Ben There, Dan That Dev: All Journalists Should Make a Game

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Ben There, Dan That Dev: All Journalists Should Make a Game

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Ben There, Dan That developer Dan Marshall led the dual life of a game journalist and an indie developer - and he thinks that all other game journalists should be forced to make games of their own.

When Dan Marshall was developing his first game, Gibbage, he told Gamasutra, he "wound up doing a 10-part series" for gaming mag PCZone. This experience, says Marshall, gave him a better perspective on how being a developer worked:

[I suddenly had] to design gameplay elements, making sound effects, and balancing weapons and stuff... As a gamer, I always assumed that sort of thing was relatively simple, so it was a fairly harsh lesson.

Off the back of those articles, I wound up doing some reviews for PCZone. It's really interesting, because as a developer I think you're slightly more understanding of the process involved, but as a gamer you know whether or not you're having a good time.

That experience, says Marshall, is one that he thinks every other journalist in the biz should go through. "I think all games journos should be forced to make a game somehow, see how they get on. It gives you a more rounded perspective."

I'd like to make a game, Dan. I don't know if I'd be any good at it... but it'd be cool.

(Via Joystiq)

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i bought 2 of the games of steam and they are kinda okay and funny, and i think hes right its a great way to get some inside knowledge of the industry your reporting, plus it would be more than awesome for us gamers to try out all the games of our favorite reporters and reviewers.

I totally agree with Dan Marshall sentiment. Yahtzee has put out several games and while he doesn't harp on them, it does lend him some extra credibility in my eyes. He has walked the walk. Game development tools are relatively cheep if you know where to look. The rest is time and brain power investment. Even making a simple pong or tetris clone will give you some insight. Maybe even more than grinding out an extra few levels in WoW.

While I appreciate the sentiment, I can't exactly agree with it. I wouldn't necessarily say that anyone who has never made a game should be considered unqualified to write about them. That strikes me as the kind of elitist gibberish spouted by developers with surging insecurities.

I've never actually built a boat, for example, but I know that when I go out in one and it sinks, then it was probably a bad boat. Am I qualified to write about games? That depends on what I'm writing about them. While I would probably not be serving the audience very well by writing what i thought about individual developers' contributions, or how well a certain thing was drawn or coded, I feel perfectly qualified to say whether or not a game is enjoyable.

In fact, I would turn the argument back on Dan and suggest that if more developers were able to think like consumers when developing games, spending careful time with them to determine whether or not they're "fun" outside of the limited context of "I made this!" then there would probably be fewer shit games.

This is the same guy who was moaning about people pirating his 2.99 sub-Flash game. I wouldn't take anything he says too seriously.

Played "Ben There, Dan That" and can confirm it is funny.

For this reason alone and with no other thoughts I agree with him.

Developers already get a lot of slack for how hard they work and for having interesting ideas. I think some of them need to be told more that their ideas may be nice at a conceptual level but are not that interesting in practice. They should also be reminded that other people work harder at jobs they hate and they are not forced to work that hard.

Russ Pitts:
While I appreciate the sentiment, I can't exactly agree with it. I wouldn't necessarily say that anyone who has never made a game should be considered unqualified to write about them. That strikes me as the kind of elitist gibberish spouted by developers with surging insecurities.

I've never actually built a boat, for example, but I know that when I go out in one and it sinks, then it was probably a bad boat. Am I qualified to write about games? That depends on what I'm writing about them. While I would probably not be serving the audience very well by writing what i thought about individual developers' contributions, or how well a certain thing was drawn or coded, I feel perfectly qualified to say whether or not a game is enjoyable.

In fact, I would turn the argument back on Dan and suggest that if more developers were able to think like consumers when developing games, spending careful time with them to determine whether or not they're "fun" outside of the limited context of "I made this!" then there would probably be fewer shit games.

I'm with Russ on this one. When I review a game, it's with the consumer in mind. Is this a fun experience, or isn't it? Whether or not I've ever made a game has no bearing on that fact. It might affect whether or not I can appreciate a game on a level other than strict enjoyability, but I don't need to know how something was made in order to enjoy it or see its flaws.

While the experience of building a boat is not a prerequisite for writing disparaging articles about boats that sink, it does come in handy if you ever want to offer advice on how to build a better boat.

