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Author Topic: The Long and Morbid Tale of Sigil Games Online: Interview Edition  (Read 89951 times)
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on: May 16, 2007, 02:25:49 AM

The Long and Morbid Tale of Sigil Games Online: Interview Edition

After the jump, you're going to read an interview with an ex-Sigil employee given just over 24 hours after being let go. I honestly don't have anything more to say than that.

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Adam_Carpenter
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Reply #1 on: May 16, 2007, 02:43:18 AM

That's one hell of an interview.

Fordel
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Reply #2 on: May 16, 2007, 03:31:25 AM

The one thing that really stuck out to me:

Quote
Ex-Sigil: There are a lot of people, Brad included who were certain it would be a short-lived game. Some, in fact, including Brad, never played it. WoW should have been the example of 'look at what a good game can do!' when instead it was often spoken of like a bad thing.


How could anyone sane NOT even look at WoW after it made umpteen million dollars? Even if you thought it was the worst hack job ever created, you would think he would at least check out what subliminal messages they hid to garner all the success.


Was Brad truly that deluded?  smiley

and the gate is like I TOO AM CAPABLE OF SPEECH
damijin
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Reply #3 on: May 16, 2007, 03:44:52 AM

 shocked

Wow...

You took it outside and shot it in the head alright, and I get the feeling that

Quote
Ex-Sigil: Well, worst of all.. at the end of Sigil, Brad wasn't even there to look us in the eye and apologize.

is going to be posted quite a bit in the next 24 hours. Out of all the clusterfuckery that was embodied in that interview, that one line will stand out.
Falconeer
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Reply #4 on: May 16, 2007, 04:02:44 AM

Grats to Schild, awesome job.

The rest, uncanny. "HAS THE WHOLE WORLD GONE CRAZY?"

I really feel for those guys and girls.

Trippy
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Reply #5 on: May 16, 2007, 04:26:27 AM

Wow that was even more dysfunctional than I had imagined. Only having one QA person for the vast majority of the development is just...remarkable.
Endie
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Reply #6 on: May 16, 2007, 04:49:22 AM

Quote
Ex-Sigil: Well, worst of all.. at the end of Sigil, Brad wasn't even there to look us in the eye and apologize.

If you're a grade one narcissist - and I'm certain that Brad should have his picture in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, illustrating the condition - then turning up for a meeting like that and accepting that all your deeply internalised bullshit from the last few years has been revealed as nonsense and lies is well beyond your ability.  And well beyond his motivation, anyway: he's probably already blaming the employees for letting him down.

Wow that was even more dysfunctional than I had imagined. Only having one QA person for the vast majority of the development is just...remarkable.

Absolutely.  We have far more testing resource available to us for projects with a tenth of the budget of his.

On the other hand, and I'm entirely serious here, perhaps the bottleneck wasn't testing.  Perhaps one tester was able to churn out enough bug reports to keep the entire development resource busy.  The game seemed to be in that sort of state.

No scripting language, though.  Say what?!?  Surely there was no scripting language for a sane, understandable reason?  Like "we won't need a scripting language because content creation will be handled by our revoutionary new drag-and-drop interface.  Or maybe it's like Eve, and the bulk of the game is written in something pretty close to a scripting language so a seperate one wasn't needed.  No way did you have to code in C++ to get foozle 1 to walk from A to B and say "numbnuts"?!?

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Trippy
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Reply #7 on: May 16, 2007, 04:58:04 AM

Wow that was even more dysfunctional than I had imagined. Only having one QA person for the vast majority of the development is just...remarkable.
Absolutely.  We have far more testing resource available to us for projects with a tenth of the budget of his.

On the other hand, and I'm entirely serious here, perhaps the bottleneck wasn't testing.  Perhaps one tester was able to churn out enough bug reports to keep the entire development resource busy.  The game seemed to be in that sort of state.
Possibly. But you need a QA department to handle all the incoming bugs from alpha and early beta testers -- otherwise the developers have to waste their time trying to reproduce the bugs and setup test cases for them. To me it's just another symptom of Sigil just trying to get it done something released rather than get it right which is something companies like Blizzard worry about.

