297: The Hands' Job

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The Hands' Job

Too many developers ignore the potential of what's sitting right front of us for the entire game. It's time to give hands the attention they deserve.

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I like that Mirrors Edge has been mentioned so much in this particular subject.

I think many people who critisized the game for making it hard to predict jump distances etc. did not pay attention to the hands. There are a lot of subtle cues hidden in these seemingly random animations.

I also liked the handsign orders in games like Brothers in Arms or Republic Commando. Its been only a few and nothing that special, but they already did a lot for the athmosphere of the game. (i see a possible comeback of a "powerglove" ^^ Imagine a team based shooter were everyone can hear your voicechat as if it was really said by your character, nonverbal communication would add a lot depth there).

I don't really give it much thought (then again I don't play a ton of FPSs) but I have to say I am glad that we don't have to deal with the mitten-hands of last generation. I loved those gta cutscenes but when they started waving their hands around it was hilarious.

I never really noticed, the only game i did was BIOSHOCK, and that was when the guy injected the plasmids, and had a hand up with bees fluttering around

never played "mirrors edge" so probably thats another game i should try

i find it interesting how something incredible obvious is so easily overlooked, but well, now that you are sitting there with your arms in the keyboard, how many of you actually pay attention to your arms??

Chris Plante:
The Hands' Job

Too many developers ignore the potential of what's sitting right front of us for the entire game. It's time to give hands the attention they deserve.

Read Full Article

A classic example of good flavoring in a game: it's easy to completely overlook, but you miss it when it's not done well. Hands are really the only thing providing a sense of mass to your FPS characters...

Think back to early FPS games, when the gun was centered in the viewscreen. No one really thought much about it--it was to help you aim--but now it just looks and feels hideously unnatural. And then Doom came along, and suddenly your space marine had fists! Oh, man, I remember thinking that was a little bit awesome...

An FPS without adequately-represented hands makes you a ghost. A floating, disembodied rectangular HUD that emits various ammunition types. Our hands are probably our third most important means of interacting with the world, right behind eyes and ears. But it goes beyond that:

Eyes and ears are passive. We receive information through these two channels. Our hands work both ways. They provide tactile information, and can then use that information, reinforced by our eyes and ears (which also includes balance) to affect our world. The HUD and the sounds provide some immersion if done well, but that only immerses us in the output. Just the simple inclusion of functioning hands can help to immerse us in the input as well. Instead of just pushing information out at us, the game is now pulling us in. That's the real deal.

Great article.

I would love to see more love for hands in FPS games. Cause, really, they are the only thing you will see in an FPS, unless the game includes curvature in the spine, allowing you to see your feet.

Loved the article.

The moment is also empowering. The game doesn't yank out to the third-person view, but stays close. In first-person, the player feels more like the guy who can cauterize his own wounds than like the guy controlling the guy who can cauterize his own wounds.

This is so true as well, and apart from Bioshock we also have Elder Scrolls: Oblivion that does this sort of neat thing. Whenever i'm a mage or sorcerer, I would literally see the hand being placed forward in front of me, casting a cool lightning spell that made me feel like I was the one doing the spell, rather then me controlling the guy to do so.

This was a very good Article, I liked it a lot believe me. Most games of our generation just focus primarily on the guns we hold or other qualities the character may possess, most forgot about how awesome just our hands can really be. Letting us enable power with our hands (through the NPC) let's us have more choices along with powers to display to our liking. Seriously hope Developers continue to enable mechanics like these.

What I dislike though, to be honest is that there are a lot of times we don't get to see our own feet do the talking as well. In order to fully feel like we're in character in my eyes is that we're in first person who can punch, use powers with our hands, and ether jump a certain way or do some fancy kicking. I've yet to see a game where they allow you to use feet against your opponet. Not even in Mirror's Edge do they allow you to fight this way. Only thing the main character does besides fighting with her hands is slide into opponets, but that's just using her body as a mass to knock the foe over rather then the feet alone. Then again, that is unique so I shouldn't complain about that. Again, really good article, I loved reading it.

Excellent article (funny title :p ), and a very poignant yet often ignored or overlooked topic.
I too find that many hands in FPS games look terrible. Crappy texture, stiff movement or lack thereof entirely. Most of the time they look like paper mache or made out of hot dogs. They never move, never grip. They are static and unrealistic. Sometimes I'd almost prefer only seeing the gun, like in DOOM (although you saw his hand when reloading the shotgun).