It didn't feel right putting down grumbling devs so I started struggling to think of a way that developing a game can make you more able as a reviewer.

I have developed a 2d game with that had random bullet patterns to dodge. Does that make me more able to review a Kenta Cho doujin shoot 'em up than a reviewer who has played these games more than me? I don't think so as the game either gets the right bullet hell neurons firing or it doesn't. What matters is the experience of playing the game. If anything, the game press might be overly reverent of programmer tech like BulletML because it twangs the right geek cred chords more than because it is an impressive achievement.

Completely marginal suggestion, and downright laughable at a time when the average gaming journalist does not even understand what games they are and aren't capable of reviewing.

Susan Arendt:

Russ Pitts:
While I appreciate the sentiment, I can't exactly agree with it. I wouldn't necessarily say that anyone who has never made a game should be considered unqualified to write about them. That strikes me as the kind of elitist gibberish spouted by developers with surging insecurities.

I've never actually built a boat, for example, but I know that when I go out in one and it sinks, then it was probably a bad boat. Am I qualified to write about games? That depends on what I'm writing about them. While I would probably not be serving the audience very well by writing what i thought about individual developers' contributions, or how well a certain thing was drawn or coded, I feel perfectly qualified to say whether or not a game is enjoyable.

In fact, I would turn the argument back on Dan and suggest that if more developers were able to think like consumers when developing games, spending careful time with them to determine whether or not they're "fun" outside of the limited context of "I made this!" then there would probably be fewer shit games.

I'm with Russ on this one. When I review a game, it's with the consumer in mind. Is this a fun experience, or isn't it? Whether or not I've ever made a game has no bearing on that fact. It might affect whether or not I can appreciate a game on a level other than strict enjoyability, but I don't need to know how something was made in order to enjoy it or see its flaws.

I don't think he's saying that one must have developed a game to be a legitiment journalist. Only that it gives a more encompassing and well rounded understanding, even if you're looking at it from mostly a consumer point of view.

After all, I don't think you can say that knowledge can ever be a bad or unimportant thing, especially if it's directly related to your area of expertise.

hamster mk 4:
While the experience of building a boat is not a prerequisite for writing disparaging articles about boats that sink, it does come in handy if you ever want to offer advice on how to build a better boat.

I absolutely agree. But criticism and advice are separate things. One need not be present in order for the other to have value.

hamster mk 4:
While the experience of building a boat is not a prerequisite for writing disparaging articles about boats that sink, it does come in handy if you ever want to offer advice on how to build a better boat.

But it's not a reviewer's job to offer advice on how to fix a game, merely to point out a game's issues. Of course, sometimes those fixes are obvious -- if the voice acting is lousy, for example, you might want to hire better actors. But I don't need to know the first thing about coding AI to suggest that smarter enemies would make for a more fun game experience.

You don't have to make games to know when you've got a good one playing, mi amiko. This smacks hard of the whole "well, if you think you could do better, YOU TRY IT" childish argument.

vivaldiscool:

After all, I don't think you can say that knowledge can ever be a bad or unimportant thing, especially if it's directly related to your area of expertise.

No, more knowledge is never a bad thing. And for the record, I've written two games. :) Granted, two very tiny text adventures, but still. Games!

The reviewer needs to identify with the consumer not the producer. Having more reviewers make games would just open the door for "this was a well scripted event." or "the trees move very realistically in the wind, we can see this developer cares." we already have enough reviewers blinded by publisher dollars, we don't need any more giving out sympathy votes for well utilising a game engine.

Susan Arendt:

Russ Pitts:
While I appreciate the sentiment, I can't exactly agree with it. I wouldn't necessarily say that anyone who has never made a game should be considered unqualified to write about them. That strikes me as the kind of elitist gibberish spouted by developers with surging insecurities.

I've never actually built a boat, for example, but I know that when I go out in one and it sinks, then it was probably a bad boat. Am I qualified to write about games? That depends on what I'm writing about them. While I would probably not be serving the audience very well by writing what i thought about individual developers' contributions, or how well a certain thing was drawn or coded, I feel perfectly qualified to say whether or not a game is enjoyable.

In fact, I would turn the argument back on Dan and suggest that if more developers were able to think like consumers when developing games, spending careful time with them to determine whether or not they're "fun" outside of the limited context of "I made this!" then there would probably be fewer shit games.

