BioShock

PC, XB360, PS3 / Action / Release: Aug 21, 2007 / ESRB: M

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BioShock Preview

The latest BioShock preview can be found at IGN, where they were able to go hands-on with the game. You can find our most recent preview of the game here.

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BioShock Q&A

GameSpy is the latest site to publish a BioShock interview with Irrational's Ken Levine. There are questions about killing the Little Sisters, System Shock, hardware limitations, working with 2K Games, and reaching more than hardcore gamers, among other things.

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BioShock Interviews

Team Xbox has posted the second part of a BioShock Q&A. Ken Levine talks about gameplay, lack of multiplayer support and people's interest in the game. There's also an interview at Computer & Video Games.

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BioShock Preview

In our previous BioShock preview, Shacknews editor Chris Remo elaborated on developer Irrational Games' high-minded approach to storytelling. Ayn Rand's philosophy, mise en scene technique, and all manner of artsy, complicated concepts were explained. And while Irrational president Ken Levine has certainly delivered on his promise of a captivating presentation, I didn't see much of that this week. During a demonstration of one of the game's later levels, what I saw was pure carnage; frantic, unrelenting mayhem. Make no mistake: While BioShock may have all the nuances of a gripping novel, it also provides all the gleeful destruction of a great action title. Loading up a section of what amounts to the third level of BioShock, Levine set the scene. The player has progressed to an area of Rapture--the underwater world where the game takes place--in which a forest, dubbed Arcadia, was grown as a sort of tourist attraction. These plants double as the city's oxygen production center, and now Rapture's Orwellian creator Andrew Ryan has released a toxin into the atmosphere which is slowly sapping the life of the trapped trees. The player first has to concoct an antidote to the toxins using the game's crafting system, but Levine proudly acknowledged that he had cheated. With the substance in hand, all that had to be done was to release the cure into the chamber. Fortunately for our purposes, the diabolical Andrew Ryan intervened at the last second, sending a swarm of genetically-modified minions to attack. In one swift movement, the player ran straight up to a doorway and cut down the first incoming enemy with a gory shotgun blast to the temple. I was immediately taken aback. This felt more like a scene from Monolith's visceral Condemned: Criminal Origins (X360, PC) than a moment from a tactical shooter. Levine was quick to note that there are, of course, more intelligent ways of going about your business in the hostile world of Rapture. On queue, the player fired a trip-wire trap into a wall, and with another shot attached the second end of the wire to the opposing wall. The wire wasn't positioned effectively enough, so the player then switched to the Telekenesis plasmid. Plasmids are essentially magic powers, through which the player can cycle through as he would a physical weapon. Using Telekenesis, one end of the trip wire was snatched up into the player's hand and quickly replanted across a doorway. "We found out in testing that this worked," Levine remarked, alluding to the game's unpredictable nature. An enemy soon came barreling through the passage, the wire sending out an electric current and dropping him like a sack of potatoes.
These kinds of traps can be set in a variety of methods. As more enemies poured into the room, the player began rapidly using the Cyclone Trap plasmid, dropping swirling vortexes along the floor which instantly shot the mutants into the air like a rocket. Standing in front of a pool of water, a handful of wading bad guys were dispatched with a quick shock from the Electrobolt plasmid. Environments can often be taken advantage of in this way. An oil slick milling in a corner can be ignited with the Incinerate plasmid, the fire spreading realistically from end to end and torching everything in sight. Machines are exploitable as well, both by the player and by the ghoulish Splicers. Passing a medical station, Levine noted the dual nature of the innocent contraption. "These will heal people, and if the enemies use them they can heal themselves. But not if you hack it. If you hack it, it will poison them," he explained. At this an enemy approached, running to the machine for a boost of health. The player ran for the machine, attempting to hack it before the monster had used it--too late. Another shotgun round covers up any trace of failure. Hacking is a free, easy way to increase your odds of survival in BioShock. Vending machines can be hacked for discount prices, and stationary turrets can be converted to save on ammunition. As the player will often traverse one section of the game many times over, having a turret on hand to defend from roaming Splicers comes in handy. Once in close proximity to a hackable object, the press of a button begins the hacking minigame. The game tasks you with completing a series of pipes by swapping out various pieces before the flow of water catches up to the end, like a timed game of Rivers, Roads, and Rails. Often challenging, but not frustratingly so, the minigames are a pleasantly puzzling diversion. With so many mechanics at work in BioShock, some fairly inventive scenarios can be devised. While enemies were slowly cutting through a steel door, a proximity mine was attached to a barrel and placed just in front of the doorway. Needless to say, the ensuing battle was short-lived. Flying attack bots can also be hacked and put to non-standard use. Attaching a proximity mine to an oblivious bot, the friendly machine runs straight into a swarm of enemies like a homing missile, exploding in a massive fireball. "That's nice," Levine cackled, still entertained by a world he has labored to create for years.
