Shmups

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Stanshall
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Re: Shmups

Post by Stanshall »

Yeah, I feel for the guy. He's hit the ground running and fired out lots of really good shmup content over the past year or so but there just isn't much of an audience. It's something I find quite frustrating myself that aside from here it's almost impossible to get any shmup chat going and I've been both ignored and mocked when trying to promote the genre elsewhere.

There are many reasons why it's unlikely to improve, without being pessimistic, so I'm happy to just enjoy what we've got while it lasts!

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Re: Shmups

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Stanshall wrote:
July 9th, 2019, 4:26 pm
Yeah, I feel for the guy.
Hey, isn't he a friend of yours?

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Stanshall
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Re: Shmups

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No, not at all. I've been following his stuff for quite a while though and had a few little chats on various social media.

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Re: Shmups

Post by ratsoalbion »

As much as I’m not thoroughly invested in any one particular sub-scene of gaming, it is rather depressing to see what was once one of the biggest draws now relegated to such a tiny niche.

I think the genre may have eaten itself though, to an extent.

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Re: Shmups

Post by hazeredmist »

It's in stark contrast then that there seem to be a few of articles going the other way, no? In particular praising the Switch's contribution, and the suggestion of there being a renaissance? New games like Rolling Gunner coming out?

Nintendo Life: http://www.nintendolife.com/news/2019/0 ... tch_shmups

Eurogamer: https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2019 ... ega-saturn

As a content creator I imagine it's very tough to accept your work not gaining the traction it deserves, and it likely takes time and has various peaks & troughs along the way. It's not for everyone.

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Re: Shmups

Post by ratsoalbion »

Definitely (on both counts).

When I’m back at a keyboard I’ll give my musings on why I think shmups in particular (of the ancient genres) tend to really struggle these days.

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James
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Re: Shmups

Post by James »

I'm going purely on the blog post, so apologies if my unfamiliarity with Mark MSX or the other channels he mentions renders any of the following invalid.

Obviously Mark's disappointed, but I think there are other ways to look at the situation. Plenty of people stream or produce video/audio for audiences of far less than 1000-2000 people. While not sustainable as a full-time venture, it's still pretty impressive to get those sort of numbers, especially within a year or two (going by Stanshall's comment above).

Several streamers I've watched, who now have somewhere in the region of 1000-3000 viewers (depending upon what they stream on any given day), have talked about it taking 3-5 years to build their audience. Some of that is about producing interesting, high-quality content. A lot of it is about consistency, even in the face of having little-to-no audience for months on end at the beginning. It's also about playing the game, and spotting trends in what's popular on Twitch, YouTube, etc and tailoring their content to suit those.

I remember Lobos Jr, a couple of years into streaming, and before he became a full-time streamer, went through an obvious and awkward phase where he started to adopt some clear mannerisms of Man Vs Game (another popular Souls streamer). I don't know whether this was intentional or by osmosis, but it was obvious to his audience and once they pointed it out it soon stopped.

Simon Miller put out (IMO) great video content for years, but Rock Reacts blew up in a different way. Whatever one might think of RR, it capitalises, very openly, on 'reaction' style videos that are quite widely maligned in critical circles for being shallow click bait.

Re. Mark's comparisons to FGC: I do think this is in some ways a poor comparison. I think there are comparisons to be had, but (from what I can tell) fighting games are pretty-significantly bigger earners than shmups. Capcom, NetherRealm/Warner Bros, and Bandai Namco, in particular, pour vast amounts of money into making fighting games popular and successful, consequently more people buy them and the potential audience for fan-made content is huge.

Nothing radical there, I don't think. But there are downsides to that too; yes, lots of attention, but also lots of money dictating how fighting games are made, played and how the competitive scene works. It is no understatement to say that many in the FGC look back on the days of guerrilla tournaments and a small, tight community with a lot of fondness. That affects content creators too. Sure there's great stuff out there, but (like everywhere else in games) most channels produce tier lists and how to's and reactions in order to be successful.

I don't know if there's a huge, untapped audience for high-quality, in-depth shmup content. I suspect that, without the sort of money thrown at fighting games or eSports in general, the size of that audience might always be limited. But for any channel, it takes a lot of time to grow an audience, and the sad truth is that pushing towards mainstream YT/podcast audience sizes usually requires gimmicks, or personality-focussed content.

