Sunday 12 May 2013

Thoughts on Slender: The Arrival

Slender: The Arrival is the commercial version of a free game called Slender. The original was based upon a a simple concept: find eight pieces of paper before the Slenderman, a now famous creature that started out as an internet meme, gets you. I wrote a blog post about the game when it was released and as a short experiment I found it quite interesting, but wondered how one would make it into a longer experience. So when I heard a commercial version was in the works I became quite curious, and gave it a go soon after release.

My initial guess was that the game would essentially be like the original, but set in different locations. Each of these would have special collectibles, instead of the original's pages, and some form of modifiers, e.g. mud that makes movement slower. So when I launched the game, I was quite surprised to find out that it started out as an adventure game. Slender:  The Arrival began with my car having broken down somewhere in the forest; I was met by a beautifully rendered forest path, the sun was shining and there was a sense of calm. As I started walking the sky got increasingly darker and by the time I arrived at a desolate house it is almost pitch black.

This was a very simple start, but also an extremely effective one. It set up a notion of how things ought to be and gave something to contrast with later on. Part of the trick was also that I knew there would be a Slenderman, but had no idea what shape it would take. The game had planted an idea in my head and put me in a very suggestive state.

Walking around in the abandoned house, I found notes, news clippings and other things that hinted of normality. But among these were also signs that something was wrong. At first it was just some weird graffiti and the tone of some texts, but as I progressed further things got worse. Having found a flashlight and a key I came across a room filled with weird sketches. Numerous of these depicted a dark, slim figure. My hear-rate was quite rapid now. The slow pace combined with my expectations was making my imagination run wild. Approaching a window, a scream echoed through the night.

I did not want go outside, but felt that I had to. I exited the house and entered the woods. Being unsure where to go I headed in the wrong direction and became lost in the wilderness. At this point a slight distortion appeared on my screen and a vague whisper was heard. Normally, I am not very affected by horror games, but at this moment a chill literally ran down my spine. I was honestly unsure if I could continue playing the game any longer. The build-up was hitting with some force.

Eventually I found my bearings and headed in the direction of the scream. I walked through a gate and a new map loaded. I started the new map facing a canoe and some ranger cabin; the environment did not seem to fit and the house I came from were nowhere to be seen. Instantly I had a real problem with the continuity. It felt like I had been transported somewhere else entirely. Walking around I also quickly figured that I was supposed to collect eight notes scattered around the area. I had no idea why, it made no sense to my subjective narrative. All of this meant that my sense of presence took a drastic drop; a drop from which it never recovered.

The game was still spooky, but a far cry from what it had been. I managed to pick a few pages and it was not long until I got visual distortions and heard creepy sounds. I quickly understood that this was simply a mechanism for telling me when Slenderman is getting closer, and it never became very effective. Soon after I had some sightings of the creature too. It was spooky at first, but could not compare with the terror felt during the prologue. The encounters became increasingly frequent and the effect was lost. Finding the notes turned out to be tricky for me, and I found myself running in circles most of the time.

At this point my sense of presence was obliterated and the game had lost all of it horror. It is all just a mechanical and repetitive trudge.I eventually died and tried again, but never managed to to complete the level. I quickly checked some guides to make sure was not missing out on some upcoming twist, but it seemed the collect items style of gameplay remained throughout. I felt I could not really bother forcing my through the levels and gave up on the game.

Despite being let down (or rather having my predictions confirmed), my time with the game was extremely valuable. The prologue was fantastic and induced horror in way that I have not felt in a long time. While the game failed to make use of its excellent introduction, it gave me a lot to think about, providing more insights into what really makes a great horror experience.

Now follows a summary of the most important takeaways:

 - Normality Makes Immersion Easier
Most of the creepiness comes from the game featuring perfectly normal situations and locations. It is easy to draw parallels between the game's scenery and your own life experience. There is no need to figure out the world and your place in it, all that comes automatically. This makes it possible to become immersed in the atmosphere almost instantly. It also makes the game leave a certain amount of dread behind after you have finished playing.

It is worth noting that having normality can cause problems as it also sets strict assumption of how the world should work. This is mostly problematic when a game has a wide range of interaction possibilities. It often cause players think some actions ought to be possible but are not or that the world behaves in the wrong way. Slender: TA escapes this problem by limiting the interactions available.

