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RTS: Global Versus Local Resource Caches

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Contemporary RTS games use the global paradigm, where all harvested resources go into a global pool from which all construction needs are drawn. But why don't any games use a local paradigm, where you have to transport the resources from where they are harvested to where they are needed? The gameplay options this could open up would more than outweigh any added tedium, I would think. Consider... You need to construct a barracks (which requires wood) so you have your peasants go chop down some lumber. Instead of your global wood supply being incremented as each tree falls, one of two things happens: 1) the peasants haul the lumber back to the nearest storage type building (if one is in range), or 2) they pile the wood up where it fell. Your lumberjacks are busy chopping down trees so next you tell some other peasants to build a barracks. You choose a spot, they march over, and visually you see them building a "plot" for your building. This is the same as in other RTS games, where it might put down a 2x2 section of "roped off" land where the building will eventually be built. Instead of them all just hammering away at the plot until the structure slowly emerges, they each have to actually go fetch the wood needed to build it. This may mean that storage building you've made earlier where your lumberjacks are depositing your wood, or it may mean the piles of wood your lumberjacks are making in the woods nearby. If you build a plot and the peasants just stand around doing nothing, it may mean the nearest wood supply is located too far away (a setting you can change in the options menu - how far to go to fetch needed resources), or it may mean you don't have any wood. Audible clues would be useful here (e.g., "No wood nearby" or "No wood available"). If you selected the building plot it would tell you how much more wood is needed to complete construction, or it could even display the info in the on-screen space of the plot itself. Finally, if you opted to cancel the building the plot would disappear to be replaced by piles of the resources used to create the building that once occupied it, or if “Anal Realism Freak” mode was on (kudos to catch for the phrase – heh heh) the peasants would actually start unbuilding the plot. End result the same, either way. That’s a decent example for resources used for buildings, I suppose. What about food? Contemporary RTS games usually follow the Aych-Aych/Eff-Eff model of food resource gathering. Heh heh. Hunting and Harvesting, Fishing and Farming. How would that model be realized in a localized sense? Additionally, would transitioning to a localized paradigm require any other changes to the general use of food in an RTS game? I think so, since in most cases food is used to build units or provide a resource for upgrades, both of which lend themselves to a global cache type system. In a localized system, where food is actually stored somewhere on the map, it only makes sense that food is used to feed your units. What a novel concept! Consider… So now you’ve got a storage center and a barracks and your guys are like, really hungry. Obviously you don’t have time to plant some crops and harvest some wheat bites before your guys start eating each other, so what to do? Your scouts have spotted some nice berry bushes over yonder, and under yonder they’ve even discovered some game animals wandering aimlessly about, just waiting to be butchered. Grabbing some hungry peasants you send them into action. Harvested berries are brought back to the storage center, where they keep for a short while depending on the climate (with arid or arctic climates tending to preserve them longer – turning them into raisins or jaw breakers respectively) and/or preserving advancements. If no storage center is available then the berries are placed in baskets and left on the ground. The baskets could be transported wherever you wanted. Game animals could be harvested similarly, but the “shelf life” of harvested meat would be a lot shorter barring some sort of curing/preserving advancement (bring on the jerky, baby!) Either way, any hungry unit that happens by would then access the localized cache to satisfy its hunger requirements. Centralized placement of the storage building/harvested food would be important. As your units go about their routines, chopping wood, quarrying stone, building, etc., they get hungry. They eventually break their routine to go get food, and a little icon would display over their head indicating their hunger so you don’t think they just went AWOL. How long they work before they break can be set in the options menu, but the hungrier they get the less effective they become and again, if ARF mode is on they will eventually die. Also, obviously they wouldn’t break for food during combat or while performing other critical activities, and you could even have an ALT option where they won’t break for food (e.g., ALT+click when building means they won’t break for food until the building is done, etc.) Annoying? Yeah, to somebody who’s used to the absolute obedience in most “god games”. But I think you’d get used to it pretty fast. That leaves Fishing and Farming. To fish, the peasants would access either a coastal or offshore fishing site. They could then return the fish to a storage building or haul it ashore and place it in baskets. Same as above in that respect. Farming would be similar. The peasants would first clear some spots for planting seed. After planting the peasants would tend the spot(s) until harvest, whereupon the food would be, you guessed it, placed in baskets and either left on the ground or taken to the nearest storage building. And please don’t ask where the baskets come from, because ARF mode might kick in and you’d be required to manufacture your baskets in a Basket Building (but only after harvesting some raw materials). Heh heh. Speaking of ARF mode, your farmers could even be utilized for other activities after planting if the spots requiring tending were few. They would “remember” which spots needed tending, and similar to when they got hungry, would take breaks to go tend their spots before resuming their other tasks. And of course a farming icon would display over their heads so you wouldn’t think they’ve gone AWOL. So there you have it. Two examples of a localized resource system. The really cool gameplay options it opens up should be obvious. Say you’re transporting some food from one city with a surplus to another where the peasants are virtually starving because you accidentally ALT-clicked on everything. Heh. Your caravan gets ambushed by another player and your food confiscated. The saying “to the victor belong the spoils” takes on new meaning after your city gets sacked and your opponent now gets access to all of your gold, metal, stone, wood, food, etc., that you had so carefully stockpiled. If he was resource rich already he could simply choose to destroy the stockpiles, ensuring they were never recovered. Or you could muster your forces elsewhere and return to try and retake your hard earned goods. Also, no need to “share resources” with an ally since he could simply come and access any of your stored goods. Well, I would appreciate any comments on the above. Thanks in advance for anything you have to say! Take care.

