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How to Improve Group-Tank Dynamic in Fantasy MMORPG

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Since my first experiences with Everquest 1's class system, my first class based game played, I have come to experience the class archetype, the tank. It was as simple as the heaviest armored fellow, generally a member of the Warrior class, doing his best to keep the attention of mobs with his Taunt ability, among others, and receive the brunt of the damage. This is what one player does as the rest of the players in the group attack the monster and keep the tank healed.

What are the ways to improve upon this without overly complicating the system?

My thought of the moment: Using generic archetypes, look at the tank and the melee DPS. What if the tank wasn't the one best equipped to taunt the aggression of monsters, but the melee DPS was? Sure, a tank can have some taunts, but it would be more optimal for control to have the melee DPS taunt, and be protected by the tank, thus splitting the responsibility upon two separate players for maximum efficiency. Having a tank do all of the work still would function, but you could unload more damage consistently if you had a melee DPS outputting maximum taunt efficiency. This would promote the addition for a sometimes left out class to be more useful in group combat. You can't tank, but you make things safer, and in the end, easier; As long as the tank still tanks the damage!

Does that really change the system though? Better or worse? Thoughts on how to improve it?

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I've actually been wondering lately on how to improve the realism of this scenario. Having also played EQ, I'll say that it feels extremely artificial in this respect (as does every other MMO that uses a similar dynamic, such as WoW). Basically, I can't really imagine a reason why an NPC would continue to beat on the hardest to kill player when they could target the one healing or doing all the damage (especially in EQ, since in the end game anyone but tanks die extremely quickly if they get the attention of the enemy). Surely they would be able to recognize this would get them further. Mindless constructs aside, any half brained person would do exactly that.

The most realistic way to handle the situation in my opinion is to eliminate the roles altogether. Each player would then be expected to be able to survive on their own, and would have to balance their ability to take damage, deal damage and heal damage. Of course, in real life, no one could wave their hand and make someone all better from taking 13 axe strikes to the face, so it's arguable how things might have been different if that was possible in reality.

If you remove the combat healer altogether, I think that solves a lot of the problems. In EQ for example, the fact that a cleric could heal so well (especially at higher levels when they could chain complete heal) meant that they had to make NPCs much harder to kill and do much more damage. Otherwise there would be no challenge. On the other hand, when they did this, they made it almost impossible to tank as a wizard, since they would get killed in a couple of combat rounds (not enough time for the heal to even land).

By doing away with combat healing in the first place, you don't have to tune NPCs like this. You can make them about as tough as the players and do similar damage. This way, the game encourages you to use tactics or outnumber enemies to win, not just heal through the damage. Which is realistic, and probably speeds up gameplay to boot.

So, then what would you do about the DPS / survivability aspects of things? I'd say that in reality, anyone who expected to get into a melee fight wore as much armor as he could afford and carry (pending factors such as having to march for hours in it, or fight for protracted periods). Thus, I don't think it's unrealistic to encourage all players to maximize both offense and defense in this system. A player who opts for a shield over a great sword will be able to defend better and would deal less damage per hit, but the two can be tuned so as to not force some player to take a shield. You can parry with a two handed weapon, after all. Players who like to snipe with bows or sneak around might have benefits for not wearing heavy armor (such as making it harder to hide in it or get into position without getting seen). This wouldn't be unlike the solution you offer: all of the melee contribute to the goal of taking damage.

That's all based around a classless system in my mind. Adapting it to classes wouldn't be all that difficult really. I'd just segregate it into archers, melee, some sort of rogue like archetype and maybe wizards (if you want magic, which I presume you do). Melee is expected to survive fighting and deal as much damage as possible. Archers are expected to deal damage without getting in range to get hit: NPCs are likely to care more about who's pounding on them right in their face than trying to figure out where the arrows are coming from. Rogues would ambush enemies, maybe set up traps, poison them, but in general doing things other than standing behind an oblivious NPC stabbing it in the back. Wizards would be like archers except with magic, out of combat healing is optional, maybe everyone automatically heals outside of combat.

