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The Many Ways To Die in Nethack 132

Posted by Zonk
from the i'll-just-take-a-sip-and-... dept.
The GameSetWatch column '@Play' deals with the storied history of Rogue-like text adventures. This week, author John Harris discusses the many ways to die in Nethack. From the article: "The lowly cockatrice is perhaps the most dangerous monster in the game. There are plenty of monsters with more hit points, who do more damage, who have special attacks, and are just bigger, but cockatrices instantly kill anyone who touches them with their bare skin, and are thus very likely to kill players unwise in their dealings with them. Even Death up on Astral Plane has to succeed in an attack against a player to deliver an instakill, but a cockatrice can kill by being attacked. If the player attempts to fight a cockatrice without a weapon or wearing gloves and hits, he turns to stone. If he attempts to pick up a dead one with his bare hands, that will also turn him to stone. (It can also be wielded, however. Applications for a wielded cockatrice corpse are left for you to imagine, but I will say that it can be, hm, useful.)"
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The Many Ways To Die in Nethack

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  • Nethack is a great game and is still very playable today. It makes a great time-waster in case any of you need one. You can either download and run it locally, or play via telnet at a site such as nethack.alt.org. My favorite way to die would be...crushed to death by a falling drawbridge. I hate those drawbridges.
    • by misleb (129952)
      Nethack is so... mid 90's. It hasn't really evolved much over the years. I gave it up years ago in favor of ToME (angband variant). I think ToME is pretty much the state of the art of Rogue-likes these days.

      Then again Nethack is kinda nice because it is relatively simple (and you get a free pet!).

      -matthew
      • by SQLGuru (980662)
        There's an isometric graphical version out there on the *almost* latest edition. It's called Falcon's Eye http://users.tkk.fi/~jtpelto2/nethack.html [users.tkk.fi]. If the ASCII graphics are turning you off, you can try that.

        I've been playing NetHack since the late 80's (1988 to be exact) and still have it installed on several computers (including the PocketPC version for my phone). It is a great time waster that has had me hooked for almost 20 years.

        Layne
        • by Jaysyn (203771)
          If SLASH'EM is your favorite Rogue-like, google Vulture's Claw or Vulture's Eye for a 3d version.

          Jaysyn
        • by misleb (129952)

          There's an isometric graphical version out there on the *almost* latest edition.

          By "state of the art" I mean gameplay and variety of experience... not graphics. I've tried the isometric frontends to Nethack and they are awful. They are difficult to play because you can't see very much of the map on the screen at any given time. Very hard to plan moves or make escapes. Also, ascii letters are a great way to visually identify/classify monsters. ToME is actually still ASCII.. the way any self respecting Rogu

          • by Rei (128717)
            If you like ascii, but want more than your standard text mode version, get to the "Rogue" level in Vulture's Eye/Claw (which, I should add, is the replacement for the dead Falcon's Eye project). The monsters there are isometric representations of 3d models of huge stone letters.
          • by MilenCent (219397)
            I'm not sure about ToME's variety, reading about the game makes it seem that, like most of the Angband descendants, it is very much a player versus monsters game, without that much else. I've made the point repeatedly in the column so far that the most interesting things about roguelikes, in the end, is the item ID system and having to figure out what things do, and the 'bands tend to greatly reduce its role in the game.
            • by misleb (129952)

              I'm not sure about ToME's variety, reading about the game makes it seem that, like most of the Angband descendants, it is very much a player versus monsters game, without that much else. I've made the point repeatedly in the column so far that the most interesting things about roguelikes, in the end, is the item ID system and having to figure out what things do, and the 'bands tend to greatly reduce its role in the game.

              Dude, have you ever even played a roguelike before? They are ALL ABOUT player versus m

              • by MilenCent (219397)
                I've been playing roguelikes for about as wrong, and I stand by my statement.

                I maintain that figuring out what objects are is a more interesting challenge than killing monsters, and that the monsters exist in order to force players to find out what the items do and how to use them properly, not the other way around. When you turn it around, you get just about every other fantasy combat game the world has known -- and most of those, in case you haven't noticed, suck.

