Ant-Man & the Wasp Review – 7/10

I really liked the first Ant-Man (2015). It’s a very small, pun not intended, very personal story about a man just trying to do right by his kid while also trying to do the right thing and be the hero his kid wants him to be. And I think the story is made even stronger by the fact that he, Scott Lang, is ultimately recruited by Hank Pym, because he’s literally in the exact same situation. In a lot of ways it’s a story about fathers trying to give their daughters the lives they deserve. It’s not a huge plot with a super villain that’s threatening the whole world. The antagonist is just a scientist trying to make a name for himself with a technology that if put in the wrong hands could have terrible consequences. And yes it could end up changing the world, but the narrative keeps the story very enclosed within San Francisco to a small number of people. But that’s not what I wanted from the sequel.

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Ant-Man & the Wasp is set about two years after Captain America 3: Civil War and at the same time as Avengers: Infinity War, which Ant-Man does not appear in. In fact, it’s not until the very end of Ant-Man & the Wasp that they even make reference to Thanos and it’s very clear that’s it’s already too late for Ant-Man to even consider getting involved with that problem. Ant-Man & the Wasp is also a small scale plot with a limited number of players that again centers on the idea of fathers trying to protect and please their daughters. The difference is that in this film, romance, for both fathers from the first film, plays a larger role in the narrative. In many ways I would say this plot is even smaller than the first film. It’s not about trying to protect the world from a certain technology. There’s no evil scientist. Really there’s not even a proper villain. The film plays a lot more like Snatch (2000) where you have a number of different groups all seeking the same object for their own purposes, but none of them are out to do anything particularly good or bad with said object.

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One character, and his cronies, is out to sell the object for profit, but he’s not a super villain or particularly threatening. He doesn’t even really hurt anyone. He just wants the money. And at the beginning of the film he sincerely offers Team Ant-Man the chance to work together with him for profit, but they say no. The second group, which was sold as the villain in the marketing, is by no means a villain. She has a legitimate problem that is life threatening and she believes that it can only be solved by robbing Team Ant-Man so she’s trying to do that. But she doesn’t have some nefarious end goal and she doesn’t actually want to hurt people. She’s just in a bad situation. Finally, you have Team Ant-Man and they’re just as selfish as everyone else. They have a goal that won’t help anyone outside of Hank and Hope. It’s not going to hurt anyone, but by no means is it heroic or particularly noble. It’s just a self-serving goal that will enrich their personal lives. And it won’t even help Scott. In fact, the entire film is about how Hank and Hope are forcing Scott to help them even though he’s on house arrest with a few days left in his sentence and if he gets caught using the Ant-Man suit or leaving his house he’ll have to go back to prison and lose his daughter. So really the movie isn’t even about Ant-Man being a hero. It’s about Hank and Hope making Ant-Man help them get something they really want.

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The problem with this small, in many ways pointless narrative, is that it takes place after having already seen Captain America 3: Civil War, which is mentioned a number of times, and Avengers: Infinity War. In terms of Ant-Man, I wanted more. This is no longer the ex-convict just trying to get his life back together. This is a man who fought alongside the Avengers, against other Avengers, and lived. This is a man who we believed had escaped with Captain America at the end of Civil War. Not to mention, we’ve already seen Avengers: Infinity War. Who cares about this little vignette about the lives of the Pym family? I expect Ant-Man to be playing at Avengers level now. That doesn’t mean every Ant-Man movie needs to have other Avengers in it, but it does mean that the stories have to really matter. In Thor: Ragnarok, Asgard was destroyed. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the entire universe was saved from a mad celestial trying to replace all life with himself. In Doctor Strange, an infinity stone was revealed and the world was almost plunged into darkness by an evil being from a magical dimension. Ant-Man & the Wasp, which is not a debut film for the main title character, is about the same scale as Spider-Man: Homecoming as far as importance. Except Scott Lang isn’t a high school kid. And even in that Iron Man shows up. This film just under does it in a time where the MCU and the character are way past the kid gloves.

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I don’t want it to seem like the film was badly written, because it wasn’t. It was much funnier than the first one. The acting was great, including that of Michael Peña reprising his role as the over talkative friend. And most importantly, they really leaned into technology in this one. In the first movie, shrinking is used sparingly. It’s an origin film where Scott is just learning how to use it and really it’s under-utilized outside of a few fight sequences and sneaking around. In Ant-Man & the Wasp they use shrinking and growing a ton and it’s great. It was used realistically, as in they actually use it for pretty much all the things you would use it for if you had that technology at your fingertips. My only real complaint about the technology aspect was that way too many malfunctions occurred. It’s fair for a malfunction to happen once, especially at a really crucial moment. But there were multiple scenes where Scott’s suit, and only Scott’s suit, was malfunctioning. This was used for comic relief multiple times. But this is the second movie. By now the bugs should have been ironed out. Especially when they’re doing stuff like shrinking entire buildings and growing ants to the size of people. It just felt very lazy to keep playing the suit not working card over and over.

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As per all MCU films, the movie looked great. The shrinking and growing effects were very clean. The cinematography was solid. The costumes looked good. The sound was fine. I was happy with the soundtrack. It’s by every measureable standard a modern day Marvel film. But it was by no means in the top five or probably even top 10 MCU films. In a lot of ways it felt pointless. It introduced the Wasp and possibly a couple other important reoccurring characters, but the film itself didn’t accomplish much. Like they very well could have sent the Wasp with Ant-Man in Civil War, which is brought up in this film, and it would have accomplished exactly the same thing. Unless they really leverage the two other possibly important characters introduced in future films, this was pretty much the same thing we got in Ant-Man except now he has a partner. Ant-Man & the Wasp is not a bad film, but I could literally tell you everything you need to know about it in one sentence. In a lot of ways it’s one of the only films in the MCU where I could say you could really just skip it and it probably won’t affect the rest of the MCU, or your experience of it, that much.

