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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Retro Review Tuesday: Mario Paint


Mario Paint is a game that makes absolutely no sense at all to those who didn't grow up with it. On
the surface it seems like an early version MSPaint, only with Mario branding. Which honestly a lot of the drawing portion is, though it's filled with all sorts of fun extras that make it way more exciting and addictive than sitting at your desktop. Along with the drawing portion there's an animation program, a coloring book, a custom stamp maker, a coffee break mini game and a composition program. In short it was a whole world of digital creativity at our fingertips long before there was MSpaint on our desktops or windows music maker,  or most of us even had home computers for that matter.


Mario Paint is one of the few games that utilized the SNES mouse. You use it like you use an ordinary computer mouse, you make selections with the left button. The right button has a few different context sensitive controls, but mostly it's used for going backwards while looking through the color palates. As you would expect you move around using the entire mouse. Like old computer mice it controls via a ball in the bottom and isn't terribly sensitive. It also gets dirty quickly so you'll often find yourself taking it apart and cleaning stray cat hairs and dust off the ball. Additionally the game offers three different mouse response speeds so you can experiment with which works best for you.

In the sections that aren't specifically the composition program, Mario paint still offers plenty of musical excellence. You can select what you'll be listening to  in the "paint" screens. You can select the main recognizable Mario paint theme (which I've oftentimes found myself humming in the grocery store),  by selecting the man doing push ups. A generic fun song, by picking the three monkeys. Or some "relaxed" new age style music, which is the staff filled with various things instead of notes . The thing that looks like a nose (but is actually a dog...maybe) is silence.

The coffee break fly swatting game has several background themes depending on the level you're on. The stamp creation screen has it's own music as does the save screen.

In the composing section there are three pre-programmed songs including a version of the original Mario theme. However, you've got almost no limit to the songs you can create on your own so long as it's within the confines of 3 notes per beat and 25 measures.

So your game in particular can have either a great Nintendo soundtrack with the kind of outstanding quality you'd expect from a first party Nintendo game of this age or you can have a fantastic personalized one depending on your skill and patience level.


The game has several parts.

1. Paint

The main part is a digital paint as the title would lead you to believe. As I said earlier at first glance it's an early version of your standard computer paint program.

Your main page gives you several basic options at the bottom of the screen, a movement tool to reorient any and stamps, a pen in three thicknesses, a spray can tool, a stamp tool, copy tool, a shape drawing tool and an erasing tool. The top of the screen gives you 14 pre-programmed color/pattern/stamp palates and a 15th row for your original stamp creations. For paint functions second page offers a letter box tool, which simply removes the tool bars and frames your creation.  There's also a page fill tool which fill the canvas with whatever you'd like without having to wait for the paint brush fill. And finally it also contains the text tool and custom stamp creation tools which I'll go into a little more depth about.

The text tool is exactly what you'd expect, you can use the full English alphabet in lowercase uppercase and italics, as well as what I believe is a full set of Japanese Kanji. You can change the colors and make them small or large.

In stamp creation you get a 16x16 grid with which you can create your own stamp images to use anywhere in the game. It works pretty much like the pattern editor in the Animal Crossing games, just with fewer functions.

There are also 4 coloring pages (which are for some reason located in the save an load screen) Which feature: an image of Mario on Yoshi, a collection of animals, a birthday cake, and an undersea scene. They're exactly what you'd expect black and white pictures you color using either the pen tool or the fill tool.

Depending on your level of skill and your patience the paint functions allows you to make everything from a few minute silly scene involving baby heads and flowers, or use the save feature to create a multi-hour multi session 16 bit Mona Lisa. However, all that could still be accomplished in a normal paint program that most of us have at our fingertips whenever we use a computer. What makes Mario Paint different and more fun is the little surprises. There are 9 different ways to do a full screen erase each with it's own animation, the paint brush dances while it's filling, and the dog runs around the screen when you ignore him. There are Tons of other fun things, but they're best discovered by playing the game.

2. Animation

On the second screen you'll find the animation tool which is represented by the person jumping rope. The animation screen lets you first select the desired number of frames for your animation 4, 6 or 9. You can free hand your animation within the box or use stamps. There are several stamps already set up for animation so making a walking Koopa, BaBomb or Spiney is quick and easy. This is also and excellent place to use your own custom stamps. There's a copy tool here as well so it's easy to copy from one frame to another to make sure you've got your positioning right as there aren't any grids to help you.