                All those things like skill trees, specia
        • by hyc (241590)
          Gawd. Hack 1.0.2 was one of the first programs I dissected when I was learning C. I contributed a bunch of bug fixes and enhancements that went into Hack 1.0.3 and 1.0.4. This was 1985 or 1986... I remember struggling with getting the executable to fit into 640K on a PC, and being so relieved to have my 1MB Atari 1040 ST to play it on.

          One of the things I worked on was splitting the UI into a separate module, with a simple protocol in between. So you could run the main game as a server and connect with curse
      • by Jesterboy (106813)
        Actually, I think the real state of the art ASCII game is Dwarf Fortress [bay12games.com]; it's even in alpha! All kidding aside, Dwarf Fortress keeps true ASCII graphics, and has quite a few unique features, such as it's massive, uniquely generated, persistent world. Or a sort of "Sim Fortress" in which you command a legion of ASCII dwarves carving a fortress into a mountain. In my opinion, this portion trumps the rogue-like aspect of it, but that play mode is enjoyable as well. Want to go visit the fortress you've aba
        • I think the next evolution of Rogue-like games is the MMORPG. You can quote me on this: we will see a Rogue-like MMORPG before the decade is done. Not a MUD, mind you, a real Rogue/NetHack-ish MMORPG, possibly with PvP. Take that, WoW!

          That reminds me (vaguely) of EQ's Dungeons of Norrath expansion. One idea that would've been very decent was if the EQ team had managed to construct a "building block" style dungeon engine. As you moved from level to level you could get an entirely randomly generated dung
        • by misleb (129952)

          I think the next evolution of Rogue-like games is the MMORPG. You can quote me on this: we will see a Rogue-like MMORPG before the decade is done. Not a MUD, mind you, a real Rogue/NetHack-ish MMORPG, possibly with PvP. Take that, WoW!

          Actually, there is already a multiplayer version of ToME: http://www.t-o-m-e.net/main.php?tome_current=1 [t-o-m-e.net] Unfortunately Rogue-like games don't really work well in multiplayer mode because the game style is strategy, not action. In other words, you don't play in real time. You

          • by Jesterboy (106813)

            I had the "OMG! Multiplayer Nethack would be so awesome!" bug like ten years ago. I've given it lots of thought. It just wouldn't work well.

            While you do raise some valid points, I think you're jumping the gun in saying it "wouldn't work well", especially if you haven't checked out Dwarf Fortress, which does run in a pretty much "real time" during Fortress Mode. Of course, since your job is to plan out and design a fortress, you go through the usual pause/plan/unpause cycle you mentioned, but I think that's

            • by misleb (129952)

              While you do raise some valid points, I think you're jumping the gun in saying it "wouldn't work well", especially if you haven't checked out Dwarf Fortress, which does run in a pretty much "real time" during Fortress Mode.

              Maybe Dwarf Fortress would work in multiplayer mode, but it doesn't sounds very "rogue-like" at all other than being ASCII graphics based.

              Of course, since your job is to plan out and design a fortress, you go through the usual pause/plan/unpause cycle you mentioned, but I think that's bec

          • by MilenCent (219397)
            I covered this last column, on ToeJam & Earl, which contains many roguelike elements but is indeed in real time and has a multiplayer mode:

            http://www.gamesetwatch.com/2006/10/_play_toejam_e arl_the_roguelik_1.php#more [gamesetwatch.com]
            • by misleb (129952)
              I read the column, and it seems to make a very good case for why that game ISN'T rogue-like at all. You have like 10 paragraphs outlining the aspects that differentiate it from roguelike games and a single paragraph which makes some vague correlations to rogue-like games, e.g. the idea of not being able to revert to saved games.

              -matthew
              • by MilenCent (219397)
                But it has the core aspects: a difficult world the player cannot survive without using items, items which are unknown at the beginning and must be discovered through experimentation, lots of unexpected interactions between those items and the monsters, and monsters that can affect the player in ways beyond mere damage.