- Flow Is Crucial
When I first entered the house in Slender: TA it was engaging to explore it; every room I visited added to the atmosphere. But once I had gone through all rooms I was unsure how to progress. This state lasted for quite a while and I just ran aimlessly around trying to figure out what to do next. It turned out I had just missed a, not very visible, flashlight and were therefore been unable to properly explore the pitch black rooms. For the five or so minutes I was stuck I was pulled out of the fantasy.

This tells me that is is of utmost importance that the player does not get lost like this, especially at the start of the game. When a game is all about atmosphere it must always be clear for the player how to continue. One must make sure the focus is to become part of the virtual world and not to figure out its rules. Slender: TA has this problem later on as well, and is an excellent example of why maintaining the flow is so important.

- Narrative Purpose Matters
When I started out the game, I felt like as part of a narrative. Sure it was not the a very complex one, "car breaks down and it starts to get dark", but it felt consistent and was easy to become immersed in. The most important aspect of this is that the player's thinking becomes centered around story elements. Happenings are not evaluated as output from a rule system, but as occurrences inside a story. This is a strong contributor to the sense of fear; for instance, sounds are not just part of some random event generator but utterances by the world that the player inhabits.

However, Slender: TA is not able to sustain this for long. The narrative reason for moving on became increasingly vague, and I soon found my self doing things simply because the game told me so. This is devastating from a horror standpoint as the world now get treated as system. The fiction is no longer the point of reference, but any event is evaluated in an abstract manner.

- HUD Can Increase Sense of Presence
It is often said that a really immersive game should get rid of any HUD elements. This is simply not true, and in many cases it is actually the opposite. Among many things, the HUD can be used to portray information impossible to display, help keep the player on track and add to the story of the game. In this game the HUD is that of a camcorder; looking at your shadow early in the game shows that the protagonist is in fact holding an actual camera. In a way this is a bit forced (why would one be recording at a time like this?) but I think it is rectified by the positive effect it has on your sense of presence. By having this filter between the world and your vision, you are never seeing anything directly; it becomes easier to accept the rendered, artificial world. By using this kind of HUD the game also emulates the feel from a shaky cam ghost/ufo/bigfoot/etc video, something which is closely tied to the mythology of the Slenderman and increases the effect further.

The camera HUD is also a great vessel for the visual effects that happen when Slenderman is near. Static noise, image tearing and chromatic aberration (where the components of a color are spread out) are all common camcorder artifacts and shaky video tropes. It is a great way to symbolize the presence of an evil being and connects the game with the surrounding fiction. In weird way, this also links the game to real-life: if you see any of these signs when filming, you will interpret them in a very different way.

Despite all the good stuff, I think the HUD is still underused. The most obvious thing to add would be some kind of navigational help. This would be a great way to fix the flow problems that were pointed out earlier. The camera HUD would also have been great for displaying story information; messages and strange images  could pop up in the HUD and give more depth to the narrative.

- Being Cute Just Ain't Worth It
The house at the beginning contains two a posters with logos of the developers. I really dislike things like this. There is no reason for these posters to be in the house apart from being an attempt at a joke - a joke that I think few appreciate. If a game wants to have  a world that the player take seriously, these type of things are horrendously out of place. They destroy the sense of disbelief and makes the player less likely to put any significance to objects found in the environment  In a game like this it is crucial to make sure of ever last detail serves a purpose and help tell something of the game's story. They should never be used to deliver some lame joke or easter egg.

Summed up, Slender: The Arrival is far from a great game and has many flaws. But it also contains some excellent things. Especially noteworthy is the the build-up, which is one of the best I have ever seen in a game, rivaling my memories of the first Silent Hill. The bad elements are also bad in a very enlightening way, which makes the game especially interesting. It is a must play for anyone interested in horror.

Official page for Slender: The Arrival
My blog post on the original free version of the game.
Information on the Slenderman.

  • It is interesting to note that part of why I found the start so frightening was because I knew some of the game's fictional aspects. This means that the way PR is made for a game can greatly influence the experience of playing it. We noticed this with Amnesia as well; some players started out very tense simply because of what they had heard about the game,
  • The counter intuitive idea that a a HUD can actually increase immersion reminds me of Metroid Prime (from 2002 on Gamecube). Here all HUD elements are displayed on your visor which sort of exist in the actual game world. This visor HUD is also used to enhance other effects  such as rain, and does so to great effect.


