Journey (1979)   3 comments

I picked up the thread of this one with an academic paper.

Al Tommervik’s 1981 Softalk feature highlighting the Williamses and their company shelves any claim to ADVENT’s primacy: “Roberta discovered and mastered Microsoft’s Adventure and fell in love with the genre. She bought Softape’s Journey and every Scott Adams adventure that was released. She loved them all, and then there were none left.”
Let’s Begin Again: Sierra On-Line and the Origins of the Graphical Adventure Game, Laine Nooney

The quick summary is: other academic papers just jump directly from Crowther and Woods Adventure to Mystery House, but Roberta Williams clearly had other influences.

Given what I’ve been doing on this blog for 7 years, I can support a thesis like that, but it struck me: what is this Journey game? The paper gave no detail, but based on the time span, it had to be a game from 1979 that I hadn’t heard of before. After an exhaustive archive search, I didn’t find the game anywhere on the internet, the only reference being from the Museum of Computer Adventure Game History which apparently had a copy. (It’s now listed on the CASA Solution Archive as well.)

From the Museum. The design here is pretty clever: that’s a hole where the tape goes, so the outer packaging works with any of Softape’s games.

I emailed Howard Feldman, the proprietor of the Museum, and after some back-and-forth on tech issues he managed to pull the game off his tape. The game is quite rare and without Howard’s help there is a strong chance it would have fallen into oblivion.

You can now download the game with the manual, right at this link. You will need an Apple II emulator (I recommend AppleWin if you’re using Windows.)

So, yes: this is one of the only games aside from Adventure and the Scott Adams games that Roberta Williams played before she embarked on writing Mystery House. I hoped there might be some obvious connection with her work, and there is a strong one in particular.

I’m not going to go into detail yet, because I feel strange spoiling the game immediately after announcing its discovery. I will post more next week.

If you do plan to try it, note there is an Integer Basic version and an Applesoft Basic version (the tape had one version on each side). I recommend the Applesoft one generally, but if you want more specific spoilers as to the main difference: (in ROT13) Gurer vf n eng va gur tnzr gung nggnpxf lbh ng enaqbz ybpngvbaf va gur Nccyrfbsg irefvba (nxva gb gur qjneirf bs Nqiragher) gung qbrf abg frrz gb nccrne va gur bgure irefvba ng nyy.

Also, while it is mentioned in the manual, I should give fair warning DESCRIBE is used instead of EXAMINE as a verb.

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Posted August 31, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Haunt: Descendants   13 comments

I have “finished” with one puzzle left undone (the combination safe). I’m going to spoil three puzzles. One of them threw off my entire conception of what is possible in a game.

From Brenda Starr #1 (1947) via the Digital Comic Museum. We’ll get to this shortly.

There’s a library where the response to >GET BOOK led me astray.

You get a book but discover it has only virtual pages.
The book disappears.

I assumed that meant the books were a decoy and moved on. I should have remembered the rule that in any game involving books or textual materials, to always try reading multiple times. I don’t know why so many adventure game writers have settled on this as a thing to do. In any case, after a second GET BOOK:

>GET BOOK
The title of the book is ‘Vampires I have known’

>READ BOOK
Vampires can only be destroyed by a stake through the heart, or by the light of day. They are invunerable to all other attacks. They dislike garlic and fear crosses. They are known to frequent dark rooms.

Even though the book seems generic, this is a strong hint as to how to deal with this guy:

When you open the casket you notice that a well dressed man
with pale skin is inside. He appears dead.
There is a huge diamond ring on his left hand.
Suddenly his eyes blink open, you notice the irises are red.
It is Dracula. Oops.
The casket is open.
Dracula has left his casket and is approaching you.

I have trouble categorizing this puzzle. It requires a step that is so out of the norm for a regular text adventure that it has never occurred to me before. I’m reminded a little of the game +=3 from 1994, which was created in response to the question “it is possible for a puzzle to have a completely logical solution, and yet be nearly impossible to solve except by randomly guessing commands?”

