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Old 18-09-11, 18:31   #1
Clara [CA]
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Arrow Next Friday, in Paris...

As some of you know, I am running http://www.captain-alban.com and, as such, I've been invited, along with a few other French webmasters, to a preview of the next Tomb Raider game at Square Enix France's office in Paris.

There, we will meet Meagan Marie, as well as the French team (including Sacha, our very own Community Manager ), and will get to see the next Tomb Raider live (not completely sure if we'll be allowed to play... I don't think so but, hey, there's hope !).

What's sure is that we will get to ask questions, so if you have any, feel free to post them in this thread

The full original account can be read here in French. I am translating it here as a courtesy and because I want to avoid any Google/Babelfish misunderstandings If you use it for your website or blog, please, link back to that original article. Thank you.

For a good 10 years now, the team of Square Enix France has ben inviting Captain Alban to previews of new Tomb Raider games. Those sessions are always a mix of curiosity, hope, doubt and a lot of excitement ! The most recent preview session happened last Friday (Sept. 23) in Paris, and the doubt was heavier than usual : with A Survivor is Born, Crystal Dynamics is reaching a turning point by rebooting the entire story of Lara Croft. It is a calculated risk, but a risk nevertheless. Although, with all the awards won by the game at this year E3 [*], Crystal Dynamics seem to be on the right way to win their bet.

Meagan Marie, Community Manager at Crystal Dynamics, and Sacha Ramtohul, Community Manager at Square Enix France, welcomed webmasters of the main French Tomb Raider websites, they showed us a demo of the game, answered a lot of fans questions and then let us play with the new Lara. Except for the Square Enix and Crystal Dynamics teams, as well as the judges of E3 Judges Week [*], we were the first ones to get our hands on this new game. So, before anything else, we would like to thank teams from Crystal Dynamics and Square Enix France for this incredible opportunity, especially Meagan Marie, Florent Moreau, Tristan Perdriau and Sacha Ramtohul.
As pointed out in the last podcast [*], Crystal Dynamics are making daily builds of the game. The one that was shown to us dated from Sept. 12.


Day 2
This last Friday, a dozen of webmasters coming from all over France had a rendez-vous with Lara Croft, at square Enix France office in Paris. Greeted by Sacha and Meagan, guests took a short tour of the office before entering the meeting room, transformed for the occasion in movie theater. Lights are off, the screen is on, and Lara starts speaking :
« A famous explorer once said : ‘The extraordinary is in what we do, not who we are.’ I had finally said out to make my mark, to find adventure but instead, adventure found me… »

The level starts with a loading screen similar to the trailer’s colors, then fades to black. Slowly, the darkness is chased away and a blurry vision appears on the screen. It looks like a shrine with candles upside-down. The camera turns around, and then turns upside-down, zooming on Lara Croft in a pretty poor shape, tied and hanging from the ceiling of a cave. If you have been following Tomb Raider news, you’ll recognize the section presented by Crystal Dynamics at E3 [*]. But as soon as the blur fades out, it becomes obvious that none of the screenshots nor videos released from E3, even the super HD ones, are doing any justice to the graphical beauty of the game. The colors, the shadow and light effects, the reflections, even Lara’s skin seem way more detailed and vivid than on screenshots or videos.

Meagan explains that the idea is to make the player feel what Lara is feeling at the same time, which is rather well done : in the very first moment, Lara is burnt, she falls and lands on a metallic spike going through her side. There’s a general « gulp » noise coming from the audience at that very moment because nothing is hidden. There’s no fade-out, no blur, no shadow, not even music. There’s just Lara getting heavily injured and the noise of the spike going through her skin. Seeing it in such a light is definitely not the same as rewatching an E3 demo. With a lot of details, she slowly takes it out and gets up. her vision becomes blurry from the pain, she stumbles and the controler is shaking. A little further in the cave, she discovers the body of another girl, obviously another Endurance crew member, who didn’t have her luck. Again, the graphic quality is stunning : the characters and environments, in the light of the sacrificial altar candles, seem real. The lighting is subtle and the hard contrasts, such as the ones seen in Underworld, seem to be completely gone. Everything is integrated in the organic environment.