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I believe the settlers series does the kind of think you are talking about, where the citizens have to transport the resources to the build site before building.

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This is exactly what the game Black and White does. Each village has it's own needs and resources. Since you play god in this game you can also transfer resources from one village to the other. You literally pick up the wheat or wood, move over to the other village and place it there.

This was implemented nicely in B&W, but it's not a fast pace RTS game like starcraft, warcraft, C&C, AOE, etc.. Doing this in games such as the aforementioned could become micromanagement hell.

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Quote:
Original post by OuncleJulien
This was implemented nicely in B&W, but it's not a fast pace RTS game like starcraft, warcraft, C&C, AOE, etc.. Doing this in games such as the aforementioned could become micromanagement hell.


Definitely true. However, I think you can probably get away with a sort of half way system, in which you set up some sort of distribution system to transfer your resources around. It could be simple enough to manage in a fast paced game, whilst still adding strategic depth to the game. (attacking and defending supply lines becomes important)

The majority of the transportation should be automatic and transparent to the player. However, it could make a significant difference to the gameplay. Imagine something like Age Of Empires, where the caches are essentially global, but rather than the resources magically appearing at the building site, they must be transported from the nearest supply hut by the builders.

Fast building therefore requires a nearby supply hut. The length of time it takes to build the thing may well depend on the amount of time builders spend going back and forth to collect materials, so building might be very slow a long way from your base, even if you commit a large number of peons to the task.

I think it's kind of odd that resource harvesting typically works this way, ie the speed of resource collection depends greatly on the peons' carrying capacity, speed and distance to the resource, but in almost all cases, base building is completely independent of material availability.

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As a follow up to this conversation I’d like to add that a few years ago I was toying with the ideal of incorporating the game play from a RTS and that of Transportation Tycoon (TT) (see Mixing Tycoon w/ RTS).

In TT you were the owner of a transportation company, creating roads, laying rail and building airports to move raw materials, passengers and goods around the map. As an example, my favorite thing to do was build a rail line from a iron ore mine to a steel mill where it would produce steel then you’d move the steel to a factory where goods were manufactured and you could further transport those goods to cities. It was a pretty sophisticated system and I think if you "dumbed it down" some it would make for a perfect method of supporting the play that has been suggested above.