Edit: modified wording

« Last Edit: May 16, 2007, 07:04:54 AM by Trippy »
Endie
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Reply #8 on: May 16, 2007, 05:11:30 AM

Possibly. But you need a QA department to handle all the incoming bugs from alpha and early beta testers -- otherwise the developers have to waste their time trying to reproduce the bugs and setup test cases for them. To me it's just another symptom of Sigil just trying to get it done rather than get it right which is something companies like Blizzard worry about.

Oh, I agree: a seven-figure project needs a testing department bigger than one cubicle.  But if you're Brad, and maintaining your Weltanschaung long enough to stop you retreating into the Fuhrerbunker in despair depends on retaining a positive view of the game, the last thing you want at board meetings is some QA guy saying:

Oustanding issues: 6,341
Issues cleared this week: 192
New issues added: 396

If they didn't have a scripting language, I'll bet a pounds sterling to well one of those funny, devalued dollar things that they didn't have automated test harnesses, and that their unit testing procedures were ad-hoc at best.  I nkow people kid themselves, but any experienced developer who joins up and then hears that he is sharing a single tester with 20 other guys, and the modelling team, and the server team, and the quest guys and so on is going to have to hear the sound of iceberg scraping along hull.

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DoppelGanker
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Reply #9 on: May 16, 2007, 05:59:53 AM

This interview is, by far, one of the best read I had in a _long_ time. Thank you for doing such a remarkable job in keeping us updated particularly with such quality.

On topic now...

Of course, it's some real scary things that happened @ Sigil.

One QA Lead, One tester... it truly is remarkable as Trippy already wisely pointed out.

I also wanted to toss my personal view on Vanguard:

Even though I never got really interested in playing V:SoH, it surely did have some interesting twists.

Yet, the two things that made me raise an eyebrow (in the choices made in level-design) were the immense size of the world, and giganticness (?) of the graphics.

In my very humble opinion, these 2 things need to be thoroughly and carefully designed to avoid hitting walls at top-speed.

It's like a double-edged blade. Either it purely and simply rocks, or it doesn't, and then you're in some troubles.

A huge world needs to be and feel alive otherwise it's a huge _empty_ world = boring / dull.

Graphics-wise you need to adapt the art-style to the size of the world. Almost identical zones don't deliver as regards immersion in the game.

All in all, it reminds me of the so-called "second-system effect".


There is this Coke glass next to my screen... I wanted to click it.
Arthur_Parker
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Reply #10 on: May 16, 2007, 06:10:43 AM

"Go design for Blizzard if you want a scripting language, Vanguard is hardcore."
Ironwood
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Reply #11 on: May 16, 2007, 07:00:59 AM

Not going to comment on the firings really, since that's actually par for the course, but the whole ethos of Sigil quite literally defies my belief.  While I'm positive the guy was there and everything he says is correct, I'm still like, WOW, ZOMG.

Idiots.  I look forward to the next MMOG "Piss Up In A Brewery Simulator."

"Mr Soft Owl has Seen Some Shit." - Sun Tzu
Bandit
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Reply #12 on: May 16, 2007, 08:09:11 AM

Great Job on the interview, great shit.

Brad just reminds me of some crazy cult leader, with no sense of reality.
Simond
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Reply #13 on: May 16, 2007, 08:23:29 AM

You know, this is making me wonder how many of SOE's problems & mistakes are just holdovers from the Verant days.

I mean, SWG started off as a Verant game iirc (and quite possibly had a similar cult of personality around Raph), and the original design docs of EQ2 were put together around that time as well...and EQ2 has only been turned into a decent game by ripping out as many Verant-esque game mechanics as Gallenite possibly could.

Is it possible that we've been raging against the wrong machine all this time? Maybe Smed and the beancounters have been the only thing which stopped SOE imploding between the takeover of Verant & the final death of The Vision(tm)?

For example. this might recast the Shadow's of Luclin launch for EQ in a whole new light - instead of Evil Smed as The Man, forcing the poor, misunderstood artistes of Verant to ship an incomplete product; maybe it was Smed as a desperate manager, trying to shepard Brad's demented Vision Cult into releasing something...anything even halfway playable.

No idea at all how plausible this is, but it's certainly an interesting thought.

"You're really a good person, aren't you? So, there's no path for you to take here. Go home. This isn't a place for someone like you."
Pendan
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Reply #14 on: May 16, 2007, 08:29:04 AM

Quote
Bill was there and actually made comments about how he was likely buying a house thanks to his stock.
If second tier management is making enough money to buy a house, presumably, in the San Diego area doesn't this mean Brad and Jeff made many millions from their stock?
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Reply #15 on: May 16, 2007, 08:49:01 AM

Great, great interview.