Bioshock, Far Cry 2 and Mirrors Edge are all great examples or at least show how they can be done better.

Call of Duty, being the most dominant and popular FPS in modern times is a pretty bad offender. They dress up the hands a little differently depending on who you are playing but other than that, they are very static.

It's pretty sad that with all the extremely specific topics being covered at GDC, everyone gave you the stinkeye for asking about hands. Seems like a perfectly valid question/topic to me.

In general, I agree, with one point of contention...

But people can carry guns differently. Hold a pistol sideways.

But that would only work if you were playing a moron. Or a street thug, but I repeat myself. (Sights are on top for a reason, even if that reason isn't immediately apparent in an FPS with a crosshair HUD.)

Killzone 2 is one of those rare games that I think put effort into your character's hands. Of course, they aren't as integral to the experience as they are in a game like Mirror's Edge, but the game seems designed from the bottom up to make those hands yours.

The first thing you'll notice when playing Killzone 2 is that your weapons don't snap right to where you want them, they're sluggish, they have weight, and an object at rest prefers to stay at rest. It pisses people off in a major way, but the intentional clunkiness of the controls means more missed shots, more firing for effect, more of a sense that these are powerful machines that you don't have complete control over.

Early on in the first combat level, you and a teammate need to get over an obstacle, so you literally lend each other a hand. What easily could have been done in third person is made more compelling because you look up and take your teammate's hand, with no change in perspective.

Because the post is getting a bit long, here's my last thought. Sixaxis, for the most part, sucks. It's inaccurate, oversold and underused. But when it comes time to plant a bomb, you pull it out of your pack, stick it on the wall and activate it by moving your controller along with the hands on the screen. Go half-way, the hands on screen go halfway, go back and they go back. They are your hands. It's a simple, imperfect little gimmick, but it's effective.

It's unlike any other hoorah, blow-em-up FPS I've ever played.

For its time, I thought Half-Life did a good job of this; there were idle animations for every weapon, and you could see the hands flexing and unflexing even while holding longguns.

The snark's idle animation is a bit of hidden comedy in itself!

Wow, I never thought about the hands before. I'm afraid you've given me a new pet peeve!

I have to agree whole-heartedly with this whole article. I've always been a fan of having more "personality" to one's hands and having the player's body be represented in the game. It gives a sense of weight and impact I suppose, it makes you feel like you're actually a character rather than a set of hovering gun-rest hands and a firearm.

How a character handles a weapon says a lot about them. It was a really nice touch in HL2 how if your crosshair hovered over an ally with a gun out Gordon would lower the weapon. Seems he learned quite a bit from Hazard training, heh.

I'm more worried about feet, particularly. Namely, how FPS heroes apparently don't have them and like to float in midair. It always makes me happy to look down and see my shoes (although in games like The Darkness the downside is that the player's maximum speed is 'overweight man jogging').

Yes Yes Yes. Playing through Far Cry 2 and I must admit the game is very immersive. Depending on the character you choose the hands are different. Health is low, you inject yourself with medicine. Lost? Your character pulls out a map and a gps device no menu navigating at all. When you swim you see your character actually use his hands for swimming. Far Cry 2 had many elements in it that has "great game" written on it too bad it had a few shortcomings. Even the menu looks like a journal and whenever you select something you flip through the pages. Hope more games does this. Hands for 2012!

Zeno Clash definitely deserves a mention here.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-quGPWGYoM

Cool article. It's the small details that make a great game.

I'm reminded of Modern Warfare 2's odd relationship with body parts. You tended to pull them out of thin air. Sometimes your hands would be very interesting and important, other times they were nothing more than gun rests. But that game was a wealth of contradictions.

A another game that had interesting hands was Trespasser. It was also like, the first FPS ever to use physics based gameplay. Of course it was executed horrendously. The hands were actually only one hand. you interacted with the world entirely through your right hand as you left arm just sort of sat there rigidly immobile. Something like it could have been done a lot better though I'm sure.

