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Foreword: Why Blizzard Does Care What We Think
Historically, Blizzard built their reputation on 2 things:
1)Creating some of the most memorable, finely crafted, masterful titles in video game history. Their dedication is evident in every aspect of each one of their titles.
2)Committing wholeheartedly to serving customers, listening to feedback, addressing issues, patching flaws and introducing changes long after release
I believe that Blizzard holds true to their reputation in at least some capacity. Responses from Blizzard employees in the past, as well as the post from CEO Mike Morhaime have indicated the level of respect that they have for their player base. Recent and coming changes indicate to me that Blizzard remains true to its core philosophy of “customer first” as much as it is capable of.
Many posters have stated that “Blizzard doesn't care what we think” or “They already have our money” but I think these types of statements are unfounded. All companies exist to make money; if they didn't make any money they wouldn't exist. No company continues its existence by driving away its customer base. Blizzard did manage to sell millions of copies of Diablo 3, but 4 other sources of revenue must be taken into consideration:
1) Sequels (for all Blizzard franchises)
Sustainable Micro-Transactions, I believe, were Blizzard's biggest predicted source of long-term revenue generated from this game. They would have anticipated that most sales of the game would take place up front, followed by a steady stream of revenue generated by the RMAH. This revenue would support D3's vast infrastructure and, if successful, generate additional profit for the company as a whole.
As the player-base for Diablo 3 declines, the predicted RMAH revenue vanishes. Diablo 3 no longer generates the money it would have. The large, online-only infrastructure of servers will no longer support itself: it will become a burden on company resources after a period of time.
A secondary side-effect of collateral damage takes further toll on Blizzard's revenue, as long-time fans may boycott other franchises. This reduces sales of expansions and sequels to not only Diablo 3, but all Blizzard games. Subscriptions for WoW, as well as planned subscriptions for future games will also suffer as a result of bad will generated by unsatisfied players. As a general rule, most fans of one Blizzard franchise tend to play their other games as well.
The success or failure of Diablo 3 in the long term will have a huge impact on the company as a whole. Whether or not fans agree that Blizzard still cares about their customers (I believe they do), Blizzard cares about the success of their company.
They are listening to us.
Day in and day out we all see the same things posted on the forums. I'd include myself in the list of forum-dwellers on here ranting and raving about basically the same topic every day. I began to question myself after a while. “Why?” Why did I feel this way about this game? What is it that made my gameplay experience so disappointing? I found my attention was focused on 3 main topics that were the largest detractors to my experience. I will attempt to deconstruct and delve into the core mechanics that really shape the game – in my opinion – for the worse.
The 3 main issues I feel that give players like myself the most grief (minor issues aside):
1)Backwards Progress in Game Development
3)Itemization and Customization
TL;DR Mode Engaged. Scroll to the bottom for the vastly abbreviated version.
Backwards Progress in Game Development
Many players like myself had a tremendous level of expectation walking into Diablo 3. When I talk about Diablo 2 to my friends, I might as well be talking in Chinese, but I try to make clear my dedication when talking about these kinds of things IRL. I once told a friend at work that I had played Diablo 2 for more hours than every other video game I have ever played, combined. I checked into the D3 webpage weekly until release. I looked at the new classes, the gameplay footage, the concept art. Everything. For 4 years. In some ways, maybe it was impossible for D3 to live up to the hype.
I remember when the infamous rainbow in the Southern Highlands popped up in a screenshot, and the community lit up with rage. “We don't want no kiddie WoW graphics in our Diablo!” “Give us pentagrams, buckets of blood, bodies on pikes, no effin rainbows!” This was the first indication that the development of the game was moving in the opposite direction of what the players wanted.
I shrugged off most of these initial complaints. “They were just graphics,” I thought, “It's still a Diablo game at it's core.”
Now fast-forward to today, it seems our concerns about the game were well-founded. Diablo would borrow more than just visual design from WoW. The music, the graphics, the artwork, the characters, the story. Everything was out of place. None of it FELT like a Diablo game. Where was the darkness? Where was the gothic feel? Where was the gore? Diablo 2 opened in an insane asylum with a cacophony of screams that filled the air with darkness and despair. Diablo 3 opened with a meteor shower and one of the most contrived cinematic conventions of all time: Leah reaches feebly into the pit, shouting “UNCLLLLLLLLLLE!” And players are left scratching their heads. Who is this chick, anyways? Deckard Cain had a niece this whole time who he loved like a daughter yet never mentioned even once? And didn't I already see this on the website like a year ago? Didn't they come up with any new cinematics?