  1. Instead of embedding links I am now putting them all at the bottom. This in order to have all the external information more visible and not disrupt the reader. I also will put all non-essential comments and ranting as notes at the bottom. I hope this makes the articles cleaner and easier to read.

    I also read that having links in articles can decrease the focus of the reader and make them more likely to not understand the content. I wanted to have a link to that but cannot find the article, anybody know which one I refer to?

    Please say what you think of this new layout.

    1. My opinion :
      hmmmm.Jumpscares are negative for me :) but looks frightened.Same like a free version. + story is revised,graphics and characters,new monster
      - they might(developers) insert a new element in game
      Game is Nice.Storyline is not bad.Gameplay and other mechanics are fixed like a flashlight and graphics.
      Thats good than I didnt spent 20$ on game.

    2. It is funny you mention players being neevious simply based on what they hear about a game, you are the 5th person in recent months I have heard say Silent Hill 1 is scary and I know when I play it on my PS3 for the first time I am going to be really tense. Especially as your comments (due to you being part of a studio who made what is one of if not the most scary game ever) have a lot more weight than others.

    3. I did like that there weren't any links in the article, they tend to distract me as I instinctively open a new tab for each of them and pretty quickly lose track of what I was reading.

  2. The flashlight problem is interesting - I had the exact same thing with my first play of Amnesia. I was trying for a while to throw things at the locked door until someone told me there was a lantern to find.

    1. Well, it doesn't get much easier than the game having the lantern directly in front of the player when you enter the room illuminated by the only source of light, with a camera shake, a sound cue.

  3. Very interesting article! I'm always happy to read your thoughts on games.

    I've noticed there have been tons of indie horror games coming out lately, but very few seem to take the narration aspect very seriously (as you say : repetitive mechanics, for example, or illogical paths for the player to take in context of the narrative). But at the same time, some of these games explore interesting gameplay elements.

    It's kind of a shame that those indie developers don't take enought time to build a solid narrative, because if they did, it would make the gameplay shine even more. Maybe they don't see the link between the two.

  4. Was hoping to see a post about this game! I too enjoyed the prologue. But then the game became increasingly difficult to get through. Somehow I managed to live through the forest my first time through, but I was not so lucky on repeat attempts.

    The third level is pure frustration. There's a gameplay element that is never explained, and the key binding for it is not listed in the options. Even after finding it out externally, I never could finish the level legitimately.. Hell, I even died with God Mode activated.

    The fourth level, though, I think captured the magic of the prologue again. It's just a shame that the game is so uneven.

    1. The 4th is were you play as the girl trying to keep Slenderman out from the house right (read about this in a walkthrough). Wonder if there are any cheats so I can just try that one directly.

    2. Yeah if you asking about cheats i have all of them
      you can run faster or delete slenderman and you can complete whole mission with cheat.
      If you want I can give you.

    3. Yeah, that's the level. If you enter "unlockscenes" into the console, it'll open every level in the stage selection.

    4. Thanks! Will give that a try!

    5. Watch out
      In 4th level with girl...there is a glitch in her room

    6. Hey Thomas
      Have you tried the cheats on Slender :The arrival

    7. Yup, see comment further down.

  5. I totally agree with you. I must admit I had bought S:TA with some kind of prejudice: I knew it would have been hard to equal the same simplicity/effectivness of the first one but I wanted to give it try. The prologue was good and immersive and so I was getting optimtic about it except for the facts that I've found the scream thing was kinda cliché, and that after exploring all the rooms it took 15 mins to find out where to go next. During those 15 minutes all the tension was rapidly going away. When I got to the next stage, the sense of continuity was totally lost and I was simply thrown in a "better looking" version of the first game, with more worsenings than improvements: the slender man had obviously lost its novelty effect and it seemed to show himself too often: in 20 minutes of gameplay it was more a pain in the ass/makes me restart thing that an actually scary presence. The only good moment was while, during one of the first "meetings", I have started running in the woods and the camera was very shaky and disturbed. That was the best thing in the game but it lasted for like 20 seconds. I died and tried some more but the difficulty level was frustating and the horror was not there anymore. I stopped to play the game when the Slender man killed me through a wall while I was inside the building: I mean, I experienced some kind of graphic bug that made him look like he was half outside the house, half inside. Turned off the game and never played it since then.

