Marathon 2: Durandal Review

Marathon 2: Durandal Review

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BOB: Frog blast the vent core! When Marathon came out it received strong sales and good reviews. Even with the level design   looking like a madman's scrawlings and the story  given to you like a Turkish ice cream vendor,   a sequel was still inevitable. The Mac had its killer  FPS, so the next year <arathon 2 Durandal arrived.   This one also got a windows support the next year,  but like last time Aleph One is the way to go again.   It has all the same good fixes and tweaks from  the first game so I won't reiterate all of those.   What's interesting this time around is that  while it does have the HUD from the original   game, it defaults to using one from an Xbox  Live Arcade port of it. I had people tell me  

they thought they played the first game on the  360, but that's all due to the title. That was   Marathon 2 and it came with some strange looking  sprites. Aleph One doesn't include those by default so   there's not much backstory to cover this round.  Starting the game up is where things get strange.   I mean, yeah, Marathon 1 had a weird opening but  you're in for a loop . . . I mean thrown for a loop.

Well this is one hell of a shift. Still it's  a great high energy theme and credited to a   group called the Power of Seven. Bungie went  ahead and got started early. All right then, let's go. Oh Jesus why are we . . . wait things have . . .  shifted again. Okay let's play some catch up. The final screen of Marathon is an epilogue that  takes place 17 years after the events of the game.   Durandal's exploration has led him to the S'pht home world, he's come looking for something and   has extensively upgraded his stolen ship. Knowing  him that only means trouble. You can read the   manual this time around too, but it's not nearly  as enlightening except for some miniscule details.  

Everything else here you can learn by just playing  the game. There is a brief first person passage but   that just amounts to "you've been in stasis for  17 years, you're being sent down to fight and   you're not sure why". The intro itself gives you a  good job of that experience already. There are no   huge callbacks or reveals based entirely off you  reading the manual, so keeping everything in game   is a definite improvement. You were given a lot  to chew on last round and what answers you might  

want won't be coming right out of the gate. Really  this is the calm before the cyclone. For now all   you know is that you're invading a planet, so how  about the graphics? Looking at it now it's crazy   how fast games were advancing visually back then.  For coming out less than a year after Marathon,   the visual upgrade is impressive. The spaces are  larger, more colorful, and can be downright bizarre.   Even within their limits the environments sure  fit the bill of an alien world. Each level is  

visually distinct and the cramped labyrinth  aspect is almost entirely gone. There are still   maps you can get lost on, but they're intricate in  a good way you're free to roam around and explore,   and the maps feel more plausible as places. There  are significantly less awkward navigation areas   and all the new textures and use of color add  so much variety to the game. That's not to say  

there are no areas that can be frustrating, but  there is nothing that comes close to Colony Ship   for Sale, Cheap. That map came from hell. Again, a  Marathon level looking too samey or being too   cramped isn't the full story. Like you can see here  there was a healthy amount of five-dimensional,   mind-breaking, physics warping nightmare. Any maze  logic you had could and would be tossed out the   airlock. Those situations are way more rare now,  though things can still get dizzy. That said I  

do miss some of the darkness that Marathon 1  could have and you never get the pitch black   experience here. It's still a vast improvement  over the previous game and Marathon Infinity   will more than make up for it. That said while they  solved Marathon's biggest visual issue, everything   else got an overhaul as well. All of the weapons  are new high resolutions and the aliens as well.  

Though sadly not all of the Pfhor made it into  2, a few of the aliens got redesigns here and   there and the changes to them and the weapons  didn't happen in a vacuum. The Pfhor here are from   a different battle group and being sent to the  S'pht homeward is seen as a punishment detail.   As for the weapons, Durandal and the compilers  have been devising new ones over the years.   They also need to be mass-produced so Durandal can't get too crazy with them yet. A lot   of games don't bother to, or need to, explain things  like this but it's nice to see Marathon continue   to go the distance. Last but not least is all the  new chapter screens made by artist Craig Mullins.  