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Classes can be just as varied as a classless system, much more easily balanced, and actually increase versatility and variability between individuals. I used to be a major proponent of class free systems, for many of the same reasons you mentioned, but after a number of years doing research and experimenting in various environments, I find well designed classes to vastly outperform classless systems. Essentially, classless systems have an inevitable tendency to produce tank-mages (to steal some terminology from a post mortem for Ultima Online I can't seem to find at the moment...) or some other such hyper optimized mold that players either follow (and "win") or don't and always take second place in everything. Well defined classes help establish roles which maximize the need for cooperation between players. Classless systems are ideal for single player games, but drastically reduce player interdependency.

But you may notice that I've been very careful to say "well defined classes" and not just classes. I'll say right now that in my personal opinion, most class systems suck terribly and kill any desire I might have otherwise had to participate in any mmorpg with such classes. Compare the "standard" class systems that determine your stats based on class (almost any MMORPG in existence falls into this, with rare exception) to class systems like Ragnarok Online's, wherein stats are individually selected (with absolutely negligible impact from class) and have a large impact on the nature of the character. In that game, a Priest can focus on agility/luck/strength to become a hard-to-hit critical spewing machine, intelligence/dexterity to become a powerhouse of seemingly bottomless supportive capacity or choose a different skill path to become the bane of all undead/demons or a third path to become a massive holy magic dps dealer, vitality/intelligence to become an unkillable "soft-tank" and more. And that's just one class. The classes do not limit players to choosing cookie cutter formats because the class only determines available skills, and the skills vary in type rather than lending themselves to the standard "healers heal, fighters fight, ect." The players still fill distinct roles, but are able to do so with high variability.

What I mean by all this is for you to look at the whole picture. Don't define characters by class, but at the same time, don't generate "infinite" options, because "infinite" tends to yield exactly one. Or exactly four, if a mage-nuke, tank, phsyical dps, and healer are required in conjunction for success. Defining characters by stats+skills/spells (skills being the only thing influenced by class) with stats yielding the greatest influence (check out how Ragnarok Online's stat system works for a great example), while also generating classes that can serve in multiple functions (but not all at once) will yield a far more interesting and dynamic system. And one that you can more feasibly balance without massive player dissatisfaction, since tweaking the capacity of one class to match another in a role is much easier than nerfing every optimal tank-mage build that roles up after every patch and generally less frowned upon.

Good luck!

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Classes can be just as varied as a classless system, much more easily balanced, and actually increase versatility and variability between individuals. I used to be a major proponent of class free systems, for many of the same reasons you mentioned, but after a number of years doing research and experimenting in various environments, I find well designed classes to vastly outperform classless systems. Essentially, classless systems have an inevitable tendency to produce tank-mages (to steal some terminology from a post mortem for Ultima Online I can't seem to find at the moment...) or some other such hyper optimized mold that players either follow (and "win") or don't and always take second place in everything. Well defined classes help establish roles which maximize the need for cooperation between players. Classless systems are ideal for single player games, but drastically reduce player interdependency.

But you may notice that I've been very careful to say "well defined classes" and not just classes. I'll say right now that in my personal opinion, most class systems suck terribly and kill any desire I might have otherwise had to participate in any mmorpg with such classes. Compare the "standard" class systems that determine your stats based on class (almost any MMORPG in existence falls into this, with rare exception) to class systems like Ragnarok Online's, wherein stats are individually selected (with absolutely negligible impact from class) and have a large impact on the nature of the character. In that game, a Priest can focus on agility/luck/strength to become a hard-to-hit critical spewing machine, intelligence/dexterity to become a powerhouse of seemingly bottomless supportive capacity or choose a different skill path to become the bane of all undead/demons or a third path to become a massive holy magic dps dealer, vitality/intelligence to become an unkillable "soft-tank" and more. And that's just one class. The classes do not limit players to choosing cookie cutter formats because the class only determines available skills, and the skills vary in type rather than lending themselves to the standard "healers heal, fighters fight, ect." The players still fill distinct roles, but are able to do so with high variability.