I still think that the mixing of RTS and TT would be an awesome game… hmmm, someday I might actually get around to writing a design document... ;)

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Another game that did exactly this was the Settlers series. (only played the third, however).

In this, you had a certain number of settlers that you assigned to go gather resourses, then stockpile them, well, just about anywhere. When you wanted to build a building, they set out a perimeter marking, then sent runners to grab tools (God forbid if you didn't have a hammer or you'd be screwed). As I remember, first you needed shovels to dig the foundations, then hammers, and then they brought in the resources. Construction was halted (paused) if there were not enough resourses to complete it, and if you weren't careful, you would have buildings competing for wood.

Food, however, was a different matter. No settler ate, with the exception of the miners. The only purpose for food in the game was to feed the miners to mine minerals to make tools/gunpowder to get more stuff.

And the actual strategy aspect of the game was interesting as well. To expand your borders, you had to build towers, castles and such, then post a garrision inside. If you went on the offensive, you could not destroy buildings, but you instead sacked the governing forces in the towers, and then took control of the region. Granted, there was usually a good sized garrision, esp in the castles, but it could be done.

The great part was that you had archers and swordsmen hiding in your keep, and the opposing forces first had to break down the door. Then, your close-range fighters did battle, while your archers continued raining fire from the rooftop/crenellations. Pretty cool stuff. And then you had siege equipment which pretty much did nothing but weaken the door. Oh well.

Settlers was an awesome game, but is now dated :(

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Quote:
Original post by Sandman
Fast building therefore requires a nearby supply hut. The length of time it takes to build the thing may well depend on the amount of time builders spend going back and forth to collect materials, so building might be very slow a long way from your base, even if you commit a large number of peons to the task.

Unless you plan to add a large part of the infrastructure - resource extraction & transportation, secondary refining & transportation, materials assembly, etc - there's really no significant difference between this and doubling the disallowed-radius of the path from the resource to the supply cache and rebalance building costs. Sure, it looks nicer, but it's just one more farm you have to build in the long run.

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Quote:
Original post by liquiddark
Unless you plan to add a large part of the infrastructure - resource extraction & transportation, secondary refining & transportation, materials assembly, etc - there's really no significant difference between this and doubling the disallowed-radius of the path from the resource to the supply cache and rebalance building costs. Sure, it looks nicer, but it's just one more farm you have to build in the long run.


Yes there is. Changing the minimum distance between the resource and the supply cache only effects the resource collection rate. Changing the building costs is merely a flat change.

With the suggestion I was making, a building takes a different amount of time to build depending on how far away it is to the nearest supply building. That does of course, include the supply buildings themselves, so bases will tend to grow gradually rather than appear haphazardly across the map. Of course, you can still build a large distance away, but you'll need to increase your peon count in order to do so - and those peons will need to be protected along their whole route, not just at the building site. Of course, the resource cost of the supply buildings would need careful balancing: too low and it becomes pointless, too high and you make expansion too difficult.

Ideally, you'd also have transport between the supply buildings as well, and thus model the connectivity and supply chain more accurately. Again, I think this would have to be largely automatic, according to each supply building's supply and demand. Of course, then we're talking about local resource caching, but I think if it's simple enough and suitably automated, you could probably get away with it without slowing the pace of the game too much.

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As others have said, the Settlers series did this; though those games were more about building than killing.

In any *craft style game, it simply adds tedium. Further it does not add much gameplay options, as 'interfering with the supply chain' still involves sending attacking units to the harvesting area. Managing logistics distracts from the style of those games, which is fast paced and 'attack heavy'. Making the disruption of supply chains easier just makes players act more aggressively...

I don't know. My instincts say it's simply micromanagement in a genre that already has too much, but I'd prolly have to try it to make sure.

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Quote:
Original post by Telastyn
<SNIP>
I don't know. My instincts say it's simply micromanagement in a genre that already has too much, but I'd prolly have to try it to make sure.


Two things:
1) If the game mechanics are built such that the tediums is bearable or otherwise less intrusive to the gameplay it could work.
2) This could be the creation of another genre.

