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Designing: The Game and Its Content

Designer's Statement of Purpose for WildWright MMO Concept

Posted by , 07 August 2013 - - - - - - · 346 views
statement of purpose, design and 13 more...
Since yesterday I have been working on developing a new game idea. Well, a few fragments of this concept existed already, as can be seen in this thread from 2011 and another from 2012:

I could probably go back even farther and point out things this idea has in common with my octopus/starfish MMO concept and my Becoming MMO concept. Nothing arises out of a vacuum, every "new" idea has roots in previous ones. But this concept was never developed to any significant degree, and I'm reworking what little there was in response to what I learned playing Skyrim, among other recent experiences.

Some people have also asked me for an example design document to go with my guide to developing a pet game design via writing a design document. All the pieces of this guide are available in this journal, or you can get it all at once as an article:

So, I started by going through the first step of my guide, "Statement of Purpose", for this game concept. This is an overly-wordy rough draft, because the first step guide is about producing a "brain dump", not worrying about polishing anything up. Still, I'd be happy for any feedback on this game concept. Posted Image So finally, the actual content of this journal entry:

A statement of the designer's purpose that they want the game to accomplish:

My goal in designing WildWright is to create a gameplay experience which feels like the player has entered an interactive novel.

What kind of novel? Specifically a fantasy romance novel, or at least a fantasy novel with optional romance content. The 'heroine' of this novel is a problem solver who helps NPCs, heals wounded areas of the universe, and investigates mysteries. Thematically the novel should be about personal evolution, and a player's personal technology and magical abilities as part of their self-identity. The ultimate goal of such personal evolution is apotheosis (becoming god-like, as represented in the game by having wealth, safety, and the ability to do practically anything you want). So to support this theme that you win the game by becoming god-like, I think the players should start as "baby gods" or more precisely "life nymphs" or "fertility spirits" who are just reaching adulthood. After finishing the game's tutorial content they will be ready to set off into the universe with the goals of developing their life-related magic and establishing their own estates/tribes. An estate is a piece of territory where the player can build buildings or sculptures, breed pets, grow crops, display collections and outfits, and bring NPCs they have successfully courted to live as part of the player's new tribe. Your tribe is all the NPCs and pets who belong to you. Your estate is just as important a part of your identity within the game world as your avatar's body, clothing, and mount are. The middle or "meat" of the game is the player's journey to mystical understanding of the universe/nature/animals/and how "people" (the nymph species) fit into this universe, as well as what role the player wants to take as an adult in nymph society.

What about the "interactive story" part? The game must react in ways that recognize the player's choices and accomplishments. The way Joe Player and Jane Player can both start Skyrim or Fable in the same place and end up with quite different worlds shaped by their individual actions, with the world treating one like a villain and one like a hero, that is AWESOME. I want WildWright to do that in an MMO structure. So WildWright should provide an online world which encourages (but never forces!) players to interact with each other, especially admiring each others' buildingd, collections, and other accomplishments. At the same time the game needs to provide protection from interferance for players' personal SIM-gameplay projects, and also provide the story-rich structure and pacing of a jRPG. (Not a disgoranized sandboxy experience of questionable meaningfulness. Yuck.)

I want WildWright to give players an immersive fantasy world where they feel free to do any of a rich variety of fun things at any time. Activity options should include quests, combat, crafting, minigames, interacting with NPCs and pets/crops, customization, and art. I want this game to allow players to easily view and comment on the accomplishments of other players, from architecture and sculpture to appearance/gear/mount customization and collections to pet breeding to combat performance.

Ranching Type Pet Breeding Games: Viva Pinata and Plant Tycoon

Posted by , 18 March 2013 - - - - - - · 753 views
pet, game, pet game, design and 9 more...
A ranching game is a pet game where the player owns property and infrastructure which are used to produce pets. It is a close relative to farming games where the player owns property and infrastructure to produce crops; the well-known game series Harvest Moon combines these two types of games.

By my estimate, ranching games are the second most popular type of single-player pet game, after catch-em-all monster battling games. Both of these types of games work in some multiplayer contexts too. Again, some games combine ranching and monster battling, and farming can be combined with both. A hybrid genre isn't necessarily a better or worse design choice than a pure genre. But, pure genres are easier to study and if you want to hybridize two genres it's important to have a thorough understanding of both pure genres before so you can decide which features of both to combine and which to discard or replace with something from the other. Thus, this piece of writing is a little study on ranching games, and will not include combat or crop-growing.