Would have LOVED to see something like that for SWG, but oh well.  Fantastic read nonetheless.
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Reply #16 on: May 16, 2007, 09:03:31 AM

It sounds like Brad and Raph have one thing in common: Awesome ideas, but they need someone in charge of them to keep them in check. (Other than that Raph seems to be about a 100X better person and designer than Brad easily.)

That interview...wow. If I worked for Sigil and that guy made the house comment I'd be tempted to go on a shooting rampage in the management offices. Just...wow.

The 1 QA thing...I don't have any words to add to the other comments.

And the rest of it? About all I can say is I'm surprised people didn't quit in droves as this thing went on. I'd ask that my name in the deisgn credits be shown as Alan Smithee I think.

"We live in a country, where John Lennon takes six bullets in the chest, Yoko Ono was standing right next to him and not one fucking bullet! Explain that to me! Explain that to me, God! Explain it to me, God!" - Denis Leary summing up my feelings about the nature of the universe.
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Reply #17 on: May 16, 2007, 09:08:45 AM

I can't help but feel sad for the front line workers.  Like any big organization those who can afford it least are often the least protected.  

Having had to close a few shops myself, some like this with no notice some with the announcement and bonus to work through "go dark" , I very much perfer the work through "go dark" method, especially for a continuing business.  

In this situation I don't think the parking lot meeting was necessary.  It's not like people had not seen the writing on the wall, any IP or hardware assets they wanted to take was already long gone or on personal drives.  

I sincerly hope all the front line folks land on their feet, this is a tough time for them and I wish them well.  
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Reply #18 on: May 16, 2007, 09:15:06 AM

Brad was not the only one in the industry to think WoW would peak early and fall off (a bit like CoX).

The standouts from this interview for me:
Quote from: Ex Sigil
He's got tons of crazy ideas but he really shouldn't be in charge of anything. He is great as a theorycrafter so long as he was tempered by people who could determine what was possible or not.

Sounds like a few people actually. What I think separates Brad from some of the others though is that the latter group will at least take into account the player actions. For example, Raph's systems are usually hampered by being extremely complex and difficult to fully realize in a development timeline. However, they are based on leveraging emergent behavior and trying to understand the true nature of fun. Meanwhile, Brad's ideas seem more focused on what he thinks is cool and the hope that others will as well. That leads right into:

Quote
I DO think however, that he believed people wanted to play a game that HE liked, regardless of the masses of people telling him they didn't like his ideas
Again, back to smart business. Regardless of what some old timers might think, to be successful you cannot merely design a game you would enjoy playing. In fact, I'd wager a lot that most successful games are not played by their designers very often. These are experiences that respond to both personal and business needs, and command budgets that require much more than just "do I like it?" for validation.
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Reply #19 on: May 16, 2007, 09:35:14 AM

Nice interview, thanks for that.

You know, I can get people all worked up about stuff...maybe I should get into mmo management.

sam, an eggplant
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Reply #20 on: May 16, 2007, 09:35:55 AM

Great job with the interview!

I can't believe they really only had one QA tester. That's astonishing.
Ixxit
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Reply #21 on: May 16, 2007, 09:37:52 AM

Great interview with really probing questions.

While 'how Vanguard turned out' is evidence enough that something wasn't quite right at Sigil games I think it is important to keep in mind the interviewee wasn't 'rehired' by Sony/Sigil.  There may be a very good reason for that and if there is one must weigh his/her responses carefully.

I know through my personal experience as both a front line employee  and  later middle management (thank God I do neither now) that the  'the reality' is sometimes  heavily distorted, especially if the employee is disgruntled.  At times he adopts the meme of the little guy down in the trenches  always fighting the good fight against  clueless and egotistical managment who just doesn't listen to him/her.  This is usually the common thread in these kind of situations. Nine times of of ten the hard reality is usually in the middle and could swing either way depending on the reasons for the employee dismissal, or in this case their failure to be rehired.