Some time later, the player managed to tether a flying bot to the ceiling with a wire, the bot bouncing back and forth in a futile attempt to escape. Wires can also be attached to Splicer enemies, the ensuing tangled mess leading to clothes-lines that take down other enemies as they run in circles. In a brooding, atmospheric game, the entertaining combat often transforms it into a dark comedy. "The best part is when you blow off people's hats and just toss them back at them," Levine said while, on screen, a little ingenuity transformed a teddy bear into a deadly weapon. Continue reading for more details on BioShock's environments and teaching methods. _PAGE_BREAK_
The enemies now defeated, it was time to head back to the forest. After using the antidote, the trees began to branch out and flourish, restoring oxygen to the city. While the combat can be intense, the draw of the game is rooted in its sense of atmosphere and exploration, with the interaction between the player and the environment serving as a driving force behind the story. In many ways, BioShock reminds me of Metroid Prime, and I wasn't surprised to find that Levine himself had compared it to the Retro Studios adventure-shooter in prior presentations. Exploring the dead world of Rapture is simply enchanting. Every neon sign and faded billboard is a crisp work of art, dangerously drawing your attention away from the path ahead. It is as alien as anything in Metroid, and as finely crafted. While it is easy to become distracted, the action ramps up at a rapid pace in BioShock, and players will have to know their stuff to survive. Throughout the game, hints are doled out gradually, with the goal of teaching the player each of the game's many systems. While I was concerned at first that these tooltips would be intrusive, my fears were quickly assuaged. "I hate fucking tutorials," Levine told me. "We do very little telling you, 'this is how this works.' I don't think there are any quests designed to test repeated skill usage." To that end, if a player isn't using the correct ammunition to attack an enemy, or if he has cash on hand but no health, the game will drop a brief textual hint at the bottom of the screen. Pressing the back button while looking at an object brings up a related tooltip, allowing the player to request help at any time. The game also teaches the player in more subtle ways. For example, in the first scene that the player is introduced to the hulking Big Daddy monster, his Little Sister companion is attacked by a Splicer. In response, the Big Daddy becomes enraged, dispatching the unlucky attacker. The player knows from that point onward that the Big Daddy will protect his tiny cohort by any means, and not to mess with them. This "show, don't tell" approach is a simple idea, but remains a breath of fresh air in a medium full of dull training levels and heavy-handed explanation.
Of course, it's not all about genetic powers; sometimes you'll have to pull out a Tommy gun and go to town, although the most satisfying strategy involves a combination of plasmids and conventional weapons. Zapping enemies with the Electrobolt momentarily stuns them, giving you an easy window for a point-blank headshot. The Winter Blast plasmid freezes them in place, with a quick shot sending the unlucky foe shattering to the floor in pieces. However, BioShock is set in an abandoned city, and ammunition must be carefully managed. More than once I found myself completely out of bullets and the "Adam" energy which powers plasmids, resulting in several deaths as I ambled around aimlessly. Scouring every nook and cranny for everything from bullets to potato chips pays off in the long run. Cash found on dead enemies and amongst dying scenery can be spent at automated vendors, which sell health packs, ammunition, and tonics that buff your abilities in various ways. With a massive set of noise-canceling headphones wrapped around my head, BioShock's sound field immediately stood out. The clarity of dialogue was stunning at times, with soft voices slowly creeping up behind my ears. While I was never truly frightened in playing the game, the moody atmosphere was ultimately more interesting to me than any moment of real tension. Stepping into the Rapture for the first time, Trenet's La Mer echoing through the halls, I wasn't scared when the lights went out--I was more anxious to simply move on to the next gorgeous area.
In one early scene, the player is faced with an impassable block of ice. Later, an abandoned crematorium is found, with burning corpses and oil slicks littering the area. After finding the Incinerate plasmid, the player backtracks to the ice wall, melting the blockade and continuing onward. This brought to mind a similar sequence of events in Metroid Prime, and further connected the two games in my mind. The subtle story and need-based objectives, combined with backtracking and the unlocking of new areas with special powers all came off as reminiscent of the Nintendo series. Even the opening of doorways with a blast from the Electrobolt seemed an homage to the iconic, concentric doors of Metroid. I had intentionally watched very little BioShock footage before going into the presentation. After more than an hour of playtime, I couldn't shake the feeling that despite the chaotic, bloody combat, the unique mechanics, and the entirely different setting, BioShock has more in common with a Metroid title than I had expected. From me that is high praise; not often does a shooter find that tricky blend of elements that provides a more fulfilling experience than your average run-and-gun du jour. With Metroid Prime 3: Corruption set to release literally a day apart from BioShock, late August is looking like a great time for gamers who demand a little more depth to go along with their gunplay. Irrational Games' BioShock is set to be released in North America on August 21 for PC and Xbox 360. The game will follow in Europe on August 24.