What I mean by all this is for you to look at the whole picture. Don't define characters by class, but at the same time, don't generate "infinite" options, because "infinite" tends to yield exactly one. Or exactly four, if a mage-nuke, tank, phsyical dps, and healer are required in conjunction for success. Defining characters by stats+skills/spells (skills being the only thing influenced by class) with stats yielding the greatest influence (check out how Ragnarok Online's stat system works for a great example), while also generating classes that can serve in multiple functions (but not all at once) will yield a far more interesting and dynamic system. And one that you can more feasibly balance without massive player dissatisfaction, since tweaking the capacity of one class to match another in a role is much easier than nerfing every optimal tank-mage build that roles up after every patch and generally less frowned upon.

Good luck!


But what about the combat itself? I, for the time being, agree that for a Fantasy MMORPG, specifically with RVR areas like DAoC, is best served by using a class system.

Currently I am working on how to make each class valuable to a group without making them a necessity. I don't want people to say "We don't have this, we can't go". I also want to provide multiple ways to play the same class, but it isn't overly easy with "melee dps" classes in the mix as it is hard to make several unique ways to play when you have one in each realm. I feel their true customization will come from weapon selection as the plan is to have weapons/class combo determine abilities available and thus providing options dependent on weapon type choice. This is for melee characters specifically, other classes that don't rely on melee will have several options to play with outside of weapon selection.

Now, would it be possible to make this melee DPS class just a specialization of another class? Sure, but I think it would end up cutting down on the options available/add more balance issues. I want to provide a few classes that don't rely on magic/fantastical abilities to compete. Also, I think the idea of a Jaguar Warrior that can transform into a Were-Jaguar is something I don't want to remove =0.

This thread is primarily about the mechanics of combat itself. It would certainly be more realistic to have monsters attack whomever they see fit, but to change a system so much from what people are used to may be a turn off. People don't necessarily want random attack patterns to be the "fix", at least not me. I feel that certain encounters a random attack monster wouldn't be totally impossible, but to remove the capability to maintain a mobs focus will be too big of a change and may lead to less than fun combat.

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Fair enough points about classes being easier to balance. I agree there, it is quite difficult to balance a classless system because developers tend to not realize how certain combinations will work in game and they get abused. I still like the freedom, but I'll drop the point in favor of the discussion at hand. :)

I still contend that it isn't really necessary to have a tank role at all. You don't have to have monsters attacking randomly, that's not realistic either. What I would propose is that monsters follow a more reasonable attack pattern, weighing the following things, depending on the monster's intelligence:

Whether they can see the attacker
Distance to attacker
Damage done by the attacker
Positioning of the attacker

To sum it up, you can't just shout profanity at a monster and expect him to forget that your buddy just shot him in the eye with an arrow and start hitting you instead.

A non sapient monster (such as a predatory animal like a wolf or a bear) would probably just weigh things depending on who they can see, who is closest and if that person has attacked them yet. It's fairly simple to program this, and not unreasonable. These monsters probably won't even notice a ranger shooting at them if they're busy fighting in melee. A player might still try to be a tank by attacking a wolf and putting themself between it and who they are trying to save, but non sapient monsters probably don't care you're taunting them (they don't understand it anyway).

A sapient monster (such as people, demons or orcs) would instead care a lot more about strategy. You'll never be able to mimic human intelligence in game on any sort of scale, so a similar setup is probably still reasonable. They should recognize that they're being shot at by rangers for example, and might try to take cover. Tanks might be able to distract an opponent by taunting them, but I never liked the idea that they could just force the enemy to attack them instead.

That setup strongly encourages tactical positioning and teamwork, and would distribute damage among all of the melee characters. Tanks would still be useful if you really want this archetype. Against non sapients, their armor would be very effective against their foe's claws and teeth (against mundane animals anyway). Against sapients they might be able to distract enemies by taunting them or having other abilities to annoy them into missing their foe more often, or things like that.

If you want a more traditional system where everybody forms up in a circle around the enemy and takes turns whacking away at it for a minute until it keels over, then the last few lines are probably all you really care about. If you want to make tanks optional for regular groups (and / or want people to be able to solo), then melee who aren't tanks are going to have to be able to survive being hit. Why not make the difference smallish between melee DPS and tanks? Tanks have 20% more defense, DPS do 20% more damage. That way a group of all tanks would survive just about anything but kill a little slower, where a group of all DPS can kill quickly but have to be careful not to get outnumbered.