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KSubzero1000
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Re: Shmups

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Stanshall wrote:
July 9th, 2019, 4:36 pm
No, not at all. I've been following his stuff for quite a while though and had a few little chats on various social media.
Well perhaps you could make a mention of this thread you've started on this here forum during one of these chats. He might take some solace in knowing that new players are still being drawn to this side of gaming that he loves so much. I've also watched some of his past stuff with great interest, including his Rolling Gunner Reviewplay which sold me on the game (along with your seal of approval, of course).

ratsoalbion wrote:
July 9th, 2019, 4:36 pm
I think the genre may have eaten itself though, to an extent.
Personally, I think it has more to do with the interests, priorities and value systems of the player base as a whole having shifted over time rather than with the genre itself.

The silent majority of players who dismiss shmups are the same (not so silent) majority who had such a vicarious aversion to Sekiro's difficulty curve. I'm not talking about the perfectly valid discussion about how to make video games more accessible for disabled players, of course. I'm talking about the "I only have one hour a day to play games and I had to re-do this boss half a dozen times so I'm getting a refund while I still can"-attitude.

Difficulty nowadays is mostly viewed as a gimmick. Something to be compartmentalized to "hardcore games" like Super Meat Boy for "the masochists". Something to then be dialed up to a completely exaggerated degree and laughed at its absurdity. But it's instantly viewed as an impediment to fun and/or as an arbitrary gatekeeping hurdle to "proper content" in the vast majority of games because the culture has changed. The basic social contract offered by the developers towards the players used to be "Here is this mountain I want you to climb, and I'll make sure that it's worth it in the end.". But now it's "Here's everything you could ever want, right at your fingertip. No assembly necessary. Have fun!"

Every once in awhile, a game from another time slips through the cracks and everybody gets shocked. That's why so much of the cultural conversation surrounding Dark Souls is still revolving around its difficulty, despite the game having so much more to offer than that and drawing so many parallels between its challenge and its world-building. But for a lot of people, it begins and ends as "that one game I refuse to play because it's too hard for no reason".

You can hear it in the way people talk about games, too. Mechanical systems are regularly being viewed as archaic nuisances meanwhile the focus has become about tech, graphics and characterization. The very unique element that separates our medium from all the others has been relegated to a borderline afterthought. I remember thinking that somebody who has no idea what a video game is might listen to one of the latest Naughty Dog panel on TLoU Part 2 and come away thinking it's the new season of a TV show.

Personally, I think this shift in values has a lot to do with developers finally chasing the mainstream approval of filmmakers after having spent so many years out of their deserved spotlight, but that's a discussion for another day.

Shmups are as well designed as they've ever been, but there are barely any players left who are willing to meet them on their own terms and appreciate the challenge for the sense of joy and dedication it can provide instead of viewing it as an arbitrary roadblock. In the same way that mental arithmetic hasn't magically become harder over the past 15 years: It's just that people are so used to leave the calculations to various machines that they instantly become exhausted when adding up all the items in their grocery cart.

I'm trying not to be too confrontational here, obviously different people play different games for different reasons and there's nothing inherently wrong with that. I guess what I'm trying to say is that, for lack of a better term, video game culture has shifted which in turn has had a direct influence on market trends. You can see repercussions of this all across the gaming landscape but it's not surprising that a genre that is so fundamentally interactive, so fundamentally based on the old-school video game identity of overcoming a succession of carefully designed obstacles would be hit by this development the hardest.

I happen to play a lot of games that would commonly be described as "difficult", but it's never because I actively enjoy banging my head against the wall for no reason. Difficulty for difficulty's sake doesn't interest me. I simply play DoDonPachi for basically the same reason I play Ninja Gaiden: Because there's a green lush meadow hidden right at the top of the mountain and its grass feels all the more soft after the climb.

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Stanshall
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Re: Shmups

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Here are some issues I can think of which mean shmups are likely to remain niche in relation to other genres in the current climate:

- Speedruns don't really exist, almost the only genre where this is the case. This type of content is booming and shmups are completely excluded. Mark talks about speedruns on another episode (from memory) and he also appeared on an episode of The Frame Savers podcast where he talked about DDP. Interesting stuff, for sure, but highlighted another avenue where shmups are largely incompatible with a growing 'content stream'.

- Many games seem very similar on the surface (to the undecided audience you need to attract and convince) and the differences can be very subtle and hard to understand. Until you get into the genre, one shmup can seem pretty much like another apart from the aesthetics, and even these tend to be very similar! I can totally understand why people think that if you've seen one you've seen 'em all. Superficially, there's something to this.