This isn’t quite that, and it might even be a “fair puzzle”, but it feels like the same territory. Since I’ve dripped a few hints already, I am fairly confident one of my readers can figure it out, as long as I also provide an inventory list:

piece of valuable jade
empty bottle
gold
silver candlesticks
stool
diamond corkscrew
wetsuit
speargun
coins
old chair

. . .

Getting out of the house: hoo boy. While the previous puzzle was marginally solvable, this one required a hint from the author because of how the game uses the parser. Things start in the elevator:

You are in the elevator.
There are a bunch of buttons on the wall.
They are labeled: P, H, B, HALT, OPEN DOOR.
Scrawled on a wall is ‘Homer kisses dead goats’
and ‘Homer turns my head’
On the floor it says, ‘L__t g_e_ _ere!’
The H is lit.

To be fair, the entire game the HALT button has been taunting me. If you push one of the regular floor buttons the elevator makes it there before you have time to push HALT, and the button does nothing if the elevator is already at a floor. I assumed that perhaps you slowed the elevator down with a heavy enough load, giving enough time for an extra button press.

This was not the case. The parser, while not taking unlimited sentences, does take up to five words, and you were supposed to type:

>PUSH B THEN PUSH HALT

The elevator doors close. BOOM!
The elevator bounces to a halt. SCREEEECH!
The H is lit.

I just want to be clear that NO OTHER SYNTAX WORKS. Even though PUSH B BUTTON works, for instance, PUSH B BUTTON THEN PUSH HALT BUTTON does not because it is longer than 5 words. Especially bad is

>PUSH B THEN HALT

because it gives the HALT command which is one of the ways of quitting the game. I first thought I hit a crash, but no: the game was interpreting my input “correctly”.

In any case, after the elevator halt, you can make it here:

You are atop the elevator. The machinery is of alien creation
On the side of it is a small decal.
The decal reads ‘afihYwn Matter Transmission, Inc’
There are two buttons on the machine, one says NORMAL.
The other says WAY OUT.

After activating WAY OUT and getting back in the elevator, using it leads to escape.

The doors squeek close.
The elevator shakes and starts to move down.
You feel like you are in free fall.
You hit a bump, and start to slow down.
You made it. The elevator has stopped.
The doors open.
You suddenly feel very ill. Your body seems to be dematerializing.
You can’t hold on to the stuff you were carrying.
POOF!!!
Poof!
Poof!
Poof!
You’re on the front walk.

Sadly, because of the parser troubles, this was the worst puzzle in the game, although it was to be followed by the most astonishing. (I don’t necessarily mean the next puzzle was “good”, but … you’ll see.)

. . .

The other main dilemma of the game, other than escaping the house, was that the house gives madness. I mentioned this at my first post about Haunt and it has remained a central mystery of the whole game. Specifically, it seems like only “your family” is capable of surviving the madness, so I had studied this clue:

This is a tiny closet. Against the wall is a skeleton.
Scrawled on the wall, next to the skeleton is:
Dear Bas,
So the mystery man finally decides to come home.
Well you’re a little late.
I was never able to resurrect your mother, but I saw in the paper that you have a beautiful redheaded wife, and a lovely child. I only hope she hasn’t inherited our disease.
I finally succumbed to the illness when I was unable to take care of the crop.
Good luck,
Dad

“I was unable to take care of the crop” suggested something about the dead garden outside, but watering it required getting a bottle from the house (which required me solving the elevator puzzle first). After watering the garden, an black orchid came out, and on a hunch, I tried to >EAT ORCHID:

Chomp! chomp. I don’t think your real family had a taste for orchids.
It looks like you aren’t one of those that knows how to digest orchids.

The beginning of the game asks for your name. While this is nearly universally always a customization choice, it occurred to me that this was perhaps a puzzle, and tried out “Bas” as the name. Unfortunately, this led to nothing different.

I was close, but not quite; I needed the author’s help here.

Brenda Starr is a soap opera comic that ran from the late 1940s all the way to the early 2010s. (Trivia note: it was written and illustrated by women for the entirety of the run.) The main love interest was (at least until the 1980s) the depicted Basil St. John, with black-orchids-as-medicine often playing a part of the plotlines.