Once you're finished making your masterpiece you choose the path you wanted it take across whatever you've left on the screen. The path will take into account any starts and stops you make so you may want o be aware of that. Once you've decided on the animation and it's path you can view the animation you've made. On the view animation screen you can put the frame on and set your masterpiece to whatever musical composition you last had up in the composition screen making for a full cinematic experience for the ages! You can even save your full creation by using the handy save robot, be sure to enjoy the hot techno beats while you wait (I died with happiness when I realized this same save music was used in Mario Maker).

3. Composition

One of the most memorable parts of the game is the composing program. As I said earlier it comes with several preprogrammed pieces of music but you have almost endless possibilities on what you can create with it as many a YouTube video will demonstrate (though it's worth mentioning that most of the YouTube videos aren't made using Mario paints base program, but rather a computer program based on it that offers a few more features). In the composition program you start your new Magnum opus by first selecting a 3/4 or 4/4 time signature. From there you get a selection of 16 "notes" which range from a Starman to a baby's head to a boat, each with its own unique sound. You can put no more than three notes per beat 3 or 4 beats per measure, depending on your time signature choice, in a maximum span of 25 measures. Should your composition ended up shorter than the full 25 there's a a staff end tool which allows you to end early. You can also loop your creation which is a especially useful if you're going to set it to a long animation. Overall the composer is something you can have a lot of fun with and if you're musically inclined at all and you will very likely lose hours of your life to it.

4. Coffee Break

This mini game seems absolutely random compared to the
rest of the game as it has nothing do with any sort of creativity. It is however the only part that really seems like playing a regular video game. It seems as though it was primarily included simply to get players used to their using the mouse instead of a controller, but it really is a great mini game. Your cursor becomes a hand holding a flyswatter and your goal is to swat 100 mosquitoes,dragon flies,houseflies and bomb bugs. You then get a giant mecha bug you must hit several times while trying to avoid his projectiles and clouds of killer bugs. Once you defeat the bug master you move on the next stage which rewards you with a different background, different music and more of a challenge. You follow the same pattern until you beat all the giant bugs.

It's honestly a lot more and addictive than it sounds (which you already know if you've got the first Wario Ware), when going through the game in order to better write this review I got myself stuck playing it several times. It's also a heck of a challenge to keep your hand from getting stung/exploded/otherwise mangled and screaming (yes, the hand screams), I don't think I ever managed to beat it as a kid, but I know for certain that I spent hours attempting it. I'd like to take this moment to suggest that we all write letters to Nintendo asking them to include this game in their next set of mini games for the Wii.


Mario Paint is a fantastic game at the time was quite unique, (though there was at least one coloring book style game on the NES). There were very few games coming out for any console in the US that didn't have what would  be considered normal formulaic gameplay. Mario paint challenged you to make your own game, and use your imagination to create what you wanted to see. Even more amazing than the concept itself is that it worked so well. Named one of the top 200 SNES games ever released, even now, 20+ years later people still remember this program fondly and still use it. If you've got a creative side, or just enjoy smacking bugs, Mario Paint won't disappoint.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Collection oddities: Donkey Kong Card Game

I've finally managed to get together another collection oddity post. If you've read the oddities featured in this blog previously, you'll notice that we collect a wide of variety of strange objects from our various fandoms. One of the weirdest things that are more than a one-off bad marketing move (I'm looking at you crazy Irwin Sailor Moon toys), are Board games based on video games. There are lots of these based on games from pacman to Myst. Like most other things we feature in these weird little spotlights, it was most likely a bid to capitalize on the latest craze by branding as much varied merchandise as possible and hoping some of it resonated with the public. Outside of some game branded remakes of classics ( Uno,  Risk, Monopoly and Jenga that I can think of), this trend seemed to have  mostly died out in the late eighties/early nineties. Apparently most consumers didn't think moving video games to the tabletop was desirable, in fact it probably seemed more than a little ridiculous. If you check out our other oddities posts you'll note that ridiculous is right up our alley when it comes to collecting so these are perfect for us.