Even modelling, animating and rendering hands seems to be quite hard to do right, from CG movies to games. But I agree it's something that can easily be overlooked, however is very important in FPS games. That epic moment in Cod4:MW, where you

had me feeling really involved and adrenaline pumping as he scrambled a bit to not fall out the damn thing, until someone grabbed my hands. The ice pick climbing sections were pretty cool too. Yes, there were things that game did right, believe it or not.

Bioshock's hands are definitely the epitome of cool and reflective of the player. But my girlfriend mentioned something about it...she said "how come he's walking around like a zombie with both his hands up like that? Kinda weird, no?" At first I thought "Blasphemy! She speaks ill of Bioshock!" But when I tried to imagine it from a 3rd person perspective, i thought yeah, that would look kinda weird....

So maybe even *NOT* having hands, or having hands do more "natural" stuff as in 3rd person games could help as well.

oh hell yes. Just finished playing farcry 2 (kept getting bored to much of a annoying trek to do things)
More animated hands and feet. i want legs. i.e mirrors edge, bulletstorm etc.

I think we should focus an equal number of resources on legs! Too often they are over looked and whenever I look down occasionally all I see is the floor and I feel like a floating head. And let me see my own body to, when you look down your legs don't take up your entire vision, your body is in there to!

realslimshadowen:
In general, I agree, with one point of contention...

But people can carry guns differently. Hold a pistol sideways.

But that would only work if you were playing a moron. Or a street thug, but I repeat myself. (Sights are on top for a reason, even if that reason isn't immediately apparent in an FPS with a crosshair HUD.)

In Killer 7 one character holds his pistols upside down and fires with his pinkies. I think you would like it.

OT: Usually if your character is talking and they aren't in a cut-scene they are holding a gun and freely moving. I feel that having emotive hands in a situation like that would look weird, especially if you weren't facing someone.

Actually, I'm more annoyed by first person characters not having legs. AvP was, in my opinion, pretty bad, but at least the characters had legs.

realslimshadowen:
In general, I agree, with one point of contention...

But people can carry guns differently. Hold a pistol sideways.

But that would only work if you were playing a moron. Or a street thug, but I repeat myself. (Sights are on top for a reason, even if that reason isn't immediately apparent in an FPS with a crosshair HUD.)

This reminds me of Red Steel. Being a first generation Wii title, they tried to do something with the motion controls. One thing is that if you're holding a pistol in-game, the angle of the pistol onscreen matches the angle you're holding the remote at.

It's completely pointless for gameplay, but you can hold a pistol sideways, upside down, normally, or anything inbetween, and go back and forth however you feel like. (And yes, just that simple only partially accurate match-up between how you hold your hand and how the gun moves does demonstrate that holding a gun sideways is not a good idea. )

XxRyanxX:

The moment is also empowering. The game doesn't yank out to the third-person view, but stays close. In first-person, the player feels more like the guy who can cauterize his own wounds than like the guy controlling the guy who can cauterize his own wounds.

This is so true as well, and apart from Bioshock we also have Elder Scrolls: Oblivion that does this sort of neat thing. Whenever i'm a mage or sorcerer, I would literally see the hand being placed forward in front of me, casting a cool lightning spell that made me feel like I was the one doing the spell, rather then me controlling the guy to do so.

This was a very good Article, I liked it a lot believe me. Most games of our generation just focus primarily on the guns we hold or other qualities the character may possess, most forgot about how awesome just our hands can really be. Letting us enable power with our hands (through the NPC) let's us have more choices along with powers to display to our liking. Seriously hope Developers continue to enable mechanics like these.

What I dislike though, to be honest is that there are a lot of times we don't get to see our own feet do the talking as well. In order to fully feel like we're in character in my eyes is that we're in first person who can punch, use powers with our hands, and ether jump a certain way or do some fancy kicking. I've yet to see a game where they allow you to use feet against your opponet. Not even in Mirror's Edge do they allow you to fight this way. Only thing the main character does besides fighting with her hands is slide into opponets, but that's just using her body as a mass to knock the foe over rather then the feet alone. Then again, that is unique so I shouldn't complain about that. Again, really good article, I loved reading it.

Heh. Reminds me of duke nukem. Doom allowed you to punch things if you were out of ammo, but duke nukem 3d allowed you to kick.

Thing is, if you switched to weapon 1, you'd kick with one foot (your right, I think), but there was another dedicated button to kick with your other foot.