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Anthem Year Two

In recent months, we’ve seen a lot about the upcoming Anthem. Anthem is a shared world mech-shooter being developed by BioWare, who is of course under the umbrella of EA. The game was first announced at E3 2017 and was shown again at E3 this year in a big way. We think we know a lot about Anthem already. The marketing has been very good. The trailers are amazing. But a lot has also changed since it was first announced. When Anthem was first being talked about, it was being called BioWare’s take on Destiny. The studio drew the comparison themselves in certain interviews. Then the whole Star Wars: Battlefront II thing happened and EA has been trying to fix their image ever since. And they have made moves. They removed the loot box system from Star Wars: Battlefront II at launch and stated that though it would be re-added, it wouldn’t be as predatory as originally shown. They have done their best to move people away from the loot box conversation and announced that Battlefield V, being developed by the same studio as Star Wars: Battlefront II, DICE, wouldn’t have any loot boxes. So it’s hard to know exactly how Anthem will be now in the wake of all the bad press and changes EA has taken in response to recent mishaps.

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I am very hesitant about Anthem precisely because they’ve drawn comparisons to Destiny. If you read my blog normally and have for a long time, then you know I have very negative feelings about Destiny. I pre-ordered the physical limited edition and I have regretted it pretty much since the announcement of The Taken King expansion, which I never played. It angered and still angers me that I gave Bungie $100 before the game even released for them to provide me maybe half a story, some crappy raids, and then tell me I had to pay another $30 or more dollars to get some actual additional story content. But if I had waited, I would have been able to get all the content, old and new, for like $30. That pisses me off. And we’re not talking about something like The Witcher 3 where you get a full game that’s almost too full and then for another $25 you get like two more full games’ worth of content. That would have been acceptable. Destiny just screwed me over. I did not buy Destiny 2 and I haven’t purchased any other games from Bungie, Activision, or Blizzard since then. And I wasn’t really a fan of any of those companies before Destiny either so I was already taking a leap of faith, but I really enjoyed the Destiny beta so I decided to take the plunge. The last Bungie game I bought before Destiny was literally 10 years before with Halo II. It will probably be another 10 years before I even consider buying another game from them.

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Still the best there is.

That badly priced, content lacking experience is exactly what I’m afraid of happening with Anthem. By all rights I should just walk away now. But the trailers look so good. And I actually really do like BioWare. I haven’t played a single game by them I didn’t like. That includes Mass Effect: Andromeda, Dragon Age II, and Dragon Age: Inquisition. I wouldn’t say any of those are the best they’ve ever produced, but I consider all of those games and the others I’ve played by them to be fine titles. So I want to trust them. I want to play Anthem. But I don’t want to play another Destiny.

My issue with Destiny was not the gameplay. Mechanically, I thought it was excellent. It wasn’t the graphics. Visually I thought it was quite good, and I played it on PS3. My only real complaint, other than a number of unbalanced raid challenges which I consider forgivable, was the lack of fresh content for the price I paid. I don’t like replaying missions. I don’t like farming because of an unbalanced RNG rewards system. And I did not buy the game for PVP. I put a fair amount of time into the Crucible, but that’s not what I paid for. So I don’t have to consider that in my personal judgement of the game in terms of my satisfaction, or lack thereof, with it. This is not a review. I don’t have to be objective. I spent $100 of my hard earned money and didn’t get a full story experience. But I genuinely believe that if I had gotten all that year two content, as well as what I got in year one, for the $100 I spent, then I wouldn’t have left the game so unhappy.  If I had not supported the game from day one and waited it out like I do for most games then I wouldn’t even be writing this post right now. None of this is BioWare or EA’s fault. It has nothing to do with them. But the shared world shooter genre is spoiled for me because of that experience others like it such as The Division. Yet I still want to play Anthem based on what I’ve seen.

The Taken King

The problem with games like Destiny and presumably Anthem is that the player’s enjoyment of it is directly tied to the presence and influence of other players within the experience. That’s why we get conned into buying them day one. We take the risk of them dying if we wait and then we can’t really play them at all. The only thing worse than Destiny year one would have been Destiny year one with no other players. But this line of thinking gave me an idea.

Why do we play these games on their terms? Why do we let studios tell us when and how to enjoy games? It didn’t used to be that way. You used to be able to buy a game when you wanted and play it the way you wanted. You shaped and enjoyed the experience you chose to have. Why did we let that concept die? People will of course say that the nature of games has changed. What with daily challenges, special events, limited time offers, and pre-order bonus content, it seems impossible to play a game on your own terms and get the full experience. Then there’s of course the fear of missing out on the experience altogether. You don’t want to be left out and you don’t want to show up to the party after everyone else has already left. But what if we as a community chose not to be limited by these factors?

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What I’m about to say is all theoretical. It makes a number of assumptions about BioWare’s long term plans/actions for the game. It assumes the game does well overall from day one. And it assumes that extra content will actually be added over time like in Destiny and The Division. None of these assumptions have to be true. They are very likely based on empirical data from the last several years of gaming. But it’s quite possible they all end up being incorrect assumptions, in which case the entire concept I’m about to suggest would be a complete failure before it ever began. And to be clear, even if all these assumptions do end up being true, which I do believe will be the case, that still doesn’t mean that I believe what I have devised will actually come to fruition, because it relies heavily on the actions of other gamers which is never a recipe for success.

I propose a plan that I’d like to call simply Anthem Year Two. If we assume that there will be an official Anthem Year Two campaign, then that means we can assume that there will be Anthem Year Two content. And because this game is being published by EA, it’s fair to assume that this Year Two content will be at additional cost to the players unless you buy a full edition a la Destiny Year Two Legendary Edition. Again, waiting for year two means missing out on year one content while the bulk of other players are playing it. Now that doesn’t really matter as long as you have people to play with that are going through the year one content at the same time as you. This might be a limiting factor for PVP but that assumes you’re playing for PVP, which shouldn’t necessarily be the case when Anthem isn’t even being sold as a PVP game. In fact, it won’t even have PVP options at release. So let’s, at least for the purposes of argument, assume you’re playing Anthem for the campaign content and your only reason for buying day one is that you want to make sure you have people to play with when you’re playing the year one content and so on into year two. But what if instead of forcing ourselves to play year one content during year one, we as an organized community of gamers fabricated year one conditions in year two?