Collecting them is only half the fun though, to truly appreciate these monuments to corporate greed, you've got to play them. So one lonely night we decided to break out the Donkey Kong Card Game licensed by Nintendo, made by Milton Bradely.

First we've got the box cover, it's based on the original arcade graphics and says that it's "Based on the thrill a minute arcade game". Most of us weren't lucky enough to be able to have an arcade machine at home, and this was in 1981 so Donkey Kong was not yet available for home play. So naturally you'd want all the fun of Donkey Kong in the comfort of your own home with fewer quarters involved. So any arcade junkie would have rushed to snap this up and prepare for hours of in home fun with their friends and neighbors. Sure it's hard to imagine an insanely exciting board game, but this was marketed to geeks after all the same people who were playing D&D, people who know how to enjoy tabletop fun. So let's get the box open and start the fun!

Contents include 4 Mario pawns, a Donkey Kong, girder cards, a base girder and the instructions. Not very exciting looking for this angle, but hey we haven't gotten started yet so let's get started. The first step in getting started is of course to read the instructions. Here we hit a definite snag, the instructions are incredibly complex and confusing. There are a lot of important details left out. However if you approach it like a logic problem, you'll eventually figure out what to do in most situations. If not just make up your own rules as you go, to my knowledge tournaments aren't held for this game so it's unlikely you're going to run into any opposition regarding any rules you may have had to fudge.

The object of the game is to build a series of ladders and girders using the cards in your hand. You then roll the dice to determine how many spaces along the girders you can move (indicated by little dots). Once you get to the third girder you place donkey Kong at the top and try to be the first player to reach him so you can end his barrel throwing mayhem and be declared the hero. If you manage to build another girder above him, you place up one more, Donkey Kong is always placed on the top level. Making things a little harder are that you can place fire and barrel cards which the other players can not pass, if they hit one of these cards they have to go all the way back to the beginning unless they have a remedy card, which shows either Mario with a hammer or in a jumping motion, to cancel them out.

We started our fist game and as there were only two of us playing it went by pretty quickly if you don't count all the times we had to peek at the rules to see how something worked. For the second game we added another player and I'm not sure if it was because of the extra player, or just because of gameplay progressed, but things went much slower the second time around. The second game also yielded a much larger construction and much more competitive game. It's hard to tell in the small pictures but quite a number of "trap" cards and "remedy' cards were used. Overall I have to say that the game is surprisingly fun, especially if you make the arcade noises while doing certain actions. (Admittedly noisemaking might be reserved for advanced players/super nerds.) It is absolutely nothing like playing the arcade game, though who was really expecting it would be? It's a great piece of Nintendo history, and is actually a pretty fun vintage gaming collectible. You can enjoy it even if you don't love awful and ridiculous things that should have never made the market.

~Stephanie Don't forget to stop by our shop for video game collectibles:

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

September Coupon Code

First off It's mid month and I'm late getting this code up, but well that's how life is. To make up for it though it's good for 25% off which is quite a bit so be sure to use it by the 30th.

It's Septembersale

I haven't added anything recently as I've been way too busy, but there's still lots to available.

Also, I won't be posting a retro review today because the aforementioned real life action and adventure that's been keeping us busy. I do have a collection oddity post written though so I'll be posting that before the week is out.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Retro Review: Pac Man 2: The New Adventures

Today's game is one I recall spending many happy hours playing with my siblings, Pacman 2: The New adventures. It was released on two platforms, the SNES and the Genesis. I prefer the Genesis version because of some small sound differences so that's the one I'm basing my review on.

The team at Namco, drunk on the riches of the enduring success Pacman, decided that 1994 was the year they'd finally make a numbered sequel* to their ubiquitous arcade hit. Fourteen long years the fans waited to lay eyes on an updated, innovative title and Namco devised and delivered a unique experience.

* it's worth noting that the numbered part only corresponds to the western release of the game, it's called Hello Pac Man in Japan.

Apparently taking place sometime after Pac-Man's initial and bumpy foray into "normal" life, Pacland, Pacman 2 sees Pacman ready to put his wild days of wandering confused through dark labyrinthine hallways trying to get his pellet fix. He's managed to shake off his old ghost dealers cleaned up his act settled down in a nice neighborhood with Ms.Pacman, their two children and the family dog. Sadly it seems that years of unchecked pellet abuse have lefts Pac-Man's mental state a bit lacking. He's incapable of doing even the most basics task without guidance from the unseen omnipotent entity.

