Writing and Design

Steve Ince, freelance writer and game designer, posts thoughts and comments on these two meaningful aspects of his life.

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Name: Steve Ince

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Lost Game - a scene

I decided to pull out one of the scenes from the "never to be published", Call of Cthulhu: Destiny's End. This takes place near the beginning of the intended game. Emily has taken car keys belonging to her father, Michael, and her new friend, Jacob, is waiting for her.

Emily leaves the house with the keys in her hand and her backpack slung over one shoulder. She holds the keys aloft to show Jacob, who’s been pacing impatiently up and down the drive.

Jacob: You don’t have to do this. What the Professor said about Innsmouth scared you, I can tell.
Emily: Then it’s time I faced my fears, don’t you think?

One of the house windows opens and Emily’s father pokes his head and shoulders through, shouting after her.

Michael: Emily! Don’t you dare take my pickup!
Emily: Shit! Get in the truck, Jake.
Jacob: You stole the keys? Cool!
Emily: He treats me like a kid. I’m twenty two for Christ’s sake!

Emily fires up the engine, slips the truck into gear and bullets out of the drive, narrowly missing another car travelling in the opposite direction. The other driver is forced to swerve to avoid a collision and Jacob looks back to check that the car hasn’t come to any harm.

Jacob: Your dad looks really pissed.

Emily looks in the rear-view mirror and spots her father running into the road, having escaped from his temporary prison.

Emily: I’ll worry about him when I get back.
Jacob: He had it coming.

Emily gives Jacob a look.

Jacob (smiling): It was kinda obvious.

At the end of the driveway, her father has stopped running and stares after his truck, fuming.

Michael (shouts): You stupid, little...!
Michael (to himself): Why is it you never listen to me?


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Top Ten Games I Worked On

I was sorely tempted to add Beneath a Steel Sky to my list of Top Ten games in the previous post, but I think that would be bad form because I worked on it. Although I didn’t do any of the writing and design, I still think it’s not something I should put on a list like that. So here is my top ten list from the games I've worked on.

  • Beneath a Steel Sky
  • So Blonde
  • Broken Sword – The Sleeping Dragon
  • Broken Sword – The Shadow of the Templars
  • In Cold Blood
  • Mr. Smoozles Goes Nutso
  • Gold and Glory: The Road to El Dorado
  • Rhianna Ford and the Da Vinci Letter
  • Wanted: A Wild Western Adventure
  • Call of Cthulhu: Destiny’s End

Again, the order is not a concrete one.
I put the last one on the list because it was turning into one of the best games I ever worked on and was eighty percent complete when it was cancelled. Perhaps one day I’ll post some of my favourite scenes.

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Games Forum Germany - some thoughts

The trip to Germany was pretty uneventful, although Hannover was really cold when I got there - about -7 degrees centigrade. Thankfully I was met by someone who drove me to the hotel. He was also taking Darius Kazemi to the hotel and it was nice to meet a fellow speaker so soon, especially when I later found he was a fellow Game Maker enthusiast.

We had a great meal in the evening where all the speakers were in attendance. It was such a pleasure and an honour to be in the company of varied speakers of high quality and reputation. I can't thank the organisers enough for inviting me and giving me a truly fabulous opportunity.

The food was excellent that evening but the company and the chat was even better and talking with others who are passionate about the work they do in games is incredibly inspiring. Needless to say, because we were enjoying ourselves so much it was pretty late when we headed back to the hotel, by which time it had been snowing and was still doing so. Just as well we weren't too far away.

The next day was the first day of the conference and I spent the morning listening to the talks of RJ Mical and Raphael Lacoste, both of which were highly informative. I spent the first part of the afternoon taking part in a discussion panel in front of a large group of students. It was a pleasure to contribute and I'm sure it was something the students got a lot from because I certainly did from the other members of the panel.

The next couple of hours were spent hanging around and chatting to people as I waited to give my talk. The programme was running a little late by this point and I didn't get on stage until after 6pm. However, there was a good crowd and the talk (on aspects of character) seemed to go pretty well - they even laughed at a couple of my jokes. But strangely enough, no one asked any questions afterwards.

My first thought was that perhaps the talk hadn't gone as well as I'd thought, but as people were leaving a few came up to me and told me they'd enjoyed it. So perhaps they didn't ask questions because the party was about to start in another venue.

When I got to the party I was chatting to a young Australian guy called Oscar who was incredibly enthusiastic and kind about my talk. He said he was more into film than games, but that my talk had made him think again about a short film script he was working on and he was planning to look more closely at the characters in the script. If I've only helped this one guy with my talk it will have been worth it.