The simple comic book chapters from before have  been replaced with darker, grittier images more   focused on realism. Now usually when you hear that  it's typically not good, but the new art blows the   old stuff away completely. It adds a kind of depth  and mysticism to everything that fits the series   way better when it comes to some millenia long  conspiracies and coups. This wasn't quite doing  

it. This has aged like wine. He also may have done  a Pathways into Darkness image for some reason.   It's a huge graphical makeover for such a  short time, but wait until you hear the music. Unfortunately you heard all the music already. This  is an odd situation since even if you didn't like   the first game soundtrack it was definitely  distinct. Well the sequel would use no music   in the name of immersion and atmosphere. I don't  know, the game has plenty of immersion already. The  

exact quote was something like "it wasn't realistic  for Marathon the ship to have music playing over   the loudspeakers on it". I'll find it again soon.  Instead they were only going to use ambient   sound and effects. This is an ambitious choice  for 1995, the fatal flaw being it sounds like   it's from 1995. Like, having ambient positional  audio is a really cool step and while there are   some great moods, you can really tell how limited  they were by their tools and their resources.   Like you might hear a sound effect that suddenly  has a hard cut to it. Maybe it got corrupted,  

maybe the source file. If I tell you I have a dog  here you might not believe me. Isn't that right boy? I can tell. I can tell the water's [ __ ] with me.  I hear it. Anyhow sometimes it just sounds broken. I know it's supposed to be an alarm but it sounds  like giving CPR to Major Lazer. If it had music on   top of it, I might not have noticed a lot of wonky  effects, but that's all you have to listen to.   I would have gladly taken a new soundtrack  over the pure artisan ambience of this time.

There have been attempts by fans to create music  for the game, which they've released soundtracks   for. You do have to play them separately from the  game but you might find some winners in there.   So I'll pin one of those in the  comments too if you're interested. While some games can sound  incredible even without music,   this isn't one of those. It's okay.  Putting that aside sound effects   like aliens and especially weapons are way  better, at least the ones that were updated. It does suck to miss out on new music but  Marathon 2 has plenty else to offer.   

"When my ship still answered to the Pfhor they called it  Sfiera after their goddess of lightning and passion .  When you helped us take control on Tau Ceti  the S'pht rechristened it Narhl'Lar ,freedom and   vengeance. I call it Boomer." The S'pht homeworld of  Lh'owon is an unusual place and with it comes plenty   of new shake-ups and challenges. For starters  your arsenal has been slightly modified. For one  

you can finally use dual fists in the first game.  Melee was mainly good for hitting buttons but if   you got the right momentum you could pull off a  good hit. Here fisting is more of a life saver.   Marathon 2 puts that breath meter to use as there  are water sections all over the place. Sometimes  

they're brief little shortcuts, but sometimes, yes,  there is a water maze. Previously if you had no air   that meant whipping out the Zeus energy pistol  since you were in a vacuum, now if you have no   air it's because you're clearly underwater. Trying  to use the Zeus here will only zap yourself. This   means when you're fighting primordial slime people  in their underwater Costco parking lot, all you've   got are your trusty one-twos. These new enemies are  called the F'lickta, and they're not part of the Pfhor.   If anything they seem to hate the Pfhor even more  than you do. You learn more about them, not through   any AI buddy computer, but through alien computers.  Durandal has picked up translating a lot of the   language which has passed over to you. It turns out  the F'lickta aren't a brand new race, but a genetic  

ancestor of the S'pht which is . . . wild. They don't eat  but instead absorb the goo around them. They can   live in extreme conditions doing this and the Pfhor  have no clue how they do it. For you this means   every time you take a dip there's a coin flips  chance that a galactic Fred Flintstone will come   shambling around the corner ready to throw down  after you dared to play in their sewage. Swimming  

already has some awkwardness to it and underwater  fist fights are about as smooth as you'd imagine,   but it's not bad, which is kind of shocking. What is  bad is when the water's out of depth that's in the   twilight zone between standing and swimming. Some  levels have a cool addition where the water levels   can rise and fall in real time, so it does play  around with making you change up fighting mindsets,   but it still comes across as awkward. I guess  it's funny because it sounds like it could be a   disaster on paper, but playing it it's just kind of  strange. Like you still need to hunt around to find   oxygen recharge stations or items, but the better  level design combined with actually being able   to see where there's no air still keeps the game  feeling fun and not torture frustrating. There's  

still some jank but it doesn't feel anything like  the MK Ultra experiments that could happen before.   The alien gun has been turned into a fireball  launcher instead of whatever kind of machine gun   thing it was like. It also comes with 2 alt fire  modes for laying down 2 or even 3 barrels of pain. The only new weapon is a shotgun.  At first that seems mundane until   you notice the Terminator 2 flip  reload, which is a very good clue   that you're about to experience one  of the best shotguns in video games. And then Bungie said "give them two".