I'm with Russ on this one. When I review a game, it's with the consumer in mind. Is this a fun experience, or isn't it? Whether or not I've ever made a game has no bearing on that fact. It might affect whether or not I can appreciate a game on a level other than strict enjoyability, but I don't need to know how something was made in order to enjoy it or see its flaws.

I have to disagree somewhat.

As someone who composes and plays music, I don't think "will the people listening to this find it enjoyable," as much as I think "how well will the performer interpret these notes." Perhaps one could argue that Programmer = Composer, Computer/system = Performer, and Gamer = Listener, but I think that's selling gamers a little short.
Now one doesn't need to understand counter point to enjoy Mozart or the particular complexities of Jazz theory to dig some Miles Davis, but it's guaranteed that if someone is playing an instrument they picked up some ideas regardless if their know the terminology.
It is the same with someone who has regularly played games. You may not know all the ins and outs of programing lingo, but you certainly have the general understanding and thought processes. It's just unrefined.

Also, it's never a bad thing to learn a bit more about something, y'know. No such thing as "useless information" and all.

What exactly would that prove? It seems to me he is asking for lienancy (I am sure I misspelled that word) from the people who should never ever give it to developers. I am all for a reviewer saying "it was a brilliant concept but it failed for whatever reason" (just look at most CodeMaster games) they have brilliant ideas but thier games fail because the transition from paper to console doesn't work for them. So if every journalist built games then they could tell us the big sob story about how hard it is to make games. Then give out 9s and 10s like chocolate covered eggs at Easter. And I have no doubt in my mind that building a game is hard. Although for an industry that shells out millions of dollars per game it should be hard. And the very last thing I ever want to hear after shelling out 59 - 69 bucks for a game is "it is OK the gameplay sucked and it was full of bugs and glitches because making games is hard". Especially in this day that if you can't make a full retail game (and lets face it alot of these bigger companies can't but don't mind taking in our 60 bucks a pop) can build a game to thier skill level and put them in the arcade (XBL or PSN), put them on Steam, or the Iphone and still make money.

hypothetical fact:
The reviewer needs to identify with the consumer not the producer. Having more reviewers make games would just open the door for "this was a well scripted event." or "the trees move very realistically in the wind, we can see this developer cares." we already have enough reviewers blinded by publisher dollars, we don't need any more giving out sympathy votes for well utilising a game engine.

Right on. This problem has already infected the movie critic scene, where everything must be about artistic integrity and not whether or not the movie was a good watch.

This kind of thinking can actually be kind of harmful. Consider the possible resulting thought pattern at work: I know something in a game sucks but because I identify with the developers, I choose not to be too hard on them about it since I know how hard it is to actually do that well. And so the review itself suffers by not being informing the reader whether the game is actually worth playing or not.

CantFaketheFunk:
Ben There, Dan That Dev: All Journalists Should Make a Game

Ben There, Dan That developer Dan Marshall led the dual life of a game journalist and an indie developer - and he thinks that all other game journalists should be forced to make games of their own.

When Dan Marshall was developing his first game, Gibbage, he told Gamasutra, he "wound up doing a 10-part series" for gaming mag PCZone. This experience, says Marshall, gave him a better perspective on how being a developer worked:

[I suddenly had] to design gameplay elements, making sound effects, and balancing weapons and stuff... As a gamer, I always assumed that sort of thing was relatively simple, so it was a fairly harsh lesson.

Off the back of those articles, I wound up doing some reviews for PCZone. It's really interesting, because as a developer I think you're slightly more understanding of the process involved, but as a gamer you know whether or not you're having a good time.

That experience, says Marshall, is one that he thinks every other journalist in the biz should go through. "I think all games journos should be forced to make a game somehow, see how they get on. It gives you a more rounded perspective."

I'd like to make a game, Dan. I don't know if I'd be any good at it... but it'd be cool.

Consumers usually don't care if someone had a hard time making their game. The journalist's job is to test the game and than in an everyday language explain if it's worth the money and time or not. If the game sucks, that won't be changed by giving information about how much time the developers spent on stopping AI from shooting the walls or hiding behind explosive barrels.