- The success criteria of a 1CC is easy enough to understand but a lot of shmups only reveal their depth, interest and brilliance through their scoring systems. This makes Let's Play content more difficult to access, even with something as excellent as STG Weekly. Where most games have a satisfactory goal that you can understand, if you watched (for example) my recent Futari BL clear where I deliberately played against rank just to get the clear, that barely scratches the surface what success means when playing the game. Likewise, if you watch only a superplay clear, you have no meaningful context for that level of play. Furthermore, when a shmup is played too well, this can have the adverse effect of taking away how impressive the footage really is!

- The element of competition is almost entirely through high scores, which have no universal relative context. Until you know a game well, scores are meaningless. I see guys on Twitter posting about their 3m increase on the Omote loop of Ketsui and despite putting twenty hours into that game, I still have no real frame of reference - and I'm massively invested in the genre.

There are lots more but this isn't meant to be a thesis or pure pessimism, just a few thoughts.

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Stanshall
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Re: Shmups

Post by Stanshall »

And some really interesting posts, gents. Lots for me to think about and I'll add more when I get back home.

Also, @haze, I definitely feel a mini resurgence too, largely due to the Switch. That we've seen several exclusive/almost-exclusive shmups released on the system over the last year or so is absolutely brilliant. Happy days, indeed.

Oh, and did anyone else hear about this?

https://youtu.be/kzXSZTk-J8A?t=1299

Some apparent development footage of UBUSANA, the game being developed by Hiroshi Iuchi as a follow-up to Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun!

That's something to get the embers glowing brighter.

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KSubzero1000
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Re: Shmups

Post by KSubzero1000 »

Stanshall wrote:
July 9th, 2019, 5:55 pm
Some apparent development footage of UBUSANA, the game being developed by Hiroshi Iuchi as a follow-up to Ikaruga and Radiant Silvergun!

That's something to get the embers glowing brighter.
No, I hadn't heard of this! Thank you! :o

If there is one game that would make me pay 60€ at release without a single objection, that would be a proper spiritual successor to Ikaruga on the same level of quality as the original.

...Can't wait!!

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Michiel K
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Re: Shmups

Post by Michiel K »

Any of yallz played Iuchi’s Kokuga on 3DS? Whaddyamean, no?

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Re: Shmups

Post by ratsoalbion »

I think the average difficulty of the games is one contributing factor in the lack of love for the genre, but not the only, or even the main one.

I still have more on this (just my theories), but am still ‘afk’ so I’ll keep you all on tenterhooks for now.
😉

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James
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Re: Shmups

Post by James »

I'd be interested to know how you all feel about high score/leaderboard battles as compared to head-to-head competition.

Several folks here might be able to discuss world records or personal high score battles in shmups or other games that use high scores as a barometer. But for a wider audience it takes feature articles or films like King Of Kong to capture and present the narrative around a back and forth which might be ongoing, sporadically for years.

This is similar to how watching long jump is different to watching a 100m sprint. The lack of head-to-head competition makes it a different spectator experience. Taken further, many events in athletics don't include the ability for competitors to directly influence one-another. Sprinters may race against one-another, but it's a different type of rivalry to, say, boxing or football, where one fighter/player/team's goal is to disrupt their opponent's game.

It seems like speed running is the best template for a competitive shmup scene to focus on. I remember, for the Souls games there used to be a website that would catalogue the world records for all of the different runs. I think it linked to videos of each record run. In addition to being a reference for competitors, this proved successful in helping build awareness of records and players and where to watch speed runs. That sort of thing is likely a pretty thankless task, but you see it all around niche competitive communities. I'm thinking of tournament organisers and volunteers, or those who write up results lists/articles - people who spend hours and hours putting together information and events, and would do it with or without recognition.

I guess I fit the profile of a casual player when it comes to fighting games and shmups. I'll play through a story/campaign just the once, but (especially for shmups) that's it. I can't tell you why I'm happily watching fighting games on a regular basis, but haven't watched a single high score vid for any of my favourite shmups. And, in many ways that makes me part of the problem here.

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Re: Shmups

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James wrote:
July 9th, 2019, 8:03 pm
I'd be interested to know how you all feel about high score/leaderboard battles as compared to head-to-head competition.
Well, I have had moderate to extensive experiences in both. I've spent years of my gaming life playing competitive (console!) shooters like Halo 2, 3 & Reach and more recently, Overwatch at a relatively high level. And I've put a lot of time into Rocket League as well. On the flipside, I've always had a liking for score-chasing even long before I started getting into bullet hell recently. My all-time favorite gaming experience is the dedicated score-chasing mode of a singleplayer game and I love chasing after various medals in the games that have them (provided they're good enough to keep me motivated, of course).