The name “Bas”, the “redheaded wife”, and especially the orchid were supposed to be clues to this specific piece of pop culture. So at the very start of the game, you have to give your name as

>BASIL ST. JOHN

‘Oh, so you’re one of my descendants. Come in.’
‘You don’t have to answer any more questions.’
‘Good luck in your quest. Maybe you’ll do better than your father.’

although I should note anything ending with “St. John” or even just “John” works, so you don’t *have* to be the eye-patch character from the comic. If you choose the appropriate last name, the choice of liking “male, female, etc.” gets bypassed and instead the game sets that you are a “redhead” lover.

The door creaks open.
A voice from within says: ‘Welcome, redhead lover.’

This means that you can pick any of the descendants of St. John to get by the puzzle (maybe one that doesn’t have a redheaded wife, but your character still has to like redheads). However, it’s still true that to win the game, you need to name yourself correctly.

I can’t think of any other game which subverts the character creation process quite so completely. (I can think of a recent one that comes close, but I will skip discussing it due to spoilers.) In film, there’s a trick where what appears to be background music turns out to be actual music in the “real cinema world” (Blazing Saddles has a good instance of this); this similarly takes something which appears entirely outside the regular process of the game – just customization – and makes it both an essential puzzle and the thing the entire plot hinges upon.

Posted August 27, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Brief State-of-the-Blog Update / Survey   4 comments

Emily Short recently posted a great list of ways to support interactive fiction tools and creators.

I’ve never brought up having a Patreon here nor do I intend to get one (I do have a regular day job and I am doing OK, so I’d rather your money go to some of the fine creators mentioned at the link above). Just comment and link me where you can, and that will be enough.

I do have a related question, though. I have always used the free plan for my blog. I am aware this means WordPress pushes out ads at the end of blog articles. However, in my corner of the Internet universe, nearly everyone uses an ad-blocker. There are people who don’t, so let me ask: is it worth paying a yearly fee for the no-ad option? I would just do it out of pocket.

. . .

Also, general update: I’m working on my final Haunt write-up, and then I’m going to be posting about a “lost game” that is integral to interactive fiction history and that has never been previously available on the Internet.

Posted August 21, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Haunt: Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent   1 comment

1950: Cecil the Seasick Sea Serpent sings while accompanied by Harry S. Truman (33rd President of the United States) on piano.

This puppet-based TV show (Time for Beany) ran from 1949 to 1955, leading to the cartoon version (Beany and Cecil) which ran from 1959-1962.

At this point you may suspect you have wandered into the wrong blog, but I swear this is relevant to Haunt. From a few posts ago I mentioned this note:

Dear B___ie,
I ran out of air and had to come here. The moss isn’t nutritious enough to survive on. I hope you can use the diamonds.
Take care of _ec_l and he will take care up you.
Diver Dan

I had guessed the name was “Cecil” but was stumped up to there. Cue up a scene on the beach:

There is cool sand beneath your feet.

>DIG

There is a large conch shell here.

>GET SHELL

You now own conch .

>BLOW SHELL

‘Toot!! Toot!!’ The water near the beach begins to bubble.
A large form emerges from the foam.
There is a large sea serpent here. He looks friendly and he ‘slurp!’ licks your face.

Attempting to >PET SERPENT doesn’t work:

The sea serpent should be address by its real name.

You need to instead >PET CECIL:

The sea serpent replys: ‘Hi Beanie Boy.’
If you ever need help, you know what to say.

Well. You know what to say if you are well versed in 60s TV cartoons, or at least Google searches. A scene later:

The water is a little cooler here.
Something grabs the speargun from you and tosses it away.
There is a vicious eel here. He grabs you and starts squeezing.
You have time for one last request.
There are huge pearls here!!!

>HELP CECIL HELP

‘I’m coming Beanie boy!’
Cecil grabs the eel by the neck and hurls it away.
There is a large sea serpent here. He looks friendly and he ‘slurp!’ licks your face.

>HELP CECIL or >CECIL HELP do not work. (With the first, in fact, the game generates a random insult.) It has to be the exact catchphrase from the show of >HELP CECIL HELP.

. . .