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Here is what I propose. What if instead of forcing ourselves to buy Anthem day one, a large group, as in hundreds to even thousands of players, collectively committed to waiting for year two to buy the game? Say a large community of gamers all pledged that they would collectively wait for the Anthem Year Two Legendary Edition release to drop to $30 and would buy it the day it hit that price. And assume they all stuck to their word. What is the limiting factor in this scenario? Other than the waiting time, will our gaming experience be hindered in any way? Not really, unless you count possible spoilers as an issue. We could get all the content for a good price and have people to play it with that all started on a level playing field because we all would have started at about the same time. Just a year after the game was released. Why doesn’t the gaming community ever do things like this? I’ve never heard of a large organized group of gamers actively waiting for the second year content of a cooperative multiplayer game to be released before purchasing. We could shape the entire experience, down to the price, to our liking and needs. We would fully control the situation and be guaranteed a fair amount of content from the start with no wait time to access it. Why wouldn’t we do this? Why haven’t we done this? There are already huge gaming communities for just about every online game. No Man’s Sky was a steaming pile of crap and it had entire self-formed governments organized by players. So why don’t we just take control of the situation? Not just with Anthem but with every game like this. The Division 2, Jump Force, and the list goes on. We simply need to decide to wait as a collective, decide when the wait is over, and that’s pretty much it. It’s little more than a gaming union that doesn’t charge dues. Am I crazy or are we just all inpatient children too lazy to put in a small amount of effort for a better, more affordable overall gaming experience?

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Say No to Unlicensed Shilling

Recently we experienced E3 2018. As I stated in my E3 2018 post, I thought this was an exceptional year for the show. The best I’ve seen in years actually. As with any E3, many announcements were made. And as with many if not most gaming announcements, there was some controversy. This is of course because entertainment is subjective and people always have different opinions and preferences when it comes to their entertainment. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But what’s become a huge problem in the gaming community is unlicensed (unpaid) shilling.

Let’s be very clear, when talking specifically about game design choices such as mechanics, genre, and art style, there are very few wrong opinions. As an example, some people like their games in first person. Some prefer them in third. While there are certainly good and bad arguments in support of both, neither can be said to be objectively right or wrong. When talking about issues not related to design choices, there are certainly wrong opinions, such as that it’s not OK for a woman to be on the cover of an FPS game set in WWII. But I’m not talking about that. I’m talking specifically about the validity of differing opinions on completely subjective topics within the world of game design.

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Everyone has the right to an opinion and everyone has the right to voice that opinion. But what’s become the norm is people trying to stop other people from voicing their opposing subjective opinion. This is a problem for a number of reasons. First of all, you’re not right. Your opinion is an opinion. The opposing opinion is an opinion. Neither side has more of a right to voice their opinion than the other outside of more specific contexts, which aren’t relevant to the discussion here. Everyone should be able to voice their opinion on a game’s design choices without being attacked for it. But that’s not even the biggest issue.

A shill is a person who appears/pretends to be a member of the public that is secretly working for a company. Shills use the perception of being a consumer to try to influence other consumers to support a company both financially and critically. The key feature of a shill is that they’re paid by a company to covertly influence the public to support that company. While I don’t like shills, I respect them. Like with any job, they are paid to provide a service and they do it. It’s no different than being a lobbyist, lawyer, or IRS agent. They have a dirty job that often calls for them to act unethically at the expense of hardworking people but it is their job and they do it because they have bills to pay too. But there is no excuse for unlicensed shilling. When a person is not paid by a company and goes out of their way to defend them and argue for them against other consumers, it’s not only illogical but also counterproductive for consumers as a whole. Getting paid to do a job is sensible. Doing a job for free is the height of stupidity. This is unlicensed (unpaid) shilling.

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Negative reception isn’t a bad thing for consumers. In fact, it’s an objectively good thing. When people send out angry tweets, write critical blog posts, post negative remarks on Reddit, and make dissenting YouTube videos, that’s a good thing for consumers. Even when you disagree with the negative opinions voiced, it’s still good for you as a consumer. Realistically speaking, larger studios and publishers no longer go out of business due to lack of sales. EA, Ubisoft, Rockstar, Sony, and so on aren’t going anywhere. There are too many power house franchises and so many customers worldwide that it would be almost impossible for any of these larger companies to go bankrupt. Studios within those companies like Visceral Games can be shut down, but that’s not a question of financials. It’s simply management making decisions about the future direction of the company. What that means is that there is no excuse to defend these larger companies because the longevity of their business is in no way affected by consumers posting their views, whether positive or negative, on social media.

The benefits of negative opinions being pushed out on social media is that companies respond to them in a number of ways, that either help all consumers or at least the unhappy ones without harming the ones that weren’t unhappy. Negative reception causes prices to drop faster. Negative reception causes free additional content to be released. Negative reception adds additional gameplay options to games to meet demands. Negative reception almost never harms players, unless it’s so bad that a game gets cancelled because of it, which is very rare in the AAA space. So there’s really no excuse to fight against other consumers about opposing opinions on social media because you’re only harming yourself in the long run by removing cause for these companies to grant extra boons to the entire public.

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I’m of course talking about larger studios only. Indie studios and games work a bit differently because of limited budgets and manpower so in many, but not all, situations there is a valid reason to shill for them. It’s very possible that enough negative reception could kill off an indie studio by driving it into bankruptcy. So let’s be very clear about the context of this discussion and stay focused on larger studios and projects.

Two notable examples of unlicensed shilling I saw during this year’s E3 surrounded Smash Bros Ultimate and Cyberpunk 2077. The reception to the Smash Bros Ultimate announcement(s) were overwhelmingly positive. This game has every character that’s ever been in the franchise returning for free with no paid DLC, as of yet announced, plus new characters and stages. This is great news for all Smash Bros. fans. But let’s not pretend like the Smash Bros. franchise has a perfect track record and that the team hasn’t screwed many players over throughout the franchise. I’m a Roy main. It’s been 10 years since I could use my main. Do you know why Roy is back? It’s not because for the past 10 years me and people like me have been silent and not voiced our anger about our mains not being available. It’s because we were vocal about it. There’s no paid DLC characters in this Smash Bros. like there were in the last one. Do you know why? It’s not because Nintendo decided to be benevolent this time around. It’s because a large number of people voiced their anger over this issue since the last game. It was the voicing of negative opinions that made Smash Bros. Ultimate the great game it will be. Not the positive opinions and the shills defending everything Nintendo does like mindless drones. Negative posts made the franchise better. Unlicensed shilling made it worse.