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Quote:
Original post by Sandman
With the suggestion I was making, a building takes a different amount of time to build depending on how far away it is to the nearest supply building

You seem to be assuming that players aren't going to optimize the location of these buildings, or that the designer isn't going to create a mass-carry unit. These are simple, obvious things that ARE going to happen. Once the build location is optimized, the change becomes flat. It may look like something else, but it is, in the final play scenario, still going to amount to the same thing.

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I don't mean to be tangential, but what about using supply lines directly instead of a cache system?

Is there a powerful gameplay abstraction available with direct manipulation of supply lines? I take my inspiration here from turn-based systems, many of which have a concept of being "out of supply", with consequences to the unit's fighting capability. The original Homeworld also used this to good effect when fighters had to return to supply/repair ships after a foray into battle to "restock".

However, I'm thinking more directly - what if instead of all this building, the player simply designates an actual line of supply, which is bandwidth-throttled but not necessarily capacity-limited (although there is no reason why there couldn't simply be a more or less simple resource limit to avoid stalemates), and all units are forced to grab directly from the closest supply point. Get rid of the mine altogether, but keep the resources in the game, and moreover they become localized as is being suggested here, without increasing the level of micromanagement required.

Ergo, the player can choose to dedicate a great deal of supply to their army or to their peons, and the affected units will be able to govern themselves accordingly.

Of course, the enemy then should be able to attack the line of supply directly, but I'll leave the start of that discussion for others.

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Even if gatherers automatically went to where a building is being constructed, it would be hell to build away from your base, where your stream of gatherers going to and from your new expansion will need to be gaurded the entire way. It would remove the expansion element from the game.

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It could be a good system but as sandman said automated supply routes are a must. Either by the playing placing waypoints to determine the route between supply depots or having the computer determine them. Of course then you need a simple way to for the player to assign which depots get what. One way you could do this would be to click on a supply depot and under each resource is two slide bars or buttons which you can use alter the export and import settings, but at the same time keeping it simple, such as having export > need + 50%. Which would export the resource only when you more then 150% of what the settlement needs. So if the settlement need 50 food per cycle, then it would export food when it had more 75 food. In this way you can seperate your resource camps from your miltary fronts.

Also key I think, would be a resource distrubtion map, in which a player can quickly and easily see what amount of each resource is where and what the consumption, production, import, and export of each resource is.

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Quote:
Original post by liquiddark
You seem to be assuming that players aren't going to optimize the location of these buildings, or that the designer isn't going to create a mass-carry unit. These are simple, obvious things that ARE going to happen. Once the build location is optimized, the change becomes flat. It may look like something else, but it is, in the final play scenario, still going to amount to the same thing.


I don't quite understand what you mean by 'once the build location is optimized'. Assuming you can't stack buildings on top of one another, there's no single 'optimum' location for all of your buildings. This would definitely have an effect on expansion, although whether it's a desirable effect is another matter...

Quote:
Original post by thedevdan
Even if gatherers automatically went to where a building is being constructed, it would be hell to build away from your base, where your stream of gatherers going to and from your new expansion will need to be gaurded the entire way. It would remove the expansion element from the game.


I don't think it would necessarily remove it, but it would force it to take a more incremental form - your base would tend to grow gradually rather than several bases springing up haphazardly across the map. The need to attack and defend the streams of builders going back and forth might add a strategic element to the game.

Quote:
Original post by liquiddark
However, I'm thinking more directly - what if instead of all this building, the player simply designates an actual line of supply, which is bandwidth-throttled but not necessarily capacity-limited (although there is no reason why there couldn't simply be a more or less simple resource limit to avoid stalemates), and all units are forced to grab directly from the closest supply point. Get rid of the mine altogether, but keep the resources in the game, and moreover they become localized as is being suggested here, without increasing the level of micromanagement required.

Ergo, the player can choose to dedicate a great deal of supply to their army or to their peons, and the affected units will be able to govern themselves accordingly.