                But those are things that I emphasize the importance of in prior columns. I try not to repeat myself there, since it's easy to do in a column with a fairly narrow focus.
  • As many may know, one can play Nethack on a publicly-viewable server at nethack.alt.org [alt.org]. There is also a group project to play through and obtain as many unique deaths in Nethack as possible on a shared account called DeathRobin [alt.org]. For the curious, one can check on his progress here [katron.org]. The character was started as one of several shared accounts on the IRC channel #nethack on the Freenode network.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Any word on when this new "nethack" game will be released?
  • Spoilerish... (outdated version, though) http://www.statslab.cam.ac.uk/~eva/nethack/ways_to _die.html [cam.ac.uk] Also, thinking about my own stuff, I especially liked 'killed by elementary chemistry'. Never add water to acid, people, always the other way around...
  • Dot-Bar-Hum-Fem-Neu, Killed by kicking a hallucinogen-distorted mumak.
    • by LordEvan (830939)
      I had a friend back in college that played Nethack. He named his dog "Screaming Orgasm in the Night". Made for on helluva funny entry when he failed to feed the dog and it killed him...
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Scooter (8281)
        The one I always remember from my Nethack playing days at uni was also pet related. I had 3 pet dragons (Huey, Duey and Luey (sp?)) I also had a ring of teleport control (had eaten several leprechauns) and a magic whiste (to teleport my private fire breathing army).

        My usual room clearance mode was teleport in, teleport the dragons in with the whistle, teleport out. I didn't do the last bit, the dragons attacked some nearby demons with fire, I got caught in the crossfire and the several tonnes of potions a
  • Is how you die by touching the universe.
  • Nethack was good fun, but I don't play it so often now for fear of losing months of my life. DoomRL [chaosforge.org] (Wiki [wikipedia.org]) is fun to play for a short while - a "coffee break" game, as they call it.

  • For plenty of Nethack fatalities, check out rec.games.roguelike.nethack, and search for either YASD (Yet Another Stupid Death) or YAAD (Yet Another Annoying Death).

    Also, check out the Top Deaths List [alt.org] at alt.org.
    • by alexo (9335)

      For plenty of Nethack fatalities, check out rec.games.roguelike.nethack, and search for either YASD (Yet Another Stupid Death) or YAAD (Yet Another Annoying Death).

      For added geekiness, check the rec.games.roguelike.nethack posts by "Raisse the Thaumaturge" (a.k.a Irina Rempt).
      She ends her posts by a pseudo-sig "Raisse, killed by ..." where the reason is an actual Nethack death message chosen to be somewhat relevant to the post.

      • by dhasenan (758719)
        I hear about Irina occasionally. How has she been? I haven't heard from her in, well, years.
        • by MilenCent (219397)
          Raisse hangs out in rec.games.roguelike.nethack. Doesn't post as much as used to, but when they do show up they're often a high point of the thread.

          Google Groups is an okay way to read and post there if you don't have an account with an ISP that provides USENET.
  • by edschurr (999028) on Monday October 30, 2006 @03:00PM (#16645899)
    So I was at a friend's house, and we were on seperate computers playing different games. My game was Nethack. I had been playing for maybe a month or two at a decent rate but had never gotten very far.

    But this time was different; I was lucky. My Valkyrie found Excalibur, Mjollnir, Grey Dragon Scale Mail, was easily destroying everything in her path, and I finally got to go on my quest for the first time.

    I entered the quest level, and ran straight into the lava.
    • by misleb (129952)
      The Valkyrie was my favorite character. Combine Mjollnir and the Gauntlets of Power (can throw Mjollnir and have it return every time), get all the immunities from corpses, and you were basically unstoppable (except by stupidity, of course).

      If you prayed enough at the right times and sacrificed enough monsters, Mjollnir was pretty much guaranteed. ANd I didn't have trouble finding the GoP either.

      -matthew
      • I'm sure many adventurers have experienced the phenomena where as soon as you become 'unstoppable', stupidity is found around every corner...
  • by tehshen (794722) <tehshen@gmail.com> on Monday October 30, 2006 @03:06PM (#16646017)
    This is going to sound a bit weird at first, especially if you're new to the game, but really... NetHack isn't that hard. After a few years of playing, NetHack is "normal" difficulty, and most other games come under "easy". Redefining terms to suit myself? Yes, but once you get going, losing a game due to bad luck or lack of knowledge becomes less and less believable.

    I haven't ascended yet. I've come close twice: I once made it to the VS without the candles [:(] and once had a very promising character blow up Lord Surtur's drawbridge while trying to clear a boulder out the way. Neither of these were my own bad luck, well, not much; the problem was my own stupidity and not paying attention.