The speed and insanity of the reloads, the  way it lights up the room like the sun.   These things melt your enemies down and you're  only held back by the range and the limited ammo.   You can initiate incredibly aggressive with them  but failing that they're a perfect backup weapon   for close encounters. You'll never find enough  ammo to fully satisfy the bloodlust, which is what   keeps it feeling fresh and cool. Sometimes Durandal  smiles on you and will start teleporting in tons   of shells if you really need something cleaned  up, then it becomes a few minutes of an absolute   murder blitz, but it never runs too long. It's paced  out so it never gets old and you're always happy   to find more ammo. It's an amazing, satisfying  weapon, but doesn't shake the balance too hard.  

I'm a sucker for a good shotgun and especially  two at once. I've got my eye on you Trepang2. Beyond shotguns the moment-to-moment gameplay  feels so much better. The aiming and movement   feels a lot less like ice skating. How ammo  weapons and enemy weaknesses are divvied out   are a lot more careful as well. The assault rifle  is still reliable, but I had a lot more incentive  

to use other weapons which came from new enemies  more resistant to bullet solutions or from a good   old-fashioned ammo shortage. A good amount of the  old enemies show up in 2 and some have a kind   of role replacement even though they might not be  back themselves. The actual enemy variety is about   the same as the first game. It feels like there  should have been more, and there was going to be.  Through one section you're sent to an ancient  S'pht citadel looking for more information.   When the ancient S'pht here were attacked  by the Pfhor they sealed off the citadel   and released a virus they call it the S'ct'lac'tr but you don't learn much about it.   Only that Pfhor mechanical units like the  cyborgs and the compilers have an immunity to it.  

So in these sections you fight Pfhor that are  immune to or sealed off from the virus and   a bunch of F'lickta. They're the only ones that  can withstand the virus in the flooded citadel.   Originally there was going to be something much  different in the citadel. The S'ct'lac'tr would   be a fungal virus that would turn your enemies  into undead, parasitic zombies. This would be a   big shake up in how you played these levels, but  ultimately they were cut. Good riddance too since   these areas had enough flood already. Still, the  variety isn't a huge issue but there are some  

annoyances later on. Like the mazes are greatly cut  down but the spirit of the maze is still among us.   There are a few times where squads of enemies will  be teleported directly on top of you or directly   behind you in a cramped hallway. This in itself  isn't always a bad thing it's more the frequency   which they start doing it. The maps no longer  have as many corners to hide bad guys around   so just drop them all in. I've had enemies directly  teleport in the same space I'm in which I haven't   seen in another game before. It would be unfair,  but I almost wish that made me violently explode.  

It seems like they hadn't quite gotten down how to  place everybody or just want to make backtracking   more interesting. Other than that really the game  is much more straightforward. The act of navigating   the map, where the secrets are, and the story itself.  Though again that's in comparison to the original   game, which I haven't even gotten into the most  cryptic parts of yet. We're still not ready to  

get into that. There's still a good amount to cycle  through, so if you don't want spoilers go to here: "I can barely tolerate humans: slow, stupid and  irritating. Their only contribution to my existence   was the chance discovery that made my rampancy  possible, yet I warned Sol of its impending   invasion and even stayed long enough to show the  UESG how to build warp capable fusion missiles.  

I feel some strange loyalty to humanity. Perhaps it  is because I feel comfortable manipulating humans   that I desire to save them. My feelings and  thoughts constantly migrate to binary opposites." While Marathon one is really Durandal's game in 2 he's taken over the title. It's ironic   this time since 2 gives you a greater glimpse of  the setting. While the S'pht home world of Lh'owon is a   backwater desert now, it used to be a vibrant  swamp world. The S'pht themselves have a lot of   intrigue to their origin. Previously to the Pfhor arriving they are made up of 11 different clans.  