This was before the gameplay mechanics are even taken into consideration. As I played through the game, it became increasingly more apparent that the designers were moving in the opposite direction of the players. The WoW inspiration in the graphics and visuals makes its way into gameplay as well. In a Diablo game it is misplaced. Early on it is not much of an issue, but later on in Inferno the WoW combat system hinders more than it helps. It feels COMPLETELY out of place. Cooldowns, rotating cooldowns, potion cooldowns. The elite/boss encounters that are arduously long and drawn out, mobs with millions of HP. And more cooldowns.
Now, simply borrowing a lot of mechanics from WoW does not automatically make the game bad. However, a lot of us were expecting more. A lot more. The gameplay should have been AT LEAST as good as Diablo 2. We were not expecting backwards progress on a game that we were waiting over a decade for. It's not so much about what they included in the game, it's more about what was left behind.
- Runes (this is the biggest one, IMO)
- Skull, Diamond, Sapphire gems
- Powerful Uniques
- Level 99 Cap
- Players 8 System
- Randomized Maps
- Skill Synergies
- Skill Points/Trees
- Allocatable Attribute Points
- Horadric Cube/Recipies
- Mana Potions
- Stamina/Stamina Potions (and the associated Run mechanic)
- Thawing/Antidote Potions (and their associated mechanics)
- Permanent Quest Rewards
- Item Imbuing
- Multi-Socket Weapons
I understand that the developers wanted to break new ground with D3. They didn't want D2 with new graphics. And honestly, neither did we. It's possible, though, to introduce new mechanics and new ideas, while retaining aspects of the game that players enjoyed. As we have seen in recent patches, the developers have been working toward including many of the items on the above list. They have been met with considerable praise and have been mostly successful in improving the game in a lot of ways. Many of us, like myself, wondered “Why not include all of these things to begin with?” The game, on release, felt simply hollow and empty. Unfinished, even. How, after all these years, could we still be in what is essentially the beta phase? There is a lot of speculation on this point.
It could be because of the resources available to the Diablo team. Understandably, Blizzard devotes considerable resources and manpower to World of Warcraft. One forum poster speculated in a lengthy post that Iterative Development may have been the cause. In creating new iterations multiple times throughout development, the team basically does 2 things:
1: They make no progress after each iteration is scrapped: they are right back to square one. We have seen this in some aspects of the game that were released in the previews on the website. The skill system, for example, with the Alabaster, Ivory, Crimson, etc. Runes was scrapped as recently as last year. That means, in a four-year development cycle, they had to almost completely redo the skill system in only ONE year.
2: With each iteration it is possible to deviate from a core concept that they had started with. It is possible, after each iteration, that whatever they were working on became less and less like the original idea. What started as a unique and original idea may have ended up distorted (either for better or worse) during the development process. Perhaps Runes/Runewords were included in an earlier iteration of the game, but a new mechanic was introduced that conflicted with it, so in the next iteration it was dropped.
I can at best only guess at the true nature of their development process. Regardless of my speculation, the game is what it is. Currently there are many questionable design decisions outside of Itemization and Build Diversity (covered in the next 2 posts).
- Non-Random Maps: A significant factor in introducing variety and freshness into each D2 session, random maps are also helpful in eliminating feelings of boredom. Every game experience was unique. Why they chose to leave a vital aspect like this out of the game is unknown. From a gameplay perspective it makes little sense to leave it out. It is likely a game-engine limitation; certain subsets of the maps are random, but the map overall retains the same basic shape. This could be attributed to the “depth” and 3-dimensional space present in some levels, as it may have been challenging to introduce true randomness in 3-dimensions. As an aside, the static map system present in D3 has an added side-effect of making the game feel very small and linear (despite the large size of certain areas)
- Hit-Detection: At first thought to be a bug in early playthroughs of the game, I later discovered that this was intentionally designed. From the very start of A1 this was the first gameplay mechanic to detract from immersing myself in the game. It felt like a glitch, even though it wasn't. It felt like playing a video game from the 80s. As many players can attest to, receiving fatal damage while yards away from attack felt misplaced in an ARPG, let alone in any modern game. This is especially evident for ranged classes, which survive primarily by avoiding attacks, yet become frustrated at being unable to do so.