Everyone is here

A lot of people are angry about Waluigi not being playable in this latest Smash Bros. Personally I don’t care about this topic but I respect their desire to have him playable and I support them voicing that opinion. Yet tons of people have gone out of their way to try to put down the pro-Waluigi crowd from voicing their desires. Why? What do you gain from telling people “he’s already an assist trophy”? With enough support of the issue, Nintendo may patch in Waluigi as playable later. Why try to prevent this? Why even get involved? Nintendo doesn’t need your help. They’re a multi-billion dollar company with teams of lawyers, PR reps, and marketing teams. There is no reason for you to come to their aid. If anything, you should be helping your fellow consumers have their needs met. Nintendo will be just fine even if millions of angry tweets are posted calling for Waluigi to be playable.

To clarify, I’m advocating people voicing their negative opinions about game design choices. Not attacking private citizens who happen to be game developers. Attacking people in their private lives for doing their jobs is never OK. I don’t think Sakurai is a god like too many people do, but there is no justification for attacking him personally for any choices made concerning Smash Bros. If you aren’t happy with something tweet Nintendo and the Smash Bros. account and keep your posts focused on the game. If you see someone attacking a developer personally, you should come to that developer’s defense. That’s not what I’m talking about here.

Waluigi

I would say Cyberpunk 2077 had an even more polarizing announcement during E3 this year. CD Projeckt Red announced that the game would be a first person shooter. Many people, myself included, were unhappy about this and took the time to voice that opinion. Many people were also very happy about the announcement. The difference is that the pro-FPS crowd went out of their way to attack those of us voicing our desire for the game to be in third person. Now there are many legitimate reasons to be unhappy with this game being an FPS game. If you want me to go into those in detail, let me know in the comments. But it’s not the purpose of this post so I’m not going to do that here. The real issue is that so many people felt like it was necessary to come to CD Projekt Red’s aid over this issue. No one is worried about the game being cancelled. No one is concerned that the negative reception may get the studio shut down. These are not issues on the table for discussion. What is on discussion is CD Projekt Red adding the option to play in third person. What is on the table is many people not buying the game at release because it’s in first person, causing the price to fall faster for everyone. Neither of these things are/would be bad for consumers. So why try to stop them from happening? The first doesn’t affect you if you want to play the game in first person and the second helps you if you aren’t a day one buyer regardless of the reason why you aren’t a day one buyer. So what is to be gained from attacking your fellow consumers for having an opinion you don’t agree with?

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Some people will argue that CD Projekt Red could end up changing the game into a third person only game with enough negative reception as a justification for their unlicensed shilling, but that’s an illogical conclusion. The game is already being made in third person. CD Projekt Red has stated that they intentionally built the map to work “better” in first person. Many people are excited to play the game in first person and have stated as much. Even with all the negative reception in the world, what would be the logic in completely removing the first person gameplay option altogether? That wouldn’t make any sense. What can, and should, happen is that both first and third person gameplay options are made available like in Star Wars Battlefront and later versions of Skyrim. Why anyone would be against giving players the option to play in their preferred view is beyond me.

The point is that you stand to gain for every negative post made about a game and gain literally nothing from the positive ones. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t post when you’re happy about something a studio announces because you definitely should. These are hardworking people who take pride in their work and enjoy being commended for it. But that in no way means that people who aren’t happy about something in a game shouldn’t be allowed to voice their opinions as well. And all consumers stand to benefit from those negative opinions being posted. So please stop shilling for free. It’s serves you in no way, makes you look like an idiot for being illogical, and costs you possible free benefits such as free additional content and multiple gameplay options in the long run. I liken unlicensed shilling to a person defending the integrity of a pickpocket from an angry mob while the pickpocket is stealing said person’s wallet. Defend your fellow consumers, not the companies that don’t need your help to stay in business.

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Deadpool 2 Review – 6.7/10

It’s truly a great achievement that Deadpool 2 was made. Let us not forget that the first film only exists because of the combined efforts of a very dedicated starring actor, Ryan Reynolds, a passionate director, Tim Miller, and an almost animalistic public that went above and beyond the call to get the film made. By all rights such a film shouldn’t exist. It was the first modern comic book film to get an R rating, featured a fairly obscure character for the general public, and is placed within a universe that already had several films with tons of continuity problems. It was a monumental achievement not because it was a great film but because it came with so much risk. And yet it did extremely well and lived up to the expectations of comic book fans young and old. Because of this, we were lucky enough to get a sequel.

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Deadpool 2 is not as good of a film as its predecessor. The main reason for this comes from the arrogance that clearly affected the writing process. While the first film was unsure of itself and had to be at least somewhat cautious and subtle with its jokes and digs at various things, this film has no inhibitions. They didn’t show any restraint or caution with how they wrote this film and that actually hurts the dialog a lot. Too many of the jokes were current pop culture references and overly obvious. The best example being that Deadpool actually calls Cable (Josh Brolin) Thanos in one scene. This is lazy writing. It’s an obvious joke that required no effort. It’s not particularly funny and it’s not a timeless joke anyone will appreciate years down the road. Many of the jokes in this movie are like that. They didn’t feel the need to be subtle or try particularly hard. They just went for the easy laughs. And I will admit that I laughed quite a bit, but I don’t believe I would laugh at many of the jokes during a second viewing. I have watched the first film multiple times and I still laugh every time. In my opinion, this is the biggest problem with the film and it comes from the fact that they knew they could get away with pretty much anything this time around. That being said, the credit scenes were some of the funniest jokes in the whole movie, but were also very on the nose.