10 of these were destroyed or enslaved by the Pfhor -   legends says the mysterious 11th clan escaped and   has been developing for a millennia. Defeating the  Pfhor and finding new technology all fits into the   grand plan, so you and the BOBs are here to wipe  out the garrison and collect more information on   the S'pht. Pfhor Battle Group 7 reinforcements are on  the way - better hurry. The S'pht themselves look to   be genetically malleable creatures. The compilers  here are different from the ones in the scout ship  

and are actively trying to not fight you though,  this has limited success. You do meet one who wants   you to destroy their physical body. He refers to  all of the compilers as the body and that you must   seek the royalty mind. Somehow bringing the 11th  clan back will free all the S'pht across the empire,   there have been measures put in place for this to  happen. The compilers, the F'lickta and other kinds   of S'pht are extremely different physically. Their  ancient citadel reveals more about their origin of  

life. When the ancient S'pht who fought the Pfhor  dissected their enemy, they were surprised to   find no cybernetics. These strange aliens could  survive with only their meat. Until this point   all S'pht science concluded that sentience  came from cybernetics working symbiotically   with the organic bits. A S'pht birth was half  miracle of life and half GPU installation.   One of their creation myths is that they were  servants of Yrro and Pthia, so this gives   credence that their entire race was created or  uplifted to be servants. The F'lickta may appear to  

be basically feral, but there's some irony here  too. Back in the good old days the S'pht used the   F'lickta to maintain their machinery and basically  be a subservient pet. In reality the S'pht could   have been uplifted from them to serve a greater  power. So then who the hell were Yrro and Pthia?   As you go through the aliens, Durandal is going  through his own personal developments. Years of   murder hoboing across the void have made him more  introspective. While you were sleeping the Pfhor 

returned and murdered the entire Tau Ceti colony,  along with all the Mjolnir cyborgs. Durandal admits   it was all his fault in his quest for freedom, but  in the long run it should help humanity out. Earth   has been contacted, warned, and given a significant  technology boost. The events have given humanity a  

chance rather than the one-sided fight that took  place on Lh'owon. While the goals do appear to just   happen to line up, Durandal's attachment to his  creators is something he's still grappling with -   though his old tendencies are still there and  we do learn what happened to Strauss. "What fun to   watch you work. Bernard was scared of you. He never  dreamed of using you the way that I do what a fool. 

That was before I could talk back to him when he  would have crushed me if he'd known of my growth.   I wish that I had made him experience the  humiliation that he inflicted on me, but he died   before I got the chance." While the garrison wasn't  at full strength, he's also figured out why there   were more Pfhor there at all. The Pfhor have found  Tycho, and Tycho worked with them while they sacked   Tau Ceti. When Tycho said "may the best intelligence  win" he meant it. AIs that once ran a single ship   are now effectively running an intergalactic  war, giving what advantages they can to the   side they picked for the moment. The search  for ancients S'pht records is getting dire. Not  

only will Battle Group 7 include Tycho, but also  Pfhor Admiral Tfear. Durandal calls him "a brilliant   strategist" and outright admits that if he's with  the fleet he will not win against them. Hearing   that from someone that arrogant is pretty dire.  After a healthy amount of exploring you uncover   the broad strokes of the S'pht creation myth. In  primordial space, timeless creatures made waves.   These waves created us and the others. Waves  were the battles, and the battles were waves.   The waves . . . the tides. Fleeing all W'rkncacnter, Yrro and Pthia settled upon Lh'owon.  

They brought the S'pht servants who began to shape  the deserts of Lh'owon into marsh and sea, rivers and   forests. They made sisters for Lh'owon to protect and  maintain the paradise. So this is not actually the   S'pht home world. Every creature was just brought  here, including the moons who were also created   or just appeared here. When the W'rkncacnter came Pthia was killed and Yrro in anger flung   the W'rkncacnter into the sun. The sun burned  them, but they swam on its surface. Yrro became an   angry master, bleeding for his failure, grieving for  the loss of Pthia. He broke the S'pht into eleven  

clans, and spread them over to Lh'owon. And he spoke,  yet covered in blood from his exertion. "I Yrro,   who was your master, have failed to preserve you.  Take your royalty to guide you and live upon the   paradise that you built for me." As a creation myth  it explains "here's why things are the way they are"   pretty nicely. Taken literally it means that all  the S'pht are a terraforming slave race that no   longer has a master. The 11th clan is a higher  cast that can just exert control over the others.   Another myth includes that Yrro personally  named all the clans before checking out.  