    Is there a lot to learn? Not really, no. It might take you a few plays of random characters to get to know all the items or monsters, and (if you're not spoiled) some time to get acquainted with them, but from that you can deduce most deaths. Once you've learned that touching or handling a cockatrice (or its corpse) in any way stones you, you know not to take its corpse, feel it while blind, kick one, help one out of a pit, or all those other things. The game still needs to know all these, which is why the list of footrice-related deaths is so long.

    The best way to die is to not pay attention. Playing late at night or while tired, playing when you have better things to worry about, or playing too fast are all ways to get you killed quickly. Thought that purple h was a dwarf king? Too bad, you should have checked. Wielding a c corpse while burdened? Should have looked at the status line. I've often died, surrounded by monsters, with (identified!) wands and scrolls of teleportation in my inventory. Woe is me.

    On the nethack.alt.org server, the record for ascension streak is IIRC 23 straight ascensions, some with conducts. So although luck plays a part in all games, it's not as big as you think, and ascending with 95% certainty can be done, just as long as you keep paying attention.

    Attention demands 27096 gold pieces. Pay? (yn)
    • by Sartak (589317)

      NetHack isn't that hard. [...] I haven't ascended yet. I've come close twice

      Err, right..

      On the nethack.alt.org server, the record for ascension streak is IIRC 23 straight ascensions, some with conducts. So although luck plays a part in all games, it's not as big as you think, and ascending with 95% certainty can be done, just as long as you keep paying attention.

      Marvin is really in a class of his own. http://alt.org/nethack/ascstreak.html [alt.org] lists ascension streaks. Note that it drops off very quickl

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I've ascended nethack. I'm going to have the screenshot engraved on my tombstone.
    • by Chris Burke (6130) on Monday October 30, 2006 @03:46PM (#16646743) Homepage
      This is going to sound a bit weird at first, especially if you're new to the game, but really... NetHack isn't that hard. After a few years of playing, NetHack is "normal" difficulty, and most other games come under "easy". Redefining terms to suit myself? Yes, but once you get going, losing a game due to bad luck or lack of knowledge becomes less and less believable.

      I've ascended a couple times, and I still think the game is hard. Once you've got a bag of holding full of wands, scrolls, and potions for every occasion and are sporting a good number of pieces of your Ascension Kit(tm), then sure it's not terribly hard and mostly a matter of paying attention -- because even fully decked out, one slip up can mean YASD.

      Before that, though, the game is very difficult and the random number generator can be very cruel to you. For example, if you haven't found some form of magic resistance (I prefer the grey dragon mail) before reaching roughly the castle level, then you're in danger of being on the reciving end of a Touch of Death that ends your game instantly. Or just because you know not to handle a cockatrice corpse doesn't keep you from getting blinded, confused, and then stumbling into a pit which contains a cockatrice corpse. Or you could encounter my nemesis before finding sufficient armor to stave them off: the soldier ant.

      On the other hand, there are so many ways to deal with problems that many things that seem bad are survivable. If you're surrounded by monsters, and don't actually have any scrolls of teleportation, you might have a wand of digging to dig yourself an escape hole down to the next level.

      In the end, I'd say nethack is hard, but not cheap. Games like Diablo II achieve "hard" by being "cheap" (Multiple shot - fire - lightning enchant anyone?), where you can be killed instantly by random chance, or games where the RoF/damage/hit-points of enemies scales ridiculously until you can't possibly evade them. I think this is part of what sets nethack apart.
    • by misleb (129952)

      I haven't ascended yet. I've come close twice: I once made it to the VS without the candles [:(] and once had a very promising character blow up Lord Surtur's drawbridge while trying to clear a boulder out the way. Neither of these were my own bad luck, well, not much; the problem was my own stupidity and not paying attention.

      Oh, that isn't close. Close is dying while wading through hordes of summoned monsters on the astral plane trying to find the right altar. Been there once. That was enough for me. I c

    • by juuri (7678)
      I'm going to have to agree with another poster and say Nethack is still hard(TM). I've ascended seven characters over the years (none recently) but my ratio of winning to failure is so pathetic listing it could make me cry. There have been countless times that characters have been going well, building their ascension kit only to meet their demise due to an unfortunate set of circumstances.