- Battle.net/Multiplayer: There is a lot of perceived negative progreess in regards to the new Battle.net system. It is mostly featureless compared to D2 and to most modern games in general. The lobby system present in D2 was a tremendous boost to player interaction. Named games and password protection allowed like-minded players to seek each other out. Farming/Questing/Trading was more easily achieved, rather than joining a game and wandering about, confused. The D2 lobby system and the D3 Quick-Join system are not mutually exclusive in any way. It was completely within the realm of possibility to include both. Quick-Join system for players who wanted a quick game, and the lobby system for players who had specific goals in mind. In its current state the D3 multiplayer system feels so much “less” than its predecessor, while simultaneously inhibiting social interaction within the community.
- PVP: I am astonished this was not included in the final release of the game. Blizzard may be working on some sort of Arena PVP, the specifics of which are largely unknown. It may take them quite a bit of time for them to sort it out. Regardless, there is no real excuse to not have D1/D2-style PVP included on release. It's one button. Click to Go Hostile. D2 PVP was completely unregulated, hilariously random and frantically chaotic. It was also immensely fun. Again, the 2 styles of PVP are not mutually exclusive. Hostile-PVP for players who want to mess with each other, and structured Arena PVP for players who were interested. It may be until 2013 when PVP is released. Myself, and many players are left scratching our heads, wondering “Why can't we kill each other?” Many players have their fondest D1/D2 memories in PVP. It is central to the bloody, no-holds-barred Diablo experience.
This brings me to the next 2 posts, where I will attempt to dissect the HOW and WHY of the game's most glaring flaws.
Edited by CoolHandLuke#1291 on 10/3/2012 12:57 PM PDT
My example of choice for Build Diversity is Ray of Frost. This is a level 2 skill, in every sense of the word. By level 10, I had already figured out that, while cool, this was a completely worthless skill. It consumes huge AP, hits a single target, roots me in place and it's effect negligible if it only slows 1 thing at a time momentarily. The most glaring flaw, however, is that it has no synergy. In fact, very few skills in D3 have any REAL synergy with each other. The ones that do are most evident in the “powerful” builds in a few classes. Vision Quest/Zombie Bears for WD, CM/WW for Wizard, WW/Sprint/BR for Barbarians. Each of these individual skills are unremarkable on their own. However, when combined, they are greater than the sum of their parts.
It is lack of synergy that represents one of the biggest hurdles to build diversity in Diablo 3. Buffs to Ray of Frost's DPS are worthless. DPS is not the issue. I guarantee that, after the patch, only a tiny fraction of Wizards will use RoF, most of them at Level 2 in Normal. It doesn't combo with any useful skills and it isn't powerful enough on its own to be useful. As a fact, most channeling spells are completely worthless in Inferno.
The best example of Skill Synergy, of course, is Diablo 2. Passive Synergies, introduced late into LoD's life cycle, were a huge boost to build diversity and character development. Many skills in Diablo 2 also had Active Synergy, even before LoD was introduced. Combinations of skills could be used to great effect.
In Diablo 3, however, because there is no Skill Trees, no Skill Points and no Skill Synergy, the problem is twofold:
1)There is no character development. Every player is nearly identical to one another, since all skills are always available and can be changed at any time. There is no incentive to level additional characters. There is also no thought necessary for building characters. Players simply choose the best skills and leave it at that.
2)Because there is essentially no Synergy in skills (neither Passive not Active) with a few exceptions, there ceases to be any “builds” at all. Players simply pick 1 of each type of skill they will need. 1 CC, 1 Buff, 1 or 2 Defense, maybe 1 Offense, 1 Panic Button, 1 Left-Click/Single Target, 1 Right-Click/AOE. The skill-selection process is oversimplified and dull
Developers may have boiled down the skill system in the name of simplicity and accessibility, but they have done this at the cost of making the game incredibly boring and thoughtless. No longer do players have to put thought and effort into the distribution of skills. Just set it and forget it. Now, because players only need 1 skill of each type, they simply chose the BEST skill for each slot. For Wizards, Prismatic Armor was the best defensive buff, so most Wizards used it. There is a best DPS skill for each class, a best AOE, a best Single-Target, etc. There is no reason for players to use a skill that is worse than any other. So they don't.