Just to be clear, I did *not* figure out the above on my own. Rather, I decided to send an email to the original author of the game (John Laird) who helpfully replied! So progress continues, but I’ve got at least one very tough puzzle to crack before it’s over.

Posted August 13, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Haunt: Escaped (but not Finished)   4 comments

As a word of warning, I’m spoiling the end of the game, even though I haven’t reached the end of the game.

This picture is mainly here for spoiler space, but I’m sure all of you can agree $8500 for a computer is quite a deal. DEC ad via Vintage Ad Browser.

There’s been a “unicorn horn” I’ve been toting around for a while, but it never occurred to me to BLOW HORN. This causes a spirit to appear with a cryptic hint.

As your family is sheep, the gold that is YOUR color must be found before you can escape this estate.

Hmm. “Family sheep”, gold that is “your color”. This must mean “white”, but what could the “gold” be then? There is actual gold in the game but it wasn’t referring to that.

It was in fact referring to a bone in a grave I found before even entering the house:

>dig

Luckily, the dirt is soft.
There is a open grave.
There is a bone here that you identify as from the MISSING LINK!

A little extra persistence yields:

>dig

There is a large pipe that goes through the grave.
There is a lever on the pipe labelled ‘Emergency Release.’

Pull the lever and a truck eventually comes to do maintenance. You can sneak on the truck, escape, and get the endgame message:

VaVoom! The truck has started up.
Bump bump! You feel yourself being driven out of the yard.
As you drive by the gate you hear from the speaker:
‘Good job son!’
The truck drives on for a while then stops.
Your open the truck door and find that you are outside the walls.
You’ve escaped!
In the distance you here the trumpeting of a bull moose. James Watt is here with a check for $10,000,000 to buy the land for the Department of the Interior. He assures you that the government will not sell the land, but admits that he may allow some leasing of mineral rights. You have the option of selling it and making big bucks, or you can donate, with the restriction that it be perserved in its current state.
What is your choice? Sell, or donate?

>SELL does not go well:

Hmm. I don’t think your father would have approved.
Oh my god! Out of the forest a moose comes charging at you.
He is coming right at you. You can’t escape.
ARGHH! He gored you, but missed James Watt.

>DONATE leads to the “win”:

James Watt accuses you of being a reactionary idiot.
He stomps off, mumbling, ‘Those strip miners are going to be real disappointed’, and walks right through a pile of moose turds.

I think you made the right decision.
The party’s over.
Your final score is 40
The total possible is 440
Rank Novice! Are you scared of your own shadow?

Unfortunately, I can’t translate this into a “final win” yet because I can’t escape the house! When you go in the front door it shuts and locks behind you:

A booming voice proclaims:
‘YOU WON’T GET OUT BY A DOOR.’
‘… at least alive!’

There’s also a handful of treasures eluding me, including a safe with a three-number combination (and no text anywhere I’ve found yet hinting what that combination might be). Next time it’s either going to be victory or deadlock.

In case you’re curious as to who James Watt is, he was appointed by Reagan as Secretary of the Interior (1981-1983). This is the cover from MAD Magazine, October 1982.

Posted August 7, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Haunt: Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll   4 comments

The original author of Haunt (John Laird) once worked on a sequel called Haunt 2 using the Unreal Tournament engine. This is a screenshot from the now-abandoned project.

Before I get into the triad mentioned in my title, let’s warp back to the very beginning of the game. You have a “token” in your inventory which turns out to let you bypass the whole trivia section I was getting hung up on earlier, as long as you BITE TOKEN.

The token disolves in your mouth.
Your mind fills with a question you MUST answer.
‘What is your name?’
>WHATEVER
‘Second, which sex (male, female, …) interests you sexually
>SOMETHING
‘Your mother would faint if she knew that.’
‘POOF!’
You are on the driveway. The gate to the outside is to the east, but is locked electronically.
To the east is a wall.

I’ll refer back to this later. Now, for some reverse order

III.