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BioShock Preview

IGN has the latest BioShock preview, playing through some of the game's later levels. There's an interview about the game at Team Xbox.

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BioShock Preview

New at GameSpot this evening is this BioShock preview. The article offers impressions of later game levels, and there's a video interview with Ken Levine as well.

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Ken Levine Interview

The 36th Gamers With Jobs podcast is up, offering an interview with BioShock lead designer Ken Levine. The interview touches on BioShock, and other gaming topics.

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BioShock Interview

New at FiringSquad today is this article format BioShock interview, asking Irrational's Ken Levine about the game. Missed our most recent preview of the game? You can find it here.

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BioShock Q&A

The folks at GameBanshee have scored a BioShock Q&A. Among other things, technical art director Nate Wells is asked about development progress, genre definition, the plasmid system, weapons, quest structure and AI.

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BioShock Previews

Computer & Video Games and FiringSquad are two of the latest sites with BioShock previews, also playing through the game's first couple of hours.

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BioShock Previews

Eurogamer, Computer & Video Games, IGN, Team Xbox and GameSpot all have BioShock previews posted, playing through the first couple of hours. BioShock is due out this August on PC and Xbox 360. Check out our preview as well.

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BioShock Hands-On Preview

BioShock begins with a non-interactive cutscene, a surprising choice for a game that purports to be about personal moral choice and contextual storytelling. Then again, perhaps it is not so strange. While from a gameplay perspective it might be largely concerned with tactical and moral leeway, thematically it is about a loss of control. It is about what happens when idealism, ingenuity, and creativity are set free from the shackles of financial and ethical obligation. It is about a society which has plunged over the cliff, but which is still in its death throes, desperately and hopelessly clinging on and trying to delay its inevitable demise. For the player, it is mostly about discovery--a slow, dawning discovery that is constantly being informed. For this reason, it is difficult to discuss what makes BioShock compelling without referring to specific environmental and narrative elements in the game, but I will attempt to avoid particularly crucial spoilers without warning. BioShock's introductory cinematic, already in a first person perspective, notes that the game is set in the mid-Atlantic in 1960. It opens in a commercial aircraft just moments before the plane hits heavy turbulence and plunges out of the sky and into the ocean. The player is given control at that point and, after swimming to a nearby lighthouse, watches the ruined plane sink down below the ocean's surface. "Who knows? Maybe we'll see that plane again," mentioned Irrational Games creative director Ken Levine, who introduced the game before setting the crowd of assembled journalists loose to play through the game's first few hours. In the lighthouse, ornately adorned with iconic art deco embellishments, paintings, and classical sculpture, the player goes the only way available--down--to find a single, curiously inviting bathysphere. Upon entering, the bathysphere descends out of the lighthouse and along its preset course through the water, giving players their first glimpse of Rapture, the failed utopia that is at the center of BioShock. While on the ride, players will pass by sea life and grand underground skyscraper-like towers. Levine noticed that every structure seen during the bathysphere ride will be visited by the player over the course of the game. The effect is somewhere between Half-Life's unforgettable tram ride, offering just suggestions of the non-stop action to come, and Myst's pristine but deserted, realistic but surreal visual style. Over these visuals comes the voice of Andrew Ryan, Rapture's architect, who has recorded a message to be played to all those coming to the underground city. "Is the man not entitled to the sweat of his brow?" he asks, going on to reject the ideas that labor is beholden to religion or to the state or to the public welfare. Rapture