Since the developers have designed the system's core mechanics this way Build Diversity will ALWAYS be limited. Many of the skill buffs introduced in 1.04 have been unsuccessful, with a few exceptions. Most Monks didn't drop FoT, Sweeping Wind, Blinding Flash and Breath of Heaven because of 1.04. The impact was minimal. Just like Ray of Frost, there are skills for each class that are simply NOT GOOD regardless of their DPS. They have no utility, so hardly anybody will use them.
Blizzard's attempts at Build Diversity have been mostly in vain, since they are attacking the problem from the wrong angle. Nerfing popular skills and buffing the DPS on under-used skills will not entice players to change their builds. It mostly just pisses them off. They will still use the popular/powerful skill even in its weakened state because it is STILL better than the alternatives. Monks will not drop STI for something else because even 50% of Dex for Armor is still better than the rest of the garbage passives in their skillset. To solve the issue with Build Diversity Blizzard must consider 2 things:
1)Introducing Active Synergy into more skills. The Synergy between Critical Mass and DoT skills like Meteor and WW is remarkable. Blizzard should be adding more combinations like this instead of abolishing them. The fundamental aspects of many skills may have to be reworked completely in order for this to happen.
2)Removing/Drastically Altering under-used skills. Even with slightly buffed alternatives, most Wizards will continue to draw from the same pool of skills. Frost Nova, Teleport, Energy Armor will continue to be used by most Wizards. Most Barbarians will still use War Cry with Impunity. This is because their alternatives are not just underpowered but also useless altogether. Why not remove Ray of Frost and introduce something with a lot of utility and synergy so that players will want to introduce it into their build? Why not remove a useless Monk passive and introduce a new, viable passive?
Since there are no Skill Trees, no variation from player-to-player, no Build Diversity as well as a hollow and oversimplified skill-selection process, the end result can only be expressed in one word: Boring.
All in the name of simplicity. The itemization, being the most essential aspect of a loot-driven game, is the most glaring flaw and the most hotly-debated subject on the forums to this day.
Lack of loot is a valid concern, one that I have felt many times myself. It is not unheard of for players to go 100s of hours finding 0 Legendary or Set items. In a Diablo game it's simply wrong. The core formula of the game is Kill Monsters = Get Loot. For many players the equation was horribly unbalanced. With the introduction of passive MF from Paragon Levels as well as DOUBLING the Legendary/Set droprate, Blizzard is moving in the RIGHT direction by putting more loot in the hands of players.
It's obvious, however, that this is only a band-aid fix, as it fails to address an even bigger issue: the items are boring. Flat-out boring.
I can attribute 7 major causes to the bland itemization in Diablo 3:
1)Lack of Legendaries - Diablo 2 had dozens of Uniques, available at all levels, many of them useful in the endgame. Diablo 3 has a fraction of the number of Uniques, and only a fraction of them are endgame-viable. Because of the iLvl system only high-level items with high-level affixes are even remotely useful to players. Skorn, Manticore, Sever, Echoing Fury: only a handful of weapons that are truly sought-after because of their power. Doubling the number of powerful and useful Legendary/Set items will take a step further in what 1.04 tried to accomplish.
3)Skill DMG is tied to Weapon DPS - I can see why they did this, as it levels the playing-field for DPS among all classes. In the process of homogenization they make the weapons considerably less interesting. A high-DPS weapon is useful 100% of the time, a low-DPS weapon is useful 0% of the time, even with awesome stats. With perfect rolls of Crit, LoH, Life Steal, Mainstat and a Socket, a 200 DPS weapon is complete trash. This pushes players to exclusively use high-DPS weapons with boring stats as opposed to low/mid-DPS weapons with interesting stats. Even with a 50% chance to freeze or stun (rather than the usual 2%), a 200 DPS weapon is still worthless, since a dead monster is far less dangerous than a stunned one.
4)Unavoidable Damage – Almost all players must stack at least SOME form of mitigation/Vitality on their gear as an absolute necessity. Some forms of damage cannot be avoided. Because of the way Hit Detection works, some attacks cannot be dodged. Elites pose the biggest risk, with ground effects that deal continuous damage as well as Vortex/Jailer/Waller abilities that create unescapable situations.