I personally feel that game journalists should at least have an interest in game design, even if they don't want to make a game themselves. My path to wanting to be a games writer came after I sought to try and be a game designer, and when I wanted to be a game designer I learned to analyze video games in a much different way than I had before.

One of the things I see in journalism now are too many people that are simply gamers that can write well. So called journalists covering events without any real journalistic integrity and unable to remove their bias from a review, or to see what a game has to offer on the whole.

I recently played through Mushroom Men: Spore Wars, and while it wasn't a game I would have bought for $50 I certainly saw merit in the title. However, the review scores were absolutely painful to see. There were outlets scoring it a 2/5 when it had some excellent control, an amusing and creative style, clever boss fights and puzzles and massive environments. The only thing wrong with the game was the camera and the fact that it was five hours (and the fact that each death was followed by insta-respawn, but let's just argue we're going for accessibility here). Mushroom Men was scored as if it was a half-assed game when, in fact, it was a fun experience that a much wider array of players could enjoy than, say, Gears of War. The only difference is one is much more "hardcore".

Similar sentiments to the recent TMNT: Smash-Up game. It's a solid title and in particular caters well to the gamers that prefer no-items-final-destination in Smash Bros., but because it was lacking characters, power-ups and a lot of other content stuffed into Smash it was scored low instead of being considered all on its own. A good game was rated as if it were crap.

Then again, maybe this is just the difference between integrity and being a jack ass, though I still say it was through studying to be a designer that I gained a sense of "what kind of people might enjoy this game?".

hypothetical fact:
The reviewer needs to identify with the consumer not the producer. Having more reviewers make games would just open the door for "this was a well scripted event." or "the trees move very realistically in the wind, we can see this developer cares." we already have enough reviewers blinded by publisher dollars, we don't need any more giving out sympathy votes for well utilizing a game engine.

if you go a visit a few of those pc sites that provide articles on the latest greatest graphics processor and how to overclock your computer and you'll also find reviews for games that go something like.... "This game has realistic fire that react just like fire is supposed to!"
These aren't reviewers blinded by publisher dollars. They are not reviewing games based on art but more on how it handles and how it presents itself under a bunch of conditions. Reviews like that I like because they see how imersive the game is based on current tech. And since I know the site puts out articles that talk about the upgrading your hardware or articles on the newest stuff out there, it tells me that a game reviewer for their site is better than say a game reviewer from gamefaqs.

i understand why this guy is saying that reviewers should develop games. A mechanic is advised to drive the truck or fly an airplane at least once so he can hopefully have a better understanding on how the thing should work. But i don't think just developing games would make reviewers better in their craft. I believe anything from selling games to creating computers to even writing some lines of code for a macro for use in Microsoft Word 2000, will make a reviewer somewhat better in how they review something.

ccesarano:
One of the things I see in journalism now are too many people that are simply gamers that can write well. So called journalists covering events without any real journalistic integrity and unable to remove their bias from a review, or to see what a game has to offer on the whole.

Impossible. Remove "bias" from a review, and all you are left with is a dry list of facts which a well-trained monkey could type up. In fact it won't be a review at all - no score or verdict of any kind will remain.

It at least makes you realise precisely how much work goes into them. I for one have spent days building a Neverwinter Nights module - with premade scripts, wizards and props - and still barely even scratched on something fun to play.

I'd love to make an indie game. I'd happily plug months into one.

Nutcase:
Impossible. Remove "bias" from a review, and all you are left with is a dry list of facts which a well-trained monkey could type up. In fact it won't be a review at all - no score or verdict of any kind will remain.

Let me put it this way.

The reviewer absolutely loves Zelda games. No matter what, the game is great because it is Zelda. This reviewer always gives it a 10/10. Is this an accurate score at all? No, because they are letting their opinion interfere. You shouldn't have to have someone that's not much of a Zelda fan review the game in order to say what is wrong and what is right.

When I say bias, I mean remove a personal hatred for a certain genre, or remove themselves from their absolute loyalty to it.

Of course, in the case of Zelda, even gamers are absolutely retarded. I still think 8.8 was generous for Twilight Princess, but nooooo, we CAN'T give Zelda anything less than a 9! That's like saying Jesus was an asshole!