The time flew by at the party and I remember talking to a lot of people through the night, some of whom were again very kind in what they said. I met some of the people I knew from DTP and it was good to catch up with them as they've always been good to me. In fact, every time I visit Germany I'm made to feel very welcome and I've enjoyed myself on each trip I've made there.

Because I flew out on the Friday morning I didn't attend the second day of the conference and so didn't get the opportunity to say goodbye to all the other speakers, so I hope I get the chance to meet up with them all again soon.

It turned out that my incredible bout of nerves before the trip was totally unjustified. Well, maybe not totally - it's still pretty nerve-wracking standing on stage and baring my creative soul, so to speak.

Perhaps I'll get invited back again one day...

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Rhianna Ford and the Da Vinci Letter

With no hype or fanfare whatsoever, a new game has just been released - Rhianna Ford and the Da Vinci Letter. I mention this because it's the first of the casual games I wrote and designed in the last year. :)

Although it's primarily a hidden object game, it contains a number of adventure elements. I've also been allowed to take the characters and dialogue a lot further than is normally expected in such a game, so I hope the balance is right.

Feedback on the game will be much appreciated.

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Games Forum Germany

Next week I'm talking at the Games Forum Germany. I was rather surprised when I was invited and, of course, very honoured. I hope I give a talk they'll be pleased with.

I decided to talk about aspects of character, but I didn't want to go down the route of it being an instructional talk, so I'm hoping that I can just give the audience plenty to think about.

As I was preparing my talk there was one point where I thought I wouldn't have enough to say. Now I'm worried that I have too much, so today will be spent on a little polishing and trying to make sure the timing is right.

I know there's been a mention of the talk being recorded, but I don't know, yet, if that will be made available to the public in general. I shall endeavour to find out.

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Saturday, December 26, 2009

See me on Adventure-Treff

The guys at Adventure-Treff posted a compilation video message for the festive season and I contributed to it with a few words. You can view the video here. Much of the compilation I didn't understand because those parts were in German, but mine and a couple of other parts are in English. I laughed most when I saw the list of credits and thanks come up at the end.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Mr. Smoozles Goes Nutso - Special Holiday Price!

To celebrate the forthcoming holiday season, Mr. Smoozles Goes Nutso is now on special offer at the new holiday price:
3.99 USD, 3.49 Euro, 2.99 GBP

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Saturday, November 07, 2009

Not a Good Start

I like to read a lot and it's not unusual for me to have two or three books on the go at the same time as well as magazines. It's important to read a broad range of books, particularly outside of the game development arena, but it's also imprtant to keep abreast of what other writers and developers are doing within the industry.

With this in mind, I've just started reading "The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Writing and Design" by Flint Dille and John Zuur Platten. It's a book I've been meaning to read for a little while. I was a little surprised that I was still in the Introduction when I found something I disagreed with strongly.

Under a section entitled, "Our Eleven Video Game Survival Commandments", the first of these is "We're In the Entertainment Business, Not the Game Business."

How can you write and design games and not be in the Game Business? Why does being in the Entertainment Business preclude you from being in the Game Business? Games are, after all, a form of entertainment. What's wrong with saying, "We're in the Entertainment Business AND the Game Business"?

If you don't approach writing for games with the game uppermost in your mind you run the risk of writing at odds with it and not having the story, characters and gameplay fit into a cohesive whole. It's very easy to run away with the story and characters and have the developer tell you that you have to pull back because the engine won't deliver what's been asked for. Most importantly, every game is different and what gives it that difference will affect the way the story can be told.

Although it's not the best of starts to a book, I'm hoping that the rest of it will prove to be better.

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Blimey! I have a fan.

I was looking at the links that brought people to my site when I saw that a few had come from this one today. Imagine how flattered I feel at such kind words. Thanks, Terramax, I'm touched.

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Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Whispered World

The Whispered World is an absolutely gorgeous-looking game from Daedalic Entertainment. I've been interested in this game since I first saw screenshots over a year ago, so when they asked me to work on the script editing for the English version I just couldn't say no. I've just been informed that I'm able to talk about my involvement, hence the post.

I hope that you'll all support this game so that we can, hopefully, get more of this quality in the future. It's already getting some great reviews in Germany.

I just hope my work has done it the justice...

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Sunday, August 09, 2009

GamesCom 2009

As GamesCom is just a week and a half away I thought I would post.