Lara takes a torch and lights it. At this point, there are help icons showing what to do. So, when she reaches a pile of rubbish, mostly wood and cloth, blocking the path, there’s an icon indicating that she can ignite it. Somewhere in the cave, a voice whispers « Shhhhhh… Shhhhhh ». The creatures who held Lara prisoner seem to have realized that she’s gone. Using her torch to get rid of the rubbish, she keeps progressing, walks under a waterfall, ignite her torch again and climbs some wood structure. Her moves seem to be hampered by her wound : at this point of the game, she can not jump very high nor far.
At the corner of a narrow gallery, a creepy man jumps on her, grabs her leg and starts pulling her towards him.
- Let go of me ! Lara screams.
- Stop…. struggling… mumbles the man.
If Lara lets go intentionally or if the player is a bit too slow, the man pulls Lara under him and then stabs her in the chest with an axe, covers her eyes and whispers :
- It will all be over soon
The audience gasps because, this time again, the camera doesn’t turn away and, if Lara has suffered in the past, nothing in the previous games compares to this raw violence. The word « visceral », often used by Crystal Dynamics to describe the game, makes complete sense here.

The camera also participates to that « gut feeling ». If, most of the time, the camera is placed traditionnally [read : behind Lara Croft], sometimes it zooms in or out for narrative needs. For example, when Lara goes through a narrow corridor almost filled with water, the camera, while still free, is almost above her shoulder, giving the player the impression to be seeing that place through Lara’s eyes. The only noises in the deadly silence are the tipping water, the whirring fire of the torch and Lara’s breath. Lara’s expressions are really detailed too. When you turn the camera around and look at her face, you can see a mix of panick, of pain and also a beginning of combativeness which will only go stronger. She’s lost, she’s afraid, but she hasn’t been stripped from her will to survive.

When she reaches a larger area, the camera takes a panoramic view of the place. There are lots of items and mechanisms, and the cave is divided in several parts. One of the side walls has big openings, set directly above the sea. From time to time, waves are rushing through, sending puffs of foam inside the cave. There are also rays of sun coming from the ceiling and playing with the water, and the rolling of the undertow, with the tipping water and, here and there, little torches crackling. Again, the level of details is breathtaking : whether with the boxes floating in the water, or the mechanisms, or the shark cages, every item seems polished and perfectly integrated. In other words, they don’t seem to be just placed there for Lara. The environment doesn’t look like it is built for her, on Lara’s scale. It looks like she has to adapt to the environment, and not the other way aorund.

This is where Lara’s few acrobatic skills become of use. The first puzzle requires cleverness, agility and patience. If needed, Lara can use her Survival Instinct ability to identify the useful parts of the environment that will help her solve the puzzle. And there something else : she finds food items in the cave too. Our understanding is that those are parts of the healing system.

After a little bit of research and some acrobatics, the puzzle is solved with a giant explosion and the cave begins to collapse. A breathtaking run starts, and Lara leaps from a platform to another as fast as possible. She’s not as agile as the classical Lara, but she’s not as stiff as she was at the beginning either. With death closing in, Lara doesn’t have a choice : either she jumps as far as possible, or it’s the deadly fall. The section ends with a rather long interactive cutscene. While earth is collapsing around Lara, the screen darkens gradually. For a second, it stays totally dark and it seems like Lara has been burried alive. But no, the young woman emerges from the ground with a gasp. In front of her, there’s that beautiful but terrible sight that you all know by now : the ship graveyard, where wrecked caravels lie nexto crashed airplanes and destroyed submarines, is reminding Lara that this journey is just about to begin…