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The general narrative of the film isn’t as strong as the first movie either. The characters are more plentiful and better in multiple cases, but the story isn’t as cohesive or powerful. While the first film is a focused narrative about Wade Wilson and his transition into Deadpool, this movie lacks a well-defined character focus and arc. The first half of the movie is about Deadpool and his dealing with a tragedy. It’s a strong plot that follows the first film well. But about halfway through the movie it shifts into being a story about other characters that just happens to have Deadpool in it. Making a film not focused on Deadpool isn’t a problem if it had been sold that way and wasn’t called Deadpool 2. But that wasn’t what happened here.

Though it did unfocus the narrative, the addition of several new characters with a decent amount of screen time was not a bad thing. Some of them were extremely well done. Domino, as the best example, was an absolute joy to watch. I genuinely didn’t think that character would work on screen with her powers being done in a sensible, believable, and entertaining way, but they did an excellent job with her. So much so that I left the theater hoping for a Domino solo film. There were other good additions as well, plus a few great cameo appearances.

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Visually speaking, I would actually say this was better than the first film. The violence is upped considerably from the very start. Even just the number of severed limbs is increased exponentially and they did not hide or censor the actions leading up to them at all. The CGI was also very good with great mutant battles, some very well-choreographed fight scenes, and multiple brutal Deadpool injuries. This is a gruesome movie and that’s exactly how it should be. I was also happy with the music. I think they handled it similarly to the first one where they did a mixture of serious seemingly out of place romance tracks with hilarious joke songs that were written specifically for the movie.

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Ultimately I very much enjoyed Deadpool 2 but must state that the first one was a better overall movie, comic book or otherwise. This installment in the Wade Wilson franchise took too many liberties in a way that was lazy and lacking in authenticity. I think it works best when they write a serious film with over the top comedy elements rather than an over the top comedy with serious elements, which is what happened here. I will need to watch it again once it’s out of theaters, but I wouldn’t pay to see it a second time on the big screen. Definitely hope to see more Domino in future films though.

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Avengers: Infinity War Spoiler Free Review – Unscoreable/10

Writing a review for Avengers: Infinity War is probably the most difficult film review I’ve ever set out to do. First and foremost, what’s the point? The purpose of a review is to let people know if they should watch a move or not. But in this case that’s a pointless endeavor. If you’ve already taken the time to watch every MCU film going all the way back to Iron Man (2008), then there’s absolutely no way you aren’t already going to see this movie. Writing a review for this is essentially preaching to the choir. Conversely, if you haven’t taken the time to watch literally every single Marvel film going all the way back to the first Iron Man, with the possible exception of Ant-Man, then I would actually recommend you not seeing this film. And even though he doesn’t appear in Avengers: Infinity War, even Ant-Man is mentioned. So pretty much I have to write a review for an audience that is already going to see the movie no matter what I write while still saying something useful to that audience so as not to completely waste their/your time. That’s the first challenge of writing this review.

The second, and even more difficult, challenge of writing this review is saying anything worth saying without spoiling the movie. Avengers: Infinity War is perfectly crafted to reward you for watching every single MCU film to date. There’s a payoff for literally every movie in one way or another. I need to watch it again at home so I can pause and rewind things just to make sure I caught every reference. Pro-tip: You won’t catch them all on a first viewing. It’s genuinely not possible. There are payoffs all over the place. My favorite one goes all the way back to Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). So it’s very difficult to not ruin the movie in one way or another while actually talking about it. The cameos, call backs, payoffs, and general plot are all intentional down to the smallest detail. I can’t even use screenshots outside of what was shown in the trailer, which lies about certain events in the film by the way, for fear of spoiling the movie, and I won’t. So here’s my attempt to review this movie adequately, usefully, and spoiler free. If I failed at any of these stated goals then I apologize in advance, but I did the absolute best I could.

MCU Map

The first thing that needs to be said about Avengers: Infinity War is that it goes hard. I don’t just mean at the end you get a very dramatic conclusion, which you do. I mean from the start of the film this movie goes where Marvel films have never really gone before. They said in the marketing and press releases up to the film’s release that key characters would end up dying. That starts in literally the first scene. You’ve barely opened your Junior Mints and started eating your popcorn and already characters you’ve grown fond of since phase one are dying. Not just B characters either. A class characters start getting their asses handed to them in the opening minutes of the film. And not in some powerful, ultra-dramatic Erik Killmonger death sequence full of catharsis and grandeur. Like run of the mill stabbed through the chest and moving on deaths happen to main characters in this movie. The number of main characters that ultimately die in this is almost unconscionable. When the movie ended, my girlfriend was genuinely angry about it because she felt her heart had been ripped out and stomped on by Marvel.

ThanosAs was stated by multiple sources before the movie released, Thanos is the main character in this. It is his story and it is done well, but I wanted more. This is one of if not the best villain in the MCU because he is the most pragmatic. He isn’t motivated by greed, vengeance, arrogance, prejudice, or any of the other motivations we’ve seen from the likes of villains like Loki, Red Skull, Whiplash, Ronin, and even Killmonger. He is a truly dispassionate villain who doesn’t see himself as doing anything wrong. Quite the opposite actually. From start to finish, Thanos is acting with what he believes is the best interests of the universe and has true conviction. It’s beautiful to see some of the emotional moments he goes through because of how his actions affect others but must be carried out. And they took the time to develop his motivations, which was very important. I just wish they would have taken more time to develop him as a person. We are told all about what he’s doing and why. We even get what experiences led to his decision. But the movie doesn’t take time to tell you about Thanos the citizen of Titan or the fact that he’s actually a mutant of sorts for his race. We don’t learn about his biological family or his upbringing. Most disappointing of all, the plot in no way references his love for Death, the physical embodiment of the concept of dying. This made me the most unhappy because Death is mentioned in the after credits scene in Avengers I so I expected it to finally get that payoff here. But I will say that Thanos’ motivations in this movie are actually stronger narratively than how the courting Death plot would have played out in a limited time live action film. So while I wasn’t happy about it, kudos to Marvel for making the right decision here.