was created, he explained, to be a place where greatness is fostered, not limited. Ryan's speech smacks of Objectivism, Ayn Rand's rigidly idealistic, laissez-faire, dog-eat-dog philosophy illustrated in her novel Atlas Shrugged. The name "Andrew Ryan" even sounds vaguely like "Ayn Rand," and is likely derived from it. "This game is all about idealists, about ideas going too far," Levine mentioned to me during a conversation after the play session. "The whole game is about that." The bathysphere docks and the player is given the first glimpse of the world inside Rapture, and it is a startling change from the gleaming utopia seen just moments earlier. From behind the device's glass barrier, a man is brutally killed by some kind of mutant with scythes for hands. The bathysphere's door opens, and the Objectivist parallels are driven home when a new faceless voice is introduced, that of the guide character Atlas. Atlas is of course the Titan from Greek myth tasked with endlessly supporting the celestial sphere on his back. In Rand's novel, one of the protagonists suggests that Atlas shrug--that is, throw off the weight of the world. The implication is that the world's intellectual and industrial giants should not be constrained out of false duty to humanity, the same implications made by Andrew Ryan as the catalyst for the creation of Rapture. The world of Rapture is plastered with reminders of its ideals; as one slogan reminds us, "The Great Will Not Be Constrained By the Small." Atlas is set up as a foil to Ryan, an opposing disembodied voice. Throughout the game, Ryan espouses his ideals, and Atlas condemns them. Atlas promises to help guide you to safety if you will help him find his family. At this point the game proper begins. The interior of Rapture is desolate, decayed, destroyed. Water seeps in through cracks and seams, objects are broken and scattered, posters are faded and torn, and frustrated graffiti adorns the walls. "Ryan doesn't own us," proclaims one message. "Let it end, let us ascend," pleads another. Most striking--and suggestive--is the spray-painted assertion, "Atlas was right." You soon find a wrench, which comes in handy when attacked by another of the crazed killers seen earlier. Combat in BioShock is stark and brutal. Enemy encounters are frequent, but by no means constant, which makes moments of silence in the dim, quietly chaotic world all the more nerve-wracking. Killing the enemy with the wrench is a visceral experience. Blood ejects from his head in viscous Gears of War-like globs, and the sound design is sickly convincing. Continue reading for details on BioShock's player modifications, Big Daddies and Little Sisters, and combat nonlinearity. _PAGE_BREAK_ Soon after, you come across a syringe which, after an oddly willing injection, grants you Electrobolt, the ability to fire Palpatine-like arcs of lightning from your hands. Abilities such as these are involved with both combat and puzzle-solving in BioShock. Electrobolt stuns enemies momentarily, priming them for a killing blow, but can also be used to spark life into reticent machinery. A fire-casting ability can be used to, well, light guys on fire, but also to melt ice that is blocking your path. After seeing himself perform this superhuman feat, your character becomes slightly freaked out and faints. From the floor, during a return to consciousness, you glimpse a Big Daddy and a Little Sister. The bizarre pairs of Big Daddies and Little Sisters are a crucial part of BioShock. Little Sisters--ostensibly young, vacant-eyed girls--are the only individuals capable of obtaining Adam, essentially the currency of Rapture used to purchase the upgrades that become instrumental to gameplay. Big Daddies--massive, iron-clad, drill-armed hulks--are the Little Sisters' protectors, and will go to any lengths to ensure no harm comes to their petite charges. Trailers and promotional materials for the games have painted, as the characters' names suggest, a bizarre form of a father-daughter relationship in the pairings. The story behind the Little Sisters is sure to be a major plot point in BioShock, and the player's choices surrounding them will have direct gameplay implications. At numerous points throughout the game, you find yourself in a position to either let a Little Sister go free or to harvest and acquire her Adam--which you must kill her to do. During the first instance of this frustrating moral choice, you are being pelted with arguments from two opposing sides about the nature of the Little Sisters and the importance of your decision--one