Whether you want groups without tanks to take on "named" and tougher monsters is up to you. I don't see this as a problem really, as long as you give them an option to take them out by using strategy to get around the fact that they don't have anyone to take the beatings like a man.

Raids, if you have any should likely require tanks, but that's a whole new ballgame. :)

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The small difference between Tanks and DPS in damage and survivability is what D&D 4e did and it allows you to run without tanks if you wish. The combat system is built on secondary effects instead of matching incoming damage with incoming healing. What this means is the classes differentiate by their ability to alter the combat in their favor and not by their ability to deal tons of damage or absorb tons of it. They still have damage classes, but they require specific circumstances to deal their extra damage.

What tanks can do is they can place marks on enemies which will make it harder to hit their allies and potentially have a damaging effect if they hit. It's up to the enemies to figure out if they want to attack the armored guy with 2~3 more AC than the norm or the other guy and risk retribution. Whether the enemy hits the tank or the squishy, they both get hurt equally since armor does not mitigate damage. This means the survivability of the group does not depend on the enemies bashing on the tank, but it can help. Enemies could never target the tank and the tank would still be able to do his job because it is protecting allies, not soaking up tons of damage for others.

You can translate this into MMORPG by allowing the tank to place some debuffs on enemies which gives them penalties when they hit allies or buffs on allies. For example, DAoC had the protect system where a tank with a shield could block attacks directed at an ally. Also, I think a lot of defender-type classes in City of Heroes worked that way by making it hard to hit allies instead of providing healing. You could then get rid of the whole taunt mechanism and instead rely on players actively targeting key enemies to protect their allies.

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Why not make the difference smallish between melee DPS and tanks? Tanks have 20% more defense, DPS do 20% more damage[/quote]

Because the aim isn't to make things easier for the different classes - it's to make it different. Without different experiences why would anyone play numerous different alts and where would the longevity of the game be then? An MMO should IMO be the ultimate in replayability and many MMOs recognize this, adding new playable classes or power sets which require the player to start a new toon. Too many MMOs just keep trying to add more stuff to do once your toon has reached the maximum level and that can be problematic if your toon is not still significantly improving at that point because the motivation drops out of it. Even City of Heroes is taking a new approach to this, not just adding new top level content, but as a route to new powers. I say "Even" because I doubt there is any MMO which provides more motivation to make many different toons. SWTOR is going a step beyond, making a lot of the content different for the individual classes. The biggest failing in Rift is the ability to have just 4 toons and change their setup for different challenges. It's different gameplay style once you've changed, but you didn't earn it or experience leveling up with it. You probably leveled up with some setup that suits your playing style, rather than having to stretch yourself. This reminds me of when you find people asking to be PLed (power leveled). It's often because they want to be able to team with their higher level friends, which I understand, but shouldn't the game just support teaming with different levels rather than create an environment where players basically skip the entire development experience of their character? The irony is that they then often end up looking for more high level content - there's more content, but they skipped it. I know it seems like I've rambled a long way off topic, but the core point is still the same, we play these games for the experiences, so making any two characters too similar diminishes the game.

as long as you give them an option to take them out by using strategy to get around the fact that they don't have anyone to take the beatings like a man[/quote]

You don't need to give them an option. There's always one - someone switches to a tank. It's the nature of many games that some targets are going to need at least some thought about team structure before you start. If that wasn't the case the targets probably wouldn't be tough enough to be a real challenge. This is ameliorated to a certain degree if the tendency is to bring a full team to such targets where a full team is 8 or so. I've seldom seen a team of 8 without someone having brought something that can either tank or debuff the tough target sufficiently or buff the team enough to compensate (but then that's City where buffs and debuffs abound).

but I never liked the idea that they could just force the enemy to attack them instead[/quote]

In some MMOs the tank doesn't force aggro upon himself, instead the tank uses a power that reduces the damage against other targets. Don't ask me why that's meant to work.