What are some ranching games we can examine? Plant Tycoon is my personal favorite ranching game, despite the fact that the 'pets' being bred are plants rather than animals. The equivalence of these plants to pets is easily demonstrated by looking at Fish Tycoon, which is an earlier and extremely similar game from the same game development company; the only reason I'm analyzing Plant Tycoon instead of Fish Tycoon is that Plant Tycoon is the same game but improved by some added features. I'm going to refer to the plants in plant tycoon as pets throughout this piece of writing, which should hopefully make it easy for readers to see Plant Tycoon's design as applicable to whatever their preferred type of pet is.

Viva Pinata is another ranching game, and makes an interesting contrast to Plant Tycoon because the two are quite different. Both games are about the core concept of using property to breed pets to earn money (to improve that property to breed more 'picky' pets to earn more money...) Both are also realtime games which can be paused. Both include the ability to buy new pet types and other items from an NPC shop, and sell pets to NPCs. Both include some kind of sickness that the player can cure and a water meter where water level falls over time which the player must use a watering can to keep in the 'goldilocks zone' (not too dry, not too wet). Anyone who has played any version of the Sims should immediately recognize this as a standard type of pet care. (Yes, sims count as pets; the series is not technically a ranching game though because you can't sell the sims themselves, nor is breeding them core gameplay, it's more like a half-implemented 'icing' feature.

But Viva Pinata and Plant Tycoon have some big differences. The surface differences start with the fact that VP is 3D and PT is 2D. VP takes place outdoors with the player's property being literally a piece of land, while PT takes place mainly indoors with the player's property being a greenhouse full of flower pots plus a plant nursery where the player sells their plants to customers. The two have a somewhat similar story where you are recapturing some lost past glory - this should be familiar to all Harvest Moon fans because it is their storyline too. In the case of VP you are trying to match the achievements of the previous best pinata breeder, Jardiniero; in Harvest Moon style this begins with the task of removing junk from fallow fields. In the case of PT the story ties in with their other games which all share a story that there used to be an Eden-like island named Isola. This island was destroyed (ala Atlantis myths) but in PT your job is to propagate the rare plant species that originated on the island as well as recovering the extinct species that were lost with the island by 'back breeding'. This is the technique by which the heck horse, a 'reconstruction' of the tarpan horse was created - by breeding individuals who each had some tarpan characteristics.

The deeper differences between VP and PT start with the fact that VP has an XP/leveling/achievement system which is such a big feature of the game that it occasionally overwhelms the player's breeding and sim activities. The way in which the leveling system seems overwhelming is that leveling up is the only way to earn shovel improvements and land expansions, and leveling up often causes a cinematic sequence to play, interrupting whatever the player was doing. PT on the other hand has no levels or achievements (arguably the game's second-largest flaw after it's severe lack of storage space). Progress in PT is controlled by the simple mechanism that every upgrade costs money, so the player can only progress in obtaining all the upgrades whenever they have earned enough money to do so. This works, but it's not very motivating to the player. IMHO the game ought to have had an achievement for breeding every plant, and sub achievements for breeding all of each sub-type; that could have been a happy medium between VP's slightly excessive level restrictions and interruptions and PT's lack of achievements (other than the main goal of discovering the 6 magical plants and the side goal of collecting all the bugs). VP does have a good standard set of achievements for each pinata type: it visited you, it became a resident, you bred one.

The other major difference is that a large percentage of VP's play is about creating and maintaining an environment to attract pinatas and enable them to become activated to breedablility. This can be quite laborious; to be activated, shown by a pink heart over their head, often requires each pinata to eat another pinata lower down the food chain. This activation must be done for both prospective parents, and it gets used up be breeding and must then be done again for each offspring. In some cases the pinatas will decide on their own to attack and possibly eat another pinata, which the player cannot effectively separate from each other (at least for flying ones), so part of the player's perpetual task of managing the habitat involves keeping an eye on these fights - breeding replacements and deciding whether to kill off or heal injured pinatas.