character paints the Little Sisters as aberrations, one calls for compassion. Of course, the idea of getting more Adam with which to enhance your character is a tempting proposition, but Levine promised that there are other, longer-term rewards for setting the girls free. During my play session, I found myself wrestling with the choice for what must have been several minutes. "We wanted to make it ambiguous," Levine explained to me. "You've got the one guy saying that they're not really children, then this other person is saying they're children, save them. You're sitting there and they're all telling you different things, and you don't know." I suggested that it seems to be less about doing the right thing, and more about trying to surmise what the right thing might be. "Yes," replied Levine. "No dark side or light side is immediately apparent." I asked how much range there is to BioShock's gameplay experience, given the two approaches. "It's very different," he said. "The reward system is very different between harvesting and saving. It implies a different route, and there are different gameplay things but also different story elements." He declined to elaborate further, understandably wanting to keep as much as possible about the progression of the game under wraps. Of course, to be in a position to decide the fate of a Little Sister in the first place will require going through a Big Daddy. BioShock generally aims to allow the player a measure of choice in combat tactics--the powers offer different ways to customize one's character, and the weapons each feature three different types of modifications as well as three different types of ammunition each. A pistol might be modified to hold more ammo or fire more powerful slugs, while a grenade launcher might be modified to direct its grenades' blast away from the player in order to avoid self-harm. That said, most enemies can still frequently be taken head-on if the player so desires, in the style of most first person shooters. Not so with the Big Daddies. Big Daddies are monstrously tough and incredibly powerful, and require some level of foresight to battle effectively. There was one Big Daddy combat encounter in the hands-on demo, but we were also shown a few different approaches to the same encounter, as played by an Irrational team member named Dean. In one instance, Dean ran into a room with Big Daddies and other assorted enemies. He used the Rage power on the Big Daddy, causing the big guy to go berserk and start attacking the other enemies. This gave Dean a chance to take some well-aimed crossbow shots. Of course, once the Rage wore off, the Big Daddy was rather peeved, but Dean had also set up a perimeter of trip mines around the Big Daddy, which proved to be the foe's undoing. In another instance, Dean used the game's hacking ability (represented by a brief, enjoyable pipe-constructing mini-game) to convert some enemy turrets to do his will. He then used his Incinerate ability to light numerous enemies on fire; when they ran into a pool of water in panic, he zapped the water with lightning, fatally electrocuting all of them. Continue reading for thoughts on BioShock's atmosphere and storytelling techniques. _PAGE_BREAK_ Despite all of these impressive elements, what was to me most breathtaking about BioShock by far is how well-crafted it all is. To an absolutely amazing degree, the world is packed with context--just as Rapture seems to have burst at the seams with unrestrained human ambition, so too does BioShock practically strain with the amount of carefully constructed detail layered throughout. During the first few hours, without any tedious text crawls or out-of-context narrated exposition, Irrational manages to impart a great deal of evidence as to what happened to Rapture. There seems to have been a particular moment when things went wrong, but it was no single factor that did it. Rapture's fall was a physical breach, a scientific disaster, a psychological breakdown, a moral decline--overambition to the highest degree. I will decline from elaborating on the content of specific points, but suffice it to say there are many avenues by which to discover just what happened. Transmissions from Ryan increasingly demonstrate the society's immense hubris. Scattered audio logs from cirizens of Rapture tell the stories of individuals before and during the decline--in these tales are nestled nuggets that refer to greater events or suggest a more overarching social dysfunction. Different types of advertising reveal how inhabitants spent their