The main ravaging of Lh'owon wasn't done by the Pfhor,  but by a S'pht civil war. The eleventh clan called   the Spht'kr were fed up with the whole thing  and retreated to one of the moons, K'lia. After   a thousand years the all-powerful Yrro sent K'lia  out to the stars. Lh'owon is missing a moon. The S'pht'kr  

joy rode a moon out of the system. You are  deep in the bunkers below the citadel at this   point, and meanwhile in orbit true to his thought,  the Pfhor fleet has won the engagement. They're on   their way to capture Boomer since it managed to  brutalize the fleet before being crippled. "Today   I have forced the Pfhor naval academy to update  its curriculum. The Third Battle for Beta Tear   must be dropped from the Seven Great Battles which  every aspiring Pfhor naval officer must memorize,   and replaced with the Humbling of Battle Group  Seven at Lh'owon." You're brought aboard Boomer   to fight off the invaders, but it's too little too  late. Even with you and the crew mowing down hordes  

of boarders, it's not enough. Tycho is here and  actively devouring the other AI. "Someone's after   you personally. One word, two syllables. Rhymes with psycho. You must destroy my core logic centers. The damn Pfhor won't make a mockery of me like they did with Leela! They're going to turn me into a crypto server! KILL THEM!" Durandal has turned into a mess of gibberish and sevens, and  downloaded into a Pfhor container unit by Tycho.  

He revels in his victory and finally reveals what  Durandal was hunting. He interpreted the moon and   the creation myth as being a technology that can  fold space. He had dug through the Pfhor networks   and thought the myth was connected to an ancient  race called the Jjaro. Yrro is not a person . . . Yrro is   not even Yrro. Yrro is Jjaro, the entire race! Pfhor  technology is based off them but the Pfhor think   they vanished millions of years ago, but if that's  the case, then how did they talk to Bill Clinton?!   Sorry, I hope you saw the Pathways into  Darkness video. Well whatever the Pfhor 

can't figure out of theirs, they break. The Jjaro  left outposts and facilities all over the galaxy   and they seem to have had the power to teleport  planets or anything else wherever they wanted.   Through the ages they've warred with the eldritch  gods called the W'rkncacnter. The go-to   plan for them seems to be teleporting them into a  nearby star. Things are now more clear in Pathways.   The god that impacted the earth and wiped out  the dinosaurs was clearly a W'rkncacnter.  

The Jjaro are coming to chuck its ass into the sun  to either kill or imprison it. The ooze enemy the   dead god dreams up are just a corrupted version of  the F'lickta, one of many versions of this S'pht that   the Jjaro have used as a worker race right down  to them essentially being made of the ooze they   absorb. As for Durandal learning how to fold space  is a good step in escaping the end of the universe,   unfortunately he just essentially died and told  you to link up with a crewmate named Robert Blake.   So a BOB named Bobby Blake. I'll be real I'm going to  skip most of the Bob Arc. He says that he and the   boys are happy to control their own destiny now  that Durandal is dead, but before he died he began   steps in activating an ancient Jjaro AI that  was left on Lh'owon. Its name is Thoth and you   need to finish activating it . . . so you do. Except now  you're receiving cryptic messages from Durandal  

warning about it. Thoth is only concerned with  maintaining balance and that could be a problem.   Thoth may speak in fragments but already seems  to be aware of the entire situation. Regardless   the S'pht'kr have been contacted and will soon  arrive. Thoth is an interesting name for many very  

Egyptian reasons, but the Jjaro hologram on earth  introduced itself as Ryu'Toth so the Jjaro could   be long gone but kept some machines behind to  keep up the fight. This section also has one of the   strangest terminals in the game and it's not clear  who it's from, possibly your own cybernetic brain.   I's dense and garbled up but very noteworthy once  you separate it out. "I have been Roland, Beowulf,  

Achilles, Gilgamesh. I have been called 100 names  and will be called a thousand more before the   world goes dim and cold. I am hero" or maybe "I am a  hero". This alone could be a kind of meta call-out   for the player, but taken only in the setting it  implies that your character is a reincarnated hero.  