The only vaguely similar thing PT has is the bug collection; the plants you are currently growing count as an environment in that they determine which bugs appear for you to catch. The first bug of each type is automatically collected, while the rest are worth small amounts of cash, and are the mechanism by which the player can rescue themself from accidentally running out of money and healthy plants to sell. There's a cash reward for completing the collection too. The fact that VP's pinatas can take aggressive actions without the player's consent, along with the much greater complexity of the environment in VP, is responsible for the major difference in feeling between the two games: in PT the player is in control, in VP they can't maintain control, they can only hang on and recover when things go pear-shaped.

Finally, let's talk about the breeding systems of these two games. This is the one way in which I think PT really outshines VP. Viva Pinata's pet breeding only occurs between two identical pets to produce another of the same exact thing. The gameplay focus is instead on developing the environment to attract new types of pets. Plant Tycoon is the opposite; only minimal upgrades are possible to the plant-growing environment (upgrading soil and water), and this allows higher-level plants to survive better without direct, expensive intervention by the player, but the gameplay focus is on the experimental breeding. Any plant that makes it to adulthood produces an infinite supply of pollen that can be used to fertilize any number of other plants. Each plant can only become 'pregnant' once, and produces 3-5 identical seeds which will often be different than both parent plants. Parents which both have the same stem shape will always produce offspring with that stem shape, and parents which have the same type of flower or fruit will always produce offspring with that trait, but otherwise the results of breeding are often surprising and add up to a complex intellectual puzzle; there are a huge number of possible stem/flower combinations too, more than 300. This is only possible because the genetic system is non-Mendelian. My positive experience with Plant Tycoon's breeding system (and Fish Tycoon's, which is almost the same) is the major motive behind my opposition to realistic genetics as a design choice for pet games; this is just plain more fun.

So, I think I've covered all the major features of the two games. Anyone see anything I missed? Anyone want to suggest a third similar game for further comparison? Any general comments or questions about ranching games?

Oh, Plant Tycoon has a 1-hour free trial so I'll link that here:

Pet Game Design Related Thoughts Copied From VPL

Posted by , 18 March 2013 - - - - - - · 568 views
pet, game, design, pet game and 3 more...
These are three older entries copied (with a bit of editing) from my equivalent of this developer journal over on the Virtual Pet List forum. I'm copying them here because I wanted to follow up with the new one I just wrote, and they probably should have been copied here in the first place because they're about game design. I make no guarantee that they aren't redundant with the multi-part guide that comprised the previous 16(?) entries in this journal. If anyone wants to comment on these, you're welcome to, regardless of the fact that they are kind of old. Posted Image

Subgenres Of Pet Game I Like

I have for quite a while wanted to join a pet game project that is getting started as a co-designer. So, I thought I would make describe the different types of pet games I would be interested in creating.

1. Single Player Breeder Tycoon Sims (ranching games)
2. Single Player RPG where the player uses a deck of pet cards or a small army of pet units on a tactical battlefield to fight
3. MMO games where all of the monsters in the game are captureable, and pet breeding is a crafting-like activity which involves playing minigames.

In all of these cases I'm generally interested in a breed-em-all dynamic with fantasy pets (e.g. breed a lion and an eagle to get a griffin). I am imagining a system with somewhere between 200 and 1000 types of pets (eg. pink fox would be one type and purple fox a different type, so it's not as many as it sounds like). I also have a strong preference for humorous, cheerful, cute or beautiful games, and the story optionally could include romance. I'm not really interested in anything where the world is supposed to be dark and bloody and constant fighting.

1. Single Player Breeder Tycoon Sims - Here I am talking about a flash or PC game like Celebrity Pedigree, Fish Tycoon, Plant Tycoon, or a similar game but with combat added. In addition to the CCG (collectible card game) and tactical (army on a chessboard) types of combat mentioned above, one other type of combat that could combine nicely with a breeder tycoon game is tower defense, particularly like that seen in Plants vs. Zombies.

A game of this type would have two main screens: a breeding screen and a combat screen. In the breeding screen the player builds and upgrades nests, hatches eggs, takes care of babies which emote their needs, and unlocks new types of pets for combat use by raising one to adulthood. In the combat screen the player uses the units they have unlocked so far to fight increasingly high level monsters; when killed these monsters drop crafting resources used to build and upgrade nests, consumable items used to raise babies, some sort of currency or resource spent to breed pets and possibly to buy more upgrades and consumables from a shop, and rare eggs or consumable items used to mutate adults. So the player alternates between the two modes until they have unlocked all possible kinds of pets (become the master pet breeder of the world). This achievement should unlock a boss fight, basically the end of the game.