There's no way you are going to remove opinion, but as I said, a reviewer should be able to step back and see how the game is for a wide audience, as if this is the first game in the series and as if the players haven't played a game like it before. It's not merely a matter of "yo I didn't like it so it sucks". I could say that about strategy games because I happen to suck at them, but that doesn't mean the games are bad.

But, as stated, game journalists are merely gamers that can write. Most of them, at least. There's a complete lack of higher thought because their audience has yet to demand it that much. Now that gamers are getting older, it's becoming more and more of a problem. It's about time journalists were more than just some kid with a camera, keyboard and game system.

Susan Arendt:

hamster mk 4:
While the experience of building a boat is not a prerequisite for writing disparaging articles about boats that sink, it does come in handy if you ever want to offer advice on how to build a better boat.

But it's not a reviewer's job to offer advice on how to fix a game, merely to point out a game's issues. Of course, sometimes those fixes are obvious -- if the voice acting is lousy, for example, you might want to hire better actors. But I don't need to know the first thing about coding AI to suggest that smarter enemies would make for a more fun game experience.

I agree about a lot of aspects of gaming, especially the 'narratology' side.

The one thing I would say, though, is that while you don't need to know the first thing about coding AI to suggest that smarter enemies would make for a more fun game experience, knowing about coding might help one realize how hard (or how easy) it is to accomplish a goal, and therefore, how hard to slam a game that is flawed (or how much to praise a game that succeeds).

In other words, the line between "advice on how to fix a game" and "to point out a game's issues" might not be so clear in some cases. It might be, for instance, far easier to code AI for a cover-based shooter as opposed to a game where you just run and gun.

Or it might not--I guess that it is because cover makes things more complex, but I might be completely wrong. And even if I'm not, I might be overestimating how hard it is.

It might not even be a matter of writing a game, but of knowing more about the process of creating a game. Like this person said: "making sound effects, and balancing weapons and stuff... As a gamer, I always assumed that sort of thing was relatively simple, so it was a fairly harsh lesson."

Do all/most/some/any reviewers know that technical side of the business, about whether balancing weapons is harder than enemy AI, so they know if they get two otherwise equal games, whether to give the higher score/loftier praise to the game with better enemy AI or to the game with more balanced weapons?

Like, who knows--maybe an inventory system *really is hard* and we should be easier on games that have clunky ones. On the other hand, maybe there's never was a good excuse for the horrible camera in all those survival horror games. Maybe one doesn't have to actually make a game to answer those questions, but when it comes to certain issues, it might be that it's impossible to know how much of an "issue" something is without having an idea about how hard it is to "fix" it.

Being a game reviewer who hasn't written a game is a bit like being an art critic who's never painted, or a food critic who doesn't cook. Their viewpoint is representative of a "knowledgeable" consumer and thus quite informative, but there will perhaps not be the insight into the product that, probably, only other insiders would be interested in.

What I suspect is missing however, and something that a published game developer would have, is simply this:

A developer will have talked, argued and defended his choices with the game buying public, and in the process learned a whole lot more about how people use, enjoy or hate your creation. This dialog, this process, could inform a journalist about what the gaming public really feels about a game's mechanics, and what effects choices that he has made have them.

But it's all good.

actually, being actively involved in a creation process makes you realize how much of its final product REALLY SUCKS.

So making a game would make journalists actually SEE how much better a game could have been.

so you see why INSIGHTS DO help, always.

Russ Pitts:

hamster mk 4:
While the experience of building a boat is not a prerequisite for writing disparaging articles about boats that sink, it does come in handy if you ever want to offer advice on how to build a better boat.

I absolutely agree. But criticism and advice are separate things. One need not be present in order for the other to have value.

Surely, criticism and advice can be combined to form constructive criticism. Wouldn't this be of greater value to this yet-to-mature culture? It may well be the case that reviewers primarily stick to writing about the cinematic aspects of an interactive medium (which, incidentally, encourages the publishers to pour money into stories that require a linear form, rather than construct open worlds that support non-linear emergent systems) because they fear making fools of themselves by suggesting how a game's sequel could be redesigned to, theoretically, fix its current faults.

They would argue that it was not their job to talk about what it ought to have been, only to criticise how it is.