This year I'm hoping to hook up with quite a few clients and friends, as well as help support and promote games I've been involved in.

Primarily, there'll be promotion for the Wii version of So Blonde, for which we recorded the English voices a few weeks ago. Hopefully, they'll be fully integrated into the latest version on show. Although I imagine that the DS version will also be on show, there are no voices in that version.

There are also a couple of other upcoming games with which I've been involved, but at the moment I don't know which I can talk about and how much I can tell. One of them is a new IP I created, so I'm looking forward to discussing that one. Let's hope I can do so at GamesCom.

As always, I enjoy meeting members of the gaming press and look forward to doing so again at this show. It's always a pleasure to discuss the work I do with genuinely interested parties.

My composer friend, Josh Winiberg should be attending this year. For those who don't know, Josh composed the music for Mr. Smoozles Goes Nutso, which went a long way towards giving the game the fun feel it has.

If anyone would like to meet up or arrange an interview, please don't hesitate to drop me a line.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

New Article

Gosh, it's been a month since I last posted anything here. This year seems to be passing by so quickly...

A new article, by me, has just been posted over at the Adventure Gamers site. It's the first in what they hope to be a regular guest column using different people from the game development world. Thanks to Jack over at AG for asking me to do it. And for letting me be first. :)

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Voice recording

I just got back from the voice recording we did for the Wii version of So Blonde. I was working with DTP (the publisher) and the talented guys at Outsource Media, who organised a great cast again and ran a great series of recording sessions that couldn't have gone any smoother if we'd wanted. If you want to see a really good voice recording system in operation you should get in contact with OM and tell Mark I sent you.

Everyone concerned was very complimentary about the script, which is always very flattering to hear, but the script would have been nothing without the talented cast who really brought the words to life. Bernie from DTP took some pictures and said it was okay to post a few of them here.

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Monday, March 16, 2009

The Sapphire Claw

The more dedicated of you may have noticed that I posted a new screenshot from The Sapphire Claw. I've been doing a fair bit of work on this inbetween my other work and have reached a point where I can move forward once again.

One of the first changes is that it's now called The Sapphire Claw - Serpent Eyes. The reason for this becomes very clear early in the story, but is also part of what I'll outline below.

Another big change is that I'm going to split the game up into a number of smaller games. Although they will each feed into a larger ongoing story, each game will have its own story that reaches a definite conclusion. I'll also be fleshing out the game a lot so each story, although shorter, will be longer than that portion of the original game was intended to be. (I think I just confused myself there...)

One of the problems I've been having is of finding funding, which is obviously difficult at the best of times for adventures. So in order to proceed I'm having to make a lot of development decisions and compromises. But it's my intention to work those compromises in such a way that I maximise the quality in the way I approach them.

One of these compromises has been with Scout, who I've pre-rendered from a 3D model. Although it takes something away from the hand-drawn version, it means that animation is a little simpler for me to complete myself.

Another compromise is that I'm going to have to do pretty much all of the work myself as I can't afford to pay anyone and because I still need to earn a living I'll be doing it between other jobs, still. What this means is that I have no specific date to complete the work, but I'm hoping that I can push on at a reasonable speed.

I'll try to keep you informed more fully as things develop.

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Interview at Adventure Classic Gaming

The good people over at Adventure Classic Gaming have just posted an interview they conducted with me.

One thing I like about doing interviews is the way they make me think about the things I'm doing and my approach to game writing and design. All creative people should regularly question and confront their work - it's the only way to push yourself and refine what you do.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Casual Game: Delicious - Emily's Tea Garden

I've been working with some great guys over in Eindhoven at the GameHouse studio on a few casual game titles they wanted some writing help with. The first of these titles, Delicious - Emily's Tea Garden, has just been released over at the RealArcade site. If you enjoy playing casual games I'm sure you'll love this one, too, so be sure to take a look.

The game is actually the third in a series and I wrote the story and dialogue for this one.

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wallace and Gromit

The big adventure game news this week has been the announcement that Telltale Games will be producing a series of games featuring Wallace and Gromit. You can read the official press release, here.

The thing that struck me as really odd is that nowhere in the whole press release is there a mention of Nick Park, the man who created the wonderful characters to begin with. While I appreciate the role of Ardman in the success of the films, the true creative star is Nick Park and it's a pity they didn't mention him.

I'm sure that Telltale will do an excellent job, particularly as the trailer on this page already holds great promise. However, my first reaction was that it's a real shame that a British company couldn't have been chosen to make the games.