With the rather amusing result that if you used both at once, you'd kick with both legs at the same time in a way that isn't even close to physically plausible.

Anyway, on a more general note, I've noticed that along with hands, the body is usually completely absent.
If you look down in real life, you will see not just your feet, but also at least some part of your body.
But in most games, even if you're looking directly down at the floor, you don't see anything other than your hands.
This wouldn't make any sense whatsoever if you consider the mechanics of it, because even if you look down by bending at the waist (not at all natural), you'd probably see your feet.
And if you look down in a more typical way, you'd see most of your body.

That's actually another case where Mirror's Edge does quite well, because Faith definitely has a body, and if you look down, you will see Faith from about the waist down.
That's less than you'd expect to see, but to be fair, a computer display has a much smaller field of view than a person does.
(It's been said that what we can see in our environment is a lot closer to the field of view of a 3rd person game than a first person one. Playing first-person games is like having severe tunnel vision really.)

So, Faith has a body, which in and of itself is not at all common in first-person games.

And I've got to wonder why it gets ignored? I guess it goes along with not paying much attention to hands either, but I've always found it rather jarring.
It makes me feel disconnected from the environment. We're more than a pair of floating disembodied hands after all.

The Random One:
I'm more worried about feet, particularly. Namely, how FPS heroes apparently don't have them and like to float in midair. It always makes me happy to look down and see my shoes (although in games like The Darkness the downside is that the player's maximum speed is 'overweight man jogging').

Jumplion:
I think we should focus an equal number of resources on legs! Too often they are over looked and whenever I look down occasionally all I see is the floor and I feel like a floating head. And let me see my own body to, when you look down your legs don't take up your entire vision, your body is in there to!

palsma_rifle:
Actually, I'm more annoyed by first person characters not having legs. AvP was, in my opinion, pretty bad, but at least the characters had legs.

I was just thinking the same thing. It's personal gripe of mine to look down in a first person shooter and discover I have no legs and am apparently a floating head with a gun attached.

Never really thought about this whole hands thing before but the article is absolutely right and all the games mentioned are better experiences for it. Don't see what's so bad about imposing some level character upon the player. Theoretically creating a character from scratch is a better experience but there isn't a game out there that I've come across that can truly do this. I like pretending to be reformed badass John Marsden in Red Dead Redemption but in Fallout where I'm supposed to immerse myself by creating a character I always find that what I would really do in these situations is never an option and I'm forced to compromise between the options of co-operate or kill whoever it is that I'm dealing with. Also why can't I become a raider? I can be just as psychotic as they can, give me a chance!

That's going slightly off topic but my point is that now I have new appreciation for my hands.

One FPS I think represents the use of hands pretty well is Battlefield BC2. I find especially in the reload segments I feel immersed. Slapping in a mag, pulling back the bolt and letting her fly. With the machine guns especially it makes me feel slightly badass just from that simple action. Also not so much to do with the hands. The way you move when your guns up on your shoulder or you fire hipshot feels really immersive, as you scan the area slower zoomed in and faster zoomed out.

I'd like to add that I love how if you stand around in Half-Life holding one of the snark grenade aliens you start poking and prodding it and it tries to bite you.

Hands: We've got it covered.

If I had a nickle for every time a beautifully made FPS made me look at hands for the entire game that look like they didn't even bother to properly fully render...

If I had a nickle for every time a beautifully made FPS made me look at hands for the entire game that look like they didn't even bother to properly fully render...

Bad advice, and if they listen to this guy it's going to shoot the gaming industry in the foot.

To put things into perspective: People who communicate with a lot of excessive hand motion are annoying, and tend to get themselves made fun of if they don't learn to reign in the behavior usually. Where you most see this kind of thing is with the kind of flaming queen stereotypes that exist, but even most gays want to get away from. This is where a lot of the whole "limpwrist" thing comes from.

If you create games where whenever a cinematic happens your character's hands appear and move in reaction to everything he says, or is being said, I can almost guarantee this isn't going to have people praise the immersion, but lead to massive amounts of mockery... are we a raving, mentally disturbed homeless person, or a paticularly flamboyant homosexual stereotype? We're certainly not a space marine.

Don't misunderstand this, my overall thoughts on gays aside, I'm not saying this to gay bash (on some levels it's the opposite since I'm talking about how the stereotype/behavior is actually negatively received there too nowadays).