      For those just starting, play a Valkryie. Most easy class by far to ascend as Odin likes to hang out Mjollnir like it wa
      • by Procyon101 (61366)
        I just ascended a tourist. I started playing monk now, and realize now how freaking hard tourist was.

        I'm going for a weaponless, illiterate, wishless, genocideless, vegan monk. If I can do that, I figure I can give the game up permanently.
        • by Chris Burke (6130)
          I'm going for a weaponless, illiterate, wishless, genocideless, vegan monk. If I can do that, I figure I can give the game up permanently.

          That's not that hard... ascend a weaponless, illiterate, wishless, genocideless, vegan tourist and I'd say you've 'won' the game completely. :)
          • by Procyon101 (61366)
            Nah.. I've got to say that completely is the athiest foodless ascentions I've seen... That's just wrong.
            • by Chris Burke (6130)
              Whoa, that is wrong... I can't even figure out how you'd do that... Pray (not in game) for a wand of polymorph/ring of poly control to turn into an undead before you starve?
              • by Sancho (17056)
                Tack on "pacifist" and you've got a real challenge.
              • by illuvata (677144)
                Every 20 turns, rings of the left hand lower nutrition on turn 4, rings of the right on turn 12. So, with two Rings of Slow Digestion, you can keep taking one off on the important turn and not use any food.
                Also, Potions of Fruit Juice raise nutrition, but don't count as food, so you can compensate for missed turns and the Amulet of Yendor.
            • by revlayle (964221)
              What gets me about this is not the insane difficulty.... but.... WHY IN THE HELL would an ATHEIST care to ASCEND?
              • by Sartak (589317)

                WHY IN THE HELL would an ATHEIST care to ASCEND?

                Because immortality is far preferable to nothingness?

          • by qa'lth (216840)
            Everyone knows the hardedst ascension is a pacifist gnome healer.
      • by slaker (53818) on Monday October 30, 2006 @06:33PM (#16649925)
        I ascended a wishless tourist once.
        I consider it more of an accomplishment than my bachelor's degree.
    • by MilenCent (219397)
      I've played the game enough now that I can see you're correct... once you know the right strategies.

      A game with a lot of buzz around it lately is Dungeon Crawl. I've not looked at it yet though.
  • by psxman (925240) on Monday October 30, 2006 @03:07PM (#16646035)
    nethacker, choked on a kitten
    Names altered to protect the innocent, plus I forgot.
  • The now-venerable annual International Nethack Tournament starts on 10/31 as always at http://nethack.devnull.net [devnull.net]. These guys are the original online NH tourney, accept no imitations :-)

    If you click over there you can volunteer to run a game server, which is kind of fun. Nethack probably has the highest ratio of player brain resources to server CPU resources of any current computer game -- I ran a game server a few years in a row and was always bemused to find that 20 people were playing nethack on my [ra
  • by hweimer (709734) on Monday October 30, 2006 @03:54PM (#16646905) Homepage
    Actually, NetHack isn't as cruel as pointed out in the article. Instadeaths are extremely rare and almost all can be prevented by following the advice from this spoiler [steelypips.org]. Cockatrices are pretty harmless once you know how to handle them. For example, soldier ants are much worse because they a) tend to come in groups and b) appear at dungeon depths where a character is usually not fully equipped.

    --
    Ascensions: ABKPSVW
  • Ate the corpse of Famine. Just wanted to see what happened. Well, I died. hehehe. Also on some games, I'd call my character GOD. When I died, any players finding my bones file would be attacked by GOD's ghost. Well it was philosophically interesting :-)
  • by wandazulu (265281) on Monday October 30, 2006 @04:23PM (#16647427)
    Nethack has been one of my favorite games throughout the years, though I've come to realize that I've had more fun getting it to work on obscure hardware than playing the actual game (in the 18 years I've played it, I've only ascended once).

    Nethack is one interesting in that they don't provide a config file that presumably would make compiling simple (and less of a challenge), so when building it on anything, you have to figure out what features your flavor of Unix has and set the #defines in the .h file appropriately.

