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About this blog

Hello World.
I'm a student pursuing a job in Game Development.
I'll be posting irregular updates regarding my adventures, and some takeaways (or XP if you prefer) because I'm boring like that.

Entries in this blog


Double Fine Quest

MY QUEST: I found out about Double Fine through your a podcast in 2012.  Fast forward six years, I’m a student game developer giving it all I have for a job there. So, I checked their “Action Jobs” page to see what I could find.  Under "We are always recruiting everybody, all the time" there is a short story about what happens when you get a job there. http://www.doublefine.com/jobs Also featured on this fabulous brochure. Last summer, I decided I wanted a job there, but they must have interns banging on their windows, so how could I stand out?   I decided to make a game that would have several sections to demonstrate my ability and show that I would work hard.   Last Fall, I learned Unity through my University.  Every single project I made was either a part of my Double Fine game, or specifically designed so that I could reuse code for my Double Fine game. Around December I realized it would be awesome to go to GDC.  The main reason being that I could speak to people from Double Fine and make an impression.   It was too late to sign up as a GDC volunteer, passes were over $1k, but someone told me about the Unity Student Scholarship.  I didn't have a proper portfolio, but I uploaded my work from my Unity class and any other Unity projects I had.  Even without a portfolio, I tried to make it look good.  I spent so long on the application process that I was late to a New Years Eve party.  The new year came, and my game that would get me into Double Fine, codenamed "Project Sourdough," was not on schedule.  It would never be completed on time, although parts of it were a complete mess. Since Sourdough didn't have time to rise properly, I needed to make a more concise experience very rapidly.  I reused as much code as I could to make "Project Unleavened," a game that follows the story on Double Fine's “Action Jobs” page. Time passed.  I really wanted to go to GDC.  One night, I prayed that I would go, even though it was unlikely.  I also prayed that if I didn't go, they would at least tell me soon, so I could stop thinking about it. The very next moment, I pulled out my phone to call someone, and an e-mail popped up on the lock screen from Unity folks. "Thank you for submitting...  We received a lot of high quality applications ... Unfortunately, you were not chosen as a recipient ... But we were impressed with your application" and they gave me a limited access pass. I was completely in awe.
The next thing I needed was a way to give them the game.  I designed a one-sided business card reminiscent of an atari cartridge, and had it printed onto two USB Business cards from VistaPrint. I had a lot of work to do on Unleavened.  I put in some crazy hours in the weeks leading up to GDC, and had to either solve or work around countless issues.  Unfortunately, due to a quirk in my dialogue system, I could only build for Windows at the time.  Fortunately, I did get some help from my friends.  I found out one of them is a QA guru.  Another one could make great drawings, and it was amazing seeing him bring a piece of the game to life.  But their time was limited by their own schoolwork, so I did all the coding and most of the art myself.  That said, I can’t understate the importance of my friends and family during development. The final week of crunch on Monday, my phone died.  It got hot, the battery drained quickly, and then it would not boot up.  I've had it for years, so it was at end-of-life, but the week before flying across the country was a bad time to bite the dust.