However to defend the aggro model of tanking, even in real life it would be difficult to believe and thus compensate for the fact that the big intimidating guy in armor who's getting in your face can barely move, much less swing his sword fast enough to actually hit you, so the archer that's about to fire an arrow that could go right through that armor and yours and the armor of the guy behind you would probably not get the attention he deserves. I'm not saying it's logical, but it is human nature. However, that's not to say that any game designer shouldn't include a few races that will understand the logic of the situation or maybe just hate the arrows/mages, making them more difficult to taunt.

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The small difference between Tanks and DPS in damage and survivability is what D&D 4e did and it allows you to run without tanks if you wish. The combat system is built on secondary effects instead of matching incoming damage with incoming healing. What this means is the classes differentiate by their ability to alter the combat in their favor and not by their ability to deal tons of damage or absorb tons of it. They still have damage classes, but they require specific circumstances to deal their extra damage.

What tanks can do is they can place marks on enemies which will make it harder to hit their allies and potentially have a damaging effect if they hit. It's up to the enemies to figure out if they want to attack the armored guy with 2~3 more AC than the norm or the other guy and risk retribution. Whether the enemy hits the tank or the squishy, they both get hurt equally since armor does not mitigate damage. This means the survivability of the group does not depend on the enemies bashing on the tank, but it can help. Enemies could never target the tank and the tank would still be able to do his job because it is protecting allies, not soaking up tons of damage for others.

You can translate this into MMORPG by allowing the tank to place some debuffs on enemies which gives them penalties when they hit allies or buffs on allies. For example, DAoC had the protect system where a tank with a shield could block attacks directed at an ally. Also, I think a lot of defender-type classes in City of Heroes worked that way by making it hard to hit allies instead of providing healing. You could then get rid of the whole taunt mechanism and instead rely on players actively targeting key enemies to protect their allies.


This is pretty much what I was getting at, but I didn't thoroughly describe/delve into it enough. The "tank" is a class with heavier defenses that will protect the players as they draw aggro. The system I was feebly attempting to describe would be that the melee DPS archetype would be the highest threat generator, also the closest to the monster, thus the logical person to attack in most instances. Then the tank would "protect" the melee DPS to keep the melee DPS from being ground to a pulp. If a caster or healer draws to much attention, rather than the tank using a taunt ability, it would have to rush to protect the new friendly target.

I also have it in mind that certain classes, a tank in particular, would have an aura of defense by standing near them. This aura could stack, to a certain maximum cap, so that multiple tanks together, particularly in PVP combat, would be better defended and promote the use of "tank walls", that games struggle to successfully implement. These tanks could also then "protect" each other, resulting in even more sturdy defenses.

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The small difference between Tanks and DPS in damage and survivability is what D&D 4e did and it allows you to run without tanks if you wish.
4e... in my not so humble opinion on this particular topic, not the best example to follow. But that's coming from a die hard 3.5e fan, so perhaps you should take that with a grain of salt.

What tanks can do is they can place marks on enemies which will make it harder to hit their allies and potentially have a damaging effect if they hit. It's up to the enemies to figure out if they want to attack the armored guy with 2~3 more AC than the norm or the other guy and risk retribution. Whether the enemy hits the tank or the squishy, they both get hurt equally since armor does not mitigate damage. This means the survivability of the group does not depend on the enemies bashing on the tank, but it can help. Enemies could never target the tank and the tank would still be able to do his job because it is protecting allies, not soaking up tons of damage for others.[/quote]Certainly an interesting design philosophy, but does this eliminate the need for the tank at all, or merely change the role of the tank from direct damage absorber to damage mitigator?