The controls for this game are simple. A shoots a power pellet, B uses the normal slingshot and C makes Pacman look in normal city areas or do the special action if you're in a mini game screen. I can't really say how smooth and responsive they are because you aren't controlling Pacman directly but, I haven't noticed any significant lag or any other problems of that sort.

On the surface it's graphically about the same as any other well rendered game in this time period with big, bright, cartoonish backgrounds and sprites. Once you've played it for awhile, you realize that this game is in fact a fantastic graphical feast of physical comedy. Pacman has dozens of animations, almost all of them hilarious. Pac-Man's follies and triumphs are each accompanied by a series of fantastic facial expressions and actions. The kind of stuff you'd expect to see during a looney tunes short only funnier. This game could have been aptly titled "The Many Faces of Pac" as that's what you really grow to associate with the game.

Sound wise the game is great, all those aforementioned expressions and animations have appropriately absurd sound bites accompanying them and the music pairs perfectly with the vintage cartoon feel.


The game starts off with a brief tutorial on how to play. Normally forced tutorials are insanely annoying, but not having complete control over your character is going to be a bit jarring for most gamers making this one pretty useful. Once Pac-Man feels you've gotten a handle on things you'll start the game with a cutscene of Ms. Pacman and Pacman at home with Pac-baby, she tells Pac-Man to get more milk.This initial mission sets the tone for the tasks Pac-Man needs you to help him complete.

The main plot of the game is getting Pac-Man to check off his family's to do list by hitting him with a slingshot. It's fun ans easy enough for the first 10 minutes or so but after that you'll have probably made Pacman look at/walk past/be in close proximity to something that either makes him sad or angry. Whenever Pacman is less than jovial you start to see more of his unruly, disobedient nature come out. He rarely will look at things and your slingshot becomes ineffectual. When this happens, you're stuck until Pacman "dies" ,which will happen quite a lot when he's angry,  or until you find something that makes him happy again. Unless it's one of the  few times when you need him to be in a less than happy mood to properly accomplish a task. Keeping track of Pac-Man's moods is simple enough in theory but it can get really annoying rather quickly. If you've put Pac-Man in the wrong mood for a certain task and end up having to restart it's not much of a problem because you've got infinite chances to start over. However, when you really want to progress being able to do it over again won't help to stem the tide of rage that washes over you with each of Pac-Man's inept actions. There is a saving grace which is that some of Pac-Mans most amusing actions happen when he's extremely angry,  and the game is short so there's no need to rush forward anyway.

As Pacman progresses and completes each task, it becomes clear that he still hasn't fully escaped the beady little eyes of Inky, Blinky Pinky and Clyde. The ghosts will pop up from time still trying to exact their revenge on the round yellow menace. This time they've got the Ghost Witch aiding them. She sets up headquarters in the ABC gum factory and hatches a variety of plans to help the ghosts thwart Pac-Man's plans while working on her insidious gum monster for reasons that are never completely clear. Ignoring he murky motives, under her tutelage the ghosts have learned to assume disguises and that's how you'll see them when you encounter them whilst wondering the town. For the most part these town encounters are only triggered when you interact with the disguised ghost so you can wait until you've got a power pellet handy to become super Pacman and take care of them with ease.
When you e
ncounter them while doing one of your mini game they cause a much larger issue. They don't bother with their silly disguises this time, instead they focus on using a variety of nasty props to stop Pacman's progress. Unfortunately this time you can't just give Pacman a super pellet to take care of the issue. Instead, you'll have to be pretty vigilant about giving him directions, these encounters are easily the most challenging portions of the game.

When Pac-Man's tired of ducking the ghosts he can take a break at one of two arcades in the city where he can play an updated version of the original Pacman and, if you've found the secret cartridge pieces, Pac-Jr (which is really just a hack of Ms.Pacman).