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  7. I'm guessing you didn't get to the 3rd level (the tunnels) as this is even worse than the forest. It took me more than 5 attempts to complete the forest and 25+ attempts (!) to complete the tunnels.

    I started to focus more and more on the mechanical systems behind the game with every death to the point of thinking the balance was completely arbitrary/unfair. All immersion was lost for me after my 2nd death in the forest.

    An interesting observation I had about Slender - I found myself not really caring about any of the narrative elements after the opening level because there was a constant pressure on me to run and collect the next note/item/whatever. In games like Silent Hill and Amnesia, I felt that I was rewarded for taking time to explore every inch of the landscape and yet. Far from removing me from the horror, I felt like I was becoming more immersed in the game world. With Slender I knew that once I picked up that 1st item I'd have to run around the environment in a haphazard fashion to collect the rest.

  8. The start if the game really was great, but after that it became more of a letdown and they tried to force in game mechanics.
    The collecting works, but not in a immersive PC game. If you have an iOS device try out Slender Rising, that game perfected the mechanic and made it a "5 Minutes of jumpscare on the schoolyard" experience. I also disliked that the camera was constantly shaking with static building up. That was more annoying than scary.

  9. I hate Slender games. There is, after all, a difference between a horror game and a horror first person simulator. Amnesia/Penumbra is the former and Slender is definitely the latter; and it seems the blogger agrees. Running around for stupid bits of paper does not a horror game make. WHY am I doing this? What's the story behind him and it?

    It's a totally empty world, except when you turn around and he's there. So you get shocked. Big deal. But you could turn around and there be a giant smiling panda and you would also be shocked. Or a grandfather clock with arms. Same. For a game series to be so popular as a result of this particular 'character' amuses me no end.

  10. I completely agree with you on this one. I also got stuck on the first level, and had no real motivation to attempt to progress, especially as many reviewers stated it got even worse after the first level. I also found the posters in the house distracting, and broke the immersion.
    The game mechanic of finding eight pages was sufficient for the short, free game, but it simply ruined The Arrival, in particular if you played the first and had adjusted to the game. It would be interesting however if they continued with the adventure style of The Prologue, as although it would have lacked any game mechanic and would have been much more of a linear game, it may have had my interest sustained and it could have been more horrifying as a result of it.
    Overall I find that Blue Isles misinterpreted what made the original such a success and so scary, and picked up on the wrong things to develop in this game. It again falls in to the trap of working as a short, scary game, but losing any effect it has on the player after a short period of time.

  11. The problem with the second level of S:tA is that it derives challenge from confusion: it's only difficult because it's hard to find your way around in the dark. Slenderman's presence is almost irrelevant, because if you move constantly and simply avoid walking into him, he poses no threat. For anyone familiar with the game and its mechanics, there's no terror left.

    However, I very strongly urge you to give the game another try and progress to the next area (even if you have to cheat: press ~ to bring up the console and type 'progress' to complete the objective). While the second level is a rehash of the original game, the third adds new elements and surprises that restore the thrill. I'd love to see your thoughts on the remaining game.

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  13. I'm curious what you'd think about "One Late Night" ( which also has a strong sense of normality. Do they keep the flow and horror better than S:TA?

    1. Did not know about this one, saved the link and will give it a try tonight perhaps.

  14. Hey, Frictional people, how do you feel about small indie team like the one behind Slender, using third party engines ? Do you feel them to be competitive, bursting games more frequently at lower cost.. You guys started an indie horror wave. Hehe, like id Software started the FPS and soon there was a plethora of companies making FPS's almost as good as id themself.

    1. What I like is that it is possible to do very experimental games like this one:

      This can lead to very engaging concepts which would not exist otherwise. So yeah, that makes these small teams very competitive.

  15. The new layout seems good to me, nice job!

    I agree with your summary of what we can learn from Slender TA, although I think the first point about normality being easier to immerse yourself in deserves a closer look.