I can understand how showing the hands when your character holds a gun, or reloads, or injects themself, or whatever is a good thing. However doing more with them to make the protaganist seem more active is going to be counter productive. Especially when your dealing with your typical action hero who is supposed to be a tough as nails gunslinger type, guys who train in the military, or even get good in general, tend to tightly control and limit their body language so as not to waste movement, and make themselves hard to read. In a FPS situation while talking to someone, even in a relatively safe area, a real warrior type, or even someone like Gordan Freeman who by now IS a warrior type through practice, is going to remain in a position where his hands are close to his weapon, even if he is relaxed overall. You know, just in case some monster smashes through the wall or whatever, because that's what happens to him. Noone who survives situations like this is going to want to be caught with their hands out in front of them to add empathy to a statement, and slow their gun draw by a fraction of a second if an ambush happens.

Military people, those who live dangerously, or even just have the right kinds of training, tend to be notable simply by the way they move, and stand even when at rest. It's something you can pick up on, and it's a HARD behavior to unlearn which is why you can oftentimes recognize when soemone was police or military even if they only did it for a couple of years and have spent decades retire. The way people in situations like this develop, is also why so many people have trouble "powering down" when a war or dangerous lifestyle ends. It's hard to REALYLY relax when you've conditioned yourself to always be on guard to some extent.

so simply... no, this is a REALLY dumb idea.

I think it could work well with some different input interface. Amnesia: Dark Descent's interface is great. The way everything moves as fast or as slow as you are moving the mouse or in the direction you're pulling or pushing is incredibly immersive. The weird thing is it seems to happen by telekinesis. Aside from pulling up the lantern you never see the hands that do all of this, just a little hand icon the seems to grip things. It's not the same, and I know Frictional Games didn't have the budget to do this, but a combination of hands showing up when you interact with the world and moving and the rate of your input would create such a powerful bond that immersion would skyrocket.

I've lost the link, but there was a study where a people were handed some sort of VR goggles that also had devices for monitoring braing activity. Through the goggles the person was projected the image of a dummy that had a camera mounted on its head. First, to "link" the person with the body they were physically stimulated and simultanously shown through the camera while the dummy was stimulated the same way (like rubbing its arm, poking it, etc). After only a few minutes of this, if the dummy's arm was threatened with a knife or other bodily damage the person's brain fired wildly, just as if their own arm was being threatened. Imagine the connection of seeing arms and hands and feet moving in unison according to your input in a game. The feedback could make some truly shocking immerssion. Probably a bit too much, if you think about it.

Of course, this could also happen in some Kinect-like fashion, but that's not the point we're talking about, is it?

Therumancer:
[words]

While there is a definite style and character to how military character hold themselves, it's not how FPS characters do it currently. Look at the soldier on the left. Do you ever see your character in a FPS assume that posture despite it being really really widespread? No, you don't. At best you get the character lowering the barrel (ala Gordon Freeman), but that's still rare - most characters (these military hard-asses you speak of) seem content to point their loaded weapons at their allies.

And that is wrong. No one with even an iota of training is going to do that. And no one with half a brain will do it after being told not to. You do not point a gun at anything you do not intend to destroy is one of the fundamental rules of using a gun.

The author is not arguing for every game to show the character wielding the weapon in some wacky, unrealistic fashion, but to make the hands reflect the character. If you are a hard ass soldier your hands should act like a solider's - not like gun rests that are entirely indifferent to the notion that they're pointing the barrel of a loaded weapon at an ally or that they're pressing the barrel to the wall like some moron. Brink is good on that last point - if you get close to a wall your character lifts the rifle and only lowers it back into a firing position once you lean around the corner or turn away from the wall.

Lacking character is not a show of professionalism. It's being an emotionless set of vaguely limb-shaped objects who more often than not handle the weapon is such a fashion as to be outright unprofessional.

Also, talking with your hands need not mean waving your hands about like a lunatic. It can simply mean waving to your pal, rather than standing there stock still and emotionless. Soldiers, while well trained, are people and do remove their hands from their rifles from time to time.