Once he's done reminiscing about the good ol' days he finishes up his task list and sits down for some relaxing TV watching only to be presented with a news report on how the ghosts and the gum witch have been stealing gum from children all over town. Even more shocking the witch herself takes over the broadcast and calls out Pacman specifically. Pac-Man's machismo can't allow for that sort of public mockery of his skills to pass without incident, so he heads down to the gum factory to teach the witch a lesson. What happens once he arrives there is mostly up to your quick reflexes with the slingshot. If you're successful you become a hero, If you screw it up well, you can't really die in this game, discounting of course when your turn of the game in anger without first taking down the password.


Pacman 2 is not a great game when you look at it by normal gaming standards. It's short, it's got crazy controls, and a fairly small environment. However, it's cartoonish story and cinematics make it highly entertaining. It's unique elements can get frustrating but, if you're not trying to progress you will learn to love them. Failure is honestly one of the most memorable and enjoyable parts of this game, yielding some of the most humourous sounds and animations seen in any game. Besides, any game where you can learn to embrace your failures and even welcome them is one definitely worth giving a try.


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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Retro Review Tuesday: Contra


Chances are that if you're old enough to ever be sitting around with your friends discussing your favorite classic NES games, Contra is going to come up. Somehow the abuse delivered by this Konami classic was well received, back when gamers were truly an elite corps, and willing to take it. Within the seemingly simple run-and-shoot format there is a lot going on here, and to make it out alive you'll need to boast pinpoint accuracy, maneuvers that cheat death, and an unwavering will to live . If you don't have any of that, then you'd better have the Spread Shot.


With alien forces and mind control capabilities at their disposal, the Red Falcon is threatening the very livelihood of the Earth it is up to you and one hell of a gun to destroy them and their stronghold. The fate of the world is on your shoulders.

In simplest terms, your goal here sounds impossible - go eight levels in a Konami game without completely dying. Now for those of you who might not know the game and think "eight levels, what a gip" rest assured that classic Konami games and NES games in generally are made to ensure that you get a lifetime of effort out of eight levels.

Contra is a very fun, extremely difficult platformer where, as stated earlier, you run and shoot everything that moves. At the end of each level you will face a boss, generally many times larger than the protagonist. There are two types of levels - side scrolling levels, and pseudo 3D "base" levels that exhibit shooting gallery-style gameplay. Your enemies in this game can be anything from a possessed South American soldier, to a robotic, motion-detecting gun turret, to a huge, nearly unstoppable tank which will run you down if it can't get you with the gun and that doesn't even included the bosses. Beginning with only three lives, you'll find it very hard to get on your feet with this one. But with hard work and determination, you just might see level 3.

The graphics of the game are simplistic but they get the job done. Like all Konami games of the time, there are many, many sprites on screen at once, so the sprites will frequently flicker to compensate. As a fast paced game, this really isn't too much of a problem (except for when you're getting screenshots for a review), and it adds to the illusion of quick, aggressive action. Contra also features several distinctive, none-too-repetitive musical tracks, and is especially known for the catchy music that plays throughout the base levels.


After choosing between playing alone or with a friend (and whether or not you want to be a wimp and use the infamous Konami Code), you literally drop into the first level, gun already firing if you know what's good for you. You scroll the level shooting your enemies first with your default gun and special weapons you can acquire as you go along. Your character showcases very versatile maneuverability for a game of this vintage. You're able to jump, hit the ground, and shoot forward, straight up, diagonally up, diagonally down, shoot from forward from on the ground, and in every direction while in mid-air, including straight down, and can change direction while in the air at any time. Enemies, enemy fire, fireballs, grenades and more come at you from every direction at once, making all these maneuvers a necessity. Many enemies take several shots to destroy so you're need to be quick on the trigger. If you stop moving or shooting, there's a good chance bad things are going to happen to you.

Once you've reached the end of an area, you'll have a confrontation with a boss enemy, usually robotic or mechanical in nature, and usually loaded with several guns. When you've taken down the boss, you will progress to the next area and in the early levels that means getting through the games signature areas, the bases.


Two stages (Two and Four) are played in a Base, where the gameplay takes place in several consecutive corridors and changes from scrolling to pseudo-3D, and the player's viewpoint is from just behind the protagonist. These levels are often compared to a shooting gallery, with enemies appearing in front of you, and running and literally bounding from one side of the room to another. As they do this, they shoot at you, throw grenades at you, and attack you in other forms. You are separated from them by an electrical beam, allowing you to only move side-to-side or lay on the ground while the beam is activated. If you try to cross the beam, you will get shocked. This does not kill you, but renders you immobile for just under a full second, more than enough time to be killed in most Konami games.