These days, I'm much more likely to favor score-chasing out of the two. I've all but sworn off online multiplayer for all sorts of reasons. But there is also a level of purity to singleplayer endeavors that multiplayer competitions have trouble replicating. Just you against the challenge carefully chiseled by the designers, pushing slowly but steadily towards a goal that once felt completely out of reach but now seems ever so slightly less daunting with every retry. The excellent Eurogamer Ketsui review talks about 'playing close to the code' in its opening paragraph, which describes the kind of wonderful experience that can only be achieved through discipline and dedication. I can safely say that I have never achieved this kind of quasi-intimate relationship with any of the multiplayer titles I've poured hundreds of hours into.

But another thing worth mentioning is that score chasing can be either against myself or other players without really changing the kind of enjoyment I get from it. It's about attaining mastery over the system first and foremost, bragging rights are secondary to that.


If you're asking in terms of which one of the two I enjoy spectating more, I find head-to-head competition more captivating as a general rule for the same reasons you've mentioned. But it also depends on the game itself. I know less than nothing about MOBAs for example, so watching DotA tournaments is basically out of the question for me. That's ten times worse than watching a foreign movie without any subtitles, so to speak.

It seems like speed running is the best template for a competitive shmup scene to focus on.
I would very much disagree with that, personally. Like Stan said, shmups are almost uniquely ill-suited to speedruns among all the different genres. I would even go one step further and claim that there are only a handful of genres that are particularly well-suited to speedrunning. But shmups are just a no-starter in many respects. A speedrun is simply not conductive to the kind of experiences that these games are so great at creating, and it's bound to give newfound spectators the completely wrong idea of what they're about.

High-level shmups are about score. Plain and simple. So with that said, I think there might be some untapped potential in regards to the ubiquity of social media in this day and age. If a publisher decided to reward players who top their friends leaderboards after the first month of their new game's release with some goodie or other, I could see that having a very positive effect on the scene in general, for example. It would remain accessible (competing against your friends is a much more palatable and less intimidating notion than competing against people who have been playing these games for years), and organically lead to folks re-creating arcade club dynamics from the comfort of their modern home. You could even go one step further with some sort of organized league system and regular prizes if some publisher was willing to put in the work.

James wrote:
July 9th, 2019, 8:03 pm
I'll play through a story/campaign just the once, but (especially for shmups) that's it.
I hope this doesn't sound mean, but this is exactly why I often point to entrenched consumerism habits hurting the medium as a whole. Because a blanket rejection of replayability doesn't take any individual game's design philosophy into account. A game like Assassin's Creed is obviously built from the ground up towards a singular, narrative-first playthrough. Whereas a game like Nex Machina is very much a gameplay-first type of experience built towards mastery. Treating both according to the same norms of consumption tailor-suited for the former is bound to automatically work to the latter's disadvantage and to devalue the work and effort that has been put into its overall design. It's not a very fair premise.

I get that it's because we all have massive backlogs and the likes, but even this notion of backlogs, of games being these series of bullet points to be crossed out and thrown away afterwards is not ideologically neutral, so to speak.

James wrote:
July 9th, 2019, 8:03 pm
I can't tell you why I'm happily watching fighting games on a regular basis, but haven't watched a single high score vid for any of my favourite shmups.
Well, I would imagine that's because you might have a much stronger understanding of the technical elements and strategic layers involved in a game like Street Fighter 4 as opposed to the abstract scoring system of a game like Ikaruga. And as you correctly pointed at in your sports analogy, watching a tense EVO finale between equally matched opponents while the crowd goes wild in the background is obviously a much more gripping and organic spectator experience than downloading a dry shmup superplay with some optional commentary added in post-production. I think this is the kind of thing that only becomes appealing when you're already involved in the scene one way or another.

Interestingly enough, I am the opposite. I quickly get lost watching high-level fighting game tournaments despite enjoying the vicarious energy that they have and I inevitably lose interest after a while. I think it's because so many of the fundamentals of the genre (even in classics like SF2 or Melee) are so foreign to me that I have trouble processing all the information and appreciating the nuances of the players' input.