    My response to the first Slender game was to think "Who am I, and why I am in these woods? What is Slenderman, what's his motivation, and what makes him a threat? Why do these bits of paper have any significance, and who wrote them and pasted them around this wood?" These unanswered questions constantly took me out of the experience. The only gameplay is stumbling around in the dark collecting bits of paper without any logical use. On my first and only attempt at the game, Slendeman finally showed up, I quickly realised he couldn't move while I was looking at him, so it seemed prudent to fix him within my sight and back away. When the game killed me for simply looking at my "opponent" to long, I gave up in disgust. Perhaps if the game had educated me about this mechanic beforehand it would have had the desired effect.

    I think the key to immersion isn't a premise that conforms to "normality", but rather an understandable and compelling premise; whether fantasy or realist, as long as the circumstances the player is in and what their objective is are made clear, immersion should come naturally. To put it simply, you need a sense of verisimilitude (the appearance of truth) that makes a game environment feel like a living, breathing world, and this is what Slender lacks.

  16. Hey Thomas, have tried out a free horror game called SCP - Containment Breach?

    1. Nope, I know about it though and gotten the view that it is pretty much like slender but with a slightly different mechanic and environment.

      Anything noteworthy about it that makes it worth trying?

    2. SCP - Containment Breach is a curious one. It is based on a website similar to Creepypasta and tell's a story about a prisoner, who instead of death sentence is send to a mysterious organization simply known as a Foundation.

      If he performs and stays alive for a 1 month he gets to go free, all crimes erased from history and he is granted a new life.

      That is the basic premise of the game.

      SCP stands for Secure, Control, Protect. Which is the motto of the organization as they find unnatural objects, and secure them with different procedures. There is 3 classes of SCP and each having more difficult contaimnent procedures as they are more hazardous to the enviroment.

      In the game you, will be in the middle of contaiment breach. Where some horrifying SCP's have breached the security protocols. While using and avoiding SCP (inanimate and animate) your mission is to basically survive as long as you can, and get out.

      You can read about the Foundation in their website, it is really interesting. As they've made over 2000+ SCP each with their own f***k'd up backstories. You'll see some popular ones in the game. :3

      It is patched and stuff is added quite frequently. And this is the only game that has scared me as much as Amnesia.

      I hope you would try it, and maybe write about it. It is worth it.

  17. I am disappointed not to hear your thoughts on some of the later levels. While the middle levels suffered from difficult and repetitive challenges, I found the "lock up the house" level pretty memorable, especially since it paralleled the opening (which I agree was very effective). The ending corridors also felt well paced to me (despite not being extremely original).

    Mostly, I really wanted to like S:TA for its simple but captivating take on horror, but there were too many problems among some pretty great parts. I really enjoy your blog for the in-depth analysis of the video game horror, so if you have any more thoughts to share, please do!

    The new format works well. When you mentioned your original post on the first slender game, I was curious why there wasn't a direct link there. I've grown accustom to opening tabs as i read through an article, but this method seems to work fine too.

    1. I tried them last night and find them all to be similar to the what I had already played. Filled with promise and with some really good stuff, but bogged down by all the bad. I am honestly quite frustrated with Slender: TA because it could have been amazing had the developers focused on the right things.

      I hope they earn enough from this to give it another go, learn from mistakes and make the game it should have been in the first place. There are some signs of real talent (sounds, visuals, buildup, etc) in the game, and I would like to see that used properly.

  18. Hey Thomas you ever heard about popular horror game
    Among The Sleep
    You played as 2-year old child alone in middle of the night
    Free Playable alpha

    1. Yup, backed and played alpha. Looking good!

    2. Yeah i played it too just finished.
      Horror elements are pretty awesome and scary
      What do you think about Outlast

    3. Haha, I have really seen to little about outlast to have much of a proper opinion. But just my sort of first impression is that the general idea (rouge-like horror) is great, but that the setting and creature design is boring.

    4. I agree with you Thomas.Monster is awful

      First rule in horror development
      "Never show the monster in the trailer"
      Because suprise going down.


    6. I dont agree with them
      They doesnt have experience with horror developing

  19. Haven't played the game myself, but a letsplayer I follow in youtube played it through. I found the generator level quite creepy (which is sadly a bit rare for me), so I was a little disappointed that it didn't affect you at all (supposedly). Oh well, I'm not a "Slender fan", anyway.