If nothing else, Verizon knows how to sell phones.  I got my hands on a Pixel 2 before the week was out.  Crisis averted, but it took the entire day to resolve that one. Tuesday, I referenced DF’s Jobs page.  It had changed.  I had been planning to apply for an internship, but there was a brand new note.  “Alas, we are unable to offer internships pretty much ever, sorry!” That could be the end of the story.   But it’s not.  If I couldn't be an intern, I’d apply for a full position as a Gameplay Programmer. I programmed, built, tested, rinsed, repeated until it was error-free.  After all that testing I copied those files onto the two business cards. I took a few hours off Sunday night before GDC to hang out with friends.  Unfortunately, I needed more than two business cards for GDC, so I got back to work around eleven to design some normal ones.  I lied down for a moment and fell asleep for three hours, woke up at 5 AM and then sent my design to the local Minuteman Press. The next morning, there was no next morning, I woke up at noon.   I ran about a mile to the printer to get those business cards, and began to pack ASAP.  (Disclaimer: That's not San Francisco ) I had a friend who was on-time to bring me to the airport, but I was too far behind packing, and missed the flight Monday.  They rescheduled me for free since the next flights had open seats.  I was stuck at the airport for hours, exhausted, but Tuesday afternoon I finally made it to San Francisco. Double Fine runs a booth called "Day of the Devs" which showcases a few selected indie games.  I hung out there for hours trying to find one of them.  I met plenty of good people, but I missed their main producer (Greg Rice) by literally a minute.   Wednesday night was an awards ceremony, and the Tim Schafer got a big one.  I waited twenty minutes after the show until the people from that company started walking out, and caught up to Greg Rice when he separated from the rest of them. "Mister Rice, can I talk to you for a minute?"
"I'm really really late, I can't talk now."
"Can you at least take this?"
And I handed him one of the USB Business cards with my resume and the game on it.
He ran away screaming.   
Well, not really, he just walked away quickly.  
THE HUNT CONTINUED, Thursday, I finally got lucky at Double Fine's booth. While scanning badges, I saw some tiny print.  It said "Double Fine Productions."  Whoah.  I looked up, and saw he was wearing a shiny Double Fine pin.  It was beautiful.  I looked at his face, and he was talking to someone else.   I awkwardly stood by until he was free, and then told him my story before relinquishing the second USB Business card.  Package 2 delivered!  Delivered to a Communications Manager, no less! Friday I walked out of a building and saw some people in Double Fine branded clothes ==> I orbited around in front of them, and introduced myself to two more DF people (programmers).  They really liked the idea of my game, so I gave them my card and told then where to find it online. Saturday I applied to Double Fine thru their web site, the normal way, except that I included a link to the game. Monday, the Communications Manager sent me an e-mail that the game didn't work.  I know exactly the issue and exactly why.  I sent both the fix and a working version. Which brings us to today.  Here is the game I made: https://sonictimm.itch.io/action-resume
Playtime is usually less than ten minutes.  I did modify my dialogue system for web, so you can play it in your browser.
Experience Points:      (AKA fancier way to say TL;DR) I'd love to say that you can work hard for your dream job, but at this point I have no idea if I'll get the job. What if I don't get the job.  I poured my life into a project for a [possibly] failed endeavor.  I still gained: -A portfolio. 
-A trip to GDC
-Lots of contacts from said trip  
-Some free time in San Francisco 
-TONS of Unity Experience 
-Practice writing.  I love writing, but it's hard to sit down and do it.  
-Practice Art-ing.   I love UI, but spritework is not my calling.  
-A chance to collab with some friends   
-A game that may or may not be fun, I'll let you guys decide  
-This crazy story.  Honestly, the University feels mundane after all this...   This list is getting crazy long.. But seriously, if your project fails, you'll probably learn more than if it succeeds. 
That said, don't ever strive for failure.  Study Failure.  Look at why things don't work, learn from other people's mistakes.   Everyone learns from success, myself included.  (I'm not the first person to try and get into a company by making a game...) Anyway, I'd love to get your feedback.  If you can spare ten minutes, I'd love to hear what you think of my game. Also, if you have any tips for getting noticed by a game company / making yourself more employable, I'd love to hear those as well. Cheers!