Day 4
The next section starts with another loading screen, and Lara says :
« I’ve been here now for 3… no, 4 days now. I’m not sure I have the words to describe what’s happened to me since the Endurance was wrecked. Firstly, the natives here… aren’t friendly. I’ve seen what they did to one of the others – it was awful. It looked like they sacrificed her ; to what I don’t know. [shudders] ****. Poor girl. There’s something very wrong here. Lara out. »

The level presented next isn’t directly following the one seen before, but happens a little bit further in the game. Strange phenomenons are happening on the island. In the next cutscenes, Lara is heading towards an abandoned village and sees Conrad Roth, her mentor and captain of the Endurance. He’s fighting a huge wolf with double pistols. Once the beast is gone, he takes a look at his wounds and Lara helps him a little. Roth explains to her that there’s a pack with bandages and a radio in a wolf cave above the village and plans to go there but Lara expresses some doubts :
- You need bandages, antiseptics…
Roth stands up and tries to walk, but soon he faints.
- No no no no ! Don’t do this to me, you bastard ! says Lara.
She drags him under a temporary shelter and, after a few seconds of hesitation, decides to go on her own.

The goal of each section pops up for a few seconds on the screen. This part is called « A Cry For Help », and the first goal is to « Find Roth’s pack ». The main setting is an abandoned Japanese village, just against the cliff. The place is very exposed to the rain and the wind, and gives an impression of desolation even stronger than the ship cemetery. The impression is also very ‘tombraideresque’, reminding a bit of the Lost Valley, Barkhang’s Monastery or Mexico. It’s filled with mystery and there’s no doubt that all the shacks can be explored and that goods such as weapons, ammo, food or other useful items can be found. Lara can also pick some items and salvage the parts to upgrade her equipment : in this level, she has a bow and a knife that seems to be handmade from salvaged parts. Nevertheless, it will become handy at some point. Needless to say, exploration junkies will enjoy this part !

But there’s also plenty of platforming and acrobatics to learn and perform. The way to go up to the cave isn’t easy and requires agility. Just finding the path itself isn’t that easy : Lara can of course use the Survival Instinct to get some clues, which will highlight the wolf tracks and shed a beam of light on the wolf cave, but there’s still a feeling of « How the hell am I going to reach it ? »

If it is quite obvious that this is the engine from Legend and Underworld, it is as obvious that it has been improved. The moves are more polished. Jumps, for example, seem more finished, slicker and more interactive too, since it is possible to correct the trajectory and pivot during the jump. Regarding the other moves, Lara can do a wall scramble to grab a higher ledge. She can walk on a beam, use boxes hanging from ropes to get from one side to the other, etc. When she falls, she automatically grabs the ledge.

Once she reaches the top of the village and finds the cave entrance, Lara hesitates a little. There’s no wolf in sight, and the radio is regularly beeping inside the cave. She enters and whispers « I’m only here for the bag, that’s all ». A growl answers, somewhere far in the cave, and shadows keep moving around. The radio is easily spotted, casting a creepy red light on the countless bones on the ground. As soon as she get the pack, a huge wolf jumps on Lara and tries to bite her throat. The player has to be fast and precise to hit the right button at the right moment. Lara stabs the beast once, twice, but the wolf won’t let go. She suddenly plants the knife repeatedly into the animal body until it collapses on the ground. And yes, she tells the beast « It was me or you. », but, quite frankly, she whispers it and, after this kind of crazy fight, it doesn’t seem out of place to say something…

There are multiple ways to get down and back to Roth. In this presentation, Lara uses a waterfall to slide down to the village and the camp.
- Let’s see what I can do for you, Pops ! she says to Roth.
A few moments later, Roth regains consciousness. He thanks Lara for the field dressing bandage and asks her where a girl like her learned to do something like that. She stays kind of vague, and tells him that those wolves got nothing on a broken bottle.
It turns out that the radio transmitter doesn’t get any reception down in the village. Roth points out a radio tower, even higher than the wolf cave, and says that the reception should be good out there. Lara gives him a glance tainted with despair. He reassures her, and tells her that she didn’t think she could get the radio back either… but she did it anyway.
- After all, he says, you’re a Croft.
- I don’t think I’m that kind of Croft.
Her face expression says otherwise though, and when Roth hands her the climbing axe, she grabs it without hesitation.
- Let’s hope I’m a fast learner then.