To say nothing of using them to communicate silently. While this is a joke image, it's hard to find the original and it illustrates the point well enough. Military and paramilitary units tend to utilize their hands (and other body language) to communicate when speaking would be a liability. It would lead an air of credibility to one's character if they too could do this.

Of course, this is an age where companion NPCs in shooters seem to exist largely as a means of controlling the player's progress rather than be a character in a story, so it's not like anything outside hardcore mil-sim is going to dare let you lead a breach or coordinate with your squadmates in any fashion other than being a walking turret that regenerates from gunshot wounds if it can hide for a few seconds.

Akiada:

Therumancer:
[words]

While there is a definite style and character to how military character hold themselves, it's not how FPS characters do it currently. Look at the soldier on the left. Do you ever see your character in a FPS assume that posture despite it being really really widespread? No, you don't. At best you get the character lowering the barrel (ala Gordon Freeman), but that's still rare - most characters (these military hard-asses you speak of) seem content to point their loaded weapons at their allies.

And that is wrong. No one with even an iota of training is going to do that. And no one with half a brain will do it after being told not to. You do not point a gun at anything you do not intend to destroy is one of the fundamental rules of using a gun.

The author is not arguing for every game to show the character wielding the weapon in some wacky, unrealistic fashion, but to make the hands reflect the character. If you are a hard ass soldier your hands should act like a solider's - not like gun rests that are entirely indifferent to the notion that they're pointing the barrel of a loaded weapon at an ally or that they're pressing the barrel to the wall like some moron. Brink is good on that last point - if you get close to a wall your character lifts the rifle and only lowers it back into a firing position once you lean around the corner or turn away from the wall.

Lacking character is not a show of professionalism. It's being an emotionless set of vaguely limb-shaped objects who more often than not handle the weapon is such a fashion as to be outright unprofessional.

Also, talking with your hands need not mean waving your hands about like a lunatic. It can simply mean waving to your pal, rather than standing there stock still and emotionless. Soldiers, while well trained, are people and do remove their hands from their rifles from time to time.

To say nothing of using them to communicate silently. While this is a joke image, it's hard to find the original and it illustrates the point well enough. Military and paramilitary units tend to utilize their hands (and other body language) to communicate when speaking would be a liability. It would lead an air of credibility to one's character if they too could do this.

Of course, this is an age where companion NPCs in shooters seem to exist largely as a means of controlling the player's progress rather than be a character in a story, so it's not like anything outside hardcore mil-sim is going to dare let you lead a breach or coordinate with your squadmates in any fashion other than being a walking turret that regenerates from gunshot wounds if it can hide for a few seconds.

Actually the author is saying exactly what I am talking about. Remember we're talking about FPS games, where you generally don't see your character at all. He is saying that when you have interaction the character's hands should be visible and move in accordance to what is going on.

The exact posture is irrelevent, you dont see it, the point is that you don't see them waving their hands around in front of them even when at ease in a potentially dangerous situation.

... and yes I am aware of sign language and military hand signs, but honestly I don't think FPS games would be improved by incorperating them as a game mechanic. Though I admit it would be kind of amusing. If they go there, I think they should team up with Penny Arcade to take it all one step forward and make a villain-themed game called "Mime Soldiers" where half the game is based around first person miming with your squadmates.... I mean heck, if your going to create something that visually ridiculous you might as well go all out.

The gist of my arguement, and the point you seem to be missing, is that the bottom line here is to have floating hands pop up from the bottom of the screen or whatever far more often and just do things in accordance with the plot.

All jokes aside, one of the big reasons why they probably don't incorperate military handsigns into squad command systems for "RP purposes" in FPS games is because your character would have to put down their weapon and then resume using it in a lot of cases, or move the gun in some way that would probably prelude you to do it. In a game (which this is let's not forget) I doubt anyone's experience would be improved by being gunned down while drawing a weapon due to having been giving a "hold position" signal or something.

I think hands really could improve immersion a lot.
Hands are the body parts we see the most of.
Whatever you do, your hands is almost always in your field of view.
If games had more interaction with the environment, it'd be great.
Say you were to walk through something hanging from the ceiling, your character's hand reaches out to shield your face as you walk through it.
Or your hand reach out to push a door as you walk towards it.
Or running into a wall, your character's hands reach out to reduce the impact.
Kind of like how the 'gentle push' in assassin's creed works, but in first person.
That'd be great.

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