2. Single Player RPG where the player uses a deck of pet cards or a small army of pet units on a tactical battlefield to fight. - Some examples of this type of game include PS1 games like Eternal Eyes or, although not a pet game, Disgaea is a great example of a modern tactical RPG. For a CCG RPG the old Magic the Gathering Game Shandalar for the PC was a great example of an RPG where the player collects cards and builds an increasingly good deck with which to defeat increasingly high level opponents.

In either a tactical or CCG context it again makes a lot of sense to give the player a goal of unlocking all units or collecting all cards. For a typical RPG the player would be given one new unit or card as a reward for completing each sub area (optionally they would have to breed the subtypes from this and their other owned units/cards) and completing this collection would coincide with having explored the whole map and unlocked the final boss battle. The main difference between a single player RPG and a tycoon SIM is that the RPG has a lot more NPCs and story, while the SIM has more sim gameplay such as monitoring the needs of maturing eggs and babies.

3. MMO games where all of the monsters in the game are captureable, and pet breeding is a crafting-like activity which involves playing minigames. - This type of game is impractically large to develop unless someone has a few thousand dollars to invest. But since I play a lot of MMOs I enjoy thinking about how I would design one, including a pet system which is an improvement on those in the MMOs I have played. Personally I'd be more interested in an MMOSIM (like A Tale In The Desert plus combat) than in a standard MMORPG or a forum+minigames arrangement like NeoPets or Gaia Online.

I could see doing either a 2D MMO with anime/cartoon style graphics, or a 3D MMO with fantasy graphics (Perfect World is a fairly nice example). I could see doing either a level-based progression or a level-less game which would be more PvP friendly - if everyone is the same level it's a lot easier to find opponents with whom you are fairly matched. I could see either making the main combat system tactical, like that of Dofus, or making two parallel combat systems - a realtime one for human avatars and a tactical one for pets.

I mention A Tale In The Desert because I would like to have a similar system where players do a lot of gathering and crafting of personal items like custom houses, storage chests, and appliances which are used for further kinds of crafting. I'd be quite interested in including a dating-sim like system where players could court the NPCs, as well as a non-romantic larger-scale version of the same system where players built reputation with various factions to unlock access to special mounts, clothing, etc.

A New Pet Game Type: Time Management Pet Crafting

I don't know if this idea is new in general, or just new to me and someone else already thought of it. But I love time management games (such as Ranch Rush), which are like the non-combat version of a real-time strategy game (such as Warcraft/Starcraft). I also like speedpuzzle minigames ranging from Freaky Factory to Vasebreaker. The two share a structure where each level is a mission with its own goal or multiple goals, and within each mission the player may gather resources, build up infrastructure or defensive structure, and there is either a time limit or other loss condition. The excitement of the game comes from the need to think fast; even grindy resource gathering is more interesting when you have to figure out which resource you need this mission and grab it as quickly and efficiently as possible. This kind of constructive gameplay (as opposed to destructively slaughtering opponents) tends to appeal to the same audience segment who like building up a collection of pets and/or raising an individual pet to have great stats and abilities.

But, what the heck does this speedy gameplay have to do with pet games? Well, In general I think of breeding and raising pets as a crafting activity. Crafting activities are generally about gathering up all the resources to fulfill a recipe, which might require pre-crafting such as growing a tree to get a needed type of fruit from it, or pre-processing such as squishing the fruit into juice, which in turn might require infrastructure build up such as crafting a juicer first, and resource gathering such as gathering water to water the tree, etc. So, for each pet there could be a recipe, and gathering all the materials to fulfill the recipe would be one mission. That would be a basic low-level pet, but higher level pets might require several missions to fulfill sub-recipes.

I think this could be really successful because obtaining each pet is more time consuming yet also more interesting that wading through random combat to find that one pet you want to capture. I can imagine a player spending several hours to get an epic pet and not being bored during the process, provided care was taken to make the goals within each recipe not be too repetitious and the recipes have varied requirements so the player isn't gathering the same resource for every pet.