Back on course.

RIP summer break, long live the Fall semester. And RIP me... Or long live me, depends how well this semester goes. This is undoubtedly the hardest semester of my life. I'm taking 19 hours of classes (15 is normal), involving no less than three semester-long projects. Plus running a VR booth at conventions, running a club, and running 2-3 miles per day.. Just thinking about it all is overwhelming. This last year of school feels like the end of the world. Since high school, through college, everything has been leading up to college graduation. It's been my ultimate goal, consuming my attention for over seven years. But that's backward. Undergraduate school isn't the end , it's the beginning.  While cliche, what I need is a paradigm shift par·a·digm shift noun   a fundamental change in approach or underlying assumptions. Just because I haven't the faintest idea where I'll be in a year doesn't mean I can't enjoy getting there.  If you fear the uncertainty, it becomes the enemy, and you'll never want to go outside your comfort zone. Relish the uncertainty, and it becomes both a challenge and an adventure. In truth, everything since first grade has been preparing me for life, not just for college.  It's not the end of the world, it's more like the final boss battle of this phase of life-- it requires the most effort, and it also has the highest payoff if you do it right (and grave consequences if done poorly.) Speaking of the final boss, it takes loads of effort to even get to the final boss.  In that time, you take on all the minor challenges and grinding in order to get to the part that really matters, the climax.
After years in school, I've gotten all of the "grinding" through required classes out of the way, and now I have a full year to take on the challenges that really matter.  While it's a metric ton of work, this is the work that I want to be doing.  This is the academic equivalent of a dream job - lots of electives, lots of projects.  While that looks different to different people, reaching that "dream job" is something to be proud of, and something to be grateful for. Today, someone asked me if I know everyone on campus. While I'm terrible at names, I literally couldn't count the friends I've made through classes, clubs, shared meals, and random happenstance.  Neighbors, friends, and colleagues all blend together in college.  It's even helpful having a roommate who keeps me sane and prevents me from taking life too seriously.  As someone who can feed off the energy of others, I thrive on social interaction, despite being an introvert. There's a lot to love about humans when you get to know them. Even still, the most baffling thing is not when people are in a place they don't like, it's when people don't do anything to get out of that place. My heart goes out to moonlighters, it's a hard life.  It's truly a blessing being able to spend my days working on interactive projects like this, I'll try not to waste it.   Experience Points: If you take action to get where you want to be, you're a winner. If you complain when you do get what you want, you're a whiner. To quote Dr. Eggman, "Chaos is the constant."  Life is always changing. (someone else may have said it first...) Despite the change, old wisdom is still invaluable: Sleep, eat, take care of yourself But don't be self-centered, it leads to taking ones self too seriously and becoming a jerk. Through hard work and prayer, nothing is impossible. Through intense laziness, anything can be impossible.  

Timmmmmmmmmm.. T

Timmmmmmmmmm.. T

Time Well-Spent

Last summer, I worked indoors at a small amusement park.  It got boring, but it wasn’t bad.  It started out around 20 hours per week.
It ramped up to 30 hours, and could have been 40+ hours.  In theory, the extra money sounds great when I’ve got nothing else going on. At work, I had plenty of time to think about time.  They say that it takes 1000 hours to become an expert.  While there’s nothing magical about 60,000 minutes, there is something magical about consistent time dedicated to a craft or trade.  When I first played the trombone, I wanted to win the school practice contest by practicing more than anyone else.  I sometimes practiced 300 minutes per week outside of school (between school, sports, and life) and became proficient at it faster than anyone else.  I stopped practicing so much, but the solid foundation never let me down, and I never regressed past a certain point, even if I neglected the instrument for years. Years later, I started running.  Problem: my knees were shot, and it took 1-2 hours per day of physical therapy before I could go on a short run.  It was a huge time investment—think of all the things I’d have time for if I stopped!  Days made little difference.  Weeks made a slight difference.  After months of dedication, I only needed the PT once per week.  I could finally run in outdoor track
Fast forward five years of consistent running: I have no need for PT, became a cross country captain, and completed a marathon.  I never trained for speed, nor did I train for distance, it was all about time. In both activities, the coach/instructor told me to record the number of minutes spent practicing.  At the end of the week, they would critique my habits and push me to raise those numbers.  This applies perfectly to game development, specifically because it’s hard to benchmark quantity of game developed.  Counting lines of code or levels made is useless, since more of those often results in less efficiency.   Instead, count minutes.  If you consistently dedicate hours of your day to anything, it will stick in your mind.  Your new mindset will make it easier and easier.  If you can spend 1000 hours on a game for your own recreation, you can spend 10,000 hours on game development for other people’s recreation.  After a few years of “eating, sleeping, and breathing” game development, it becomes second nature.  You’ll make games as easily as you type on a QWERTY keyboard. Well, that’s my theory.  Putting it to the test took hours… countable hours. I made a practice sheet, and kept track of the minutes spent each day on game development.  Even when I was tired, I tried to spend at least an hour doing something at some pace.  The following day, while I had a little less sleep, I’d be more able to develop because I was in the habit of it. When converted to hours, I got around ten on most weeks, but due to my inconsistent work schedule it was all over the place.  Over fifteen hours one week, five hours the next week…
I could have made a lot more money by working more, but my goal isn’t to work a low-wage job, it’s to develop games.  Hence, I’ll take the smaller cash heap in exchange for invaluable practice. 
  That said, I’m glad I had work to get me out of the house—being alone most of the day is highly demotivating.  However, 6 hours of work + commute followed by three hours of game development results in great progress and a steady income. And another thing, There was one other time sponge: hanging out with friends.  While it can be easy to spend inordinate amounts of time messing around, we mostly had commutes between us.  That means I wasn’t at risk of spending all my time away from development, but we met up pretty often and it was always worthwhile. In fact, the best game I developed all summer was a party for those friends. (Warning: long description that doesn’t do it justice) So ended the last of six epic summer parties (2013-2018), and it was the best one yet.  It may be the best experience I have ever crafted, but it’s not replayable. RIP summer, it was a good one.  Now begins the hardest semester of my life.   Experience Points: Money is helpful Working on something you love is worth a financial hit (but not financial ruin) In the end, it’s always about balance.  Too much development will kill you, too little development leaves you with nothing. Humans are social, devote time to take care of that need. More man-hours on a project is superior to more weeks on a project. Life isn’t about money, but it’s not about work either.  There’s no game gods that reward you for doing good work.  If you’re a game developer, you are ultimately working for your players.  Treat them with love and respect.