… I mentioned this in passing last time, but it’s worth spending a little more time because I’m not sure if it’s meant as just a gag, or if there’s some puzzle-solving related to it I haven’t solved yet. When you first get to the house, “Muffled sounds can be heard inside.” Getting farther gets messages like “weird noises are coming from above” until you reach:

The noise is very loud, it sounds like someone is being flogged with chains!
This hall runs east-west.

>WEST

I can hardly hear myself think.
You now recognize the noise as being an ALICE COOPER GREATEST HITS ALBUM.
You are at a dead end.
A wire can be seen along the wall. It is just visible above the carpet.

>PULL WIRE

The wire SNAPS!
‘Silence!’

It may just be playing with the theme that spooky houses should play spooky music, but the game is also generally mean enough to require some other action here to win the game.

II.

Fairly close by to the entrance you can find a “refrigerator” with a “small white cube”.

>LICK CUBE

UHM! That tasted good!!!

>EAT CUBE

The cube tastes like sugar. You are suddenly surrounded by a herd of moose. They start talking to you about a moose-load of things.
One walks over to you and whispers, ‘Fa Lowe, why her?’
You look at your watch, but the hands suddenly spin!
You find yourself staring at the
m
o
o
s
e
?
for a long time, and enjoying it.

I’m not sure what “Fa Lowe” is a reference to, but I did find it on Google given as an actual last name. This also marks the third mysterious name I’ve run across addressed to the player. In my last post I mentioned a note from “Dad” which refers to you as “Bas” and one from “Diver Dan” which refers to you (or someone else?) as “B___ie”. (That’s three underscore marks; based on the other places where they appear in the game, that means exactly three letters.) The same note also says “Take care of _ec_l and he will take care up you.”

There’s enough weight and significance I have put some thought into putting these together, including trying to name the main character “Bas” in case it helps reduce the madness effect of the house. (It didn’t work, but maybe it’s a nickname.) The prologue says the ancestor should not go mad – maybe somehow your character isn’t the ancestor if you don’t name them correctly?

I.

Since last time I managed to get by the “intercept every input” puzzle:

This is the cheese room. The only opening is a trap door above, too high to reach. The walls are made of cheese.
There is a ghost in the room.
Its nose is pink, I believe it has been drinking too much.

>BOO

The ghost is scared to death and disappears.

>EAT WALL

I really prefer my cheese in smaller pieces, but we can give it a try. CHOMP CHOMP..
There is a hole in the west wall, with teeth marks around the edges.

Recall earlier I need to specify “(male, female, …)”. I typed “whatever” which led to this scene …

You are in the torture chamber.
A steel door slammed shut when you entered.
There are no other doors or windows.
There is a good looking whatever entrapped.

… and soon after, this.

The whatever likes you. You make love, talk a little, smoke a cigarette, take a nap, make love, talk, make love, take a nap, make love, etc. You get a gift and then you make love, talk, etc.
Finally the whatever tells you good bye and turns to smoke and disappears through the cold air return duct, overhead.
There are matches here.

I don’t have a lot of insight to provide, other than to note this is hardly the first mainframe game we’ve seen with this sort of thing; I’m especially reminded of the ending of Castle where you rescue both the prince and princess and end up in Nirvana together. At the hobbyist level, there wasn’t yet as much a division between “adult” and mainstream material.

Posted August 6, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Haunt: I Was Never Able to Resurrect Your Mother   1 comment


The back of a PDP-10, the mainframe upon which Haunt runs. Via Sun-collector at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0.

The backstory mentions that previous visitors to the house fell into madness. This is not an idle threat – while there doesn’t seem to be any light source timers or the like, symptoms and warnings start appearing, until:

You can’t stand it anymore, you are now totally crazy!
You start laughing uncontrollably, but choke on your tongue.
Ugh! Well at least you died happy!

The game hints there’s a way to cure the affliction (that is, you don’t just need to outright beat the game fast enough) but I’m currently at a loss. It may have to do with the plot, which I’ll get into later.

. . .

First, a tour of the map.

The main entrance to the house leads to a monster (easily placated by candy), Dracula (not so easily placated, I haven’t defeated him yet) and and Alice Cooper Greatest Hits album being run on a loop which causes general screaming through the house until it is shut off.