These days, I find myself regularly watching shmup superplays before going to sleep. Haven't gotten bored of them yet! :P

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Re: Shmups

Post by James »

KSubzero1000 wrote:
July 9th, 2019, 9:09 pm
I would very much disagree with that, personally. Like Stan said, shmups are almost uniquely ill-suited to speedruns among all the different genres.
Apologies, I wasn't clear. I don't mean that shmups should be speedrun, but that competitively they are leaderboard-driven, asynchronous affairs in the same way as speedrun games are. They would therefore be similarly difficult to organise events around.

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Re: Shmups

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James wrote:
July 9th, 2019, 9:20 pm
Apologies, I wasn't clear. I don't mean that shmups should be speedrun, but that competitively they are leaderboard-driven, asynchronous affairs in the same way as speedrun games are. They would therefore be similarly difficult to organise events around.
Ah, gotcha. Yeah, that makes a lot more sense!

Like I alluded to in my post, I think there might be room for an official competition aspect of sorts. That's not really something you can do with speedruns because those take up so much of the players' time. But since shmups are so fluid and quick to retry for "just another go!", I could see it working out in some form or another. There would obviously need to be some sort of incentivization (because rarely anything ever gets done unless people feel like they have something to gain by doing so), but the right carrot opens a lot of doors.

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Re: Shmups

Post by Michiel K »

ratsoalbion wrote:
July 9th, 2019, 4:57 pm
When I’m back at a keyboard I’ll give my musings on why I think shmups in particular (of the ancient genres) tend to really struggle these days.
I'm thinking about this and I'm starting to lean to the idea that the genre of the 2D shooter will never become as big as some of its fans would want to, because shooting games have actually evolved into the likes of Space Harrier, Ace Combat, Doom, Half-Life, Gears of War, etc.

The 2D shooter, shoot 'em up or SHMUP remains something very archaic, with at the very least one foot deeply rooted in tradition. It can't move on from this and will remain there, whether you love it or hate it.

I'm still trying to work out why 2D platformers are only affected to a much lesser extent, though. Maybe because the 3D platformer hasn't become as succesful and ubiquitous as the 3D shooter?

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Re: Shmups

Post by James »

When I hear 'shmup' I instantly think of Cave and Treasure games, or those aping them directly. A game like Cuphead, one of the most-discussed, and most-lauded games of recent years, I almost never hear being discussed as a 2D shooter or shmup. Similar thing for twin-stick shooters; maybe I'm looking in the wrong places but I don't often see Geometry Wars, Assault Android Cactus or Nex Machina mentioned either.

The shmup genre as it was 30+ years ago has fragmented somewhat, into 3D shooters (as Michiel suggests), but also into run 'n gunners, arcade shooters, twin-stick shooters and any number of other subgenres. Conversely, I'll happily treat 'fighting games' as anything 2D, 3D, one-on-one, team battle, arena fighter, and whatever Nidhogg is.

Don't really know where I'm going with this, but I'm certainly guilty of being quite narrow in my application of the term 'shmup'.

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Re: Shmups

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Michiel K wrote:
July 9th, 2019, 6:18 pm
Any of yallz played Iuchi’s Kokuga on 3DS? Whaddyamean, no?
I did. It is really, really bafflingly bad. Hard to say what exactly makes it so because it's a case of "lots of small things" and how they interact.

I don't mind the weird level selection system, the slow tank movement, the abstract graphics (there isn't much of it anyway, everything looks very samey but I honestly don't mind, I liked P.N.03 for example), bizarre level design or completely arbitrary jumps in difficulty. Taken separately, each of these elements is not irritating at all, but they are somehow combined here in a way that makes me scratch my head and wonder how did this happen. For me the author will never again be "the dude who made Ikaruga" but "the Kokuga dude".

It's interesting to compare this game to Megaman Battle Network series, which has a somewhat similar premise when it comes to the game design (strategically positioned shooting, limited movement and weak & slow / useless basic shot that relies on cards for upgrades). While the same elements combine wonderfully in MMBN (especially 2) they irritate and frustrate in Kokuga.

In addition to this the game has an overall cheap, nasty and unfinished feeling, especially in the final level and ending (you get some bad text and music, that's it really). The music is super generic too, I imagine the brief was "futuristic cool techno corridors, we need it tomorrow and on budget".

Maybe I'm just angry because I paid some 60 Euros for the game (big chunk of it was shipping but still) :D I guess I'd be fine with it if I paid it 2 Euros or so.

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