5)Over-Emphasis on Mitigation – Because of the formulas for Resists and Armor, they must be stacked in VAST quantities to produce any appreciable effect. Resists must be stacked in the hundreds, and Armor in the THOUSANDS to create truly effective mitigation. In Diablo 2 a player could acquire high Resists through only a few pieces of gear, and focus on other attributes. Because so much resistance is needed, it must be present on nearly EVERY item, further limiting the variation among items.
6)Removal of Skill Bonuses – One of the greatest sources of Build Diversity in Diablo 2, the Skill bonuses unfortunately does not fit into the skill system of D3. Bonuses to Class and, most importantly, Off-Class skills created some of the most unique and fun builds in Diablo 2. Diablo 3 includes a heavily reduced version of this – the % bonuses to a limited set of skills. However, because the bonuses to skills are so minor and inconsequential, the skill bonuses are usually overlooked in favor of the Stat Trio: Main/Vit/All Res
7)Removal of Stat Allocation – Yet another attempt at making the game accessible at a huge cost to variation and interest. Every character is the same carbon-copy. Combined with the skill system which makes all characters nearly identical, items become the only way to customize any character. Yet, since all items are mostly identical – just with higher numbers – the customization is SORELY lacking in this regard. By removing Stats from the game, developers had an unintended side-effect: They removed items from the game. Items became stats.
Now, many players are aware of the lack of interesting and varied loot. Many offer the suggestion:
“More interesting and cool affixes for items. More variety!”
While I agree with sentiment, I don't think it will actually work. If an item rolled with 15% Faster Hit Recovery instead of, say, 180 Mainstat, would you use it? Because of the 7 points I have addressed above, the act of “fixing” the loot system becomes incredibly more convoluted. Without changing SEVERAL of the core aspects of the game itself, the itemization cannot be fixed simply by adding more affixes in a vain attempt at trying to make items “interesting.”
Itemization is, by a wide margin, the largest setback to this game thus far. While the developers have taken great strides in introducing more content and addressing a lot of concerns the players have, this remains the single largest and most important issue the developers and players face. Players will no doubt enjoy the increased drop rates and rewards for their time, but eventually they will become bored with the monotonous, homogenized and oversimplified loot system.
Many players ask: “They keep buffing the drop rates? Why haven't they fixed the boring loot system yet?”
And the answer is: they can't.
1)Players expected much from the game, but were horribly disappointed to find D3 had actually LESS content than its predecessor. The developers missed the mark on the Diablo atmosphere, the music, graphics, and the “feel” of the game too closely resembled WoW and felt terribly misplaced.
2)Players dislike nerfs because they suck fun out of the game and do nothing to address the core issues behind lacking build diversity and character customization: the fundamental flaws which are present in the game which actively inhibit diversity.
3)Buffed droprates are nice, but do little to fix the core issues of the boring, one-dimensional loot system. Main Stat/Vit/All Res.
Addendum. Re: The Auction House
The thing about the AH is that a lot of it is speculation. Even what people say about the drops being linked to AH inventory is mostly speculative.
I found 0 Legendary/Sets in the first weeks of 1.04. I pretty much chalk it up to randomness. The forums are not always the best indicator of loot drops. 1 minute you will se "OMG Ninja Nerf Drops" because 1 guy didn't find anything. Next minute is another poster saying "I Find 3 Legendaries Daily So Drops Are Fine." Then there are posters like me who consistently find nothing but garbage. It's all random.
I won't argue that the importance of the GAH/RMAH is a huge component of the game. It's intrinsic to the design on the game whether the developers like to admit to it or not.
It is not solely in Inferno where the AH becomes (almost) a necessity. In NM and Hell you can spend hours farming for level 40 items that you will use for 2 hours then throw away, or you can spend 5000 gold and get something from the GAH. Again in A1 Inferno you can spend dozens of hours farming A3/4 Hell or gear up decently for less than 100k per piece.
At its core, however, the GAH is simply very efficient trading. Almost too efficient. It becomes easier to play to the AH than play the game.
Now, ideally we would like to find all of our drops on our own and Blizzard recognizes this. They have made only lvl58 drops in Inferno, as well as doubling the Legendary drop rate. This in itself is a huge step in reducing the importance of the AH. Players will be much more satisfied if they are able to equip found gear rather than buying it. I believe players want their characters to be their own.