Because the aim isn't to make things easier for the different classes - it's to make it different. Without different experiences why would anyone play numerous different alts and where would the longevity of the game be then?
Be very, very careful with this manner of thinking. Different is not always and not often desirable. And it seems to me that people play alts because most games are designed to make alts better to have and play than otherwise. If you skip back to my post about needing 4 archetypes, what you get is each player having 2 or 3 of those as "alts" so that when a group of friends shows up with a mage-nuke and a healer, you can grab your tank alt and have a "full party." When the next quest rolls up with some element that makes mage-nukers undesirable, that player then swaps to his physical-DPSer. Players will almost always seek to optimize (and you really can't entice them not to), and the standard format for games actually encourages this type of role swapping tremendously. If that is what you as a designer desire, then that's great. Not so great if you desired otherwise. Personally, as a designer and a game player, I prefer a "stick to one character" mentality.
Attempting to eliminate roles or de-emphasize them will only result in your standard 4 man party being reduced to a 3 man. Less player cooperation would be required (since there's one less dedicated role), and less interaction would be required (you need less friends to make it work). Admittedly, I hated Dungeons and Dragons Online's need for certain archetypes, because I always had to walk up to strangers and invite them into a party if my friends weren't online. I hated it then, but in retrospect it's quite interesting that the need for roles actually forced a player into branching out and networking. I made many friends that way that I would never have considered doing if I hadn't needed to party and cooperate with them. If you as a designer want a multiplayer game, why are you reducing the need for interactivity between players? I personally feel that the standard 4 man should be expanded, not reduced. But that's my opinion.

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[quote name='Tiblanc' timestamp='1313422320' post='4849417']
The small difference between Tanks and DPS in damage and survivability is what D&D 4e did and it allows you to run without tanks if you wish.
4e... in my not so humble opinion on this particular topic, not the best example to follow. But that's coming from a die hard 3.5e fan, so perhaps you should take that with a grain of salt.

What tanks can do is they can place marks on enemies which will make it harder to hit their allies and potentially have a damaging effect if they hit. It's up to the enemies to figure out if they want to attack the armored guy with 2~3 more AC than the norm or the other guy and risk retribution. Whether the enemy hits the tank or the squishy, they both get hurt equally since armor does not mitigate damage. This means the survivability of the group does not depend on the enemies bashing on the tank, but it can help. Enemies could never target the tank and the tank would still be able to do his job because it is protecting allies, not soaking up tons of damage for others.[/quote]Certainly an interesting design philosophy, but does this eliminate the need for the tank at all, or merely change the role of the tank from direct damage absorber to damage mitigator?


Because the aim isn't to make things easier for the different classes - it's to make it different. Without different experiences why would anyone play numerous different alts and where would the longevity of the game be then?
Be very, very careful with this manner of thinking. Different is not always and not often desirable. And it seems to me that people play alts because most games are designed to make alts better to have and play than otherwise. If you skip back to my post about needing 4 archetypes, what you get is each player having 2 or 3 of those as "alts" so that when a group of friends shows up with a mage-nuke and a healer, you can grab your tank alt and have a "full party." When the next quest rolls up with some element that makes mage-nukers undesirable, that player then swaps to his physical-DPSer. Players will almost always seek to optimize (and you really can't entice them not to), and the standard format for games actually encourages this type of role swapping tremendously. If that is what you as a designer desire, then that's great. Not so great if you desired otherwise. Personally, as a designer and a game player, I prefer a "stick to one character" mentality.
Attempting to eliminate roles or de-emphasize them will only result in your standard 4 man party being reduced to a 3 man. Less player cooperation would be required (since there's one less dedicated role), and less interaction would be required (you need less friends to make it work). Admittedly, I hated Dungeons and Dragons Online's need for certain archetypes, because I always had to walk up to strangers and invite them into a party if my friends weren't online. I hated it then, but in retrospect it's quite interesting that the need for roles actually forced a player into branching out and networking. I made many friends that way that I would never have considered doing if I hadn't needed to party and cooperate with them. If you as a designer want a multiplayer game, why are you reducing the need for interactivity between players? I personally feel that the standard 4 man should be expanded, not reduced. But that's my opinion.
[/quote]

I guess what I was attempting to do is to make it more teamwork oriented rather than just having a tank do all of the taunting/absorbing by themselves.

It has been so long since I played Dark Age of Camelot that I was misusing some lingo. What I meant by "protect" would be more akin to the Guard ability tanks received, or even Intercept. They may be able to have some threat reducing abilities to help their threat generating buddies out, but I was going for the jumping in and absorbing/blocking the damage intended for another target.

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