Timmmmmmmmmm.. T

Timmmmmmmmmm.. T


Mod yourself into Game Development

This coming week, my game design club will (finally) start working on Digital Games.

Last week we made paper concepts.  Most of us have ZERO Game engine experience, this is going to be thrilling!!!
I've decided to bring everyone into a 2D engine called Defold, which outputs Cross-platform (Mostly HTML5) games with LUA Scripting and joint animations. That's great Timm, but who's going to answer their questions?
They are, of course!  I have never used Defold, but in the Game Dev industry, they will routinely have to self-teach to keep up Rely on teammates to solve problems that nobody really knows the answer to Rarely if ever start a game from square zero, they'll always build on others' work. To that end, rather than making a game from zero (/*programmers NEVER start at square one*/), we are going to mod a public platformer template.   Hopefully, we can divide into some kind of logical teams based on specialty and ability.  Good groups are small enough to enable everyone's input, but big enough to explode productivity. My Experience: Modding is better than square zero for learning game development: THOUGHT PROCESS:  Since every large company has their own proprietary engine, learning how to learn an unfamiliar engine is invaluable WORKFLOW: Game Companies will teach you by letting you dive into existing code, which is exactly what modders do SPECIALIZATION: You can focus on your specialty (programming, art, music, level design) instead of trying to juggle ALL OF THEM so that you can get a job in ONE OF THEM. SCALE: You get experience in a HUGE PROJECT that you may never fully understand rather than a tiny demo  RESULTS: You can make something awesome (though not quite as accessible) in a shorter time since most of the heavy lifting is done PLAYERS: You already have a huge player base and a known target audience if you mod a popular game.  this looks great on a resume FEEDBACK: If you do have lots of players, you have lots of complaints.  Learn to deal with it, noobs. Today, I got to see an eight-year old open his VERY FIRST Raspberry Pi.  I taught him to install NOOBS and use it, and he's really excited to change the world (For one, he won't be bored at home anymore).
I showed him the built-in python games and how to edit their code (to make yourself faster, bigger, etc.).   
Even though I can code faster than I can make bad jokes, I would never have been able to make a game with him... but just editing a couple lines of code in an existing game brought about some super-fun results.  So basically, I showed him how to mod as a gateway* into programming   *Not a Gateway 2000, he's too young for those

Timmmmmmmmmm.. T

Timmmmmmmmmm.. T


Don't be a hermit

Ramblings: Recently, I found out that my school is getting a minor in "Digital Humanities"
Digital Humanities - (n) a buzzword that shows you have a solid background in both liberal arts and technical literacy.
Normally, I don't care much about buzzwords, but for one, I've already taken a diverse array of classes, so it's a cinch for me to pick up that minor and show my potential employers that "I'm not a code monkee!"

More importantly, the person in charge of the program is doing a lot to both ensure that the minor is beneficial to students, and to arrange other opportunities for students to experience the intersection of art and technology.
Normally, the intersection of art and technology refers to video games, but if you look more broadly you'll see it in all kinds of places.
For instance, an English professor who uses code to express a deeper meaning (Gaffe/Stutter), or a programmer who makes something truly beautiful (Macintosh).  A good GUI is just as much a work of art as a game.