One important thing about that cutscene is the quality of the actors play. The lines are very meaningful but the tone stays light. Facial and body expressions of both Roth and Lara are very detailed but also very subtle and avoid the temptation to get emotional or corny. There are moments of silence and exchanges of looks more significant than a line spoken out loud, and this is this kind of dialogue. Like Roth, Lara is keeping her head straight and starts showing that kind of determination we all know…

This is where the presentation ends and the Q&A starts...


On the franchise and the game
- Will there be an entire franchise built after this game ?
With this reboot, Crystal Dynamics is of course thinking globally. The idea is to reboot the entire franchise and not just this one game, but this is step number one and the studio wants to make sure that this experience is perfect and well-received by players before thinking to a sequel.

- When will we see a gameplay trailer ?
Not before 2012. Crystal Dynamics intends to send newsletters, to produce podcasts and to update the blog, but, except for these community events, there won’t be any wave of new infos before 2012. Patience…

- Are there any news of a third movie ?
Yes, it’s been officially signed. That movie will most likely be about this rebooted Lara Croft as well, to stay consistent with the rest of the franchise.

- What’s the completion level of the project ?
The completion of the first section is around 70%, but the village section is less advanced. There’s no official state of completion for the global project.

- What’s the game duration ?
It is still too early to give a definitive figure, but the idea is to stay competitive with the other games of the genre, the action/adventure games of today.

- Will there be any game extension or DLC ? If so, on which platform ?
Crystal Dynamics is obviously not ready to talk about DLCs, but they are aware that exclusive DLCs, such as Beneath The Ashes and Lara’s Shadow can make a lot of players unhappy. They would like to have feedback about that, on Twitter, Facebook or the official forums.

On the gameplay
- Will there be several levels of difficulty in this game ?
It has become a rule in action/adventure games nowadays. Besides, Crystal Dynamics are really working on the calibration for each player. Those who want to really struggle should be able to do so.

- Will the help icons be optional ?
It is hard to answer at the moment, but this is another thing Crystal Dynamics would like to know your opinion about. If you think that help icons should be optional, then speak about it.

- Will Survival Instinct be optional ?
Yes, absolutely. It is just an ability that the players can triger whenever they want. It isn’t mandatory.
(I actually tried not to use it, and I got lost in that very same demo that was shown at E3)

- Will we be able to explore really extensively ?
Yes BUT this is not an open world. The players will have to discover the island in a specific order for the narration to make sense. But yes, the idea is that the player should be able to reach whatever they see, with the appropriate gear and abilities.
Let’s take the example of the abandoned village : for starters, she can only reach the wolf cave, she doesn’t have the gear or the abilities to get to the radio tower. When she leaves Roth, she has the climbing axe and it seems that she’s heading towards a base camp to get new abilities. She will then be able to reach the radio tower. Later in the game, it seems that she’ll also be able to climb even higher to the giant Buddha statue that can be seen on some concept arts. Oh yes, it also seems that there will be secrets to discover (but we couldn’t go into the specifics) !

- What are base camps for ? How are they meant to be used ? How will we travel from one to another ?
The studio won’t unveil too much about the base camps. We already know that Lara learns new abilities there but we couldn’t go into the specifics, such as the way the abilities are unlocked. We also know that, once a base camp has been discovered, it can be used to fast travel from one camp to the other. And it probably won’t be a cinematic cutscene à la Myst or Riven.

- Will the QTE be more organic than in the last 3 games ?
Yes, the controls are designed to be more natural in order to allow a better immersion in the game.

- Will the weather change troughout the game ? If so, will it be random or scripted ?
The weather will change, yes. For the demo, it is scripted for mood purposes but, at this moment, Meagan couldn’t specify if it would be random or scripted. She said she will include that question and the development in that field in one of the next podcasts.