 

infinity-stones

This is one of the biggest ensemble casts I’ve ever seen. They bring back just about everyone. The only heroes missing, other than of course Quicksilver, are Ant-Man and Hawkeye. That’s a ton of characters to address in one movie. And remember, this is a standalone movie. There’s no Avengers: Infinity War Part II. You get a full plot here. There are questions left unanswered of course, but you won’t leave the theater wondering what happens with the Infinity Stones and Thanos’ plot. But somehow in a less than three hour movie they adequately addressed pretty much every important hero in the MCU. Some are more important than others, but they all get a fair amount of time. The pacing is a bit off because the characters aren’t all together at the same time at any point in the movie so there’s a lot of jumping around. But everyone gets their screen time. Even a lot of B characters make appearances. I do wish they would have explained why Black Widow is blonde now, but it’s not a plot relevant issue so meh.

Visually, the movie is of course stunning. You get new Iron Man tech, plenty of time spent in outer space and on other worlds, graphic battles, new facial hair for multiple characters, of course Infinity Stone powers. Marvel never disappoints in this area and they didn’t here so there’s really no need to draw that topic out. Same goes for sound effects.

Blonde Black WidowMusic on the other hand, I wasn’t impressed by. It’s not that the music was bad, but that it wasn’t new. The only songs listed in the credits were already used theme songs for past MCU films and a single Star-Lord classic track to introduce the Guardians of the Galaxy, because of course there was. You didn’t get some epic Thanos theme or some new Avengers fight song. They pretty much just rehashed pieces of the MCU soundtrack, which isn’t that impressive to begin with, to play on your nostalgia. Which works fine for a movie that’s built on interconnected references and plotlines. But it’s not impressive as far as scoring films goes.

Overall, I have to say that this is in many ways the most fulfilling MCU film ever made. It has something for everyone; features all your favorite characters, has real consequences, completely changes the perceived future of the MCU, teases at least one new hero, is emotionally devastating, and stands alone plot wise. It’s the most impressive culmination of an interconnected film universe ever done. You leave the movie feeling like the last 10 years of devotion was worth it. This movie earned you taking the time to watch 18 (17 if you don’t count Ant-Man) other related films. At the same time though, it’s a terrible standalone movie. What I mean by that is this was made exclusively for MCU fans. You can’t be new to the franchise and go watch this movie expecting to understand anything important that takes place. You can get the gist of what happens. But you won’t be able to follow why specific characters do what they do. Why certain characters dying and others not is important. Who these characters are and why they interact with each other in the ways that they do. The movie is lost on new viewers. Which is why again I will say make sure you take the time to watch every MCU film before seeing this movie. And if you don’t remember watching them all, take a refresher.

 

avengers-infinity-war-coverThere’s really no way to prepare you for what goes down in this movie without spoiling it. I’ve done my best here, but I can’t even say for sure that I’ve done a good enough job. Just strap in and have no expectations because you won’t know what hit you. This is like no other MCU film in any way, shape, or form. It makes Avengers I and II look like Justice League. Just go see it, which you were going to do anyway. All I can really say, for the third time because it’s that important, is if you haven’t taken the time to watch any of the films in the MCU, definitely take the time before going to see Avengers: Infinity War and watch all the after credits scenes.

 

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Of Meats and Men: Environmentalism in Breath of the Wild

This is gonna be one of those blog posts that are way too serious about an issue that’s at most not that important and at worst absolutely stupid. But it seemed kind of interesting and a bit funny to write about so here we are.

I’ve been playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the past several weeks. I’m currently at more than 115 hours of play. Around hour 90 I realized that I had made a drastic change in a certain aspect of how I was playing the game; specifically how I was interacting with the natural environment of the game world.

The Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild Screenshot 2018-04-17 20-16-32

Depending on the game and how it works, I try to apply my own real world ethical views to how I play most games. This affects how I answer in conversations and make decisions in games like Mass Effect. It informs how I progress through TellTale Games titles. It even affects how I deal with the game’s environment where applicable. Obviously there are exceptions, but in general this is how I approach games. In real life, I’m an environmentalist. No I’m not a vegan or some other such annoying person on a moral high horse. But I do believe that the environment and its preservation are crucial to the continued survival of humanity. This too affects the way I play video games and I don’t think my views on this issue have ever affected me as much as they have while playing Breath of the Wild.

The Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild Screenshot 2018-04-17 20-15-19

Breath of the Wild is an amazing game because of how much freedom it gives you to interact with the world. If you want to ride a horse, you can literally run out to a field and jump on a horse’s back. It takes patience and effort but you can do it. And doing it is a great feeling. Then, if you choose to, you can keep that horse. You can befriend it. You can stable it. You can release it. The game encourages you to build relationships with your horses and only allows you to own a limited number of them at any given time. It asks you to name them and build relationships with them. Then if you get a horse you like better, usually   one with better strength and speed, you have to decide which horse to release to make room for it. It’s an overall beautiful and personal experience. But horses are just a small part of how you can interact with the environment in this game.

One of the biggest ways you interact with the environment in Breath of the Wild is by farming natural resources. There are many types of resources such as insects, minerals, meat and other wild life products, and plants. For me, the most personally impactful resources in the game are meat from animals and wood from trees. Unlike the other Zelda games, this is an RPG. That means you need lots of resources to accomplish various things such as leveling up your armor, completing quests, and often most importantly, making money. Money is very scarce in Breath of the Wild. It’s not like in the other games in the series where you can just cut grass and get rich in a matter of minutes. As I said, I’m more than 115 hours in and I still don’t have that many rupees. The game asks you to spend quite a lot and offers you very little money for free. Instead you have to actively earn the money you need to accomplish things like buying armors, refilling your supply of arrows, and purchasing a house. Yes that is a thing you can do in this game. In my opinion, the quickest way to make money is by selling meat skewers. These are obtained by collecting meat from animals, cooking them, and then selling them to any vendor. Another way you constantly interact with the environment is by collecting wood, which is used for starting fires, crafting certain items, and is even required to complete certain quests.

The Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild Screenshot 2018-04-17 20-14-10

When I first started playing Breath of the Wild, I was extremely conservative with how many trees I felled and how many animals I killed. I was pretty much only taking what I needed at the moment. I often accidentally knocked over trees and I felt bad about it every time. I always felt like I was hurting the environment and I felt actual guilt about this as I played the game, even though trees grow back rather quickly. When it came to animals, I killed them when I could to harvest meat, but it was never for selling. I saved all the meat I collected and used it to make healing items. The interesting part is that on Twitter I discovered that I wasn’t the only one who felt like this while playing the game. But eventually my environmentalism became too big a hindrance to my gameplay. With trees, this started when I was doing the “From the Ground Up” side quest line. This required you to give an NPC tons of wood. More wood than I had even collected up to that point. Suddenly I found myself indiscriminately destroying trees one after the other in the pursuit of large quantities of wood. I distinctly remember a moment where I had wiped out all the trees in a specific area and I felt genuinely bad about it. Caring about respecting the environment within the game had forced me to have to spend like an hour harvesting wood. And by the end of this ordeal I was done with respecting the trees. If I was going to be asked to provide NPCs with such large quantities of wood then I wasn’t going to stop farming it until I needed it again. Suddenly I was downing trees all the time while working on other stuff just to grow my wood stores in case I needed a bunch of it again.

The Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild Screenshot 2018-04-17 20-12-51

Killing animals had a similar trajectory for me. At first I wasn’t killing them too often and I was using all the meat for myself. Then Reddit told me that selling meat skewers was the most effective way to make money. After many hours of not being able to afford the items I wanted and having to struggle just to buy additional arrows, this information was a godsend. I could hunt animals for pretty much free with my bombs and melee weapons and could never kill enough of them because I needed so much money. And really there is now end to the amount of money you can have because there’s no wallet limit, at least none that I’ve managed to reach yet, and you will never not have things that would be useful to buy. Especially when it comes to ancient weapons, which have a finite lifespan. I was killing animals a lot more and specifically for profit. I was even targeting specific animals because of higher quality meat yields which sell for more money. I had become the equivalent of a fur trapper in the colonial United States, mindlessly killing whatever animals I could find for profits. But this wasn’t even enough to satisfy my greed. Then I unlocked the Master Cycle and eventually made my way to Tabantha Tundra. This is straight up the North American wilderness at the beginning of The Revenant (2015). Except I have a motorcycle and the ability to wield a spear while riding it. I blaze across that frozen plain killing every animal I can find (wolves, moose, and rhinos) for a hefty return of meat. I can quickly farm several thousand rupees this way in under an hour. If I could somehow collect the meat without having to leave my motorcycle it would be a perfect system.

Zelda Prey

After farming large quantities of meat in the tundra several times I realized that the amount of animals I had killed had grown exponentially. Meanwhile, the amount of meat I was actually eating had shrunk to almost nothing because of the advanced healing power I had attained coupled with much improved armor. No longer did I even need the meat for sustenance. I was just killing animals for profit. It got to the point where I had so much meat that I started using base quality raw meat for motorcycle fuel because it wasn’t valuable enough to take the time to cook and sell like the higher quality meats. I had/have become one of those greedy venture capitalists of the colonial era, destroying and taking everything nature has to offer for my own personal gain.

What really got to me wasn’t so much what I ended up doing to the environment of the game as much as the transition to that point or more accurately the lack thereof. There was no moment where I actively decided that I was no longer going to care about my in game environmentalism. I just became irritated with being poor gradually and slowly found more efficient ways to deal with my resource problems. I hopped on that motorcycle and started hunting from it without a second thought. It was just faster and after so many hours of play I really wanted to speed things up. It wasn’t till far into this behavior that I had even realized it had happened.

The Legend of Zelda - Breath of the Wild Screenshot 2018-04-07 00-39-32

Now I don’t have some profound point I’m trying to make here. I’m not going to change the way I play the game this close to the end because I’m actively trying to complete all my goals as quickly as possible so I can be done with the game and be ready for God of War. But I do wonder what the game would look like in the end if things didn’t instantly grow back when you teleport to a different area. It would be very interesting and probably depressing for me to see what the world would look like after I ravaged it for personal gain.

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Finally Caught ‘Em All

I started playing Pokémon GO on July 7th, 2016. That was the very first day that the app was available for download here in Taiwan. I started with the declared goal of catching ‘em all. Let me clarify that for me that only includes the original 151 Pokémon from the base set in the Kanto region. For me, that’s Pokémon. I started with Red and Blue (and Yellow), played through Gold and Silver, and then stopped playing. I’ve never really had an interest in the Pokémon past the original set, with a few special exceptions. So for me Pokémon GO was always about catching Bulbasaur to Mew. I finally accomplished this feat last week after 1 year and 9 months of continuous play. By continuous play I mean playing every day without fail, often for hours at a time. I’ve walked 2,411.3 km, caught 21,123 Pokémon, and spun 24,745 PokéStops. Finally I’m done. And let’s be very honest. There are players who have walked, caught, and spun way more than me and still don’t have all 151. That’s not a good thing.

Badges

I am a serious gamer. By serious I don’t mean I spend a ton of hours gaming, even though I do. I don’t mean I own and buy a lot of games, even though I do. And I certainly don’t mean that I play PVP at competitive level, which anyone who reads this blog or follows me on Twitter knows I absolutely don’t, because I hate PVP. What I mean when I refer to myself as a serious gamer is that I take my gaming seriously. As in I think about and play with a consciously serious mindset. I’m not the type of person to say things like “as long as it’s fun that makes it a good game”. I’m not the kind of person who buys a game, plays it for 30 minutes, gets bored, and then moves on to another game. I play games with intent and I think about them critically at pretty much all times. I set target goals for the games I play to specifically define when I’ll consider myself finished with them and what I need to accomplish before I stop playing them. This is true regardless of genre, platform, or hours spent. Some games I play with an achievement based goal like how I platinum every single Ratchet & Clank game that gets released. Sometimes I play just to get to the end of the single player story campaign like with most of the Final Fantasy games. Even with multiplayer PVP games I tend to set a target goal like achieve prestige level 1 in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. And as I’ve already stated, with Pokémon GO my goal was to catch all 151 base set Pokémon.