Pets = Bottomless Pits, Food = Xp
(a new-to-me dynamic encountered in Dragon City FB game)

Recently I played the game Dragon City (on facebook) and one thing I particularly liked about the game is the mechanism for making the pets progress from baby to adult. You feed them to make them grow up, but it's not one of those annoying systems where you have to feed the pet every X amount of time to prevent it from getting sick or dying. Instead you can feed any pet whenever you want, because food functions as the pet's experience points. I think this would be awesomely compatible with a minigame, for example pinball, Tetris, or a solitaire card game. The game could pay out in pet food (plus rare bonus items or small amounts of money). The player can then distribute the food to level up whichever creatures they want to work on that day. This could give players a use for playing the minigame several times a day, without flooding the economy with the game's currency.

Guide To Designing A Pet Game Part END

Posted by , 29 December 2012 - - - - - - · 694 views
sunandshadow, guide, tutorial and 7 more...
X. Finale: An overview of the game development process and how the design document is used during this process.

1. Revise – Theoretically you now have the first two parts of a game design document: a statement of purpose and a features list. Look them over for any inconsistencies or missing information and fix that if you can, or mark it (I use bright red text) as something that needs to be fixed when you can figure out how.

2. Prioritize – Look through your features list and separate it into Core features that you absolutely must have, and Non-Core features that you like but will not start to implement until the core features are done. You can also re-arrange topics within the features list if you think they are more logical or useful in a different order. For example, perhaps the GUI and game modes section should be near the beginning instead of near the end.

3. Format – Copy your features list and paste it into your document, so you now have two. Remove all but the headings from one. If any of the headings seem confusing, clarify them. Congrats you just made a table of contents. Depending on what kind of word processor or other program you are using to make your game design document, you can go through and make each table of contents entry hyperlink to the appropriate feature.

4. Revise Appendices – Review your appendices – is there stray stuff in there that should be filed into appropriate places in the features list? Are there any things you know you'll need an appendix for that you don't yet have one for? (E.g. list of locations, list of NPCs, list of weapons, list of armor, list of enemy types, list of crafting resources, list of crafting recipes, list of quests...) Make more appendices for those. Rearrange the appendices until they seem to be in the most logical order.

5. Brainstorm – Go through one feature at a time, then each appendix; for each one, add any other useful and relevant information you can think of. The goal is to get the document as complete as you can make it without outside help, before looking for that outside help.

6. Research – If there is some feature you are interested in but don't have much experience with as a player, research what games have that feature. Read about how the feature works in those games, and consider playing one or a few to experience how the feature works. You may do this part first or multiple times if you like.

7. Copyedit – If you have really long or confusing sentences, improve them. If you have really long paragraphs or no paragraphs, cut up your wall of text into more manageable chunks. Spellcheck. Beware of homophones and use of apostrophes. Have you used consistent formatting for headings and lists? The goal of this step is to make your document as readable and polished as possible before showing it to others.

8. Seek Feedback – The kind of feedback you need will differ depending on what role you intend to play in your game's development, and how complete you've managed to get your design document. You may prefer to recruit a co-designer who will add a lot of their own thoughts to the design document before beginning development. Or you may want to hire a consultant, paying them to sign an NDA and give you all the suggestions they can come up with for your design without becoming a part of your team or having any rights to future income from the game. Or you may want to describe either the general outline of your game or a specific problematic area on a public forum to get volunteer feedback. Or you may want to begin development immediately, either by your own efforts or by recruiting or hiring a skilled programmer or artist.

9. Development – Whoever is the most experienced programmer involved with the project will need to use this design document to make a programming plan: Name the languages, libraries, engine, database, etc. to be used, break the core features into proposed code objects, and plan how those code objects will communicate with each other. Whoever is in charge of the story should make sure enough of it has been created to guide the artist(s) in producing art assets appropriate to the story. Whoever has the most experience with GUI design and/or art will need to set standards for the still images, animated sprites, and/or 3D models and textures the game requires, and use this design document to make checklists of all the art assets that need to be created. As pieces of the game are completed you can mark them as completed within the design document, for example by turning the text relevant to them blue or green.