Of course, the enemy then should be able to attack the line of supply directly, but I'll leave the start of that discussion for others.


So if I understand you correctly, each 'supply point' can maintain a certain number of units at a time. Supply lines confer the ability to transfer one supply point's maintenance to another supply point. In order to keep your forces in supply, they'd need to be distributed fairly evenly around your supply points, or you need very good connectivity to be able to concentrate them.

I quite like this, as it discourages amorphous masses of units - the more concentrated your units become, the more vulnerable they are to being crippled by a single attack on a supply point on the other side of the map...



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Sorry to be delayed in response, RL taking over my ability to form coherent thought lately.

Quote:
Original post by Sandman
I don't quite understand what you mean by 'once the build location is optimized'. Assuming you can't stack buildings on top of one another, there's no single 'optimum' location for all of your buildings. This would definitely have an effect on expansion, although whether it's a desirable effect is another matter...

My contention is that it wouldn't have much of an effect. I look to starcraft for my evidence - once the player has played a few games, they have an optimized base location with respect to minerals and gas, and they don't deviate from it. You could easily have had much the same effect without requiring peons to do the work, although of course there are elements of depth associated with the multi-role peons in and of themselves. All the same, I would contend that their effect on strategy and tactics is extremely limited, and a simple expandable-capacity line would be similar in its effect - again, as long as the player can extend the supply in the manner they choose, and as long as the supply line is vulnerable to direct assault and/or siege.

My belief is that the cost/benefit of adding another of these high-maintenance, low-impact lines of supply wouldn't be worth it without a significant amount of supporting material, as mentioned in my original post. This is one case where synergy is only achieved when the entire focus shifts well and truly to a whole new location in the possibility space.

Quote:
I don't think it would necessarily remove it, but it would force it to take a more incremental form - your base would tend to grow gradually rather than several bases springing up haphazardly across the map. The need to attack and defend the streams of builders going back and forth might add a strategic element to the game.

Or it would just add a required line of supply, which is how most RTSes actually handle the problem.


Quote:
So if I understand you correctly, each 'supply point' can maintain a certain number of units at a time. Supply lines confer the ability to transfer one supply point's maintenance to another supply point. In order to keep your forces in supply, they'd need to be distributed fairly evenly around your supply points, or you need very good connectivity to be able to concentrate them.
(...)
the more concentrated your units become, the more vulnerable they are to being crippled by a single attack on a supply point on the other side of the map...

That's exactly what I mean, yes.

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I'm creating something akin to a local and global resource system. I have it in the sense that goods are contained locally, must be transported to another group and then shipped off to another destination. At any link in the chain, it is vulnerable to attack. Also, I differentiate between resource types.

First off, I seperate Resources into two groups:
Raw- Naturally occurring resources that must be collected. One form of Raw goods are people themselves
Refined- Raw resources + Refineries = Refined goods. Think of this as turning oil into gas or plastic, or turning arable land into food and water systems to support the population. People (raw resource) + Training (Refinery) = Skilled Force. Skilled workforces are required to operate your armies and to maintain the infrastructure. Different units will require varying amounts and types of refined and raw resources to manufacture.

The concept of resources is pretty well understood by most players, but my Refineries probably are not. Refineries are not Manufacturing centers. Refineries produce intermediate goods which are in turn used by the Manufacturing centers to produce the end battle units. Why the multi-layered system? To introduce another vulnerability in the strategy chain. If you want to stop the supply of fuel to your opponent, you can either take out his oil wells (the raw resource) or you can take out his oil refineries. Ditto with stopping your opponent from manufacturing new things. Eliminate the refineries and the manufacturing plants don't have anything to work with and the troops won't have any ammo to fight with. Learning how to distribute your War Machine so that you don't put all your eggs in one basket is crucial.

Now, I also have a Distribution Network envision. All these raw materials, refined goods and final products need to get to one another (raw goods to refineries, refined goods to manufacturing centers, final goods to the front lines). Much like how networks work, you have an analogous component to the TCP layer (get the goods to the destination) and an IP layer (how does it know how to get there, and ensure that it does indeed get there). Being able to cut off the supply chain or otherwise interdict, harrass or otherwise screw up the logistics chain will be a beneficial strategic move.