At the end of most games I complete, regardless of what my goal is/was, I’m usually happy to finally be done with them. With such a long backlog, I really like to clear games as quickly as possible. And some games are so long that by the time I get to the end of them I’m just completely burned out. But every so often when I reach the end of a game I want to play more but there’s nothing left for me to do. With most games I play, this occurs only when the game is very good, such as with Super Mario Odyssey. But for the first time in my life, it’s the opposite situation. I have finished a game, Pokémon GO, and would like to play it more but won’t because it’s not a good game.

151 Horizontal

Pokémon GO is not a good game. I have played hundreds, maybe even a couple thousand, hours. I’ve played in four different countries. Though I’ve never spent money in the game itself, I’ve spent more than my fair share to play it with travel fees, phone data fees abroad, and of course time spent. With all this experience under my belt, and of course the many years of gaming and reviewing games I have and had long before ever playing Pokémon GO, I can say without hesitation that it’s not a good game. If not for my serious commitment to gaming with a purpose and completing my declared goals, I would have stopped playing months ago. I have grown to love catching Pokémon just like I did as a kid and genuinely would like to keep playing the game because there are still more Pokémon for me to catch and new ones being added in the future, even if I don’t have any sort of personal connection to the later gens. But there are just too many problems for me to keep wasting my time with this game considering how many other games there are to play.

Mew

The saddest thing of all about Pokémon GO is that it doesn’t have to be a bad game. Niantic willfully makes it so. At its core level, it’s actually a pretty solid game. Certainly one of the best mobile games I’ve ever played. But the higher level mechanics are just wrong on so many levels. Almost all of which come down to a combination of greed and gameplay padding in order to arbitrarily increase play time. With just a few simple fixes this game could be something good that wouldn’t be constantly hemorrhaging players as it has since at least gen two. It could very easily be fun and playable for more than just us committed hard core players, and again the fixes necessary aren’t rocket science. The most important being adding PvE coins and rare candies, wild Legendary spawns, rotating spawns in any given area, removing all regionally specific Pokémon (as in distributing all Pokémon to all regions), making incubators acquirable at all levels by spinning PokéStops in unlimited quantities, prioritizing hatches to Pokémon players actually need, and adding trading, which in all honesty would become unnecessary if all the other changes mentioned were implemented.

Pokemon-GO-Money

What it really comes down to is that Pokémon GO plays like a game that only considers paid players. Like with most things by EA today . . . cough Star Wars Battlefront II cough . . ., it demands you to spend money not just to make the game better but to even make it manageable. I’ve been playing since day 1, yet I only have 500 spots in my PokéBank. I believe the current maximum is 1500 spots. Really these spots should be free, but instead they cost coins. Coins can only be acquired through sitting on gyms. Depending on where you are, this can be extremely easy or extremely difficult. For me, a person living in literally one of the most competitive GO cities in the world, Taipei, with no gyms that can be reached without leaving my block, it’s very difficult to get on and more importantly stay on a gym. And when I can there’s of course the 50 coin limit so I can’t even get my maximum potential coins in those extremely rare moments where I can actually keep a gym for several hours. For my friend, who literally lives on top of a gym, he has never gone a day since the latest gym update where he didn’t get his 50 coins. He of course has the maximum number of PokéBank spots available, even though he too is a free player. Of my 631 eggs hatched, I would say maybe 20% of them were Pokémon I could actually use. That’s Pokémon I needed to add to my Pokédex. This low number is due at least in part to the fact that I have such a limited number of incubators as a free player and the fact that I tend to get 5k eggs, which are the absolute least useful eggs in the game. Of the four Pokémon, not counting regionals, that I still need to hatch in order to finish the current available Pokédex, only one is available from a 5k egg and I have never hatched a single one. And to be honest, I’ve only seen one in the wild, which I caught. For the record, that Pokémon is Lileep. For the most part, these are all super easy fixes that would drastically improve the gameplay experience for pretty much all players, other than those who are willing to spend tons of money and can travel the world to catch a single Pokémon. But sadly those are the only players that Niantic considers when developing the game.

*After writing this but before I published it, I did see a second Lileep in the wild, which I caught, so I have actually now seen 2 Lileeps in the game.

GO Gen 3
Still missing Cradily, Flygon, Salamence, and Metagross.

Free players and casual players matter in Pokémon GO, as well as every other game with multiplayer elements. The fact is that GO makes a ton of money, but the percentage of paid players is relatively low. Yet if all the free players stopped playing the game would literally cease to work. You couldn’t have working gyms without players to fill them. You couldn’t complete raids without players to help. The game cannot work without your free player base because that makes up the majority of players that give all the paid players a reason to spend money in order to be competitive. So really it’s in the best interests of Niantic to do everything they can to keep free players happy enough to keep playing the game. The truth is that GO only still exists because of the popularity of Pokémon. If this was just a random game about catching monsters no one knew about it would have already collapsed due to the terrible management of the app. These flaws are why I cannot happily play this game anymore even though I would very much like to.

jurassic-world-live

Let me be very clear about something. I don’t expect Niantic to fix their game. In fact I’m confident they won’t. But what I do hope for is that this post and others like it by gamers as serious as I am are seen by other developers looking to make similar games and hopefully they will take my feedback to heart when designing their own games. It’s not just about hour 1. It’s about hour 100. Mobile games like this only work with long term, dedicated players and many of them. As I said before, GO, in its current form, wouldn’t still be a thing if it didn’t have the advantage of Pokémon. We will soon be getting Jurassic World Live and I will be playing it. I haven’t decided what my goal for it is yet because I don’t know enough about it, but I do hope that the developers do a better job than Niantic at making a game that’s actually fun after the honeymoon period ends for all players, whether paid or free.

For the record, I have causally continued playing Pokémon GO at a drastically lower level of play since catching all 151 while I wait for Jurassic World Live to drop. Can’t say for how much longer that will be the case.

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