- What are Lara’s new moves ?
There are several new moves, i.a. for climbing and exploring. The course-corrected jumps are new, such as the wall scramble… We can also count on new moves for the combats, although Crystal Dynamics aren’t ready to unveil them.

- Do you use the motion capture ?
Not for the game itself, most of the animations are created by the Animation team. It is the case for the cutscenes though : the actors are doing motion capture and voice capture at the same time, so that the cutsecenes are more consistent between expressions, movies, and lines. For example, when Lara pulls Roth under the temporary shelter, the actress recording the voice capture was really pulling someone on the ground.

- How does climbing work ? Is it free climbing ?
While we didn’t see Lara climbing her way up to the radio tower with the axe, we heard that climbing is more organic than before. That wall scramble move can be performed anywhere, but does that mean that Lara will be able to climb on any surface ? We’re not sure. She can reach the shacks roofs by wall scrambling then jump up.

- Will Lara have the twin pistols ?
No comment. Like Karl said in one of the last podcasts, there are some iconic parts of Lara Croft that Crystal Dynamics intends to keep, but they’re not saying which ones.

- Will Lara be able to shoot arrows with the bow ?
Yes. She collects some arrows in the shacks of the abandoned village.

- Will Lara have to feed to stay alive ?
It doesn’t look like it. Although food will play a role in the healing system, this won’t be a game where you have to pick up berries to keep Lara alive.
Note that she also finds food items in the abandoned village.

- What is the savegame system ?

- Are there more characters to reveal ?

- There were some deleted scenes in Underworld, which made the game look somehow unfinished. Will there be any deleted scene in this one ?
The goal with such a long production period is, on the contrary, to make a complete and finished game. Nevertheless, there are some ideas, included in early artworks, that didn’t make it into the game itself. We don’t know what ones yet, and we might never know.

Lara Croft
- Has Lara’s biography been completely changed ?
Yes. She’s 21, fresh out of the university. Her motivations, her life, her biography are playing a role in this story, so it is probable that we won’t learn more about it before the release. This is a rebbot of the entire franchise, and of her entire biography. So there won’t be Von Croy, Kurtis nor Natla in Lara’s past.

- Most of the fictions quoted as inspirations behind the game have a masculine leading role (Batman, AC, UC, 127 Hours). Are there women that are rolemodels or inspirations for building this adventure or rebuilding Lara Croft ?
Meagan wasn’t there for the beginning of the concept, so she couldn’t answer that question. Nevertheless, she thought that it is less a matter of gender than a matter of spirit : movies and games quoted as inspirations fit the spirit that Crystal Dynamics wants to set.

- Who is Lara’s English voice ?
No comment. Expect an annoucement in early 2012.

- Who’s Lara’s French voice ?
She hasn’t been chosen yet. There was a huge debate whether it should be Françoise Cadol, the woman who’s been voicing Lara since 1996 (and in the movies), or a voice that is fresh new. Most of players would like to have her traditional voice back.

- We know that there’s no an official Lara Croft model for this game, but will there ever be models again ?
No, never. With this game trying to be more realistic and a third movie in the works, Crystal Dynamics doesn’t think there’s a need for another Lara out there. It would just be more confusing.

Tomb Raider goodies
- Will there be a Collector’s Edition and what will it content ?
Crystal Dynamics will try their best to make a valuable Collector’s Edition as well as an official soundtrack. They will see that both of them will also be available in Europe. They also know that sometimes the goodies included in a CE can be a problem (the batarang included in the CE of Batman : Arkham Asylum was forbidden in some country).

- What are the other goodies planned ?
There will be more than just the CE, and this is once again a topic on which Crystal Dynamics wants feedback. They also want to avoid cheap but ugly stuff, such as some recent figurins that we won’t mention They want good goodies !