money--and, therefore, what they strove to acquire and what their desires had become. Lingering Rapture residents clinging onto their last scraps of sanity provide a distorted but illuminating link to life prior to the end, while photographs depict crystallized images of the Rapture of ideals. Even the graffiti scrawled on the walls contributes to the richness of the world. It would be nearly overwhelming were it not so endlessly engrossing. (Skip this paragraph to avoid potential spoilers.) In a early moment of invigoratingly mounting horror, you come across the offices of a plastic surgeon who, after perfecting the art of gracing faces with traditional beauty, still finds himself driven to further his craft. Slowly, and piece by piece, you begin to realize that, like abstract artists before him, the doctor eventually abandoned notions of traditional beauty and set out to realize his vision in less predictable ways. Picasso-inspired target images and diagrams reveal the artistic approach the doctor took with the faces of his trusting patients. "We said, 'Wait a minute, what about this plastic surgeon who's an idealist about beauty? How would that go wrong?'" recalled Levine when I brought up the sequence. "I started writing all these ideas that came out of that, then some other guys said they were going to build these little Steinman shrines throughout the level, giving more hints to his character." "Every room feels different," Levine went on. "Every time you're in an office, it's a different office--different decorations, different things, a different vibe. Maybe you're in a dentist's office and you can tell that this dentist loves tennis. It's not a prefab thing. The game gets more exploratory as it goes on. I mean, it's not Grand Theft Auto, but it's also not Half-Life. It's in a space between. I asked Levine to elaborate on his attitude towards narrative and game design. "If you've got to just tell the player, then it's wrong," he said regarding exposition. "The whole city is a visual metaphor--this city that looks like their ideals. All the water pouring into it is basically what happened to their ideals. It's all visual metaphor. We call it mise en scene, you know, because we're pretentious fucks, with these little visual moments we build where you can look at it and say, 'Oh my God, I know what happened here,' rather than reading some extensive thing. It's a storytelling technique." (I guardedly admitted that I had used the term mise en scene myself in a recent conversation about Valve's Half-Life series. "Ah, so you're a pretentious fuck too!" laughed Levine.) If there is anything that might be worrying about BioShock, it is simply that the amount of gameplay, atmosphere, and sheer information contained in the first few hours is so densely packed that it is difficult to imagine how a team could reasonably create a game that carries on at that pace through the entire campaign. If it does, however, I have no doubt that Levine and his crew at Irrational Games will have managed to create something that will prove to be among the more complex, weighty, visceral, and atmospheric games in recent memory. Irrational Games' BioShock is set to be released in North America on August 21 for PC and Xbox 360. The game will follow in Europe on August 24.

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"This article made me very interested in the game. As I have not played System Shock this game is ..."
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BioShock Preview

There is a new BioShock preview on 1UP, going hands-on with the game while offering a new screenshots to look at. The opening of the articles notes, "If you're the type to worry about spoilers, you may want to avoid this story, as it essentially runs down what happens in the first couple hours of BioShock".

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"I was skeptical because of all the hype but this looks really good. I was worried that the ..."
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BioShock Interview

A German game blog has an English language BioShock interview, asking Joe McDonagh of Irrational Games about the game. Differences between the PC and Xbox 360 builds are among the things discussed. Thanks FiringSquad.

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BioShock Preview, Q&A

Over at GamersWithJobs you can find a BioShock preview, based on a trip to Irrational Games and time spent with Ken Levine. There's also a Q&A on the game with reader submitted questions at 1UP.

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