    But since everyone is asking you about other games, do you know the game 'Kraven Manor'? (And if yes, what do you think?)

    1. Never heard of it til now, checked teaser trailer and looked very nice visually. Gonna try it out. Thanks for the the tip!

    2. That's what I was talking about - Both Outlast and Kraven Manor were made with Unreal engine and are looking very nice. The Kraven Manor is even a free game, made by several students. Quote from their site : "When AAA quality meets horror indie games".
      Everyone making games with their own stuff commercially must be aware of the availability of cheap and nice engines these days, not to fall into position to compete with kids making game for fun in their free time.

  20. Hello Thomas,
    I really like your vision on how games should be, especially horror games/ story-based games(or should they be called interactive stories instead?), as well as your taste in stories (Lovecraft)and thus I asked myself if it would be possible that you upload a list which contains the best games you have played as well as the most outstanding stories you have read! :)

    It´s just that ,whenever I read your past-blogposts (Or the posts of other mombers of frictional games, I dont know!)I have always clicked on one or two hyperlinks and immediatley found a great new game I enjoyed very much! ^_^
    (Mostly little ones like "Majesty of colors", "Photopia" and "Everyday the same dream" as well as "To the moon" and much more.

    So yeah, that´s all I wanted to say and ask for! :)
    Keep up you great work, that´s by far my favourite blog and I oftentimes really "dive" into the subjects you are writing about. Not a thing I normally do, just to let you know!

    Greetings from a fan in
    Europe, Germany, Bavaria, Munich, My house, the chair I sit in while staring at a computer monitor on a thursday evening!

  21. Hello!

    Sometimes i read your blog but i am not a daily reader of it.
    I just wanted to ask you a question. First, congratulations for the Amnesia The dark Descent... It was awesome! freaking scary and awessome! :D But actually some stuff in game make me think why not make a second episode? there is 5 or 6 times that Alexander "thinks" or "talk" or have some kind of memory, from her love in another world (sorry but its difficuld to understand since english isn't my native language).... Why not make another episode about his wife in the other world? or something like that? If daniel sent aggripa to the portal, she could had make him talk and find a way to summon daniel on the other world. Sorry for the offtopic but just wanted to ask this.

    Best regards,
    a proud linux amnesia the dark descent owner,

  22. I've never understood, why are Slender-based games so popular. It's nothing special. Amnesia:TDD is MUCH better than any Slender game. It's a real horror experience. And I assume that Aamfp will be even better.


    1. Well, I tyhink they are popular because of various reasons. Some of wich is that they are using premade engines that is used by a large community. If someone makes a Unity game and post it on their forums, it automatically get lots of attention and heap. By the way, all the horror games referred in this discusion are made with Unity. The Slender series, "One Late Night", "Among the Sleep" etc. Probably Unity is getting a lot of momentum these days.
      I hope games made with premade tools and engines do not kill the real game studios like Frictional games, which write their own stuff.

  23. Hi. I've enjoyed reading your blog for awhile now. The YouTube channel "plague of gripes" did vid series on the horror genre. You should check it out.


  25. Let me put it this way :
    For such a game, made with Unity by 10 people - I don't really like it :)

  26. Hey Thomas, have you played scp-87-b? Its a free horror game made by the same guy who made scp containment breach, it was his first horror game. I find it to be way better than breach though. The levels are also dynamical generated like in containment breach. I highly recommend you check it out, I think you'll find it to be quite tense. I think you'll be rather surprised.

    -Jesse P

  27. Are you me? I had the exact same experience with the game.

  28. "... eastern egg."
    The Arab bunny strikes back!

  29. Just noticed in their 1.3 update, they've added an easy difficulty. I haven't given it a legitimate run through yet but playing through levels 2 and 3 - I did end up having to try to get a game over. Might be a better experience now. Shame that it's a bit to late for me to get a fresh take on that.

    Seems to have introduced a few more sound bugs though and haven't fixed any existing ones. There's also a new level, but it's just a more faithful recreation of the free game.

  30. horror snobs. I can bash Amnesia the same way and make every single aspect of it look bad and how it "takes me out of the game". From a single door not opening right till the last bug.. and last scene with columns (which was bad). Outlast>>>any Slender>>>Penumbra>>>Doom 2>>>Amnesia. yep, even a FPS like doom is more scary.


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