I want to emphasize that I am not disputing any of the claims because there is no way to prove them otherwise and clearly some of the stuff  is both  believable and shocking (the firing).  For balance though, it would be nice to hear from one of the  employees retained by Sigil/Sony but I'm sure no one is going to be getting that interview anytime soon.   smiley






« Last Edit: May 16, 2007, 09:40:07 AM by Ixxit »

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Nija
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Reply #22 on: May 16, 2007, 09:48:06 AM

Great interview, appreciate it.

I'm still coming to terms with the fact that he refused to play World of Warcraft. I try to play everything involved in the discussion before I argue ON THE INTERNET and here he is refusing to play the biggest game of his genre.

Then again he drives a Ferrari, so I guess he had it coming. Enjoy those $7,500 strut replacements, sucker.
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Reply #23 on: May 16, 2007, 09:53:33 AM

For balance though, it would be nice to hear from one of the  employees retained by Sigil/Sony but I'm sure no one is going to be getting that interview anytime soon.   smiley
There is a post on the FoH boards from Nino (who got rehired by SOE to be one of the four people in the 'secret project' team under Jeff Butler) which, while being deliberately vague and couched in generalities, could be read as possible confirmation to the general feel & sentiment of this interview. Especially the last paragraph of it.

(No link because I'm at work. Sorry!)

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Reply #24 on: May 16, 2007, 09:55:15 AM

Great interview with really probing questions.

While 'how Vanguard turned out' is evidence enough that something wasn't quite right at Sigil games I think it is important to keep in mind the interviewee wasn't 'rehired' by Sony/Sigil.  There may be a very good reason for that and if there is one must weigh his/her responses carefully.

I know through my personal experience as both a front line employee  and  later middle management (thank God I do neither now) that the  'the reality' is sometimes  heavily distorted, especially if the employee is disgruntled.  At times he adopts the meme of the little guy down in the trenches  always fighting the good fight against  clueless and egotistical managment who just doesn't listen to him/her.  This is usually the common thread in these kind of situations. Nine times of of ten the hard reality is usually in the middle and could swing either way depending on the reasons for the employee dismissal, or in this case their failure to be rehired.

I want to emphasize that I am not disputing any of the claims because there is no way to prove them otherwise and clearly some of the stuff  is both  believable and shocking (the firing).  For balance though, it would be nice to hear from one of the  employees retained by Sigil/Sony but I'm sure no one is going to be getting that interview anytime soon.   smiley








True but the results of the project are consistent with the general tone of the interview.  The details may (are) diffrent depending on perspective but if even half of the observations are true, they were in for a big challenge.  

I would take the comments regarding the new leadership with the most doubt since it's unfair to blame the new SOE project managers for the failures of the game, that result was cast long before they came on the scene.  
Ixxit
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Reply #25 on: May 16, 2007, 10:19:26 AM

Quote
True but the results of the project are consistent with the general tone of the interview.  The details may (are) diffrent depending on perspective but if even half of the observations are true, they were in for a big challenge.

I agree, but that is pretty much what I was saying  :-D


Also, the interviewee gives the impression that middle and upper managment are soley  responsible for the resulting mess, absolving the front line employee of any blame.   Making quests was hard because a tool wasn't created to make them;  still that doesn't explain why a great deal of the tests were broken.  Many of them worked after all.  Why was the engine so clunky and underoptimized (which is Vanguard's biggest and most publicsized problem)?  Maybe the coders weren't up to the task.  How many team leaders didn't get or demand the best from their people?

Vanguard had problems on so many levels I think,  I think now that fingers are starting to be pointed it is somewhat disingenuous to point the finger at 4 or 5 individuals.

« Last Edit: May 16, 2007, 10:22:03 AM by Ixxit »

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Reply #26 on: May 16, 2007, 10:31:31 AM

For balance though, it would be nice to hear from one of the  employees retained by Sigil/Sony but I'm sure no one is going to be getting that interview anytime soon.   smiley
There is a post on the FoH boards from Nino (who got rehired by SOE to be one of the four people in the 'secret project' team under Jeff Butler) which, while being deliberately vague and couched in generalities, could be read as possible confirmation to the general feel & sentiment of this interview. Especially the last paragraph of it.

(No link because I'm at work. Sorry!)

This post?

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Reply #27 on: May 16, 2007, 10:33:27 AM

Even if it was crappy low level people, they were hired and supposed to be lead by high level people. The responibility falls on thier shoulders, not the people in the cublices.