Now, must of this stuff is abstracted out of the game and the player really simply makes some selections in a UI of the game. In my game, the scale is such that if you fought in a city, the city would take up the entire screen and then some (this is actually a serious technical problem I need to tackle...I've gotten some suggestions before on how to deal with the immense maps I'd have to use). What this means is that the distribution lines (or mediums as I call them) are selected and Transport Agent objects (a derived vehicle class) deliver the stream of goods from one place to the next. Most of this is done transparently. When you the player select that you request so many replacement units, a central Factory Manager recursively assesses what dependancies exist (what amount and types of refined goods does it need as well as what kind(s) of manufacturing centers actually build it) and calls the various class objects to do what they need to do to build these replacement forces. For example, if building a tank requires 5units of Steel, 3Units of Mechanical Engineering, and 2 Units of Skilled Crew, then calls to a Metal refinery, a Mechanical Engineering Center, and a Ground Vehicle School will be made.

But there now exists a seperate opportunity to indirectly or directly attack the manufacturing and/or supply chain to affect the availability of reinforcements, replacements or necessary goods to the front lines. So in essence there are several vulnerability points (Raw Resources -> Refineries -> Manufacturing Centers -> Distribution Hubs -> Front Lines) with each point storing its work locally within itself, and then transporting its good via the Distribution Network to the other class objects. In a way, it's sort of a fancy callback system, but you have the chance to intercept the "events" or "messages" that are occurring between the class objects.

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First up, I've seen systems approaching the kind of system you desire in a game called "Alien Nations" (cutesy graphic RTS) - not only did they have to transport materials to a store, they then had to take materials from it to use for other purposes. They also had intermediate-stage goods, which were made from smaller goods and needed themselves to be made into other goods for actual use.

And yes, "Black & White", though not an RTS, required goods to be delivered to construction sites - villagers did this, but you could lend a helping-hand of god.

Also, I believe there was a game with a name like "Three Kingdoms: Fate of the Dragon", an RTS game similar with elements from the Age of Empires series, in which units outside of their own city needed a supply camp to resture their strength, which detiorated gradually outside of their home city.

Some people like fast, action-based strategy games where at most you have to collect a few resources (providing vulnerable supply lines) and don't much bother after that. I guess the rest of the carrying is done by unskilled members of society.

Still, there are some people who like in-depth, detailed systems, and I imagine they would find a game like hard to put down... I know I'd be interested in it. (I fall into both camps, depending on my mood...)

Somebody mentioned that expantion becomes a problem if supply lines are weak, but if you implemented a system in which the majority of the supply took place first, followed by a whole construction phase, you could make it harder for your enemy to find an opportunity to attack you (of course, this would depend on the skill of the player to organise). It would also be nice to be able to chop down a forest and use the wood right there, without having to take it back to a store miles away before use. I believe this is where those baskets had their uses.

What would be nice is if unguarded baskets could be stolen or destroyed by other players.

And somebody mentioned needing hammers in Settlers? Please, god, tell me he was kidding! Actually, in all honesty I see that this concept could be taken really far - the baskets, hammers, saws and the like all need to be produced (or traded for) before they can be used :) Hell, not having a basket could severely restrict a unit's carrying capacity, whilst pack-horses would be an improvement on the normal.

Hell, if you do build a more advanced system than is typically found, I imagine some people will start questioning this :p

I for one would like to see a game that went into this kind of depth. Perhaps one of the biggest enhancements I would like to see, in fact, is the inclusion of ammo limits and the necessity of resupplying. This allows more effort in seiges - both for the seiger and the beseiged. It might be possible to have ammo trucks that deliver ammo to untis near the front, which can be ambushed and destroyed or captured, leaving the alternative that units must return to base to resupply...

Some interesting ideas in this thread, definitely :)

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