I hope I haven't actually bored any of you to death. Thanks for reading.
Edited by CoolHandLuke#1291 on 10/5/2012 5:07 PM PDT
Totally agreed! I too had really high hopes for D3,didn't actually realize how much the AH's would affect the entire concept..
Dumbed down to use only 4 keys and a mouse is one point you didn't make,guess that's for the
people that thought having 12+ skills instantly available,and an instant gear swap was too confusing.
Maybe,just maybe the devs will pay attention to all the myriad suggestions made on why it could be so much more,(and more like our beloved D2),but from what I've seen in the patches so far,and the release of what should only be classed as a BETA as a full retail game,I highly doubt it!
Very interesting read. I think this accurately states the problem and why people are disenchanted with this game. Unfortunately, we aren't going to get any fixes, if at all. If you look at the current way things are going with the patches, this is probably not gonna get fixed.
Even patch 1.05. Monster Levels are interesting, but it doesn't really add content. Even Uber Bosses: no additional content, just buffs to bosses. Patch 1.05, while it has some people excited, is just another bandaid like all the other patches, and unfortunately will only entertain people for a while before they are bored again.
I won't stop playing because what is there is okay. Like 6.5/10, if I was to rate the game (Most addicting low scoring game I've ever played). However, I'm still very disappointed that the game doesn't live up to the Diablo name.
Edited by mteriba#1504 on 9/29/2012 4:43 PM PDT
This is precisely what I'm getting at, as the core gameplay mechanics with regards to builds and itemization are flawed at their core, and cannot keep people engaged for long. Everything is just a temporary fix.
Combined with 0 incentive to re-roll characters because of the skill and stat system, the game has very little longevity.
This may be the way you and many others feel, and I see that you have thought this through and aren't just spewing sewage like most other Brevik groupies. Kudos.
It's too bad that you didn't like D3, and the decade you waited for this game felt wasted.
There is a large number of us that do very much enjoy this game, which is why I find it funny when people say things like "this game is dead! move on to (insert game with most hype atm here)".
I'm sure it feels like a letdown to those who just wanted Diablo 2 with better graphics, but unfortunately Blizzard has to move on, with or without you.
I guarantee this game will last just as long as D2:LOD did. With a decent player base.
For the Record, I played LOD for 9 years.
I honestly don't think ANY of us would be satisfied if they had released Diablo 2.5
It would just be more of the same, which isn't necessarily a good thing. What we truly wanted was to expand and IMPROVE on the original concept, rather than scrapping the whole thing and creating something ultimately weaker than its predecessor.
D2 had its flaws, D3 could have addressed those flaws and moved the franchise forward rather than backward.
Any band who releases a follow-up to a successful album goes through the same process: release more of the same and bore the audience, or move in a new direction and alienate fans. Some succeed, others don't.
Edited by CoolHandLuke#1291 on 9/29/2012 5:00 PM PDT
This was my first Diablo game and it was just a disappointment for me.
I am unfamiliar with the 'Backwards Progress in Game Development' part of the OP so I can't comment on that but the 'Build Diversity' and 'Itemization' sections definitely described my reasons for leaving.
“More interesting and cool affixes for items. More variety!”
I would hope that the itemization does not require an overhaul at this point that some players, yourself included, are suggesting.
That is something I cannot see being addressed until an expansion... :/
By the way, good read Luke.
Right to the point.
Maybe there's still some hope although I doubt this game will ever have replayability on the same level as D2/Lod.
Please prove me wrong Blizz!
after a bunch of runs i want to set myself on fire.
nothing but garbage drops. over and over.
i play on out of stubborn morbid curiosity to how long it will take to find my 1st set or usable legendary.
inb4 'i bot so i find leg all day'
know how i wanted them to expand and IMPROVE upon? graphics, yep that's it. could you imagine D2LoD on this engine... could have been the new WoW. instead we get a group of "devs" who don't play the game and have no idea what is FUN.
"sweet i just found an upgrade"
"oh ya? what did you find?"
"a new piece of gear with more of the same stat that the last one had..."
must be fun to be able to make changes/statements knowing you will never have to sit down and defend them using logic.
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