Yet they ought to have some opinion on how its controls and HUD could have been improved, rearranged and simplified. They ought to expect the next generation of consoles to let you pause (shutdown, start-up) and resume a game in progress at any location. They ought to outline how different genres could converge, rather than just observe that they are converging.

ccesarano:

Nutcase:
Impossible. Remove "bias" from a review, and all you are left with is a dry list of facts which a well-trained monkey could type up. In fact it won't be a review at all - no score or verdict of any kind will remain.

When I say bias, I mean remove a personal hatred for a certain genre, or remove themselves from their absolute loyalty to it.

Also impossible. If you consider all turn-based games boring as hell, then "bad" is the only honest verdict you can make of any one of them. This doesn't mean you are a bad reviewer, but that you are unable to review these games and do them justice. Not recognizing your own limits, and pretending to know whether someone who *does* like turn-based games will find the game fun or not, is A) worthless to the reader and B) a sign of incompetence. Unfortunately, 90% of gaming "journalists" fall into this trap.

There's no way you are going to remove opinion, but as I said, a reviewer should be able to step back and see how the game is for a wide audience, as if this is the first game in the series and as if the players haven't played a game like it before.

No. Everything exists in context, and a proficient reviewer will be familiar with that context. If the game is a sequel to another that the reviewer judges to be better in every way, that's extremely relevant information and directly affects whether the game should be recommended or not.

It's not merely a matter of "yo I didn't like it so it sucks".

Indeed. The reviewer should pick apart everything about the game that matters, and then use their own judgment openly and honestly.

If Tetris and its clones didn't exist, and someone came up with Tetris just now - with the 80s graphics and sound - a good reviewer would certainly analyze the shortcomings of the graphics and sound, but might ultimately consider the game's merits to outweigh the shortcomings to such a degree that it is a 10/10 game. Subsequent clones the reviewer judges to improve on the game, and therefore be the best version of Tetris so far, obviously deserve a 10/10 as well.

There is no reason that the Zelda fan who gives every Zelda a 10/10 cannot be a superb reviewer. What matters is how they arrive at that score.

ccesarano:
A good game was rated as if it were crap.

Maybe you need to look up the word "subjective".

Cheeze_Pavilion:

Susan Arendt:

hamster mk 4:
While the experience of building a boat is not a prerequisite for writing disparaging articles about boats that sink, it does come in handy if you ever want to offer advice on how to build a better boat.

But it's not a reviewer's job to offer advice on how to fix a game, merely to point out a game's issues. Of course, sometimes those fixes are obvious -- if the voice acting is lousy, for example, you might want to hire better actors. But I don't need to know the first thing about coding AI to suggest that smarter enemies would make for a more fun game experience.

The one thing I would say, though, is that while you don't need to know the first thing about coding AI to suggest that smarter enemies would make for a more fun game experience, knowing about coding might help one realize how hard (or how easy) it is to accomplish a goal, and therefore, how hard to slam a game that is flawed (or how much to praise a game that succeeds).

Trying hard is a measure of success for preschoolers, not for grown-up game developers.

A game critic is concerned with how the game plays. The most important factor in ascertaining that is to be a good enough player relative to the game in question. (Who else but a chess grandmaster could write a review of Deep Blue that is worth the paper it is printed on? What of value could a newbie say about the AI in Hearts of Iron?) The capacity for analysis, research, and relating the game to the overall landscape of games comes second. Writing skill is good, but obviously doesn't matter before you have something of value to write.

Wannabe software engineering has nothing to do with game criticism.

Uncompetative:

Russ Pitts:

hamster mk 4:
While the experience of building a boat is not a prerequisite for writing disparaging articles about boats that sink, it does come in handy if you ever want to offer advice on how to build a better boat.

I absolutely agree. But criticism and advice are separate things. One need not be present in order for the other to have value.

Surely, criticism and advice can be combined to form constructive criticism. Wouldn't this be of greater value to this yet-to-mature culture?

Absolutely, but that's not my job. There seems to be a fundamental confusion over the role of criticism. I don't write reviews for the benefit of the game developer, I write them for the benefit of the consumer. While I think some kind of peer review forum for developers would be an awesome tool for them, that's not why I'm here. because - and here's where I agree with Dan - I don't know enough about making games to give practical advice to those who make them. But I do know enough to offer my perspective to consumers regarding what games I think are worth playing.

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