Now, alas, you have reached the end of the help I can give you. If anyone thinks of a topic I have missed or forgotten here, please let me know in a comment. Otherwise, good luck and happy game designing! ^_^

Guide To Designing A Pet Game Part 14

Posted by , 27 December 2012 - - - - - - · 525 views

14. GUIs and Controls, Game Modes and Context-Sensitive Behavior

GUI stands for graphical user interface. Borders, icons, menu bars, mouse cursors, font(s), the title screen, the credit screen(s), the help/about screen(s), trading and shop interfaces, pop-up menus, tool tips, any backgrounds which are solid colors or gradients rather than artwork, etc. all make up a game's GUI. There are programming toolkits and libraries available to help implement standard GUI elements, but first they need to be designed. This is a tricky type of design because it's half usability and half art. As such, GUI design is a field related to web design and graphic design. Consult your statement of purpose to review what art style and theme/tone you wanted your game to have; the GUI must be consistent with these. For example, you probably don't want to use smiley-faces as indicators of high durability on armor in a horror game.

Controls are the way the player uses an input device to tell the game what they want to do. Each button/key or directional input is a control. The GUI and the control scheme are inevitably related, because if you are making a mouse-driven game then you need to have mouse-friendly controls. If you want the game to be dual mouse/keyboard then it's really helpful to label the mouse-click-able buttons with the keyboard shortcuts that will activate them, or if it's pure keyboard then you need to have a 'cheat sheet' of all the keyboard shortcuts or some other reference the player can consult to learn them. Gamepad controls also require a different GUI – they have fewer buttons than a keyboard, are awkward to use to drive a mouse pointer, but work really well with a cursor that slides or rotates through menu options, and that menu can be completely invisible when the player doesn't need it instead of taking up screen space with a clickable button. Some games even use microphones, cameras, gyroscopes, toys with gamepad buttons built in, and other gamepad-substitutes like dancepads and steering wheels.

Game modes are strongly related to both GUIs and controls. A game mode is situation within the game – account/character creation mode, exploration mode, battle mode, puzzle mode, inventory mode, and a particular minigame's mode(s) are examples of these kind of situations. Each game mode has unique GUI and control needs. Thus each game mode needs a version of the GUI tailored to it, and the controls need to be context sensitive, which means the same button or mouse click can do different things in different situations within the game. It is called remapping the controls when your game assigns different functions to each button/key/whatever when the player enters a different mode within the game.

I haven't really mentioned concept art design in this document yet, so here's a crash course of the steps involved:

1. Make a list of needed features – (Yo dawg, I heard you liked making features lists so I put a features-list-making step in your features list. Posted Image ) Specifically you need to make a list of your different game modes, what information and actions need to be immediately visible to the player in each, what information and actions are necessary but less urgent and should be accessible by a menu, and what controls the player should be using in that mode, including how they access any menus and how they exit that mode.

2. Get source images – Google Image Search is one of the most incredibly useful things on the internet. Make one or more folders on your computer and save copies of anything relevant. You do not own the rights to these images so you can't copy them directly, but looking at them for reference is fair game. That's what a source image is. What are you searching for source images of? GUIs of other games and random art related to your chosen theme and tone. If possible, identify 1-3 example games, animes/cartoons, or similar which have a very similar theme and tone to the one you want your game to have; google those as well as terms for your theme and tone.

3. Make mock-ups (concept art) – You can doodle on paper or use your graphics program of choice, but either way you need to make pictures of what your different game modes, including their GUIs, might look like. If possible, use the proportions you want your game to have on the player's screen. Don't just make one concept; after you make your first attempt try to clear your mind and do something different, then do that again.

4. Revise, Consult, Revise – Look at the different attempts side-by-side, see if there's any way to get something better still by combining part A of attempt 1 with part B of attempt 2. Now, it's almost inevitable that this kind of mock-up is missing something. Many, many, student architects have designed a house with no bathrooms, for example. So even if you are your game's main artist I don't recommend putting your GUI concepts right into development without getting some kind of second opinion. If you have to wait until a later point in your development process to have someone you can ask, then wait. When you make your final revision after getting some input, then your job here is done, unless the required features change or playtesting turns up a problem later. If your document format can include images, add your concept images to an appendix.

- [Input devices you want your game to use, such as mouse, keyboard, and/or gamepad]

- [List game mode(s) with the primary control scheme]

- [Describe the control scheme, both info displayed to the player and input giveable by the player.]

- [List each group of game modes with an additional control scheme]

- [Describe the control scheme, ditto.]