Then I thought about it some more and realised that there is no one here that could do it. Quality adventure development in the UK is pretty much non-existent.

Even if we look to Europe, where we regularly see adventures being developed, I don't think that there is one of them who would do maximum justice to a license like W&G.

Telltale Games really is the best choice for this project.

Not only has the company proved they can deliver to a regular schedule with two seasons of Sam and Max, what they've shown of W&G so far looks incredibly promising and as a fan of the films I can't wait for the games to come out.

What I find a little scary in all of this, is that when you look around for studios capable of creating humorous, fun adventure games capable of extending beyond the core fan market, there really aren't many around.

Good luck, Telltale. My god, how we need you to succeed.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Notes on Game Dev

Beth Dillon asked me if I'd link to Notes on Game Dev, which is a blog style editorial on art and design topics. I've not read an awful lot of it yet, but what I've seen so far looks very interesting and highly relevant. Much more so than my own blog at the moment. So please check it out.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

Panel - Writing for Games

I've been invited to sit on a panel on the subject of Writing for Games. I'm really excited by this and am sure that it will be a fabulous evening. If you're anywhere near London why not come along?

The event even has it's own Facebook page, so it's sure to be a roaring success. :)

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Saturday, February 09, 2008


Just before Christmas, I had the great pleasure of meeting up with Dave Gilbert of Wadjet Eye Games. Dave's only just released this picture of the two of us, taken by his girlfriend. From the smiles on our faces you'd think we actually enjoyed making games...

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Project B&P

I posted something on the Juniper Games news blog. Now I think about it, I should have posted it here and then linked to it on the other one. Sometimes I think my head doesn't quite work normally. Not that I'd want to fix it as it may ruin the whole creativity thing I have going on in there. :)

To reiterate: Project B&P is going to be the project that drives my personal focus until the completion of the proposal at the very least. I already have sketches for my two main characters and a strong idea of the visual style I want to aim for, but it's too early in the process to start showing anything. Things have a habit of changing, particularly when talking with publishers. :)

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Friday, November 30, 2007

Play All

This piece over at the Develop site got my interest. Not only is it an excellent idea, but my friends over at Wizarbox are heavily involved, which is great news for them. Clearly, So Blonde is going to be part of a path to even greater things to come.

Well done, guys.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Developers Creating Unhealthy Experiences?

There's a piece on the Develop website, which covers a keynote speech by Jonathan Blow at the Montreal Game Summit. It's a perfect example of how a person can be so right and so wrong at the same time.

While he's right that there is a need for deeper, richer games, the way he puts it gives me the impression that he's losing sight of the fact that we're in this industry to make games, which are meant to be fun to play. So who cares if he thinks that collecting coins is a poor way of developing games if the player has fun doing just that?

I have still to play Bioshock (shame on me) but I thought his comments on the game were unnecessarily harsh. If players are looking to first person shooters for a meaningful commentary on the trials of modern life then I'd be very surprised. No matter how good Bioshock might or might not be, there will always be limitations on what you can do with an FPS without changing it altogether. If people bought that game and found it wasn't a cool FPS then I think the players would feel rightly aggrieved.

There seems to be a fashion at the moment of people making speeches and slaggin off other peoples' games, particularly games that are doing well. Is this some kind of resentment on their part? Some kind of professional jealousy? Is it the plan to be controversial for its own sake just for publicity? Perhaps I should give it a go? Except that I find I'm loving a lot of very different games and wish I had the time to play a lot more.

So, going back to where I think he's right - it would be great if we could broaden the spectrum of games in lots of rich and rewarding ways. But the key word for me is "spectrum". Blow talks as if all current gameplay styles should be done away with and replaced with something more rewarding, something on a higher plane. The way I see it, though, is that you don't get rid of the current gameplay styles and genres but add to them and create a base which allows the discerning game player to choose exactly what suits his or her mood.

Half-Life 2 is a wonderful game. As is Super Mario Galaxy. And Zelda. And Psychonauts, Day of the Tentacle, Final Fantasy...

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I'm Featured on Nextcat

Nextcat is a new social networking site geared towards creative industries like film, animation and games. I've been chosen as one of the "featured talent" profiles on their main gaming page, so the least I could do is put up a link. :)

If anyone else is on Nextcat why not add me?

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Friday, November 16, 2007

Children in Need – a Video Game?

Today is the annual Children in Need charity event, here in the UK. Although there are some cheesy and embarrassing aspects to the event on TV at times, the cause itself is very important and should be supported by everyone, no matter how small the contribution.