Your goal in these levels is to destroy the round, flashing target(s) located on the wall in front of you. Once you do this, via shooting them several times, the wall will be destroyed, along with all remaining guns and enemies. The electrical beam will now be deactivated and you can finally move forward to the next corridor. Once you've cleared the final corridor (Indicated in both bases by its especially large center target, surrounded by guns), you will encounter the Base Boss, a huge, multi-story control panel armed with an arsenal of artillery shooting energy blasts from every which way and carrying enemy soldiers. Defeating this insidious machination won't be enough, in both bases they're hiding a nasty little secret you'll have to deal with before you can move on. Also, of note, these bosses have their own music, which is some of the best boss music you'll hear, by the way.


Aside from the insane difficulty, Contra is probably best known for its gun augments (which apparently just "plug in" in a split second) and pickups to aid your trek into this nearly impossible situation. Without them, you have no realistic chance of victory, or at least not a pretty one. Weapons are acquired by shooting them out of the pods that fly above you, and in some cases, below you. The type of the weapon is indicated by the single letter set into the center of the falcon graphic that makes up the pickup.

Default Gun (No Letter) - The gun you start off with, it fires a single shot at a time, its rate of fire completely dependent on the speed of your fingers. When you die, you will lose whatever special weapon you may have and will be defaulted back to this. There is no actual pickup for this gun and it won't get you very far.

Machine Gun (M) - The first special weapon available to you, this one allows you to just hold the shoot button and enjoy its rapid-fire properties. The rounds (designed like the signature Konami Eye) are no more powerful than those of the default gun, but the added speed makes a galaxy of difference.

Fireball (F) - This might just be called fire, although it really looks nothing like fire. It fires rounds that revolve in a circle as they go. Although it's a wider shot radius and possibly more powerful, it's still easily the most useless weapon in the game, in some cases even harder to deal with than the Default Gun.

Spread Shot (S) - This is the gun that's going to win this game for you. The most famous gun of the entire Contra series fires a belt of five rounds that spread out as they go, taking out multiple enemies at once, requiring virtually no accuracy to hit your enemy. Firing this weapon quickly causes the belts to loose some rounds, which can get as small as just a single round, but the initial, full five-round belt will usually take care of most of your hostiles, which makes this not too much of a problem. Besides, if every belt were full it would almost make this game fair...

Laser (L) - High risk, high reward would be a good way to sum up this weapon. The laser fires in large, very powerful beams that just cut right through enemy soldiers as if they weren't even there. This means you can destroy an entire line of enemy soldiers in one shot. And for the more powerful robotic enemies such as gun turrets, it only takes about one and a half beams to destroy most of them. So what's the catch. Well, you can only fire one beam at a time. Meaning, only one beam can be in flight at once. You fire a beam while another has yet to disappear, then the initial beam will be canceled out, and disappear. This means that you can't really rapid fire this gun, even manually. if you try, a beam will just pulse in and out of your gun, meaning you can only kill enemies at point blank range. There's a price to be paid for this enormous power.

Rifle (R) - The rifle or range add-on will increase the flight speed of the rounds of the gun you're currently using. Unfortunately, this upgrade does not carry over to a different weapon, so if you pick up a normal gun, it will fire at normal speed.

Shield (B) - Maybe it means barrier? At any rate, this will makes you invincible for a short time, allowing you kill enemies just by walking into them. Don't get over confident, though. There's no warning to indicate when it's about to deactivate.

Smart Bomb (No Letter) - Appearing just once throughout the game in Area Five, this pickup takes the form of a flashing Falcon and upon acquiring it, every enemy on the screen with be destroyed.


Contra is a sure staple of classic NES gaming for anyone who can truly be considered an old-school gamer. From the intense difficulty, to the fast action, to the Spread Shot, this game has definitely secured a strong place in the history of video games. A victory over this game means a lifetime of bragging rights. So put your "skills" to the test and see if you have what it takes to overcome one of Konami's greatest achievements.

Because most people do not.


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