In any case, cases such as this are common in Every industry, it's not the sole province of online gaming MMOG's. You could eaisly redo the "smartest guys in the room" the MMOG version, though very few failed game companies reach the hight of Enron etc (the best example I can think of is the Original Warhammer Fantasy).

Mabye they thought their game was so good, they didn't need more than 1 QA tester. 

BTW, fantastic interview.

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Reply #28 on: May 16, 2007, 10:37:28 AM

mmmmmmmmmmm  tastes like Wolfpack.

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Reply #29 on: May 16, 2007, 10:43:55 AM

Great, great interview.

Would have LOVED to see something like that for SWG, but oh well.  Fantastic read nonetheless.
I agree completely. It was a bigger train wreck than VG, and I bet there are a lot of great stories there.

I love the position : "You're not right until I can prove you wrong!"
Ixxit
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Reply #30 on: May 16, 2007, 10:46:06 AM

For balance though, it would be nice to hear from one of the  employees retained by Sigil/Sony but I'm sure no one is going to be getting that interview anytime soon.   smiley
There is a post on the FoH boards from Nino (who got rehired by SOE to be one of the four people in the 'secret project' team under Jeff Butler) which, while being deliberately vague and couched in generalities, could be read as possible confirmation to the general feel & sentiment of this interview. Especially the last paragraph of it.

(No link because I'm at work. Sorry!)

Thanks for the head up, and Hutch for the link.  Lots of stuff there between the lines .

I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhauser Gate.
Engels
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Reply #31 on: May 16, 2007, 10:49:41 AM

Vanguard had problems on so many levels I think,  I think now that fingers are starting to be pointed it is somewhat disingenuous to point the finger at 4 or 5 individuals.

From the Nino interview, linked above:
Quote
I promised not to be publically scornful, but I will say this: I hope those truly responsible for the deep rooted failings of the company lay in bed tonight and relive the events that transpired today in their heads, over and over. For not ONE of you is without your job come tomorrow morning.

Ixxit, I know what you're saying; I've been 'victim' of mass layoffs in situations where from a purely strategic position, it made sense of me and hundreds of others to be laid off. Naturally, there's still feelings of betrayal, and even a few outspoken disgruntled employees. Later, in the final analysis, it becomes clear that our positions were slated for the axe, due to the job we were doing and the sound fiscal decisions made by management.

That is not what happened here: The entire tragedy reads like a moral tale written by Maxim Gorky. It is clear that in this particular case, it was entirely upper management that had their heads in the sand, or worse, were willfully negligent of what they were entrusted to do. It happens often enough within corporate environments; there are droves of corporate class bums who always stay on top while mishandling the projects they are entrusted to work on.

I should get back to nature, too.  You know, like going to a shop for groceries instead of the computer.  Maybe a condo in the woods that doesn't even have a health club or restaurant attached.  Buy a car with only two cup holders or something.

-Signe

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Ixxit
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Reply #32 on: May 16, 2007, 10:49:56 AM

Even if it was crappy low level people, they were hired and supposed to be lead by high level people. The responibility falls on thier shoulders, not the people in the cublices.

Yeah, you are right about that.  Nino's post at FOH pretty much confirms it, and really  sums up the human cost.  

Quote
That is not what happened here: The entire tragedy reads like a moral tale written by Maxim Gorky. It is clear that in this particular case, it was entirely upper management that had their heads in the sand, or worse, were willfully negligent of what they were entrusted to do. It happens often enough within corporate environments; there are droves of corporate class bums who always stay on top while mishandling the projects they are entrusted to work on.

Yeah,  I can definately see that.
« Last Edit: May 16, 2007, 10:52:43 AM by Ixxit »

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Reply #33 on: May 16, 2007, 10:50:15 AM

Excellent read. Thanks for the interview. It gave a lot of insights as to what happened. I sincerely hope the good people on the team find a suitable home.

There's really a big difference between a Leader and a Manager. A good Leader is not necessarily a good Manager, and vice versa. The best Leaders and Managers have qualities from both realms, but when a Leader who lacks managerial qualities is put into a position of power in management, disaster strikes. Interestingly, when a Manager who lacks leadership qualities is put into a position of power in leadership, more often than not you don't get disasters, but rather, simply mediocre products (but it will be finished to a reasonable extent).

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Reply #34 on: May 16, 2007, 10:54:35 AM

This interview is, by far, much better than any other interview on the subject that I have read.

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