Oh, and our club got into the school newspaper:
https://marshallparthenon.com/16407/news/game-design-guild-aims-to-further-students-tech-abilities/   As a game developer, you have more work to do than you have time in a day.  But even so, don't isolate yourself to get it done.  Trying to make a game alone is like making a movie alone-- you can do some impressive things, but you'll never be able to compete with a functional team. So stay social (or become social), talk to people, and keep growing.  If you're not growing, you're probably stagnating.  Either way, it will reflect in your games. If nothing else, talking to other people will help prevent burnout by taking your mind off your game.  Even though I'm an introvert, I absolutely cannot function without occasional conversation.  (Okay, I might survive, but my motivation will tank.)   I noticed that after programming for many hours a day over a period of time, my programming skills got stronger.  Even if I take a long break, I'll jump back in easily. The same thing happens with other skills, i.e. sports, playing an instrument, public speaking...
So why wouldn't it apply to social skills? My new years resolution is to be more social.  Yes, it's a time sponge, but it's also allowing me to work with people I would have never otherwise met.  I'm making friends who I'll remember forever, which is impossible to put a price on.   Perhaps most importantly, if this works, I will practice my social skills enough that even after spending 6 hours alone in a room, I'll still be socially fluent.  I'll be able to jump back into it as quickly as I can jump back into an old video game, or a practiced sport. So far, I have noticeably improved from last year.  Here's hoping I'll be able to keep it up while simultaneously moonlighting on game dev.   Experience Points: Network! Don't be naive enough to follow every trend, but Be open-minded enough to accept new trends. Talk to a wide variety of people, it's amazing what stones you'll turn over along the way.  Some of my best days have been spent doing more talking than developing. Don't be antisocial, it will reflect in your games.  Practice your social skills at least half as much as you practice your trade.  Nobody wants to hire someone who can't communicate. Great artists don't just steal from artists, they also steal from life. Never stop growing and learning.  Whether you talk to Miyamoto or Meiers, you'll hear that they want people with experience and interests outside of gaming. If you're not growing, you're stagnating. Keep networking.  If your network isn't growing, it's stagnating.

Current Project

So what am I working on? Mostly portfolio building and applying for internships, but there's also a game. <Backstory>
Last summer, I made a plan to get into a certain game studio.  It involved making a game about video game history with four gameplay styles (one for each of 70's, 80's, 90's, 2000's).  The conclusion would make use of all four styles and relate in some clever way to me getting the job that I wanted.
Dozens of hours of R&D Later, Finals week came around.  I had to stop working on this game, Project Sourdough, in order to finish up my final projects for school. After some deep thought, I came to the conclusion that project Sourdough, while some parts were neat, was too big to be finished in time.  
Since Project Sourdough failed, I had nothing.  That is, nothing more than the Fellowship of the Ring after Boromir died! The next step was to take my unfinished concepts and the experience I gained from working on Project Sourdough, and make a new, smaller project to fulfill its purpose.  It would have to reuse as much code as possible, and be produced very efficiently. Thus, Project Unleavened was rolled out. </backstory>

1-12-2017 Project Unleavened begins.

Importing Scripts, Elegant movement
If this is going to work, it has to get done crazy fast.  That's impossible... Unless half the code is done.
To that end, I'm re-using as much old code as humanly possible.  Much of it is from another project that might never see the light of day, so I'm glad it's going to good use. I also wrote a new movement script.  It hardly does anything yet, but it feels elegant as hell.
(For comparison, my old one is on the left)

Web site complete

I haven't been super-busy working on homework or games recently,
So what happened? In between classes and work, I've recently completed my portfolio Web Site!
I don't have much love for web design, but coding your own site is totally worth it IMHO. http://sonictimm.com/   Good portfolios to draw inspiration from: http://carbohydromusic.com http://whatisjason.com https://www.nicolasbombray.com http://www.mollyjameson.com Check them out if you plan to make a portfolio site anytime soon, they're way better than mine.

Unity Splash and The Guild

That's right, I modded the Unity Splash screen.  The default one wasn't doing it for me.
I'll make a video on how to do this with your own image if there's any interest.

In other news, project Unleavened progressed a little.  There is a movable pawn that shifts gears, like a car.  The bulk of Unleavened will be driving.
I had planned to assign gearshifting to a button, like in pole position, but that was too unintuitive (and StickyKeys got in the way.)
Instead, I took influence from River Raid on Atari 2600.  If you drive into the top of the screen, you go faster.  If you drive into the bottom of the screen, you go slower.  
But instead of a momentary boost, the speed boost lasts until you downshift, but the screen will never stop scrolling.