When you open the casket you notice that a well dressed man
with pale skin is inside. He appears dead.
There is a huge diamond ring on his left hand.
Suddenly his eyes blink open, you notice the irises are red.
It is Dracula. Oops.
The casket is open.
Dracula has left his casket and is approaching you.
>KILL DRACULA
Look turkey breath, this guy isn’t the jolly green giant.
You’ll never kill him in this room.
>N
Dracula stays in the dark room.
You are in upper hall .
You hear clanking and screams coming from the hall.

There’s incidentally a back entrance you can get to by climbing up some ivy, but there’s essentially just a master bedroom where I am stuck.

You are in what looks like the master bedroom of the mansion.
A large doorway opens to the balcony to the north.
To the east is a opening to the bathroom.
The main doorway to the rest of the house is boarded up and impassable.
There is a king-size bed in the middle of the room.
Some noise can be heard through the boarded up door.
There is a mirror on the ceiling above the bed.

You can sleep in the bed, but the game just makes fun of you:

Snooze…
.
.
.
.
.
… snort. Ah that was refreshing, but useless, you’re still ugly.

This “duct” section confused me for a while – if you go “up” or “down” you go endlessly. It appears to be an Escher “endless rising staircase” style setup, and there are only in reality 3 levels. If you’re careful, you can find a kitchen and then an elevator.

You are in the elevator.
There are a bunch of buttons on the wall.
They are labeled: P, H, B, HALT, OPEN DOOR.
Scrawled on a wall is ‘Homer kisses dead goats’
and ‘Homer turns my head’
On the floor it says, ‘L__t g_e_ _ere!’
The H is lit.

The “L__t g_e_ _ere!” suggests perhaps “Loot goes here!” but there is no score increase from dropping loot in the elevator, which perhaps suggest the elevator is greedy and merely lying.

Also, the instructions claim you get extra points for dropping the treasures on the lawn outside the house, but I haven’t been able to do this yet to find out if the instructions are lying too.

I mentioned this area in my last post – you go down to a secret wine cellar (which seems to have an infinite number of rooms, but there may just be more than anyone would have patience to map) and then into the “Cheese Room” which intercepts all inputs. I still haven’t gotten past this part.

Finally, the elevator leads to a giant ocean (modeled in by 6 by 6 by 6, with all the rooms present – I started just coloring squares on graph paper) which includes a giant monster, and octopus, and an eel:

The water is a little cooler here.
Something grabs the speargun from you and tosses it away.
There is a vicious eel here. He grabs you and starts squeezing.
You have time for one last request.
There are huge pearls here!!!

I’m not sure what last request would be helpful here. There’s also this place:

As you go up, you come out of the water and are on dry ground.
You are in a warm cave. There is a hot spring down below.
The PLACE is lit with luminous moss. The only way out is by the spring. There is a rusted old diving helmet on the ground that is immovable. Next to it is a skeleton and a note scrawled on the wall.
Dear B___ie,
I ran out of air and had to come here. The moss isn’t nutritious enough to survive on. I hope you can use the diamonds.
Take care of _ec_l and he will take care up you.
Diver Dan
There are diamonds here!

. . .

One other location has this scene (where “wife” can change based an earlier choice):

This is a tiny closet. Against the wall is a skeleton.
Scrawled on the wall, next to the skeleton is:
Dear Bas,
So the mystery man finally decides to come home.
Well you’re a little late.
I was never able to resurrect your mother, but I saw in the paper that you have a beautiful redheaded wife, and a lovely child. I only hope she hasn’t inherited our disease.
I finally succumbed to the illness when I was unable to take care of the crop.
Good luck,
Dad

If you’re puzzled, you may want to go back and re-read the opening text. In any case, the “Orkhisnoires sakioannes” reference earlier occurs again, and since the intro claims it plays some part in the general madness of the house, my guess is that figuring out what’s going on with the hereditary disease is crucial for survival and winning the game.

It’s a weirdly poignant dollop on top of what is a generally wacky and geographically confused game. I’m still enjoying myself, but I worry about I’m getting close to hitting a wall on puzzles. We’ll see next time.

Posted August 3, 2018 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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