    In the 18 years, I've compiled it on an original NeXT cube, a Playstation2 running Linux, a Vax running Ultrix (didn't like the BSD flavor, nor the SYS V..was weird blend), a Cray2 and a Convex something-or-other.

    The only problem was that the Convex used an accounting system to track usage, and between compiling and playing, I ended up being "charged" around $1000 in cpu time.

    Good times.
  • Could anyone tell me if there is a interface for nethack that shows sprites or whatever on Linux? I used to play the windows one but I'm unsure if Ubuntu has it's own version..

    Online servers.. anyone know a newbie friendly one with a nice IRC channel?

    Finally! Is there any way to use said interface with an online nethack server?
  • It took about two years after I first downloaded it from the BBS' in the mid-80's before I ascended. And I did it without spoilers or even internet access :) When I did finally get on the 'net at Johns Hopkins APL, I snarfed the source and compiled it so I had the most up to date version and got involved in the usenet group. Ultimately I participated in a small way in the coding for which my name is in the credits. Now my daughter plays it.

    [John]
  • I haven't found all the ways to die yet, not for want of trying ..... the developers have thought of enough of them ..... in fact I'm off to try to find a few more (or maybe not).

    Meanwhile, has anybody else set default pet names in their .nethackrc? My dog's name is Piggy (named after a wonderful old lady of a bull terrier, who passed away earlier this year -- imagine the dog in Snatch [imdb.com], but all white and with one ear up and one ear down, /\__/>) and my cat's name is Chico (after my ginger tabby
  • Me and my girlfriend have got into playing nethack quite a bit lately; I'm sure she'll ascend before I do at this rate. We always play (partly because of my insistence) in the ASCII with standard black and white, I think that colour is a little... "showy".

    One of my main problems with it is that I can't be bothered to play a really long game, so I often play for about 20mins running right through down to about level 7 or 8, usually past the gnomish mines, and then get killed because I hold down "h" and r
  • The power running out on my laptop! And recovery not being compiled in!

    Luckily, I decided to do the taboo thing and savescum some time before, just this once, just in case something catastrophically bad happened outside of the game, like this.

    I wasn't going to use it if I died legit. Honest. Maybe I'd keep it for posterity. I mean, it was the first time I made it past the Big Room (cone of cold FTW)! I wanted a keepsake, damnit!

    And then I was able to get the save off my laptop's hard drive before it died in
  • I blew tons of time playing Nethack back in the 80's in college, and every few years since I've rediscovered it. Besides the old Bolo game for the Macintosh, Nethack has been the most replayable game of all time for me.

    I just telnetted into that nethack.alt.org server... you can WATCH OTHER PLAYERS! I spent ten minutes watching someone, and it's actually kind of fun. I'll be sucked back in tonight, looks like.
  • You Die. Die? (yn)
    y
  • How I died.... (Score:4, Informative)

    by pedantic bore (740196) on Monday October 30, 2006 @10:02PM (#16652197)
    I won the game; killed everything, found everything, grabbed the amulet.

    As I ascended the dungeon on my way out, I picked up all the jewels I could find, leaving heavy things like weapons and armor behind. I'd heard that you could turn lowly gems into diamonds with a wand of transformation (or polymorph, or whatever they are called). On level three, I dropped all my gems into a pile and zapped them with the wand.

    But I mis-typed.

    The wand of death ricocheted around the room, striking all four walls before finding me again.

    I never played it seriously again.

    • by MilenCent (219397)
      I won the game; killed everything, found everything, grabbed the amulet.

      I hate to tell you this, but if you then died to a wand of death, you didn't win.

      And if you died to a wand of death after getting the Amulet, you probably would have died later anyway because you didn't have magic resistance, which is all but essential for the endgame.

      (The endgame is what happens after you escape the dungeon with the amulet....)
  • killed by a falling rock , killed by a bolt of cold , killed by a newt , killed by a white unicorn , killed by a quasit , killed by a giant spider , killed by a coyote , killed by a rabid rat , killed by a soldier ant , killed by Mr. Rewuorb the shopkeeper , killed by a rabid rat , killed by a leocrotta , killed by a homunculus , killed by a giant ant , killed by a fox , killed by a giant mimic , killed by a sewer rat , killed by a mumak , killed by a fire ant , killed by a wand , killed

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