I am now president of the MU Game Design Guild.
I have planned all our meetings since last semester, and this semester attendance shot up from ~7 to ~18 people per meeting. THE KEY: Announce it in classes, so that people are guaranteed to know about it.  Also, promise them development experience. Meetings are tough to plan, because we gamify everything.  We have done one design challenge and two programming challenges. Card Game Jam: Make a card game.  Write the rules.  Other teams play it from your rules.
    Iteration: You can revise the rules between rounds of playtesting. C++ Challenge: Write a simple calculator with as few ; as possible.
    Record: 1 semicolon, after the meeting.  During the meeting, it got down to 3. ComBots Challenge - We had a tournament using this: http://www.crazymonkeygames.com/comBOTS.html
    Lots of chances for iteration since each team could make 3 ComBots. As el presidente, I will be kind to the people of Tropico. Long live the Guild!

Timmmmmmmmmm.. T

Timmmmmmmmmm.. T


Grassroots Game Jam

Last weekend was the first ever Game Jam at Marshall University.   The Game Design Guild (club) has been planning to have one for months, but we're a new organization, still trying to get our feet on the ground.
Lucky for us, and awesome doctor at our University had recently started a Digital Humanities program.  She also wanted to hold a game jam, so we teamed up. 2 Game Developers + 2 English Professors = 1 Game Jam Admin Team!
I also asked a guy from Dakota State how they run game jams, since he has run far bigger ones than this.  He had a lot of good advice We advertised as best we could, and had no clue how many people would show up.  It could have been five, it could have been thirty... Fortunately, we got a sweet number: 12 participants.
Surprisingly, none were above college age, and many were high school, or even younger.  There was an 8-year old in attendance. However, most of them weren't too social.  I followed some advice I had received, and mixed the people around with each other while they came up with ideas.
I'm not sure if it backfired or not: Everyone amalgamed into one GIANT group.
They also decided to use Unity.   So it began.  Thanks to Piskel, everyone could easily make pixel art.  One person found SFX, and a couple guys made music.   It's amazing how many web-based tools there are.  We showed these to our participants before getting started: https://soundation.com  - Make music  http://piskelapp.com  - Make pixel art http://twinery.org  - Make text and HTML adventure games https://ledoux.itch.io/bitsy  - Make games where you walk around, talk to people https://freesound.org  - Search THOUSANDS of free SFX However, programmers were short.  One was experienced, and could only stay for half the project.  Another 2 were low experience. In the end, one of them took on a team management role.  With 12 people, team management is a full-time role! To pull it all together, I ended up programming about half of the game. We had more art than we could use, and it all came together in 18 hours.  The final product is playable in-browser:  https://mugameguild.itch.io/60-second-hero Before getting sucked into the main jam team, I also pitched to our admins that the four of us make a simple game.  I tapped them for art and writing, and them implemented it in ~3-4 hours with a dialogue system I had already made:
https://mugameguild.itch.io/game-jam-admin-2018   One weekend, two games.  Monday was a showcase day, so that anyone interested could see the final product.  There are five endings depending on what items you collect in the game, and people enjoyed trying to find all five Overall: SUCCESS.   (Not how I expected, but it worked) Experience Points: Never underestimate the time overhead when you coordinate multiple people.  Working in a team is not like working alone, and it's easy to end up with duplicate work and "idle villagers." ALWAYS have a sign-up or registration, even if it's not required.  It takes a LOT of guesswork out of planning. You can never have too much non-perishable food.  Or pizza. Instead of reinventing the wheel, talk to people who have done it before. Pizza Be flexible and run your event based on who comes.  Having 3-person teams working in Unity when nobody has used Unity makes no sense. ANY GAME JAM: Only try to make a game that you know you can pull off.  If you don't know  how to do it, you probably can't do it well in a day. Choose your team wisely, LIMIT THAT SCOPE If you have two days, get a working prototype after ONE day.  That way, you have a whole day to make it fun. This is just a game.  Seriously, take care of yourself, exercise, go to church, etc., no game jam is worth your health.   Peace!
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