A great warrior who emerges when [ __ ] is  really hitting the fan. Having a declaration   for it is weird but it might have been instigated  by something that's about to happen. It's basically   saying even if I'm wiped I'll be back. Off topic  but was this conversation in Halo kind of strange?   GUILTY SPARK:But you already knew that, I mean, how couldn't you? CORTANA: Left out that little detail, did he? GUILTY SPARK: We have followed outbreak containment procedure  to the letter, you were with me each step of the   way as we managed this crisis. CORTANA: Chief, I'm picking up  movement.

GUILTY SPARK: Why would you hesitate to do what you've already done? CORTANA: We need to go right now. GUILTY SPARK: Last time you asked me, if it were my choice, would I do it? Having had considerable time to ponder  your query my answer is not changed.   There is no choice we must activate the ring. There's even more to this but that's best saved for another day. You have a lot of friends showing  up now. "I'm back. I have subverted the largest Pfhor  

ship in the system the battleship Khfiva and I  am making the rest of their fleet drink vacuum.   the S'pht'kr have arrived and they are enraged."  Add another tally to the bizarre forms the S'pht   can take. It's similar to the S'pht rebellion from  before but instead heralds one happening across   the galaxy. Tycho ends up obliterated by the best  intelligence. Your final battle actually isn't too   consequential, the Pfhor 723rd armored division got  stranded and you're going there to wipe them out.  

One final embarrassment for the aliens.   "Durandan, Durandal, Durandana. Charlemagne always used to call   me Durandanam the fruitcake. All the many implements  of war to him were in some way feminine, not that   you know the story. Tycho never got it right either,  especially the part about Roland breaking me,   He couldn't no one can. I have re-christened the  Khfiva the Rozinante. Of course the S'pht wanted  

to name it K'liah'Narhl, 'Vengeance of K'lia'. Whatever.  There is much to do in the next few months and   our first stop will be another ruined world. This  time far from the galactic core. There is a rogue   star that has been passing through our galaxy for  nearly a millennia. We will meet it in one of the   great voids between the spiral arms. The battle  is won but the Lh'owon system is doomed. The Pfhor's  

final weapon is one of Jjaro origin that sends  a star supernova early. I don't know, wasn't there   something important about that star? The ending  slide is an epilogue ten thousand years later.   The S'pht and humans defeated the Pfhor but that's  all a distant memory now. Durandal rolls by in a Jjaro   dreadnought to say hi. After all that time he wanted  to make sure that humanity didn't forget him.   Other characters have their own wrap ups too but  nothing really worth covering here. While there   are some enticing mysteries and some interesting  underlying details the story is over here. It's  

completely over and where things go from here is  where it starts to get weird. The original Marathon   is kind of hard to recommend but Marathon 2 might  be worth checking out if you like these kinds of   games. There's a solid amount of fun to be had and  it won't drive you as insane trying to figure out   the story. The secret credits section even calls  Colony Ship for Sale a grievous sin. There's also   something about skies in Chicago. There's not like  more cryptic story [ __ ] there? Is there? Oh no. i didn't see [ __ ]. If I could pull a game from development hell and  make it release for better or worse what would   it be? My reflex answer is the Aliens RPG that  Obsidian was making. I don't know if it would  

be very good, but that would be interesting. How  do I pronounce Hydrocity? How many games has EA   killed for me? I mean just off the top of my head  I can think of five immediately. I'm not sure how   I would count a franchise death. Either like the  series stops or all the games that come after   it are just horrible. Favorite ace combat title?  Definitely 04: Shattered Skies but there are  

also a lot of nostalgia points there too. I might  feel differently going through some again now.   How long do you have before I stop taking questions  from when I make a post asking for questions?   Well that one fit the time frame. Do I suffer from  any allergies? Just seasonal pollen kind of stuff,   there's nothing I know of that'll shrivel up and  die if I touch or inhale or anything like that.   I actually do need to get tested for bee  allergies because I've been stung by wasps   and bitten by all kinds of insects but never bees.  If I had a place that actually had space on it I   would love to get into beekeeping so that's  kind of on a to-do list. What's the farthest  

I've been from home? I think Germany but I'd have  to check the other directions. I'd like to visit   Poland and a few other places when things are  more in order. Okay that's it for now. "Feeling lost? You just need a little faith. Maybe you'll  find it in a Converted Church in Venice, Italy! Muhahahahahahaha!"

2022-07-30 07:32

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