess-the-noun puzzle, which I can assure you is a pleasant variation on the usual guess-the-verb. Given that tutorials were a focus of this comp, the author integrated the new verbs in very well, but only after you learned the standard ones.

Sentient Beings made me think without telling me it wanted me to think, which is always appreciated. I didn't realize it was well done until I looked back and thought about it.

The Blue Lettuce, by Caleb Wilson

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
8 vegetables, but more pleasant than V-8, April 21, 2021

The Blue Lettuce was the only Inform game in the Text Adventure Literacy Jam, but it doesn't feel out of place, and its quality reflects the jam's general quality. It's a game about a groundhog who is looking forward to eating some magical blue lettuce. The puzzles are sensible, mainly about jumping around, and the prose is good. The way through is pretty clearly lit for those who just want to win, but I wasn't surprised there was more.

You'll probably miss a vegetable or two the first time through. The trickiest one for me to find on replay was (Spoiler - click to show)one that can actually vanish before you eat it. The puzzles are simple, in keeping with the jam's aims, and there's good variety in them. You'll never have to do anything radical.

I also like the responses to eating stuff you don't like, which rounds things out nicely. There's nothing crazy, but it all makes sense. Like I wouldn't expect the groundhog to enjoy grass, and they didn't. Between that and helpfully nudging you when you type in a wrong direction, It certainly goes along with the tutorial spirit of the competition. There's a crane as an NPC and a constant reference to the wizard who tends this area of odd vegetables, and that's nice to have, without forcing you into any tangled mythologies or complicated relationships.

Even though this game seems relatively simple, it had a few in-plain-sight points I didn’t see when I just plowed through the first time, because I wanted to get through all the comp games. I didn't mind missing things, and I enjoyed coming back later. Someone who sits down and diligently tries to enjoy the game should find everything and have fun in the process. It’s also neat that you can get the lettuce and not eat it right away to try everything, and the blue lettuce itself is a neat goal: obviously magical, but not too silly. It reminded me how I liked blue raspberry gelatin or blue ice cream or weird blue candy or bubble gum a lot as a kid, maybe because it was a slightly unnatural color, and I convinced myself it tasted exotic even if it didn’t really.

Barry Basic and the Quick Escape, by Dee Cooke

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Basically Barry Enjoyable, April 21, 2021

This is a neat production where you must control three teens. One, Barry Basic, has snuck into an old-fashioned computer control room where he shouldn’t be, and he managed to get locked in. His friends need to help him out. You need to change points of view several times. Games like this where you change perspective usually frustrated me, but this one helped me along really well and still left me the freedom to feel like I was solving stuff.

This game had several neat parts: seeing how and why Gill liking English was relevant, having Barry’s more athletic friend Tony need to help him several different ways, and the accomplishments at the end that encourage you to try everything. Each friend-pair also has an interaction that moves the plot forward, and the game never forces pedantry on you. By this, I mean things like when you’re finally leaving for home, you don’t have to switch between Barry and Gill and Tony and have them all leave. They all do together, as friends should.

And I think that’s the sign of a good game. Once it asks for your time and makes you figure how the three different friends should interact, it doesn’t bog you down to stay or trip you up in unnecessary detail. It also has a good economy of items–there are enough for good puzzles, but not too many. All items have a purpose, even those with easter-egg deaths the game notes once you've won. After all, Barry isn't really supposed to be in the control room, and this drives the point home without being preachy.

Also, the game features a rotary phone. Rotary phones are good for a cheap laugh, but in this case, they’re part of an early plot point. So this is retro/nostalgia done right. The control room also has these details as well.

Playing this game reminded me I never got to do enough (relatively harmless) sneaking around with friends. We weren't athletic enough. So I missed out, but this game helps me enjoy how it would've been, without the fear of things going on my permanent record or whatever.

Limerick Heist, by Pace Smith

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
If you think you might like it, you will., November 20, 2019
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

"What it says on the tin" games often can run into trouble. They're limiting by the end. The risk is double with poetry. It can get sing-song or repetitive. But in this case, I enjoyed the presentation, and the size is just about right. Limericks do seem to have just the right amount of flexibility: not too short, and not too long, and they never feel too pretentious or too low-class. I like writing them. I've written a ton. You can say what you want, move on from them and not worry if they're any good.

But stringing even two together--well, I found this tricky indeed.

You've probably seen the tropes before, and the blurbs fully admit to this: the leader of a heist gets people together, there are conflicts, things go wrong and ... well, because this is a choice-based game, you do have endings. And the bad ones are indeed rewarding. I certainly enjoyed them more than costly special effects at a movie, ones that are meant to draw out the drama but just overload me. A limerick's five lines, though, feel just right to me.

With rhymezone.com and various programs to track the meter, I suppose we can be picky and say, ok, that's something the game SHOULD get right. But the more subjective stuff, like plot, pacing and throwing out rhymes that are clever but not overdone, obviously require care on the author's part. And that's evident here.

I think the most telling testament I can give to the game's quality was that, on getting a bad death, I expected a good limerick for the "undo/restart/restore" option--and I got one! So it's very detailed. It has the usual technical stuff like letting you track all the different endings, but perhaps my favorite bit was how (Spoiler - click to show)one successful ending laid out the possibility of a sequel. And since imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I'll leave you with this...

How quickly a game like this could
Grate awfully, it's understood,
Or stop feeling new
About halfway through
But don't worry. This one makes good.

I had an idea to write
A game like this but did not quite
Or really at all
Find ways to enthrall
With plot, humor, fun or insight.

The game's title thus brought to light
Ny shelved plans. So, quickly, despite
A wish I'd have spun
A tale half as fun
I'm thrilled THIS work got things so right.

(Oh, hey, look, this game helped me finally string a few limericks together!)

Out, by Viktor Sobol

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
I played Out, and it wasn't played-out., November 20, 2019
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)

Out would have been good to see even if it hadn't been written by someone who'd been reviewing for so long and who had definitely earned their spurs to enter IFComp. The title threw me off at first, because while coming out is an important and personal act, it may be overdone in the community. This game is breezy and short and yet still covers a lot of original ground. I appreciated the lack of angst here, and I also enjoyed that the narrator's specific trait wasn't mentioned.

It allowed me to have a humorous perspective on a coming out of my own that went poorly: my family moved from a state-school university town to the city to near a private university, and my parents were a bit upset I liked that old university's sports teams, because I should prefer the smart kids to do well. And the state school wasn't particularly good at football, so I heard it from fans of much better teams. But liking the state school was just who I was, and the process of identifying as a fan still opens new perspectives.

That's probably a much more strained metaphor than the game, but I like that the game can feel <spoilers>universal while you slowly, um, explore the whole universe. Exploring the world of fandom, and how people deal with the absurdities of hoping one group of people they never met outperforms the second, has revealed something entirely different from more literary communities I like to hang around.

It's tough to have this minimalism mean a lot. And so I like what Out did, or what it did for me. This game didn't take long to play, and then I took longer to think on it than it took to play it, and the time was well spent in any case. Maybe Out will remind you of how you had the courage to be (or couldn't help being) different in a way that wasn't particularly dramatic or practical, and people wondered if you HAD to be that way, but it opened new doors.

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