Which brings me onto the reason for this posting – why is the UK games industry not involved in some way? Why can we not use our combined creative talents to make a real contribution?

I’m not talking about rich publishers and developers giving away computers, consoles or old versions of games to put on a compilation disc; I’m talking about creating something new and exciting for which people would be willing to pay good money: An original game!

The industry has come in for a lot of bad publicity from certain politicians and sections of the media who want to paint the whole of game development as an instrument of the devil. Not only will this help us to re-dress the balance, it will show the world that the games industry cares about real-world issues.

Now, putting a game together – as we all know – is not as simple as gathering a few people in a studio for a day. Making a charity record is much simpler in comparison. If we wanted to create a decent game in time for next year’s event we would have to start now. Not only would we need to motivate a lot of people to contribute, we’d also need people to organise the whole event.

So, how could we even start to do something like this?

Perhaps publishers or developers could sponsor personnel? A producer here, a project manager there; others would sponsor programmers, designers, implementers or artists. A game engine and tools would need to be donated – one that would enable rapid development of the design. We’d need people who could oversee and coordinate the game on all possible platforms. We’d need testing houses to donate some time to bug-testing the game. We’d need musicians to donate soundtrack compositions. We’d need recording studio time and actors to donate their time to the project. Individuals could contribute by creating 3D models that others could animate. Still others could create concept sketches or donate code for cool gameplay routines. Marketing people could work together to help promote this in the biggest possible way.

We’d need publishers and platform holders to forget their differences and be willing to work together for a common good.

We could really make this work!

But what about the game?

My initial thoughts are that it could be developed in two ways – as a collection of five small games or as one big game.

Five small games would mean that there is more variety and so could appeal to a wider audience. For instance, there could be a five-a-side football game, a casual match-three game, a platform game, a skittles game and a word or number puzzle game. Or any list of games that we could come up with.

One single game could be something that’s a fun action-adventure in the style of Mario or Zelda with a bit of Day of the tentacle thrown in. It could be that the main character has to go around the game world collecting as much money for the cause as possible.

A third option, of course would be to combine the two and have a large game with optional small games that the player may have to unlock.

Ideally, we would get permission to use Pudsey Bear as the main character in the game, and would clearly need to work with the Children in Need organisers to ensure that we created a game that suited the branding.

So, what say you, fellow developers, industry professionals and gamers? Is this something we can do? Is this something we can launch from scratch and bring to completion within a year?

If this has piqued your interest and you think it would make a great addition to the Children in Need appeal, please pass on the link to this post, copy the post and send it to people who may be interested. Show it to your boss, your co-workers, your family and friends.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Best wishes,


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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Hear My Dulcet Tones...

Well, listen to my weird voice, anyway. :)

Although GC in Leipzig was two months ago, the guys over at Adventure-Treff have finally posted a video interview that they conducted with me. I've done a lot of e-mail and MSN messenger interviews and with that format I always have a chance to think about my answers, so I'm pretty pleased that in this video I didn't make too much of a fool of myself. Mind you, I had done about fifteen interviews already by the time these guys got to me.

It's very strange watching and listening to myself in this way. It feels like it's another person doing the interview as my voice sounds so different in my head.

Thanks to everyone at Adventure-Treff.

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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Daily Crescendo

I'm in the middle of designing a game. Although it's hard to be objective about a work in progress, it's possibly the best design I've worked on. (Best being completely relative of course.) The design is much more non-linear than anything else I've worked on, which naturally throws up a lot of detail and complexity, which I'm having a ball with. However, one thing I've noticed is an unusual pattern to my working day.

Because of the complexity, I find that my mornings are very slow. I must spend most of the first hour just getting all the details into my head and working out where I am with the design. By lunch time I'm back in the swing of things and after a bit to eat I go for a walk while I run a few things over in my head. Then int he afternoon things really take off and my pace picks up to a point where the ideas are coming so thick and fast I have to keep flying back and forth in the main document to keep plonking them in where they need to appear. Which in turn leads to more details as I work through any knock-on effects of the new ideas. By the end of the afternoon I'm going so well that I fear my head will explode if I were to continue.

Creativity is always such a buzz and creating games is far more fun than playing them. :)

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Over at the Develop site there's recently been posted a report on Nintendo's WiiWare. This must be the coolest idea for a long time. Mr. Smoozles Goes Wii, anyone? :)

Now, if I could just find where I can get hold of the right tools...

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