The test
Finally, the hands-on starts, beginning at Lara's rough awakening in the cave, until she gets out of the collapsing corridors. For starters, let's say that Lara, even wounded, is still very reactive. The camera itself is also very handy and it is rather nice to look at the details of the Scavengers Den or to look at Lara's expressions. It has been said that Lara dies a lot, and that is true ! We've seen her impaled, stabbed, crushed and of course we missed a lot of jumps too. Lara Croft still has many, many ways of dying !

It is natural to have some doubts about the process of rebooting a 15-year-old franchise, especially when it's a franchise that you're rather found of. But there comes a moment where you have to be objective and aknowledge the quality of what you're seeing and playing. And this Tomb Raider offers a great blend of cogitation, fights, acrobatics and challenging puzzles, taking place in amazing but scary environments. Whoever says this isn't a Tomb Raider obviously didn't play this game.

If every preview session we attended to had its lot of surprises, this one was by far the most impressive. From the beauty of the graphics to the details of the environment, from Lara's reactivity to the handiness [does that word exist ?] of the camera, it is VERY hard to believe that there's still more than one year to go before the release. The least we can say is that Lara has made a lot of progress since the first preview we got, just before TR4. And, strangely, while she's described as fragile and vulnerable, she also seems stronger than ever. Of course, the game isn't finished, and what we saw is the more polished part so far. But still, if Crystal Dynamics keeps this level of quality for the rest of the game, this one has the potential to give Tomb Raider its former glory back, and set an example for the next 15 years of action-adventure games.

One thing is for sure : Captain Alban isn't done telling you everything about Tomb Raider and Lara Croft !
I make my own luck ;)

Last edited by Clara [CA]; 27-09-11 at 19:20. Reason: I'm THE master of typonaise \o/
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Old 18-09-11, 18:37   #2
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Ask Meagan if she'll go out with me. Please!

Seriously, though, you're so lucky. I don't have any questions atm, but have fun!
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Old 18-09-11, 18:42   #3
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Originally Posted by Clara [CA] View Post
As some of you know, I am running http://www.captain-alban.com and, as such, I've been invited, along with a few other French webmasters, to a preview of the next Tomb Raider game at Square Enix France's office in Paris.

There, we will meet Meagan Marie, as well as the French team (including Sacha, our very own Community Manager ), and will get to see the next Tomb Raider live (not completely sure if we'll be allowed to play... I don't think so but, hey, there's hope !).

What's sure is that we will get to ask questions, so if you have any, feel free to post them in this thread
Clara, Clara listen, don't TOUCH

Any of the other questions!

Ask them if the entire island is modeled and if we can actually go anywhere we see and if we will be able to travel all over it near the end of the game.


edit: Also, ask how big the island is.
I get wild on ya baby
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Old 18-09-11, 18:42   #4
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You're a lucky person!
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Old 18-09-11, 18:46   #5
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OMG lucker!! :P I don't have any questions... Ok, maybe one but I think you would've asked it any way. Duration of the game, approximately at least?
Have fun and if I were you I would take a picture at least with Meagan Marie, she's just such a cool person! ^^
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Old 18-09-11, 18:48   #6
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Ask them if there's any
'get x to open x' method.
(example a key to open the door)
And you're really lucky!
Never felt that, never heard of that, never tasted that, never smelled that...
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Old 18-09-11, 18:49   #7
Tomb Raider
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Lucky you Have fun!
"I have quite cool and detailed daydreams" - Rai
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Old 18-09-11, 18:50   #8
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Hehe the beginning of a long tour for Meagan begins
@jaywalker2309. Mastering Manager & Licensing Coordinator :)
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Old 18-09-11, 18:56   #9
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Climbing! Ask them about the climbing!!!!!

That's so frigging cool too. I hope you have fun!
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Old 18-09-11, 19:15   #10
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Originally Posted by larafan25 View Post
Clara, Clara listen, don't TOUCH

Any of the other questions!

Ask them if the entire island is modeled and if we can actually go anywhere we see and if we will be able to travel all over it near the end of the game.


edit: Also, ask how big the island is.
Yes and don't forget to ask about dual pistols/weapons
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